Main story Peppy tuk tuks ply with music blaring

From the ramparts of the fort, a heritage hotel today, Churi Ajitgarh looked like a movie set. A period epic involving wealthy people who loved art and the good life and, just like a lot of wealthy people, given to self-aggrandisement. They were merchants who travelled far and wide and brought back with them architectural and aesthetic flourishes from Europe and the rest of the country. Around me were the grand havelis they built incorporating their newfound sensibilities, each trying … More»

 
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The magical, kinky cubicle - before activation

Gone are the good ole days when all you had to tackle in hotels, which involved application of astuteness and agility, were the timer switches which lit up corridors for 20 or 30 seconds – you invariably ended making a dash for it. It must have been a good feeling – saving electricity and all – but it left in its wake a lot of guests, including my dad, floundering in the dark, groping their way out through appliances and … More»

Jaisalmer Fort - lovely but living

If I told you winter was the best time of the year to be in the desert you’d ask me ‘so what’s new?’ Or ‘how predictable is that?’ Then, think about it, do we really? I mean if not exactly make a beeline, at least make serious plans to hit the desert in winter? From watching the travel patterns of my good friends – compulsive travellers all, and being privy to plans of family – who I believe must be … More»

Pottekkatt outside Chandrakantham

‘Bridge View’ was the name I gave my writing room – a rented space in a commercial building by the banks of the canal. It had a unique atmosphere marked by a strange colour and odour. Sound even. The stink from the cremation ground towards the west wafted in with the wind along with the stench of coconut husks being retted nearby. From where I sat I could hear the rhythmic thrashing of the pulp with wooden mallets like drumbeats. … More»

The Eurail experience - a lot to be desired

First day of the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland some years ago. Many glasses of zutho, traditional rice beer, later I was winding my way aided by random hands and shoulders out of the Kisama venue to the car park. My crew – we were filming the weeklong spectacle for a travel channel – was supposed to meet me next to a temporary ATM which served more as a landmark than cash dispenser in the ensuing days having run out on … More»

Beats 'em all

The odd-even formula has struck like boarding school after a jaunty summer vacation. Though we are aware the restrictive regiment is for our own good – Delhi pollution levels are 15 times higher than the WHO standard, capable of claiming up to three years of our lives – as true Delhiites we have to groan and gripe: At the inadequate public transport infrastructure, at the laxity on part of cops to challan offenders who flaunt political connections, at flouters flaunting … More»

Like a dainty dessert

Every travel is a quest for Shangri-La – the mystical, mythical land of harmonious coexistence, contentment and fulfilment. With a subtitle like ‘Searching for Shangri-La’ travel, thus, has to go on. But when the last in the collection of (just) six travelogues that make up Asian Absences is called ‘Shangri-La’ it almost seems like the insatiable hunt has come to an end. This ‘hour at the edge of the clearing’ leaves several jolts in its wake which possibly is the … More»

Lucky meal - last of the non-veg

Nobody wants to read yet another account of passenger trauma induced by the proclaimed pathological delay of Air India flights. Nor about the anguish inflicted by the habitual misdemeanour of the autumnal aunties of the aisle (AA). Though I had my share of both these ritualistic inevitabilities by the time I took my seat on board AI 048, Delhi – Trivandrum, I swear I didn’t want to write about it either. That is till at take-off when the Young Handsome/Hopeful … More»

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Desert rain falls like a baptismal shower, there is divinity and rebirth. It is a diffuser of an exotic perfume with top notes of fragrant earth, a heart of nostalgia and the base leaving a hint of longing. The desert itself remains almost still, the shifting dunes quivering just a bit in a silent frenzy to quench an insatiable thirst. The rain-washed scrubs gleam black and green. Lightning cracks the shocks of cerulean skies above and thunder squalls trembles the … More»

En route ghat

Chicken shamans
It is easy to spot a chicken shaman in Kathmandu – they come to you. They tell you about sky burial – a Tibetan form of burial where the body is hacked into pieces – hoping to leave you astounded before they try to persuade you to follow them to a burial site high up in the mountains. If you are still not impressed, they will even perform a trick or two – usually magic or mindreading. The real … More»

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Before the paan there is the paanwallah. So I will begin my paean to the paan with one for him: he is fantastically clever, can spot the nescient first time paaner without glancing up once from his gleaming tin-can assembly line. I can personally vouch for the ones in Lucknow and Banaras, the land which inspired the evergreen Khaike Paan Banaraswala song, a Holi, Diwali, marriage and birthday party staple. A digestive ditty whose calming, settling effect any DJ will … More»

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