Loving the Sea

Hello! Been a while hasn’t it?

It’s good to be back after my long sabbatical from this sunny nook. The sabbatical began as a forced leave due to medical reasons. We were expecting our first offspring, you see. And somehow, I wasn’t ready to share the news until…well, until I had said offspring safely tucked into my arms.

But once that happened, my life, it sorta stopped being my life. I was transformed into a 24-hr snack bar and thus began my zombie phase… Being a new parent, it is a job that is difficult to prepare for. I am so grateful to my family for being the most amazing support system in the world. Couldn’t have done the first leg of this journey without them.

So, in short, priorities changed (duh!). This blog was my baby until a real baby came along demanding my complete attention. I put on my training floatie and dove into my new role, focussed on bonding with my wee panda. And here I am, a year later, trying to rebuild some semblance of an adult person’s life.

My toddler is a fount of joy and life has never been as fulfilling for me. My little man K keeps me busy all day…and when he naps, I read. The blog has been on my mind, I have a couple of unfinished posts sitting as drafts. Somehow, I never hit the ‘publish’ button. After months and months of consuming content – books, articles, blogs, ad campaigns, movies and music – I feel I’m ready to share again.

What better way to start than begin at home?

We moved two cities in the interim. From Porbandar to Kochi and now to Visakhapatnam aka Vizag. All along this cross-country tour, the sea has been with me. It is the one thing that has instantly soothed away the feeling of being in a new place. I really is a kind of a home for me. Given the choice, I will  always want a holiday by the sea, choose to breathe salty air instead of crisp mountain air and would rather buy a tropical island than a log cabin (ahem…once I have the dough, of course I’m buying an island).

This is the first time I have lived on the East coast of India…so I’m pretty excited to glimpse the Bay of Bengal everyday from my balcony. This quote I found on Pinterest explains my addiction better than I can. I added it to my favourite click of the morning sea in Porbandar. Perfect inspired creativity for my muse – the Sea.

She loved the Sea

 

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New Zealand – The Happiest Dream Holiday Ever!

For the past six months, I have been working on a rather enchanting little project. It involves looking at destinations in gorgeous New Zealand and exploring them from (alas!) my armchair. I trundle through the thicket, swim with the dolphins and indulge in some virtual zig-zagging on pristine snow-capped mountains. And I d-r-e-a-m. I dream of the day when I will finally set foot on kiwi soil.

When I first read about Yatra’s Creating Happy Travellers contest on Indiblogger, I realised it may be one of the best chances I’ll ever have to day-dream shamelessly about NZ! Perhaps the very act of writing about my dream holiday will encourage the Universe to set into motion mysterious forces that will make the trip actually happen. I believe in miracles, you see.

There are three things that will make this trip the happiest one ever – the place, the people and the experiences.

Okay, so dream destination – bewitching New Zealand – check. Next up, travel buddies.

Yellow Eyed Penguin, New Zealand

My wanderlust has taught me that no holiday can be truly complete without the perfect companions. I have often travelled to far off lands and sighed wishfully, for I wasn’t with the people who I knew would have loved to be there too. Through trial and error I have realised my most compatible co-adventurers are my husband N, my sister Miss P, my Mum and my Dad.

Amongst this motley crew I can find a mate to try anything that chance will bring us on our holiday. Mum and Miss P are of course super awesome for shopping. Dad can pick out the most unique spots and vantage points. N can ferret out humour and a live music gig almost anywhere. I can hatch insanely detailed plans and Miss P brings her characteristic dash of eccentricity to make these plans fun. Mum, well she has enough enthusiasm and prudence to propel everyone into making the most of every moment. So all in all a good crew. Very enthusiactic prospects for ‘Creating Happy Travellers’ indeed!

Since I’m the maniac who draws up the travel plans, I can promise this will be an overly ambitious list of experiences. Almost always, I do bite off more than I can chew. However, I fancy myself to have matured a bit over the past couple of trips; wizened up to the fact that we may have to leave something off the list. Still, I think being over-prepared with a dream list never hurt anyone.

