Travel, Food & Living

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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

SHOP GUIDE - Little Tibet in Delhi

There are many things that catch your eye while walking down the Tibetan market of Janpath. Red, blue, green yellow, black, white - colours just stare out as you as one look at any of the shops.

Earrings, wall hangings, decorative and collector's items, clothes, footwear … you name it and you have it. Life just seems so vibrant here and it becomes better still if you are feeling rich that day.

With the NDMC renovating the market, and giving it a wonderful facelift, shopping here seems even a more attractive experience. But somehow, this side of the market, which runs along the Imperial Hotel road, seems so aloof from the other, more popular side of Janpath.

With clothes, jewellery, decorative items, bed sheets stacked up everywhere, this one is a haven for the college goers who stop by at any time of the day, bargain fiercely and walk away triumphantly with a skirt, t-shirt or jeans at dirt cheap rates.

But the Tibetan market is different. Here, the prices are more or less fixed and the products on sale like handicraft items, junk jewellery and all seem much more sophisticated.

I had never really explored this side of the Janpath market. And the fact that they have a name Tibetan Market, which separates them from the other side made me wonder.

I was curious. I decided to do something more than merely feasting my eyes on the stuff in the shops.

Suddenly, looking at the bustling market, I somehow wanted a little peek into the lives of these Tibetans who have made this country their home. Little did I know that I had just opened up a chapter full of memories.

Memories galore

I happily walked past noticing the 26 brand new looking showrooms, which were just a few months' back small shops. The little shack like shops were now chic A/C showrooms.

Amongst this row of shops, I chanced on Shop No 12, a small shop which was not closed with any glass doors and just seemed little out of place.

I peered in and somewhere saw a frail, white haired lady busy working on some beads. In the open shelves of the shop were lined up countless brass items.

The little shop was home to plenty utensils, bowls, cups, saucers and decorative items. And in a small glass table were kept tons of different beads. Some were made into earnings, necklaces or were just kept like that.

The lady kept doubtfully looking at me while I was inspecting the shop. I asked her if she would tell me a little bit about the shop and the market. "Lets see how much I can tell, you anyway sit," was the response.

81-year-old Doma was all of 18 when she had first come to India from Tibet. "Along with others, I also used to sit on the footpath with all the stuff I had to sell.

Gradually, Britishers started noticing our stuff and our sale increased. Finally we were provided small shafts in the shops where we could keep everything. But still there were no pucca shops.

I am so happy that they have renovated the market. I would have been happier if they had done it two years back," says the dear old lady. It was only later I discovered that Doma is right now the only member in the market who is still running the shop after all those years.

In all the other shops, the new generations have taken over. This probably explains why Doma's shop still looks distinctive in its own way. It is clear that change is what she is not willing to accept. And considering her age and life, I wouldn't blame her.

"I don't do very good business because I don't get into bargaining and stuff like that. I have fixed a price and sell my stuff at that only," is what the lady tells me. Probably that explains why the shop is not air conditioned.

But the charm of Shop No 12 lies in the antique look it still wears. Somehow modernization has not crept into its walls, products and most importantly the owner. Doma has clearly not changed with the changing needs of people but that seems to be her success mantra.

Home away from home

The skin is different, the eyes speak a distinct language, the accent is quite characteristic. 'Woh toh chinki hain,' - that's probably how any one of us would react looking at these Tibetan shop owners.

But despite these differences, these people insist that they are now proper Indians and more specifically Delhiites. Doma is perhaps the most expressive of all.

"Our faces might resemble Chinese but our hearts are very much Indian. I feel somewhere we have a similarity in mythology and all. It's now so many years that I have been in Delhi and this is home to me."

And for the younger ones who have grown up in Delhi seeing the Tibetan market flourish, Delhi is where they belong to. With perfect Hindi and English and bits and pieces of the foreign languages, these people are linguists in their own rights and have adapted very well to the situation.

They inform me that they built a small community of their own in Laxmi Nagar. Here, they have 26 houses together where they live with their families. To give a homely feel they have also built a Buddhist temple.

