article, dharamsala, friends, india tourism, life, LOVE, memories, road trip, traveling, Uncategorized

The Road Trip

We pulled into Dharamsala around as the sun was first rising, with two fingers of light on the horizon. We crossed the breezy but narrow roads into the city limits, making our way to a bus depot.  Rubbing my sleep-filled eyes, I tried to peer through the hazy glass, at the snow-covered mountains on my right, the sky turning the color of light orange with wispy blue clouds at the edges, like froth at the top of a drink. Most of my classmates were asleep, the target of my envy —for the rumbling-swaying bus devoid me of the much-needed rest—considering we had a long day ahead of us.  I had stayed up, flitting in and out of sleep, leaning in, my weight on the shoulders of a friend, who had blissfully slept, much to my chagrin. We walked up to our hotel, with the taste of our exhaustion livid in our mouths, slept on the bed in the same outfit, only to wake up an hour later, drink a cup of coffee in the beautiful terrace area and later, drive to our first destination.

We had the trip of our lives, with the fear of imminent placements put mutually on the backburner. I have no adjectives to describe my classmates— they are the most eclectic bunch of people I have met! Our class would throw their hands up in the air and relax, with music in the background and a cigarette in their hand, than battle out political differences. This educational trip, or so it was meant to be, was a proof of our symbiotic association. We travelled all day, amidst the cliffs which were marked by tall trees along the roadsides, their arms up like they were being frisked. We ambled along a clammy-smelling, muddy trail to the Tibetan parliament in exile, and trudged lazily from a library to a human rights discussion. We braved the sleety rain ricocheting off the rocks. We were bemused by the plight of the young children at a Tibetan Children’s school and amused by the extremely cheap desserts at the Tibetan café.

We would come back to our hotel, exhausted from the day but pumped up for the night. Groups were fluid as people drifted in and out of different rooms with ease, some fumbling around for shampoo, and some for a matchbox. Amidst all the clamor of our incessant bickering and bluff sessions, we all felt united by one purpose—that we did not let our fears prevent us from missing out on this trip. We shared childhood (read embarrassing) anecdotes and danced to old Bollywood jingles into the night (well some did, I slept. Huge regrets.) I trekked — or something close enough to a trek —with my friends, without a care in the world, without any fear of being embarrassed of my child-like naivety. I’d like to think the time spent on a stony wall, within the reclaimed cathedral just off the road, brought us closer to each other. I’d like to hope that somehow, this short tour gave us all memories to store within each fleeting moment. Before we start feeling limited by our lives and jobs, penned in by money or family, we stretched out in our bit of the leg-room and somehow, just somehow, made this tour into the road trip we all dream about.

art, article, Donald Trump, HATRED, Journalism, social media, Uncategorized

Creative Resistance- How Art is fighting back Donald Trump

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Illma Gore knows that these words hold water. Having suffered backlash for her nude portrait with a micro-penis of the now incumbent President of the United States, Donald Trump, she began work on a piece of art, painted with human blood– 20 pints donated by those who share her cause- in association with activist collective INDECLINE as a protest against the election. Hers is not the sole crusade against the anti-feminist, anti-inclusion tainted president who now reigns as the leader of the free world. Another prominent artist, Shepard Fairey, released three politically charged posters, featuring an African-American, a Muslim and Latino women, titled “We the People”. All the three religious/ethnic groups had previously come under ire from the erstwhile presidential candidate, and Fairey felt the need to visually depict the same, in order to highlight their imminent vulnerability under his administration.

Another piece of art came under the political spotlight and it belonged to Richard Prince, an artist whose Instagram picture featuring Ivanka Trump, had earned him a $36000 bounty. In an act of protest, he denounced the work and returned the payment. His argument stated that as a means of an honest protest, he had to exercise his discretion regarding the Trumps, and that they ’are not art.’ Mr. Trump himself is apparently not an art person at all, his government planning on drastic cuts in the spending,including a probable elimination of National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, The Hill reported. The massive outburst against the palpable concerns of a population that considers the election as a national catastrophe is majorly pivoted around the same issue, if not having stemmed from it.

