Winter postcards from Black Forest.

Life in Stuttgart can be a little, there is no other way to put it, boring. The city is uptight and businesslike and living here can feel a little like living with a British cousin only without the wry sense of humor or the adorable nasal accent (whom you never saw eye to eye in the first place!) It’s Europe’s economic zone (think Bangalore’s E-city but way modern and less traffic) and is filled with automobile industries of all kinds and banks. So, industrial.

Morning dawns in Baiersbronn.
Morning dawns in Baiersbronn.
The train tracks are snowed in!
The train tracks are snowed in!

But and this is a big BUT. Hop in the Deutsche Bahn and travel an hour south west and you arrive at the most breathtaking forest ranges in all of Europe – Black Forest. Yes, that’s where the namesake multilayered dark dessert comes from (although the Black Forest cake you find in the region or anywhere in Germany, has cherry brandy and real sour cherries and hence tasted nothing like it tasted anywhere I had before). It is also the Black Forest of the cuckoo clock.

A restaurant inside the forest area.
A restaurant inside the forest area.
Far in the background, you can see the skiing track.
Far in the background, you can see the skiing track.

Just as Christmas touches down, a carpet of snow descends on the entire Black Forest area and envelopes the tiny villages and towns in its embrace. Just this weekend, gleeful of this secret we decided to set on a little weekend trip to the beloved Schwarzwald – Black Forest. We picked a tiny town called Baiersbronn on the Murg river, in the middle of the region and during research stumbled upon another very interesting, wallet unfriendly piece of info – that the town has 8 Michelin stars to its credit.

In which I thought I was the focus but I wasn't!
In which I thought I was the focus but I wasn’t!
Murg - the river - is all frozen in parts!
Murg – the river – is all frozen in parts!

If I had read fairy tales while growing up, the image I would have conjured up when I saw Baisbronn enveloped in a heavy carpet of snow would have been that of Snow white’s queen mother sewing and injuring herself with a pinprick and asking for a wish for a girl who had “skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.”

From a view point, Baiersbron through the trees.
From a view point, Baiersbron through the trees.
The tall pine trees, pregnant with snow.
The tall pine trees, pregnant with snow.

But no such luck, I grew up on a steady diet of reality and unadulterated pessimism about the dangers lurking in the world and hence all I could think was the wood chipper scene from Fargo. Or strangely, the eerie visuals from The Human Stain, of Nicole Kidman driving on a winter day and her even eerier conversation with the crow. Suffice to say, there are many crows fluttering about in Baiersbronn. And Eurasian Jays and other birds.

The wood chipper, I told you about? I never saw but hey it exists here! Proof.
The wood chipper, I told you about? I never saw but hey it exists here! Proof.
The gorgeous hiking paths carpeted with snow.
The gorgeous hiking paths carpeted with snow.

But none of these thoughts were overbearing enough to deter us from walking along these gorgeous pine laden forests, pregnant with snow as you can see from these images. Except snow dust inside our shoes, may be. But when your walk gets tiring and shoes get filled with snow, you can always settle in for a hot mug of cocoa (Zartbitter, as they say in German for mild-dark chocolate) at the nearest cafe you stumble upon.

Trees are twigs in winter.
Trees are twigs in winter.

Though I only saw a bit of it, Baiersbronn served as a breathtaking primer for the Black Forest region and I’ve no doubt that the other towns of Black Forest is enticing enough. I can’t wait to go back! Soon.

Baiersbronn from above.
Baiersbronn from above.

May be in the next trip, we will she some guilt about the cost and try a meal at one these Michelin star restaurants! Ah well, who am I kidding? May be we won’t (after all, the middle class South Indian guilt on splurging – on a meal, no less – is so incredibly hard to get rid of, you see).

See, eerie, I told you?

Have you been to Schwarzwald / Black Forest? Leave a comment and let me know. Also, here’s wishing you all a super fabulous new year 2017!

A goodbye to Bangalore and lessons on living light.

