Sunday, March 30, 2014

Chandigarh: A Paragon City

One fine evening when I returned home after a strenuous day's work, I was greeted pleasantly by my better half. I was too tired to stir my brain to decipher this gesture of hers. It’s not that she does not greet pleasantly, but that day it was more evident. It did not take me much time to finally know what was coming my way. At dinner, my wife initiated a thread about vacationing in the near future; it was almost the fag end of November and a good time to go on a vacation with holidays approaching. Now I was too soft in saying she initiated a thread, rather it was an ultimatum to me. Now which husband on earth as the temerity to resist, leave aside reject such an order? I budged and without any procrastination started discussing the possible places to visit. We debated on places, budget, duration, climate, etc. and finally, after a healthy debate (?????) we zeroed on North India. You see I have always been fascinated about visiting Northern India, I don’t know why? May be because of the many tourist places, scenic hill stations, snow laden Valleys Mountains and many other reasons. To my joy we decided to visit this city and make our base while we travel to other regions. I have heard about this city all my life for its impeccable planning, amazing infrastructure and overall good quality of life. I am talking about the city CHANDIGARH.

I do remember when we drove into the city via New Delhi, a huge board welcomed us to the beautiful city of Chandigarh. Like an excited kid, I kept gazing out of the car window to have a dekho at the surroundings, and I was happy for what I was seeing. I had my fingers crossed and hoped its not a marketing gimmick and I could get to experience the same pleasantness in other parts of Chandigarh. To my surprise Chandigarh did not disappoint me a bit. While I drove to my hotel I could see wide clean roads with trees swaying in the cool breeze on both the sides. The divider in the middle of the road was adorned with beautiful plants, shrubs bearing lovely colorful flowers. Small promenades adjacent to the roads, walking hand in hand. Big wide roundabouts at the road junctions  were decorated with precisely cut trees, plants, shrubs booming with the fauna. All this while there were no traffic snarls, blaring horns or a competition of vehicles to win a race. This entire setup stole the show for me. I have always heard / observed one or other sobriquet attached to the city of Chandigarh, be it the first / most planned city in India, the cleanest city in India or the city with the highest per capita income in the country, to others like the ultra modern city or the fashion city (there might be others in India, but I felt Chandigarh tops the list).

The name “Le Corbusier” is synonymous with this city. He is considered to be the architect, with many of his layouts and buildings adorning the city. For his excellent work I would like to say “Monsieur Corbusier, Merci beaucoup pour votre aide et votre bonté”. And of course the concerned authorities who have maintained the city superbly even today. What was striking in this city is I did not see any unauthorized or for that matter any forms of flex, boards, hoardings dirtying the skyline which is ubiquitous in other cities or congregation of ricksha-wallas, taxi-wallahs on the road side creating obstruction to the smooth traffic, nor did I see any blatant jumping of signals or disregard for traffic rules. No potholes riddled roads or litter was to be seen.  Everything was perfect the way it should be. Every sector of Chandigarh has been designed to see it makes life easier for its residents and this was something which I really appreciated. Even the tourist spots in the city are kept spic and span and everyone can enjoy it with least hassles. The SUKHANA Lake was a delight to visit and enjoy the boat ride. Its well maintained and it surprises you.
Sukhana Lake's Night View
Sukhana Lake @ Night
Sukhana Lake - Ducks at home
Sukhana's Ducks

Taken for a ride @ Sukhana
Kiddo enjoying the boat ride @ Sukhana
Suhana Sukhana
Sukhana Lake
The other attraction that impressed me was the sprawling estate of the ROCK GARDEN. I think the creativity displayed there is something amazing. I have not seen discarded material being used that creatively in my life and is definitely worth lauding. Now what is noticeable here is, the way this entire structure has been maintained and kept easily accessible to the hordes of people who visit this place daily. I guess this neat planning and an effort to preserve things is ingrained in people of Chandigarh.

Creativity using waste
Creativity at its best

Rock Barden - An epitome of creativity
Rock Garden in different views

Rock Garden - Artistic Excellence
Discarded material used to create this class act

Rock Garden - It Rocks
Rock Garden in different shades
You ought to visit these two places to get a feel of Chandigarh, and one of them is beautiful “ROSE GARDEN”. This wide spread of beauty is something which will take your breath away and wanting to experience more. Here you would get to see a variety of roses in full bloom in different shapes, sizes and colors. It simply changes the look of the earth from gray / black to other rainbow colors and is a must see. Besides the roses you would get to see different species of trees adding to the appeal. The cool Chandigarh weather always augments the experience I think.

