Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Looking Beyond the Taj

An unedited version of my story published in the September 2015 edition of the in-flight magazine, JetWings

Swooshing through the sandstone maze of monuments, the 16th century slowly crept up on me - I saw first-hand the genius of Akbar’s thought-process, the meticulousness of Shah-Jahan’s embellishment, and the flamboyance of generations of Mughal Emperors. Mughal Architecture has left us with a heritage of buildings which were not only monumental in their appearances, but also poignant in their inspirations; buildings were built as dedications to people, as symbols of love, or as re-creations of a world far away, a world they left behind in Persia. Their architecture, though, was not an imposition on the milieu that existed – the Mughals seamlessly blended and adapted local styles to create architecture that was aesthetically appealing as well as climatically and geographically sensitive.

Akbar, the most prolific architect amongst Mughal emperors, has left behind a treasure trove in Agra – a treasure his successors added to. Agra, to most, is synonymous only with the Taj Mahal. Though not begrudging the Taj its status, I feel for visitors who miss out on what is undoubtedly the largest collection of monumental Mughal Architecture in a region – Agra, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri – an Agra beyond the Taj Mahal.

Agra Fort
Early evenings add their own glamour to the red sandstone, setting them aflame. One of the rare forts built on level ground, the Agra Fort looks deceptively easy to breach. Completed in 1573 AD, Akbar and his team designed the semicircular fort over the ruins of an existing fort called ‘Badalgarh’. The Yamuna runs parallel to the chord of the semicircle, and was tapped by Akbar for beautiful river-side panoramas from all the buildings lining that edge.

The non-river-facing side is where visitors enter from, through the Amar Singh (Lahore) Gate. A steep ramp leads from this gate to the inner gate, but the unexpected work-out was made more bearable by my guide peppering the walk with history and anecdotes about the crocodile-infested moats, the Peacock Throne, and the emperors’ opulent lifestyles.

Of the fort’s four gates, the Delhi Gate – the biggest - can only be brought alive through your guide’s stories, as it falls within the inaccessible area of the fort being used by the Indian military. Built by Akbar as his formal entrance, a moat had to be crossed using a drawbridge, to reach the Delhi Gate. From there, the inner gate ‘Hathi Pol’ was reached after a 90 degree turn, so that enemies’ elephants couldn’t run straight through the outer and inner gates to break them down, as was frequently done in battles. Such was the architectural genius employed, which, with other stratagems like a double rampart separated by the 12 m deep moat, 70 feet high walls, forward-sloping lower ramparts to prevent scaling, and massive turrets, made the fort impregnable.

The ramp leading into the fort, from Amar Singh Gate

Written records sing paeans to the 500 buildings built within, by Akbar. However, his progeny Shah Jahan demolished many of them to make way for his marble buildings – a later evolution in Mughal Architecture. Some of what was spared by Shah Jahan was destroyed by the British in the 19th century, to construct military barracks. Only about 30 of the buildings are said to have survived today.

What sets the architecture of the Agra Fort apart from other forts is the presence of expansive, manicured gardens and lawns. Also, the buildings have an interesting mix of architectural styles – Akbar’s initial designs were heavily inspired by the architecture of Gujarat and Bengal, while Shah Jahan used the Indo-Islamic style. Breaking convention, a lot of the surface decorations are non-Islamic - dragons, elephants, and birds - as opposed to the sanctioned calligraphy.

Jahangiri Mahal, with one of the fort's many lawns in the foreground.

Faint strains of visitors’ chatter and history lessons doled out by copious tour guides followed me through the buildings: Diwan-i-am, Diwan-i-khas, Jahangiri Mahal, Bengali Mahal, Moti Masjid, and Seesh Mahal. At Mussamman Burj, my last stop, a strain of melancholy was added to the air – this octagonal, multi-tiered marble tower was where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb; the tower which probably added to his longing by offering views of the Taj Mahal in the distance; the tower where he breathed his last in 1666 AD. The delicate floral inlay work in the Mussamman Burj almost mocked the harshness of Shah Jahan’s situation.

The Taj Mahal and Yamuna, as seen from Mussamman Burj, where Shah Jahan was imprisoned.

Walking out of the fort on this poignant note, I looked up at the ramparts one last time. Embrasures (slits) and machicolations (openings) lined the wall, for soldiers to shoot from or throw objects on marauding armies without being shot at in return. Below these, my eye caught remnants of intricate blue and white mosaic work. Had I been a soldier in the marauding army, I most certainly would have been killed by hot oil falling from a machicolation, whilst admiring the craftsmanship!

