Category Archives: Good to know

Aashaadhi Waari-A Photo Essay -Part 2

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When the paalkhi reaches its destination for the night, an arati follows. All the dindis close to the rath surround the paalkhi.  After the arati, the paalkhi is taken to the ceremonial grounds,where it is open for darshan. 

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The chopdaar or the bearer of the chop i.e this stick, raises the chop and instantaneously silence descends on this massive congregation in preparation for the arati.


There are three ringans or circumambulations during the waari. Two are circular ringans or gol ringans and one is an ubhe ringan or the standing raingan. The horse following the horse-rider is symbolic of the meeting of the jeeva or life source with the eternal source. The waari is a metaphor of this union, with waarkaris attempting to merge with the divine  i.e Vitthal.  

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The dhaava or the run also takes place en route and symbolises the restlessness of the waarkaris to see their beloved Vitthal. 

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These women will walk all the way with tulsi pots or a kalas (pot) on their heads. It could mean a mannat or wish-fulfillment or just be a sign of their devotion to Vitthal, who loved Tulsi very much.  

Aashaadhi Waari – A Photo Essay -Part 1

The onset of the monsoon in Southwest India commemorates the Hindu month of Aashaadh; a time when thousands and thousands of vaishnavites across Maharashtra and the Deccan plateau undertake the waari.

Today, June 29th 2016 is the Prasthaan or the departure of the Sant Dnyaneshwar waari from Alandi. The pilgrims or waarkaris will walk nearly 27 kms to reach Bhavani Peth in Pune from Alandi this evening. The tarmac road burns up on sunny days and a less-experienced waarkari will want to hop into the next vehicle. Except, the vehicles too are slowly winding their way through the throngs of people and walking to Pune might actually be a faster option.

The waarkaris will travel a distance of nearly 230 kms from Alandi to Pandharpur in about 15 days. The waari culminates in Pandharpur on the eve of Aashadhi Ekaadashi,when thousands will line up at the doors of the Vitthal temple for darshan of their ‘sakha’ or friend. Mukhadarshan (darshan of the idol) could take days so many waarkaris opt for kalas darshan (paying obeisance to the temple tower) and return home after a bath in the Chandrabhaga River.

Here’s a photo essay in three parts to commemorate the Aashaadhi Waari 2016.

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Alandi on the banks of the Indrayani. The paalkhi procession begins here at the shrine of Sant Dnyaneshwar who is believed to have started the tradition in the 13th century.

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The paalkhi contains the padukas or the footwear of Sant Dnyaneshwar and will be carried on a bullock cart all the way to Pandharpur and return the same way. On the day of Prasthaan, however, the paalkhi is carried by waarkaris.




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Most male waarkaris dress in white and wear a white cap. The ones belonging to a dindi or contingent will carry flags and a sign bearing the number of their contingent stating its position-preceding the rath, i.e chariot or following the  chariot.

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There is always lots of happy dancing along the way

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such as this happy dancer

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with the cops joining in every now and then



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On the way to Jejuri from Saswad, the waarkaris burst into a jogwa in honour of the patron god of Jejuri, Malhaari or Khandoba.

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Turmeric or bhandaara is sprayed in the air to welcome the paalkhi in Jejuri.


Hokka Trees in Diu-A prehistoric legacy or a colonial one?

These unique palm trees known as hokka can be found on almost every corner in the UT.

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Hokka trees in Diu 

The hokka tree has a fascinating history. Some say, they were planted here first by the Portuguese, who had brought them in from their African colonies. As you know, Diu was a Portuguese settlement until  1961. Other stories suggest they have existed here since the time India and Africa were one continent.

What we do know now is that these trees grow only in this region in India, making them standalone attractions in and around Diu town.

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A hokka tree in bloom. 

Now, the locals have been known to eat the largish seeds of the tree, although I wasn’t courageous enough to try any. Give me my apples, anyday. They did look somewhat interesting, though. The red skin, when peeled off, reveals a yellow flesh. The seeds can also be used to make liquor, sometimes of the spurious variety. So all those who like their taadi, beware!

The hokka tree is also known as the doum palm or the gingerbread tree and was considered sacred in parts of Africa. What makes hokka seeds or doum fruits special is that they stay well for days and months and well, a real long time, even after they are separated from the tree. Case in point: Doum fruits were found, well-preserved in King Tut’s tomb. Generally offered at funerals, the fruits were meant to accompany the Pharoah on his last journey.

So the next time, you’re in Diu, be sure to take a selfie with this celebrity tree.


Images courtesy:




The Life of Toys (before batteries)

When adults, like me, are enamoured by cute and colourful wooden toys, you begin to wonder if it’s the inner child in you that’s harking back to the simple joys of childhood. Or could it just be the timeless appeal of those toys themselves?