On a real holiday, we may be forced to focus on either the North or the South Island of New Zealand, since it may not be possible to cover all that ground in one trip. But since am freewheeling, I can go the whole hog. We could embark on the famous New Zealand bike trail, gaze at the amazing wildlife, camp on the brilliant camping sites along the ocean, cruise the scenic fjords and sounds or explore deep forests with ancient Kauri trees that are multi-centenarians. Go horse-riding near icy glaciers, sample scrumptious sea-food, watch as the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in a great swirl of currents at Cape Reinga and stop at the Arctic Centre to get a feel for life on the Antarctic continent. Whether we can actually do and see everything or not, here are a few adventures that we definitely wouldn’t want to miss:

 

Kaikoura Retreat

Kaikoura by SidPix

We’ll begin by spending a few days along a stunning coast backed by snow-dusted mountains in Kaikoura. Situated on the Eastern flank on the South Island, Kaikoura is a paradise for whale watching, scuba diving, dolphin spotting, seal meeting and lots of exploring. The natural diversity is as breathtaking as the views from atop the cliffs. And the scrumptious crayfish here gives the sea-side town a well-deserved spot on NZ’s culinary map.

 

Queenstown Thrill-dom

Sky Diving, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is called the adventure capital of the world for a reason. It offers you a host of adrenaline pumping activities to enjoy all year round. Take your pick from skiing, snowboarding, white water rafting, bungy jumping, ziplining, swinging, paragliding or skydiving. Phew! Add to that the charm of the Skyline Gondola, a bustling city, immersive Maori cultural experiences and it’s easy to see why Queentown is a hit even with the locals. While the youngsters (ahem! that includes me) may enjoy swinging like monkeys, I’m sure my mum and dad will also be able to enjoy more relaxing activities like cruising on peerless Lake Wakitapu and visiting an authentic high country farm.

 

Central Otago Wine & Food Nirvana

Wine & Food - Otago, New Zealand

Otago has many exciting wine experiences in store for the four wine lovers in our troupe. We shall happily explore the boutique wineries and gladly sample some of the best wines in the world. It will be a great way to learn about wine and the local culture, followed by delectable tasting sessions in the cozy comfort of wineries. And mom will be rewarded for her patience with a pampering at a luxurious spa followed by a sumptuous lunch. Yay!

 

Thermal Pool & Hot Spring Rejuvenation

Hot Springs, Rotorua New Zealand

Soaking in natural thermal pools till the toes are all wrinkly is like a rite of passage for Kiwi littlies. We won’t be far behind, I say! After all the exploring, binging and adrenaline rush we’ll really look forward to the soothing waters of hot pools that can be found in many parts of New Zealand. NZ is a hot-bed for geothermal activities and you can find some natural, mineral-rich pools dotting the country. The ones in Rotorua, Hanmer and Miranda are most preferred, so we’ll take our pick.

I could go on about the many things I’d really like for my dream holiday. New Zealand is so diverse and rich in natural as well as cultural heritage, that the entire trip will be an unmatchable experience. It is a small wonder that the beautiful, bountiful ‘Shire’ of The Lord of the Rings movie is real and in New Zealand. NZ’s adorable ratio of 10 sheep per person, the love for outdoorsy adventure and a penchant for celebrating diversity, culture as well as history makes it such an exciting country to visit.

If we do make it to kiwi-land, I’m absolutely sure we will create happy memories and come away more enriched for life. Isn’t that really the best part of travelling?

 

All images used here are from Flickr and are available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Yellow Eyed Penguin by Sarah M Stewart, Kaikoura by SidPix, Queenstown Sky Diving by mnapoleon, Central Otago by robertpaulyoung, Hot Springs by Erik Streufert

 

Wanderlust: Ant’s-eye View of The Taj Mahal

In my short life, I’ve had two encounters with the Taj. While one was at that tricky age of 16, the other was at a slightly more befuddling 31 (does maturity really come with age?). Each visit is sharply etched in my mind, and I’m happy to see that by the second one, I seemed to have grown up a little. Or so I’d like to believe.

For most Indians, the trip to see the Taj Mahal is like a tiny pilgrimage. It’s after all the poster child of India, famed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We grow up listening to the magical experiences of people who’ve been to this inimitable symbol of limitless love. On my first trip to the Taj, all of this was pretty much lost on me.

I recall being armed with a Kodak point-and-shoot camera, wearing a hideous blue tee-shirt identical to the ones worn by 40 other teenagers. It was a school trip with my batch mates. All of us had recently faced one of the biggest hurdles in our academic careers – the 10th standard board exams. We’d been slogging out butts off for over a year and now, were finally taking that well-earned break. The trip focused on a seven day trek in the Himachal hills and the visit to the Taj Mahal was just a tick on the North Indian itinerary.