Have you ever lived, even briefly, in a house with bare walls, empty bookshelves and a kitchen so stripped of its wares it looks like a riot mob just, well, ran riot? I have been living like that for a few days now and take it from me, it’s not a nice feeling. I have watched the municipal sweepers who are assigned on my street move stuff after stuff and pack it in cartons either to recycle or take it away to the dump yard. Like pond herons fishing in shallow waters, they carefully lift each item away until my house is entirely empty and all that’s left is my life’s wares neatly packed in a backpack and a suitcase. They didn’t have to work a lot because I have lived frugally.


I haven’t been hoarding a lot (if you discount the huge cartons that I saved for moving). Many of my books were gifted and some of them were exchanged in Blossoms, for new, unread ones that is being carted with me. Kitchen appliances, utensils, pillows, sheets, a spare steel cot, board games, yada yada yada went away to the above mentioned personnel. A bare minimum was sold to friends.


Is it cathartic? Both yes and no. The house certainly feels empty now both literally and figuratively. And I am scatterbrained with little to no head-space to work. So, in effect, I can’t feel the catharsis. But I’m a giver, not attached to a lot of possessions (according to at least, one of my friends). That makes me sound like a saint (which I’m certainly not) but if you’ve known me even briefly you’d know. If you express interest in anything I possess, I’ll offer it to you. Or offer to buy you a similar one.


That brings me to the topic. I’m leaving Bangalore. I don’t believe in forever but this does feel like an irreversible move. Where am I going to? Germany. Don’t ask me how I don’t recollect this detail but another good friend tells me how I used to talk about wanting to live in Germany ten years ago when we shared a room in a barracks, bordering the arid desert of Wadi Kabir in the suburbs of Muscat. Deserts can have that effect on one, I tell ya.

Bangalore has given me so much – lovely friends who opened up their hearts and houses to me and sometimes take me on spontaneous bird watching trips, rava idlis and obattus at many upaharas, tall stouts at Toit, the wildly optimistic jacarandas on Koramangala’s streets and rambling walks in its parks – Cubbon and LalBagh. I will forever be grateful and nostalgic about all that represents Bangalore (heck, I’m even carrying a pack of MTR puliogare mix and avalakki.)


This uprooting and replanting myself, is a major move, something I haven’t done in a decade (right after Oman happened). I’m excited, thrilled and scared in equal measures. Excited about the possibilities but scared about what it takes to re-build myself from the scratch. But it also, perhaps, provides me opportunities to shape myself as a completely different individual (wishful thinking, that).

Either way, this space will exist though I’m not sure right now how it’ll evolve. I will post, if not regularly, at least once a month. Wish me luck and watch me stumble, struggle and make progress in Germany.

Most of all, keep in touch, okay?

Hiking Kinabalu – Climbers, Keepers!

Standing tall at 13,438 ft, Mt. Kota Kinabalu, located in the Borneo Islands of East Malaysia is also the country’s highest mountain. The granite summit of Kota Kinabalu is the backbone of Borneo in the Crocker Range of mountains. It stands inside the Kota Kinabalu national park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sabah state of Malaysian Borneo. The majestic mountain rises above the tropical forests that house rich plant life and wondrous bird life, few of which I was lucky to see, but could not photograph because a bulky camera dangling from your neck is the last thing you want in an arduous trek like this.

A viewpoint en route Kinabalu

I recently scaled the steep inclines of Mt. Kinabalu to reach the summit in the wee hours of the morning to witness what is perhaps the most feisty sunrise I have ever witnessed.

Though a demanding task, perhaps reserved for the physically fit, Kinabalu attracts hundreds of enthusiastic climbers every day. Climbers belonging to varied age groups from elderly Japanese tourists to pre-teen Malaysian school kids make an attempt to climb the steep ascend strewn with boulders. Though not all of them succeed in ascending the peak to watch the spectacular sunrise, the ones that do are rewarded with the awe-inspiring view of the sun rising over Borneo.

Tropical Borneo, home to Orangutans, stinky Rafflesia flowers, variety of Hornbills and other wildlife,  attracts a lot of tourists from all over the world – Western and Asian backpackers, Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian domestic tourists. Among them, a large part of the tourists visiting Borneo have Kinabalu on their list. In effect, you are never far from humanity on the trail, huffing and puffing their way ahead and behind you. Don’t get too competitive for this is no competition and your knee will pay the price. I took a lot of breaks, drank a lot of water (which you must carry) and took in the sights around me while inhaling fresh mountain air.

