Summer in Shimla

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When we visited Shimla, we did so with the optimistic and desperate hope of escaping the intense summer which was unleashing its wrath on the whole country. But when we arrived, I realized that Indian summer is an affliction few can be spared of; scorching even our beloved hills. The drive from Patiala to Shimla was hardly the breezy affair we expected it to be and we entered the hill station glistening with sweat.  The air was far from crisp as the sun danced openly on the compact, tapering streets. The throng of tourists strolled languidly with a slightly palpable disappointment of having to abandon their sweaters. The charming little cottages, neatly arranged into pyramids appeared as if they were simmering away in the juices of the hills they were perched atop.

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But the hills turned out to be nothing short of a consummate showman and every bit of a charmer. Whenever I visit Himachal Pradesh, on more occasions that one, I find myself thinking about Ruskin Bond. It was through his eyes that I took my first trip to the hills and truly appreciated nature. No matter when I read his works, it almost sickens me with an inexplicable longing and grips me with a raging urge to rush to the mountains and simply gaze at them. This time too, I could not take my eyes off of the magnificent hills before me which were awash in golden hues. Mountains have a strange quality to them; they are as much a symbol of might as they are purveyors of beauty – a perfect blend of menace and magic cloaked in enigma. Once you have seen them, you are forever in the grip of their echos. Their sight never leaves you, haunts you in the most enthralling of fashion. They hold the sweet comfort that everything is pure; the very epitome of clarity.

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Shimla is a busy tourist spot, especially during summer when people from all over India come here seeking an escape; an escape from their routines, an escape from the heat, an escape from the world in general. The whole town crawls with humanity; eating ice cream or steaming momos, taking pictures, shopping for nick knacks or just taking in the sights. Despite the constant deluge, Shimla manages to retain its quaintness and continues to be a window into a simpler, unhurried pace of life.

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This church is located on a slope in the heart of the town. Colloquially called as the Shimla Church, it was built by the British in 1857, when Shimla served as the summer getaway of British officials. It has survived many upheavals and still stands and elegantly watches over the bustle of visitors as they lose themselves to the trance of the hills.

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Himachal Pradesh is one of those enchanting states where arriving at a destination seems inconsequential. One can just drive along the hypnotic, curvaceous roads for weeks and be thoroughly content. It has the majestic Himalayas to boast of but what is most striking is its mystical aura of utter simplicity. The hills are unflinchingly seductive, be it in their endless allure or their promise of tranquility. Most of all, they seduce with their silent vow to never leave your memory, to come to you whenever you need a balmy reminder that there is beauty in this world.

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Poovar – Of Mangrove Trees and Hidden Surprises

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Quaint little towns dotted with eccentric houses, sleepy fishing villages gently swaying in the tropical breeze, serpentine backwaters with towering coconut trees, lush mountains peppered with tea gardens and fragrant spices wafting all over; the majestic state of Kerala is the closest I have come to experiencing paradise. For obvious reasons, Kerala is one of the most talked about holiday destinations and internet is swamped with countless pictures of every popular spot in the state. While I was planning my trip to Kerala, I was a little worried that this information overload would scrape off a bit of sheen from my experience. However, when I landed in the rain-kissed, lush green Cochin, I realized that my virtual tour was no match for the sight before me at that moment. Needless to say, my stay in Kerala was serene and picturesque as expected. However, I happened to stumble upon a gem of a place which was not on our itinerary and it convinced me that this state has magic in every nook and every corner.

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My family and I were returning to Trivandrum from an early morning trip to Kanyakumari and Suchindaram temple and were tired and drowsy. Our driver stopped at a fishing village near Kovalam and told us that our trip would not be complete without visiting it. Fresh from our excursions to Munnar and Alleypey, I was unsure about what more this little village called Poovar could offer and thus thought that we could give this is a miss. But my father had different ideas. Having lived in Kerala for a number of years, he has a sentimental attachment to this place and is well aware of its ability to spring unexpected but very pleasant surprises. We agreed to take a boat ride on the backwaters and could not believe our eyes, thus adding one more item in the long list of things I should thank my dad for.

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I felt like someone had taken notice of my wish to visit a Marquezian village and had transported me there. As our boat powered towards the gateway to the estuary, my jaws dropped as we saw mangrove tress flanking the narrow strip of water. Time seemed to have stood still and everything else was forgotten. We sat back and sighed happily as we sailed across the marshy, muddy water and took in the chirping of tropical birds. Every now and then, we would spot a kingfisher or a crane. We passed a few fishermen spreading their fishing nets in the water. As our boat tore through the humid, sultry air, a beach with golden sand appeared before us. I was enthralled as the spirited waves crashed against its pristine, golden shores went back to meet the sea. A few feet away from the beach, stood a rock with an underground church and on the banks, were a few floating restaurants and cottages. We spent around ten minutes sailing around the beach and then the boat turned to return where we had started. It was time again to return to the swampy marshes and muddy water reflecting the shadows of mangrove trees hovering above. For a moment, I felt as if I were in the swamps of Amazon and an alligator would leap out of the murky water. We spent around an hour and a half on the backwaters and with a heavy heart alighted the boat.

