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The Underage CEOs

Fascinating Stories of Young Indians Who have Become CEOs in their Twenties

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Hi, Welcome to my website.

I have created this as a window to my professional world, so that you understand what I do, why I do it, how I do it and how I can possibly be of help to you. This in turn, could lead to opportunities for us to collaborate. After browsing through the site, do leave your thoughts or questions in the comments box. Or, you could contact me directly using the details given at the bottom of this page. I will respond as soon as possible.

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Who am I?

I am a man of many loves. A free spirit, I love travelling, trekking, music, movies, food, tea, conversations and absurd humour.
One of my driving forces in life is to help people understand their true potential and achieve it. Part of my work is a direct consequence of this motivation.
My other driving force, of course, is to have a jolly, good time.

Professionally, I wear four hats:

Freelance writing

Writing is a part of me. Conversely, there is a part of me in everything I write too. My writings usually spring from personal experience, close observation and a sense of wry humour. They carry an original interpretation, a unique voice and a certain joie de vivre.

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Books

I got on to writing books to share the knowledge I have accumulated along the way. My book ‘The Underage CEOs’ released in Oct 2015, and has subsequently been reprinted. It chronicles the fascinating stories of bright young Indian entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their chosen domains. None of these youngsters graduated from an IIT or an IIM; and yet, they are all doing some ground-breaking work.

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Vibha Women

There is something deeply fascinating about people desiring to set sail on their own, venturing into uncharted waters. I think there is an entrepreneur in every one of us; given the right motivation and circumstances, this entrepreneur is bound to emerge from hiding.

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Brand consulting

I believe a brand is central to a business. Contrary to popular perception, it goes way beyond the logo or baseline of a company; in fact, it lies at the heart of the business.
I help companies understand what their brand is all about and then, craft their brand identity in tune with their vision, purpose and business realities. As an extension of this, I create a robust Marketing Communication plan for the venture, targeting key audiences.

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The Underage CEOs

Fascinating Stories of Young Indians Who have Become CEOs in their Twenties

This is a book about ordinary young Indians who are doing the extraordinary. Barely out of college, they have taken the big leap and become role models for an entire generation of youngsters. They are the off-roaders, the ones who have stepped off the beaten track in pursuit of their vision.

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Inspiring Book for Aspiring folks

Vijayakumaran

The Underage CEOs’ Will Convince You That Entrepreneurship Is Indeed Magical

Mary Cristopher

A book you cannot do without, if you want to do something different in life. Inspirational stuff!

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Travel and Places

Varanasi through my eyes – a photo feature

It is supposed to be one of the oldest cities in the world that have been continuously inhabited. Some passionate locals claim that it is the oldest such city in the world. For the Hindus, it is the holiest of holies, the gateway to heaven and therefore, the preferred departure point for their final journey.

Varanasi must be one of the most storied cities in the world, one of the truly great cities. To put it mildly, it is an overwhelming city that assaults your senses. It is possible to decode Varanasi at different levels, depending on how deep you want to look, what your worldview is and which aspect of the city you encounter during your visit. For instance, while it is revered by many for its spiritual overtones, it is reviled by many others at the same time. Reviled for being another grimy, crowded, chaotic Indian city and for the various shady operators who try to rip tourists off.

But revere it or revile it, you cannot be indifferent towards it.

In ancient times, this city was known by the name ‘Kashi’. Even today, Hindus across the world refer to their trip to this city as ‘Kashi yatra’. Weddings in the South Indian Iyer community feature a ritual known as ‘Kashi yatra’, in which the groom symbolically renounces this material world and embarks on a journey to Kashi to live in abstinence for the rest of his life. Until, of course, the bride’s family manages to ‘convince’ him and bring him back.

In time, it got a second name ‘Varanasi’ and a third ‘Banaras’. Not many know that ‘Varanasi’ is the conjoined result of the names of two rivers that flow by the city: Varuna and Assi.

Look beneath its spiritual cloak and you will discern several little known facts about this city. For instance, the famous queen Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was born here. But today, her place of birth lies forgotten and forlon in a corner of this city. Varanasi offers you some of the best vegetarian food, especially chaat. The city is home to a fine architectural legacy left behind by erstwhile rulers and noblemen. Just 12 kms (8 miles) away likes the tiny town of Sarnath, where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon after gaining enlightenment. And finally, it is a hub for tabla-making (the tabla is the chief percussion instrument in Hindustani classical music).