Back to business

Originally these shopkeepers might belong to a different country but they are also a part of the rich Indian heritage which so proudly makes its presence felt across the globe.

So while Janpath is a must-visit on the travelogue of a foreign tourist, the goods from these markets are exported worldwide.

"Our clients come to India once in a while, take designs from here, show it in their own countries at fashion shows, shops etc and then do business there. Now, a lot of business is done over the internet too," says D.R. Lama of Shop No 18, which exports specially designed jewellery.

The survival instinct in an alien country has led these shopkeepers to such a thriving business which India can now be proud of. Their products are sourced from all throughout the country and some of them have also set up their factories where they manufacture their own stuff.

'Survival of the fittest,' is that what strikes you now?

Monday, 28 May 2007

GUEST COLUMN - The homely Spring fields of Shimla

By Swarup Kar Purkayastha

February 2002. As the cab drives through the narrow, winding roads of Shimla, to Springfields Hotel, it removes us from the hustle-bustle of the city and drifts one into a relatively peaceful realm. It is so easy to get lost as the place opens up and takes one in the warmth of its embrace.

Imposing hills climbing high to kiss the sky, even as blankets of dense, white clouds swim in its vast emptiness. The sun is trying to break through the grey, morning mist from behind the hills.

And yet it's not easy to get lost. The world, its smell, touches seep into the atmosphere as the city gets ready to wake up to the call of the day. The cold breeze brushes one's heart, birds chirp and kids queue in for schools.

The cab screeches to a halt at the threshold of the hotel, situated at the outskirt of the city.

I looked out of the window of my car confused as the hotel looks more like a residence. There is no sign of a hotel. No one at the gate. On the other side, there is a cemented path, either side of which is green pastures, leading to a two-storeyed house.

Even before the apprehensions could sink in, a gentleman miraculously surfaces at the gate and greets us, ending all our anxieties. After I was through with the formalities, he escorts us to our room.

My mother and I breathe relief after an overnight journey and confine ourselves to comfort of the room. We stand awe-struck, wondering at the aesthetics of the interiors.

The decors, mainly inherited from the Raja, who used to own the property, and quite a few of them are purchased from various art galleries and antique dealers across the country, bring in traditional and royal touch yet not forgetting the modern aspect.

The paintings, again picked up from various imperial sources, hanging on the wall, create an ambiance of a home.

Not just the interiors, even the exteriors manifest everything that connects to a home. Leave aside the treatment and services of the host, and it's difficult to know that one is actually in a hotel, even as one visits one room after the other.

As we look out of one after another window of different rooms, we sink into the rare treasure of nature, abound by green hills and snow-clad mountain ranges.

To add to the entire experience, the fireplace was lit up. We had a panoramic view of the mountain ranges with our feet firmly resting on the wooden floor. However, all the rooms don't give the same, intoxicating spectacle.

Lahore Connection

The whole retreat takes us down memory lane to a bygone era but not without modern amenities of luxury that any other would provide.

The history of the property can be traced back to the nineteenth century. It used to be a residence of a Muslim aristocrat Mohammad Yahya Khan, who built it as his summer refuge. During the time of the partition, he left for Pakistan.

Raja Dhyan Singh of Sheikhupura, a large erstwhile estate near Lahore, bought it from Yahya Khan for his Himachali queen Chandragupta, his second wife, who needed an escape from the sweltering heat of Lahore.

Later in the year 1987, the prince converted the palace into a heritage hotel. He ran it for five years and then Usha Lexus Hotels and Resorts brought the property in 1992 on a 40-year lease. And since then it is under its care.

As per an official of the hotel three million rupees was spent for the renovation of the hotel.

The tin-roofed, double-storied hotel, has 11 rooms, six on the first floor and five on the ground floor. It has only one family suite which is on the first floor with a common balcony, shared with the adjacent room.

The balcony offers a breathtaking view of the mountain ranges. We were informed that one could also see the Choor Chandani Range which remains covered with ice even during summers. The tariff starts from Rs 3,000 and goes up to Rs 4,600, which is for the family suite.

