Monday, December 28, 2015

My Yatra Diary... Calendar Recap: Top 12 Blogposts from 2015!

2015 is all set to go.... 2016 will soon be in the midst of our days. As yet another year prepares to make a move... yet again a few reminders warm my heart. Pausing just a bit to, to appreciate all the good that was, to offer my sincere thanks for all that it brought and to look forward with hope, optimism and curiosity towards all that will be.

For last year's words belong to last year's language,
and next year's words await another voice.
To make an end is to make a beginning." ~ T.S. Eliot.

Before saying my goodbye, however, just turning back pages of My Yatra Diary... to celebrate the words that echoed in it. Arts, temples, festivals, food, places etc. there was quite a mix this year round. Have pulled out 12 posts, my favourites, each from one month highlighting it as a special year-end calendar post for all of us here. Hope you'll like it. Please do let me know which is your favourite among these or which looks the most eye-catching of all or anything else that you'd like to say. Here goes!

JANUARY



Tulsibaug, for me, with its tapered lanes, bustling market and heritage temples; will always remain a fragrant memory... the place where cultural roots continue to burgeon in the garden of history and traditions.

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


FEBRUARY



I got a taste of the traditional as well as the non-regional and ended up spending a highly appetizing day in Pune. Based on what I liked and where, here’s presenting my Food guide in Pune! 

Come along, dig in, take your pick and be prepared to forget about all your diet regimes because with the insanely tasty flavors of Pune, the craving just never ends! Let’s go!!
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

MARCH




She danced aesthetically, softly and gently. Unmindful of the rough rocks and bumpy stones that seemed to obstruct, unmindful of the interlinked chains that seemed to restrict - She gushed forth playfully, like a little girl in sheer delight. Every breath of Hers, impregnated in love, kindness, compassion and blessings. Love that was coming directly from Lord Shiva. The Supreme.
I heard no words, there weren't any and yet I could hear every wave of Hers,

giving me a song for life.
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

APRIL



And so, I ask:
Who is DIRTY, really?
SHE or THEY?
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

MAY



During a few of my recent visits to Delhi, I decided to break in a few of these long-standing street chaat shops in the Chandni Chowk area and test the pride that they take in their ‘old and famous’ repute. 

So, how did the shops fare? Did they pass the test or did they fail? 

Read on, you’ll soon find out!
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------


JUNE



I arrived in Melbourne with no map and itinerary in hand. My planning at home had been raw - just a rough roadmap with no fixed schedule. Soon after arriving though, I decided to mend my ways. I picked up a city map and a couple of other reference booklets from the hotel lobby and got down to work. I plotted on the map all the places from my Melbourne bucketlist, so now I had a fair bit of an idea on the places that could be clustered based on their proximity.
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

JULY


I am the River Godavari –

Mother of my children

A soulful celebration

A manifestation of the Divine Feminine
– AND –
A reflection of THAT which glows within YOU,
Gleaming Diya, Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

WHO ARE YOU?
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

AUGUST


Location: Chhatrapati Shivaji Domestic Airport, Mumbai.
Terminal: 1A.
On-bound: Sanganer Airport, Jaipur.
Flight: Air India.
Check-in status: Self check-in completed.


Now what? Grab one of those benches. And, sleep?

Or, stare at your fellow passengers? Read a book?

Surf your smartphone? 

All these things are okay and honestly, I have been all over them at some point in my yatras but this time, I decided to indulge in something better (and artistic and creative and fascinating) while eagerly waiting for hopping onto my flight.
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

SEPTEMBER



It's 10th day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival,
the day is Saturday, date is 26th September and the time is early morning:
The morning sun is peeping fiercely from the light blue window of the skies
when I step out onto the streets from the Lower Parel Station -
My walk to the Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh Pandal 2015 begins!
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

OCTOBER



To bow your head to them is often not only an act of reverence  
or a customized ritual
but it is also to seek Mother’s blessingsto empower us and give us strength,to help us become 'whole' -Her child again.
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------