So friends, here is Varanasi in its various shades. Hope you enjoy this photo essay. Please leave a comment after the post. And if you want to know anything more about this city or plan your trip to it, I will do my best to help you.

P.S. These photos were taken when I was not yet a good photographer. I was still learning the ropes. Still, I want to share them with you to bring out the various shades of this interesting city. So, bear with me on this please.  🙂

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At the Kal Bhairav temple, a vendor looks out for tourists who will buy his wares as an offering to the Lord.

 

Devotees inside the Kal Bhairav temple. The deep red of the pillars and the walls give the temple a very tasteful look. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in a fierce incarnation of Kaal (meaning both ‘fate’ & ‘time’ in Hindi). He wears a garland of skulls and wields a club made of peacock feathers.

 

Flowers and sweets on sale.  The flowers to appease the Gods and the sweets to appease your tummy. 🙂

 

Dusk falls on one of the ghats lining the holy river Ganga.

 

You are in queue for salvation. A corpse lying on the steps of the ghat, waiting for its turn to be burned. Afterwards, the ashes will be scattered in the Ganga.

Burning pyres. It is indeed true that even this supposedly noble act of cremating a body has been turned into a racket in Varanasi. Those who want the body of a loved one consigned to the flames here reconcile themselves to touting, ‘commissions’ and a long waiting line.

 

The faded inscription on this board is the only indication of the historic importance of this place. Rani Lakshmi Bai was born in 1828 in a house that stood here.

 

The Lal Darwaza, one of the entrances to the Ramnagar Fort, built by the erstwhile ruler of Banaras, Raja Balwant Singh, in the 18th century.

 

The chequered lines of the pathways and lawns inside the Ramnagar Fort. The Fort was also known as ‘Kashi naresh ka qila’ (meaning ‘the fort of the lord of Kashi’ in Hindi.)

One of the viewing galleries inside the fort.

 

And quietly flows the Ganga, watched over by the fort. The pavilions on the rampart of the fort give you beautiful views of the river.

 

Symmetrical lines and contours inside the fort.

 

A royal pavilion overlooking the Ganga.

 

Boats waiting to take tourists across the river.

 

 

The lovely ornate entrance to the Buddhist monastery in Sarnath, 8 miles from Varanasi.

The Buddha. Need I say more?

 

This mural on a wall of the monastery shows the Buddha in deep meditation.

 

The more-than 2000 year old Bodhi tree under which The Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon after attaining nirvana.

 

More murals on the walls of the monastery.

 

 

A Buddhist monk of the Theravada order from Sri Lanka.

 

Buddhist women from Sri Lanka, who are on a pilgrimage to important sites in India. Buddhists from South Asian and South East Asian countries flock to places that feature prominently in the Buddha’s life. Sarnath is definitely one among them.

 

Wind horses, as the prayer flags are also called, are supposed to carry the prayers of devotees to the lord.

 

The Sarnath temple, seen from a distance.

 

A long message inscribed on a stone slab, the interesting feature being that it is in the Mangolian script.

 

Devotees make it a point to turn the prayer wheels.

Votive offerings for the Buddha. Offerings range from bowls of water (considered the purest offering) to flowers and small cups of butter. Curiously, even soft drinks are offered by some people.

 

The prayer hall. A photo of the Dalai Lama is placed at the centre, flanked by two rows of seats for the chanting priests. When I visited, prayers were being chanted for a peaceful and prosperous new year.

 

This bell weights two tons. That’s right, two tons. Put up in the deer park in Sarnath, it tolls twice daily. Apparently, it can be heard 4 kilometres away.

 

 

 

 

 

Two other views of the Sarnath temple.

Travel and Places

The Old Delhi food trail – Part 1

Hidden in the labyrinthine lanes of Old Delhi are some of the best food spots of the city. They are high on history, taste and atmosphere.

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The mere mention of Old Delhi conjures up vivid images of a crowded bazaar (market), old buildings from the Mughal era and wonderful, aromatic food. Take away even one of these elements, and the Old Delhi picture will not be complete.

For me, Delhi is home because one half of my family lives there. So, while I live in Bangalore, I definitely end up making a ‘family pilgrimage’ to Delhi at least once a year. During my trip in October 2016, I took time off to explore the streets of Old Delhi. I was especially interested in the decades-old eateries that have been Old Delhi’s pride. In fact, many of them were set up in the early 1900s, making them nearly a century old. Some others are about a hundred and fifty years old and counting. With so many years behind them, you are talking serious history. Each of these joints has secret family recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. Every one of them also has one or two signature dishes that they claim will beat competitors hollow. Facts like these add to the allure of these eateries. No wonder then, that they accumulated a large number of loyalists (and remember, this was much before social media popularized the concepts of fan base and followers).

