Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jana gana...

Who has sung the Indian national anthem which plays at the beginning of every 2011 ICC World Cup cricket match featuring India? Why on earth are they singing it soooooo slowly? It sounds more like something sung as an accompaniment to a funeral march (going by some of India's performances, perhaps it was appropriate but that is a whole different topic).

Especially during the last bit of Jaya he, Jaya he, it seriously sounds like the singers fell asleep to their own singing, woke up with a jerk, remembered they had not yet completed the song and finished singing the rest of it. There are such long pauses between each of the Jaya Hes!

Aren't anthems supposed to inspire you? And shouldn't that inspiration be to enthusiastically DO something rather than enthusiastically hunt for the nearest comfortable couch or bed for a snooze?

We have an awesome national anthem - is it too much to ask for it to not be sung by what seems to be a bunch of geriatric people woken up from deep sleep?

Update: Oh we won, we won! We won the match against Australia! I really should stop watching these matches - my heart isn't built to withstand such stress! But yeah, we won :-D :-D :-D!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The great living Chola temples

About a week back, we made an awesome surprise (all planned by S) visit to Swamimalai, a quaint temple village located near the temple-town of Kumbakonam. The entire area is located in the very fertile Cauvery delta region and thus is generously dotted with lush fields and abundant greenery.
Green paddy fields
The area also has several other towns which are places of historical significance. The Chola dynasty (more than a 1000 years ago) reigned in this area. The Cholas, those avid lovers of art and culture, showcased their sculptural and architectural skills in a number of temples constructed throughout the region.

Of these temples, three of them, the Brihadeshwara temple, the Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple and the Darasuram temple are marked as UNESCO heritage sites. In the case of the last of the aforementioned temples, this was huge stroke of luck - it is quite possible that the beauty of the temple would have been left to crumble into ruins otherwise.

Brief historical aside: The three temples above were built by Raja Raja Chola I, his son Rajendra Chola and his grandson, Raja Raja Chola II. All three temples have similar styles of architecture.

I have visited Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple once before during childhood. All I could remember was I loved walking through the temple compound and the green lawn. So, this time around I was quite thrilled to visit it again. The temple was still as beautiful as I remembered it to be. We took plenty of pictures and tried to decipher the sculptures and carvings as best as we could. In retrospect, we should have hired a guide here too (see below).
Views of the Gangai konda cholapuram temple.*

At Darasuram, thanks to my sister's suggestion, we hired a guide. Our mouths fell open as he showed us the amount of detailing that had gone into every pillar, every window, every ceiling and every wall of the temple. Each pillar showcased a different story or a different scene. Miniature sculptures too stayed true to intricate detailing. We could see for ourselves that what the guide had said in his intro was absolutely true: Darasuram truly was a temple built to celebrate beauty!
Darasuram temple up close.*
As we walked around the temple, I swelled with pride. After all, isn't it wonderful to know your ancestors were purveyors of such talent and beauty! I wished I could close my eyes and go back a 1000 years to the time the temple was built...

Staying true to the spirit of the trip, we were lucky to stay in a resort which was actually a renovated agraharam. The resort maintained its antique-rustic ambiance throughout its property which was totally delightful.
The agraharam turned resort.*
My only regret was that we did not have time to visit the Brihadeshwara temple. Next time, for sure!

But, as a lovely way to relive the trip, I picked up the English translation of Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, a book I have wanted to read for a very long time (my mom and aunts have raved about it for as long as I can remember). I am told that this book is a part-fictional/part-historic account of the life of Raja Raja Cholan (the builder of the aforementioned Brihadeshwara temple). Mom and Dad had pointed out several historical places on our way back from Swamimalai and now as I read the book, I grin everytime a place I saw is mentioned!

Anytime you make a trip to Tamilnadu, earmark a couple of these days for these marvels of Chola architecture!

* Click on the collages to enlarge.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mumbai times

Impromptu trips are just SO great. All of a sudden, a routine week turns into something very much worth looking forward to. We had one just this past week. We were going to Mumbai where my sister and BIL live! And from there to Alibagh for a weekend stay. With family and extended family. Yaay!

So thrilled was I that my grin remained intact even as I scampered hard to meet work deadlines, threw clothes together feverishly into a suitcase in 30 minutes, wound up things at home and survived a night with only 2.5 hours of sleep to make it to an early morning flight. S matched me grin for grin just like he matched my rushed pace.

South Mumbai is an awesome place. The entire area has an old-world feel about it with cobbled streets, pretty architecture and quaint stores. Only thing, I was warned again and again that the trip from the airport to Colaba in South Mumbai would be a long one.

For the first time in my life, I saw Murphy's law work in reverse*. First thing, we were out of the plane 5 minutes after it landed. And we got our luggage almost as soon as we reached the luggage carousel (usually the arrival of my luggage signifies that all the luggage on the plane has been unloaded. And no, I am not exaggerating). And then the traffic was so unusually light that by the time I was told over phone (I have no idea what is where in Mumbai and hence had telephonic directions relayed to me) that I would be crossing some particular land-mark, I had already left it far behind. I was at my sister's place about 40 minutes before anyone expected me to. Yeah, I knew it was going to be a great trip!

And a great trip it was. We managed to do some mall-walking, plenty of great-food hogging and total week-end vacationing. I have fallen in love with all kinds of parathas. The feeling of a hot, freshly made, flaky paratha melting in your mouth is simply too divine to describe.

The beautiful coast
Sand, rocks and the sea.

Alibagh is a calm weekend getaway from Mumbai. We stayed in a place built in a mango orchard (the mangoes were alphonsos!! Pity it is not mango season yet) in airy, bright rooms.
View from the room

We woke to the sounds of chirping birds and ocean waves. Had breakfast, lunch and dinner made off the organic vegetables from the farm and fresh fish from the ocean. Got our exercise from walking to the scenic coast and from playing badminton. Got plenty of unwind time with laughter, chatter, drinking steaming cups of ginger chai, reading on the hammock, playing cards and did I mention, laughter? I can totally get used to this.

The fun bunch of travelers

Sunset as seen from the Alibagh ferry area.

My only complaint is that the trip was too short. Still, am totally basking in the glow of an awesome break. Vive la impromptu trips!

* When something can go right, it will.