Rose Garden - Life is indeed a bed of roses
Roses in full bloom

Fountains in rose garden
Fountains galore

Beautiful settings at Rose Garden
Panoramic View of rose garden
Verdant at Rose Garden
Look no where
The other attraction of the city is the CACTUS GARDEN. Here you would get to see different species of cacti you would have not known or even imagined. It boasts of having around more than 1000 different species of cacti. No surprises the garden is superbly maintained and a delight to visit. I would say every part of the city is a tourist spot with everything decorated, maintained to please the eye and very user friendly.
Prickly, but pleasing to the eye
Cactus everywhere
Cactus Umbrella
Sight to behold
Cactus Galore

Fashion is something which you can’t separate from Chandigarh. I think it's one of the most fashion conscious city in India. You would see the residents wearing the latest designer labels and driving their swanky mean machines. The "Soni Punjabi kudiyan" in their latest ensemble can scorch the chilly weather and make you go weak in your knees. Even a hardcore misogynist would go soft looking at these shimmering beauties. I had my share of visual delight. I would go ahead and add one more tag of “Fashion capital of India” for Chandigarh.

How can one miss the lip smacking and mouth watering Punjabi food and that too an authentic one. I would confess I committed gluttony at every meal that I had in this city. I gorged on everything that came my way without getting health conscious and I gave away to the temptations. All in all a wonderful time I spent in this beautiful city with a promise to return someday.

I always think even if 20% of what I saw in Chandigarh is replicated in other cities it will be a worthwhile effort. Our politicians who under the garb of study tours, go on vacations on tax payers money, need not go abroad and instead visit Chandigarh to see how well the city is planned and maintained.

You know kids at times can really ask tough questions. My kid is no different, while we were leaving Chandigarh for our hometown, he asked me “Baba can we shift to Chandigarh?” I was taken aback, and with a lump in my throat said Yes. That moment I knew this city has cast his spell on my kiddo like it did on me and my wife. With heavy heart we left the city of Chandigarh.

Oye Balle Balle, Chandigarh tussi kisi ki nazar na lage.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sojourn at Mulshi Back Waters

There are a number of places to visit in the vicinity of my city Pune, and I grab every opportunity to visit them. Ranging from rugged forts to lush green mountains, religious places, caves, back waters, etc. all adorn my city Pune; and you would see hordes of people thronging to these places on holidays or weekends. I happen to visit one of the places recently which is in the vicinity of the Mulshi back waters. Even a short stay amidst the nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city is enough to rejuvenate oneself. The excitement was palpable and more so because of a get together of sorts with my family members, relatives, cousins was going to happen at this place. 

The drive to the farmhouse was no less than a trail in the forest, with mountains laden with green cover for the company. The ever winding roads and the cool breeze augmented the fun quotient

Picturesque Road To Mulshi
Picturesque Road
At some places we even spotted peacocks loitering in the grass freely, oblivious to the presence of humans. Birds were chirping loudly as if voicing how happy they were here in this environment. Bird watching was something we witnessed on this journey. Having a spicy Wada Pav (Indian Burger) on such journeys followed by a hot tea is always a treat. All from All a perfect start of the much awaited get together with nature as our other companion. I was told this farm house was deep inside a jungle of sorts, off the main road and in the vicinity of the Mulshi back waters. The road in some places was so narrow and laden with trees, we had to evade through them. Also at some places the trees formed a canopy of sorts welcoming us in their territory. We all were waiting with bated breath to reach this place and had already started envisaging the place and what we would do there.

