Thursday, Mar 21, 2013

Crossword & Varietea

Posted by sabbykaur comments

My havens in Vadodara  I discovered the Crossword bookstore on my first visit to Vadodara while walking in Alkapuri and instantly fell in love with it. Not only did it hold a 2-story collection of a vast range of books, it also has my beverage of choice served up by a Café Coffee Day outlet. As far as I am concerned, the combination of a bookstore and a coffee shop – two of my favorite things in life – is a surefire winner! I have spent hours there – perusing the books,  especially the Indian fiction shelves; flipping through the first Forbes magazine published in India while sipping a cup of cappuccino, asking questions and locating books with the help of the knowledgeable staff, trying to make up my mind about which  movie DVD or audio CD to buy (I’ve bought my SD Burman and Parveen Sultana collections here), buying ethnic table mats, coasters, pencils for my paintings, tickets for a Mallika Sarabhai concert – each visit is a delight and a promise to come back and spend more time (and money!) here.   I discovered Varietea when I went to buy tickets for ‘The Vagina Monologues’. I was captivated by its quaintness – a bright orange wall offset by a wooden railing that runs through the room, with words and numbers from tea packaging containers and pale green cushions softening the seats – and decided to treat myself to a cup of tea. Each table has a water bottle on it along with a small brass bell to call the server once you’ve decided on what you want to order. We were overwhelmed by the number of choices so we just decided to pick one from the list printed on the card on the table. The masala tea came in a small teapot for two perched on a small teacup – it was wonderfully tez with a zing to it – and the accompanying food was crisp and filling. A few days later, I went back again for a shot at the adrak tea – strong, thick, soothingly gingery, very good – and I sipped slowly, relaxing, enjoying it while reading a 2011 Vogue.

Snippets @ Living in India 18FEB13

Friday, Mar 8, 2013

A Surprise: ‘The Vagina Monologues’ in Vadodra

Posted by sabbykaur comments

I have wanted to see the ‘The Vagina Monologues’ for a long time but I never expected to watch it in Vadodra. When I saw the advertisement in the local newspaper, I was mystified – I wasn’t sure how the v word wasn’t garnering much noise from the moral police in the state, who have been instrumental in closing down a recent art show in the city. So, I quickly ran to get the tickets and was glad to see a steady stream of people buying tickets at the local tea shop Varitea (more of that later). The day of the show came and we waited for over half an hour after the printed starting time before they let us in (technical difficulties were the culprit). The mosquitoes hovered over everyone’s heads (even the performers’) and the air-conditioning could not hide the musty smell of the venue. A majority of the crowd in the packed auditorium were, understandably women.

This was the very first performance of the play in the state of Gujarat and the director made a point of telling the audience that it had taken 3 years to organize this show. What an amazingly fabulous show – funny, poignant, heart-wrenching and completely women-oriented. The performers had localized the material with Gujarati, Parsi and Marathi monologues which brought the house down. The theme running through the material was about women finding themselves – and their vaginas – and acknowledging and reveling in the discovery. There were special segments on abuse – genital mutilation, sexual abuse; state-organized rapes during conflicts/wars and of course, an acknowledgement of the young girl who lost her life in Delhi. Each monologue was met with loud applause and the performance ended with a standing ovation.

This is a must-watch for everyone – if you can, go with your female pals – after all, these are our bodies we are talking about and believe me, you will laugh, cry and wince at times but will come out feeling good about being a woman.

Snippets @ Living in India

Saturday, Oct 20, 2012

A friend’s visit for a day in Vadodara

Manjeet Khurana

When an old friend calls after a long time, we are engulfed by a rush of mixed emotions. Remembering the time spent together and wanting to share the events that happened after that, jostle with each other for preference. Nostalgia and current events mixed with a sprinkling of anticipation, making a heady cocktail.

Planning to meet up, was the good news. The bad news, we only had a day. Anyway, we decided to do the best of what we had. The time passed faster after that call and the day was upon us. I reached the platform and bought some tea and hot Dal-Vadas, a Vadodara railway station delicacy, as the train arrived.

My friend had told me that he would take a cab and check-in into a hotel. I had other plans though. In a ‘biglilcity’ like Vadodara, it is easy to reach the station and receive a guest. He jumped with joy, as he saw me waving. I could see, he was happily surprised.

As soon as he saw hot Dal-Vadas and tea, with even more hot green chillies, he dropped the bags. I decided to tease him by delaying the munch. Kept the snacks on the side and opened my arms for a hug and then didn’t let go. His initial irritation of a delayed bite melted with the prolonged hug.

For some time, we both were speechless. Probably, we had too much to share and didn’t know where to begin, or was it the eating. One thing about a good friendship is, that you have the same intensity, whatever the amount of time that has elapsed, since you last met.

As we moved out, we had a glimpse of the new Rail museum built on one side of the railway station. We both appreciated the fact that Vadodara has preserved its past, as it moves towards the future (how true of just about everything here). We thought to enjoy more places in the city, as we catch up on our old times.

As I steered my car out of the station, I had two choices – could have turned right to a hotel, as my friend had suggested or left, towards my house. I knew, what I was going to do. In this biglilcity, it is not a hassle to take your guests home. Moreover, he was a dear friend.

On the way, I stopped at Dairy Den outlet. At the counter, I looked at him. He smiled and it was understood – two dark chocolate ice creams. We came out from our ‘choco-heaven’ and the second largest dome in India was staring at us. The MS University stood tall, literally and figuratively, as I turned towards home.

After he got fresh and a cuppa coffee, we were back on the road. Again, we had two alternatives – we could visit the new malls, multiplexes and shopping centres or the old palaces, museums and art galleries. My friend said, “Malls and multiplexes are the same everywhere, lets go to places which are unique here.”

So, the first stop was the art gallery near the Laxmi Vilas Palace. After viewing some beautiful frames including a few by renowned Raja Ravi Varma, we walked towards the Palace. The lawn was watered by automatic sprinklers, on the undulating layers of the magnificent golf course. Mammoth was written large over the architecture of the palace from the outside and the intricate detail of everything inside was just majestic.

A stone’s throw away from the palace was Aurobindo Ashram, where we spent some meditative moments (food-for-soul). Nearby to it, was some actual food, Mahakali Sev Usal (a Vadodara bread-hot curry snack). After the little refill, some walking was in order. Hence, the next halt was Kamatibaug with beautiful greenery in the midst of the city and a museum to boot. After a small dose of history, it was time to take a leap to the present (time as well as gift).

