Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I would like to start the New Year with a happy post and with my favourite subject, BIRDS! Have a look at the beautiful birds first, then read about them!

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary! The place where we watched them is  quite far away which is good for them! No disturbance from us, enemies! Click on the picture to have a better view! The white dots are birds!
Entrance to the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary
Pond Heron! This bird mostly stays near the bank of the lake where they can pick insects and worms from the algae.  The stretch their necks nearly a foot long to pick the worms from the water! Looks like snake when they stretch!  We didn't see anyother birds coming near the banks!

Lone Pelican...most of the birds we saw/noticed were pelicans.  These are large birds which mostly come from Australia.  We saw some flying with twigs to form their nests!

Black-headed Ibis! I will forget the name after an hour, but they look so beautiful!
Pelicans...watching the new member landing? Look at their beaks! Their faces look expressive!

Late comer?!
These birds look beautiful...Don't know the name of the birds!
One section of the birds
All these birds are beautiful, though we don't know the names!

Pelicans looked prominent, maybe because of their size!

Open Bill Stork...these are called 'naththai kuththi naarai' in Tamil, means 'snail pricking stork'!  
All these different types of birds stay in separate clusters but they don't seem to disturb others! We can learn a thing or two from them!

We had been planning to visit Vedanthangal Bird sanctuary (near Chennai) for the past many years now.  At last we did it, 10 days back, since we read in the paper that the birds had started coming.

This place is 60 kms. from our house.  I wanted to be there at 6 am itself, since I thought that it would be nice to watch the birds flying in the morning hours.  But somebody at the sanctuary said that the gate would be open at 8 am! But it opens at 6, we came to know after going there!   We were told that we can see birds coming from Australia, Siberia, Sri Lanka and many other places for nesting in the Vedanthangal lake in the months of November to March.  You can see in the first and second picture, how the birds are sitting in groups on tree tops!  A person who works there said that since this years the rains were less and the lake was not filled up properly, only around 30,000 birds have come.  Last year, the water level was high and so around 60,000 birds had come.  They come here, build their nests, hatch eggs and after the birds come out, even teaching to fly takes place here itself.  It will be around March first week and we are planning to go there again to see the baby birds!

Wikipedia says:

Vedanthangal is the oldest water bird sanctuary in the country. Vedanthangal in Tamil language means 'hamlet of the hunter'. This area was a favourite hunting spot for the local landlords in the early 1700s. The region attracted a variety of birds because it was dotted with small lakes that acted as feeding grounds for the birds. Realising its ornithological importance, the British government undertook steps to develop Vedanthangal into a bird sanctuary as early as 1798. This was established in 1858 by the order of the Collector of Chingleput.

Several accounts of the sanctuary were published in the mid-19th Century.Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in India, and has been fiercely protected by the local population for well over 250 years. In 1936, the park was notified as a sanctuaryand in 1962, the Madras Forest Act legally accorded the status of a reserve forest to Vedanthangal. Ten years later, the place was declared as a wildlife sanctuary.

The area had a compact grove of more than 500 barringtonia trees earlier. An additional 100 trees were planted in 1973 and over 1,000 trees were planted in 1996.

The local people are very protective of the birds.  First, the bird droppings in the water which was also used for irrigation of the nearby fields act as a good fertilizer.  Not only that, the locals think that the birds come there to build their homes depending on their goodwill.  They never shoot any bird here.  They treat them like family.  Some local youngman caught a large fish here, a couple of weeks back.  The local Panchayat people warned him and fined him Rs.10,000/-.  Then after some bargaining, he paid some Rs.3,000/-, it seems! This is a huge amount of money for a lone fish!

The lake is surrounded by a walking tiled path and 3-4 towers for bird-watching.  This was built by the Britishers in the 1800s.   I saw clean toilets and many dustbins with notifications not to throw anything outside the bin or anywhere else in the sanctuary.  Even then I saw a couple of plastic bottles floating in the lake.  But surprisingly, the whole area was clean.  Drinking water also was available and benches were there to relax and watch the atmosphere relaxingly!  I noticed many foreigners with cameras waiting patiently to click a good photograph...children also were fascinated by the birds. 