NOVEMBER




Today ... I have long left the shores of Agni Theertham but the luminous wave of immense blessedness continues to revolutionize the sullied shores of my heart. And every time that happens, I am reminded of the incredible joy and the infinite privilege that was... to have encountered, conversed and been positively touched by the sheer dedication and passion of these great men by the sacred shores of Rameshwaram - the sweeping healers of the sea!
------------------------------- **** -------------------------------


DECEMBER



While my yatras took me to new places even as a child moving and discovering newer destinations, it was blogging that provided a medium of transition turning my attention from the outer world to an unmapped space within. It pushed me to dig deeper and see my experiences from a quieter space, in a new light, that light that came from nowhere else but my own being.

Thank you much for reading My Yatra Diary in 2015, and for gracing my yatra with your kind footprints. I wish you peace, love and laughter in all the days that are to come. May the coming year fill your heart with the all the things - magic, madness and goodness of doing and believing. Look forward to having a wonderful time together in 2016 as well: Keep smiling and keep blogging! :-) 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Where Peace and Conflict Coexist: Dalai Lama's Dharamshala

Pressing my cheeks on the tip of the window ledge, I fix my gaze on the scene unfolding beyond. I take a deep breath in, as the mighty Himalayan Dhauladhar range fills the splayed cup of my snooping eyes. The fresh air, crisply swirling from the infinite horizon fills my lungs and refreshes my senses. The city is far behind me. And so is the metropolitan noise, the chatter, the concrete and the chaos.


I am snaking my way through the twists and turns, driving up sea-level, from the plains of Kangra to the Tibetan town of Dharamsala, about 300 miles north-west of Delhi. Our very own Little Lhasa, a chunk of Tibetan heart in India. Home to thousands and millions of Tibetans led by the 54-year-old politico-spiritual leader and monk named Tenzin Gyatso (or the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize), setting foot in Dharamsala is like setting foot in peace, well almost. A little further up is McCleodGanj, location of the Dalai Lama's modest house, a suburban town perched high at 6000 ft. where Tibetan refugees have settled in the following years.

Peace designs the air of this spiritual town that sprays down from the brawny Himalayan foothills, soaring towards the skies. The winds cause the symbolic Buddhist flags hanging from the trees, houses and temples to flutter. With it flutters the delight in my heart.


Wandering the narrow sloping streets, I can’t escape this sense of unruffled tranquillity following behind me, everywhere. Here, life is peaceful and quiet, revolving around people engaged in building a life for themselves and practising their religion. I can only attempt to experience that peace. The spiralling stupas of the Buddhist monasteries sparkle aurally like a meditating yogi deep in his cognizant slumber. Bells toll from a series of prayer wheels, placed neatly in a row encircling the circumambulatory path, that the devout spin to send their prayers in the Universe.


Tibetan men in fedora caps, thick rimmed glasses and women in plaited braid / ponytails wearing wraparound pinafores sell their local wares with a cheerful smile in the flea shack stalls that line the streets of the town. Red robed monks, serene looking with a sense of fulfilment unto themselves, with clean shaven heads make long strides towards their intended destination. In their hands, they carry prayer beads deftly rolling through their fingers; their lips murmuring devotional mantras in His glory and grace.


While this peace, woven intrinsically into the fabric of the holy town is inescapable, what is also obvious and connects me to it, paradoxically is the smell of conflict that floats in the air like heady incense. ‘Free Tibet’ is a robust voice that speaks eloquently cutting across the serenely photographic milieu spread otherwise. I detest conflicts. They are frightening. But as much as I abhor it, its dark colours of bitterness cannot be excluded from this painting of life.


It’s only by wading through the muddy waters of conflict and unrest that blooms the flower of peace and love. That we get a glimpse of the innocence of love which exists in brotherhood. That the past is left behind and a new bond is formed. That we can perceive a pattern in the Universe even amid the chaos.