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Travelling is not merely checking off exotic places from a list. Travelling is meant to surprise, to astonish, to stir one’s senses. It is a profound way to teach us that the the world is vast and it’s treasures are limitless, much greater than one person and their ambitions and problems. As I was returning from the lake, my philosophical side kicked in. I reflected about how unpredictable life is. I was expecting a quiet ride back and one turn was all it took for me to gather a memory I would treasure all my life. And also, dads are always right!

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My Cloudy Cloak

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I remember,

Edging towards your charming woods,

Whistling wind and swaying leaves.

Mist drifting over the trails I laid,

And nothing to be heard or said.

I am draped in the gentle clouds,

And gliding away in the breeze.

Your lushness brushes against my skin,

Reminding me this is not a dream.

My skin feels parched as I type these words,

Reminiscing in my sparse abode,

Those stolen moments of blissful oblivion,

And my cloudy cloak which is now undone.

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I thought of penning this little poem as a tribute to my trip to a charming little hill station called Parwanoo in Himachal Pradesh, India. It is situated upon a hill 5000 feet above the ground where you have nothing but clouds and pine trees for company.

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Of Ancient Temples and Crashing Waves

I have great difficulty in remembering my dreams. When I wake up in the morning, I do spare a few seconds in recollecting the dreams I have had last night. More often than not, I draw a blank. On a few occasions, I do recall a series of blurred faces and voices but sadly, they are too vague to string together into a coherent scene. However, on a taxing day, sometime when I close my eyes, I have a few peaceful retreats I can transport to. One of such places is a rock temple which is over a thousand years old and overloooks the mighty Bay of Bengal.

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Visiting monuments have always been a favored activity with me. It is a happy culmination of my penchant for travelling, history and photography. Luckily I live in a country dotted with spectacular historical sites. One such site is the Sea Shore temple which I visited in 2010. That memories of that trip have stayed with me since and visit me every once in while when I need comfort.

 I am walking alone towards the temple. Dusk is just falling. The elegant, tapered dome stands tall against the vast, vivid evening sky. The sea heaves gently in the side. The waves come crashing against the rocks lining the temple and then crawl back to meet the sea. I set foot inside the temple and can feel myself travelling back in time. The walls come alive with time honored tales and characters.The sculptures of the Gods gently draw me into their myths. At this point, the temple does not belong to an ancient kingdom. It stands there only to cater to my whims. The walls chronicling thousands of years of glory stand there only to give me some moments of peace. Under their gracious shadows, I am reminded once again what a bliss it is to steal some moments of solace from under the nose of the frenzied world. After a while I come out of the temple and make my way to the sea. I just sit on the shore, running my fingers through infinite grains of sand and watch till the sea and sky dissolve into each other.

I am never going to remember any dream as vividly as I remember this and I am thankful for that. For dreams often end abruptly; vanish into oblivion at the slightest disturbance. However, the idea of me strolling in an temple of an era bygone, beside the stunning sea will never fade as long as my imagination is alive.

Written in response to Daily Prompt – Freudian Flips

Window of Oblivion

 

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A few weeks ago, when my dad was visiting, he left his pen here. It’s a nice pen, though nothing extraordinary. It is black in color and has that sleek and elegant air about itself which most expensive pens project these days. On the night that followed his visit, I found the pen lying on the table, next to a book of poetry. Almost on a whim, I fished out this little notebook made out of hand made paper my dad had once got for me from Thailand. Since that night, I have been penning some of my favorite poems in that note book every now and then. I don’t have much recollection of my thought process while I started doing this. Probably the sight of a pen stirred up a sense of novelty, since I hardly use any between typing on my laptop, Ipad and smart phone. But I am glad that I did as this exercise is pleasantly calming and stimulating. I plan to fill all the pages with all my favorite verses ever and keep the note book with myself for the rest of my life. It would be kind of a ready reckoner of comforting, inspiring and passionate words.

I thought of writing down a couple of verses from Pablo Neruda’s vast treasure today. I decided to start with my favorite from this great poet, “Poetry”. I remember when I had read this poem for the first time, I was bewildered with the helplessness as well as candor with which Neruda had awakened and submitted himself to creating soulful poetry. He had found his calling. I learned that poetry is much more than knowing one’s rhyme and meter. It is about being captivated by the joys, tragedies and mysteries of life and discovering it’s beauty and wonders. Here is my favorite part of the poem.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

Neruda’s words seldom fail to inspire me to find poetry of my own. I had once clicked a photograph of a window in a decrepit and largely forgotten fort in Patiala, Punjab. It’s obscurity had made me sad for a while. I penned these lines today when I saw that photograph again. I call this little poem “Window of Oblivion”

Abandoned walls, the tales cast away.

My glory forgotten, to time am another prey.

Nights of mirth, those days of thunder,

Swallowed into space, silent, unremembered.

 Birds scrape away my beauty, my lone solace.

My visage being plundered, oh what a disgrace.

To history I submitted, but was shunted from its vision,

Lost in its mighty pages, thrown into the window of oblivion.

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