Category Archives: Travel

Sea to Shining Sea

Acadia National Park, Maine

Highway 1 California

Scenic overlook on the way to Monterey, California, on  the Pacific Coast Highway

I can sit for endless hours watching the waves crash on the shore, doing absolutely nothing.  I took the first photo on my visit to Acadia in 2009 and the second photo is from last week. 

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Fashion Advice Face Paw

Fashionista kitteh facepaws at your sartorial choicesfacepaw

By two_kittehs

I had the same reaction when I saw the capsule wardrobe and suggestions that fashion blogger Alison Gary of Wardrobe Oxygen had put together for two weeks in India.

I am headed on a 2-week trip to India. I want to be comfortable sightseeing and spending lots of time on trains and planes, but still stylish. Any ideas for a capsule wardrobe for keeping cool, covered up, and stylish?

Paraphrasing some of her suggestions: 1. Wear an opaque mumu

We often think conservative in regard to length, but when packing for India, it also means fit. Clothing should cover at least the shoulders and knees and not have low necklines, but pieces should also be loose so the curves of your figure are not on display (loose clothing is also more comfortable in the heat). Consider the type of fabric and avoid those that may be transparent in the sun or cling when you sweat or walk. Cotton or cotton/silk blends are the best for opacity and comfort in the heat.

I wonder whether she has seen an Indian woman in a saree?  The outfit of choice of most Indian women; hugs your curves in all the right places, not only gives you an hour glass figure but also leaves your midriff exposed. 2. Find a tailor

If you’re not an off the rack size consider finding a local tailor – pieces can usually be made in a day or two for a very low price.

Good luck with that, if  you are in India for only two weeks. Buying the  fabric, finding suitable patterns and a tailor and then getting him to finish the job will take at least take a week, if you are lucky.  I am assuming you have better things to do with your time than make multiple trips to the tailor. 3. Or dress like a cult member and die of heat stroke

A Western alternative would be a dress that hits below the knee with leggings, a loose blouse with cropped or full length pants, a loose tee with a calf to ankle length skirt. In more rural areas, your bare legs will stand out more, so consider packing a pair of lightweight pants or leggings to slip under dresses to be more modest.

Really, leggings or pants under a dress? 4.  Hide behind dark sunglasses and scarves:

Another great accessory to have is dark sunglasses; direct eye contact may present the wrong impression and a pair of shades will let you see all the sights comfortably.

A scarf or dupatta will be your best friend on this trip. It can be worn over your head when entering Sikh temples, as a wrap when you’re wearing a short sleeve top or if you get a chill, and can protect you from the sun.

Scarves in 90 degree plus weather? You have got to be kidding me. I am left wondering whether Ms. Gary has ever been to India herself.  India is definitely more traditional and conservative than the United States but it is hardly Saudi Arabia.  Second, India is not a monolith, each state is like a country in itself, culturally speaking.  There is lot of geographic variation too in a country the size of a subcontinent, so overly broad advice will only get you so far. My advice is simple, be yourself, do some research before you leave,  use common sense and dress comfortably. Obviously, don’t wear Daisy Dukes and tube tops but there is no need to dress like a member of a cult eitherThis trip, I spent most of my time in and around Bombay I wore both knee-length shorts and skirts, as well as sleeveless and short sleeved tops since the temperature was between 90 and 100, throughout my stay, I must have worn pants twice.  Needless to add, I would dress differently if I were to travel to another part of India or go during winter.

Layers of History II, Karla Caves and The Ekveera Temple

Wherever you are in India, you are a  witness to several historical eras juxtaposed together, like several geological eras in a single sedimentary rock. This is true whether  you are  in  Colaba or Karla.