Watch tower!
Drinking water!
We saw these cows at the back of the seats we sat, at the Vedanthangal park.  Farming and cattle breeding is the main source of income for the local villagers here.  They supply milk to the city. The cows look so clean.  The calves also were not too thin, which is rare here, in the city!
We reached there around 8.30 am.  Had our idlies in our car and then went inside.  We saw people selling fruits and some small shops were there.  So, it is better to carry food with you.  The tickets were just Rs.2 for children and Rs.5 for adults! I couldn't believe! Normal camera charge Rs.25 and Video camera Rs.150. They should charge more and use the money for maintenance, I feel.  It is worth spending more money here!

Our breakfast, Idlies with chutney powder! And then Amul masti (butter milk)!
Let us all, including these birds and other creatures on our earth,  have a happy life in the coming years!



Another village which has got bird-loving people is  here

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 2013 Music Festival In Chennai ...Pt.Venkatesh Kumar

Pt. M.Venkatesh Kumar

I didn't attend many concerts this year like last year.  But the first concert itself was overwhelming.

Here, at Kalakshetra, Besant Nagar, an Annual art festival is going on now.  Nowadays, I have started enjoying Hindustani music.  Though I am familiar with the famous singers of Hindustani music, the name of Pt./Prof. Venkatesh Kumar is new to me.  Even last year, I had attended a concert of a singer whom I hadn't heard much before, Ms. Lalita Sharma and it turned out to be a very good one.  Now, Pt.Venkatesh Kumar was very good. The 2.15 hour concert took the audience to another level.  Kalakshetra's audience are always very devoted to music, as far as I have seen.  People come and sit before the concert starts and nobody leaves in between the songs.  This time the whole crowd sat through the whole concert and he had a standing ovation for a long time.   The auditorium is not very big. The ambiance, even without the a/c and nearly open area with a roof and side coverings, it was good to hear soulful music in a homely atmosphere.

Pt.Venkatesh Kumar is a Gwalior/Kirana Gharana Hindustani classical singer, born in Dharwad, Karnataka. A link says this about him:

Kumar learnt Hindustani vocal in the Gwalior and Kirana gharana styles under Gawai. Kumar blends these styles effortlessly in his presentations, though he admits to influences beyond these gharanas, chief among them being Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana. His guru was also trained in Carnatic music, and as a result, there are traces of Carnatic elements – especially in his sargam patterns – in Kumar’s music.

He has got a booming voice like Pt. Bheemsen Joshi and Pt. Jasraj.  Sometimes loud voices irritate the ears, but the whole crowd was enjoying his music, applauding whenever he sang a beautiful gamak.  We cannot hear Hindustani music singers using sargams in the old records normally.  But nowadays, Carnatic music is influencing Hindustani music and they have started using sargam even in aalaap.  Pt.Ajoy Chakraborthy liked the sargam way of singing so much that he had started learning Carnatic music from Sri Balamurali Krishna, it seems.  He said so in a concert last year.  I heard that Carnatic music singers have started learning Hindustani music also which trains the vocal chords better, it seems.

Pt.Kumar is still working at the University College of Music, Dharwad, which prevents him to turn down important concerts.  But wherever he sings, he gets accolades which cannot be forgotten. He has won many awards...I should have noted them down when they listed it out at the concert.

He sang raag Poorya Dhanashri for nearly an hour and then Raag Kedar and a Purandara dasa kruthi.  A Bhajan in the end.  Because of the time limit, he could not entertain us further even though the whole crowd wanted to hear more.

Now, to some music of Pt.Venkatesh Kumar.

Raag Kedar can be heard here.

I look forward to hearing his music again, in the years to come.