Light, camera, action

The hotel takes pride in the fact that some of the famous movies are being shot here. In 1997, Kareeb team stayed in the hotel for over a month. In Chori Chori, the hotel was shown as the house of the film's protagonist Ajay Devgan.

The hotel has one restaurant exclusively for its occupants. And according to the need of the client, the restaurant can be converted into a discotheque. It also has a lounge and offers various indoor games.

And to please our taste buds, the menu boasts of a variety. It offers something as simple as khichdi and munghi ka dal, to a wide array of continental dishes. And to top it, tandoori barbeque and non-vegetarian Indian stuff.

And to wind up our trip, we choose the Toy Train. As the train whizzes on the century-old track, through hill after hill, through tunnels at times, the magnificence of nature freezes in front of the eyes.

Today, years later, as I sit back to write about it, Springfields may have been converted into a boutique hotel, giving a distinct theme and character to each room, memories of the trip come rushing back. Something lives on.

(The writer is journalist based in Ahmedabad)

FOOD GUIDE - Oh! My Chicken Biriyani

The news of Andhra Bhavan soon making way for a five star hotel was little hard to digest. What would happen to my favourite Chicken biriyani?

Only made on Sundays it really is worth a week's wait. Will the canteen which is a beehive of activity during lunch and dinner also face the axe or be relocated to some funny place which would be hard to spell, leave alone reach?

Hope the planners have a place for one of the most-sought after canteen in the capital in the idea of things to follow.

The news however pulled me and my wife to pay a visit to the AP Bhavan this Sunday. I usually get the biriyani packed to be relished either at home or office but this time we decided to sample it here.

My veggie wife ordered her meal and started her gleeful swim in the pool of ghee as I digged into my chicken biriyani which seemed a bit less than my usual packed version.

I was soon through with my first plate and was feeling greedy to have another. My wife seeing my dilemma allowed me to go for one more which i did and finished with little effort. Tripti. That can only be the right word to describe my feeling.

More so due to the disappointing chicken biriyani I had last week at the Swagath in Defence Colony which often serves some lovely non vegetarian food. I did complain.

It seemed more like a chicken fry eaten along with a fried rice. When it comes to biriyani the rice should blend well with the properly cooked meat.

My expectation was very high after the last visit to Swagath when I had the chettinad chicken curry laced with pepper along with the malabar porotta, quite an amazing combo. Bikku was quite impressed with egg appam and vegetable stew.

I had to eat the first egg appam as it came sprinkled with chilly powder. I did sample a fish fry suggested by the staff but found it lacking a tinge of masala and spice which I have grown up eating. Those were the good old day's of Akkamma's (mother's sister) fish curry and fry.

So put your Sundays to good use and hop into AP Bhavan as this value for money deal might soon be a thing of the past.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Peacock dance at the Tiger's den

There was a special host greeting us on our arrival at Nawab Pataudi's Palace. One of the most beautiful creations of nature, the peacock gave us a spectacular welcome. Their blue-green wings spread wide in a circle, two peacocks were dancing away to glory as our car wound up to the entrance.

Frankly, I had never seen a peacock dance. So, for me, this was one of the most enchanting sight. Well, quite a royal welcome, I thought as I got down from the car.

But the bird turned out to be quite smart and immediately recoiled its feathers even before we could take out our camera. We are sure there will be many more here, we consoled ourselves as we offloaded from the vehicle.

Tiger's Palace

Such was our fascination towards the bird that we did not even bother to examine the place where we were supposed to shell out so much cash just for a day and night stay. So, after the peacock resumed its daily chores, we finally found the time to look around.

The Pataudi Palace is a huge white structure overlooking a large expanse of greenery. The double-storeyed marble like building has a distinct touch of heritage.

The white pillars all around reminded me of Delhi's good old Cannaught Place. Could someone ever had stayed in this huge palace, I wondered! Well, apparently the Pataudi couple now visit the palace rarely was the information provided to us by a maali who was busy pruning the garden.

Before the Neemrana group took over in 2005, the palace was run like a hotel by Nawab Pataudi's family. The lobby of the palace is adorned with beautiful antique chandeliers.