Fatehpur Sikri
In 1569 AD, childless Akbar was blessed with Prince Salim, as prophesised by the Sufi saint Salim Chisti. As a token of his respect, Akbar built the Mughals’ first planned city at Sikri, and decided to make it his capital. Named Fatehabad, the city later came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri. One of the most ephemeral capitals of the Mughal Empire, Fatehpur Sikri was Akbar’s audacious dream – a dream that he lived in for 12 years between 1572 and 1585 AD. Audacious, because, defying conventional wisdom, the city was built on a rocky ridge away from any source of water. Though Akbar did build an artificial lake and devise efficient water supply and drainage systems, Fatehpur Sikri had to be abandoned due to water shortage.

Built entirely using local red sandstone, the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri, as of the Agra Fort, is an assimilation of Persian, Islamic, Hindu and even Jain styles, to create a style that has come to be identified with Akbar. The city was designed to meet all needs – administrative, living, religious, and pleasure – and each of the buildings had unique architectural tweaks. Like how the residences of Akbar’s Hindu and Muslim wives reflect their backgrounds. So does Birbal’s house. Administrative buildings like the Diwan-i-am, Diwan-i-khas, the treasury, and the astrologer’s seat are fairly nondescript, with the exception of my favourite element – the central column in the Diwan-i-khas. Embellished with bands of carvings, it culminates in a head of 36 serpentine brackets supporting a circular platform where Akbar sat, which is connected to the first floor level via stone walkways.

Birbal's house at Fatehpur Sikri, built in a distinctly Hindu style.

The central column and bridges inside the Diwan-i-khas.

Breaking the sedate architecture of the administrative buildings is the informality of the pleasure and entertainment buildings – with ornate carvings of birds, animals and very life-like grapes and pomegranates. It wasn’t too difficult to picture royal ladies giggling from the ornate 5-tiered Panch Mahal, staff moving at Akbar’s command on the Pachisi (ludo) squares inlaid in the courtyard’s floor, or even musicians performing from the floating platform over Anup Talao’s pool – so evocative was the architecture.

Pachisi squares inlaid in the courtyard, which was played using live courtiers.

Anup Talao, with its central platform.

My guide had saved another of my favourites for last – the behemoth that is Buland Darwaza. 180 feet high, equivalent to an 18-storeyed building, this victory arch was added in 1576 AD to commemorate Akbar’s successful campaign. I walked up the steep steps leading to the gateway, which magically transitioned to human scale as I entered the Jama Masjid. Salim Chisti’s white marble tomb within the masjid brought me full circle – face to face with the man for whom this entire city was built.

When Jahangir re-inhabited Fatehpur Sikri for a couple of years during his reign, to escape from the plague at Agra, it was the last time the city was ever occupied. Its sparse usage has made it one of the best-preserved collections of Mughal architecture, besides endearing itself to people as the birth-place of the legends of Akbar and his courtiers, the navaratnas.

Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra
The Agra-Mathura highway to Sikandra snaked through some of the most populated belts of Uttar Pradesh; as vehicles belched noxious fumes into the already insufferable heat, I wondered how Akbar rests in peace amidst this cacophony. As if on cue, a massive, red sandstone gateway came into view; with every inch of it covered in colourful geometric and floral inlays and mosaics, topped with white minarets, the gateway held promise. Its architectural elements were precursors to the inlays at Itmad-ud-Daulah and the minarets of the Taj Mahal. The gateway proved to be a portal to another world – leading on to lush gardens which attract antelopes, monkeys, peacocks and other birds. The highway was now a distant memory.

Entrance Gateway to Akbar's tomb, with ornate inlay work.

In accordance with the Tartary custom of building one’s own tomb, Akbar set about its construction in 1600 AD. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1605 AD, after completing his tomb and laying out the gardens in the typical char bagh pattern. His son Jahangir took over until its completion in 1613 AD.

Broad, paved walkways with channels and pools (which once had water) lead from each of the four gates to the stepped, 5-storeyed red sandstone building. The uppermost storey is in white marble – Jahangir’s signature touch to the design. An unusually squat building by Mughal standards, its linearity adds to its distinctive character, which is enhanced by the presence of arcaded verandahs on all storeys, as well as kiosks capped by cupolas (chhatris).