I went  to the dance programme of Ms. Shobana,  last week.  I don't know much about dance, but out of curiosity, I went there, to Narada Gana Sabha.  I can understand why she has become so famous.  Her movements are very smooth. 2 dances were from Geeta Govindam, which is about Krishna.  The last one was unbelievably good.  The subject was Dashavataram.  All the avatars of Lord Vishnu, were shown so well in the dance form, with other dancers. It is difficult for me to explain   We, normal people also could recognise the shapes of the 10 avatars of  Lord Vishnu - MATSYA (The fish), KURMA (The tortoise), VAMANA (The dwarf), NARASIMHA (The half lion half human), PARASURAMA (The sage), RAMA (The King of Ayodhya), KRISHNA (The King of Dwaraka), BALARAMA (Brother of Krishna) and KALKI (Eternity or Time, 'The destroyer of evil' who is expected to appear at the end of Kali-Yuga). 

Well, I am not a good dance programme reviewer! I enjoyed her dance. Here is one video of her dance.  She was a good movie actress.  Remember 'Mitr, my friend' She has acted in many other South Indian movies.  More than a good actress, she is a good dancer, it seems.  But no more dance programmes for me.  I enjoy music more!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wordless Wednesday!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rock Garden/Nek Chand Sculpture Garden Of Chandigarh...Unexpected Surprises!

I have heard about the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.  I always love to watch greeneries/birds/animals etc.  I thought rocks won't interest me...but I was wrong.  I was into a happy surprise!

I and my husband had gone on a North India tour last month.  Our group tour was over and we were on our own from Chandigarh.  So, we hired a taxi and visited this place.  It was quite hot on that day.  When I saw the Fort-like compound, I told my husband that since it was very hot, we will finish off seeing this place in half an hour and start our journey to Manali from there! But we spent nearly two hours there...had some nice samosas and masala chai in the cafe inside too!

Wikipedia says: 

This Rock Garden which is named after the builder/creator, Nek Chand,
a government official who started the garden, secretly in his spare time in 1957. Today it is spread over an area of forty-acres (160,000 m²), it is completely built of industrial & home waste and thrown-away items.

It is situated near Sukhna lake.  It consists of man-made interlinked water falls and many other sculptures that have been made of scrap & other kinds of wastes  (bottles, glasses, bangles, Tiles, ceramics, pots, sinks,  electrical waste, etc.  

 In his spare time, Chand began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani, choosing a gorge in a forest near Sukhna lake, for his work. The gorge had been designated as a land conservancy, a forest buffer established in 1902 that nothing could be built on. Chand’s work was illegal, but he was able to hide it for eighteen years before it was discovered by the authorities in 1975. By this time, it had grown into a 12-acre (49,000 m2) complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals.

Now, let me write about what I noticed here.

The entrance arches/doors, to every huge hall-like areas are very small! My husband had to bend his head down while entering! Then the surprises started, slowly in the beginning...this is the first rock with inscription about the garden.

Dedication Day Memorial, July 7, 1988

Let me write down what is written here, though wikipedia has covered some details:

Nek Chand Garden History:

1924 - Nek Chand is born in Barlan Kalan, now in Pakistan.
1947 - Chand family moves to India after partition.  Parents soon pass away.
1958 - He collects stones and debris from villages destroyed in Chandigarh.
1960s- Nek Chand works alone, creating approx. 2,000 statues in secret.
1972 - Garden discovered, existence threatened but finally authorised.
1976 - Official inauguration of Rock Garden.
1980 - Awarded 'Grande Medaille De Vermeil' - Paris, France.
1983 - First waterfall opened.
1984 - Prime Minister of India awards 'Padhmashree'.
1993 - Phase III opens.
                                        - Nek Chand (2012)

Now, to the pictures: (Click on the pictures for a better view)

This place looked very ordinary!

Again ordinary looking rocks!
Narrow passage!
Waterways connecting different phases...I and II phases are ready now, it seems!
The roots were looking so natural!
These were man-made! Unless you look closely, you won't guess!
Decorations on the wall.
Then, the surprises started...huge areas/open spaces surrounded by these figures! Everything carved out of waste material!

