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What does the Mirror Tell You?

Such a funny thing the mirror is. A shiny piece of glass neatly bordered by polished wooden frame on all four sides. The same glass that with its rough unruly edges once scarred her neck in a domestic accident. And here in this wooden frame, the mirror was like a tigress in a cage. Safe, docile, powerless. It was piece of fine artifact complementing the teak-wood furniture in the room.

It was a rather humid August evening.  With a tea tree mask on her face, she applied a hot pink nail paint on her toe nails with single-pointed concentration. Once she peeled off the mask, and looked into the mirror as she dabbed her face with a towel, what she saw didn’t appeal to her. A face still dull and greasy like it actively soaked all the humidity from its surroundings. Her hair was loosely tied into a ponytail whose ends were frizzy and lackluster like scorched hay.

A walk toward the mirror for a closer look only confirmed her fears. Her eyes were pale, cheeks dug in and tiny whiskers grew on her upper lip. What was once a pretty face oozing with pride and confidence was now scared of its reflection in the mirror.

That there was a time when she obsessively admired her dreamy kohl eyes, well defined cheekbones, and flawless skin felt like a lie. She sat there in what seemed like forever wondering what had changed and why. She gazed at the photo frames on the wall and her mother’s words came striking down like lightning – Our face is an index of the mind.

She was trying desperately to fix things on the outside when it was the mind that needed a makeover.

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A Birthday Like No Other

Today is my birthday and it is different from all others thus far.

I woke up not to a ringing cellphone or a birthday text but to a tear drop that was trickling slowly down my cheek before it fell flat on my bed sheet. My husband was fast asleep and I wide awake. I rolled restlessly in bed which woke him up, just in time for him to set off to an important business meeting. Through the mullions of the window,  I saw a dusty yellow sky and rain pour incessantly. My mood plunged further and I fought hard to stifle my cry. Before I knew, I was weeping inconsolably. The husband tried to find out why but was interrupted by the calls of his colleague who honked non-stop signalling urgency of the upcoming meeting.

I had never felt this way before and felt helpless not knowing if this was abnormal. I decided to ring my sister and tell her about it. While I rambled about my feelings not knowing how to put them into words, she cut me short as she nonchalantly mentioned the words Birthday Blues. Really? I had no clue such a phenomenon existed. My first emotion was that of relief. I was relieved to know that I was still normal. Soon, my sadness turned into curiosity to know more about this phenomenon I was so blissfully unaware of.

Apparently, Birthday Blues could be because of external reasons such as the pressure of the quantum of celebration and doing something special or because of internalizing too much. In my case, it was the latter.

After telling me more about it, she prodded deep enough until she made me trace the root of the problem. It was an hour before I pinned it down to the feeling of being stuck in life. Nothing remarkable had happened from the previous birthday to this one. I had set vague milestones which I hadn’t come close to achieving.  Life seemed to have reached a standstill and I didn’t know how to break out of the self-imposed shackles. But little did I know that this realization would weigh me down so much.

The sister therapy pulled me out of my misery and shone the much needed birthday wisdom. I realized that not only was I being too hard on myself but I was also dismissive of the little great things that had happened over the year. I had made my husband feel guilty and worried, and had blamed the world for my situation. 

To all those who have ever felt this way, here’s my two cents. Even if we don’t achieve certain milestones every year, we most certainly evolve in ways big or small. Let’s not make birthday a report card of accomplishments but a day of mindful contemplation of the people and things that make life worthwhile, of moments that make us smile, and of the promise to love ourselves no matter what!

 

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Rajasthan: A Riot of Colors

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are the crown jewels of the royal state of Rajasthan. The cities have come to strike a fine balance between preserving their rustic charm and adapting to the demands of travelers from across the globe. One must visit these cities for the lofty forts, intricate architecture, and ancient tales that take you back in time. So, here we go!

How to get there: Both cities are well connected from Delhi by bus and train. The nearest airport is in Jodhpur.

Accommodation: Being very popular travel destination among Indian and international travelers, there are a host of cool hostels, airbnbs, and budget to boutique hotels.

Jodhpur: We stayed at Moustache, a popular hostel across Rajasthan. Most attractions are accessible by a quick tuk-tuk ride from the hostel. If you are looking for some place classy, try Pal Haveli.