 The city of Dharamshala, is the #madeofgreat city which shows me how.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

6 Insights from My 6 years of Travel Blogging!

21st NOVEMBER 2009: 6 years ago… on this date, I had filled up the first page of My Yatra Diary… I vividly remember how excited I was. Picking the article from my offline diary and typing it to an online one. I genuinely hoped that this travelogue would help someone who was searching for related information on the place on the internet or would satiate someone’s wander-love by inviting them on an armchair tour. 

The diary, for its share, had filled up some of my idle time as well. Travelling was fine as I was already doing it but writing? The field was new, the roads ahead unfamiliar. But the idea that my travelogues would be helping people was quite an inspiration for me. And so, I dived. Trusting the oceanic current of the all-pervading Universe to wash me over in its own grace and style…



How time has flown since then…

And what a sheer joy and blessing to have come this far. A significant point that marks the 6th year celebrations of the blog, it’s a good time to just pause for a while, marvel and reflect on the journey that has been including the lessons that I have learnt and the insights that I have gathered in this blogging journey of mine.

Below is a compilation that enlists 6 high-points that I could think of while compiling this celebratory 6 years post of my travels and travel blogging:

1. THE POWER OF CREATION.

There is a little child within all of us. One that is totally irreplaceable and one of the most precious beautiful person we will ever meet in our lifetime. But how many times do we realize that? And have the courage to honour, respect, appreciate that pure loving child for who she is and what she says? Views that are independent of the moralistic right and wrong as dictated by the society.

Yes. I am guilt-ridden.

For most of my life, I snubbed and ignored her, my little one within, for the chaotic chatter that the rigid society fed in my mind. Just go away and leave me alone, I used to tell her. I was the person who, for some reason, was always at loggerheads with her.


The power of creation doodle art

Thanks to blogging, I have now realized my mistake and this is one space where I let her take the centre stage. Completely. Not only that, I have learnt so many fascinating and new things from her! In blogging, she now has a space for herself where she can create freely and express openly without any negative conversation.

She has continually taught me to filter my thoughts and have the courage to reclaim what is truly and meaningfully mine from the constant barrage of media and frenzied noise that we are fed each day. By creating this blog, she has given me an identity of my own as a liberated human being who loves to play with her own thoughts and ideas and create an art that is soul-signature mine - without really worrying for the approval of others.

I feel so lucky to have her as a friend today and though we are still in the process of getting to know each other, we both revel in the joy of whatever we create, no matter how abstract it might seem to the much civilized beliefs of the society.

2. A SPARK OF SELF-EXPLORATION.

While my yatras took me to new places even as a child moving and discovering newer destinations, it was blogging that provided a medium of transition turning my attention from the outer world to an unmapped space within. It pushed me to dig deeper and see my experiences from a quieter space, in a new light, that light that came from nowhere else but my own being. It was here that… places ceased to be just places anymore, each place now had a personality of its own, one that was revealed differently to different people.

Places now spoke to me and compelled me to dig deeper:

Exploring the world within doodle art

Blogging invited me to just stop and be still. And answer all these questions in the way I wanted to. In my own style. In my own exclusive way. It was a space where my spiritual life and creative life converged in the insightful yearning to listen to the depths of my travel experiences that often called me beyond myself in search of a greater meaning in life, into a relationship with mystery, and towards a greater contact with the unseen divinity that I have a strong belief in.

And that solitude itself has today became a journey of its kind. A journey that takes me away from the worldliness at the same time bringing me closer to the wonders of the world – the world that I carry within.

3. INDEPENDENCE IS BORING, INTERDEPENDENCE IS FUN!

There is no denying the fact that blogging gives you a great rush of feeling independent.

You know the ‘Write what you think’ kind. 'Who’s there to stop you?'

But to harness the real joy of blogging, over the course of time, I came to appreciate that it was not independence but interdependence that was really the way to happiness and harmony.

‘Write what you think. Who’s there to stop you?
But don’t forget to listen to others viewpoints as well.
And accept what resonates true in your heart’.