Make no mistake, given the character of Old Delhi, these eateries are all dives. Nothing fancy when it comes to ambience here. People throng them only for the taste of their food, their history and the ‘atmosphere’. Without much further ado therefore, let’s dive right in(exclamation)

Nathu Ram Kachoriwaala

We got off the metro at Chandi Chowk and exited the station through a narrow gully (lane) that leads deeper into the Chandi Chowk market. A couple of minutes later, we spot a Hanuman temple and right opposite that, under the shade of a large tree, is Nathu Ram’s food stall. The ‘stall’ is actually a large tarpaulin sheet that has been spread under the branches of the tree. Cooks are at work under the canopy, one frying jalebis, another frying kachoris. A couple of attendants are helping the cooks out. A few rickety wooden tables stand desultorily, with customers gorging from small, stitched-leaf bowls known as donney in Hindi.

Nathu Ram has been feeding hungry souls for more than seven decades. Nobody (including the guy at the counter) seems to know exactly when it was set up, and frankly, nobody bothers. What they do bother about though, is the food that is being doled out.

While the menu nailed to a wooden pillar announces a dozen dishes, most customers ask for one thing first: bedmi puris. We do the same. A couple of minutes later, we are handed out donnays with piping hot, crisp puris, accompanied by aloo subzi (potato curry).  Bedmi puris are palm-sized fluffy breads made from whole wheat flour (atta). The dough has been infused with spicy lentils and asafoetida (known in Hindi as ‘heeng’). The aloo subzi has small pieces of potato in a spicy, watery gravy. I have had this subzi at various places in North India, but the variant found in Old Delhi has a unique taste and flavor.

Given the size of the puris, we nail several before drawing a deep breath and taking a break. We are sweating profusely, partly because of the heat, but also because of the spice in the food. Talk of being in sweaty heaven(exclamation).

A pair of puris with unlimited refills of aloo subzi comes for Rs. 24/-. If that isn’t cheap, what is?

Kanhaiyalal Durga Prasad Dixit

Next, we wend our way to Gali Parathewali (Hindi for ‘paratha lane’; making it amply clear as to what life here is all about), which lies a short distance away. On the way, we pass Shishganj Sahib, a famous gurudwara.

The history of Gali Parathewali goes back nearly two centuries to the mid-nineteenth century. Though the character and complexion of this street has changed considerably over the decades, a handful of the old eateries remain. They are each run by the sixth or seventh generation of Brahmin families from Uttar Pradesh (especially, the Allahabad belt), a fact they take great pride in. It is to one of these that we head this morning.

‘Kanhaiyalal Durga Prasad Dixit’ announced a large board at the entrance to the humble eatery. The fact that it was set up in 1875 is mentioned prominently. The insides of the eatery have been jazzed up a little with lights that are too bright. The cook is at work near the entrance, making – what else – parathas.  You can play safe by asking for the regular aloo, gobhi, methi and mooli parathas. Or, you could get adventurous by ordering one of the more intriguing variants: nimbu, gajar, mutter, papad, kela, karela, tamatar and mewa.

Our gastric juices start flowing again (never mind that we have just stuffed ourselves with puris). We seat ourselves and order three plates of parathas, which arrive a few minutes later. Each plate comprises two small parathas, accompanied by three curries and some pickled vegetables.  Everything on the plate is delicious. We polish the food off in no time, before ordering a few more plates. The parathas are crisp and stuffed well with the vegetables of your choice.

Each paratha sets you back by about Rs. 60 or 70, depending upon the variant you choose. But the price premium is worth it, considering the wonderful taste and the fact that you get repeats of the accompanying curries and pickle.

Pandit Gaya Prasad Madan Mohan

Deciding that our tummies needed a respite after that overload of puris and parathas, we walk a few paces from Kanhaiyalal to Panditji’s hole-in-the-wall that serves luscious rabdi and lassi (to be explained). The lassi (thick, sweetened, churned curd) comes in a tall, stout steel tumbler, while the rabdi (thickened, sweet milk topped with a thick layer of cream) is served in a small bowl made (oddly) of aluminium foil. While lassi is available in most parts of India these days, you must have it in North India, especially in Punjab or Old Delhi, to savour it in its full, authentic glory. It is refrigerated and served chilled. The drops of moisture on the outside of the steel tumbler could well we a reflection of your thirst.

