Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frames of Freedom

Blogadda has announced yet another contest for us bloggers called the "Frames of Freedom" contest where we are supposed to post photos that depict freedom in some way. Here are my entries for the contest:

Freedom from responsibility:

The good old college days: A period when we really "live" our life without worries. :)

Freedom of expression:

At the "Wall Project": One wall to freely express your thoughts and creativity!

Also the freedom to paint whatever you want:

 Or whoever you want! :D

And dress up however you like:

Freedom of being happy:

Yes, even to the point of looking retarded! :P

Freedom of celebration:

Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, festivals and the like!

Freedom of flight:

Birds flying homewards during sunset at Kankaria Lake, Ahmedabad.

Freedom to smile:

"I've never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful."  ~Author Unknown

The freedom to choose your friends:

and counting on them to stick with you.. always. :)

The freedom of being one with nature:

Nothing like an evening by the sea...

The freedom to act crazy:

...just to spoil a good picture! :P

Freedom is just a state of the mind just like happiness is! Freedom and happiness both go hand in hand. :)

P.S: Wish me luck for the contest!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Travelogue Part 2 : Haridwar

Continued from here.

So, we reached Haridwar on the 27th of July and went straight to "Vyas Mandir" where we were supposed to stay. It's our community temple and there were some festivities going on there which were supposed to last till the end of the month. My uncle (my cousin Rohini's dad) was there two days before we could reach Haridwar and he was staying in the temple's ashram rooms too. We just rested in our room that day and went for a walk to explore the place a little bit, then sat for the aarti in the temple there before having dinner and retiring for the day. We were supposed to be in Haridwar till the 31st of July. We made plans to go to Mussoorie and Rishikesh during our stay there and we would always come back to Haridwar after visiting those places, meaning we never spent the night elsewhere though I wanted to- in Mussoorie! The place was so beautiful! Anyway, more on that later...

We went to Mussoorie the next day i.e. on the 28th of July- you'll read about it in the next part of this travelogue. :)

Vyas Mandir

The Mandir premises

Yours truly having tea. :)

On the 29th of July, my cousin Rohini and I went to this place called "Hari ki Pauri". The banks of the river Ganga are called that. There are cable-cars from "Hari ki Pauri" that take you to "Chandi Devi" and "Mansa Devi"- two very well-known temples there. I had never travelled by the rope-way before and was filled with excitement! We bought a combined ticket of INR 165 for "Chandi Devi" and "Mansa Devi" temples. There are buses that take you to the point from where you board the cable-cars. We were all allotted a bus number and we had to wait for our bus to get filled by people who shared the number with us. After half an hour of waiting and finally boarding the bus, it took us twenty more minutes to get to the cable-cars. And as expected, there was a queue for the cable-cars too. It wasn't very long though and we waited patiently. The ropeway was fun! It wasn't scary at all as I thought it'd be and we kept waving at others in cable-cars who were going back like a little bunch of kids. :D

Hari ki Pauri

Cable Car
The Rope-way

We finally reached "Chandi Devi" after 10 minutes in the cable-car and had to climb a few stairs more. We had taken some offerings for the Devi (Goddess) which would be returned to us as prasad later. There was a small queue even for entering the temple and by then it seemed like God was really testing our patience! Oddly, I didn't feel a thing once I got there. The temple seemed to have lost its sanctity with so many people hurrying to get inside and struggling to get a glimpse of the Goddess. I didn't feel a sense of peace at all. Some tied a sacred thread to the temple pillars promising to come back and untie it if they get what they wished for. I did admire these people for the faith they had. Lack of faith is not a very good thing but I keep suffering from it every now and then. Anyway, that's another issue altogether. We got our offerings back as prasad after being blessed and we made our way out. We had also bought something to feed the monkeys as we had been told there were a lot of monkeys outside the temple. And sure enough, there was a troop of monkeys waiting outside eyeing our bag of prasad! We kept our prasad safely inside and fed them with grams and sugar balls that we had got for them.

Thirsty Monkey

Rohini feeding one.

We took the ropeway down (again after standing in a queue again for it of course) and waited for our bus to take us back to Hari ki Pauri. 

