Librarians’ Choice Writing Contest Results

via Librarians’ Choice Writing Contest Results

I had entered a contest on writing flash fiction.  My short story has been shortlisted and published on the site http://www.brilliantflashfiction.com

Much honoured, especially since I have just started writing fiction.

I dedicate this story to Suma Varughese.

Haiku challenge

I have taken up this challenge to write a haiku or two using the words intent and thought.

The Challenge Words!

Intent&Thought

Ronovan Writes #Weekly #Haiku #Poetry Prompt #Challenge 312 Intent&Thought

So, here is my haiku.

Baby steps taken

A child’s intent comes through clear

No thought behind this.

********

The intent to give

Purifying, uplifting

Do without a thought.

*******

 

                                                                                                                                  1. aby steps taken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haiku

I am not much of a poetry person.  I am not drawn to poetry as I am to prose. I enjoyed studying poetry while in school as I loved every aspect of the English language. But in my adult life, I have not searched for poetry to read just for pleasure. Sure, I have come across poetry while reading other stuff and have also enjoyed reading some of them.  But, for the world of me, I do not recall a good poem that I have read.

I do not know when I heard of haiku first.  I must have come across it somewhere in my passionate world of reading.  I was attracted to this Japanese form of poetry, perhaps because it is short and sweet.  I do not have to go through the ramblings of a poet’s mind to catch the essence. This is strange, coming from me, who has read pages and pages of Thomas Hardy  and such other classics, without finding it burdensome in the least. Like I said, I am perhaps not a poetry person.

Haiku is a type of Japanese poem with a defined set of rules. It should have three lines, with the first and the third having five syllables and the middle one with seven syllables. That is, seventeen syllables in all.  The word haiku originates from the Japanese word hokku, meaning starting verse.  Also, the theme is nature and its myriad manifestations.

I spent the first week of March in a writing retreat at Rishikesh.  Though my intention was to write fiction and travel stories, the thought that I should try my hand at Haiku too, kept coming up. I did not follow this up during the retreat but I have made this attempt after coming back.

The river Ganga(the Ganges to the western world) is central to the landscape at Rishikesh.

sunrise on the Ganges at Rishikesh

Originating at Gaumukh in the Himalayas at an altitude of  4020   meters, the river travels down the mountains till it reaches the plains at Rishikesh and continues its long journey till it reaches the Bay of Bengal.  The river is revered and worshiped all over India and at Rishikesh, the worship takes the form of evening aarti with lighted lamps at several bathing ghats(steps leading to the river). 

Evening arti(worship with lighted lamps) at Triveni Ghat, Rishikesh

 

So, here are a couple of Haiku on the Ganga at Rishikesh.

Tumultuous  at start 

Serene now in Rishikesh

Ganga flows along.

 

 

She embraces all

forgiving, purifying,

glorious Ganga.

Guest Post: Vaidehi

beetleypete

I am very pleased to bring you a guest post from Indian blogger, Vaidehi. He writes about travel and wildlife in India, and also posts short story fiction.
https://vvaidehi.wordpress.com/

Here is a short bio.

Brief introduction about myself

I am V Vaidehi(with Vaidehi as the first name), from New Delhi, India. Till two years back, I was working, at the middle management level, for the Indian Railways.

I love all aspects of travelling – the planning, the experience and the reminiscing. The last part led me to start my blog a few years back. Since hiking in the Himalayas occupies a special place in my heart, I started with a few posts, recounting my personal experiences on the Himalayan trails.

I write about other types of travel too and have just taken baby steps into the world of fiction writing.

And this is the unedited guest post, accompanied by some…

View original post 1,342 more words

ABANDONED

                                 

 

I am old and frayed now.  Nevertheless, I am classy, one of substance and not like the new ones on the block.  And yet, here I am, abandoned and lonely.

When I was young and in good company, I had many admirers and conversations in elegant circles revolved around me. Life was good. 

Over the years, I was slowly relegated to the background. At first, to the back of the shelf and then to the trunk in the attic. But nobody can deny that I was and still am the best in deductive crime fiction. 

All this crowding and jostling exasperates me. Even a trash can would be better than this!  Soon, I was picked up with several others of my clan and shoved into, you guessed it right, the trash can. Talk to me about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Abandoned and hurt, I had no faith in humankind. After a long and painful journey, I lay in the dump and resigned myself to being shred or burnt or just left to decay.

I woke up from my stupor when a gloved hand picked me up and crammed me into a coat pocket. “Now what?” I thought.  I dimly remember that I passed through several hands over the next few days, none that is worth mentioning.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when the young woman  looked at me with interest and I felt the care in her touch.  She cleaned my red leather cover carefully, removing the smudges and stains of years of neglect and the rough and tumble of the last few days. My title glittered again and I shone like a new coin.

What does a book want? To be handled carefully, read with interest and valued. She did all this and much more. 

I had been with her for quite some time when, one day, she picked me up, put me in her handbag and left for work. I was enjoying the snug ride when she took me out, put a paste-on note on my cover and placed me gently by her side on the metro train seat. I was quite happy to have a separate seat and looked around brimming with pride, to check if anyone had noticed.  But I am sad to say that all of them were totally engrossed with a gadget held in their hands.

As my owner got up to alight, I looked up at her expectantly.  To my dismay, she moved to the door, glanced back at me and got off. What? Abandoned again?

I sat there clueless and despondent. While several passed, an elderly man stopped in front of me, read the note and picked me up. Smiling, he flipped through the pages and put me in his bag.  My stay with him was brief but wonderful as he too read and valued me. A few days later, I was left by him deliberately on one of the benches of a metro station.