Our thirst slaked and the fire in our tummy doused for the moment, we took a stroll through the Chandni Chowk market with its small, old shops and pavement hawkers. Cycle rickshaws and autos deftly wove through the congested thoroughfare like only they can.

About an hour later, we were ready for our next gastronomical foray. And that’s how we landed up at Kanwarji’s Restaurant.

Kanwarji’s Restaurant

You can’t go to Old Delhi and return without having had the chholey bhaturey. Kanwarji’s Restaurant is a narrow outlet, with sweets arranged in shelves right at the entrance. You can take one of the few seats laid out inside or opt to stand on the pavement and enjoy your food. We choose to do the former.

Chholey bhaturey are as much a part of Delhi’s culture as the Red Fort and India Gate. If you ask me to single out one dish you should have on your next trip to Delhi, I would recommend this dish without batting an eyelid. Every area of Delhi has several joints serving this staple, and each has its own taste and flavor.

As if to demonstrate this point, the bhaturey at Kanwarji’s are oval (you get them round everywhere else). The dough of the bhaturey is infused with a mild mixture of asafetida and something else that I could not quite place. The chholey is a dark brown slurry, with chickpeas (channa) floating in it. Onion rings and pickled long green chillies (which are staple accompaniments to dishes in Delhi) complete the ensemble.

I am recalling all these details for you in retrospect now. At that time though, we just waded into the food. The next time we looked up was fifteen minutes later, after we had picked our plates clean. After that, all we could do for the next few minutes was sit back and sigh in deep contentment.

A plate of chholey bhaturey here comes for Rs. 60/-.

 Pandit Mittanlalji Lemonwaley (aka Mittanlalji Bantawaley)

Banta, as it is known to locals in Delhi, is lemon soda to which a pinch of black salt has been added for that tangy twist. It is much sought-after as a great refresher in the torrid climes of Delhi. A reasonably tall glass of cold banta comes for Rs. 15/-. Since the shop (like all other shops in Chandni Chowk) is actually a crevice on the old wall, there is no shade to stand under. Gulping down the cold drink standing in the glare of the hot sun is an interesting experience.

Natraj Dahi Bhalla Corner

And now, for some famous dahi bhalla. Located at the mouth of a lane that leads to Chandi Chowk metro station, Natraj has been dishing out dahi bhallas since 1940. A bhalla is a fried, sour ball of gram flour. After it is cut into small pieces, onto which fresh, thick curd is poured. This is then topped up with generous doses of green chutney (made from crushed mint leaves) and khatti-meethi chutney (sweet-sour chutney made from tamarind) and served to you. I shovel a piece of the bhalla into my mouths and feel a soft explosion of flavours hit my palate. By now, it is well past noon and the sun is high up. Thanks to our prolonged culinary assault since morning, our stomachs are bulging and our knees buckling. We are tottering on the pavement. Much as we’d love to have a second helping of the bhalley, we are forced to keep that for another day.

For now, we just want to head home and crash. But before that, one last stop.

Old Famour Jalebiwala

Several decades ago, Dariba Kalan was famous throughout Delhi for its goldsmiths and jewellery shops. Though many of them remain in business, many others have shut shop. At the entrance to this narrow lane is a shop whose business has nothing to do with gold or jewels. Welcome to Old Famous Jalebi (heck, I am not using these words as adjectives, but as a proper noun. This is the name of the shop, you see?) When your outlet is old and famous, why complicate matters by naming it anything other than ‘Old Famous?’ The shop has been around since 1884.

Thick juicy, golden-coloured rings of fried batter lie in trays, waiting to be bitten into. A pot-bellied cook is taking out fried maida rings from the cauldron and dunking them into a large vessel containing sugar syrup (known as ‘chashni’ in Hindi). A crowd of about fifteen is jostling for space where there isn’t any. Here, you have to pay first and then take your goodies. Not being in any shape to eat them there, we ask them to pack a kilo of jalebis for us.

We will enjoy them in the comfort of home, sprawled on comfortable beds. And then promptly go on the blink.