Jaisalmer: We stayed at The Golden House, a quaint hotel located 10 mins away from the fort. There are also plenty of haveli-turned-hotels available inside the fort. Desert Boys Guest House (inside the fort) has tastefully done rooms, a beautiful rooftop restaurant with excellent views.

Day 1: The Gorgeous Fort

We started the day with some lip smacking local breakfast, Dal Puri at a roadside pushcart. The dish is inimitable and surprisingly finds no mention in most travel guides but your trip to Jodhpur is incomplete without gorging on this local breakfast delicacy. After a hearty meal, we headed straight to Mehrangarh fort.

My Two Cents: If you wish to truly enjoy your time at the fort, choose the audio tour available in the premises. The storytelling is impeccable, descriptive, and truly adds value to the time spent at the fort. The fort is awe-inspiring and has a very interesting history to its credit. The well stocked galleries in the fort’s museum transport you back to the days of the Rajput dynasty.

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Dal Poori: A local favorite

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The Majestic Mehrangarh Fort

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One of the many galleries in the fort

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A panoramic view of the fort compound

After spending a satisfactory four hours at the fort, we went to Jaswant Thada, a short walk from the fort . The white marble cenotaph was built by a former king in memory of his father and also serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar. The main hall displays portraits of the rulers and Maharajas of Jodhpur.

The numerous gazebos, a placid lake by the periphery that offers cool breeze, and the lush green lawns make the complex a compelling place if you are looking to spend some quiet time.

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Jaswant Thada against the backdrop of a clear blue sky

With great food and trippy music, we spent the evening at Baari, the cafe at our hostel.

Day 2: The Day of the Blue City

We started our day just like the locals do, with Mirchi Vadas and Jalebi and set out for Ummaid Bhawan Palace. Perched on top of a hill and slightly away from the city, the palace is divided into three parts: A hotel (accessible if you have the coin!), a museum accessible to all, and the Royal family’s residence. The architecture of the palace is great but the museum not so much. I recommend visiting only if you must check it off your list.

We stopped for lunch at Indique, a fine dine restaurant at Hotel Pal Haveli. The place offers not just great food but also magnificent views of the fort. For the next couple of hours, we explored the bazaar in the clock tower area.

You can shop for bangles, Indigo and tie and dye apparel, and handicrafts here

At 4 pm, we joined our fellow hostelers at Chandpole for the Blue City walking tour. For the next couple of hours, we explored the narrow alleys of the old city painted in a thick coat of Indigo color. Legend has it that the Maharaja of Jodhpur invited Brahmins to reside in the city to draw from their wisdom and prosperity. The Brahmins who were believers of Lord Shiva (aka Neelkanth or the one with a Blue Throat) painted their houses blue symbolically. Many other locals have a different story to tell. They say limestone mixed with Indigo gives the blue color to the walls and also helps reflect heat during summers.

Whichever story is to be believed, Blue City is a land of secrets that not many explore fully well. You can expect the most unexpected here. A walk beyond the obvious blue houses into the winding alleys leads you to ornate gates, beautiful lakes, and an incredible sunset-point hill, the city’s best kept secret. While azans of the mosque and temple bells ring gently in a distance, the horizon turns pink as the sun sets over the blue city. This was certainly one of the best sunsets I’d ever seen.

The secret sunset point offers breathtaking views

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Bright blue houses all through the Blue city

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A splash of blue above and below

With that indelible memory of the blue city tour, we walked to Dylan’s cafe which offers good food, wonderful hospitality, and pretty views of the fort at night. We also tried the Makhaniya Lassi at Mishrilal and the other famous food joints at Sadar Bazaar.

My Two Cents: Blue City is a walled city gated by the Iron Gates (Pols). Take help from the locals and lose yourself in its alleys. Brace yourself for all things wonderful that will come your way.

Day 3: A ride through the rural Rajasthan

We hopped on a 5-hour bus journey to Jaisalmer and reached the golden city by 1 pm. After a wholesome Rajasthani thali at Zaika,  we headed straight to the desert camp at Sam (pronounced Sum) Sand Dunes. The scorching sun quickly gave way to cool desert breeze and the desert gave us the chills. The campsite hosted a cultural program followed by bonfire, dinner, drinks and DJ.

My Two Cents: Avoid staying overnight at the camps. The itinerary is very touristy and not enjoyable as such. Instead drive to Thar at Sunrise/Sunset to experience the camel and jeep safari which are both worthwhile. There are plenty of tour agencies in the city that offer this service.