And what a rotten time to pick for a trip to the Taj! It was the peak of summer, the sunlight glinting off the white marble made it difficult to see anything without squinting. People have to walk barefoot to get near the main dome but on this day, the tiled floor was so hot we had to make a mad dash for it. All we wanted to do was sprawl out under a tree and doze off in the gentle breeze. We weren’t interested in the back story; none of us had experienced true love yet. During the one hour guided tour, the only thing that made us pay attention was the barbaric folklore of how the hands of master artisans were chopped off so that no one could replicate the majestic Taj ever again.

We’d brought packed lunch from Delhi. It was made by our school cook at the crack of dawn and had been emanating promising smells on the four-hour bus ride. By the time it was lunchtime however, the food was stinking so ferociously that even rodents steered clear of the dustbin! The heat had been too much for the poor fried rice. Our fiscally prudent principal was in a fix, but made a stupendous, last-minute recovery with some packets of chips and flavoured milk.

As we left Agra, I felt a pang of dissatisfaction. I vowed to myself that I’d be back some day.

Taj blog 1

Now, almost 15 years later, I had once again come to Agra. This time around I was with family – N, his brother and my dear friend who’s married to N’s brother. We’re all shutter-happy people, so we had four cameras of differing capabilities to make some memorable pictures. We drove to the place where you have to park your cars, about 2 km away from the main grounds. From there, you can either take a ride in an eco-friendly electric rikshaw or ride along with an uber-friendly horse cart.

Taj blog 5

Is it a surprise that we chose the horse cart ride? Our awesome steed, Sajaan, was quite a cute fella. His owner claimed that Sajaan was super busy during the peak wedding seasons. North Indian grooms are notorious for riding up to the mandap on a beautiful stallion. Who can blame them? There’s probably no other way to match up to the gorgeousness of the brides. But I digress.

After a full-body search, we entered the sprawling compound. While my troops lingered around, I was impatient to get a first glimpse. When we entered the main archway, I remembered something the guide had told me all those years ago. If you stand directly facing the Taj and walk briskly towards it, the building appears to move back, and shrink in size. And, if you back away quickly while still looking at the Taj, it grows steadily and comes closer to you. This delightful quirk of the architecture was interpreted by our guide, “when you gallop towards it, the Taj bows and welcomes you but when you try to run away, it rushes forward and says ‘don’t leave me’!”

Taj blog 2

Over the years, Shah Jahan’s ode to his precious wife has turned a mild shade of yellowish-cream. Despite this unfortunate reality, it is one of the most enchanting buildings on Earth. When you see it across the water canals and lush green gardens, its hold over you intensifies. You cannot run away from it, if anything, you almost never want to leave.

The Taj Mahal’s beauty stunned me, I felt paralyzed. How do I capture an authentic bit of what I see and feel in a few photographs? How can I translate this inexplicable sense of wanting to get closer and yet being afraid of missing out on seeing it whole? Of wanting to touch the perfect reflection in the still water? Of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the art that has witnessed the turn of over three centuries? How do I convey the delicate, gossamer dreams carved out of Makrana marble? The peace and serenity that I feel here?

Eventually, I realized it was my only chance, so I had to try my best. The pictures in this post aren’t entirely satisfactory, but someday I hope to get another chance to improve on my humble attempt.

Seeing the Taj with grown up eyes was a gift. Having lived through some of the highs and lows of love myself, I think I better understood the creation this time around. When you see the Taj, you can’t help but think about how deeply the emperor had loved his sweetheart, and how inconsolable his grief must have been to inspire this final resting place for her.

Tagore perhaps interpreted it best when he wrote, “let this one tear-drop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.”

 

 

Picking up where we left off: Back, alive and kicking

Hello again from Porbandar, almost the Western tip of India. The sun sets here around 7:30 p.m. which is crazy, for someone like me who’s used to twilight around 6. It’s taking some getting used to, my brain still thinks it’s late afternoon even though it is time to switch modes from being an advertising professional to a blogging Sunny Nomad.

We’ve landed a nice little flat on the sixth floor and when I work, I gaze out at some greenery. If I crane my neck, I can catch a glimpse of a river in the distance. It’s nice. The other day, a couple of flamingos cruised past as I looked out for some inspiration. Isn’t it wonderful when you’re rewarded so handsomely? Unfortunately, by the time I got out my camera, they were way past the zoom capabilities of my point-and-shoot.