Before I lose you, let me come straight to the point. I speak of the lacquered toys of Channapatna, or the toy town of Karnataka, lying 60 kms from Bangalore. Vibrantly coloured and completely non-toxic, these wooden articles of joy make for perfect showpieces, and toys, of course.

Channapatna toys date back to Tipu Sultan’s time. Tipu was greatly fascinated by wooden toys and invited Persian artists to train the local craftsmen in the art of toy-making and lacquering.

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A craftsman at work 

The toys are produced in small workshops just outside the craftsman’s home, creating a cottage industry. Several toy workshops can be found in the many small gullies of this little town that has become synonymous with these attractive playthings.

The toys are made from locally-found ivory wood. The wood is soft and easily pliable, lending itself to many shapes. The lacquer is non-toxic and made from natural shellac. I can personally assure you that they are extremely durable, as well. I must have dropped my toys hundreds of times, but my small car and my adorable lil tortoise continue to smile back at me in a Zen-like manner, as if inured to the abuse.

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My little car and tortoise. 

The craftsmen have also diversified into home decor articles, like vases, napkin rings, hangers and suchlike. A great number of these unique items are exported and you are sure to find a few big dealers in the town stocking everything from small cars to puzzles to toy aeroplane models and skip ropes.

The sheer numbers in which the toys are produced are mind-boggling.

A brief chat with a craftsman revealed that each workshop is responsible for a few toy designs, leading to specialisation. One workshop may produce only key chains and spinning tops, another, only cars and aeroplanes and so on. Each dealer will stock an average of 100 different types of toy designs for all ages. It’s not uncommon to find a shop spread across 3 floors, with hundreds of items dumped in shelves, baskets, boxes, sacks, crates and even covering the floors. Yes, the prospect of slipping on a child’s toy becomes all too real.

Channapatna makes for a quick stop-over on the way to or from Mysore. So spend some time here, buy these charming toys and go back to a simpler time, when you didn’t need batteries for everything you played with.

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These are a few of my favourite things. 



The Legend of Noh Ka Likai



Noh Ka Likai Falls, Sohra, Meghalaya

Ever looked at a waterfall and thought, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool so jump off that cliff?” Well, that thought is going to stop being funny once you read this story.

India’s tallest plunge waterfall Noh Ka Likai in Meghalaya’s Sohra district (formerly Cherrapunjee) has a rather sinister story behind it.

Legend has it that Ka Likai (Ka denotes the feminine gender) and her husband, Kynrem were deeply in love. However, Kynrem contracted a disease on one of his work trips to Sylhet (present-day Bangladesh) and died soon after. Likai’s daughter was barely a year old then. Likai was left to take care of her child all by herself. She toiled in the fields and did odd jobs to survive. But despite the hard life, she took great consolation in her only child, Lasubon.

Likai soon began to be courted by men. But she could not forget Kynrem and turned away her suitors. Except the very persistent U Snar, Kynrem’s old rival, who would not take ‘No’ for an answer. Likai’s friends and family asked her to consider the prospect of remarriage, since U Snar was rich and Likai would not have to work so hard anymore.

Likai was apprehensive since she expected the new man in her life to wholly accept her daughter, as well. But her relatives and people around convinced her that U Snar was endearing himself to Lasubon and would accept them both. After much deliberation, Likai agreed to marry U Snar.

For a while, life was good. Likai did not have to work so much. But U Snar’s parents did not approve of his new wife and threw him out of the family business. Likai was back to where she started.

U Snar would stay home, invite his friends over and get drunk while Likai went to work in the fields again, leaving Lasubon behind. One day, she came home to find U Snar beating Lasubon because she had said she did not know how to buy alcohol for U Snar and his friends. Likai threw a fit and warned U Snar not to lay a hand on her beloved daughter again.

The next day she returned home from work but Lasubon did not show up to welcome her. Thinking, she might still be playing with her friends, Likai went into the kitchen and found that U Snar had prepared a meaty curry for his wife. She thought U Snar had had a change of heart and had her fill of the meal. Looking to round it off with betel leaves, she found the severed hands of Lasubon in her betel nuts basket.

Horrified, she realised what had happened. U Snar had killed her daughter, cut her up into pieces, made a curry out of them and served it to Likai. Unable to bear her own grief, she plunged to her death from the waterfall that is today known as the “Jump of Ka Likai.” U Snar, on the other hand was never heard from again.

The council of elders then decided that the village where this tragedy occurred be resettled so that such evil may never befall the Khasi people again. The village no longer exists but the legend of Ka Likai lives on.