Our friendship tree doodle art

A communication channel through the comments section many a times have helped me understand many a different perspectives of my own thoughts. Sometimes it’s not until the time when your own beliefs are put into question, that you make an effort to change and grow.

To interact warmly, to share freely, to trust in people and to enjoy is the crux of any healthy relationship. This journey of blogging has really been no different. Because ultimately, we are all dependent on each other for all the basic human qualities that help our spirits grow.

4. EMBRACING THE JOURNEY AS IT IS.


It’s important to embrace the journey.
No worries. No fears. No harsh self-talks. No judgements.
Embracing it as it is.



Embracing the journey as is doodle art

I never ever thought of winning a contest even after I had been almost forced to participate in one (there I go again: Didn’t I tell you, I never believed in her. Old habits really do die hard.). And at that point in time, I didn’t even care. What I clearly remember though was the joy after writing these posts and publishing it for everyone to read. The appreciation I received thereafter for all the hard work and soul that I put in was way more a gratifying and rewarding feeling than any tangible award could give. I felt it. Happiness. This happiness was immeasurable and filled me with such ecstasy that it cannot be described in words or equalled to any number of achievements that people generally want to talk about or I go bragging today.

Mind you, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my tangible awards (includes 2 dream all-expense paid international trips to Japan and Melbourne) – I am more than grateful to have received them! But my point is that these prizes don't show the entire journey that got me here in the first place. They are the cherries on the cake and not the cake itself.

Same happened with money. The intention to earn anything from my blog was never there. I was so high on the first point (the power of creation) that things like money somehow never dared enter my bliss equation. Hence, I never went out of my way to bag any money from anyone.

And then one day, money came in, and later again and again… when it had to, through people it was meant to. I took some, I rejected many. And today, I have a savings account dedicated solely to my blogs earnings.

I never started the blog to make any friends or do any kind of networking and yet today I feel blessed with the company of wonderful friends, both virtual and real, not only from India but worldwide.

The trick, as I see it now, was to just keep flowing and trust the Universe enough to know what I needed and when, and bring things accordingly.

5. COUNTING MY BLESSINGS AS ACHIEVEMENTS.

For all the immense love that the diary has received till date, I fall short of words to express my immense gratefulness on this nostalgic day. I know friends are wonderful and kind and they will say ‘Arti has been blogging for 6 years continuously – wow.’ But I will tell you something - moments of self-doubts, criticism, harsh judgement, nagging low feeling, weariness, procrastination – you name any of these so called negative emotions and they have all been a companion at different points in my 6 years of blogging journey.


Counting my Blessings doode art

What’s then kept me going is you and only you, your generous blessings and kind well wishes which have smashed any and all impediments that I have tried creating in My Yatra Diary’s way. Like one popular Irish saying goes, I sometimes feel, that in this 6 years of my blogging, God has given His beloved child just about enough of everything she needed to keep her close in His folds. No greater blessing than this!

6. THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE.

What was once a leap of faith into unknown territories… today (I believe and hope) has helped many people plan their travels or give a virtual tour to the rest. For one, it has definitely helped me. Today, my blog is my number one go-to retiring anchorage where I am most happy just being myself. It’s here that I love learning new things about the world and more importantly about my own self, the little child within.


Thank you doodle art

Thank you, all you wonderful people that I met through my blog along my blogging journey. Especially those who are reading this right now. Huge thanks to my family - my father who has always believed in my writing skills more than I will ever do, my dearest brother who believes in the credence of my yatra diary more than I will ever do and my mother who makes sure that I have my feet planted in the reality grounds. And all you beautiful friends, who with your thoughtful footprints, have watered the tiny garden of my soul.

All of you have believed, motivated, challenged, stretched or encouraged me in your own unique ways and helped me stand on my own feet and be wherever I am today. I and my little diary will be forever deeply grateful to all of you.

Thank you, from the depths of my heart for making all this possible.

THANK YOU!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sweeping Healers of the Agni Theertham in Rameshwaram!

The grimy filthiness beneath my feet bothered me.

