Saturday, April 29, 2017

Soulie Saturday #2: A Devotee at Govind Devji Temple, Jaipur

unmasked
and stripped

no longer bound
by the bars
of my fears

a precious gem
wrapped in the breath of my beloved

I pray
in the temple
of my truth.

A Devotee at Govind Deoji Temple, Jaipur in Rajasthan

If there is one temple in Jaipur that you must visit, it is this - Govind Devji Temple! I have always been very fond of this place and have found the energy within the temple to be very intense - the faith one can see in the devotees here is powerful and moving. Spend a few minutes in the temple hall and it is easy to feel an unmistakable shared bond of personal connect with Lord Krishna all around. Such is the vibe of the place that it is hard to return empty... without being touched by the fragrance of love and devotion.

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Be a part of #Soulie!

A Soul Selfie series or '#Soulie' aiming to meaningfully strengthen my personal connect with my Father, God (call Him by any name you like)  by peeping within my own heart —  collecting your prayers and feelings too as you discover the world – and jotting them down on paper. It’s a spiritual exploration of that which is Unseen and a celebration of that Ultimate sacred space we yearn for - within and without - and the riches we carry in our own hearts. Do take part and share with My Yatra Diary... a piece of your heart.

Here are things you can do if you want to join in.

1. Send me one picture clicked by you and a few lines by your heart on how that captured moment makes you relate with that Supreme - Someone Higher in your life in a more meaningful and healthy way.

2. Follow along with the hashtag #soulie on Instagram.

3. Key in your suggestions if you have any and share the idea in any way you like!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Best of All, It’s in Hong Kong: My Best Family Experiences!

I once spent some 6 hours lounging on the airport of Hong Kong as part of a layover during my connecting flight from Tokyo to Mumbai. That’s the closest I have been to coming in contact with this city. At that time, I remember how we, me and my dad, were eagerly thinking to explore this part of the world as well. We tried but, unfortunately, the budget went off shoot and our plans fell off.

So, when I came across Hong Kong Tourism Board’s promotional video inspiring travellers to come and discover Hong Kong with their families this summer, it made me sit up and take notice.


Yes. I wanted to go. Like this little kid sitting all excited in the helicopter with actor Michael Wong,

Michael Wong with kid enjoying Hong Kong
Let us help you plan your itinerary! Hong Kong has come up with exciting SMART offers this summer.

my mind was racing to all the sights and views I would like to cover if I ever had such a chance this summer. I read, researched more on the city and up came this itinerary –experiences I  wouldn’t want to miss having in Hong Kong with my  family this summer . Here they go!

Lighting an incense at the Man Mo temple.

Lighting incense sticks at the Man Mo Temple
Peace at the Man Mo temple.

I would love to start my Hong Kong trip with a visit to the ancient and unassuming Man Mo temple located in the Soho district. Dedicated to the Gods of literature (Man), holding a writing brush, and the Gods of war (Mo), wielding a sword - it is here where I would like to light an incense stick, tie a red coloured ribbon and bow my head down… it is here where I would like to make a wish for wisdom and peace.

Taking the Star Ferry across the Victoria Harbour.


Star Ferry Cruise Sunset in Hong Kong
Watching the sun go down from the Star Ferry in Hong Kong

The iconic Victoria harbour is at the heart of any Hong Kong experience and I would love to get this quintessential perspective of the city by sailing in the famous  Star Ferry through the harbor. Established in 1898 and rated first in the ‘Top 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides’ in the world by the Society of American Travel Writers, I dream of getting for myself a richly engrossing front row seat for myself so as to make it an amazing experience appreciating the beauty and vibrancy of the harbour while the watery winds brush my face.

The fact that the ferry ride takes just a few minutes and costs less than US$1 makes it a real star in the true sense of the word! Plus it’s not just a tourist attraction but also a daily commute for many Hong Kong people.

Street shopping at MongKok.

Mong Kok Street Hong Kong
Tasting the flavour of Hong Kong’s Street Style shopping at MongKok.

Mongkok – one of the densest parts of the world - is where I would love to head with my budget sized pocket and taste the local flavour of Hong Kong’s street style shopping.