What prompts these protests? Such a collective response to an election, on a scale that has never been witnessed before, prompts an intense soul-searching, although it doesn’t take long for the water to boil. The populace that voted against Trump and his policies are now trying to galvanize fear and angst against his election and stand in opposition to his decrees. Many artists supported a strike on January 20th, which called for an “act of non-compliance” and urged museums, galleries, theatres and galleries to remain closed for the day. The J20 Art Strike witnessed response from places around the country albeit in different ways. While mass outspoken dissent has taken over the stage prior and following the election result, those whose voices have no public platform for outcry have taken to social media and visual medium to cut across barriers. Dozens of banners with messages of inclusivity and anti-racism adorned the buildings across Philadelphia and Atlanta on the Inauguration day.

All the dissenters speak one tongue, inspite of different mediums which emphasizes non-acceptance of divisive attitude, corrosive of the ideas of equality enshrined in a democracy. The paradigm shift in the concept of identity and the argument of white supremacy that underlines Trump’s narrative is the fodder that fuels the artistic cannons, whose call for arms is loud, distinct and unavoidable.

cover picture: fusion.net

article, fake news, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, Journalism, life, politics, Post-Truth, social media, Uncategorized

What is the brouhaha around POST-TRUTH?

The culminating session at the famed Jaipur Literature fest was dedicated to this deceptive word which made its appearance in the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year and has since been doing the rounds. What is Post-Truth to be precise? And why does it bug the eminent so much that we had to sit through an hour of grueling high-spirited cacophony that was the ‘debate’?

Apologies for the monotony but Post-Truth refers to ‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Makes sense. But its sudden encroachment of the entire spotlight in the modern political debate is rather baffling. While in India, political debate has always been framed around appeals to emotions, the original area of Post-Truth cultural debate was discussed around Capitalism. But now, since the latest events have turned all the predictions of political pundits upside down, the word has made a come-back in the dominant narrative, fueled primarily by the anti-establishment wave that brought Brexit supporters and Trump to power.

The eminent panelists at the JLF debate titled ‘We are living in a post-truth world’, included names of Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth, Anne Waldman, Prasoon Joshi, Swapan Das Gupta, Luke Harding, Ashutosh Varshney and David McWilliam.

With the onslaught of fake news on Social Media, and a platform to voice their opinions, people have turned opinion-makers in the online culture, with little discretion between right and wrong, fact and fiction. This was the peg of the debate which took different roads with no conclusive decision. All the panelists, saving Luke Harding, talked about the multiplicity of truth, it being a subjective unquantifiable idea, and differed on the exactness of the phenomenon. While Barkha Dutt set the tone of the debate by arguing in the favour of the motion, she was countered by Prasoon Joshi. Joshi talked about how all the concepts have emanated from an emotional anchor. However it is the situation of lies being paraded as facts that was a bothering notion to him, instead of the glamorous idea of Post-truth. Anne Waldman, who reiterated that we have always lived in a post-truth world, went a notch higher, criticizing the word to be patriarchal.

Suhel Seth was at his witty best; while blaming Barkha Dutt of audience-manipulation, he claimed the idea of Post-Truth to be a media cook-up. Public discourse is manipulated around the world to suit individual agendas. Seth spoke on how, ‘we know how to distinguish facts from lies, even if lies get perpetuated. Thus we do not live in a post-truth world, ‘he declared, adding ‘the idea that we only live in a world of truisms and not lies, or only lies and not truisms in itself is facetious.’

Luke Harding made a very accurate point of the world witnessing a ‘new breed of authoritarian leaders’ like Putin and Trump who have monopolized knowledge of certain events and hence are in the position to disseminate ideas, strutted as Truth through media. Ashutosh Varshney was sombre compared to the animated debaters Swapan Das Gupta and Suhel Seth. Quoting Nietzsche, Gramsci and Foucault, he argued how this concept is not a sudden idea, and has been talked about by scholars in the past. The ruling elite in any economy will always have the power to mould social consciousness.

Tharoor on the other hand, started with an anecdote and concluded with the supremacy of Truth and also the truth of one’s entitlement to an opinion but not the facts. It is not a Post Truth world; only a world where it is easier to spread lies, and counter them.

The malleability of facts, which has eroded the credibility of journalism, is worth contemplating. Relativism has crept its way to Post-truth, with multiple narratives giving way to factual inaccuracy. India has almost always lived in a Post-Truth world, with a diabolical existence that speaks volumes about the contradictions of the country. One of the key debate discussions included that of the Demonetisation drive, which was promulgated with the intention of helping the poor but has in fact aggravated their dire condition.