The trail is canopied by hulking tropical trees most of the way, the first day. Island thrushes croon sweetly while we climb. The views opened up briefly yet the canopy stay with coniferous trees lining the trail. Tourists – youngsters, students, elderly Japanese, populate the narrow bolder strewn trail ambling along. The trail is peppered with rhododendrons in sprightly blooms of pink and yellow, bird calls of Bornean Treepies, Bulbuls and Mountain Barbets and plants like the pitcher plant.

Though it is possible to climb the mountain in a day, it is perhaps best left to the devices of experienced climbers. For novices, like me, there is a break of the climb midway, 6km after the commencement of the trail, at Laban Rata Resthouse. This also helps you acclimatize your body because altitude sickness is common. An 8-year old boy was puking his lungs out while his mother was scrambling for medication and care for him as we arrived. Headaches induced by altitude is quite common too, keep a strip of painkillers. The evening went down as the still white high altitude clouds formed patches on the sky that changed its colors from pink to purple to orange. Kinabalu loomed large, like an erect phallus of a mountain god flashing his endowment in the waning sun.

The second day’s climb starts as early as 1.00 a.m. and takes you through the steep, bare granite rock mountain. It is perhaps better you are in the dark as you climb this part of the mountain because as the sun dawns on you, it also dawns on you that you’ve climbed an extremely steep part of the mountain. An unruly, cold breeze engulfs you as you reach the summit. Soon enough, the sun comes out and swathes everything in the glorious morning light. Selfie sticks are pulled out, flashes go off, smiles broaden despite the tedious climb as sun makes its appearance.

The granite rock climb.

Armed with the knowledge that we have scaled Malaysia’s tallest mountain, we started our descend. By noon, we have reached the base as my knees turned liquid and every inch of my body silently screamed in pain. We also treated ourselves with hot bowls of Tom Yum soup that teared me up and opened up my sinuses.  I slept for 12 hours and whined for another two days about my aching body. Small price to pay, perhaps.

Selfie sticks come out as light comes out.
Selfie sticks come out as light comes out.

Sabah Parks, the Malaysian government body for national parks, has leased out the maintenance of the trail and operations to a private player so you are required to book a tour with an agent to climb Kinabalu. Book a trip in advance before you arrive in Borneo, plenty of options are available online!

Some amount of rope climbing is needed.
Some amount of rope climbing is needed.
A hearty bowl of Tom Yum soup.
A hearty bowl of Tom Yum soup.

Have you climbed Kinabalu? Leave a comment and let me know.

Five questions with Farley.

From visiting a Witch doctor in Bolivia to hiking the Volcanoes of Catalonia, food and travel writer David Farley has travelled far and wide and written really interesting pieces about his trips. His most irreverent achievement, however, remains his quest to find the holy foreskin that went missing in the Italian town of Calcata. He wrote a book about it called An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town.

David Farley, Pic: Facebook profile
David Farley, Pic: Facebook profile

Though, even for Farley, it’s probably hard to outdo the wackiness of his holy foreskin investigation chronicles, he is nothing if not witty and engaging in real life. During my stay in Berlin recently, I got to meet him and hang out with over beers in the city’s hipster bars. He sweetly agreed to answer a few questions about why he moved to Berlin and what it is to be a travel writer today. Here they are.

You recently quit your teaching position, sub-leased your apartment in NewYork and moved to Berlin. How often do you challenge yourself like that?

Whenever I’m feeling complacent and stagnant I start to get very restless – not just a restlessness to travel or take a trip but to actually shake up my life and change my environment. I did that when I moved to Prague in the 1990s. I did it when I moved to Rome in the last decade. And now, Berlin. The fact is, though, that I had decided I wanted to move to Berlin in Spring 2014 when I was here on a magazine assignment. After that decision, I hemmed and hawed about it for a while – I think, in a Buddhist sense, I had to work out my attachment to New York and everything associated with it – but eventually I did it.


How did you start your travel writing career?