The vitals

  • Old Delhi is a city within a city, a world in itself. In its warren of narrow streets are several food joints like the ones I have described above. One trip is not enough to do full justice this area. You could therefore make a beginning by visiting the above-mentioned eateries and then come back another day to continue your culinary sojourn. After my next visit to Delhi, I will upload Part 2 of the Old Delhi Food Trail.
  • By and large, most eateries here are open from 8 am to past dusk. You can therefore visit any time in between. The trail I have described here took us about four hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
  • Just keep the heat of the city in mind when you plan this trip. The temperature stays above 40 degrees Celsius for most of the year and the humidity is high.
  • The best way to go to Chandni Chowk is by the metro. Taking along a private vehicle would be a bad idea, because you won’t get a place to park. This area is congested with a capital C.
Travel and Places

Five reasons you should go to Fort Kochi right away

Fort Kochi, the most interesting part of Kochi city in central Kerala, deserves your attention. To me, it is one of the most interesting parts of Kerala, infinitely more interesting than Ernakulam, its cousin across the bay. Ernakulam is your regular Indian city, forever caught in an urban tizzy. It has lost much of its cultural identity and sanity over the past two decades.

Fort Kochi, on the other hand, is a different world; an oasis of cultural and historical riches that soothe the soul of the discerning traveler. Here, you will find a co-mingling of several histories, because a number of dynasties and communities have left their imprint on this tiny piece of land.

For many centuries, Kochi was ruled by several native Malayali chieftains and kings. It is a documented fact that Kochi state was formed in 1142 AD, when the kingdom of the erstwhile ruler Kulasekhara, broke up. Not much is however known about this kingdom until the late fifteenth century, when Vasco da Gama landed on the coast of Calicut.

Fort Kochi came into existence only after the arrival of the Portuguese in India. A few years after they made landfall on the Calicut coastin 1498, they ventured south and built a settlement on a land parcel gifted to them by the then king of Kochi. Their interests lay mainly in trade. They were keen to ship back pepper and other spices. Soon after they reached Kochi, they fortified it with permission from the Kochi Raja and named it Fort Emmanuel. When the modern city of Kochi was formed much, much later, Fort Emmanuel was renamed Fort Kochi. Except for a bastion and a cannon (which you’d be hard put to find), nothing remains of the fort today. But the town has emerged into a vibrant tourist destination.

I give you five specific reasons why you should go there right away.

One: the Portuguese heritage and the churches

The Portuguese were aggressive conquistadors. At the same time, they were prolific builders too. Wherever they went, they put up all manner of beautiful structures – including stately mansions, churches and forts. Fort Kochi is a superb example of the architectural legacy of the Portuguese.

I love two things the most. The first is the way in which they beautifully blended Portuguese and European sensibilities with the native Keralan architectural style. And so, you will find tall columns, arches and gables in houses that are roofed with local tiles. And since no house in Kerala is deemed complete without a backyard and a well, you will find a lush backyard and a deep well too.

Stroll along the streets of Fort Kochi and you will see what I mean. Several of these buildings have been converted into cafes, art galleries and guest houses, which is great. It means that tourism is being built on the strong foundation of a heritage conserved. Bishop’s House, Cabral Yard, Bastian Bungalow and several hotels around the Vasco da Gama Square are fine examples of Indo-Portuguese architecture.

The other thing I love about the Portuguese are their churches. Here, you will find solid masonry, tall spires and belfrys, exquisite stained glass, unshakeable wooden furniture and beautiful murals and frescoes.

Fort Kochi has the best collection of medieval churches in India, all within a few miles of one another. From the church where Vasco da Gama was first interred after his death (St. Francis Church, 1516 AD) to Santa Cruz Basilica (1505 AD), Our Lady of Life Church (1650 AD), Our Lady of Hope Church (Vypin, 1605 AD) are some of the best churches I have been to. It is a pleasure to sit in the pews in silence for a bit, then gaze up at the murals, take in the liturgical furniture and finally, stroll around in the church yard. I get goosebumps when I find tombstones dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Speaking of churches, Fort Kochi has one of the most intriguing museums I have ever seen. The Indo-Portuguese Museum is located inside the compound of Bishop House and contains a number of rare artefacts from the Portuguese era. With one important twist: these artefacts are all liturgical in nature; which means, they pertain to the history of the Catholic Church in India. From medieval versions of the Bible, chalices, crosses, altars and vestments, they are all on display here. If you love love the intersection of history and religion, you will love this museum for sure.