While Barkha Dutt, who claimed that ‘Lies and propaganda have always been the bedrock of politics’, tried to reign in the diametrically divided opinions of the vociferous speakers, the debate concluded just like it had started- loud and ambiguous.

featured image source:hindustantimes.com

article, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, life, literature and books, Uncategorized

One Great Literati Gathering

Jaipur Literature Fest, 10th edition

To all the art lovers, Jaipur Literature Fest comes as a breath of fresh air amidst the entire socio-political chant. It’s our escape into a literary world, which manages to allure the most disbelieving of people into its fold.  A 5-day extravaganza that is held in the pink (and ostensibly rich) city, Jaipur Literature Fest is an annual pilgrimage of sorts to most ardent of its lovers. One of the greatest literary shows in the country and with 10 years of history to its credit, JLF has hosted eminent writers, poets, business leaders, entertainers, thinkers, historians, politicians and humanitarians from all over the world on a common stage, their voices easily accessible to the masses.

In the decadal celebration of the amalgamation of literature, music and ideas, 2017 JLF promised to be bigger and better than before. Diggi Palace Hotel, which serves as the venue for the largest free literary festival in the world, is an erstwhile royal residence, which is still partly occupied by the royal family, who also run the hotel. The lush lawns and grandeur of the frescos and architecture, the place itself has an intoxicatingly rich history.

While many question the viability of the commercial idea behind the event, and whether bigger translates into a ‘better’ event at all, JLF has only gone from strength to strength as its attendance has grown each year and has turned into a motley gathering of authors and artists. This year is no less as the illustrious line-up made for a promising show. This year’s keynote address was delivered by two poets of international repute- Gulzar and Anne Waldman.

Gulzar’s speech was pivoted around the diversity of Indian Languages and how the term ‘regional language’ was for all we know, derogatory to the potency of the languages, which make up an extensive and exhaustive body of literature. He also laid bare the importance of being ‘grounded’-rooted firmly to our beliefs- in order to succeed in life. Anne Waldman, Beat poet and activist, was her poised self as she spoke poignantly about the dark contemporary times, and recited the poem-song Anthropocene Blues. She also described the present political scenario as a ‘war of imagination’ and reiterated the relevance of literature and poetry as a spiritual practice.

Among other revered authors to speak at the event include the likes of Man Booker Prize winners Paul Beatty, Alan Hollinghurst and Richard Flanagan; Kunga Tenzin Dorji, Journalist, Broadcaster & Musician; Mark Tully, Writer, Journalist & Broadcaster; Guillermo Rodriguez, Writer & Cultural Activist; Shashi Tharoor,writer, politician and an event veteran; Barkha Dutt and lyricist Prasoon Joshi.  With over 300 speakers and multiple sessions spread across five days, the festival has all the makings of a huge success.

Time Out says for the fest-“It’s settled. The Jaipur Literature Festival is officially the Woodstock, Live 8 and Ibiza of world literature. The Frankfurt Book Fair and the Booker Prize Awards are like watching the Pope sleep compared to an ambience best described as James Joyce meets Monsoon Wedding.”

 It couldn’t have been said any better.

article, marine life, ocean, REALISM, road trip, sea, traveling, Uncategorized

Jamnagar’s limestone fortress

Ankle deep waters glistening under the bright sun, with beautiful marine life, all culminate into a dream-like day. Gujarat’s town of Jamnagar, nestled near the western coast in the Gulf of Kutch, is an uncommon place for a vacation, often subdued into near oblivion by its sister towns Rajkot and Dwarka.  Jamnagar plays host to India’s first Marine Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park spread across 162.89 Square Kilometers of Marine National Park and 457.92 Square Kilometers of Marine Sanctuary.

The drive to the marine park is marked by a narrow road into the reserve. We would’ve been oblivious to its existence had my dad’s curiosity not led us to the gates with the aim of discovering that which no one knows about. And we were in for a pleasant surprise. Not just that. An archipelago of 42 islands (which are not inhabited by more than a dozen people at any time) the best being Pirotan, Karubhar, Narara, Poshitra are accessible by boat rides. One needs to carry bottled water for the lack of drinking water facilities. This untouched serene beauty is a spectacle in itself.