Next was "Mansa Devi". There was a ropeway straight from "Hari ki Pauri" to "Mansa Devi". We didn't need another bus to take us anywhere. The queue here was however too long and we spent more than half an hour waiting to board a cable car. At this point, all I wanted to do was to go back to our room and lie flat on my back. I was exhausted! The view from the cable car here was breathtaking though. We could see Hari ki Pauri from the top and it looked beautiful :

 As soon as we got to the temple and were done with praying, we rushed to the cable car zone to go back, only to see that the queue here would take another 45 minutes to move ahead. There was an alternative of climbing down the steps here though and we decided to do that instead. However, each step was so high that my knees started to give up and I had to sit down for a bit after every five minutes. We finally got back to "Hari ki Pauri" in twenty minutes and rushed to find an auto that'd take us back to "Vyas Mandir" (to our room). We felt hungry on our way and decided to stop at a dhaba first. After a nice lunch of roti and paneer with chhaas to top it all, we finally went back to our room. 

My uncle and our family pundit were planning to go to "Hari ki Pauri" in the evening with us for the Ganga Aarti. So after resting a bit, we left with them to go to "Hari ki Pauri" again. There were a lot of kaavadias in the evening there. Kaavadias are people that belong to the "Kaavad" tribe. These are worshippers of the Lord Shiva. In the month of Shravan, which is considered to be a sacred month in Hinduism, over five lakh of these saffron clad kavadias throng to Haridwar from Himachal, Haryana, Punjab and all over the North with kaavads (a wooden or bamboo stick with pots at either end) to fill their pots with Ganga Jal (water from the Ganges). They take these pots back to their hometown and offer it at the local Shiva temple there. They sing hymns and holy songs while they trek. They can get annoying sometimes though when they try to get their way with almost anything in the name of God. Most of these kavadias build tents around the Ganges and stay there through the duration of this auspicious rally. 

Hari ki Pauri in the evening with kavadias on the bank.

A brightly decorated Kaavad.

Some kavadias with their Kaavads.

The most decorated Kaavad.

I also spotted an Aghori baba there but was too scared to capture him. Aghoris are people who eat dead bodies of people. After these bodies are immersed in the waters of the Ganga, Aghoris feed on them. They don't kill, but the fact that they eat human flesh and live and dress weirdly is reason enough to be scared of them. I have googled the following image just to show you what they look like. The grey colour that you see is ash that they smear on their bodies. These people are also worshippers of the Lord Shiva.

We headed for the Ganga Aarti from there. It was beautiful and takes place daily at 7pm sharp. 
Here are a couple of videos of it:

We later made some offerings (flowers and diya) to the Ganges and dipped our hands and feet into it. They say your sins get washed off if you bathe in the waters of the Ganga. Dipping hands and feet also counts I'm hoping! I don't think I have sinned much to dive in! :D Anyway, we look stupid towards the end of the video as we thought that the family pundit (who was recording) was clicking our picture and that he had stopped recording long ago, but he hadn't!

Haridwar is known for gemstones and my cousin is fond of them, so we spent one hour at the gemstone shop there while she shopped to her heart's content. :) After some chaai and mango shake, we headed back to "Vyas Mandir".

The next day i.e. the 30th of July was half spent at the temple and at Rishikesh- an account of which I'll share in the parts to come! :)

On the last day of our stay in Haridwar i.e. 31st July, we visited all possible temples there. Haridwar is mostly known for it's religious significance. The temples here are beautiful, but I could not find the peace that I was looking for except for in Ram Mandir maybe but there too, the kavadias came in just after we entered and broke the silence. 

Also, we faced a lot of eve-teasing in Haridwar with random people asking us if we wanted a lift and cracking dirty jokes to embarrass us. And the people that we came across with seemed to belong to a different clan altogether. In one of those Vaishnodevi replicas that they have made, I slipped and fell in the make-believe cave they had made and then followed a burst of laughter instead of anyone asking me if I was alright or lending me a hand. I was annoyed! 

So, anyway, as I said, the temples have been beautifully made.

There is a huge Shiva statue near Hari ki Pauri which is very prominent once you enter Haridwar city :

The next day, i.e. the 1st of August, we left Haridwar at 4:30 am in the morning to go to Delhi. Will write more about Delhi in the coming parts too.

So, Haridwar is a nice place to visit if you're a religious person. It does have a lot of scenic beauty but there are more of temples here than monuments, parks and the like. Anyway, even with some bad moments that we had, we enjoyed the adventure! :)

More pictures here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The IndiBlogger Bloggers' Meet.

Firstly, I wish you all a Happy Independence day (a sad Dry day for some :P)

My Sunday was by far one of the best and unique ones ever thanks to the Bloggers' meet organised by IndiBlogger at Hotel Sea Princess, Juhu in Bombay today.