Two: the beaches

Fort Kochi is located bang by the sea. It is home to a few lovely beaches where the sand is golden brown and very clean. Apart from what is known as the Fort Kochi beach, there is a beach in Vypin and another in Cherai. Fort Kochi beach does get crowded in the evening, but you can still have a lot of fun. The crowd is never troublesome. Cherai and Vypin beaches are lesser known and therefore, much less crowded. You have to be very careful though, because the waters are very rough. We have built sand castles, jogged on the wet sand and played Frisbee here.

Being on the West coast, these beaches give you great views of sunset. Finish frolicking in the water by 5:30 pm or so, and then settle down on the sands. Watch the sun slowly sink into the horizon.  The orange and pink glow it casts on the waters is magical indeed! Words have no place at moments like these. I love basking in this fading glow. At times like this, I truly feel one with the universe.

Three: the food and the restaurants

Where there is the sea, there is bound to be excellent seafood. And so it is with Fort Kochi. Eateries here offer you a wide variety of fish, in addition to prawns, squids and crabs. And you can have them fried or curried, cooked in one of several ways in the traditional Kerala style.Pair these dishes with the flaky, crisp Kerala porotta or dosaiand you will reach heaven in this life itself.

Or, you could order a naadan (‘country/local/traditional’ in Malayalam) meal, which is served on a plantain leaf, and ask for a non-vegetarian dish on the side. The meal, known as ‘oonu’ in Malayalam, typically consists of two or three vegetable preparations (such as avial, thoran, kaalan, etc.), sambar, rasam, spiced buttermilk, papad, banana chips and pickle, all this to be eaten with nutrient-rich parboiled rice. Some restaurants add a few other items to this ensemble.

My preferred place for lunch or dinner is a sea-fronting restaurant with excellent views of the harbor and the bay. To eat and drink while watching boats and mammoth ships pass by is an interesting experience, to say the least. Seagull Restaurant on Calvathy Road is my all-time favourite for a beer and meal.

For breakfast, stick to delicious local food options like puttu, appam and dosai, served with kadala curry, meen curry or vegetable stew. My kind of breakfast is eaten steaming hot at a street cart, with the aroma of the food mingling with the chatter of locals who are digging in before plunging into their workday.I love to end the meal with a cup of strong Kerala style tea.

Though some eateries serve Continental food and noodles too, I give these a wide berth, because they don’t make it well. It just seems to be a pretence to serve foreign tourists.

Four: the atmospheric hotels

Nowhere else (at least in India) have I seen so many lovely, centuries-old buildings that have been converted into hotels, B&Bs and guest houses. And each one of these buildings has many tales to tell. Koder House, for instance, belonged to a Jewish family in the 19th century, before it was sold by the last descendent. It is now the lovely hotel with a red façade on Vasco da Gama Square. Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel was the site of the old lighthouse of Kochi and the residence of a senior official of the British empire. The Old HarbourHotel belonged to the Dutch way back in the eighteenth century. I could go on like this.

These hotels are high on history and atmosphere, something you’d not find in a regular hotel.

Five: the native art forms of Kerala

Take in a cultural performance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre, located in a tiny winding lane near the Santa Cruz Basilica. A few months back, I spent an enchanting evening watching a Kalaripayittu performance, an ancient martial art form of Kerala. The Centre hosts vocal and instrumental concerts and Kathakali recitals also.

Another venue for such performances is Greenix, which has two auditoria. One of them is located near the bus stand and across from the boarding point for the ferries to Vypin (don’t ask me why, but these ferries are called ‘Jhankar’). Greenix’s second centre is located onCalvathy Road, near a landmark building called Pepper House.

 

When you are there….

  1. Hop onto the large motorized barge, locally known as ‘Jhankar’ and take a five minute ride to the island of Vypin. Once there, take an auto or a bus to the lighthouse and beach.
  2. From Vypin bus stand (which is close to where the Jhankar will drop you), you can take a bus to Cherai junction and from there, hop into an auto to go to Cherai beach. If you don’t like buses much, you could take an auto from Vypin bus stand itself. The ride to Cherai will take between half an hour and 45 minutes. Cherai beach is unspoilt, clean and not crowded on most days.
  3. From Vypin, you could take an auto or bus to Vallarpadam island and visit the beautiful medieval church there.
  4. If you are interested in railway history and trivia, you should visit Cochin Harbour Terminus on Willingdon Island. Until about 1997, long distance express and freight trains used to ply from here. But dwindling business on this route sealed the fate of the terminus. Today, this small abandoned railway station holds a thousand memories and stories. An old weighing machine, fare lists, train schedules, railway tracks, a ticket window…..all these stand mute witnesses to the passage of an era.
  5. I’d also recommend a visit to the Cochin Marine Museum (Willingdon Island), Jew Town and the spice market (both in Mattancherry).
  6. And of course, of course, you must visit the Chinese fishing nets. If you go about 5:30 or 6 am, you can watch the fishermen operate it and cast their nets. It is believed that Chinese traders erected these cantilevered nets a few centuries ago. Little would they have guessed that these nets would one day become the most iconic symbol of Fort Kochi.