The coral walk, which is the most celebrated part of the Jamnagar tourism, is conducted during the low tide and takes about 3-4 hours. Coral reefs are discernible in the 1-2 feet shallow water, with mutable colours, host to a variety of small fish. During the low tide, the water recedes enough to enable a walk into the wide opening spread across a vast expanse of ocean bed, which reveal the veritable underwater forest. You don’t have to dive deep into the sea to be a witness to the marine life that makes itself visible to the naked eye in this marine park. Discovering the place on foot is marvelous. The guides will pick up a stray slimy octopus or a puffer fish, with jaws strong enough to chip off a coral! Sea turtles, lobsters, crabs, dolphins, ray fishes, jelly fish, star fish, sea anemones are other vibrant specimens of oft-sighted marine delights. . If one is lucky, dolphins can be seen rising to the surface for the delight of all the watchers. In winters, migratory birds dot the sky as travellers make their way through the shallow waters. The tranquil waters of Chejja creek are complemented by mangroves forest on both sides which trail the path to one of the islands. We walked about a kilometer into the park, with bent necks hoping to catch a glimpse of this beautiful show.

The colourful but fragile eco-system at display is unmarred by human existence owing to its almost non-existent common knowledge beyond the edges of the city. As we made our way back to our car, we looked back to see water slowly filling up the space our footprints had left. The park will live another day, safe from our destruction.

article, bosphorous, istanbul, life, LOVE, traveling, turkey, Uncategorized

ISTANBUL – A trip to the Turkish Delight

Istanbul, the gorgeous capital of Turkey, can boast of many things, being an exciting amalgamation of the old and the new, the traditional treats and the modern breath. Napoleon Bonaparte rightly exclaimed- If Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital. It has had an adventurous journey, having been founded in 660BC as Byzantium, and then falling into the hands of the Roman conqueror Constantine, who christened the place as Constantinople. It earned its new name, Istanbul, in 1930, after Turkey became a republic in 1923.

Sitting on the famed European-Asian border, the city has much to offer in terms of stunning architecture, historical delights and boat trips on the Bosphorous, one of the world’s busiest waterways, connecting countries to the Mediterranean.

The Grand Bazaar

The bazaar is famed for being the oldest and the largest covered market in the world, with over 4000 stalls to entice any shopaholic’s interest. Situated in the Old City, Kalpali Çarsi has an assortment of thoroughfares from carpets to brassware. Be sure to haggle, for the merchants are known to often bend a little.

The Topkapi Palace

Home to the stunning 86 carat Spoonmaker Diamond, the palace was once the palatial residence of the Ottoman Rulers. The garden is a stunning piece of art, and overlooks the Sea of Marmara. Containing four courtyards and a number of other smaller structures, the palace’s Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II. It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985. It is now a museum and shows on display beautiful Ottoman jewelry among other artifacts.

Hagia Sophia

It transcended a journey from a church to a mosque and now finally rests as a fine museum and one of the city’s favourite destinations. The byzantine architecture, with the intricate mosaics and marble pillars make for a beautiful scene.

The Basilica Cistern

All Dan Brown fans out there will remember the mention of this place in his book titled INFERNO, where the 6th century structure does not fail to impress even the most unassuming. Known locally as the Sunken Palace, one must make an eerie-full descend into the cavern which houses three hundred and thirty six columns with bases in a few feet of water. It was earlier used to store water for the nearby buildings. It might remind you of the nail-biting end of the movie, the dramatic setting of which will make you visit this place for a closer look.

The Bosphorous

Istanbul’s waterway, which forms the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, is straddled by the metropolitan population. It divides the Asian Turkey from its European counterpart, but what it does better is give the travelers a beautiful boat-ride.  The city’s official ferry company, Sehir Hatlari, offers short, full and night cruises to suit individual needs; and for a more breath-taking local experience, hop onto a ferry bustling with Turkish tea-sippers and catch a glimpse of the sun setting across an orange sky.

Hamam

For those jet-lagged days and sore travelling feet, the experience of Hamam is a must. The traditional spa experience in the old city includes masseurs engaging in the ritualistic series of soaking, scrubbing, exfoliating and rinsing treatments. It all varies according to the bathhouse; however, if one wishes to splurge, most hotels offer modern versions of the same experience.

Galata Tower

The spectacular view of the city from this towering structure is a must see for all first-timers.