Photographs of Nawab Pataudi with his pretty wife Sharmila Tagore are all around the place. Decked up in the seemingly Nawabi style, Sharmila makes for a beautiful picture even in those black and white frames.

There were also photographs of Patuadi's cricketing days which gives you a glimpse of what the Tiger was all about in his hay days. Interestingly, there were no photographs of Saif and Soha, the star son and daughter, after whom the family is now known.

According to me, the beautiful garden which nestles the palace was the main attraction. It was unbelievable that a place which is just 75 kms away from Delhi could be so peaceful. The well kept garden was bustling with activity when we reached. About 5 to 7 gardeners were busy watering the lawn and pruning the plants.

Apart from the peacocks, the palace was home to many different species of birds. Even in the scorching sunlight, we couldn't resist a small walk in the garden. Flowers were in all bloom and there were all kinds of birds surprising you from the bushes.

We would surely take a longer walk in the evening, we promised ourselves. Little did we know that just one day is not enough for this wonderful place.

Play time

From my school days till now, I have never been able to learn any sport. So when my husband said he wanted to try a hand at snooker, I immediately decided to shift my focus to the TV.

A few hours had to be passed before we could check in to our room. So while my husband burnt his calories in the provided time, I decided to be a couch potato. The TV lounge in the palace was quite a cosy place.

While the billiards board occupied most of the space, a small TV was kept in the corner with comfortable sofas right opposite. But I couldn't concentrate for long on the movie Kashmir ki Kali, in which Sharmila Tagore incidental made her bollywood debut, as I was thoroughly enjoying the game of pool between my husband and a kid from Holland.

The kid of course was much smarter than us as he tried to teach the nuances of the game to my husband. "You also join us," the Dutch boy told me passing on the cue stick. I was just about to plunge when I read a sign saying a damage to the board would cost Rs 40,000 to any guest. Well, I was instantly back to my movie.

We yearned to take a dip into the swimming pool in the middle of a garden but without proper costumes it was not possible. So, we tried to distract ourselves with a game of table tennis. Frankly, I tried very hard to gently hit the ball but whenever I would lift the racket, the little ball would zoom past me. Sports can never be a part of my hobby list, I realised.

Our haven

Ayesha Sultana. Does the name sound familiar? It happens to be the name adopted by Sharmila when she married the Nawab. Sharmila seemed to follow us even when I could'nt give her the attention she deserved in Kashmir Ki Kali. Ayesha Mahal was the room allotted to us.

In terms of size, it wasn't a mahal but for us, this peaceful den was no less than a paradise. Our room was compact with two large single beds. The window had yellow coloured glass which kept our room lit up through out the day.

The high ceiling gave it the perfect ancient touch. Once inside the room, we were in our own small world, oblivious to the happenings around us. The long spells of silence were broken by the occasional cry of a peacock. This was the room which gave us one of the best night's sleep in ages.
I was curious to explore Saif Mahal but never got a chance to do that.

This was our second experience at a Neemrana property (also read A date with a 14th Century Fort) and this time too, we found it a gastronomical delight.

The appropriately titled non-hotel hotels of Neemrana are masters at personalising services. So the three meals of the day were served at three different places in the palace. While lunch was a typical tasty North Indian meal, it was the dinner that we found was worth every penny.

Served at the poolside, this was one of our best candle light dinners together. I indulged in the yummy cheese and spinach rolls, according to my husband, the chicken was the best he's had for ages.

Enchanting feathers

My husband was a restless soul at the Palace. The camera forever in his hand, he was constantly on a lookout for the beautiful bird which refused to be captured dancing in the frame.

Peacocks were in abundance at this place (about 50, according to a worker). Surprisingly, there seemed to have been no attempt made to familiarise them with the human face.

A peacock, which would be busy dancing would immediately fly away the moment we went near. So initially, we decided to be silent spectators. Just when the bird thought the human being was away from its territory, its wings instantly spread out.

Delicate and lovely, the dancing peacock was a magnificent sight. We spotted another one right next to it, hastening to join in the dance. I looked up at the sky but there was no rain.