The Karla Caves sit atop a mountain in the Sahyadri range.  The cave complex is made up of the largest Chaitya or  prayer hall  in India and the Viharas which serve as living quarters for the monks.   If the cave temple complex is a relic of India’s distant Buddhist past, the present is represented  by a much smaller temple dedicated to Ekveera Devi.  In fact, most of the visitors to Karla are Hindu pilgrims.  Ekveera, is the kuldevata (literal translation: clan deity, roughly like the Catholic patron saint) of the Kolis, the fisher folk who were Bombay’s original inhabitants.  She has also been adopted as kuldevata by many other Marathi speaking communities of Bombay.

The Ekveera Devi temple is one among many temples in Maharashtra that sit atop a mountain. Some are behind  impressive  fortifications while others are tucked away in plain sight next to Buddhist cave temples from another era.  Their location makes sense when you realize that higher altitudes are cooler during the summer and offer a measure of safety along with a peaceful place to meditate and contemplate. Watching the sun go down in the Western Ghats is a spiritual experience in and of itself.

Karla Cave Temple Complex  and Ekveera Devi Temple

Entrance to the Prayer Hall and the Ekveera Devi Temple

Ekveera Devi

Her Tortoise

Living Quarters  for the Buddhist Monks

A View of from the Top

To check out other posts about my India trip, click here

Wednesday Afternoon Moment of Zen

The Main Prayer Hall, Karla Caves, Lonavla

I was here almost a month ago, a cool place to be in the middle of May, literally. The temperature inside the caves was at least ten degrees cooler than the outside. It is one of the many Buddhist cave temple complexes found all over India. Buddhism once flourished in India, especially during Ashoka’s reign.  The main prayer hall has Ashoka’s pillar at its entrance.

An Ode to the Bounty of Summer-Hapoos Mangoes

Its been just two weeks since I came back from India.  However, the arrival of summer-like temperatures  is making me nostalgic about my trip. Before the monsoon arrives in early June, Bombay  is enveloped by punishing heat and  oppressive humidity.  The hardy souls who venture where angels fear to tread are rewarded by the seasonal bounty of ripe Hapoos mangoes.   In my biased opinion, they are the  best tasting mangoes in the world.

When ripe, they are a bright reddish orange.  When you bite into it, the mango has a velvety texture that melts in your mouth but it’s the heady sweet bouquet of ripening mangoes that draws you in, in the first place.

When I was in India I ate a Hapoos mango almost everyday, sometimes twice in a single day. I ate it by itself, in yogurt, juiced (aamras), with clotted cream, in an ice-cream and in kulfi.  If you have never tasted Hapoos, you should put it on your bucket list.  The Hapoos season is brief, late April until the arrival of the monsoon. There is no real substitute for the Hapoos but  Ataulfo mangoes are somewhat similar.

To welcome summer, I am going to post recipes using mangoes in the next few days.  I am starting with a recipe for mango lassi. If you have any specific requests email me or leave it in the comments below.

A Green mango on a tree, in my friend’s garden in Lonavla.

Mango Lassi

Ingredients

2 cups frozen or fresh ripe mangoes (I use the frozen mangoes from Trader Joe)

2 cups nonfat or 2% yogurt

2 tbsp sugar (more if you want the lassi to be sweeter)

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

If using frozen mangoes, thaw them.  I usually add the sugar and the salt when I am thawing the mangoes.  If you have never diced a fresh mango, there are step by step instructions here. Use a blender to blend everything together.  Serve chilled. You can add some fresh mint or basil  for  a variation.  You can also leave out the grated nutmeg and cardamom if you don’t have them at hand.

Caturday Kitteh is Exhausted

Back at the home base with my kittehs but still a bit jet lagged and tired. I had a wonderful time in India but it is good to be back.

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By two_kittehs

Layers of History I , Bombay’s British Legacy

While traveling in India you quickly realize that there are many layers of history that surround you. This is true whether you are  in a street in Bombay or in the Western Ghats.   Beneath the  glitz of Bollywood, the high rises and the new expressways you can still hear the echoes of the city’s colonial past. Bombay’s rise to prominence is closely associated with the ascendancy of the British in India. Before, it was a nondescript collection of several fishing villages.  The names and architecture of South Bombay bear a witness to this colonial legacy.