 

The vitals

Getting there: Fly to Kochi International Airport and take a taxi to Fort Kochi from there. Or, take a train to Ernakulam from wherever you live. From Ernakulam, take an auto or a bus for an overland ride to Fort Kochi. A more interesting way, however, is to take an auto to the Ernakulam boat jetty and hop onto a public ferry from there.

Shacking up: Like I mentioned earlier, Fort Kochi doesn’t want for accommodation options. From backpacking hostels to luxury hotels, you will find everything here. I think the most interesting way of experiencing the place is to plump for a seaside luxury hotel (high priced, obviously) or a homestay (mid-priced). The Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel is one of the best luxury hotels I have stayed at. A sea-facing restaurant, an al-fresco lounge, a swimming pool and lovely old-fashioned rooms make this a charming place. The food and service are very good too (in particular, the enormous breakfast that is part of the room tariff).

From many forays to Fort Kochi though, I know that the following are also excellent options:

Koder House(luxury; not seaside, but near the sea and the Chinese fishing nets)

The Cochin Club (mid-priced, but very comfortable and almost luxurious)

Tower House Hotel (luxury; not seaside but near the sea and the Chinese fishing nets)

Brunton Boatyard Hotel (luxury, seaside)

Vintage Inn (at Jnaliparambu Junction; low-priced, but clean and comfortable)

Happy Camper (at Jnaliparambu Junction; a backpacker’s hostel)

Grub

Here is some more dope, beyond what I have told you above. A couple of my favourite eateries here are:

Seagull: seaside restaurant and bar, best known for its Kerala style food. Try to go at around 5:30 pm and catch a table on the re-purposed boat pier. Sit back for the next few hours and watch myriad interesting sights as you guzzle cold beer and enjoy your food. It is not everyday that you get to have a beer watching a glorious sunset or a mother of a ship pass close by.

Shanu’s food cart: This is where you should go, for a cheap, authentic, delicious local-style breakfast. The cart is permanently stationed adjacent to the Tower House Hotel on Vasco da Gama Square. You will invariably find a crowd here from say 6 am every morning. Gorge on puttu, appam, kadala curry and meencurry. Once you reach the Square, ask a local to direct you to Shanu’s thattukada (‘thattukada’ is Malayalam for food cart).

Getting around

This settlement is small enough (and of course beautiful enough) to cover on foot. This is how I move around whenever I am there. Other good option is to hire a cycle or scooter by the day. Auto rickshaws (known as tuktuks in certain countries) are available too.

Since Kerala is a conservative state, please cover up adequately.Since the weather is extremely hot and humid for six months a year, light, summery clothes would be your best bet.

With the influx of foreign tourists, some local eateries/bars.auto drivers have started acting snooty towards Indian tourists. Which is sad. I have encountered such specimens a few times. So, if you are an Indian visiting this place, be warned. Remember to not take it personally. If you find someone behaving unreasonably, just give him a piece of your mind (politely, but firmly) and move on to another auto, eatery, hotel. There are plenty of options.

When to go

The heat here is torrid from March to June. If you go during these months, you can roam around in the morning and evening, and retreat to your room in the afternoon.

The best time is from mid-June to mid-August (when the place is drenched by the monsoon rains) and from November to February (when the weather is somewhat pleasant).

Travel and Places

A View from the Machan – book review

This review was written in April 2011.

In his latest book “A View from the Machan”, field biologist and conservationist Ullas Karanth makes a strong case for greater use of science in the effort to save the tiger. The book takes a holistic look at the life of the tiger and calls for greater urgency in conservation efforts. A valuable addition to the debate on wildlife conservation. And to my bookshelf.

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Being borderline passionate about nature, wildlife and ecology, I keep looking for books that enrich my knowledge on these subjects. During a recent visit to Mangalore, I spotted a slim book in a tiny bookstore called Athree (near Jyothi Circle, if you must know). The fact that it was written by Ullas Karanth made me browse through it. The decision to buy the book was taken in less than two minutes. The extremely well designed cover and the superbly evocative illustrations inside definitely helped.