Our very few neighbours are helpful and settling in has been made possible by our very efficient chowkidar (watchman) Karsanbhai. I also have to remind myself that every woman is a ‘ben‘ while every man is a ‘bhai‘ in these parts. You show respect by calling someone ‘mota bhai‘ or ‘mota ben‘ – loosely translated ben is sister, bhai is brother and mota means someone older. The other day I received a package, and the mailman called me Priyankaben Nayar!

While I speak a smattering of the Mumbai version of Gujarati, N is fluent in the Kathiawadi dialect spoken here. When I open my mouth, I usually end up amusing the listeners, but am learning to overcome my embarrassment and soldiering on.

The picture above offers you a glimpse of a lovely reflection from my balcony in the soft evening light. The breeze just completes the feeling of being on a vacation island, high above the noise and pollution. What a glamourous vision of Porbandar, don’t you think?

Since my work has resumed full time, all the DIY projects I’ve been dreaming of will take some time before they take physical form. But I hope to share something pretty soon. My kitchen needs rescuing, every day I find a new way to organise and re-organise almost everything. Those tips I pinned about using baskets for storage (since we have an acute shortage of cabinets) have come in handy. In Mumbai, I dragged N to Crawford market just so we could pick up some quaint old wicker baskets. They’ve been an absolute life-saver.

This weekend, I intend to pretty up the open storage and hang some pictures on the walls. Am looking forward to making the home cozy and comfortable, one day at a time. Cookies and lazy mornings are what keep me going!

But enough about me. How have you been?

 

Goodbyes and New Adventures

Photograph: Mood for Reflection by Priyanka Nayar

It is time for us to move again. Yes, I know, seems too soon to me too. We’re all packed and ready to push off to Porbandar for our next adventure. It’s been a good first stint in Kerala. The people, the food, the beaches and the wildlife have made their excellent first impressions.

It’s been just over a year since we came here, but we’ve travelled away from home so often, that we haven’t seen everything that there is to see and experience. We’ll be back some day. Maybe to another part of the state.

This has been the kind of sabbatical from normal life that only very few lucky people can manage. It has spoilt me, for now, wherever I go, I will miss the lush greens. The place where we lived afforded us a view of the Arabian Sea on one hand, and the beautiful backwaters that Kerala is famous for on the other. Will be hard to find something to beat that.

Am one fourth Keralite, but have been to Kerala only once, over two decades ago. I’ve learnt some local cuisine, picked up a few words of Malayalam, and bought my first ‘set saree‘! It’s been wonderful being introduced to my roots. I’ve floated through most of my life not belonging to a particular part of the country, I surely will continue to do that for the rest of my life too. But now I know a little more about where my grandfather came from, and perhaps a little about why I am a fan of curry leaves.

There are still a bunch of things that are on my bucket list – am yet to take a cruise on a house boat, live in floating houses and watch a Kathakali performance. I haven’t had a whole host of dishes that I dream about, haven’t caught a glimpse of Periyar, Thekkady, Kumarakom or Munnar and not even had fresh seafood by the sea in Cochin. So I am far from satiated and my heart wants to come back and complete the journey.

Au revoir Kerala and my lovely friends here. Unfortunately, I’ve had to use the farewell cards I designed a short while back. But like the card says, it’s goodbyes only until we meet again.

The picture above captures my thoughts as I sign off, and prepare for the train journey tomorrow morning. If you’d like to see the art print for this and other pictures by me, you can find them at my store. Some of them are available as iPad and iPhone skins too.

I may not be able to write again until we’re well and settled in Porbandar. But my head is all abuzz with ideas for DIY projects and cozying up the nest there. And I’ve been busy pinning inspiration on my Pinterest boards. So when am back in full swing, there will be loads to share. On our way to our new home, we’re spending a few days in Mumbai, I should also have some stories to share of my time at markets, old haunts and with dear old friends.

Have a super weekend yourself, and an even better week ahead. xoxo, Sunny Nomad me.

This Time That Year: A Summer in Paris

The year was 2007. Three young students from Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) were headed to Paris to represent India at the L’Oreal Brandstorm marketing contest. I was one of the three, we were up against teams from 36 other countries. This was the second time L’Oreal India was even participating in the global finals. We worked hard for six months leading up to this fabulous moment. We didn’t place amongst the top winners of the contest, but we sure came away with precious moments and memories.