View of Akbar’s tomb with the paved walkway, water pools and water channels.

The interior of the building sends mixed signals – I was greeted by strikingly rich stucco work in blue, red and gold, only to move through a narrow, white-washed passage, to a white-washed room with the false cenotaph. The mystery of the severe interiors was solved by my guide - Jahangir is said to have brought his ostentatious design sensibilities to the tomb’s interior design; unfortunately, only bits of the stucco and none of the precious-stone inlays survived, as the tomb was heavily looted and disfigured during the reign of Aurangzeb, by rebel Jats.

Jaalis (lattices) in sandstone, pre-dating and competing with the finesse of the marble lattices at the Taj Mahal and Itmad-ud-Daulah, lend a delicacy to the architecture, which lingers with you.

One of the surviving examples of the elaborate ornamentation executed by Jahangir within the building.

White-washed interiors of the tomb.

Driving across the Yamuna is an exercise that demands your patience, but rewards you well. This little-visited area of Agra is home to a landmark building which marked the transition of monumental Mughal Architecture from its first ‘sandstone phase’, to its next, which was marble architecture. Pint-sized Itmad-ud-Daulah packs quite an architectural punch with its design and detailing, envisioned and executed lovingly by Jahangir’s wife, Empress Nur Jahan, for her deceased father Mirza Ghiyas Beg. A Persian Amir in exile, Ghiyas Beg had been a Wazir in Jahangir’s court and was conferred the title of Itmad-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state).

This marble tomb is a predecessor to the Taj Mahal, and is said to be its inspiration too. To reflect her father’s love for Persia, Nur Jahan borrowed heavily from Persian architectural and interior decoration styles, while adding Indian elements like chhatris and kalash-shaped finials. The dome-less building set on a red sandstone plinth within a char bagh garden, has hexagonal towers in each corner. The overall proportions and ornamentation of the mausoleum led to it being nicknamed ‘Jewel Box’ and ‘Baby Taj’.

The building’s white Rajasthani marble surfaces are covered painstakingly with floral arabesques and geometric motifs using inlay and mosaic techniques. One sees the extensive use of the pietra dura technique with semi-precious stones, which was later employed at a much larger scale in the Taj Mahal. Another important architectural milestone is the polychromatic nature of the ornamentation. Jahangir’s influence can be seen in the choice of Iranian motifs like wine goblets, bouquets and cut fruits. Don’t miss the beautifully painted dome when you enter the tomb. It’s worn out, but still displays some of the original colours – brilliant blue, turquoise, red and gold.

Marble jaalis are used strategically to create tailored light and shadows within, presenting a solemn air in contrast to the almost cheery exteriors. Cheer we must, though, for this path-breaking example of the second phase of Mughal Architecture.


Architecture is the least esoteric way for people to understand a time-period – it doesn’t require knowledge of exotic languages needed to interpret written text, nor does it need familiarity with technical details of art. Architecture conveys messages across centuries without the need for sharing common ground. Agra offers you tête-a-têtes with Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan; it is up to you to accept the invitation.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Thadiyandamol Trek: the ground beneath my feet

An unedited version of my story published in the August 2015 edition of Outlook Traveller

A view of the summit of Thadiyandamol

“Oops, sorry!” was a phrase I found myself constantly repeating throughout that day, as I dodged people. All around me was the clackety-clack of trekking boots and poles, as trekkers marched past in twos, threes, or fours, nodding at our group in greeting. I almost felt guilty for not being purposeful enough - for not aiming to reach the peak quickly - unlike those walking on. A few broke their march-past to peer into whatever bush we were peering into. They’d see nothing, and walk away with an indulgent smile and a slow shake of their head. Some, seeing me sprawled on the ground, stopped to enquire if I was injured and needed help. 

Thadiyandamol, Coorg’s highest peak at 5724 ft (1748 mts), is a favourite; enjoying its beautiful vistas and summiting it is on most trekkers’ wish-lists. Timing the trek too is important to many. I, however, had decided to stop and smell the roses - or the Kurinjis, in this case. What if I didn’t look at the views around me, but at the ground beneath my feet, for a change?

