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Take a road trip with ‘Tripling’

One of the many road trips taken with friends over the years

Growing up I took many roadtrips with friends. Once I remember we visited Lonavla, during the monsoon. We ran into these gorgeous guys from the National Defence Academy (NDA), who sadly we never met again. We weren’t too disheartened as the weather was beautiful. But this trip is one we keep talking about. Because at that moment and many moments later on similar trips with nothing but the road and the radio our friendship was cemented. This shared experience continues to connect us many years later.

Indian stories have compelling content

There is no wonder then that one of my feel good shows for the summer is TVF’s ‘Tripling’. Set to the backdrop of a roadtrip the show follows the lives of 3 siblings, Chandan, Chanchal and Chitwan as they navigate life together and in the process, find themselves. They do this mostly while driving around in their car. 

For some background, when streaming platforms came to India, they recognized that there was a market for regional language content. Good content was soon being developed by Indian writers. And my first introduction, was through ‘Tripling’. There is a reason why this is my first tryst with Indian writing for a web series. 

Akarsh (The Tripling writer) has been expanding my cultural universe since a decade. I know him as the easy going fellow who always sees humor in situations, has cool friends and has married my Parsi bestie.  I have a feeling though, going on a road trip with Akarsh would be a little like the series 😉 

Why you need to watch Tripling

But the point is I would want a real-life road trip like this. Always some action, drama and romance. Also, who doesn’t love roadtrips that feature our gorgeous country?  The second season of Tripling travels to Kolkata and Sikkim, just to name a few of the places. And don’t we all talk about taking roadtrips with family and friends. It’s stuff that dreams are made off.

While the first season had the siblings travelling together to meet their parents, with all possible madness ensuing. The second season that released this April is equally hilarious. The trio set out to find Chanchal’s husband who has mysteriously disappeared. Of course, it cannot be as simple as that. In the second season the characters get fleshed out and it is nice to see. I don’t want to give away too much information, but, go watch it. It’s an engaging, slice of life series with exaggerated twists and funny dialogues.

Kudos to the writer duo for tapping into the memories and magic that roadtrips evoke. Sometimes all it takes is the open road and your people for everything to make sense again.

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Alluring Rann of Kutch

Rann of Kutch salt pans
The great white desert

After travelling a lot more in India, I realised that my own country was not only affordable but one of the loveliest to explore. The Rann of Kutch is no exception. I remember photographs of friends taken there, quite a few years back. Since then I have always wanted to visit this place. In 2019, I finally got the opportunity.

Think twice before going

The Rann of Kutch is approximately 620kms flight away from Mumbai so it’s quite a trip. The climate is harsh. Since we visited in Feb we had better weather, winter was still around. While it was hot and sunny during the day, the nights were cold. However, we were assured that December was worse.

Given the distance there are two ways to travel to Kutch, from Ahmedabad or Bhuj. Direct flights to Bhuj are expensive though convenient. It is the district capital and close to Kutch. But with a little bit of stretch, you can take a train/flight to Ahmedabad and then a bus to Bhuj and onwards to Kutch. Just to give you an idea coming from Ahmedabad it is half the cost of the direct flight but easily double the time. We exercised the latter option.

Don’t think at all just go

Despite the inconvenience of getting there (especially if you use the scenic route) I realised that Gujarat culture is worth exploring: 

Local Gujarat costume
We tried on the local costume

Gujarat Handicrafts:The one thing that should be on your list to buy is the handicrafts available in the region. They are not as expensive as in the metros. I will dedicate an entire blog to this because the handicrafts are so interesting and diverse.

The whole shopping experience:The best part is that you go to the village from where they are made and shop for the products. It’s a different experience to buy from the artisans directly. Since we lived in Hodka village we went next door and bought some pretty things. They were hospitable and many members of the village came to meet us and offered us tea. It became like shopping from your neighbours.

Bhungas at Vodka village
The Bhungas at Hodka village

Experience the Kutch culture:Most of the resorts are run by locals and they make sure you have an authentic experience. You get to live in Bhungas or circular houses made of mud, with thatched roofs. They are supposed to be structurally stable during earthquakes and climate responsive. The pure vegetarian food is what the locals eat. Here I must relate an anecdote :

Eating Non-Veg food in Gujarat

Our driver happened to be Muslim and we became friends. While complaining about the lack of non-veg food we requested him to take us to a good place for non-veg. He took us up on the offer.In a little non-descript place called Luckys (no relation to our bandra stalwart) we ate some great mutton biryani. The meat was actually falling of the bone as well as chicken and paratha that was lip smacking good. Hence this was the surprise element of the trip, our wish of getting a good non-veg meal fulfilled in a staunchly veg place like Gujarat. Talk about Indian jugaad (flexible approach to problem solving)! 