The scenery looked as if the dolls are watching some performance in the vast maidan/ground! All the statues shown below are displayed like this!

Sculpted with broken bangles!

School children?!

We felt so happy to see these happy 'real' school children running here and there!

Many readers might have visited this garden.  I never expected this 'rock garden' to be so unique! We have to admire this sculptor, Nek Chand.

P.S.: Nek Chand dies at 90 (12.6.15) More information is here about him. Great man.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Movie Review - 'Zara Hatke' story...Vicky Donor!

I watched three movies in these past 3 weeks and enjoyed them! I am always hesitant to watch movies since most of them are boring and once I start watching any movie, I have to watch it till the end.  I will be cursing and watching! But this time, since the first movie I watched, 'The Good Road' was quite good, I watched 'Kai Poh Che' and yesterday I watched 'Vicky Donor'! I felt like writing about them one by one!

First, 'Vicky Donor':

I had heard about this movie and had noticed while surfing TV channels, the hero Ayushman Khurrana being praised for his acting and singing in the movie.  I think his song was nominated for a couple of awards also.  I liked him in the music reality shows where he anchored.  He seemed like a good actor and singer.  The subject of the story was a bit 'different' and thought it would be an adult type movie.  But I was wrong! I laughed a lot while watching the movie!  This movie was produced by the actor, John Abraham! Now, to the gist of the movie:

Vicky (Ayushman Khurrana, the son of a famous astrologer...I read about it now!) is a good looking, 25 year old, Punjabi unemployed youth, living with his widowed mother who ran a beauty parlour in Delhi's refugee colony in Lajpat Nagar.  He had a grand mother who supported him and spoiled him...you can feel the 'typical Punjabi family' atmosphere here.   Punjabis are always fun-loving people.   He was all the time roaming on the roads and playing cricket.

Dr.Baldev Chadda (Annu Kapoor, my favourite, very talented actor) is a fertility doctor and runs a Fertility Clinic in Dharya ganj (Delhi).  Though he is a good doctor, since he couldn't get healthy sperms (he runs a sperm bank too), he had started losing patients.  He was desperate for a good, healthy donor...he looks for a person like King Alexander...he says,  Aryans like him, are the best race! You can laugh a lot with his analysis of a good donor! Many reasons for infertility quoted by him are real reasons.   He comes across Vicky and after a lot of persuasion, Vicky agrees to 'donate sperm' for some money! First, his sperm was tested and the sperm count was superb.  Then Vicky is offered more and more money for nearly 4 years.  He keeps his 'job' a secret.  Then he comes across Aashima (Yami Gautam, who acted well and looks very beautiful), a Bengali girl.  After lot of oppositions from both sides, they get married.  Then the story gets serious.  I think you better watch it in TV or DVD! You will enjoy!

A lot of research about fertility, had gone before doing this film, it seems.  Annu Kapoor has acted very well.  He got two awards also for this film...Filmfare's 'best supporting actor' award and 60th National Film Award's 'Best supporting actor' award.

Ayushman also should have got some award for this movie.  He is a post graduate and did a course in acting school too.  He seems to be a natural actor.  Hear his song in this movie here (click the link please).  He wrote the lyrics and composed with Kohli. This small budget film became a super-hit movie.  This film is 'with a message', good message for this age! A sequel also is on the making, I heard.  He will go places! A clip from this movie:


Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Am A Changed Person Now... More Self-confidence...Jai Maataa Di!

My sister in law had visited this temple long back, around 20 years back! She had said that the road to the temple was too tough and they had to go via a small cave to reach the garbha gruha of Ma Vaishno Devi.  I love adventure and wanted to visit this place for a long time.  And I love to visit ancient temples than modern temples! Then I came to know how Amitabh, after losing all the money via ABCL, his company (He nearly lost his house too), got the opportunity to anchor Kaun Banega Crorepathi, a quiz show in TV and then no looking back for him.  He has got 4 houses in Mumbai now and other assets.  He, along with his producers had visited Vaishno devi temple before starting the shooting, for KBC, it seems.  I wonder whether it was luck, god's gift or his talent brought him this far! I have heard others also talk a lot about this temple.  For us, South Indians, human-like black images are gods. I was curious to see how this temple is and became so famous without a proper moorthi (sculpture) of the devi!