The endangered Blue-eyed bush frog, also known locally as 'Neel-netra', endemic to the Western Ghats

An endemic snail - the colourful 'Indrella ampulla'.
I was in Coorg just on the heels of the monsoon, when an errant painter seemed to have run amok with his bucket of green. Life-forms were undergoing changes on Thadiyandamol, after the invigorating rain. Somewhere, a frog croaked to attract its mate. Yet elsewhere, a snail moved at, well, snail’s pace, glistening raindrops riding piggy-back on its shell. Picture-postcard streams emitted clichéd gurgles as they swooshed around egg-smooth pebbles and seeped into parched crevices. A plant that flowers once in twelve years awaited us, while a carnivorous plant lay waiting for its next prey.

A cold, damp morning found our group of five at the beginning of the trekking route, in an open clearing in the rainforest canopy, through which we locked eyes with an ominously cloudy sky. Surrounded as the clearing was by some of the tall primary forest trees which had survived human brutality, this area instantly became the object of our affections.  Rain the previous day had made the ground slushy, and the morning stillness now reverberated with sounds of the earth sucking our shoes in, followed by the curt popping of shoes being released. Alert leeches scanned for heat and blood, clinging tenaciously as we tried to prise them off.

The initial path of the trek

In a corner, a burst of purple perked up the forest floor – Impatiens nodding away in the gentle breeze. These bright flowers grow near water or in moist conditions, and are endemic to the Western Ghats, of which Thadiyandamol is a part. An iridescent damselfly and a sluggish snail later, our naturalist urged us to move ahead, only because we needed time at hand for completing the trek before either the rain appeared or the sun disappeared; at worst, both. If we made good time, we could be slower on our way back, he promised.

The bright Impatiens. The ferns seen in this photograph are also typical of rainforests.

The vistas along the trek route were undeniably captivating; as we moved first through rainforests and then through shola-grasslands, we were hard-pressed to look elsewhere. But then, a sudden flash of colour would catch our eye, or that very faint call would have us perk up our ears, and a search would ensue. The vegetation along the path varied – some stretches had trees and plants densely packed on either side, revealing spiders, grasshoppers, frogs or orchids, if we knew where to look. Other stretches opened up on the valley side, offering sweeping panoramas of the shola-grasslands, a characteristic forest type of the region, which lends the hills the appearance of being cloaked in patterned green velvet.

These grasslands brought us a variety of wildflowers and a surprise! Every twelve years, Kurinji plants flower en masse, draping the hills with a purple carpet, a phenomenon which currently relied solely on my imagination to visualise it. To help me along, however, a couple of stray Kurinji had decided to be the delinquents of their tribe, eliciting a jig out of me. 

Kurinjis, or Neelakurinjis, seen here in their habitat, with a dragonfly hovering over. These distinctive purple flowers led to the Nilgiris being named so – blue mountains. 

The sudden calls of the Bright-headed Cisticola – a bird as tiny as its name is long – was all that was needed for our entire group to first break into a jig, and then a jog, as we tried in vain to keep up with the hyperactive bird. By then, the sun had reached its pinnacle, it had begun drizzling, and we had just reached past the mid-point, identifiable by a big boulder on a fairly level ground. A deliciously cold stream soothed our aching feet, as we energised ourselves with lunch and some well-deserved rest before the steep and rocky last leg of the trek.

A view from the latter part of the trek, where the sholas give way to grasslands. Trekkers, seen to the right, are a small blip in the vast landscape.

Nearing the summit, we stopped yet again. Sure, it helped us catch our breath from the climb, but, more importantly, it brought us face to face with our most prized sighting – the carnivorous plant, Drosera. Calling it a ‘sighting’ is probably a stretch – the species found here is smaller than blades of grass, barely discernible to the naked eye. The ingenuity of a plant this size is mind-boggling – rather than being easy prey, it is actually a predator.  Each ‘leaf’ has glandular tentacles which are topped with globules of sticky secretion. Assuming these to be dew, insects get stuck to the plant, ending up as its food.

We would have missed all this drama, had we just trekked past. Lying down on the ground had lent a new perspective – meeting Thadiyandamol’s inhabitants.  They hear the grasslands perform a synchronized sweep in that manic, midnight wind. They live under a sky which stars light up with different patterns each night. They witness Thadiyandamol disappearing into the morning mist, only to emerge slowly later, leaving early-bird trekkers sighing at the poetry of it all.

Robberflies, mating
Grasshoppers, mating

Back from the trek, lying supine on our guest-house’s terrace, we plucked leeches off our clothing – sometimes stomachs and necks too - with the nonchalance of seasoned ground crawlers. My energy now draining as fast as the setting sun, I succumbed to the evening breeze lulling me into a slumber.