We bought a couple of books and CD’s at Crossword and a few gifts from shopping centres in Alkapuri. With so many food opportunities in the vicinity, we started selecting and short listing. Again, we had to decide out of two preferences for our late lunch – a world cuisine at Azure (Surya Palace Hotel) or a traditional affair at Rajdhani (Centre Square Mall). My friend opted for the local flavour and relished it completely. It was followed by an early evening long drive towards Sindhrot. We passed the go-kart tracks on our left and stopped over near the serene Mahi river to see the beautiful sunset and chat, in general.

While coming back, I turned left from Kala Ghoda Circle. Took my friend to the all-religion-encompassing EME temple. As expected, he felt it was one-of-a-kind. Home bound, we passed and marvelled at the old architectural spectacles and important places like Mandvi Gate, Nyay Mandir, a big Shiva Murti in Sursagar Lake, Music College, Khanderao Market, Nanakwadi Gurudwara and Hazira Maqbara en route to my home in Manjalpur. It was a pity, that we could not stop at any of these places (less time). We had also missed Ajwa-Nimeta gardens, Champaner heritage site and other places (well, next visit).

Reached home and got fresh, as mom asked about food. We indicated our plan of eating out. As we got ready, she handed a pack of Bhakharwadi and Dhuliram Penda (Vadodara specials) to my friend. We went to grill-haven Barbeque Nation for dinner before turning for the airport. My friend was amazed to see the architecture of Vadodara airport, which he found very distinctive from other Indian and international airports.

At the airport, waiting for his flight, my friend said, “It was a wonderful trip. Not only did I meet you after a long time, I got introduced to this awesome place.” Yeah, I said, “It was a pleasure hosting you here. I always had two kind of options; traditional-modern, big-small etc. Somehow, Vadodara has a beautiful way to amalgamate them all – heritage monuments, contemporary malls, great opportunities and small distances. It is truly a biglilcity.”


Sunday, Aug 26, 2012

unique experience changing my sunday mornings…

Posted by reena72 comments


Thursday, Jul 19, 2012

Being a citizen of Vadodara….

Riddhi joshi

This 2nd July, 2012, along with turning 22, I’ve achieved one more thing..citizenship of Vadodara. Exactly 5 years ago I came to this city…so naive, unknown yet confident to set up my career here. Joined No. 1 GUJ AIR SQN NCC, nothing was more exciting than this. There were Sunday mornings spent doing excessive rigorous warm-ups and parade, returning to my local guardian’s place through knee-dipping logged water…what a monsoon of 2007.

I still remember that birthday of 2007, when i had none of my friends and family member with me in this lil-big city..Vadodara, which I somehow love to call as BARODA.. now after 5 yrs I have house full of friends and family on my birthday and of-course loads and loads of pouring love…

These five years have taught me a lot, right from M.S.U student’s elections to midnight hostel maggi party.. each incident have been long lasting memory…so when I rewind it today…its all part of Divine’s Big Game…

Yes, the most important thing this city taught me was to fall in Love… I found my soul-mate here, and somehow it feels that this whole city has become a part of my soul after that. Those lovely long rides and hot bhajiya in typical barodian monsoon is no less romantic than a candle light dinner at some posh restaurant. Those summer evening walks at Kamatibaug and softy of Sugam ice cream parlour, eating sev-usal in chilly winters, all these feelings come in small packages with larger happiness.

During my hostel days I explored this city by leisure evening walks with my best buddies… and every day, every walk added an impression that made me head over heels in love with the culture of this city.. buying books from street vendors, never missing any exhibition at fine arts faculty and discussing anything & everything over a cup of tea at dairy den circle… learning art, culture, politics & much more just by living and loving the city.

The most prominent impression of Vadodara, the banyan city, in my heart is my daily route from girl’s hostel to my alma matter M.S.U, every season casted its unique spell on us, as pedestrians we did have time to stand and stare the old banyan tree near cricket ground, the artistic touch in architecture department, enthusiastic upcoming cricketer at ground and the student union election’s propagation material for half of the year.

This city has taught me to spread my wings, all my childhood dreams from being an amateur astronomer to an NCC Cadet, art curator to journalist, dancer to event organiser… every role I dreamed to play has been given a proper script and stage to play at various stages of life in short span of 5 yrs…all thanks to active atmosphere and overwhelming opportunities in this Big lil city…

How can i forget those amazing Concerts organized by students of the M S University…every year month of September & February were eagerly awaited for the tech- non tech events and most importantly for concerts… Kailash kher, Agni, Mohit Chauhan, Bombay rockers, Indian Ocean, Euphoria…and it goes on.. the city that has appreciated the art, music and literature since early days, gives me a feeling of proud for maintaining the heritage as well.

I still remember the happiness of earning my very first salary in this city and the sadness when one by one my other hostel friends left the city. But I am so madly deeply in love with this city that I couldn’t leave it at any cost so..I got my family shifted here !!




Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012

Why I love Vadodara

Posted by saktibagchi comments

“Maja Ma?“ He asked when he met me in the lift.  This means ‘Happy?’. I smiled at him to convey the answer in affirmative. This is the way how people greet here in Vadodara (or Gujarat). I never realized anything special about this, till my father pointed this out. Anywhere in this world you go, people ask questions like How are you? or What is the news? etc. This is the only place in the world where people know that you are happy and they ask just to confirm. Which proves that people here are content and happy always, and expect other to be the same. Some people ask “Shanti?” showing their palm towards us. Which means, they know we are in a peaceful state, just want confirmation. This was my first introduction to Vadodara culture. This is the first and foremost reason why I love this city.

I have very little knowledge about this great city but I love this city. I have lived in many cities of this country and visited couple of cities abroad as well. But could never like any other city as much as I loved Vadodara.

When I first came to Vadodara, I had hardly any expectation from this city. I was ignorant about the fact that there is one airport here. That is because I was searching as Baroda and was not able to find it. This is not the only city in this country which has gone through name changing process but I see nobody minds here if I call it as Baroda. People are fine with any name you choose to call this city. This is one more reason to love this city.