Strolling through the vibrant market stalls winding my way through the historic streets dedicated to selling just about everything from toys, kitchenware, household items to flowers, food  and luxury objects and soaking in the frenzied atmosphere would be quite an experience.

I wouldn’t really want to pin point on anything particular that I would wish to buy from there right now but yeah, if I could get my way off a good bargain, break a few ices and strike some friendly conversations, I would certainly sleep a happy traveller!

Tricking my senses at the Trick Eye Museums.


Trick Eye Museum Hong Kong
Meeting both Illusion and reality at the Trick eye museums.

The first time I read about Trick Eye Museums, I knew this has to go right up there on my wishlist! The museum offers magnificent collection of 3D artworks, paintings on plain surfaces but, by way of optical illusion, appear to be three dimensional or stunning experiences when perceived by the eye.

I can imagine my time flying on a pair of wings as I embark on an adventure of exploration and discovery in these 3D museums. The mere thought of interacting with the exhibits those trick the eye into seeing both illusion and reality in the same time amuses me no end!

Riding the Central Mid-level Escalator – the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world - 800 metres (that’s about 2624 feet)!

I never knew escalators could also be one of the ‘must-sees’ on the list of tourist attractions for a city?! Well, trust Hong Kong to really show us the best of all – in the most inimitable and unimaginable of ways!

Central Mid Level outdoor covered longest Escalator in the world Hong Kong
Truly unique is riding in the Central Mid-level Escalator – the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world

Hong Kong is home to the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator ferrying more than 60,000 commuters, tourists and travelers every day, between the residential communities in mid-levels and Hong Kong central. 800m long running uphill, getting on this central mid-level escalator would not only mean a lively sighting experience but it would also mean making a huge difference to getting around – imagine no traffic haze or sweating about the many weather moods rather just standing and watching the world go by – Hong Kong is one city which surely does know how to get you hooked at the same time managing transportation efficiency down to a tee.

Meeting the Big Buddha.

Big Buddha Hong Kong
Humbled! Beneath The Big Buddha.

Reading about The Big Buddha in Hong Kong, also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, reminds me of the gigantic Great Buddha of Japan. Built in the early 1990’s, the massive seated Bronze Buddha is not only a pilgrimage site but also a must visit when in the country thanks to its enormous size — it heights to around 35 m. To experience the enormity of The Big Buddha gradually while climbing some 260 odd steps until finally coming face to face after reaching the top should make for a zen-full experience I would cherish for a lifetime!

Matching step by step with 10,000 Buddhas.

The Big Buddha is not all and that’s the best about this city. It offers more and this time you are given company of hundreds of golden Buddhas blessing, each step along the way.

The incredible collection of perfectly maintained Buddha statues in a beautiful tranquil environment, now estimated to be over 13,000, is what makes this temple a favourite for many visitors today. To walk with SO many Buddhas would be an enlightening slice of Hong Kong’s culture, peace and serenity, one that I imagine to take all my tiredness away!

Discovering HongKong with The Peak tram.

View from The Peak Tram at night Hong Kong
Riding on the Peak Tram and watching the city of Hong Kong go by.

The beauty of a city increases manifold if you can catch it with one of its earliest contemporaries. That’s the reason why I would love to ride up to the Victoria Peak, the highest point on the Hong Kong Island at 552 m, in one of its earliest forms of transport, the funicular railway – the Peak Tram!

I would love to ride a funicular to the top and enjoy the most spectacular and stunning 360-degree views of the skyscrapers of Victoria Harbor, Kowloon, and the surrounding hills. I would love to watch the city dance in the melody of Symphony of Lights during sunset and mark it as one of the most remarkable evenings ever captured in the reel of my heart.

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When I think of all that I would like to see and do in Hong Kong with my family … I think I really want to see all of the above and explore so much more…

Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong at night
Symphony of Lights : Nights in HongKong are musically gorgeous!