I was studying for my master’s degree in history in San Francisco and my girlfriend was a writer. I had asked her to proofread one my long (and probably boring) research papers. After, she said, “I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I was surprised how good the writing is.” She encouraged me to start writing and the first things that I felt compelled to write were about unusual incidents and circumstances that we end up in while traveling. Eventualy those stories began getting published in travel publications. By default, I became a travel writer.

My advice to people who want to be a travel writer is to not quit your day job.

How did the irreverent subject in one of your earlier pieces, ‘A sort of Happy Ending‘ in which your brother takes you to a Mexican strip club to make you a man, come about?

Simply this: an editor for a travel publication emailed to say they’d give me a large sum of money to write something and I could write whatever I wanted. The night before I was just telling a friend about that crazy story and so I decided to write about that.

Calcata, Italy - Flickr, Maurizio Bonanni
Calacata, Italy where Farley’s first book is located. Pic: Maurizio Bonanni, Flickr

How has travel changed you on a personal level? How has it affected your writing?

It has left an indelible mark on me and changed me in ways that I cannot fathom or calculate. It’s changed my life in every big and small way. It is hard to say how it has affected my writing because traveling and my writing are so intertwined. They have a symbiotic relationship.

Travel has changed my life in every big and small way.

How did you go about looking for Jesus’s lost foreskin relic for your first book? Give us a little backstory on how your first book shaped up?

I had been living in Rome and went on a day trip to this small medieval hill town called Calcata. There, someone told me that the village church housed, until recently, the Holy Foreskin, the only piece of flesh Christ could have left on earth. You don’t often hear the words “holy” and “foreskin” in succession to each other, so it was quite hard to forget about that. Because of my interest in history, I became fascinated with this relic, which used to be a superstar relic on the pilgrimage circuit: popes granted indulgences to those who came to venerate it. Pilgrims flocked to it. And it went missing in the 1980s under mysterious circumstances. I ended up writing an article about all this for that went viral. From that, I got a book deal.

Irreverent Curiosity

Weigh in on the travel writing market of today. How are the opportunities for someone new to break into publications and become a travel writer?

The paying travel writing market has definitely shrunk since I first got into this about 15 years ago. There are far fewer paying publications. My advice to people who want to be a travel writer is to not quit your day job. Or quit your day job and dive into the writing life but don’t cannonball into the genre of travel writing. Instead, write about other things and make “travel” just one of the things you write about.

If you’d like to know a little more about Farley, he has a really cool self-interview published on his homepage, read it here.

Click here to read his award winning piece on Varanasi for Afar magazine.

Notes from Berlin.

I am in Germany for three months on a fellowship. I didn’t expect it to happen but it did. I applied, was shortlisted, interviewed and was waitlisted. Then I was given the go-ahead. That meant, I got to spend three months in Germany and write about the country. A month had already flown by and I am now interning at the German Press Agency in Berlin (dpa).

Berlin's iconic brandenburg gate and a tour guide offering walking tours.
Berlin’s iconic brandenburg gate and a tour guide offering walking tours.

This also explains my two-month absence from blogging. My last month has been filled with lectures and meetings and visits to newspaper offices in Germany, I barely had time to Instagram. But that might be a lie; as and when possible I instagrammed like crazy. It feels like I arrived early this morning but my first week in Berlin went quicker than the time it takes me to chomp down a slice of German volkorn bread.

The Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin's square has its concert hall and churches.
The Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s square has its concert hall and churches.

No matter the city, a homebody loves home wherever he is. Berlin is no exception. While the historic yet hipster city breathes heavily under clear skies and strolls with its gentle human commotion, sometimes I seek solace in the confines of my empty flat. It overlooks Checkpoint Charlie – the erstwhile checkpoint between East and West Germany. I could see the outpost if I pressed my cheeks really close on the glass windows of my airbnb room.

Tier garten, Berlin the erstwhile hunting ground of Prussian kings.
Tier garten, Berlin the erstwhile hunting ground of Prussian kings.

I could see the men in fake green military uniform, dressed up so to attract tourists who take pictures with them for a Euro. The wall museum outside it is brimming. But I stay in. I do a quick shopping trip and make myself a comforting meal of rice and vegetables an settle down with House of Cards. The light refuses to die down at least until 9.00 pm and the sky takes the colour of a brooding blue, watching over the huge buildings outside my window.