Just then I chanced on a female pea hen standing seemingly unaffected by the dance. Oh ... so this was the wooing time! At least I could not make out any difference between the two dancing beauties since they both looked so out of this world.

So now we knew how so many songs and poems are written on the peacock. I was also itching to take out a pen and paper and document that beautiful sight.

I couldn't understand how can someone have the heart to kill or pluck away its beautiful feathers? I can't imagine it looking good at any other place except the peacock's back.

As the two danced away to impress their lady love, they were quite unaware of the two humans enchanted by their astounding beauty.


We rarely feel sad when we head back home after a holiday. But while we left the place, we had a compelling feeling of getting back to Pataudi Palace soon. The peacocks, the garden, the swimming pool, the snooker table ... everything was calling us back. There was so much more to discover, so much more to talk about ... Yes, we will come back.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Trivandrum Diary

I am smitten. This is my second visit to this exquisite locale, but the magical feeling which engulfs me when the aircraft starts hovering over Kerala still remains. This is truly God's Own Country.

And it is Trivandrum, the capital is where I pay my obeisance to. For me, it is a haven, a place which has become so much a part of me in just two visits.

Green queen

Four and a half hours in the plane is pretty tiring. So, by the time you are told that the flight is preparing for arrival to the Trivandrum airport, all you want to do is get up and run.

But hold on. It was just then that I happened to look down from my window. A poet would have found his muse from the sight which greeted me when I looked out. I was here, little below the clouds and in front of my eyes was this vast green blanket, engulfing a huge territory.

Soft, fresh and welcoming, the lush green layer seemed to call me and I was mentally responding to it. And there was the ocean. From the distance, only a sheet of blue could be seen perfectly complimenting the green blanket.

It was nature at its best. Something I thought we could see only on the Discovery or National Geographic channel. The best part is that the magic doesn't fade even when the flight is about to hit the ground.

True, the marks of civilisation are seen all over, but everything is in the lap of nature. So, all along the strip of land, you can spot trees, plants and water. Wow ... this is a real confluence of nature. This is my second visit and I'm sure I'll feel equally enamoured the third time too.


Be it talking or writing, I tend to get carried away at the mention of Trivandrum. I apologise.

Some introduction is required - Thiruvananthapuram, as it is now called is my sasural (husband's home). Well, I never knew all my talks with my mother about visiting Kerala once would be heard by someone up there and come true so soon... But they did and I visited Kerala not as a tourist but as a coy bride for the first time.

Funny, it may sound, but it felt like a homecoming for me. I was thousands of miles away from my family in a house full of strangers but as I walked into my husband's house with the traditional Kerala lamp in my hand, I felt completely at home. Strange. Probably, that's what God's Own Country is all about.

Water, water, everywhere

The Trivandrum airport is very strategically located. You get a rendezvous with the sea while heading towards the main city from the airport. The waves from Shankhu Mukham beach, which is a stone's throw away from the airport are ever ready to welcome all visitors.

As the cars wound down the beach, the waves lap up almost waving enthusiastically to you. "Come to play with us soon," they seemed to be telling me as I passed through the beach.

And I kept my promise. I had to.

The famous Kovalam beach was where I was first taken to. I was sensible. I didn't expect a Goa here. But I didn't regret.

The Kovalam beach is no water paradise. The white sand and blue water description is not applicable to this place. Unlike the breathtaking beauty of the Goa beaches,it is the greenery here that catches attention.

The coconut trees lining up throughout the coastline are the first thing to catch your attention as you park your car on the beach. I, like a foolish child wanted to run straight into the water. But I was warned. The sea at the Kovalam beach is quite rough and you have to be on your guard constantly while going near the water.

Unfortunately, even for all its popularity, this beach is hardly well kept. As expected, the beach was more frequented by the foreigners who didn't seem to have a fear of water.

And for these firang tourists are built those umpteen shops adorning the beach selling everything from clothes to jewellery. It hardly matters that they sell everything at a triple price. They are after all doing brisk business.

From here, we headed to the Shanghu Mukham beach, which I had seen from the airport. While it is considered a family beach, this place looked much more cleaner and safer than Kovalam.