I would love to stand beneath shimmering skyscrapers and super malls and feel the chaos of the city seep through my veins, I would love to taste the curious cultural blend of both the Chinese and the British in one place, I would love to walk aimlessly through their unspoilt countryside and come back feeling re-energized… I would love to be delighted at getting lost in the maze of subways and laneways, enchanted at the many heartfelt smiles with strangers who, in a matter of seconds, would mean more than family, I would love to be charmed at being welcomed as a special guest from a different country and still be treated very much a part of them.

As I keep navigating my path through the amazing sights and scenes on offer at their official website ‘Discover Hong Kong’, I realize there is so much to see and do in the city that this list of mine now suddenly seems pale… I realize I have missed out on places that I can never file in point-wise itineraries because they can never be planned…

On board to Hong Kong this summer anyone
Best of all, it’s in Hong Kong: Go there and discover it for yourself this summer!

The city of Hong Kong is itself an experience; an experience that cannot be defined because they are made up of simple moments waiting for you and me suspended somewhere in the spaces of time.

When they say - Best of all It’s in Hong Kong – I think, they say it best. I am already dreaming of visiting the city this summer. What about you?


Note: This post is published in association with Hong Kong Tourism Board. As always, all opinions are my own. All pictures sourced from their gallery.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Soulie Saturday #1: Sacred Threads at Do Janti Wale Balaji Temple, Fatehpur, Rajasthan.


Fluttering in the wind
Hanging as sacred strings
Are beats of my heart /

.
.
.
.

Words
I never spoke.

Sacred threads at Do Jaati Wale BalajiTemple in Rajasthan

Tying threads is a common practise of worship in many temples and trees in India. By tying a thread, the devotee forms a special, sacred bond of trust, honour and assurance with God. Sometimes, the devotee vows to come back again and untie the knot of the thread in case their prayers are heard. The threads hold a channel for a personal communication with the Unknown.

I captured this picture in the courtyard of Do Janti Waale Balaji Temple in Fatehur, Rajasthan famous for fulfilling wishes and prayers.

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Be a part of #Soulie!

A Soul Selfie series or '#Soulie' (inspired from this post - Is the Camera a Tool or a Barrier While Travelling?) aiming to meaningfully strengthen my personal connect with my Father, God (call Him by any name you like)  by peeping within my own heart —  collecting your prayers and feelings too as you discover the world – and jotting them down on paper. It’s a spiritual exploration of that which is Unseen and a celebration of that Ultimate sacred space we yearn for - within and without - and the riches we carry in our own hearts. Do take part and share with My Yatra Diary... a piece of your heart.

Here are things you can do if you want to join in.

1. Send me one picture clicked by you and a few lines by your heart on how that captured moment makes you relate with that Someone Higher in your life in a more meaningful and healthy way.

2. Follow along with the hashtag #soulie on Instagram.

3. Key in your suggestions if you have any and share the idea in any way you like!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pandharpur Yatra: Weekend Getaway From Mumbai.

It was decided. We would be heading here this Diwali: The land carved in profound bhakti, infused in deep unwavering devotion and soaked in powerful soul stirring bhajans by poet-saint Tukaram Maharaj, a distinguished devotee of Lord Vithoba … Guess where?

Yatra to Pandharpur!

Situated on the scenic banks of River Bhima in Solapur district, Maharashtra, we were headed to Pandharpur - a major pilgrimage in Maharashtra that attracts millions of devouts (especially from the Warkari sect) who perform yatra (wari pilgrimage) to its highly  temple of Pandurang Vithal Rukmini (a manifestation of Lord Vishnu or Krishna and His consort Rukmini).

I was delighted!

This would be my first trip to Pandharpur of which I had only read in books or heard first hand stories from my father till now. And one that I had set my heart on ever since I saw it in one of the Ganesh Chaturthi Pandals just a couple of months back.

A saint on the way to his Pandharpur yatra
Our Padharpur Yatra... begins!

For centuries, the devoted pilgrims and saints have sung glories in the holy land infusing it with a timeless melody of pure devotion to the Supreme at the same time stirring in the sincere, a quest for The Truth.

"Praise be to the village of Dehu
(the birthplace of Saint Tukaram Maharaj near Pune)
 and praise be to Pandharpur,
for Lord Vithoba Himself dwells there."