Although some prominent  Victorian and Edwardian structures have been renamed, locals still prefer the old names to the new Indian ones.  Also, many  parts of Bombay and many of its revered institutions still sport  the names from the colonial era.  For example, the Grant Road and the Elphinstone Road stations on the suburban Western Railway line, both named after Governors of Bombay, which included the states that are now Maharashtra and Gujarat.  Incidentally, there are educational institutions in Bombay still named after Grant ( Grant Medical College) and Elphinstone (Elphinstone College) respectively.

As an arm chair historian, I think this curious phenomenon can be explained by the fact, that people who lived in Bombay in the years that immediately followed the Indian Independence had mostly worked for the many administrative institutions that ran the  Colonial Government.  The colonial rule was harsh and exploitative in general, for the rest of India but it was beneficial for the city and its inhabitants in many ways big and small.  So it is no surprise that the  average citizen of Bombay recalled the British years with fondness and was in no hurry to obliterate the British legacy.

The name changes of the last eighteen years or so are the consequence of the changing  nature of Indian and especially local  politics,  a topic perhaps of another blog post.

Museum

The Museum in Mumbai

Earlier dispatches from India are here

Back to Mumbai

VT Station

I have been away to Lonavla for the past few days to take a breather from the humidity of Bombay. I just got back this afternoon. The trip was short but wonderful and I have taken tons of pictures. More about it, in my next post. 

I took this photo of the Victoria Terminus, now renamed Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus  from the back seat of a cab, this morning.

India Trip: Dispatch 2, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Day four of my trip and I am almost feeling like a member of the human race again. It was the first time I actually managed to a get a good night’s sleep since I left home last Wednesday.  Sleep deprivation is too a form of torture, though in my case it was totally self inflicted.

Yesterday evening I went for a walk in the park late in the afternoon.  The cool winds blowing from the Arabian Sea made the humidity tolerable.  Speaking of which this is what my hair looks like right now after spending an hour straightening it with a flat iron.

furry rabbit photo

Credit: Squish_E, Flickr

Mango Tree

Under the Shade of the Mango Tree  in the S. K. Patil Garden

The garden seemed much smaller than when I last saw it and parts of the garden were dug up.  A foiled land grab  which has stalled, I was told. It gave me a glimpse into why people here are hungering for a change. It seems that Indian elected officials can only be held accountable at the time of elections. So alternating between two sub-par choices is the only power the people have.

India Trip Dispatch 1: There are Places I Don’t Remember

I am back in India after more than a decade, just landed here this morning.  My mind is still in a fog from the jet lag and the sweltering May weather in Mumbai is not much help.  It is 90 degrees right now but feels like 99 because of the humidity.  The humidity surrounds you like a fog right from the time you step out of the airplane.  

My plane landed after midnight  this morning and in my cranky sleepless state it seemed like an eternity before I reached the Immigration counter.  It was huge and staffed with enough people that the waiting times were minimal. It took me less than ten minutes to get my passport stamped.   Quite a change from the pit of hell experience on my earlier trips.  Clearing the Customs was a breeze as well.  Indian bureaucracy’s efficiency has actually improved, will wonders never cease?

Every one loves to complain about the TSA but of all three nationalities I encountered on this trip they were the most courteous and friendly. The Brits were efficient but unsmiling and India gets the prize for the most improved.  The least fun part of the journey was the layover in London.  It was like waiting in a dungeon with spendy shops.  Four hours seem like forty when you have zero sleep.

The drive from the airport to South Bombay was pleasant, unlike the drive to the Logan airport in Boston.  I am sure that it was 2 a.m. in the morning had a lot to do with it. The new Sea Link bridge is impressive. 

 

File:Mumbai skyline88907.jpg

Credit: Wikipedia

The other  highlight of my day was a home cooked meal with fresh shrimp, rawas,freshly made chapattis and stir fried cauliflower with cumin and mustard seeds, worth every minute spent in the spendy dungeon says I.