I reached here on 16th June, 2007 evening. I had my room booked at Express Hotel on R.C. Dutt Rod. The next day, I went on a city tour by walk. Walked till railway station in one side and race course in another side. I hardly found any traffic on road during my walkathon. I was still in the ‘Bangalore mode’, so seeing the thin traffic, I felt as if I am walking in a park while walking on the road. This is another reason I love this city.

Then I started searching for a rented accommodation so that I can bring my family. After few day’s search, I found a place/society where I chose to live. A place where I got the same feeling as I used to get when I was a kid. Although there was a big playground in the society but kids were playing everywhere, considering entire society as their own. One example is, some kids were hiding in somebody’s house while playing hide and seek, where neither the kids know the owner of the house nor the owner knows the kids. I could never imagine existence of this kind of environment in the cities at current times. This was one of the reasons I love this city.

When I brought my family here it was in the month of October. Navratri was going on. I went to see Garbha at ‘United Garbha Ground’. That was the first time I got the opportunity to witness Garbha. I was amazed to see groups of people consisting grand-parents  of 80+ year old till grand children of 7- year old are in a group and dancing with the beautiful song that is played. What an amazing scene? Entire family dancing together. I also learnt that members of the family who stay abroad, come to the city during this festive season in order to celebrate together. I fell in love with this city again.

Then after watching Garbha at around 12:00 midnight we went to have dinner. There were shops open everywhere because of Navratri. After dinner we were coming back home. On the way I saw young girls wearing jewelries are walking on a deserted road.They were relaxed and busy talking to themselves.  Which is a scary scene in any other city. This was not an isolated scene. I saw this several times and never heard of any untoward incidence. I fell in love with disbelief.

After a good night sleep when I woke up in the morning, I found several birds of different variety which I had never seen in my life on my verandah. They all were singing songs in various languages which I am not introduced to. I had not seen so many birds at our home in the cities where I lived before coming to Vadodara. This added another reason to my list why I love this city.

Then after few days, In order to get LPG connection I was needed to have a ration card. I enquired about it and found the place where I can get it. I went there and expected a chaotic, corrupt and inhuman office. But unlike my expectation, I saw a very professional, organized and modern office where I had to spent couple of hours to get the entire process done without any hassles.  Don’t you think this is another reason to be added to the list ‘Why I love this city?’.

While on the road in my bike one day I had hit another bike. None were hurt but there were hundred reasons for the other person to shout at me. He looked at me and made a polite gesture “What is this?”  and carried on. I was surprised and I carefully observed many other accidents. 80% of times the scene after accident is like this. I could not stop loving this city.

Then one morning went to buy some stuffs. I had a Rs 100 note and the bill was Rs 80. Shopkeeper did not have Rs 20 change. He said “Rs 20 Jama”. I could not understand. Then after lots of thought and his explanation I understood that he will keep the Rs 20 with him and will adjust in my next purchase. Such a strange thing for me. I had heard of ‘Baki’ but never heard of ‘Jama’ in my life till then. This is a way to ensure people will come back to that shop at least once to recover that Rs 20. What a beautiful way of business and this shows how people trust each other. Shopkeeper knows that I do not know him, but he still expected me to believe that he will return me Rs 20 next time. I loved this city.

My city is the one which gives me my space as well as considers me part of it. I am a Bengali. No doubt I have my Bengali circle, association and I celebrate Bengali festivals with my Bengali friends. Despite that, I never felt I am an outsider or nobody made me feel that I am an outsider. This city allows me to enjoy my space. When a culture is great by itself, there is no need to advertise and drag people towards it. Outsiders will come in to it without any efforts. The same happened to me as well. I can not stop participating in Navratri, Uttarayan and many other colorful festivals that are celebrated here. Then you tell me why should I not love this city.

The night before Uttarayan, I went with my wife and two kids to Old padra road to buy some kites.Then after Diwalipura Circle I had no way to ride my bike as there were hundreds of people walking on the road, buying stuffs and eat on the roadside stalls. I parked my bike and we all started walking on the street. After sometime, my daughter was tired so I made her sit on my shoulder and continues walk. I was walking, finding my way among hundreds of people. I felt the same as I had experienced when I was a kid, and my father took me on his shoulder to a famous fair called ‘Vyasa Sarovar Mela’ when we were living in Jajpur. This is nothing new, anybody would have experienced this in their childhood. What is special about this is, the street which is one of the major streets of Vadodara during the day, suddenly converted to a mela site in the evening. I need not take my kids to some far away place to show what a mela looks like. I loved that street and the city more than ever.

In the year 2004, my friend gifted me one electric FM Radio plus alarm clock when I was in another city. That did not have any provision to use batteries. I loved that so much but I could never use it because of frequent power cuts, every power cut used to reset the time in my alarm clock to 00:00. So every time after power cut I had to manually set correct time. Then finally I stopped using it. After coming to Vadodara I found my electrical instruments can be used when I need, not at electric departments mercy. Even if there is a power cut, I have a toll-free number which I can call to get it fixed in couple of minutes. The most surprising and impressive part is, the person who answers your call is more professional and customer focused than many private call centers. I can not stop loving this city.

I used to go to office at 9:00 AM and come back home at 11:00 PM earlier. Not because I was working for 12 hours at office. I was spending several hours cutting through the city traffic. After coming to Vadodara I spend a lot more time at home than I used to earlier. I could see my kids grow everyday and play with them every evening after coming back from office. The most interesting part is I could come home for lunch. This is not because I stay close to office, but because the traffic is thin in this city and city’s radius is smaller than any other cities Major cities. I can plan for a movie or shopping and reach destination in 15 minutes time. In any other cities I have to plan from morning or previous day for a movie. So, I get lots of family time here. It’s not only me, if you notice this entire city values family a lot. You can see many families going out for dinner or movie during weekdays after work. After living here I realized that I earn so that I can enjoy with my family. Isn’t it a beautiful reason to love this city?

When I came here first I thought life is all about process and procedures. You can get best out of everything by following defines processes. But after living here for 4 years I realized works are done better by personal relationships. Some may disagree with me but experience it once you will understand what I mean. Here EQ  plays a greater role than IQ. Here human values and emotions play a greater role that rules.I gradually understood this and I am loving it now.

I love museums, cultural heritages, traditional music and anything that are deep rooted. This city gives me opportunity to enjoy these. Shouldn’t this be a reason to love this city?