And so the pilgrimage began… 

On the auspicious occasion of Diwali of 2016, I along with my family set out on a yatra to Vithoba’s Pandharpur with a brief overnight halt in Pune. We embarked on the journey with no fixed plans on what we would be visiting en route except, as I later found out during the trip, that dad had these little chits of paper tucked in his pocket as part of his travel research!

Thanks to him, we got to visit some really amazing temples as always – mostly old and ancient on the way to Pune (remember the Bhuleshwar Shiva Temple in Yavat?), in Pune and finally the Vithoba temple in Pandharpur. Of course, I merrily added to his list later on and with everyone together, I had a wonderful time with my family during Diwali.

So come along as an exciting journey to the abode of Lord Vithoba awaits... for the time being, here are just a few highlights from the journey on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway culminating with the halt in Pune. Come along and ride on!

Going through the Longest Tunnel on the Mumbai Pune Expressway!

The Mumbai Pune expressway has five tunnels totalling over 5.7 km. built by the Konkan Railway and passes through the mountains of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Bhatan near Bhatan pada village is supposedly the longest of all – the others on the route are Madap (same stretch, Panvel-Khopoli), Kamshet 1 and Kamshet 2 (Lonavla-Dehu Road), Adoshi and Khandala.

Bhatan Tunnel on the Mumbai - Pune Expressway
Exiting the Bhatan Tunnel, supposedly the longest tunnel on the Expressway:
as seen from the backseat of my car window.
Khandala Tunnel Mumbai - Pune Expressway
Khandala Tunnel!

Never mind how many times I may have ridden on this stretch but it’s always such a thrill to cruise through the tunnels on India’s first six-lane highway - the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Going through the darkness of the tunnels culminating with the light of the day is kind of therapeutic - a 'not to be missed experience' in itself!

Feeding the monkeys on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

A little further from the Bhatan Tunnel, you can spot the monkeys on the side of the road jumping on the parapet or swinging on the trees.

Monkey eating bananas on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway
Monkeys on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway
Don't mess with me, dude!

Be careful while stopping on the highway as it is Expressway, make sure to ask the driver if it’s safe and possible. We didn’t wait long but did make time to feed a few of the monkeys – they were really hungry and when we shared our bananas, we could see the jungle play of the 'survival of the fittest' with the fatter ones screeching on top of their voices and taking away all the booty.

WHERE TO STAY IN PUNE?

A Descent Budget Family Hotel in Pune: Smart Inn Hotel

Smart Inn - Hotel Pune

If you are looking for a family hotel and a room for 4 – you can opt for Smart Inn. Located in Shivaji Nagar, off the main market area in FC road, it is a good budget hotel in the central area of Pune.

Family hotel Smart Inn Pune
Smart Inn Hotel Room - One of the interconnected twin suites.

The family room had twin double bedded interconnected rooms and I thought it provided good value for money. The bathrooms are well maintained too. However, the Wifi was disappointing with its weak signal strength.

View from my hotel in Pune
View from my room.

Address: 1226/2, Off Fergusson College Road, Next to Venus Traders, Shivaji Nagar, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune, Maharashtra 411004.

Phone Number: 020 2553 8811


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Is the Camera a Tool or a Barrier while Travelling?

I have loved my camera ever since I got one. A gift from my dad around 5 years back, it is a small Nikon digicam that I still carry and keep handy wherever I go. I have captured innumerable sunrises, sunsets and all those things in between that you may have kindly hearted on my social media - trees, birds, temples, deities, river, people, food, etc. It is my lucky charm you see, my camera, also a great friend, someone who has allowed me to just be (in spite of my many shortcomings, imperfections and flaws while handling it) and do what I have always done best - to stand and stare, observe and to appreciate the beauty that I see all around me. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to share the world in a way I have seen it.

But recently, during my yatras, I have often been hearing comments like this: Why take photographs when God has gifted you eyes? Capture the beauty that you see with your eyes and absorb it in your heart. The camera dissolves your experience. Leave it behind. Leave the photo-taking behind if you really truly want to see the world around you and connect with it more intimately and intensely.

I confess, I mostly agree.