Last but not least

Evening sets at the Rann of Kutch
Sunsets at the Rann of Kutch

The Landscape: The great Rann of Kutch is a landscape, I had neither seen nor experienced before. You see nothing but white plains (the salt pans) as far as the eye can see. Definitely visit during sunrise and sunset. As this is the time that you feel the impact of the vastness. Everything begins to make sense. The sun rises as if from the ground and it is the only thing you can focus on. You wonder if you walk upto it, can you touch it? No picture or video can do it justice. Watching this scene alone will make the trip worth it.

Vijay Vilas Palace at Bhuj
Love this shot from the Vijay Vilas Palace at Bhuj

Bhuj Attractions: There is not much to see around Kutch with the main attractions in Bhuj.So, the first day as we arrived we travelled back to Bhuj from where our friends were taking their plane. We did some sightseeing at the Vijay Vilas palace and the Mandvi beach. Both places were lovely. There is also a cultural centre at Bhujodi that was not far off where we shopped! More on that later.

Lastly don’t worry about the Rann Utsav(Festival) we missed most of it, but it looked like a big shopping mela. Exploring the villages like we did is something I would choose over that anytime. So as Amitabh Bachhan says hope you guys are encouraged to ‘Breathe in a bit of Gujarat’ with this article. 

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Upgrade your regular snack with Granola!

Healthy Granola
Breakfast made easy

I want to eat healthier and on recommendation of a friend, picked up a bottle of Granola from Natures basket. This had me inadvertently try out a new foodie trend. With the wave of healthy/vegan/keto/non-diary milk trends, granola is both healthy and vegan. However, we found a homemade one that will definitely give the store-bought one a run for its money.

For those of you who don’t know Granola was used as trail mix. Good for active people, as it is nutritious, light and easy to carry while you hike. Made of a mix of nuts, seeds, rolled oats and fruits, it can be customized as you like it. The sweeteners can be honey (sugar free), raw or brown sugar.

Home chef Niti’s granola came highly recommended. Had to try her out because there were three elements that I love to support 1) She is a small business 2) Uses all healthy ingredients 3) The food is homemade. 

True to form Niti’s Granola is well toasted and fresh. The sesame seeds (you can use sunflower/ flax seeds) that she used was a big hit with my mom. I could also see that she had used ingredients like walnuts and almonds, figs and raisins. It can make a good substitute for your regular breakfast of bacon and eggs. If you don’t believe me you can ask my husband, who gave it a big thumbs up! You need to add in milk and bananas and it can be eaten like cereal.Put it in curd or eat it plain and it can also make a good snack. She also used honey hence the product was sugar free.

April is the month me and the husband jointly embark on healthy eating in a bid to lose weight and remain fit. Let’s hope that this is a step in that direction. Any suggestions on how we can keep up the healthy regime will be welcome.

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A night of the Blues – Mahindra Blues Festival

Mahindra Blues Festival
Melissa posing at the Mahindra Blues Festival

My introduction to Blues music started with Beth Hart. If you’re like me, you probably never heard of her before this. Even though the festival was easily accessible to me, at Mehboob Studios, Blues was never a genre I was interested in. I can only say that by divine intervention, I attended the second day of the 9th Mahindra Blues Festival.

I should have had a clue when a friend, stayed back in Mumbai from Pune, specially to see Beth Hart perform. While SugaRay Rayford was good (I had to google his name) I cannot forget Beth Hart. Her performance blew me away. I never thought Blues could be a genre that energized! When she performed it felt like gospel music to me.

Later friends expressed sadness at missing out on seeing Beth Hart singing. After viewing her live, I understand why. After doing a little research, I realized that I had heard blues rock royalty that day. For the uninitiated, Beth’s career spans 2 decades. She sings blues rock, jazz fusion and soul. She plays piano, guitar, bass guitar, cello and percussion. But beyond this as a performer she was outstanding. Her voice moved the room and increased the blood pumping through the veins.

She is the second woman I know this year, who struggles with Bi-polar disease. Both super creative beings, Beth says in one of her interviews ,”If you work hard at something, you’re going to find a way that you can live in this life, no matter what your handicaps are.” And it’s true once her music takes over you forget everything else. 

She shines. We went away amazed at the lady’s story telling abilities, voice and stage presence. In short total ‘Paisa Vasool’ (Worth the price of the ticket).

The line up for the festival

It is nice to  see platforms like these that are introducing a healthy dose of culture in our lives. Mahindra group is a known patron of the arts. While this would be a strategic move, let’s give them credit for expanding our universe. 

