Wearing a flowing black abaya, my head covered in a black hijab, I enter the gracious dome of the Grand Mosque of Bahrain. Under the high, intricately designed ceiling, a massive open space appears to welcome us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Free Thinkers from over twenty countries – with arms wide open, into the frontiers of Islam. We gather in a circle, around a scholar of Islam, ready to fire questions related to the religion, that we have harbored since stepping foot in Bahrain, or much before. Read more
Posts from the ‘Culture’ Category
This story was originally published in The Hindu.
Swarms of people greet me as I alight at the Jaipur railway station, some arriving in the pink city with royal expectations, some transiting through it to seek the desert culture of Rajasthan, and many slyly trying to identify first-timers to the city so they can put their touting hat on. I incessantly nod no to the constant soliciting of Madam auto, Madam taxi and Madam hotel, until I reach the exit of the station and someone’s Madam auto soliciting succeeds. I can see his bewilderment when I ask to go to Surya Vatika Road on the highway towards Chomu, and the fare negotiation is skewed in my favour for once, because he has no idea where we are going. Read more
I stroll along the cobbled by-lanes of Adliya, observing in fascination, the cafe culture of Bahrain. The men are predominantly dressed in white thobes, and each time they flick the striped red and white gutras on their head, I am reminded of the omnipresent red and white Bahraini flag – painted on walls along walkways, displayed outside houses and cafes, and even adorning car windows. This sentiment of patriotism seems to flow throughout the country, not only in ostentatious displays, but in the pride and warmth with which the Bahraini people speak of their island nation. Read more
Ahlan wa sahlan. That was one of the first phrases I learnt in Arabic, almost five years ago. I’ve lost touch with whatever little of this beautiful language I learnt, but that phrase has stuck with me. It is an old Arabic phrase that means, we welcome you.
I landed in Bahrain without many expectations; a small city-state that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, one that not many people travel to outside of business needs. At the airport, I could hear as much Hindi as Arabic, and I didn’t realize then that with the Bahraini stamp on my passport, I was being welcomed as much into the hearts, homes, and lives of the Bahraini people, as I was into the borders of (evidently) the most liberal country in the Gulf region. Read more
Since I moved to Delhi in mid 2011 and started travelling in India, I’ve come across experiences that redefine the “real” India; experiences that lie quietly off the tourist trails, and let you fall in love with the hospitality and beauty of this incredible country:
1. Rent a village for a night.
You read that right! In the villages of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand, every family has two homes; one in a lower altitude village for winter, another in a higher altitude village for summer. That means when the village folk move up during the summer, we city folk can rent out an entire village for a sojourn in the Himalayas. Stone houses, cobbled walkways, majestic mountain views, and the promise of a peaceful escape are part of the rental platter. Read more
Ibiza has always conjured up images of wild parties, loud music, lots of alcohol, and the Vengaboys song for me. In fact, the only people I personally know who’ve been to this little island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of mainland Spain, are the kind who would drink and dance till they drop. It is probably a good time to confess that I consider myself too old to hit the clubs all night; yes, I’m twenty-four, but as they say, life is short! So when Spain Tourism decided to fly us to Ibiza, I found myself secretly craving an escape on the gorgeous countryside of Spain, for a cosy little wine bar and small-town intimacy with the locals. I couldn’t anticipate then, that Ibiza offers just that in the off season from October to March, when the weather becomes chilly, the parties slow down, and life on the island slips into rejuvenation mode. Read more
In vino veritas. In wine there is truth. And on the Spanish countryside, truth of a different kind; one that lays bare a love affair I never knew existed.
My romantic tryst with wine starts on a rainy morning, on the Cister route in the province of Tarragona, an hour’s drive from Barcelona. We drive alongside lush green valleys, partly covered in mist, as a bleak sun shines over the surrounding hills, promising to warm up an unexpectedly cold day. As the rain slows to a drizzle, we stop next to a stretch of carefully manicured vineyards and let the aroma of the grapes intoxicate us. We are in the premises of the Santa María de Poblet monastery, and as we’ll soon learn, these vineyards produce black wine, a darker version of red; there are hours to wait before we can try it. Read more
After a week of trotting in Barcelona, Tarragona and Ibiza as a guest of Spain Tourism, my many pre-conceived, seemingly romanticized notions of Spain have evolved. It is true that my first week in Spain, as a press trip, has been sheltered in many ways; I haven’t had to choose my own accommodations, I haven’t lost myself in the cobbled streets of an old town to desperately seek directions in my half-baked Spanish, and I haven’t had to fret over menus to pick out vegetarian ingredients using Google translate. Yet, this one week has lent itself to showing me the country entirely from my own lens, without pouring over hours of online search. Just like I felt in Turkey, a week maybe too short to form these impressions, but I have another three weeks (this time completely on my own) to think otherwise. Read more
I wrote this story for The Hindu.
We maneuver our way through Northern Turkey’s gorgeous countryside, across alpine meadows sprinkled with the colors of spring, past cattle grazing on fields of wild purple grass, and alongside carpets of blooming sunflowers. It’s been eight hours since we boarded the bus for the famous Sumela monastery in eastern Karadeniz, our last stop in the Black Sea region of Turkey, before we head into Kapadokya’s underground cities. When the sun set an hour back, it took with it the pleasure of gazing out the bus window at the majestic landscapes, and the monotony of the dark quickly set in. Read more
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~Aldous Huxley.
To travel is also to discover what no guidebooks, travelogues, documentaries, or photographs can tell us.
While travelling in Turkey, I got the chance to interact with Turkish people in small towns, despite the lack of a common language, and make observations that Google couldn’t tip me about. Here’s a collection of the quirkiest ones: Read more