People from other cities may think it is a small city but the fact is, this city has everything that you need. Every facility that you can find in any other major city is available here and on top of that you get many things here which you can not find in any other city.

I proudly say I belong to this city and this city is mine. Somebody said “You give me a piece of gold, I will spend it. You give me fistful sand and tell me it is mine, I will transform it to gold”.  My love for this city is not due to technical reasons which I will evaluate time to time, it is because of these small emotional reasons, which I will cherish for ever.

Love you Vadodara!!!

Wednesday, Jul 4, 2012

Vadodara & I


I have walked the same streets as soldiers, industrialists, philanthropists, scientists, academicians, cricket stars, businessmen, and not a few celebrities.

I have taken small sips of steaming-hot tea in the footsteps of artistic giants, at the Fine Arts Faculty.

I have struggled with French in the shadow of India’s second largest unsupported dome at the Faculty of Arts (An ASI monument).

I have forever found friends on the ever-buzzing Fatehgunj roadside.

I have constantly wondered what lay behind the white-washed walls of the Fire temple on the opposite side.

I have driven with my windows down on National Expressway No. 1, from Baroda to Ahmedabad.

I have ridden with my collars up to Pavagadh & Champaner.

I have danced till the wee hours of the morning at world-famous garba venues.

I have partied without alcohol at terrace parties, surrounded only by friends, juices, and Bryan Adams.

I have genuflected at the feet of Dakshinamoorthy, under a temple dome made entirely of discarded aluminum airplane fuselages.

I remember the air fragrant with combined smell of flowers, incense and fire at the SiddhiVinayak temple.

And the cool-hot taste of the heavenly Pune Misal at Canara Coffee house, right after.

I remember Sur Sagar in the twilight. I remember Sayaji Baug in the dawn.

I remember when Sayaji Baug was still Kamati Baug.

I have enjoyed elephant-back rides at Kamati baug on the backs of the sisterhood of 3 – Gulabkali, Anarkali and Champakali.

I still regret not being able to ride the park’s famed toy train, because I had outgrown it by about 5 inches.

In a time when children didn’t wear watches, I have tried telling the time on the same park’s giant flower clock. While sitting on tea-cup shaped seats.

I have spent many a childhood afternoon staring in awe at my first whale skeleton, while inhaling the musty splendour of the Vadodara museum.

I have marvelled at the giant rhinoceros statue made of scrap iron from Sayaji Iron. And marvelled at a friend calling it a hippopotamus.

I have conquered my fear of men’s cycles (with the rod in the centre) on my mom’s office grounds at Sarabhai Chemicals.

I remember pushing-up and pulling-up, flexing and stretching, sweating and swearing in the Alembic Chemicals gymnasium.

I remember movies with my dad at the city’s only English movie theatre, Rupam, watching James Bond save the world and get the girl, time and again.

I remember sneak peeks at the grandeur of the awe-inspiring Laxmi Vilas Palace through iron fences.

I remember cycling hard to get to the top of the Shastri Bridge on the way to school and back. The cruise down was always too short.

I have forged life-long friendships in Maharaha Sayajirao University boys’ hostels. I have created life-long enemies in the girls’.

I have perfected my wooing-the-ladies routine with all credit to the venerated Sindhrot Bridge, the ever-dependable JK Florist, Kalyan’s cheap n tasty food, and the silver of Sejal’s handicrafts.

I have lived on the banks of the Vishwamitri, and grown, frolicking in its frequent floods.

I have ripened in its hot summer breezes, and blossomed in its gulaabi winters.

I have swung from the roots of Banyan trees, in the only city named after them.

Vadodara. I have lived in it.

Vadodara. It will always live in me.

Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012

Real Jungles in City!

Posted by Pankit comments

દૈનિક જીવનમાંથી થોડી ફૂરસદ મળે એટલે પ્રવાસનો વિચાર આપણને પહેલો આવે. ખાસ કરીને તહેવારોની રજાઓ કે વેકેશનના દિવસોમાં ઘરમાં બેસી રહેવું કોને ગમે ? થોડાક દિવસો માટે એમ થાય કે ક્યાંક ફરી આવીએ… પરંતુ આજના સમયમાં પ્રવાસ એટલો સરળ નથી કે બેગો ભરીને સ્ટેશને પહોંચી ગયા ! હવે તો પ્રવાસનું બરાબર આયોજન કરવું પડે છે. મહિનાઓ પહેલાં ટૂર ઑપરેટરને મળીને જુદા-જુદા પેકેજોની માહિતી મેળવવી પડે. ટ્રેન-પ્લેન અને હોટલોના બુકિંગ કરાવવા પડે. આ બધા માટે સારી એવી કિંમત ચૂકવવી પડે અને તે પછી પ્રવાસ દરમિયાન અન્ય ખર્ચ તો વધારામાં… ! ઘણાં મોંઘા પેકેજો માટે તો લૉન લેવી પડે ! સરવાળે, થોડા સમયના આનંદ બાદ ફરીથી એની એ જ પરિસ્થિતિ આવીને ઊભી રહે.

ઘણીવાર પ્રવાસના નામે આપણે ફક્ત દોડધામ કરીને પાછા આવીએ છીએ. ત્યાં કઈ સુવિધા હતી અને કઈ સુવિધા નહોતી, ક્યા ટૂર ઑપરેટરે બે વસ્તુ વધારે બતાવી અને કઈ જગ્યા જોવાની રહી ગઈ ? – એ બધામાં આપણે પ્રકૃતિનું સાંનિધ્ય માણવાનું ચૂકી જઈએ છીએ. મોટાભાગનો સમય ફોટોગ્રાફ્સ લેવામાં કે એકમેક સાથે ગપ્પાંબાજી કરવામાં વીતી જાય છે. આ બધા કારણોને લીધે જે તે સ્થળને આપણે બરાબર આત્મસાત કરી શકતાં નથી. આ પ્રકારના પ્રવાસોના ખર્ચને સરભર કરવા માટે આગામી બે-ત્રણ વર્ષ સુધી ઘરમાં પુરાઈ રહેવું પડે એ તો નફામાં ! એને બદલે જો ખરેખર પ્રકૃતિનું સામીપ્ય માણવાની ઝંખના હોય તો આપણા જ શહેરની આસપાસ એવા કેટલાંય સ્થળો આવેલાં હોય છે જ્યાં સાવ નજીવા ખર્ચે સરસ મજાના પ્રવાસનું આયોજન કરી શકાય છે. આજે એવા જ એક સ્થળ વિશે મારે આપને વાત કરવી છે, જેની મેં તાજેતરમાં મુલાકાત લીધી હતી.