Which leaves me wondering with the question:

Is the Camera Really a Tool or a Barrier while Travelling?


Sunset in Dwarka
To click, or not to click -
that is the question!

When I am busy taking photographs, say of a spectacular sunset, a part of me, a part of my being, a part of my energy shifts from living the moment in its entirety to holding onto something that I know is fast fleeting by, somehow eager to pocket that fleeting moment in a way I think would be best, most glorious and long lasting.

The real beauty of a moment truly lived lies in feeling the intensity of the moment, with all sincerity, with all the attention, with all our energy and being open to all that is alive, present, free and blooming in front of us. The greatest and only gift we need give to any moment in time to make it striking is our own Presence, the fullness of it because that’s when we have an experience. A real, authentic experience that is unique to call our own. That experience that no one else can replicate simply because it is mixed with colors of our own being… that being which is exclusive and inimitable in the galaxies of time and space.

It is not the camera then that I believe but this attitude, this nonstop chattering in our mind, which says - I am going there with my camera; I want to capture this, I want to bring that back – which is the real barrier.

And therein lies the handicap, the real barrier that is asking to be crossed.


Boatman during Rameshwaram Boat Ride
My Self(less)ie!

This leads me to a whole new perspective to the debate and one which resonates with me (the reason why I have still not ditched my camera) - How if we were to carry the camera without the greed, the urge to capture or hunt but just to see, to simply see?

We always have a choice, remember. So what if I made a conscious choice of slowing down a little and cutting down on the 'Click, Save, Repeat' habit? What if I let the moments free - to simply be - to open themselves up as they please rather than me running behind them? Would that make any difference?

The answer to all these questions has been a big resounding yes! I have been consciously cutting down on my picture taking in the last few trips. Acting in this manner, I have realised there is more spontaneity in the whole scene so that now it becomes less of capturing and more of creating ... like a prayer, a meditation... more of seeing rather than seeking, more of flowing rather than holding and that is the golden space where magic happens.


Feel the freedom to see the magic
Let that what you love... free
And then, see the magic!

So when I captured the boatman staring out into the Rameshwaram sea, or the boat standing peacefully in Pandharpur or the gorgeously nimble-footed pigeon pecking ever so lightly on my fingers – I framed them not only in the confines of my camera but also in the joys and silences that the experience of seeing and being touched by immaculate beauty outside brings in us, within.

This is not to chest-beat that I have perfected the art of conscious (or any other form of) photographing in any way, far from it actually. On the contrary, what I am trying to say is that I am making an effort to use my camera in a more mindful way since the last couple of months. By filtering those photographs through the editing lens of my feelings, thoughts and emotions, I am trying to take one step closer to what I call an intimate and satisfying form of creative Self expression.

I am beginning to use my camera less as a barrier and more as a significant tool in my yatras – keeping in mind that it's a brush using which I am painting a picture – my picture - a unique story. They say a picture speaks more than a thousand words, I would like to add that a picture silences more than a thousand voices clinging in my head.


Still landscape in Pandarpur
Looking at a still photograph simply is a unique experience - it holds the power to transform.

After all, there must be a reason why photographs are called still photographs, what do you think?

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Is the Camera a Tool or a Barrier while Travelling?

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On a side note... all these thoughts of slowing down and using the camera more mindfully has led me to this idea of ‘My Yatra Diary SoulSelfie series’ in an endeavour to continue using my camera in a more mindful and expressive way. I am looking forward to posting one photo each week in my diary from one of my yatras and a few words surrounding that picture – it could be a verse, a quote, a short poem or simply a few random thoughts – anything that helps me see and communicate to the picture and to that moment in the picture in a deeper, meaningful way.

Also, if you believe in the idea and would like to support the series further - I humbly invite you to be a part of the 'soulselfie' or 'soulie' series as well - please feel free to send in your creations to 22arti@gmail.com and I would love to host you in my little corner or come over and join me on Instagram using the hashtag #soulie. I am keen on exploring themes of spirituality, faith, prayer, hope and humanity – basically anything that touches you on a deeper, intimate level other than the material or tangible is welcome.


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