Instinctively, my toes curled up in crankiness even as I sneaked my way through the sacred shores of one of the most prominent pilgrimage centres in India of the Hindus. I heaved a sigh of huge relief when I was instructed to ‘just sprinkle a few drops onto yourself’ (and not bathe!) as the gushing waters of the sea (Bay of Bengal) didn't look very clean and hygienic and there was a strange nauseating stench floating in the environs owing to the blatant disposal of untreated sewage from the nearby areas.

Ironically enough, I was partaking in the mandatory sacramental ritual of cleansing my body at Agni Theertham, one of the most visited Theertham (sacred holy water body) of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu before proceeding to pay my respects at the Ramanathaswamy temple.

A Kaleidoscope of faith at Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram


Blessed were the magnificent sands on which I was walking, I was very well aware. Various references to the place could be traced back to the sacred Hindu Texts or Puranas like Skanda Purana illustrating its infinite powers of absolving all sins and purifying the heart. Countless number of believers had walked on it before, including the celestial Demi-God Agni or Fire – washing their sins away - cementing this hallowed waterfront with their faith, belief, conviction and devotion.

And yet, no matter how hard I tried to evade... this murky feeling of dirtiness that creeped within this city-bred girl’s senses as she made her way past the cacophonous edge of the beach through to the glorious temple corridors of 17th century Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameshwaram... just refused to subside.

The grimy filthiness beneath their feet
never seemed to bother them.

Women Cleaners at the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

I ambled aimlessly on the same hallowed seashore later that day and also towards the evening, after my coveted temple darshan earlier in the morning. That’s when they caught my attention. They kept to themselves, totally engrossed in what they were doing, unmindful of the frenzied world that guzzled around them. Unmindful of me.

On this bright, balmy and auspicious day of Diwali in the month of November, the shores of Agni Teertham at Rameshwaram wore a festive look. People, belonging to different age groups, having travelled from different parts of the world, merged and mingled in a colorful rendezvous by performing reverential acts showcasing their steadfast faith towards the divine water body. They asked for a child and they pleaded for deliverance of their ancestors... joyously, they bathed, chanted mantras, mumbled prayers, performed poojas and floated flower/leaf diyas with a conviction that their prayers shall be heard and they shall be blessed.

In this culturally nuanced kaleidoscope, my gaze was arrested by two women, clad in shirts worn over their saree. Between them, they were carrying a basketful of 'kachra' (trash).

My eyes met theirs,
and they lowered their eyes...
to the world, perhaps they didn't want to exist.

Women cleaners at job at Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

But to me, they did.
And, I continued to follow them,
I was hooked.

I continued to walk, pausing at one point this time, for a long time… albeit from a distance and zoomed my vision on the clothing, garbage and debris heaped at the edge of the shore. Standing right in the middle of this garbage heap, was an old man, in a grey shirt coupled with a lungi half-folded and tucked in to his waist, continually sweeping his digging fork to and fro, sifting and collecting the garbage at one single place. 'Wasn't it smelling awful for him?' I wondered, feeling a bit nauseous myself at the same time. The sight was awful. The same grimy filthiness slowly creeped in the senses of this city-bred girl again. But this time, not with a silent contemplation...

Hadn't I wallowed myself in pitiful misery
over the trite adversity of filth and dirtiness
as opposed to the overwhelming feeling of faith and devotion
today morning itself?

And why just today?
how many times in life had I cribbed about where I was
and what I was doing?

A man cleans the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

The more I thought about it,
the lower I drowned in my self-built well of shame.

I also felt the pain of the sea in those moments of perceptive contemplation. I felt her wounds - how the mindless disposal of waste and litter gashed her being - she was wounded deep, bruised by the adulterations she could no longer swallow, she was not well, and she needed help. The unshed tears in her existence cut my heart too.

Like a patient in an operation theatre, she needed treatment from a doctor, willing to get his hands, literally, dirty. A doctor who had the strength not only to bear the stench once the wound is cut open but also the gift to clean it with a beatific smile.