વડોદરાથી માત્ર 15 કિ.મી.ના અંતરે (એટલે કે આમ તો વડોદરામાં જ !) સિંધરોટ મુકામે આવેલ આ સ્થળનું નામ છે ‘નેચર એજ્યુકેશન પાર્ક’. મોટે ભાગે તે ‘પ્રકૃતિ ઉદ્યાન’ નામથી ઓળખાય છે. મહી નદીના કોતરોમાં વસેલું વડોદરા નજીકનું આ એક માત્ર જંગલ છે. વધતો જતો શહેરનો વ્યાપ હજુ અહીં સુધી પહોંચી નથી શક્યો. ‘નેચર પાર્ક’ અનેક એકરમાં ફેલાયેલું ગાઢ જંગલ છે. ખૂબ જ શાંત, રમણીય અને ઓછો જાણીતો આ વિસ્તાર છે. વડોદરાથી ગોત્રી તરફ થઈને સિંધરોટના વાંકાચૂંકા ભેખડોવાળા રસ્તે ફક્ત 20-25 મિનિટમાં ત્યાં પહોંચી શકાય છે. બરાબર નાના પુલને પાર કરતાં ‘નેચર એજ્યુકેશન પાર્ક’નું બોર્ડ દેખાય છે. ત્યાંથી એકાદ કિલોમીટર અંદર જંગલના રસ્તે આ સંસ્થાની ઑફિસ સુધી પહોંચી શકાય છે. આમ જોવા જઈએ તો આ ઉદ્યાન પર્યટન સ્થળ નથી. આ પાર્કનો ઉદ્દેશ પ્રકૃતિને ઓળખવાનો, તેનું જતન કરવાનો અને પ્રકૃતિના વિવિધ સ્વરૂપોને નજીકથી માણવાનો છે. પરંતુ તેમ કરતાં એ સાથે એક નાનકડા પ્રવાસનો આનંદ તો સહજ પણે મળી રહે છે.

‘નેચર પાર્ક’નો સમય સવારે 8 થી સાંજે 5 વાગ્યા સુધીનો છે. વિવિધ પ્રકારના પક્ષીઓને સાંભળવા માટે સવારનો સમય ઉત્તમ છે. આથી અમે સવારથી જ ત્યાં જઈ પહોંચ્યા. અહીં પ્રવેશતાની સાથે સૌથી પહેલાં રજિસ્ટ્રેશન કરાવવું પડે છે. સાવ સામાન્ય નોંધણી ફી ચૂકવ્યા બાદ અહીં આખો દિવસ પસાર કરી શકાય છે. મુલાકાતીઓ પોતાનું ભાથું સાથે લઈને આવી શકે છે. તદુપરાંત, જો વધારે વ્યક્તિઓનો સમુહ કે સંગઠન મુલાકાત લેવા ઈચ્છતા હોય તો તેઓ માટે તંબૂમાં રાત્રિ રોકાણ, કેમ્પ ફાયર અને નાસ્તો-ભોજનની તમામ વ્યવસ્થા સામાન્ય દરથી કરી આપવામાં આવે છે. જંગલના વિસ્તારોમાં પરિભ્રમણ કરવા માટે, વન્સ્પતિ-ઔષધિઓ અને પક્ષીઓની ઓળખ માટે ‘નેચર પાર્ક’ તરફથી સાથે માર્ગદર્શક પણ આપવામાં આવે છે.

અહીં પ્રવેશ કરતાંની સાથે જાણે કોઈ શાંત ઉપવનમાં આવી પહોંચ્યા હોઈએ એવો અનુભવ થાય છે. ન તો કોઈ વાહનોની અવરજવર કે ન તો કોઈ પણ પ્રકારનો શહેરી ઘોંઘાટ ! માત્ર પક્ષીઓના કલરવ સિવાય બીજું કશું જ નહીં. ગીચ વૃક્ષોની વનરાજીમાંથી ગળાઈને આવતો સવારનો કૂણો તડકો, વૃક્ષો ફરતે માટીની ઓટલીઓ, આસપાસ દેખાતી નાની ઝૂંપડીઓ આપણા ગ્રામ્ય જીવનને તાદર્શ કરે છે. એક તરફ મુલાકાતીઓના રાત્રિ રોકાણ માટે તંબુઓ બાંધેલા છે તો બીજી તરફ નજીકમાં સંસ્થાની ઑફિસ આવેલી છે. ‘નેચર પાર્ક’ની પ્રવૃત્તિઓ, તેની સ્થાપના તેમજ તેને પ્રાપ્ત થયેલા એવોર્ડ્સ વિશેની માહિતી અહીંથી મળી શકે છે. આ વિસ્તારમાં ક્યા ક્યા જંગલી પ્રાણીઓ અને પક્ષીઓ જોવા મળે છે, તેની યાદી અહીં મૂકવામાં આવી છે. ઑફિસની પાછળના ભાગમાં બાળકો માટે વૃક્ષોની ડાળીએ ઝૂલા બાંધવામાં આવ્યા છે. નાના-નાના મનોરમ્ય તળાવોની રચના કરવામાં આવી છે. બાર વર્ષથી નાના બાળકો માટે ‘છબછબિયાં’ નામનો તરણકૂંડ આવેલો છે. છેક પાછળની બાજુએ કોતરોના વિસ્તાર પાસે કાથીના ખાટલા મૂકવામાં આવ્યા છે. લીમડાંની છાયામાં, પક્ષીઓના કલબલાટ વચ્ચે આ ખાટલા પર સૂતાં હોઈએ ત્યારે પ્રકૃતિની ગોદ કોને કહેવાય તેનો અહેસાસ થાય છે. ત્યાંથી સહેજ આગળ જતાં કોતરો અને કંદરાઓનો આરંભ થાય છે. અમે સૌ એ જંગલની કુંજ કુંજ ભમવા માટે પહેલેથી સજ્જ હતાં.