Day 4: Camel Safari and Longewala

We left for a camel ride on the dunes to watch the sun rise. The sight was breathtaking and so was our chat with our septuagenarian herder who told us he’d leave his home at 3:30 am each day on a three-hour camel ride to reach the camps and earn his daily bread through camel safaris. This and much more of what he said left us grateful and humbled in equal parts.

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Camel Safari at Sunrise

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Sunrise at the dunes

 

After breakfast, we checked out of the camp and went to the city where we checked into our hotel. In the afternoon, we rode to Longewala, a border town in Thar desert which is a two-hour drive from the city. We visited the Tanot Mata temple enroute which legend says guarded the Indian soldiers during the Longewala battle with Pakistan. If legend is to be believed, none of the bombs dropped in the temple area exploded leaving it completely unharmed by the enemy.

Our next stop was the Longewala war memorial. The audio visual movie is a chilling reminder of the lesser known battle of Longewala.

The drive to Longewala and back is eerily scenic. With golden dunes on either sides and a narrow strip of tar leading the way, the journey is a muted canvas ready to be painted with imagination.

Day 5: The Living Fort

For breakfast, we gorged on delectable dhoklas, kachoris, and jalebis at Bhatia’s in one of the bylanes outside the fort.

This was the first time we saw a living fort. ‘Jaisal’ refers to the Raja Jaisal who laid the foundation stone for the fort, and ‘Mer’ means ‘Sun’ as the fort is in a tawny lion color sandstone which glistens like the Sun.

A local guide took us on a two-hour tour of the fort where we saw the palace, museum, prominent temples and learnt about the history of the fort. Ensure that the tour guide carries a government authorized card because there are many scammers claiming to be tour guides. Talking to the locals is the best way to learn the secrets of the fort. They are friendly, happy to chat and have a great deal of information to share.

We spent the afternoon exploring the alleys and chatting up the artisans. We stopped for lunch at Cafe Panorama from where the views were great, food average.

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Pick up a hat or a handbag made of camel leather or a Rajasthan souvenir

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Listen to an artist play folk tunes. Tip them generously 🙂

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The Jain Temple inside the fort is a fine piece of architecture

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The narrow alleys inside the fort are very Venetian. Leave the maps behind and lose yourself in their charm.

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A bird’s eye of the Golden City from a Panorama view point

We walked past many more narrow alleys to reach Patwaon ki Haveli. This is a self contained township of sorts outside the fort. The complex consists of five havelis or mansions which are a visual delight. It is said to have been built by a rich brocade merchant of the times for his five sons.

My Two Cents: The ticket to each haveli is charged separately. Visiting one would give you a fair idea of how the other are. Also, there is no need to hire a tour guide here.

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One of the galleries in the Patwao Haveli

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Gazing at the Haveli as it dons different hues of the Sun

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A view of the Patwaon complex from inside the Haveli

We went to Gadisar lake for a boat ride right in time for the sunset. Boating in placid waters and watching flocks of home-bound birds crisscrossing a pink sky was breathtaking. The sun receded slowly into the horizon as we paddled away far into the lake.

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Gadisar Lake at Sunset

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Gadisar Lake as we paddle away

We made a wise choice of celebrating New Year’s eve at the fort as opposed to the desert camps. While most cafes were shut and the fort was eerily quiet, we found our spot at the beautiful Jaisal Italy cafe. With soothing music, and laid back seating with views of the dimly lit fort, we enjoyed fireworks in the company of a handful of other tourists and rang in the new year.

This marked the end of our trip.

 

 

 

 

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Attending to Invisible Wounds

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day which gained popularity of late. Many of us still find talking about mental health a taboo. We’d be pained to know if our dear ones were diagnosed with a physical illness, but would we sympathize in equal measure if they were diagnosed with clinical depression? Recently, a friend of mine told me about the therapy she was undergoing after a failed relationship. Her sessions pointed at several incidents right from her childhood to the present that led to the mental blockages and revealed that the recent heartbreak was only a trigger that opened the floodgates. Her mental blockage materialized in the form of many physical illnesses such as neurological imbalance, palpitation, anxiety attacks, acid reflux to name a few. I saw her in pain but was firm that the whole idea of therapy is a scam. I belittled her situation to a state of mind. What could a psychiatrist tell that you do not know already.