The sweepers or the 'bhangi' for the world,
there! they were her doctors of the Teertham,
the healers of the sea.

A team of cleaners around at Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham

Engrossed in doing their stressful arduous work of healing the sea.

What a relief it must be for the sea! I thought and exclaimed 'Bahut Achha' in a tone audible enough to reach the ears of the old man from the group whose attention I had managed to catch during my introspective reverie. In response, the man threw me a surprised look and a string of words in Tamil which I couldn't comprehend. Disappointed at my failed attempt to successfully communicate my earnest appreciation but not losing hope just yet, I decided to try one more time, conveying the same in a different manner this time. More universal. Sign language! No sooner did I flash an excellent thumbs up sign with my fingers than the old man’s wrinkly face beamed in an ecstatic smile. I panned my camera on him suggesting that I wanted to click his picture. Excited, he motioned to one of the women of the team to see and face the camera along with him and together, they just turned, moving slightly closer, and in those moments... the world around us disappeared.

And... she blushed.

The Rameshwaram sea cleaners at Agni Teertham

No fame, hardly any money and a job that’s looked down upon
by a major chunk in the society...
So what it was that drove them - from within?

The glee sparkling in their eyes told me of the massive riches they had nurtured in their hearts, the pride and peaceful content for the highly significant job that they were doing… As Martin Luther King had once famously remarked -

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper,
sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures,
sweep streets like Beethoven composed music,
sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.
Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.
(And if I were to add - sweep streets like Lionel Messi plays football.)

A sweeper posing at the Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham


Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say:
Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

And indeed! Their reliable, self-driven work preventing the pollution of the holy Theertham ensured a greener, cleaner and more sustainable environment for me and countless more, before and after me - weren't they the pioneering leaders of Narendra Modi's 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan'?

I vowed to not just crib and get cranky about the grimy filthiness
that bothered me that day.
But, to make an active contribution towards the work,
in the best of my capacity,
as a pilgrim, as a blogger,
... and ... above all,
as a human with a heart.

Ramanathaswamy  temple and Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram during sunset

Today ... I have long left the shores of Agni Theertham but the luminous wave of immense blessedness continues to revolutionize the sullied shores of my heart. And every time that happens, I am reminded of the incredible joy and the infinite privilege that was... to have encountered, conversed and been positively touched by the sheer dedication and passion of these great men by the sacred shores of Rameshwaram - the sweeping healers of the sea!

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

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Top 7 highlights from BNLF 2015 | IndiBlogger, Mumbai.

One of IndiBloggers dream project, BNLF (Blog Now Live Forever), finally went LIVE last week and it was so exciting that I could be a part of it! It meant a bubbling flock of around 600 bloggers coming together to share their insights, views and opinions in a single gathering over the course of two entire days. Attending the BNLF also felt like a homecoming of sorts because of my 5 year old association with this awesome, ever-growing, ever-supportive community and coming face to face with the same people that constantly motivate and inspire you in the online world made for a brilliantly gratifying occasion offline.

Group Photo - Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Unwrapped below are a few highlights, points that stood out for me from BNLF:

1. THE INDIHEROES: BOTH, SUNG AND THE UNSUNG.

The signature stamp of IndiBlogger was evident right from the word go! Music, warmth and humour: all three had come out in full force.

Welcome in - BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Hahaha, so typical … IndiTeam!

The hours and days (or was it years?!) of hard work, excitement and sweat that had been injected in the project was clearly palpable by the tastefully done décor, the out-of-the-box ambiance and the high pitched energy that I caught floating all around The Lalit – the venue for the first ever and the most disruptive Blogging Conference ever, BNLF.

The ‘Blunder in the Code’ musical start to the morning was the best foreword that the extremely gifted IndiBand could have come up with. Though I couldn’t make much sense of the lyrics (not my kind of music, my bad), the entertainingly high-pitched melody was enough to get me into my elements and bind the audience together in a beautiful string of coherence that lasted all throughout the sessions.