સવારનું શિરામણ આરોગીને અમે તૈયાર થયાં એટલે ગાઈડ મેલસિંગ અમારી સાથે જોડાઈ ગયા. ઝાડી-ઝાંખરાવાળા સપાટ પ્રદેશને વટાવીને અમે સહેજ આગળ વધ્યાં ત્યાં દૂર નીલગાયનું એક ઝૂંડ જોવા મળ્યું. એ પછી અમારો પહેલો મુકામ ‘વૉચ ટાવર’ પાસે હતો. આશરે ત્રણેક માળ જેટલા ઊંચા ટાવર પરથી આસપાસનું દશ્ય મનોરમ્ય હતું. દૂર દૂર સુધી ફેલાયેલી વનરાજી અને પક્ષીઓના ટહુકાઓથી ભરેલા આકાશ સિવાય કશું જ નજરે ચડતું નહોતું. ત્યાંથી આગળ વધીને મેલસિંગ સાથે અમે નાની કેડીઓના રસ્તે કોતરોમાં ઊતરવાનું શરૂ કર્યું. ક્યાંક નીચે ઊતરવાનું તો ક્યાંક સીધું ચઢાણ. ક્યારેક ડાળીઓ પકડીને તો ક્યારેક બેસતાં-બેસતાં ઊતરવું પડે એવા ઢોળાવો પસાર કરીને અમે ગીચ જંગલમાં સરી રહ્યાં હતાં. સૌના શ્વાસોશ્વાસ તીવ્ર બન્યાં હતાં. મેલસિંગ અમને વિવિધ પ્રકારની વનસ્પતિઓની ઓળખ આપી રહ્યાં હતાં. અમુક વિશિષ્ટ પ્રકારના વૃક્ષો અને વન્ય ઔષધિઓ અંગે ઘણી રસપ્રદ માહિતી અમને જાણવા મળી. કેટલાક વૃક્ષનાં થડ તો જાણે ઍરકન્ડિશન લગાડ્યું હોય એવા ઠંડા હતાં ! અમુક વૃક્ષોને કાતરા લાગ્યાં હતાં. ક્યાંક જંગલી ઉંદરના તો ક્યાંક સસલાનાં દર જોવા મળતાં હતાં. આ પ્રદેશમાં શિયાળ, ઝરખ, શાહુડી સહિત અનેક પ્રકારનાં અન્ય નાના-મોટાં જીવોની વસ્તી છે. ક્યારેક મોરના ટહુકા સાંભળવા મળે છે તો ક્યારેક વાંદરાઓનું ઝૂંડ આસપાસના વિસ્તારને ગજવી મૂકે છે. વન્ય પ્રાણીઓ માટે અંદરના વિસ્તારોમાં નાના-મોટાં વહેળાં ગાળવામાં આવ્યા છે. નાની કેડીઓ પરથી પસાર થતાં એક ઊંચા ટેકરા પર અમને નર નીલગાયના ઝૂંડ જોવાં મળ્યાં. વિવિધ પ્રકારના રંગબેરંગી પક્ષીઓ અને પ્રાણીઓની આ અદ્દભુત દુનિયાને માણતાં માણતાં અમે આ રીતે એક કલાકની સફર પૂરી કરી. ત્યારબાદ ભોજન કરીને વૃક્ષોની છાંયમાં મધ્યાહ્નની નીરવ શાંતિનો અનુભવ કર્યો.

અહીં જે વન્યપક્ષીઓ જોવા મળે છે તેમાં નાનો કલકલિયો, ટિટોડી, ફૂલ સુંઘણી, દેવચકલી, સોનેરી લક્કડખોદ, મોર, ઢેલ, કંસારો, ટપકીલી નાચણ, મોટો કશ્યો, પતરંગો, ગીરનારી કાગડો, લીલી બગલી, બુલબુલ, કોયલ, કાબર, ચકલી, દૈયડ, ખેરખટ્ટો, ભોંયચકલી, કાળી કંકણસાર વગેરેનો સમાવેશ થાય છે. આ ઉપરાંત પ્રાણીઓમાં નીલગાય, પાટલા ઘો, સસલાં, વિવિધ જાતિના સર્પો, શિયાળ, શાહુડી વગેરે અહીં વિશેષ પ્રમાણમાં જોવા મળે છે. વૃક્ષો અને વન્સ્પતિઓ વિશે વાત કરીએ તો અહીં ખાટી આમલી, ગાંડો બાવળ, બોરસલ્લી, ચંદન, ગોરસઆમલી, શંખપુષ્પી, બોરડી, રૂખડો, આવડ, સીતાફળ, ગુગળ, ગરમાળો, કંકાસણી, કેસુડો, કંબોઈ વગેરે જાતિના વૃક્ષો અને વનસ્પતિઓ જોવા મળે છે. અહીં આ વન્ય સંપત્તિનું ખૂબ કાળજીપૂર્વક જતન કરવામાં આવે છે. તેમને કોઈ પણ રીતની ખલેલ ન પહોંચે તે માટે વિશેષ ધ્યાન રાખવામાં આવે છે. અહીંના ચીફ એજ્યુકેશન ઓફિસર શ્રી મુકેશભાઈ પાઠક જણાવે છે કે : ‘આ વન્ય સંપત્તિનું રક્ષણ એ જ અમારા માટે સર્વસ્વ છે. હવે ફક્ત આટલો જ વિસ્તાર બચ્યો છે. જે રીતે જંગલો કપાઈ રહ્યા છે તે જોતાં ખૂબ દુઃખ થાય છે. આ જંગલ વિસ્તરતું રહે અને વિકસતું રહે એ માટે અમારે ખૂબ મહેનત કરવી પડે છે. અમે ઈચ્છીએ છીએ કે શહેરના શિક્ષિત લોકો અહીં આવીને આ જંગલને માણે. તેઓ પોતાના બાળકોને પ્રકૃતિનો પરિચય કરાવીને જંગલોની જાળવણી માટે જાગૃત કરે. પરંતુ હંમેશા એમ નથી બનતું. ક્યારેક ફક્ત પિકનિકના દષ્ટિકોણથી તેનો દૂરઉપયોગ થાય ત્યારે અમને લોકપ્રચારથી દૂર રહેવાની ઈચ્છા થાય છે. આ આપણી સૌની અમૂલ્ય સંપત્તિ છે. નવી પેઢી જો એની કિંમત નહીં સમજે તો આ જંગલોને કોણ બચાવશે ?’