It was only when I found myself being sucked into a warp of low sickly feelings that I realized that depression was for real. What I also realized was that depression does not necessarily mean that you feel suicidal; frequent bouts of feeling empty is also a form of depression and needs attention. I penned down my feelings many times but trashed the story for the fear of being judged. So, why is it that I decided to write today. One, when I read about Deepika Padukone battling depression and talk about it so candidly, it gave me comfort and the strength to own up and by way of this write up, I hope to comfort somebody along the way. Secondly, I have gained control of my situation and looking back at this will be a positive reminiscence of how I overcame a difficult phase in life.

From one who loved to be outdoors, I went to loving solitude. I saw only fluff all around and felt repulsion towards people very easily. My self-confidence plummeted, and my emotions ran amuck. Every other day, I would feel my heart sink, stomach churn, and tears well up, all without any obvious reason or trigger. I became overly sensitive, unreasonably angry, unrestrainedly emotional and often found myself blaming people for their behavior. I saw this pattern repeat everywhere – at work, home, friends, and social groups.

It was after months of contemplation, informal counseling, and meditation that I tracked the issue down to the grassroots. I kept a tab of my behavioral patterns and dived deep to find their plausible reasons.  This helped me to list down the corrective course of action and consciously work on taking control of my mind.

It was a constant battle and it tired me often. In the beginning, the days I felt a void certainly outnumbered the days I felt moderately happy. But things changed for the better with much constant effort.

So, to all those reading this, here’s what I have to say:

  1. Mental health is as important as physical health. Just as you would take care of your body, spend some time to take care of your mind. A healthy mind leads to a healthy body.
  2. Accept the problem. Wallowing in low energy is NOT normal. Depression is a problem like any other physical illness and to accept that is half the battle won.
  3. Address the problem. Just as unique as you are, so should be your mechanism to deal with your problem. Choose a coping mechanism for yourself. What works for someone may not work for you.
  4. Talk about it. Pen it down. Tell your close friends and family about it. Save them the effort of wondering why you behaved unreasonably at times.

Mind is a funny thing. Be its master and it will take you places. Let it take over and you’ll be all over the place.

 

 

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Jibhi: A Hidden Gem in the Himalayas

I had been hoping to take a quiet peaceful vacation in the hills and came to know of Jibhi from a colleague. With a few hours of research, I figured that it is a small hamlet in the Himalayas which is still untouched by urban travelers. The more I read, I realized that it was exactly the kind of vacation I had been longing for. Gushing river, lush green meadows, cool breeze, and the majestic Himalayan ranges. Within minutes, I planned a trip with a friend.

Quick facts

Delhi to Jibhi distance: 491 km/12 hours

Best time to visit: February to June, September to November

Mode of Transport: Delhi-Aut by bus (every bus to Manali passes through Aut), Aut-Jibhi by taxi (Rs 1000)

Stay: We stayed at a cottage by Jibhi Camps and Cottages. The cottages require a special mention for they were super clean, comfortable and offered great views. The only downside is that the campsite where the kitchen and dining hall are located, is a 15-minute walk from the cottages.

Pro tip: There are plenty of home stays and most are not listed on the internet. Knocking at their doors and finding a place to stay should not be a problem. There are chemist and sundry stores in Jibhi.

Day 0 (Departure)

We made our bus bookings with Swagatam Holidays. We boarded the metro to Vidhan Sabha and hopped on a rickshaw to reach our boarding points at Majnu ka Tila. The bus departed at 8: 30 pm, went past Murthal without stopping at the fantastic dhabas and made a dinner stop at Pipli.

Day 1 | Jibhi

Though scheduled to reach Aut at 7:30 am, we were terribly delayed due to some truck accidents on the highway. We reached Aut at 12:30 pm from where Jibhi was an hour’s drive by local taxi.

Pro tip: The roads from Aut to Jibhi are quite narrow and the only way to commute is by taxis. You can book a taxi on the spot.

Our cottage was super clean and cozy. With a french window and a small balcony in the room, you could hear the river roar and gaze at the beautiful meadows, all while being tucked in the bed.

View from the room

We freshened up, went to the campsite for lunch where we met the other guests, all solo women travelers. Yograj, our caretaker who also doubled up as our trek guide was extremely helpful and hospitable. He took us to Jibhi waterfall which is a 15 minute trek. We walked through a dense forest, a stream flowing by our side all along. The scenery was straight out of The Jungle Book (except that there were no animals or Mowgli!). We were at a private waterfall without having paid for one. This was nature’s bounty at its best! On a sunny morning, you can see a double rainbow on the waterfall. How beautiful is that?