Berlin's turmeric yellow U-bahn.
Berlin’s turmeric yellow U-bahn.

Berlin is different. Berlin is cool. Berlin coexists. There are organic supermarkets next to Turkish donors. Women in headscarves are as common as tattooed men in fluorescent blue hair and multiple piercings. There are wall murals depicting virgin Mary and Jesus, except that Mary is a bear. Or a dog. Its U-bahn trains are turmeric yellow with white signage of the Brandenburger Tor littered all over their body.

The famous 'My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love' mural on the Berlin wall.
The famous ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’ mural on the Berlin wall.
Part of the Berlin wall in East Side Gallery and the Soviet Era Trabi cars.
Part of the Berlin wall in East Side Gallery and the Soviet Era Trabi cars.
A provocative mural on the TAZ newspaper building in Berlin.
A provocative mural on the TAZ newspaper building in Berlin.

Everyone has a story to tell and each story deserves to be heard over a sparkling glass of Hefeweizen. Its street musicians wear donkey masks and stand naked, their pants rolled down their calves in terrible cold and strum their guitars, belting out pitch perfect songs of their own production.

Berlin parliament, Bundestag, at sundown.
Berlin parliament, Bundestag, at sundown.
Brandenburg gate on an evening.
Brandenburg gate on an evening.

May be tomorrow I will go out and hunt for stories. Perhaps, I will also see the same stranger I saw in the train the other day, piss drunk and joyous and had a toothless smile and tried a conversation. We had no common language but we couldn’t stop smiling at each other and I surmised that his smile meant ‘welcome to Berlin.’

The river Spree runs through Berlin.
The river Spree runs through Berlin.

Looking for Buddha in Bihar, India!

The state of Bihar doesn’t exactly figure high (or figure at all) in anyone’s travel-to list. As the world knows it, the state’s star attractions are pretty much Bodh Gaya and Madhubani. Bodh Gaya is the poster child of Postmodern Buddhism attracting dreadlocked mystics and orthodox buddhists from all over the world in equal measure. Madhubani has more or less transformed into the homogeneous face of rural Indian art outside India.

8. Devotion - a monk prays in Bodh Gaya
A praying monk at the Maha Bodhi temple.
7. Monks at the temple complex in Bodh Gaya
Monks at the Maha Bodhi temple.

Bihar’s roads are populated by persistently honking unruly drivers (much like elsewhere in North India but only in inflated proportions). Calling its traffic nightmarish would be understating it grossly. Patna received its first set of traffic lights just when I was visiting the city (in April 2015).

The state doesn’t exactly inspire confidence among travellers. But I did  manage to scratch just below the surface mildly and it revealed a rich Buddhist heritage amid the chaos of its day to day existence. There has no been no recorded history of Buddhism from the first millennium in India except the journals written by the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang when he was travelling in the Bihar region. His reports have been of immense help for scholars in various fields including archaeology, arts, religion and history in general.

14. It took four years to complete this Buddha statue in Bodh Gaya
The Great Buddha statue took 4 years to complete.
17. A rare painting of an emaciated Buddha
A rare picture of an emaciated Buddha mural in Bodh Gaya.


From mughal era tombs of sufi saints to relics of Buddha to Jain thirthankara Mahavira’s birthplace (Vaishali), Bihar is scattered with monuments of immense archaeological significance. As is the case with anywhere in India, Buddha and Mahavira have been assimilated into the local culture and are referred to as ‘Buddh Bhagvan’  and ‘Mahavir Bhagvan’. It is also not uncommon to see Hindu pilgrims thronging the Buddhist religious sites, praying to the idols, their dutiful hands folded in supplication.

9. Pilgrims from all over the world visit Bodh Gaya
Pilgrims at the Maha Bodhi temple.

One significant mughal monument is the Chhoti Dargah, the tombs of saint Makhdum Shah Daulat who died in 1608. The tomb also consists of the remains of Ibrahim Khan, the ruler of the time, who is buried at the feet of the saint.The sand stone monument, its beautiful Arabic inscriptions and intricately carved trellises are sights worth to behold. On a searing sunny day, the pond by the Dargah simmers, lazy water buffaloes chew on their lunch of dusty grass, cormorants sit with their wings extended drying themselves. It is quite a sight of dreamy rural landscape.