It was my first trip out of the country. And that too to Paris, in June. The most glorious time of the year to be there. I was so kicked on so many levels. I was there to represent my country, to make new friends, to show what a good brand management student I was and to experience a culture I had only read about in books. I was on a high, as were my team mates.

For the first time, I understood what it meant when people said diversity. Up until now, the only diversity I’d experienced was that of the geography of states and languages within India. Here, 37 countries brought people of all colours, hues and tones. Of different races, languages and cultures. Though the conclave lasted only three days, the memories are burnt in my mind’s eye forever.

I made a lot of friends, some of whom I’ve managed to stay in touch with. Some others have faded away as part of a refreshing experience. My mind was not ready to absorb everything I saw, heard and smelled in those 9 days in Paris. After the conclave got done, we moved out of the trendy hotel the company had put us up at to a hostel on the outskirts of the main city. Clichy was far from all the important sights, and it gave us the chance to explore the Paris metro. It was lovely to hear the recorded names of stations in French, which sounded nothing like what they looked!

We took in all the tourist destinations, spent a good hour browsing through the Shakespeare Book Co.’s collection and wandered through Montmartre’s alleys. This was where artists like Salvadore Dali, Modigliani, Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh worked. I was delighted to simply walk down the same cobble-stoned roads as these artists must have ages ago, gazing upon the beautiful city that may have inspired their work. I almost wished I could have a tiny little flat and live here forever.

We had some wine on a side-walk cafe beside the Seine, walked along the river by day and cruised on it at night. The air was filled with art, music, French and style. We toured the Louvre, I ran to catch a glimpse of Van Gogh’s work at a museum dedicated to him. Unfortunately, it was closed, but just outside, I met local artists and saw the work of the master replicated beautifully by them. I almost walked away with a oil on canvas, but alas, my meager budget allowed me only art prints of the originals. Sigh!

Apart from enjoying the atmosphere of the romantic capital of the world, Paris was a crash course in different kinds of personal style. Things that were on the ramps were on the streets in Mumbai too. But I had yet to see such clever mixing of colours and textures. I was a student, I couldn’t afford much, but I did come away with two beautiful and surprising pullovers.Those and a couple of berets is all I bought to keep the spirit of personal style alive for me. Even if I wear them at home, they make me happy!

My one regret is that I didn’t possess enough skill or capability to make the most of my borrowed camera. A cousin had lent me his point-and-shoot and now I have thumbnail sized memories to look at whenever am nostalgic.

I created this collage above by using some clever filters and effects in Coreldraw. It is a beautiful reminder of a wonderful time only four summers ago. I’ve made another version of the same photograph, and if you’d like to check it, you can head over to my store on Society6.com.

N and I plan to return to the city someday, together. He’s done a trip with family a year after I was there, we didn’t even know each other. I can almost see us walking along the quaint sidewalks and soaking in the Paris air. Of course, he will drag me to music shops. But I will tug at his arm as we cross Valentino. Who knows, we may just be able to buy me something gorgeous in Valentino Red. One can dream.

Vintage Treasures: Mahatma Gandhi’s Home

A quaint little house stands testimony to the simple, rustic life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Father of our Nation. He was born in Porbandar and lived in this house until his teen years. As you duck when you pass through the short doorways, you wonder how a tiny, frail man could have managed everything that he did. About how he continues to inspire people around the world with his words – written and spoken.

A bus-load of senior citizens clamber up the precarious staircase, holding onto the rope for dear life. They speak a tongue, foreign in these parts but comfortingly familiar to me. I interject their chatter with, “where have you come from?”, in Marathi. A happily surprised smile, a short pause and the dhoti-clad gentleman breaks into Marathi that could only be from Pune. Am from Mumbai, and there is usually a mildly cold war between the two cities of Maharashtra. One, the commercial capital of the state and India. The other, the bastion of all that represents the Marathi warrior.

But in these parts, we bond over the syllables of a common language. I relish the texture of the words being formed in my mouth, and I strain to hear the gurgling sound of my mother tongue from these village folk. Strangely, am comforted by the fact that home is indeed not that far away.

As we amble through the museum and get ready to leave the sunny courtyard, I look back one last time. The lady in the nine yard saree, who had almost not made it to the top floor, mops her forehead with the corner of her pallu. Even though she has skipped the trek to the third floor, she seems satisfied with her tour to a sliver of history.