You can bathe in the waterfall or sit on the parapet to feel the cold breeze. Wear comfortable shoes and carry a towel.

Jibhi Waterfall

Day 2 | Serolsar Trek

Quick facts

Jibhi to Sirolsar Trek start point: 35 minutes by taxi

Trek duration: 2 hours/5 km one way

Lunch and snacks: Available at a few dhabas which are located close to the lake.

We started our trek at 10 am and reached the lake at 12:30 pm. The journey, as in most cases, in more beautiful than the destination itself. We made a few stops to catch our breath and gasp at the beautiful Himalayan ranges. We returned to Jibhi by 6 pm and hit the sack early.

Pro tip: You must spend some time by the lake or even climb up to the temple (near the lake) from where the view of the lake is beautiful.

Breathtaking view along the way

Serolsar Lake

 

Day 3 | Up Close with River Beas

Today was meant for #MeTime. We went to the river  flowing by very close to our cottage and sat there for almost three hours. I only felt more grateful to be here. Apart from a handful of Israeli tourists, there was not a soul around. No college kids clicking selfies or playing loud music. For as far as the eyes could see, there was only water and the mountains.

Pro tip: There are a couple of ways that lead to the stream. Take the path that goes from SBI bank. You get panoramic views from the bridge and walk across the bridge to explore the other side.

 

In Jibhi, there are plenty of no frills eating joints but only a handful of cafes as yet. We went to Kshatra Cafe for lunch and had fries, pancakes, noodles, and some hot lemon tea.

Pro tip: Hari Om cafe has good food too and is beautiful at night. I would have loved to spend another night and hang out at the cafes or watch the sunset over the hills.

And now came the horrible part. We had to pack up and leave for Aut to catch our bus to Delhi. At the boarding point at Aut, we gorged on delicious Methi and Paneer pakoras.

We boarded the bus from Aut left at 9 pm and reached Delhi Majnu ka Tila at 7 am.

If spending alone time, reading a book in peace, or contemplating in solitude is your kind of thing, Jibhi is calling 🙂

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Long Drive Home

Rachel was thankful for her new job.  For her skill set or the lack of it, landing a job like this one was a miracle. The good wage meant her children could continue their schooling and there was food on the table every day. She worked very hard to prove her mettle at work but the pile of odds only grew bigger each day. Her supervisor was a demanding, lecherous, and unpleasant man. Being poor brought its own share of troubles. She found it difficult to fit in among peers. Colleagues only mingled with people of the same strata. She was used to the arctic smiles and contemptuous looks. But she wouldn’t let this deter her.

One evening as she was ready to pack up, her supervisor sent for her. She could hear whispers and smirks as she made her way to his cabin. She knew he’d bully her but she was unprepared for what was to come. Knowing fully well her helplessness, he made overt advances. He grabbed her waist and drew her close. At that moment, the earth beneath her feet split wide open. A hundred thoughts crossed her mind as her heart pounded in her chest. She knew what refusal would cost her. The future of her family weighed heavily against her own integrity. Being a mother meant sacrifices, sometimes even that of self-respect.

That evening was a long drive home. The ride was as if a warp at the end of which life’s reality would hit hard again. Her hands trembled as did the steering wheel. Tears trickled down her cheeks. Had she done the right thing after all, she wondered. The sound of her hard slap on his cheek reverberated in her ears. She didn’t know if she had won or lost.

This post is in response to Charli Mills’ 24 Hour Free Write Contest.

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Flash Fiction Challenge: The Journey of a Stranded Suitcase

This post is in response to Charli Mill’s Flash Fiction Challenge. To learn more about the challenge, click here.

The leatherette suitcase found no room in her new apartment. Carefully wrapped gifts of many years were clutter today. She tossed into the suitcase, birthday gifts from her mom– a dress, nerdy spectacles, faded suede boots, and an old-fashioned watch. As her mother’s train chugged away from the platform, she slid the suitcase under a bench at the platform and reassured herself, ‘Mum will never find out.’

As the night wore on and the platform was deserted again, the duo clicked open the suitcase with hope and excitement. Christmas had arrived early for the homeless mother and daughter this year.