1. Chotti Dargah, the tomb of Makhdum Shah and Ibrahim Khan was constructed in 1613 AD
Chotti Dargah.
2. The trellises in this tower in Chotti Dargah is intricately carved
Chotti Dargah.

In the Buddhist circuit, though I visited Rajgir, Vaishali and Nalanda, the magnificent structure of Kesariya stole my heart. Alone and elegantly imposing, the crumbling ruins of Kesariya stupa built by emperor Ashoka rise above the flat nothingness of Bihar’s East Champaran district. Barring a few Japanese tourists in their chauffeur driven vehicles, not a soul was present at Kesariya when I visited.

6. The stupa of Kesariya might be in crumbles but it is still a magnificent piece of architecture
The magnificent kesariya stupa.
3. Vaishali, an ancient city, is the birth place of Lord Mahavira
Vaishali’s stupa.
4. The ruins of Kohlua, near Vaishali
Vaishali’s ruins.

Bodh Gaya, on the other hand, is thriving with international tourists. Bus loads of pilgrims from neigbouring countries with strong Buddhism influence namely Myanmar, Combodia, Vietnam and Japan jostle with domestic tourists for darshan at the Maha Bodhi temple. Though it felt touristy at the time, in retrospect, while sifting through the pictures I sense a vibrant quality to the place. It must be the devoted reverence of hundreds of these pilgrims that is rendering Bodh Gaya an ethereal quality.

12. The Bodh Gaya temple in twilight
The Maha Bodhi temple – twilight.
10. Bodh Gaya
A meditating monk at the Maha Bodhi temple.
11. A discourse in progress in Bodh Gaya
A discourse in progress.
13. Monks - Bodh Gaya
Monks waiting to enter the Maha Bodhi temple.

Nalanda’s ruins are phenomenal, no doubt. It speaks of a period that fostered rich educational practices in the 6th Century BC when students from countries as far away as China visited and studied. Extensive remains of brick temples, monasteries, sculptures in stone, bronze and stucco, were excavated beginning 1915.

15. Monks visiting Nalanda
Monks in front of Nalanda ruins.
16. Nalanda ruins
Nalanda’s ruins.

Bihar has always been stuck in an unfortunate economic quagmire. The sheer number of global NGOs working in the development sector in its capital city Patna is proof that change is likely to happen, albeit in smaller pockets over a longer period of time. However, there is no denial to the fact that travelling in the state can be rewarding despite all these obvious unavoidable setbacks. May be, these pictures will serve as proof.

5. A woman separates chaff from the grain in rural Bihar
A woman working in her front yard.

Under its rough exterior, Bihar boasts of rich archaeological treasures that stand magical and forlorn, as if in anticipation of a bright new day.

18. Monks in motion
Monks in motion.
19. Sunset in Bodhgaya
Sunset in Bodh Gaya

Have you visited Bihar? What has been your experience? Why not leave a comment and let me know.

PS: I also visited Madhubani during my time in Bihar. That is perhaps for another post.


Climbing the Great Wall of China.

As far as travel lists go, I don’t usually make one (wait, have I told you otherwise elsewhere in the blog? Forgive me, for I must have been inebriated when I said that.) Also, you wouldn’t usually find me in places thronging with people, in stampede-inducing situations. But when I found myself in Beijing, finishing up my Trans Siberian train ride (Oh, I promise never to talk about that trip ever again in these pages), I couldn’t resist a trip to the Great Wall of China.

The great wall of china 1
Comrades ascending the Great Wall of China.

I had just two-days in Beijing and couldn’t do anything productive and offbeat anyway (other than hunting for cheap street food, of course.) So I embarked on a little trip to the Badaling side of the Great Wall one morning with my travel buddy Lars.

The great wall of china 2
The Chinese are a pretty obedient lot and this side of the Wall was neat and clean!