I read these links before visiting this temple... Ma Vaishno Devi here. One more link is here. This is the second 'most visited temple' in India, after Sri Venkateshwara temple at Tirupati. This god is believed to be very powerful.  Ma Vaishno Devi did penance in the cave at Trikuta hill,  where she resides now, the story says.  She is called as Santoshi ma and Lakshmi also...different versions of stories are there.  Anyway, this is a powerful god and I could feel the vibration at the temple.  Now, let me write about our visit in detail.

As I told in my earlier post about 'Wagah border' we went on a North India tour with 20 other couples...Nirmala Tours & Travels, made our tour comfortable.   This tour was called, Amritsar-Vaishno Devi tour. 

This image of Ma Vaishno devi is from wikipedia. 

The priest said that the stone in the centre  is Ma Vaishno devi.  The right one is Maha kaali and the left one is Saraswathi.  This is a replica of Ma Vaishno devi which was at the hotel we stayed. 
We had reached Katra, a small village in Jammu from Amritsar at about 4.30 pm on 22nd Oct. '13 by bus.    We stayed at the hotel Shankar Palace.  It was good.  We had dinner.  The Nirmala Travels people bring their cooks along with them.  They cooked vegetarian food at the hotels, wherever we stayed and served us.  Then, Pradeep, our tour Manager, took us to a place where we had to register our names for visiting the temple.  They took our photos and asked where we came from and gave us a card to visit the temple.  Pradeep said that it was better to walk to the temple, all 13 Km. at night since the weather would be good instead of walking in the sun in the morning.  The shrine is at an altitude of 5300 feet.  So, we and some 4 others started walking at 9.30 pm, on that night itself...we had some chocolates and water, that is all and my mobile, which was not allowed inside the temple later!  Some people hired helicopters and some horses.  We can go by palki too... 5-6 people will carry us...mostly old people use this.  I saw many old people walking slowly, shouting 'jai mata di'  on my way...the road was quite crowded. Children and youngsters were enjoying the walk. The other people who started walking with us had gone up, walking speedily than us! There were many hairpin bends which were tough to climb because of the road level.  Many people took walking sticks with them which cost Rs. 10. 

Some old people asked us to drink water, just take one sip at a time.  We were sitting at benches which were in front of the shops, often.  There were many shops selling eatables and drinks.

Benches like this were seen everywhere on the way.  We sat in these benches often and then proceeded. 
View from the road to Vaishno devi.
Another view from the road to Vaishnodevi
I noticed around 4 T-series shop (Gulshan Kumar's!) on the way up!

Even 'Coffee day' shop was there!


We saw these types of steps on the roadside.  They are used for people to hop on the horses. Many people used horses to visit the temple.  Our tour manager said that it was tough for women.  They had thigh pains the next day!
Fog filled road...a small girl is made to sit here with red cloth draped on her, for begging...she was with full make-up! Felt sorry for the girl.  The road was so lonely.
This young donkey looks beautiful...!
Since no motorised vehicle could not go uphill, donkeys are used for taking loads, even gas cylinders.  The traffic of horses and donkeys were so much that it was difficult to walk alongside them at places. This picture was taken while coming back in the next morning!

 One more girl is begging.  At least this area is lit and people were there.
Some of the friends I met on the way! Saw many langoors too, but was too tired to click them!

Our tour manager had insisted on us to take the last 5 Km, the battery car road, which would be easier to climb.  We could feel the difference  between the road we had come and this road.  This was smoother and the steepness was less! People who wanted to climb steps to reach the temple, can do so.  But it was too difficult for us!