We culminated our visit with a treat of a variety of eggs and mutton cutlets at the Indian Coffee House right opposite the beach.

Padmanabhaswamy temple

A trip to Trivandrum would have been incomplete without a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple. Wearing a yellow chiffon sari, I set out with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law to see Lord Padmanabha who ruled Travancore via the Padmanabha Dasa, meaning "servants of the Lord Padmanabha"(erstwhile royal family).

It took me a while to acclimatise myself to the temple surroundings. Around me, I could only see bare bodied men wearing the mundu (dhoti) and sari clad women scattered all around.

Some were probably tourists but there were many others for whom this visit was a routine. After walking some good distance within, we finally reached the spot where the main deity was seated.

The excessive crowd and heat was getting on to me but the devotees around me seemed hardly bothered. But when I finally got a chance to stand in front of the deity, I realised it was all worth the effort.

In front of me was probably the most majestic statue of a God I had ever seen in my life. All in gold, Swami Padmanabha was reclining royally in his chamber.

The statue was not lifeless - even in the lying posture, the Lord seemed to be talking to his devotees. The glittering golden miracle I witnessed almost seemed unbelievable. I was still reeling under the effect of the sheer size and carving of the statue when we walked out of the place.

All that glitters

Kerala is one place which seems to be blessed with the Midas touch. From the regal Padmanabhaswamy statue to extravagant weddings, gold is so much a part of life for Keralaites.

Here, gold is one of the criterion for gauging the prosperity of a family. As we drove down the roads of the city, I couldn't help noticing huge billboards saying, "instalments available for gold purchase."

But the real feel of the Midas touch can be seen at any of the traditional Nair wedding. Decked up with a minimum of 20 gold chains and two to three dozen bangles, an affluent Nair bride is quite a breathtaking sight.

So, I realised that one of the things that a tourist should not forget during a Kerala visit is to go to a good jewellery shop. Having some of the purest gold in the country, Keralaites also happen to be brilliant jewellery designers.

The multi-coloured stone ornaments or the aesthetically designed pure gold chains, Kerala may be best described as paradise for the accessory freaks.

Watch out for your waist line

Although my sister-in-law lovingly fed me with the best ghee roast dosas I have ever had, dosa is not a speciality of Kerala. This place is a paradise for those food lovers (especially non-vegetarians) who don't mind experimenting.

For starters, everything here is cooked in coconut oil. Hold on. Agreed, it is cholestrol rich food but believe me, you'll miss something if you don't indulge!

I was lucky. Being the pampered bahu, I got to taste some of the best dishes of the place. So be it puttu & Kadala, idiappam & kootu curry, appam & stew or of course dosa - I digged into everything.

Initially, I was served Basmati rice but gradually I also started eating the thick red rice, which is their staple food. The excessive use of green chillies burnt my stomach but there was something to compensate for that too.

There is an abundance of juice shops across the city, serving an assortment of fresh fruit juices, which are so easy on the pocket too.

The desi air

My 10-day stay in Trivandrum steadied my fast paced life for a while. The Capital of the State with hundred per cent literacy seemed so much at ease with their identity. Trivandrum is no mini-America.

It was a relief to forget the existence of Mc Donalds and Pizza Hut for those days. Unfortunately for old fashioned people like me, the Delhi, Mumbai effect is catching up here too. So, on my second visit I chanced upon a newly built Cafe Coffee Day here which seemed to be the hot spot of youngsters ...

Two visits are not enough to know Trivandrum, and I'm sure I'll get our readers much more to chew on after my third visit to the God's Own Country which happens to be my second home.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Tirchendur: From Diana cut 2 Britney's Bald

Let me make a confession - I have never been too much of a religious traveler. I had always imagined traveling as freaking out on beaches, mountains or deserts.

It is only after traveling with my husband and in-laws that I learnt how exciting temple visits could be. After visiting some of the most sacred spots in South India, I learnt how even today God is the centre of the lives of several people in this country.

What else could explain the swarms of devotees, clad in heavy silk saris, bearing the brunt of the scorching sun all over the Murugan temple at Tirchendur? There was no sight of strain, no tiredness. But I shouldn't be surprised, after all, I'm a part of a country where people believe firmly that their square meal comes with the blessings of the almighty.