You’d assume, given that the Great Wall of China is a world wonder, it would attract international tourists by busload. On the contrary, the Badaling side of Great Wall – apparently most popular section of the Wall – was buzzing with domestic tourists on that sunny day in September when I visited.

The great wall of china 3
The Badaling side of the Great Wall attracts 180 million visitors each year!
The great wall of china 4
Railings are installed on each side to aide visitors with difficulty in walking.

Located in Yanqing, 60km from downtown Beijing, the Badaling Wall has been open to foreign tourists starting 1953. Only 3741 m of the wall is open to tourists.

The great wall of china 5
Of course, that is a mandatory pose on the wall if you are a boy of that age.
The great wall of china 6
The entire stretch takes a little more than two hours to climb.

According to the signboards, while it was included in the world cultural heritage list by UNESCO in 1987, the wall received two Guinness World Records in 2002. One for record number of visitors and the other for ‘highest reception number of head of state’ (go figure.)

The great wall of china 7
The Badaling side of the wall is called ‘scenic wall’ and for a reason!
The great wall of china 8
Scaling the Great Wall of China.

The Badaling side of the Great Wall is called the scenic side and that is not without a reason. Between being squeezed dry by the thronging mass of people and taking pictures, if you looked around you will see azure blue skies, green peaks and dense tree cover all around the wall.

The great wall of china 9
Shoot me, will you?
The great wall of china 10
It is quite a panoramic sight if you manage to look around.

At a distance, even Beijing could be seen on a clear day (which is kind of, sort of rare for a city like Beijing whose pollution levels surpass even that of Delhi’s. Or vice versa.)

The great wall of china 11
Huffing and puffing, we went.
The great wall of china 12
Clearly, not everybody is enjoying the climb.

‘It is a bridge of friendship between the international friends and the Chinese people,’ reads the signboard, along the lines of standard propaganda-speak.

The great wall of china 14
The watch towers, towering above dense vegetation, are quite a sight.
The great wall of china 13
The urge to take pictures in front of the monument is irresistible for the comrades.

The signboard further announces that this section of the wall was ‘ranked first in the selection activity of China’s Forty Best Tourist Destination in 1991.’

The great wall of china 15
As the day progresses the crowd thins out as climbing is difficult in the harsh sun.

Have you been in Beijing? Have you been to the Great Wall? Leave a comment and let me know.

A somewhat boozy ode to 2015.

Happy New Year 2016
Here’s to new beginnings!

It is the last day of the year and I am sitting at my slightly wobbly dining table a.k.a work table, overlooking my cluttered book shelf typing this. Having just arrived from a drunken lunch at two different pubs and waddling through Bangalore’s traffic for three hours to reach home, I haven’t bothered to disrobe yet. I can hear the pesky crackers going off somewhere.

Outside my house, the omnipresent snake has made another appearance on the street. “It was just lying stretched across the street for an hour,” my neighbor tells me. Is it amusement or fear in her voice? I can’t tell. She is excited nevertheless. She has a story to tell.

Like I have had all this year.

I really have had a productive year telling stories this year. And travelling for it. And enjoying both. And I am ‘touching wood’ right now, for fear of jinxing my luck by ‘knocking on wood’ instead. I’d like to believe that it’s my hard work and perseverance that got me around but I don’t mind attributing a little of that success to luck. But if you had ever told me that I was lucky to do what I was doing, know that I hated you for it (in case I hadn’t made it clear as soon as you said it).

Either ways, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude. For all the friendships I made (you know who you are, you), for the stamps on the pages of my passport (Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Poland, and Germany), for all the people in my life (acquired and existing) who are brimming with love and who show that generously from time to time and for generally being acknowledged every once in a while for what I do.

I am reminded of this Oliver Sacks quote right now that beautifully sums up my feelings.

My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

As 2015 quietly slips by, I am going to contemplate on the book that I want to pick from my cluttered bookshelf. A new one perhaps; one that has only been unwrapped as soon as it arrived in the mail, flipped through and tucked away for later reading. Like that last year’s new year resolution. Whilst on the subject, I haven’t made any for myself this year – like every other year.