I entered the Regal Room on the second floor where the meet was held, with Poonam and Sahil who had come down all the way from Poona for the meet. As soon as we got in, we were stamped by the bouncer besides the registration desk and given a dot IN domain from BigRock free of cost! Next to the desk was a photographer clicking photos of people who wanted their caricatures done later. I got myself clicked too. Will upload a picture of the caricature once they send it to me! :) Oh, and we got some super cool pens too. I met up with a lot of familiar faces there- Idea Smith, Mahafreed, Rati, Maithilee, Binoy, Shaheen, Nitesh, Netra and others. Met a lot of new faces too and discovered too many good blogs. After some more bloggers walked in, the Indiblogger team started off with briefing us on the agenda. They spoke with a very alluring Bangalore accent. :D There was a short presentation by HP Print who talked of their new printing technology, products and offers on those and how bloggers could benefit from it. Next was a presentation by BigRock that I thoroughly enjoyed. Good sense of humour they have! One of the pictures from their presentation that I googled for later:

I couldn't find the other pictures but these guys were so funny that it made me want to check out their website right away! Trust me, today I really wished I had bought myself a new phone. There was so much to tweet about and I could see people tweeting live from the venue. The screen there showed all live tweets hash-tagged as "#indimum". You could search for some really interesting tweets there.

After a short welcome talk by the Sea Princess representative, there was a surprise gift envelope below each seat and the lucky ones got it - I didn't! :(

Next thing on the agenda was interesting where each one of us had 29 seconds to introduce ourselves- 29 seconds of fame they called it! The five most interesting introductions would win a free .COM domain name from BigRock. And the introductions were so creative it must've been really difficult for them to pick out the best five! Some of my personal favourites:

"I failed my tenth standard and flew off to Italy to fall in love with a 60 year old painter. But then he died and I went to Russia but got into a scam so I moved to Himachal and have been living there as a yogi. Hello everyone I'm a story-teller" 

"I used to blog on philosophy and life, also love stories but then I got dumped. Now I blog only on programming and software development."

"'When I started blogging, I used to be sunshine mom. Now after having kids, I'm freaked out mom"

"Hello I'm a Man Utd fan so boo to you and you" **points to some arsenal fans** "I blog about serious things such as 10 reasons why you should not rape your maid, etc."

''Hello everyone! I have two kids and three blogs.''

After the introductions got done and the five .COM domain names given out to the winners, we were all given card papers to hang by our necks such that the card was against our backs and others could write on it. 

So, after we wrote on each others' backs (**wonders if THIS could be termed as back-bitching; people need not write only nice things you know**), there was a tea and snacks session where I got my gift envelope finally! :D And oh, Gul Panag walked in around this time. It was a surprise for all of us. Apparently, IndiBlogger had invited her for the event considering she's pretty active on the web. So after some tea and snacks, Rati and I got ourselves clicked with THE Gul Panag :D I must say she looks gorgeous in person than online.

And she speaks very well too. One of the most well read actresses around! We found out when she was asked to moderate the "Battle of the Bloggers". Here, the bloggers were divided in groups of two: bloggers below the age of 27 and above 27 respectively with the latter sitting on the left side of the room to which Idea Smith remarked IndiBlogger was being ageist! :D A blogger from each of the sides had to speak on how blogging can be made to bring about a social change- how it can make an impact. The topic however drifted to censorship and moderation and Gul had to bring people back to the point. I personally think blogging has greatly influenced the society. And as Mahafreed pointed out, projects like the Wall Project and the Sapling project would never have been possible if it weren't for blogging. Idea Smith had written a post on child abuse once called the Vagina Dialogues which got a lot of hits and there were people coming out with their own stories of child abuse. Blogging has helped a lot of women voice their opinions on domestic violence. Maithilee had written a nice poem on it once: http://miilee.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/just-like-daddy/. I myself have come across a lot of blogs of women who have been through it and yet they choose to maintain their anonymity, in fear of getting hurt all the more, I presume. They just aren't bold enough to reveal who they are. It's sad. Gul wrapped it up saying she still supports blogging over journalism where stories are edited to suit the newspapers, and it could definitely bring about a change in society.

There was a short and interesting pop quiz by BigRock after this and I regret not having answered a question when I knew the answer and hence not winning a .COM! :( Well, maybe some other time!

After this was an exclusive screening of Soch Lo just for us. It hasn't been released before and this was the first time they screened it. :) Apparently, the movie started with a budget of just 400$. I didn't quite understand what the movie was all about but the concept seemed to be new. Director, producer and actor of the movie Sartaj Singh Pannu had a few words to say about the movie later. 

So that marked the end of the meet. Each of us stood in queue to get a t-shirt from IndiBlogger and after a photo session, we all left to go home hoping to visit each others' blogs and catch up again soon! :)

More pictures here - album to be updated. Keep checking! :)