Roads through thick green cover
Forest trail
On reaching the place I was absolutely dumbfounded looking at the beauty offered to me by the Mother Nature. I could not resist but adore this place and the beauty around. It was simply picture perfect. The view was breath taking to say the least and gave a panoramic view of the Mulshi back waters. I would list this experience way to the top of some of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
Breath taking view of the Mulshi back waters
Panoramic view of Mulshi back waters

The vivid flora and fauna added to the appeal and was a sight to behold for eternity. The serenity, calmness and the beauty of the place can easily highjack you to a different world, the Utopia. I couldn’t control my desire to capture these moments in my camera and I went on a clicking spree, clicking everything from a mountain top to the blue water body in the vicinity to the birds on the trees, variety of flora and fauna. I was one greedy consumer not wanting to let go any of the moments unattended or un captured. Such was an effect on me that I did not hear any of the calls for breakfast, as I was no more hungry, having consumed the nature’s beauty to the fullest, almost voraciously.
A view to die for
After a sumptuous breakfast, I was out again to experience what nature had to offer. After the mesmerizing effect the surroundings had on me, I was game for any other odyssey. I came to know something is being planned for the team to explore, in the mean time I continued my voracious ways by clicking photos and savoring the nature’s gift to mankind. I was joined by my cousins who had a similar effect on their senses after experiencing this beauty.

Mulshi back waters flowing majestically
Site to behold

Mountains here I come
We were told we would be doing a small trek down the mountain to reach the back waters, I jumped with joy and was part of the team already, though I was told the trek is little treacherous and is infested with snakes and other reptiles. This was not going to stop me from reaching the waters, though I must confess I was dead scared with the thought of snakes crossing my path or rather I am crossing their path, as it was their territory. Armed with small sticks and bravado we set on this trek through thick forests and slippery track. While I had walked a few steps down the mountain I was struck with this thought of, should I continue or otherwise, as it was really steep and slippery with just trees, bushes all around.

Lush greenery
Thick forest
But I gathered all strength and proceeded, as I did not want to miss the back waters. I was so close to being there and did not want to return home without drenching my legs into the blue serene backwaters. My kiddo and some of my cousins accompanied me on this skiddy track to the backwaters. The track though tiring and slippery was exhilarating. I witnessed some of very strange trees which I had never seen earlier; same was the case with flowers and the small shrubs. We had to cut through some of the thick forest cover to make our way forward. We had travelled for almost 60 minutes, but the shore was still not reached. The lush green surroundings and the cool breeze, simply enliven you to proceed. While on this trek I had almost forgotten about it being infested with snakes, and was merrily making my way through the thick forest cover enjoying every bit of it. This was I guess the closest that I have been with nature; my earlier trek through the forest was at Vasota in the district of Satara.

Dare devils cutting through the forest
Making way through thick forest
Young n Old towards the shore
On our way to the back waters
After a strenuous descend through the mountain I could see a glimpse of the Mulshi back waters and I had no words to describe it. The blue water epitomizing calmness and serenity was something amazing. Like a super active kid wanting to grab a gift I ran towards the water.

Almost there
There it is - the back waters
Here, I was in front of something which evokes awe in you.The giant nature of its scope simply dwarfs everything and you only respect it. This blue water mass extended till the horizon and was aptly adorned with the green mountains in the surrounding. I just kept admiring the view for a while and drenched myself in the cool water. All this while I kept humming one song which simply came naturally to me “Yeh Kaun…… Chitrakar hai, yeh Kaun chitrakar hai” (Who is the artist who has drawn this?). I indulged myself playing in the water like a kid with my kiddo who too was mesmerized by this entire view. He kept insisting on staying here for a while before we climb back to our farmhouse. We stay put near the shore for a good hour or so. 

Serene waters
Epitomizing beauty

View invoking WOW
Water babies
My kiddo having a great time
While ascending back to our base, we all felt sad, but that was so natural. I clicked the view one more time and it looked even better.
Mother Nature at its best

One last time a view to die for
 Beautttiiiiiifulllllllllll encore
Moving up to the base camp
Return trek
At the farmhouse we all were treated with some delicious local cuisine. Even now I did not miss a chance of having a rendezvous with the nature and sat underneath a tree, gorging the delicious food and savoring the lush green surroundings.

After a great meal, and a cool breeze flowing I am always game for a siesta, but somehow I did not want to waste time sleeping, and I roamed around climbing trees, clicking photos or simply staring at the nature in solitude. Time passed by in a jiffy and the sun had started setting. It was my one last time to collect and store this amazing nature in my eyes and my senses before we head back. 