‘નેચર પાર્ક’ જેટલું વનદર્શન માટે જાણીતું છે એટલું જ એક અભ્યાસકેન્દ્ર તરીકે સુપ્રસિદ્ધ છે. મોટા ટેલિસ્કોપ દ્વારા અહીં રાત્રે આકાશદર્શન કરાવવામાં આવે છે. તારાઓની દુનિયા, એમની ભ્રમણકક્ષાઓનો પરિચય આપવામાં આવે છે. નિશાચર પ્રાણીઓના અવાજો ઓળખવા માટે તેમજ જંગલનું રાત્રિસૌંદર્ય માણવા માટે કેટલાક અભ્યાસુઓ અહીં રાતવાસો કરતાં હોય છે. જમીનને કોઈપણ જાતની દખલ કર્યા વિના, ઢોરો અને માણસોથી રક્ષણ આપીએ તો કુદરત પોતાની જાતે જ કેવું જંગલ ઊભું કરે છે તેની માહિતી અહીં આપવામાં આવે છે. આખું આ ‘પ્રકૃતિ ઉદ્યાન’ સૂર્યઊર્જા પર ચાલે છે. અહીંની લાઈટોથી લઈને રસોઈ બનાવવા સુધીના તમામ સાધનો સૂર્યઊર્જાથી સંચાલિત છે. માત્ર એટલું જ નહિ, અહીં સૂર્યપ્રકાશ પર આધારિત ઘડિયાળ પણ બનાવવામાં આવી છે. વળી, અહીં હવામાન કેન્દ્ર ઊભું કરવામાં આવ્યું છે. તેની મદદથી પવનની દિશા, હવામાં રહેલો ભેજ, વરસાદની સ્થિતિ વગેરે જેવી માહિતી મેળવવામાં આવે છે અને બાળકોને આ અંગે જ્ઞાન આપવામાં આવે છે. ઘણી શાળાઓ તેમજ પ્રકૃતિના અભ્યાસીઓ આ સ્થળની મુલાકાત લેતાં રહે છે.

‘નેચર પાર્ક’ની તમામ પ્રવૃત્તિઓ ‘ગુજરાત નેચર કોન્ઝર્વેશન સોસાયટી’ હેઠળ કાર્યરત છે. આ સોસાયટીની સ્થાપના 1984માં કરવામાં આવી હતી. આ બિનનફાકીય હેતુથી કાર્ય કરતી સંસ્થા છે. તેનો ઉદ્દેશ ગ્રામ્ય અને અંતરિયાળ વિસ્તારોમાં રહેલી વન્યસંપત્તિ તથા પ્રકૃતિની જાળવણી, તેનો અભ્યાસ અને વિકાસનો છે. આ સંસ્થા દ્વારા વર્ષ દરમિયાન વિવિધ શૈક્ષણિક પ્રવૃત્તિઓ કરવામાં આવે છે. અહીં જુદા જુદા કેમ્પ, શૈક્ષણિક કાર્યક્રમો તથા પ્રાકૃતિક શિબિરોનું આયોજન થતું રહે છે. આ ઉદ્યાન તરફથી ‘પાંદડું’ નામનું માસિક પ્રકાશિત કરવામાં આવે છે જેમાં અહીંની વિવિધ પ્રવૃત્તિઓ અને શિબિરો વિશે જાણકારી તો મળે જ છે પરંતુ તે સાથે ક્યા પક્ષીએ ઈંડા મૂક્યાં છે, ક્યા વિદેશી પક્ષીઓનું આગમન થયું છે, ક્યા પ્રાણીઓએ સ્થળાંતર કર્યું છે તથા ક્યા વૃક્ષને કેવા પ્રકારનાં ફળ લાગ્યાં છે….જેવી રસપ્રદ માહિતી પણ આપવામાં આવે છે. ‘નેચર પાર્ક’ આ રીતે લોકજાગૃતિ માટે સતત કાર્યરત રહે છે.

કુદરતને ખોળે આખો દિવસ પસાર કરીને જ્યારે અમે સમીસાંજે પરત ફરી રહ્યાં હતાં ત્યારે જાણે માથેરાન-મહાબળેશ્વરનો પ્રવાસ કર્યો હોય એટલો આનંદ સૌના મુખ પર વર્તાતો હતો. શહેરથી સાવ નજીક પરંતુ શહેરી ઘોંઘાટથી એકદમ દૂર રહીને પ્રકૃતિનો આનંદ માણતાં વન્ય જીવસૃષ્ટિ સાથે સંવાદ સાધવા માટે ‘નેચર પાર્ક’ એક આદર્શ સ્થળ છે.

Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012

One morning walk at a time.

Posted by Avani comments

I went out for a walk this morning instead of hitting the gym. I drove after a long time. Blessedly alone. When I parked, the skies were ominously dark. It was cold. I wondered to myself, “Should I wear my jacket? I might not need it after I start walking. Should I leave my wallet in the car or take it with me? Perhaps I should leave my wallet but take my phone.”

You get the drift; I was over-thinking it as I seem to over-think most things in my life. I stopped the mindless fear flow with a succinct: “Enough Avani. Just get out of the car and walk. “So off I went. Car keys in hand. Cell phone in my jacket pocket.

More thoughts set in immediately: “How far should I walk? I used to walk six rounds two years back. Will I be able to walk that much today? Six rounds in half and hour. Will that be too fast? What if something happens to me and I need my phone? It gets so crowded in there. Some walk in large groups. Some alone. Some with their family. Kids on their bikes. Some kids on skates. Enough Avani. Just start walking.

The following is an account of some of what I saw and what I thought as I walked.

Families walking: babies in strollers, kids on bikes and skates.
Did that woman give birth to those tiny little twins? They are so cute. She is in such great shape. What a great looking family. Wait! Wonder why the kid is not wearing a helmet. I would hate to see him fall on his head. There is something so beautiful about seeing families together, walking, talking, and growing closer – and there is something wonderful about being here without my family, walking, thinking, praying, dreaming, and experiencing this glorious morning at Kamatibaug all by myself.