IndiCrew were IndiBlogger members, basically bloggers doubling up as volunteers that had signed up for the event and I got my first taste of the IndiCrew’s hospitality soon after my registrations. One of the most defining moments for me, personally, was when an IndiCrew member greeted me with such élan and confidence, she could easily make for a core member of the IndiTeam itself.

IndiCrew Salute! Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Welcome *staring long and hard at the badge dangling from my neck that had my credentials imprinted* umm… Arti. *Exhibiting an excited demeanour, smiling wide and full* Straight and then right. Please make yourself comfortable, we hope that you have a great time! See you around!

Wow. If her unfaltering welcome didn’t catch me by surprise.

Here, was I, a nervous social wreck, doing nothing but constantly worrying about things that were never actually going to happen. And here was she. Wasting no time in putting me at ease.

Wasn’t she a blogger as well? I heard myself talking. I wondered if someone had taken the time to welcome her just like the way she had welcomed me in.

Not really my kind of thing to do (very comfortably) but I just couldn’t resist returning some part of her gracious favour:

Hey, thanks for such a warm welcome! *Trying my best to take a cue from her mannerisms* and, welcome to you too and I hope you have a great time as well!

She was Pallavi from thoushaltcook.wordpress.com.

Once seated, I got more and more taste of the fabulous IndiCrew as the day went along. These were the people who were not only serving selflessly but were also attending to all of us with a lot of care. It was a real joy to feel pampered by strangers many of whom you were meeting for the first time, and perhaps also the last. IndiCrew – take a bow - really a job well done and done with a lot of affection and delight.

2. STRETCHING MY LIMITS, SAYING MY HELLOS.

It wasn't easy. For someone who is rather shy and who’d rather run away miles from attending any kind of a social event, to be put in the middle of a humongous crowd, mostly strangers or people with whom I have only had interactions online, was nothing short of a nightmare. To walk up to people and say hello and get talking is not what I’d expect of my skin. I am not that daring either, approaching people and striking conversations on a whim, and still the very essence of these meets is networking – so that didn’t make things any easier.

A young blogger, Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

But hey. I did it – I pushed the boundaries and broke a few barriers, I walked to people,
I introduced myself and made a sincere effort, to well, just be in the moment.

This, of course, was only possible because of all the lovely people I met at BNLF … friends old and young, friends via IndiVine and via the IndiForum, friends from blogs, blogchatter and twitter … if you were one of them I interacted with – well, I just want to thank you for being so kind and helping me relax and open up. Social meet-ups of any kind sets my mind spinning and can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning. But with all your generous camaraderie, it felt so good to step out of my quiet comfort zone and I can’t wait to meet all of you and more in the future.

3. WHERE EVERY NOTE IS A KEYNOTE.

IndiBlogger was so right when it said that every note was going to be a keynote here. BNLF wasn’t just about the speakers. It was SO MUCH about the bloggers themselves. That made the breakfast sessions and tea break sessions so much more fun and interesting. Getting to talk to bloggers from all over the world was nothing short of embarking on an exciting learning and fun adventure curve.

The Power of WE Bloggers - Art At the Lalit, BNLF

The discussions ranged from everything and anything under the sun that came in the range of blogging - how many posts we wrote in a day, what are the marketing strategies we followed, what is so inspiring about what we blog, why I love your blog, why don’t you put your picture, blogger vs wordpress and so on and so forth.

Whilst talking with each other, what stood out for me was that no blogger came across as a senior or a junior, from this state or that state – our passion for what we do glued us together as people belonging to one single family. Everything was shared with an open heart and listened to with a curious mind - Learnings, motivation, inspiration and encouragement were available in an immense proportion. And the best part was that I really dint have to go around looking for it, it was present just about, everywhere!