Sun god leaving for the day
Sun God
Beautiful Sunset
Sun God leaving for the day

I really felt sad leaving this place, but the happiness, enjoyment and the solace that this place and the nature had provided eclipsed my sadness, and I vowed to come back soon and have my fair share of proximity with the nature. While driving back I had the same song on my lips “Yeh Kaun…… Chitrakar hai, yeh Kaun chitrakar hai”.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Coaches can win matches

It is such an eye pleasing sight to see Allan Donald, Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes sits with the South African cricket team in the capacity of national coaches or for that matter Darren Lehman, Geoff Marsh sits with the Aussie cricket team imparting them useful tips and motivating them to the hilt or plotting the downfall of the opponents. The English team is not far behind in making use of Graham Gooch and Ashley Giles cricketing acumen. The similarity in all these above examples is, a common thread that links them, and that thread is, their respective cricketing greats slogging and working with their national teams. These nations don’t see a need in hiring a foreign coach for their cricket team, and why should they when they have these skills in abundance in their own backyard. They take pride in having their own set of people do these jobs, and it is perfectly fine. But this might not be the case with Indian cricketing board, the omnipotent, omnipresent BCCI, the most powerful and rich cricketing board, busy making money. I always think of BCCI as a filthy rich father who does not have time for his kids and who can go to any length to make money even at their expense.

Now the bone of contention here is should Indian national team look for an Indian coach or look far off like we have been doing for many years. The incumbent coach Mr. Duncan Fletcher is proving to be a liability and the team is facing one defeat after other at many tournaments. But Mr. Fletcher is unperturbed and after every debacle simply moves to his home country Zimbabwe, to appear only before the next tournament. Mind you he is paid handsomely by the BCCI for his services. But what’s the point when he is not part of the scheme of things here and is away when required. To add to his woes, his own cricketing stats are nothing to be talked about or even mention it, but even by the theory of, not every great player is a great coach and vice versa, his coaching performance is below par and the recent stats speak volumes. What is disheartening is the lack of accountability on his part and not doing enough to either dismiss these perceptions or show results on the cricketing field. Many former Indian greats have been talking about his absence from the local matches where the talent is spotted and nurtured for the future. He is simply missing from the scene when his presence does matter. Cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar has come heavily on him and asked for his immediate removal and replacing him with our very own Rahul Dravid, who has been a world class player having played at the top level for 17-18 long years. He would be an ideal coach for the Indian cricket team; for he commands the respect from the current players, they regard him very highly, has the cricketing acumen and is very approachable. All these qualities make him the most ideal candidate to coach the Indian national cricket team.

To me it makes perfect sense. The grass can be greener on this side as well and you don’t have to look on the other side to experience it. Why should we not employ the services of these stalwarts is one question that comes to my mind repeatedly, and I am sure you all cricket loving Indians would echo the same sentiment as mine. Besides their world class skills, they understand the sensibilities, the culture of this country which can help understand individual problems and address them holistically. Being local they will be available all the time and this would give immense motivation and relief to the players who are looking for tips or ideas from these masters. We have had fast bowling greats like Kapil dev, Roger Binny, J Srinath and others, are we really making use of their talent to nurture the young raw talent that we have? We have had a great tradition of some wily Tweakers like Bedi, Prasanna, Venkatraghavan, Kumble, are we using their skills to develop world class spinners? If not, why? We can have their services if the BCCI mandarins lower themselves from the high pedestal they have placed themselves onto, and think of the betterment of Indian cricket rather than taking pride in propagating themselves as the cricket’s most powerful and rich body. These Indian stalwarts can be great coaches I think, and I am not denying that some of them did coach the Indian team in the past, but it has dried down, and we have been relying heavily on foreign coaches since then.

If the wise men ruling the BCCI agree to appoint an Indian coach these Indian stalwarts should not shy away from taking responsibility and stand up and get counted. They should grab this opportunity and show the results and make the Indian cricket team a world class unit. Just giving advice from the commentary boxes won’t help. I hope better sense prevails and soon we would see former Indian cricketers as the batting, bowling or fielding coach for the men in blue. If I had the liberty to select the coaches I would have selected a mix of Rahul Dravid, Kapil dev, Saurav Ganguly, Laxman, Sunil Gavaskar, Anil Kumble, J Srinath and of course the master of all Sachin Tendulkar (though let him have a break from cricket at-least for a few years), handling the reins of the Indian cricket. These greats as coaches with the team would be picture perfect. To this combination my friends would say “SAVAGE” or too good.