Dogs: great danes and pomeranians. Alsatians and the occasional mixed breed.
I like dogs but never thought of bringing one home. Dogs are great companions and even better teachers. They seem to love every minute of their lives. They are so trusting, so hopeful. It seems like they are always looking forward to the next adventure, the next walk, the next meal, but also perfectly contented with where they are right now. Every little bit is enough for them. No big plans. No big dreams. They are just fine at any given point of time. When am I going to learn to live that contentedly and happily and gratefully?

Runners and walkers.
Will he drink all the water in all of those bottles hanging around his waist? I should have carried one too. What does it feel like to have all that stuff bouncing up and down on your hips while you run? It sure looks weird, but if it helps you get thru your run, then who am I to judge? Look at that woman’s legs. She is clearly a regular runner. I wonder how long it would take me to lose these extra pounds and be able to run a marathon. I should talk to my trainer and see what the first step should be. What the heck are you thinking, Avani? You are not a runner. You are a walker. Be grateful to be able to walk; stop fantasizing about a way of life that doesn’t interest you in the least. Now pay attention to where you are walking or you might slip or just bump into someone. Walk. Walk. Walk.

Men with men. Women with women. Men with women. Lots of people alone.
They look like they are having a great conversation. Are they married to each other or just friends out for a walk? Who wears flip flops on such a long walk? I guess she does. What language are they speaking at home? I greeted them; why didn’t they greet me in return? They act like they didn’t even see me walking past. Am I invisible this morning? Avani, are you planning to say “hello” to everyone you see? Why bother? Just leave them alone. Why does it feel like, no matter which way I am walking on this path, most of the people are going the other way? I am glad I’m here alone, so glad I came out this morning. People are so interesting and fun to watch. And your thoughts are quite interesting to observe too. Why do I sometimes think in the first person and sometimes in the second person? Why am I such a geek that I think about which subject and what form of the verb I use when I’m talking to myself? Maybe I should just stop talking to myself and watch where I’m walking.

Ipods and cell phones in action, and the unconnected and unplugged.
I cannot imagine walking with my ipod on. The sounds of birds and squirrels and frogs captivate me and move me more than any prerecorded song. It’s scary enough to have the joggers pass me when I cannot hear them coming; with my ears plugged, I’d have a series of heart attacks or small strokes everytime someone passed me unexpectedly. But then again, I prefer silence over noise in almost every situation. I don’t usually turn on the music in the car and almost never turn it on in the house. It is in the gym on the treadmill and out for walks that my best thinking happens, my best prayers are raised, my biggest dreams are incubated and hatched. Looks like I had forgotten that walking is my favorite form of exercise. It is so good to be out here this morning.

This morning, as my thoughts wandered, so did my feet; I ended up walking more than I ever had before. I did not feel the cold. I listened to people as they passed me and as I passed them. I smiled at what I heard and saw. I was awed by the varied beauty of the people I saw. I marveled at their determination to be outside, moving, breathing, stretching, and giving themselves the gift of better health. I wondered who was training for an event of some kind. I wondered who was in financial difficulties, whose children were sick, whose parents were ailing, whether or not some wished for more children or fewer. I wanted to know what it felt like to be such an elite athlete, to own such a large dog, and to wear such short shorts in public.

In between all those thoughts and questions and all that wondering along the trail, I was pondering the many ways in which this morning’s walk was similar to my life walk. Sometimes I walk my life journey with others and sometimes, most times, I am alone. Sometimes there are storms and falls and frights, and sometimes, most times, all is perfectly well. Sometimes people go running past me with deeply chiseled and taut spiritual muscles while I feel more and more like a novice athlete running this spiritual marathon trying to figure out the pace at which I will move and the intensity of the training I am willing to endure. Sometimes I get caught up in the comparison game – I am better or worse than… I am more fit or less fit than… I am smarter or denser than… I am kinder or meaner than…  Sometimes I take myself out of the equation and simply applaud the successes of others and give thanks for simply being able to even live and breathe and move at all. Sometimes I am alert to the sounds and voices and music that are all around me, and sometimes I do my best to shut everyone and everything out and tune in to all that is being spoken into and within me. As fit and strong and determined as I sometimes feel along this marathon of life, I know that there are miles to go before I sleep, so very many miles to go before I sleep.

This is my life journey.
I am taking it one mile at a time.
One prayer at a time.
One journal page at a time.
One morning walk at a time.


Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012

Vadodara, to me.

Nishant Joshi

A city. A city that embraces positivity. When I first arrived in the city and stepped down from the bus, I had so many doubts. So many events trying to compete in my mind to convince me of their occurrence! I was waiting there, barely bearing the burden of thoughts. My buddy, a heart-core Barodian, arrived with a broad smile on the face. That, kind of relieved me from torture of my doubts and thoughts. The new place gives a feeling of uneasiness and little anxiety. They were taken care of very easily.

It did not take much time to shift to the city to pursue the career that I wished. This city has this tendency of making people fall in love with it. At least in my case it is true. It gives you the feeling of being content yet makes you crave for more! It gives you feeling of safety, yet makes you fall in pits dug everywhere! It makes you dance to the beats of Garba in traditional attire yet seduces you with the labels and makes you jive in New Year party. Oh and yes, it offers you one of the most sophisticated hotels and restaurants yet tempts you to the irresistible street food. When I came to this city – is when I enjoyed myself playing Garba, authetnic Garba. I enjoyed riding the bike in rain for the first time (yes, really!). A long, chilling, early morning winter trip to Pavagadh. Some dinners at Kismat Kathiyawadi on the highway are always to cherish. Taking a dip at wonderful Mahi river with friends! Hanging out with them in city and doing crazy things on lucky long weekends. And such fun goes on.

Whenever I see architecture here, i think about these landmarks that Gaekwadi rule has given to this city. It can be the view of palace from my 10th floor office, Sursagar lake’s scenic beauty at night, the graceful Maharaja Sayajirao University building or beautiful Kirti Mandir. Whenever I pass from Alkapuri main road, two things always grab my attention – the circuit house building and thousands of birds chirping in the trees. Sometimes the melody of birds makes the noise of that busy road fade away, and at that time I involuntarily smile.

In last five years, my life in Vadodara has been a series of experiences. Some memorable, some adorable and some forgettable. Each experience has filled me with a sense of contentment, but yet I crave for more – more of this city, more experiences.