We reached the temple gate at about 4 am, the next morning.  We had to walk more to have the darshan of the Devi...wet steps were there to climb.  Every devotee is checked for the registered card.  Body search were there at two places.  And it was raining outside! I saw two people skidding and falling down in the steps.  Everyone must have been tired.  WE were very tired.  Thank god, the crowd was less on that day.   Red chaddar and nariyal (red zari cloth and coconut) were being sold for offering to the god.  The place was too crowded and we were tired to stand  in the queue again.  So, we just offered some money, which was the only thing with me then! Even hand bags were not allowed inside! Leather is banned, I was told. My husband wore a watch with leather strap.  He left it at the hotel itself. I think it is OK.  A priest was standing a few steps before reaching the Devi and placing teeka on our foreheads. 

When I reached the Gabha gruha (sanctum), I asked the Panda to explain about the gods since I was coming from Chennai and did not know much about this god.  He explained about the 3 gods (pind or pindi).  The gods were not facing us but they were on the left side, facing the opposite wall.   The old cave has been converted into a modern cave...I didn't feel it like a cave.  So, it is very easy to reach the  god/deities  now.  But it was wet everywhere.  Then we came out. Again, it was a long way to reach the gate.  Since the darshan was over, we felt more tired while coming out.  We lost the way and entered the area where horses were standing...so many horses and their stench!  My husband had tea and biscuits on the way but since I was feeling a bit sick, I didn't have anything except a little water and it was showing! Somehow we came out of the place and reached a hotel which was very nearby.  It was 5 am by then.  I saw many people sleeping, on the way back,  covering themselves with rugs/woollen blankets.  We came to know that the temple offers them freely.   The verandahs where they were allowed to sleep, were quite clean.  Somebody told me that the darshan was closed for the morning aarthi.  I thought I would go back and watch it.  But then they said that only select people were allowed inside, for the aarthi!

Both of us had tea and bread toast at the hotel.  It was very cold and drizzling outside.  I was shivering though I was wearing sweater.  Then, the toilets...they were horrible!  The bucket and mugs were also dirty.  Why is it like this when our temples get so much money, can't they provide the basic facilities?  The toilets on our way up were very clean and modern!

We were told that a few battery cars were there to take us down for about 5 Kms.  But they started at 8 am.  We were so tired to start walking down immediately.  They charge Rs.200/- per head, for the 5 Kms.  Still, it made us the climbing down easier! No, climbing down was tougher than climbing up! We had to balance ourselves downward! Knees had started buckling often! My husband had some ginger tea and I had ginger soda in a small shop.  The shopkeeper had not heard of Chennai or Tamilnadu! But then I thought that I didn't know exactly where Chattisgarh or Uttarakhand was!

We were able to get bottled, Kinley water everywhere on our way to the temple, for Rs.20/-. It was a blessing! All goods to the shops came via donkeys.  I didn't see any cart or tempo carrying goods on our way!

Everybody was smiling and no untoward incidents were seen on the way.  I felt sick in the morning hours because of sleeplessness, I think and my husband was sweating a lot in the chilly weather.  I was a bit worried about him, but everything went on well, thank god..mata di! We never thought we could make the trip by walk, but we did.  I never knew that it would be so tough before going, but then we made it!  We reached the hotel at 11.15 am, the next morning! Pradeep, our tour manger said that he was worried about our walking because of our age and he was so happy to see us back, smiling! We had bought some fruits on our way back.  Had a hot water bath at our room.  Had the fruits and some hot milk and slept till 4.30 in the evening!  The next morning, we started to Jammu by bus!

Everybody in the bus congratulated us for our trip to the temple by walk.  Only a few people in our group did it, it seems! Others went by helicopter and horse backs.

Ma Vaishno Devi assured us that both of us have got very good health and make more trips in the future like this!


EDITED TO ADD ON 30.11.13:   I forgot to mention about a clinic on our road up the hill.  There was always a doctor - 24 hours a day, it seems! Nice!


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