Monday

Roadtripping to Shirdi, Nasik. India.

The one word that describes this trip for me has to be  *pure*. 

When it starts from within, the need to look and interpret things in the most simplest manner, the take away is inevitably, pure. The reactions, the actions, the feelings, the emotions, the words, the exchanges...the Universe ordains everything to be your soul's reflection

For me the piety was the journey as much as the destination. The varied experiences along the way, the accompanying riders that radiated a collective harmony, the full bloom of Natures raw power. The people we met along the way- from the cattle herders, to the bullock cart riders, to the sugarcane juice seller, to the panditji at the shrine who helped us offer prayers and in turn gave us prashaad... to the various pilgrims who rushed and pushed in their holi coloured colthes, chanting in reverence Baba's name.




We made good distance in the early, pre sunrise hours. The air was crisp, infact cold. We did not need the AC in the car till much later in the day. Listening to jazz, we wound our way into soft sunrise, made our fist halt post the Kasara ghats for the first cuppa! This trip we had packed enuff food and drinks to feed an army, so everytime we decided to stop and take a comfort break it was always away from the madding crowds. Perhaps another reason why the journey was so calming:)





Silence and music eventually gave way to chatter and laughter and much kidding amongst us. Before we knew it, we were in Shirdi. We made our way inside the temple. Left all our worldly belongings behind, we wove our way inside the temple. A tad too crowded for comfort, given it was a Holi-day, we walked to a spot and left our shoes behind.  Our friend was much worried for her JimmyChoos which may not be there when she returns, giving us enough fodder to tease her all the way back:))

Once inside, call it Divine Intervention, call it blessings, call it luck...we had the best fortunes of having darshan of Baba standing central in the temple, with no people around us. Time stood still. Baba talked, communicated. No words were spoken. The belief took over.

All else - the security personnel, the chants, the crowds -  all faded into the background. Reverence and higher energies flowed seamlessly.

With such blessings, we felt buoyed, halted for half hour in a local farmers shaded farm, where we had our bkfst and many rounds of teas and coffees. 




Then were back on the road towards Shanishignapur, 100kms from Shirdi. Upon nearing the temple site at ShaniShignapur, we were accosted by the cacophony of various agents, trying to make a quick buck, stopping the car middle of the road by standing in front of the car - it was awful. We kept our patience, wove our way thru to the parking we wanted. Quickly thereon we sprang like the deer skimming and skipping on hot hot tar...making our way inside the temple.

Such a lovely system they have devised, collection of offering of oil happens at one point...from where drop by drop the collected oil, reaches the holy shrine. So no crowding, no pushing. They have also added another nice touch - they now, keep the main landing square, near the shrine, always cool, by constantly allowing a stream of water flow. Helps keep the land cool, hence bare feet dont burn. This God was historically only worshiped by males. Females were not allowed to enter the Shani Gods precincts, but much has changed, and women happily flocked in here to worship the God:)

 Once done from here, we were back on the road, thirsting for fresh sugarcane juice. After-all this is the land of molasses, where sugar is made and distributed to all India. Here is where we met the most handsome bull, Raja. 




So gorgeous that I couldn't take my eyes off him. I kept talking with him and he kept patiently hearing me. Some local people warned me, that he aint a freindly sorts and he does kick often. That did not deter me in petting him, and chatting with him. I have never seen such kind melting cow eyes. So gentle this Raja, he stood patiently letting me jabber with him, then llicked my hand for spending time with him:)) Dont think I will ever forget him.

Hereon we deicded to skip the main highway and instead took Nagar -Ghoti -Murbad as our route to get back. Such raw barren land for 200kms





...barring one little oasis of fresh water for about 10kms, 







the journey felt daunting, arduous...but once you calm that skitty heart, you marvel at Natures might, its power, you look around with much awe and wonder...what if...  

  

       

Saturday

Espana


Madrid the medieval city, rocking with its pubs, cafes, discotheques, nightclubs, open late into the night, besides of course it being, the cultural capital of Spain.

How this city loves to party is witnessed by the fact that we were stuck in a traffic mess at 315am one night! That’s why I guess *nomads of the night*! J Madrid is without a doubt probably the most social city I’ve ever been to.  It comes alive at night after 10pm.  Restaurants and bars stay buzzing all night. Night clubs don’t get busy until after 3am and normally its only tourists that you find before 1am.  Public transport is excellent with a train service and bus service.  You don’t need a car here. People have pigs as pets here:) 



Throughout the centuries, Spain has been the stage of many clashes between civilisations.


Constant battling between Iberians, Celts, Romans, Goths, Visigoths, Jews and Muslims, particularly during medieval times, explains why many Spanish cities were born as fortified strongholds.



In most cases, these fortifications were first built by the Romans and later expanded on by the Visigoths, in an attempt to fend off the Arab invasion of the 8th century, resulting in some truly spectacular stone works, plenty of which can still be admired today.