-Source “Around The Hearth: Khasi Legends” by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih

About the waterfall itself: Figuring among the ten tallest waterfalls in the world at just over 1000 feet, Noh Ka Likai is best experienced in the monsoon when the waters rush through the hills to plunge into a gorgeous green blue pool below. I saw it in March when it was just a steady trickle but the sheer drop is so frightening that even the mysterious pool below cannot redeem the darkness of Ka Likai’s story.










All things Oman

Here’s more write-ups on Oman for all those who heard me on the air on Radio One today!


Top 5 things to do in Dresden, Germany

Capital of Saxony and barely 200 km from Berlin, Dresden evokes images of complete destruction during WW II. But with most of its historic monuments now restored and its older apartments buildings modernised, Dresden is now an architectural delight. As a city it is also a little bit like Goldilock’s bed; not too big, like Berlin, not too small, like Bremen, but just right. That means when you want to go out, you’ll find a number of activities lined up for you by some invisible cultural curator or when you want to stay in, you don’t necessarily feel like a stranger among strangers.

Most travellers to Germany tend to skip Dresden, or drop in, perhaps on the way to its more popular neighbour, Prague. But that’s what makes Dresden so special…it’s not always infested with tourists. It retains that wonderful old-world feel about it and lends itself to all sorts of activities. So here’s my Top 5 to do in Dresden, even if you’re travelling just for a day or two.

5) Take the tram line 8 or 3 connecting the Altstadt and Neustadt.
The River Elbe divides the city naturally into what is known as the Altstadt (Old Town) and the Neustadt (New Town). So when you hop into one of these trams, you’re essentially travelling across the Elbe with stunning views of the historic buildings that give Dresden its epithet, ‘Florence on the Elbe.’

View from the tram

View from the tram





The Tram Line 3 on its way to 'Wild Man'

The Tram Line 3 on its way to ‘Wild Man’






4) Explore the Neustadt
With its hipster vibe and bohemian feel, Neustadt is home to the city’s many artists and liberals. Walk through the colourful Kunsthof Passage (Goerlitzer Strasse) and spot the funnel wall that turns into a musical instrument during the rain. Or visit the quaint art gallery Art + Form (Albertplatz) to find a treasure trove of handmade items, stuff you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.  Neustadt is also the best place to sample some of Germany’s famous multi-kulti cuisine, from my favourite Turkish restaurant in the Alaunstrasse to the famous Pfunds Molkerei  (“the most beautiful dairy in the world”) with its many different cheeses and milk varieties.

The funnel wall in the Kunsthof Passage

The funnel wall in the Kunsthof Passage



The most beautiful dairy in the world

The most beautiful dairy in the world, Pfunds Molkerei








3) Explore the Altstadt
Go from hipster to historic, and stop off at the dramatic Theaterplatz for the city’s most famous landmark, the Semper Oper. Surrounded by the Zwinger Oper and the Hofkirche, this square is the best place to go monument spotting, if that’s your thing. Baroque architecture abounds in this quarter and you will find a number of museums housed in these buildings today. Then, walk on to the spectacular Frauenkirche, sit yourself down at one of the many cafes in the vicinity and enjoy a locally brewed beer as you people-watch.

The fully-restored Frauenkirche

The fully-restored Frauenkirche

Theaterplatz referencing the Semper Oper

Theaterplatz referencing the Semper Oper








2) Cycle along the Elbe
The Elbe provides the city with much of its character. With its weekend flea market, or the Film Nights during the summer, or its famous cycling and walking paths, this is Dresden’s getaway in the middle of the city. Running through Dresden up to Prague, the cycling paths are well-designated. You’re unlikely to get lost, cos no matter where you exit the pathway, you’ll find a friendly little bus stop or a tram stop that’ll lead you back to the city centre. One major attraction along the Elbe cycle path is the 150-year old Siemank bakery. The bakery’s Bierstange or bread roll is a soft mixture of multipurpose flours, carrots, and oil seeds. It’s healthy, filling and the perfect snack after an exhausting cycle ride. For those who’d like their sugar fix, try the Dresdner Eierschecke, a melt-in-the-mouth Dresden speciality. All of this with wonderful views over the Elbe.

The Dresdner Eierscheke

The Dresdner Eierschecke



Cycling path with the Frauenkirche in the background

Cycling path with the Frauenkirche in the background







  1. Take in Dresden from the top
    Head to the old-worldly quarter of Loschwitz for a trip on one of the world’s oldest funicular railways or the Schwebebahn which makes a steep climb of 275 feet to its look-out point. With spectacular views over the Elbe Valley and what was once UNESCO World Heritage (derecognised as of 2009 thanks to a new bridge connecting the city), this is something only a true-blue Dresdner will want to share with you. So if you like your views from the top, this is certainly a must-do.

    One of the world's oldest funicular railways

    One of the world’s oldest funicular railways

    The View from the Top

    The View from the Top