The journey

The fact that I had recently learnt that the Murugan temple at Tirchendur was supposed to be my father's family deity made me curious. So, a detour was planned to Tirchendur on our way to Kanyakumari.

The main agenda of the trip was the mundan (hair shaving) of the younger most member of our travel group- the three-year-old daughter of my sister in law.

On our way, we halted at Pallugal, my mother-in-law's family temple. Located amidst a vast belt of greenery, a visit to this temple gave you such a serene feeling.

The next stop was at Nagercoil where we devoured mouth watering ghee roast dosas.

The heavy breakfast kept us asleep for a major part of the journey. From here began our seemingly never ending drive to Tirchendur. The temperature was soaring and the almost non-functional AC in our Qualis kept raising my husband's temper!

I was afraid we might have to get down in between and wait for another cab because Sujith was anytime ready to pick up a fight with our driver.

Thankfully, sleep overtook him ... My sleep quota had finished by then and I was busy observing the Tamil Nadu countryside.

Even as I cribbed about the weather, I saw a group of women, walking down the fields carrying something on their heads with the sun burning bright over them. The sight put a full stop to all my complaints.

The ordeal

Before entering the temple, we stopped at the Tamil Nadu guest house which had a board saying 'Meals Ready'. Strangely enough, there was not even a restaurant at the place!

So, we assumed that Lord Murugan wanted to see us before we fill our stomach. As we walked our way down the temple, we were quite apprehensive thinking what all would we have to go through for getting the little girl's hair shaved.

We didn't know she had a surprise in store for us ... We were walking swiftly, avoiding the sunlight when I saw the temple area giving way to a huge expanse of water.

Frankly, I had no idea that this temple is situated on a sea shore. Seeing the water was what excited the kids who remained surprisingly well behaved for the next half an hour as we promised them a splash at the sea.

A long narrow passage led us to the place where the hair shaving was done. Through this way, I saw shaved men, women, children and old people, all looking happy and contented. My mother in-law told me that shaving off the hair means forgoing a beautiful part of your body so it is considered a great sacrifice for God.

The general practise is that the mundan is done before the temple visit. So we prepared ourselves for the ordeal. By now, the poor mother of the little one was almost in tears.

In no time, I saw my husband sitting on the patra with the girl. From here, the barber took over and within seconds we could see strands of hair all around the place. We were amazed to see the kid sitting patiently on my husband's lap trying to make sense of what was happening to her.

Fortunately, by the time she understood and started getting irritated, our work was through.

Promises had to be kept and we immediately took the kids to the sea. They happily played around and so did we, elated with the relief from the heat and fulfillment of her father's wish of getting her mundan done.

The temple

The structure of Murugan temple reminded me of the photographs I had seen of temples in South India in school. Its slanting triangular structure is so typically South Indian.

Fortunately for me, there was hardly any crowd thanks to the exam season and we got a lovely darshan.

The priests in the temples down South are an intelligent lot. They could easily make out that in our group, I was the ignorant one and they quickly briefed me about the significance of the deity.

When we were walking back to the entrance of the temple, I spotted a long queue of people assembled in the front of a door. I tried to observe them carefully when I realised they were waiting for the free food ... My heart immediately said a prayer as I walked past them.

Shopping time

My sister-in-law had already told me that we can buy some beautiful glass bangles from this place. We came for shopping after eating a stomach full of the Tamilian thali at a nearby restaurant.

With energy restored, we were in full spirits to raid the shops. I was completely fascinated with the variety of bangles available. Red, blue, black, orange, pink ... a collage of colours were seen at these bangle shops. I was quite shocked when I came to know how reasonably priced the bangles were.

I felt like purchasing the whole shop but my mother and sister-in-law didn't give me a chance as they bought enough for me to wear for the next few years. I bought a few Murugan lockets for my father, through whom I had a connection with the temple.

Sitting in the car, on our way to Kanyakumari (also read At India's Cape with Good Hope), I was thinking of all the stories I had to narrate to my parents of this visits.

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