4. DO NOT GO TO THE GRAVE WITH YOUR STORY UNSUNG.

Stressed Jeff Bullas during one of his presentations. It couldn’t have been more inspiring. As I immersed myself in amazement at the depth of these seemingly simple words, all the other speakers underlined this quote by enlightening the crowd by presenting their own stories during the day. All their stories had depth, authenticity, character and perseverance coloured in their own inimitable styles, in their own unique voices. Here are a few more quotes that I found inspiring at BNLF:

Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson - Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Homeless means no where to go, no ideas to think.
It does not mean nowhere to sleep. ~ Bruce Dickinson

Truth has many versions, write yours. ~ Arnab Ray

Try finding a unique voice. The more you detach, the better it is. ~ Anshul Tiwari

Everyone is an influencer to somebody. You too. ~ Christoph Trappe

Dont let rejection affect you. Push your limits. Work on your skill sets.
Do something you have never done before.. ~ Preeti Shenoy

I create, I publish… I exist. ~ Jeff Bullas

Reach the level where people like you as much as you like yourself. ~ Kannan Gill

I may not be famous but I have the satisfaction that many take solace from my writing.
~ Purba Ray


5. THE IMPORTANCE OF ASKING QUESTIONS.

Just a couple of minutes after I took my seat besides my friend Pooja on the second day, Christoph Trappe threw a question at the authentic story-telling interactive workshop that was already in progress.

What is your blog about? What is the need?

This was just the beginning. Right through his session, he raised the importance of constantly posing questions and answering them for yourself. The what, why and how was not just an important aesthetic that we needed to check but a basic need to measure our blog’s growth barometer.

My pencil and paper at the Lalit, BNLF MUmbai

So, when he asked us, what are you giving to the readers and what is a story that is worth sharing? My pencil couldn’t stop racing. To ask questions to yourself is to go deeper, to seek the intangible and look for connections. Participating in the exercises were worth it. All the answers that I scribbled down formed the base of the reason of why I was here and what I was doing in this blogging conference. Even though I had missed out on the initial part, the interactive session by Christoppe Trappe on authentic story telling on the second day stood out for me because of his realistic self-reliable approach in which he emphasized his points.

6. GETTING A HEADS-UP ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

Jeff Bullas at the BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

If you want your content to reach out to the masses, you have to use the social media. While this is a mere fact, what is sad is that social media is something that I know little about, so I was keen on attending this session and taking some tips for myself. Jeff Bullas offered great social media tips, especially on twitter marketing that have worked for him in his rising to the top. I was reminded to write a 20 word mission statement assigned to my blog and read it over. He also encouraged everyone to build their email lists, to test the headlines that you write and to check Tweepi (paid) and Social oomph, which have been immensely helpful to grow his prodigious twitter base. I am looking forward to learn more about them soon.

7. THE BNLF POSTSCRIPT: BLOG NOW, LIVE FOREVER.

BNLF was a conference but not just any blogging conference. BNLF was a conference where everyone – bloggers, speakers and the IndiTeam alike – united over the same theme song: We all who blog now, are honoured to live not one life … but forever. And while we were at that, WE beamed with childlike pride and innocent joys over etching our unique voices at a place, thanks to the efforts of a wonderful community, where it would never be lost, ever.

It was more of a celebration. A celebration to what we are, what we write and what we passionately live for. Of us and our voices and others and others voices as well.

Hurr, Hurr! Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Initially, I wasn't even going to write a post on BNLF thinking that there would be many others floating around and I dint had to put one in the mix. But the sheer joy that BNLF turned out to be just refused to be contained within my intrinsically appreciated memoirs. Even if BNLF might not have been 'the perfect' event, it definitely was THE BEST that possibly could have been. Just like our blogs should be as Jeff Bullas was quoted saying on the first day of his session. Also, just like life.

And that’s the reason why I got this post together, the BNLF I have described in this post is how my heart will always remember BNLF as… as a bundle of warm moments and memories that she gifted me with, wrapped in a ribbon of love and laughter.

I'm incredibly happy and grateful to all the speakers and bloggers for their inspiration and to IndiBlogger for providing the platform for making this possible.

* All pictures except my paper-pencil and the art picture are sourced from IndiBlogger.

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