In my mental map of the trek route now are numerous landmarks; what was at the beginning of the trek just an indistinct swathe of green, now has memories imprinted on it. To the people I meet, my conversations about ‘The bush where we saw the orange orchid’, ‘that puddle where the frog was half-submerged’ or ‘that rotten trunk where the sparkling fungus grew’ may sound like ramblings of an unhinged mind, but to me, they are indispensable parts of my Harry Potter-esque Pensieve, taking me back to Thadiyandamol. To that exact spot and that exact moment in time. To relive the trek, until I add new memories and markers from my next. 

Some trees at the base of Thadiyandamol yield surprising varieties of fungi, like this one
The area around Thadiyandamol is host to a variety of butterflies, and their colourful  caterpillars can often be spotted feeding on suitable plants.

For information about the trek and my tips, read this:

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Celebrating Bangalore’s Trees

Written about a ficus tree at NGMA, Bangalore, to accompany a photograph by Kalyan Varma, displayed as the centrepiece at the 2nd edition of Neralu, Bangalore’s annual tree festival

Photo copyright: Raji Sunderkrishnan

I was different. I could sense it.

Each time my roots were clipped, I didn’t buckle and fall.
I moulded myself differently.
I sought the sky. My connection with the earth changed. 
But I found a way to stay.

It made me different.

I saw it in the eyes of the gardener who tended to me.
I heard it in the whispers of the people who saw me.
I felt it from looking at the trees around me.

I told myself - “So what if I’m different?”

So what if children don’t swing from my roots?
So what if people don’t worship under my canopy?

My heart is the same as any other.

I love it when you come seeking the patterns I make on the ground.
Shade, you call it. Neralu.
I love sheltering the nuts the tiny squirrels trust me with.
I love the feel of an aching back resting against my gnarled trunk.
I wish I could make your pain go away.

I am always back-lit, photographers say.

I say I’m shielding you from the harsh sunlight.
The sun is always behind me. I have your back.
Come, enjoy a nap beneath me.
I promise you - you won’t need a photograph to remember me by.

Don’t judge me by my appearance.

I have the same love to give you.
I make you look up - at the sky beyond me.
A sky you sometimes forget to look at.

It’s been over 100 years.

I now see love in your eyes.
My difference no longer makes a difference.
You love me as you love any other tree.
For that, I love you even more.

I’ve learnt from my life. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

It’s okay to be different.
People will eventually love you for who you are.
Even if they don’t, keep standing tall and proud.
Be there for them when they need you.
Give them your love.
Don’t give up when your wings are clipped; find a way.
And reach for the skies.


This over-100-year-old ficus tree at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bangalore, is one of the many beautiful trees found in Bangalore. Whether you are a nature lover or are simply looking for a different experience in Bangalore, tree walks can be an enjoyable and off-beat addition to your itinerary. These are usually informally planned on weekends, by the city’s active naturalist community. However, planned tree walks can also be booked at:


Both agencies are highly recommended: for visitors to Bangalore, as well as locals looking to know their city better.

If you are visiting Bangalore in February, though, you can enjoy Neralu (meaning ‘shade’ in Kannada) – an annual citizen-funded and citizen-managed tree festival, one-of-its-kind in India. Do look up the festival’s website and join the celebrations:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Neralu: Bangalore’s Tree Festival

A short note about 'shade', written to accompany a large print of a photograph by Ganesh Shankar, displayed at the 2nd edition of Neralu, Bangalore’s annual tree festival

The shade of this tree at Halebidu, Karnataka, attracts a lot of afternoon visitors

Shade is why Sonali chooses that large Gulmohar to stand under, preferring to run the short distance to the actual bus-stop once she spots her office bus rumbling down the dusty road each sweltering morning.

Neralu is what makes Basavaraja smile and take off his sunglasses, as he drives through a stretch of highway surprisingly lined with Tamarind trees, which embrace each other across the otherwise-barren route.

Chaaya from the colourful Semal tree is what tempts Bijoya into playing a few more rounds of hop-scotch, not heeding to the sternly clanging recess bell.

Tanal is why Kuttan relaxes under a cluster of Coconut trees when he returns from a hectic morning of fishing, sitting there to eat lunch, keeping an eye on his boat moored on the beach.