The only way to feast the eyes and soak it all in, is to venture outside the old citadel, brave the weather which soured from sunny/cold to bone-chilling rain for us, walk over the bridges and by the river to unearth some of the prettiest sights along its city walls.



In some ways  Madrid is an image of Paris-   many traditional cafés with the vibes of the literary, artistic world hob knobbing and clinking their glasses while deep in debate or discussion over a period in the past.  Best part of our trip was when the tired feet could walk nomore, we’d flop in one of the easiest access cafes, and watch the world go by. The café we dropped in to, had a lively mixture of elegant older Madrileños,  writerly types and families with kids - our time there  was livened up immeasurably by the toddler at the next table insisting that she was not, in fact, a toddler but a very convincing monkeyJ. Ohh who am I kidding- the key reason, to go sit inside one of these fab cafes/bars- it’s hard to look cute in sleet. And the damn weighty snuggly’s – seriously tire you out. So we’d often find a café or a bar, unpeel some of the layers, and get warm again.

My soaked map looked like this and we had hardly ventured about  for more than few hours- brrr I can still feel the cold rain!

I probably come from a city starved of parks and walk abouts, because everywhere else in the world, people put a huge emphasis on their green spaces. If you are familiar with the concept of the living wall, then Spain boasts of such beautiful spaces.


Not only are these places big on look and feel, they have cafes that serve fantastic coffees and art galleries engineered around the art gardens . Spaniards value nature, sitting in the sun and open air, are considered a blessing.  We saw some  nice exhibits of paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, fiber art and jewelry at one such garden cafe.

Moving away from these posh surrounds- we reached  restaurants frequented by mainly Spanish people.  Given our aversion to tourist traps and ridiculous costs, some of these restaurants we discovered were 99% local clientele. Chico bar was tucked away in a lovely plaza with some tables set outside to catch the weak soft sun, while most were seated indoors for comfort from the cold.The bar area was large and done up very trendy.  We had a 3 course lunch here and were back here again for breakfast the following day. The food was excellent, the staff helpful and an additional bonus of free WiFi.  The veggie platter is huge, and pretty satisfying.  
  
Moving on, this city is also home of bull fighting in Spain, the massive bullring is popularised by the Arabic Moors of the 12th century.

The architecture of the place has a more ancient look than it actually is. Ticket prices depend on where you are seated. There are differences between seats in "sol" and those in "sombra" - the sun or the shade, with the latter being more desirable and hence of course more expensive.

When visiting Segovia the locals pointed out that this castle inspired Walt Disney to base his Cinderella castle on this 9-century-old castle.


So, now you know. Here, we were delighted to find a churros bar frequented by the locals and tourists alike.


People have this as a ritual for breakfast, enjoy it as an afternoon snack or stop by for a nightcap after an evening in town. The churros and chocolate combination is something, I think, I could happily both start and end my days with on a daily basisJ.  I guess it is a good thing that we don’t live permanently in Spain or that would be a very real temptation. Don’t feel guilty about having these when in Spain by the way, there is a lot of walking one does in these parts.  

Am steering away from the regular touristy things we saw and did, because once you are in Madrid there is no way you will not  see the Puerta Del Sol, The Royal palace, the Prado Mueseum, the main railway station with the tropical garden…There are so many stereotypes about Spain and the Spanish people, some are true and some you will discover naturally. 


All seems lovely when we wear the tourist hat. But look closely and you discover Spain has a huge unemployment problem especially with young people with an estimated 50% under 25 years of age out of work.  So tourism is their bread and butter in many ways

We found a bar called San Chirano, primarily focused on authentic – and cheap – flamenco shows, was so perfect if you’re looking to catch a bit of dancing without having to fight with a thousand tourists or pay tourist entry prices. We very accidentally landed in a street called Aruzo cal  which was boiling with life. It was quirky and a little crazy but there were some great spots playing live music, serving enormous hamburguers with Jack Daniels barbeque sauce, very friendly staff, great unbeatable atmosphere to chat up with the locals.


We were taken to the flea market literally inside the Railway Museum – old second hand used stuff on sale. The locals do come here to buy bargains every month.


The countryside while driving thru from Madrid to Toledo you see a city with a unique blend of Arab, Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Visigothic elements. Toledo is largely an elevated and rocky place, on its 3 sides  looped in by the Tagus River - a thought struck me here, most *countryside* is breath-taking -- tt’s our cities that rob us of our breath! Why don’t the architects of big cities (like ours) build cities *around* nature?




Thursday

Moods of Bombay in the rains

Have you ever walked or run in the rain? I have met the Creator of this magic

Life is so beautiful in the rains

And to think, once upon a time these rains made me blue, o so blue 

Get soaked, and feel the magic:)































Pune expressway in the rains

Rain soaked mountains, roads, grass, valleys...the pleasure of Nature in full abandon