Istanbul Modern

A perfect glimpse into the contemporary art scene of the city, the converted Warehouse near Karaköy on the banks of Bosphorous, showcases works of Turkish artists, sculptors and photographers. Book a table at the outdoor terrace Restoran Im and mix Cuisine with culture which makes for a sumptuous visit.  A set of Rainbow stairs nearby join Findikli to Cihanger.

Rumeli Hisari

The ruins of an old fortress, Rumeli Hisari,are located in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul, Turkey, on a hill at the European side of the Bosphorus. Since the 20th century, the place has been a museum and also doubles up as an open-air theater for various concerts at festivals during the summer months.

 

Lastly try the Turkish coffee, which is a thick concoction of black unfiltered coffee. ‘Mandabatmaz’ is one of the most famous variants!

*Featured picture credit- onorient.com

article, bhutan, road trip, traveling, Uncategorized

A Hidden Kingdom: In the lap of Bhutan

Bhutan is very near yet almost unknown and mystic to most, who happen to relate it with last kingdom in the world and also the last Shangri-La!

Bhutan’s pristine environment offers ecosystem which is rich and diverse, due to its location and great geographical and climatic variations. Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and valleys boast spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots. Bhutan does not have GDP but a Domestic Happiness Index. Gladly one country has its priorities straight.

The journey to Bhutan is possible in two ways. You may start by flight to Paro from various places such as Bagdogra or New Delhi also but you miss the very essence of Bhutan which you capture once you start the road journey from Phuntsholing which is about 4 hours drive from Siliguri, West Bengal.  This is not the only road entry but happens to be the most popular. There are two more road entry points from India only and there is no entry from any other country to Bhutan.

Once you enter Bhutan the calm atmosphere is as loud as anything else. The aromatic luxurious nature of the country rejuvenates one instantly. From Phuntsholling the journey to the core of Bhutan begins and it’s an exhilarating and adventurous journey to say the least. Through the mountain roads, it is almost 160km to the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.

In Thimphu are many places that are feast to the eyes and speak to the soul.

Buddha Dordenma:

This is a short drive from Thimphu city and a lovely place on the hill. The golden statue of Buddha, one of the largest in the world, was built on the 60th anniversary of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It’s almost 55 meter tall and is visible from Thimphu. You can see the Thimphu valley and enjoy the peace and chants of monks while the prayers are in progress. The Kuensel Phodrang nature park provides the forest cover which surrounds the statue.

Punakha Dzong

Called Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), this Dzong is the second largest and the second oldest palace in the country and competes for the title of the most majestic of them. The spring season is the best time to visit the valley, for beautiful Jacaranda trees surround the palace, lending it their beauty and borrowing some from it in the process. Nestled between two rivers, Pho Chu and Mo Chu, it is connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge.

Tashichho Dzong, the main Dzong of Thimphu:

Situated on the western bank of the river Wang Chu, it is massive, beautiful, and timeless. It’s a Dzong along with palace for the royals. Traditionally it was the seat of the country’s civil government, the Druk Desi, and also the summer capital.  The surroundings are beautiful and mystic. The carving on the walls, prayer wheel and majestic charm make for a delightful sight.

Dochula Pass: On the road to Punakha, this pass in the snow-capped Himalayas, is the one of the highest place in Bhutan and that makes it an excellent vantage point to see the mountains. With 108 Stupas or chortens known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” in the middle, it’s an amazing experience while you can sip your coffee or something stronger in a small but well made café.  The pass leads to the Royal Botanical Park.

Tiger’s nest or Taktsang Monastery:

This tops the chart for all the reasons to visit this country. Also called Tiger’s nest, Tiger’s nest is perched at a hill top not meant for anybody with week knees. The steep 900m climb is strenuous but the view of the Paro valley makes you forget pain. Perched on a cliff with a dazzling view of pines and rhodendrons, the monastery’s entrance descends to a waterfall close to the Snow Lion Cave. Inside the monastery, the holy atmosphere among the monks makes it very serene.

Chele La Pass:

It’s a view point 4000 meters above sea level! A breath-taking view of the pass which separates Haa and Paro valley. A lovely drive with a view of Mt Jumolhari is definitely worth the visit but be very careful in winters as the temperature drops to the wrong side of zero.

And finally for those who like to indulge in high spirits, Ara a local spirit brewed from rice or corn can be tried and for little refined taste, a local raw fresh beer brand name “Red Panda” is fresh and good for the tingling taste buds. Cheers!

*featured image credit: makemytrip.com