As an aside the show attracts a little older crowd, I saw old men with jackets and hats. Adding to the feeling that we were listening to classy music. The  show was well managed and zero waste! We experienced this when they handed out drinking water, in paper cups so as to avoid using plastic bottles. 

Next year is the Blues festivals, 10thanniversary and we look forward to what is in store!

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Kochi with a twist

“This is your time to travel, you may not get this much time again.” Encouraged by the husband to travel, I read up on all that I could possibly do. As luck would have it, there was an art festival happening in a city, I always wanted to go back to.

Sunsets in Kochi

The Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018 is in its 4thyear. Having read about it over the years, I thought this would be a great time to visit. The trip was surprisingly easy to plan. I managed to convince a friend, she booked us cheap air tickets and I booked a cheap Bed& Breakfast. We were set. Sometimes taking the easy route is a good decision. You will notice that the way the Biennale is spread out in Fort Kochi, it lets you soak in the culture of the place. The art has Dutch, Portuguese and Keralite venues as the backdrop, not to mention the sea following you throughout. Truly a beautiful setting!

As mentioned the choice of Fort Kochi to host this Biennale is spot on. Some of the reasons to attend:

Beautiful settings to take a break at, Dutch building -David Hall and fresh catch on display, at Fort Kochi!
  1. The place gets properly intertwined with the show and leaves you feeling as if you have got a proper taste of Kochi
  2. Kochi is one of the safest places I have travelled to in India. I would recommend it for women travelers  
  3. Kochi can be as affordable or expensive as you like and the quality of the south Indian fare will still be good. This is my experience after my second visit.

My travel partner asked me if I think the theme of the Biennale ’Possibilities of a Non Alienated Life’ went with the art that was on display. For me it did make sense. It opened my eyes to the conflict in different parts of the world. We may not be touched by it directly, but it is important to be aware. The art was definitely engaging and composed of paintings, installations, movies and experiences.

I put down some artists that were memorable, but I would not want to judge one over the other. I commend the Biennale for the number of topics dealt with from across the world and India, that made me a more knowledgeable world citizen. 

So, in no order of importance some of the artwork that stayed with me includes: 

Walid Raad- ‘I thought I escaped my fate but apparently’
Waalid Raad’s tongue-n-cheek work – ‘Comrade leader comrade leader

Artist Walid Raad– ‘Comrade leader comrade leader- you’d better be watching the clouds. This artwork made me outright laugh and quite aptly his political commentary is satirical. I loved the idea of middle eastern leaders appearing as flowers, which in reality has been used as a code for their names. And the piece ‘I thought I’d escape my fate but apparently’ are quotes taken directly from the media and represented in the artwork

Shilpa Gupta- ‘However For in your tongue, I Cannot Fit- 100 Jailed Poets

Shilpa Gupta’s – ‘However For in your tongue, I Can Not Fit- 100 Jailed Poets’. This installation is beautiful beyond belief. It does not allow you to view it complacently, but you will get pulled into it. It features individuals incarcerated for their politics and poetry. You will hear their voices all at once above the mikes. You find yourself sitting there thinking about the fact that the freedoms you take for granted were what someone else sacrificed their life for. You also find yourself being grateful for being born in a democratic nation, where it is not the rule but rather the exception that the government will snuff out your voice

Shirin Neshat’s -‘Turbulent’. We didn’t sit through all the videos as there were many and we didn’t have enough time. However, this video touched me. The explanation said that in Iranian culture women cannot sing to an audience. Then watching the woman singer, sing her unintelligible song to an empty audience, bought home the point of female oppression so clearly. (No picture available)

Henri Dono- ‘Smiling Angel from the sky’

Henri Dono- ‘Smiling Angel from the sky’ and the ‘Trojan Ships’ fascinated us with its light, movement and colour. This installation came alive because of a button on the door and yes, we kept pushing it. No wonder this form of Indonesian puppetry, is considered visual art.

While I love visiting new places, I also love getting deep into oft visited places especially if there is more to explore. So here’s a shout out to the universe to make it happen one more time with Kochi.There were also student & collateral pieces that were housed in different places off the main Biennale venues. We tried to take in as much as possible and I will be doing a pictorial representation of more of the artwork- so stay tuned.

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Terima Kasih Bali

Planning a wedding is exhausting. I was looking forward to recuperating on our honeymoon. But the destination was constantly changing. When we finally booked our tickets to Bali, I was happy.