Also I have plans to eat the walnut studded Lebkuchen I brought from Germany for dinner tonight. May be I will also take a sip of the homemade limoncello I bought at a Christmas market in Stuttgart as well. I will raise a toast for all you lovely people.

May you all have a wonderful 2016. May you find loads of love, peace, happiness, prosperity and whatever it is that you look for in life. May all your dreams come true. May you work hard for it. May a little bit of luck favor you. Be well!

Walking the Christmas markets in Stuttgart, Germany

Europe is experiencing an unseasonably warm winter this year. The El Nino effect is heating up US and Europe and in Stuttgart, where I have arrived after a week in Poland, temperature is hovering around the 14C mark. A quick look at the weather for the week suggests only rains so no snow, typical of Christmas season, is in sight this year.

Which brings me to the next point. Christmas is in season and Europe is wearing its best to usher in the festival.  From the cobble stoned walkways of Krakow to the town center of Stuttgart, streets are decorated in glistening stars and fairy lights like shiny weeping willows falling from the branches of trees. Christmas is here, so to say.

The stars are bright.
The stars are bright.

The season has brought with it hordes of Christmas markets in each city square. These are congregation of stalls selling everything from mulled wine to homemade pizzas, coupled with performances for children and adults alike.

Some of them are themed, like the medieval Christmas market I visited in the suburbs of Stuttgart at the picturesque Esslingen by the river Neckar. On a sunny day, armed with Nishil ,his friends and my camera while braving the chill winds I went people watching, Flammkuchen binging and eating wafflen topped with pickled cherries.

The smell of cheese being grilled and onions being fried in butter wafted through the market while Falafel stalls jostled for space with Bratwurst shops. I saw hippy couples selling incense and matted haired home brewers hawking Limoncello (of which I bought a bottle and hoping to bring back to India without breakage).

Not everybody likes their pictures taken.
Not everybody likes their pictures taken.
Children at the medieval christmas market
Children at the medieval Christmas market.
Hot apple juice, anyone
Hot apple juice, anyone?

People layered up in less than winter clothing (it was only 14C, remember?) ambled along. The Christmas festive spirit was palpable.

The Rathausplatz, where the Christmas market was being held, is adjacent to the Protestant Parish Church Esslingen am Neckar built in 1213. Its beautiful stained glass windows show scenes from the Old and New Testament ranging from Birth and Work of Jesus, The Wise and Foolish Maidens Martyers, Passion of Jesus and Life of Mary.

I did not waste a moment to plunge into an eating frenzy whilst there. Flammkuchen became a favorite. Flammkuchen is German for pizza, sort of. It has a super thin crust, giving a complex for the regular pizza’s thin crust, and its toppings are simple. They are usually onions and olives. Sometimes, there is also bacon bits adding flavor to the dish.

I also found interesting signage like this one. It means; ‘What is cooked with love reaches your heart and not your midriff.’ (PS: I take no credit for the (average) translation as it is only a loose interpretation of what’s written here!)

A quirky quote

Are you merry this holiday season wherever in the world you are? Leave a comment and let me know. A merry Christmas to all of you lovely people.


At the Gay Pride Parade, Bangalore!

I spent the better part of my last evening at the Gay Pride Parade in Bangalore (the rest I spent in getting back home in an auto rickshaw swimming through Bangalore’s notorious traffic). The Bangalore Pride Walk was held as part of the annual Bengaluru Pride & Karnataka Queer Habba celebrations.

Some pictures from the parade.

the crowd-partially
The walk.
Under my umbrella
Under my umbrella

Expressing solidarity with the LGBT community of the city, there were painted cheeks, elaborate headgears, flashy scarves, ethnic finery and of course rainbow umbrellas and flags braving Bangalore’s late monsoon drizzle that cloudy evening. Speeches, camera flashlights, thumping drums and folks generally shaking a leg or two complete the picture.

the don was here
The don was there.
the king among the crowd
The king among the crowd
My purple eyes
The girl with purple eyeshadow.
Selfie time!
Selfie time!


Homosexuality is illegal in India and social stigma along with harassment of openly queer people are common. Shows of support like the gay pride bring in a sense of inclusivity and instills confidence among the sexual minority group.

Have you ever walked a pride parade? Why not leave a comment and let me know.