I started reading the deceptively slim  book the same evening, with my favourite poison by my elbow.

Ullas has dedicated the book to two biologists who “taught me to think clearly about wildlife”. The book is divided into 13 chapters. In the first few, Ullas describes his abiding passion for animals and the forests (right from early childhood) and his transition into a trained conservationist and field biologist. The fact that his father (the noted writer Shivarama Karanth) did not believe in formal schooling and so, did not send him to school until the age of 11, gave young Ullas unbridled freedom to roam the forests. He did join school eventually and then went to train in Engineering. A career in Engineering and later, in farming only served to heighten the restlessness within him – to get back to nature and wildlife. And so, well into his thrities, he enrolled for a Wildlife Management Training Program being run by a noted conservationist in the USA.

Returning to India after the program, Ullas throws himself into efforts to conserve the tiger at Nagarahole in Karnataka. And meets Chinnappa – a ‘lone warrior’ against poaching and human invasion of the forests. The two strike a warm and enduring friendship immediately, and go on to make several field trips together. The feeling of ‘give and take’ between the old school and the new, is palpable as Ullas describes how he learns a whole load of field wisdom from Chinnappa and in return, inducts him (Chinnappa) into birdwatching. Ullas has devoted an entire chapter to Chinnappa and his work.

Through the life of Chinnappa, Ullas throws light on the trials and triumphs of several such ‘lone rangers’, who have formed the backbone of India’s wildlife conservation efforts over the decades. These are unsung heroes, who combine compassion for animals and forests, an honest approach to life and copious amounts of native intelligence. To me, this was one of the most heart-warming chapters of the book, especially since I have met a few such in Namdapha and Mudumalai.

While the first few chapters of the book are definitely informative and interesting, the best ones come later. Ullas steps back from his own work and takes a look at the larger issues like predator-prey dynamics, wildlife population estimation, the need to manage wildlife populations and finally, the vexatious question of ‘humans versus animals”. Every conservationist worth his pair of binoculars has commented on these questions over the years. There have been endless debates on the right way to conserve our wildlife and forests. Often though, these debates have been notable for sentiment and stridency. Scientific tenor has been mostly missing from the arguments. Often too, politicians, armchair conservationists and the media jump on to the bandwagon, confusing the issue further.

In his no-nonsense, logical yet gentle way, Ullas marshalls his arguments clearly and succintly. Further, he does not hesitate to take a definite stand.  For instance, in the chapters titled “Sacred Groves for the New Century” and “Nagarahole:Shop or Shrine”, he says that enough damage has already been done to wildlife by mankind, and so, the need of the hour is to implement 100% protection of forests and animals. He advocates zero tolerence to poaching, logging and other attacks on nature. He is against “letting nature manage itself”, as demanded by some conservationists. Since mankind has already wrought extensive damage on the earth’s natural wealth, the only way we can bring back the balance is to proactively take efforts to manage forests and wildlife scientifically.

His point is that forests have to be considered as sacred groves and left alone – just as ancient tribes consider the core of their forest to be the ‘sacred grove’, where their guarding deities dwell and where nobody is allowed. The practice of incentivising locals to use the forests for their economic needs, in the hope that this will make them care for the forest better, is untenable. I can’t agree more with this point!

Elsewhere, he talks in detail about estimating the population of animals, taking the tiger as an example. He explains the inherent flaws in the waterhole census and pugmark census methods of estimating tiger population. According to him, a growing body of wildlife biologists is now using that good old statistical tool – sampling – in order to estimate the total population. Which is indeed true! (What surprises me is that it took so many years for this simple tool to be recognised and used in estimating animal population! As a statistical technique, sampling is several decades old, and has been used in several forms of research.)

Ullas ends the book on a realistic, yet hopeful note. He concludes that it is indeed possible to save our tigers, but only if we act now.

What I like best about this book is that it demands a lot from the reader. It is definitely not for the pop wildlife enthusiast. Skimming the chapters would mean missing the point entirely. Each chapter is loaded with relevant, interesting information, all of which feeds Ullas’ central arguments very well.

I finished the book in two sittings – one before and one after I refilled my glass. After a long time, I felt happy to have read a gripping account of animal life and wildlife protection. Having finished reading the book, I found myself musing about lone warriors, the battlefields which our forests have become, the intersection of human intelligence and greed and our moral duty to protect animals.

It was a long time before I went to bed.

 

 


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