While researching we discovered that there were trips to islands close to Bali, that were both accessible and fun. An hour’s ride away from Bali are the islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Cennigan. The first two islands gave us some delightful experiences. We chose to stay at Nusa Lembongan for a night, so that our trip wouldn’t feel too rushed. Some people may do it as a day trip, however you may not get a feel of the place. It is an ideal getaway and has some pristine white beaches with no one around for miles. Not only that Bali is quite touristy, whereas on these islands, we got glimpses of the authentic Balinese way of life.

Balinese Hindu burial ground
Balinese Hindu burial ground

For ex; While travelling in Nusa Lembognan we were suddenly assailed with the sight of open umbrellas standing tall on the ground. That’s when we realized that some Balinese Hindu’s bury their dead. We were told they did this, as earlier, it was too expensive to cremate the bodies. Umbrellas are then put over gravestones, because their ancestors can take care of themselves against the sun and the rain in the afterlife.

Hi there T. Rex!

A short boat ride away from Lembognan island is Nusa Penida Island. On our visit, it reminded me of the south of Europe, in specific the Algarve coastline, with its   rock formations in the sea. Nusa Penida is most famous for the ‘T Rex’ beach (Kelingking beach) that has a rock formation that looks like a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex. To get to the beach you have to walk up and down steep steps, at some places they are at a complete 90-degree angle. Clearly not for the faint-hearted. Rest assured no matter where you are at Kelingking, you are bound to enjoy the view of the spectacular coastline. We also visited Broken beach and Angels Billabong which is again a series of picturesque rock formations in the sea.

These islands, off Bali, given their lovely beaches are a hive of water activities, diving and snorkeling being most popular. Since we did not have much time we opted for snorkeling. Once you get the hang of it, it’s fun. If you are a swimmer, you will know that being on the surface of the water makes the activity safe as well. The coral and the multicolour fish were a memorable sight. However, the waters in Bali are not calm and my husband who has snorkeled before was not too happy with the experience. The crashing waves and the extra tumbling, doesn’t allow you to easily enjoy the views that the sea bed has to offer. But for a first timer like me I enjoyed the uniqueness of seeing the ocean from such a close angle.

Striking a pose at Broken beach

So, my advice would be get off the main island for some offbeat and relaxing fun. As for me I look forward to flopping on a beach doing nothing for my next visit to Bali!

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Getting spiritual with a visit to the ‘Pyramids of Chi’

When you visit Bali you realize that it is a juxtaposition of beaches and big malls, of latest American brands and ancient spiritualism. Thus, old and new go together and this is especially true on the main island. The population in Bali is 80% Hindu. But along with this ancient religion there are many different spiritual practices and alternative therapies that are prevalent here.

This is a recount of our tryst with one of them. While the husband wanted to explore wildlife, I was definitely pulled in the spiritual direction. Because we had already visited the Macaque monkeys at the Sacred Monkey forest, the spiritual experience won. So, we travelled to the Ubud rice fields, where two Americans have set up pyramids, called the ‘Pyramids of Chi’. Appearing as a vision to the owners, while they were meditating, they were then compelled to build these structures here.

Soaking up the Ubud Rice fields

The Pyramids are built to be conducive to sound and are 1/6th the scale of the Pyramids at Giza. The center is known for their sound healing and relaxation therapy. The Pyramids are in the middle of a rice field and the atmosphere is very calm with green fields as far as the eye can see. You get only vegan food in their café and there is also a small shop from where we bought crystals with different properties, while we waited for our session to start. Phone connectivity is not available as you step on to the campus.

The Pyramids of Chi in all their Glory

We decided to experience a sound therapy session, which they conduct in both groups as well as one on one. The session started with Kevin the course conductor (or gong master) telling us a bit about the therapy, expected impact and how to handle any powerful feelings that may arise. At first, I thought this is something I have not experienced before; however, I was reminded of the Tibetan bowls that are so common in India. Infact I had gone for a meditative session where they used these bowls and that is the simplest form of sound therapy. So, while I had some familiarity with what we were to experience I was still a bit apprehensive.

Our group was then taken into the Pyramids and made to wear eye pillows that would cut out the light. We were made to sleep around the center which is filled with different gongs, digeridoo and drums that were to be played during the session. For 90 minutes, we experienced a whole world of sounds, if not to heal us of our negativities, atleast put us in a state of heightened relaxation. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I especially remember one of the instruments that sounded like a herd of elephants. I kept feeling sensations that would get heightened and then lessen. While I felt really light, my husband went to sleep during the session.

I have had my fair share of spiritual experiences over the years, still I would recommend this one. The beautiful way everything is done, from the lovely place where the pyramids are housed, to the relaxed vibe of the staff, calmness and prettiness permeates everything. Hence it should be experienced if you are visiting Bali. 

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