Savali helps complete Nitin’s summer afternoon fun, of stealing mangoes from Bhonsle kaka’s orchard and slurping the pulp out of them, seated under the very same tree.

Nida is what draws Gowramma to the Banyan tree for a spot of gossip with friends, after a tiring day walking around parts of Kakinada, selling home-made khajas.

Chaanv is what makes the Banbehi tigress at Bandhavgarh crawl into a Bamboo grove in the afternoon, to escape the unforgiving summer sun.

Nizhal is what momentarily cools down Senthil’s blistered feet, as he seeks refuge after hopping across the scorching stones at the Madurai Meenakshi Temple in the afternoon.

Saaya gently nudges Ismail’s eyelids shut, and he naps unawares, though he only meant to rest under that Neem tree for five minutes before he pushed his guava cart ahead.

Celebrate shade in all its forms. Celebrate Neralu.


Neralu (meaning ‘shade’ in Kannada), is a citizen-funded and citizen-managed tree festival, one-of-its-kind in India. Festivals say a lot about a city and her people - Neralu reflects Bangaloreans’ passion for the trees that the city is so lucky to be endowed with.

The annual tree festival usually spans across a weekend or two, and has events for everyone – tree walks, storytelling under trees, audio walks through parks, music and dance about trees, art and craft sessions, yoga in parks, street plays, sketching workshops, games, talks by experts, and nature film screenings, to name a few.

If you are visiting Bangalore in February, do look up the festival’s website and join the celebrations:

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 Travel Calendar

I’d discovered the pleasures of road-trips last year, despite being an anxious road traveller. This year, my romance with asphalt, dust and gravel continued. However, 2014 also led to newer discoveries and experiences - surprise, surprise – solo travel!

I know what you’re thinking: solo travel isn’t very unusual or path-breaking for many travellers. So, why the hullabaloo? For starters, despite being in my thirties, I’ve never taken a holiday without company. Let alone holiday, I’m the kind of person who is uncomfortable eating alone at a restaurant. And though I love my moments of solitude on holidays, I enjoy having just the right company in that solitude, to chat with or share experiences with. Now, having overcome my misgivings and travelled solo, I would happily do it all over again.

On the whole, travel has been very sparse in 2014. I miss those years when I travelled almost every other month. However, this break from travel was probably a blessing in disguise – it allowed me to process my backlog of images from last year, as well as write many stories.
Sri Lanka
This was a long-awaited trip to celebrate a momentous milestone. The date for this was hence set in stone – Jan 2014. After a lot of discussions based on our interest, weather suitability in Jan, ease of getting a visa etc, hubby and I zeroed in on Sri Lanka. This misleadingly tiny island effortlessly sustained our interest for 3 weeks, during which we explored west, south and central Sri Lanka. Lovely weather, incredibly friendly locals, scenic landscapes, fiery local cuisine and lots of outdoorsy activities left us with lingering memories. Hiring a car and driving around Sri Lanka was one of the best decisions we made; it was a great way to experience local culture and make serendipitous discoveries at nondescript little villages and towns.

An emotional brother. A benevolent visa officer. Generous parents. Timely summer break in the college I teach at - these sudden turn of events gave me 5 weeks of a much-unexpected holiday, beginning with my brother's graduation. To be frank, USA was nowhere in the top half of my travel wish-list. However, after crisscrossing the country solo, visiting Atlanta, San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Chicago, Philadelphia, the Poconos, New York, Boston, New Jersey, Atlantic City and New Hope, I ate humble pie – I thoroughly enjoyed the country! I napped in parks, fought pizza wars in Chicago, star-gazed in Yosemite at midnight, stood through the sun-roof of a speeding car, fought over that last cronut, got drenched in fog in SF, pub-hopped in Boston on a weeknight, lived on a couch in New York, and made jam using berries I plucked – a few of the varied experiences I had. Travelling by intercity trains and buses allowed me to strike up interesting conversations. I walked for an average of 8 hours every day, exploring each city. This, I think, is the primary reason I enjoyed this trip – the experience on foot is unlike any other.

Dubare, Coorg
This was my umpteenth visit to the region of Coorg. I didn’t have high expectations from this trip, based on glimpses I’d had of Dubare. Staying by the river Cauvery, I sought out the lesser-known experiences Coorg had to offer. And, Dubare proved to be a pleasant surprise – a little bit of river, some wildlife, a few dilapidated monuments, and lots of lore and coffee.