So, here I am, lying abandoned on the metro the umpteenth time and waiting for yet another eager reader to pick me up.  I have learnt now that I am a part of a social project “book on the metro”.  Books are left at prominent places on the metro trains and stations, to be picked by interested readers, who would leave the books again for others and thus, the chain of readers continues.

Needless to say that I now love being abandoned!

BALCONY AUNTY

They were at it again. As usual, the sounds of arguments were faint initially and at some point, the voice of one of them rose to a high decibel. Today, it was Kalpana aunty screaming at Mahesh uncle.

“Don’t think that you are the only one with brains and others are fools” she shouted. I could not catch what uncle’s reply was but I could hear him splutter something in anger.

I turned around to Nisha, my classmate in college, who was staying the night at my place so that we could complete the joint project we were working on. She looked perplexed and said “Oh my God! Who is fighting like this?”

By that time, the verbal duel had reached a crescendo with “shut up!” and “you shut up first” and Nisha, alarmed, had half risen from the chair as if an intervention was called for. She looked at me with an expression of bewilderment and said “why do couples fight like this without any sense of decency?”, and added “I am not going to marry at all”.

I smiled at her and said “ignore them and continue with your work. They are not husband and wife but siblings – brother and sister”. This had the expected effect on her. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open slightly. Married couples who squabble and fight are treated as somewhat normal in our society!

I told her in brief about the duo, whom I had seen since my childhood, as neighbours who lived in one of the apartments in the block in front of ours. Their rear balcony overlooked our front one and we could hear them bickering all the time. These apartments built by the Development Authority of the city are placed cheek by jowl and privacy takes a back seat.

Much of the information I had about the siblings was garnered from what my mother told me, now and then, in her daily ramblings about the world in general. Kalpana aunty and Mahesh uncle must be in their early fifties now and uncle is the older one. Uncle had had a bad marriage and is either divorced or just separated from his wife and aunty did not marry at all. After their parents’ death, within a span of two years, they continued to live together in that house. They have always been quarrelsome but with age, which mellows down most people, they became worse. They fought with their neighbours, with the vegetable vendors, with the maid who comes in to clean but the most vicious altercations were reserved for each other.

One morning, a few days after this incident, I came out on our balcony with a cup of tea, to catch some breeze and destress from the night long study. The final exams were approaching and the uncertain future loomed large on my mindscape. Questions like whether I should take up the campus placement or follow up with admissions to the shortlisted Universities in USA for higher studies were forever buzzing in my overwrought brain.

And then, I heard the lilting voice of a small child from the balcony of an apartment from the adjacent block. I could only see a mop of curly hair and a tiny forehand now shot up above the balcony wall, holding up a yellow rubber duck for display. Moving my glance upwards, I saw Kalpana aunty on her rear balcony, a beaming smile on her face. She was engaging with the child with some baby talk about how she was and what was in her hand.

Intrigued and fascinated, I continued to watch the scene of the little girl explaining how naughty the duck was and aunty nodding in acquiescence and putting in a remark or a question, here and there, to continue the conversation. The sudden appearance of my mother in the balcony, calling out for me, diverted the attention of aunty. Looking in our direction for a brief moment, her expression hardened and she waved a goodbye to the child and vanished inside.

“Ma, who is this little girl”, I asked my mother following her into the living room. “Aunty was in a new avatar altogether!

“They have recently moved into an apartment in the next block”, said my mother. “They are a young couple with a two-year-old daughter”. And then, she added a few other things, and not very kind ones, about aunty and uncle and their family values.

So, that day onwards, in the midst of all the tensions and my preoccupation with examinations and deadlines, I managed to eavesdrop, now and then, to catch bits and pieces of the conversations between aunty and the little one. I took care not to stand prominently in the balcony and could hear them from the settee near the window in our living room.

Quite often, the exchange would start with the little girl calling out insistently “balcony aunty, balcony aunty”. Soon enough, Kalpana aunty would appear on her rear balcony and leaning on the balcony railings, she would enthusiastically start talking to the girl and responding to all that the little one had to say or show. Sometimes it would be “this is my new frock” or “Goofy is very talkative and I scolded him” or “my happy birthday is tomorrow tomorrow”. Aunty kept up with the happy ramblings of the child with “wow! So nice” or “really?” Somedays, I would hear a rhyme that the child has learnt, perhaps accompanied with endearing actions. I could not see the child at all now but I could see a portion of aunty’s balcony and her profile.

Gradually, Mahesh uncle was also drawn into these exchanges though his appearances were always brief and his conversations with the child did not flow freely and naturally as aunty’s did. Also, he always made a pretense of coming to the balcony only for some work like dusting the railings or picking up dried clothes from the clothesline. However, there was an unmistakable softening of expression and voice when he talked to the kid.

“Ma, this little girl seems to have changed aunty and uncle for the better”, I said to my mother one day. She smirked and had a lot to say about  tigers’ stripes and revelation of true colours, sooner or later.

I watched the transformation in the demeanour and behaviour of these two oddballs with fascination and, I must admit, with a twinge of envy. After all, they must have seen me and my younger brother also as little children from their balcony but I do not recall their exchanging any pleasantries with us. Perhaps, their stance towards all neighbours had become rigid over the years. Their image in the eyes of all as an unpleasant and quarrelsome duo was often reflected in the limited interaction they had with others. In fact, my mother was more vocal in her opinions about them and aunty just ignored us altogether. “Aunty and uncle must have seen in the little girl the first non-judgmental approach in the surroundings”, I mused.

As I moved to the US for higher studies and got sucked into the whirlpool of academics and adjustments in a new environment, I had very little time to think about home and the life I had left behind. Occasionally, fleeting memories of Kalpana aunty and the little girl would cross my mind but gradually, these thoughts blurred as other new and engaging visions were getting imprinted on my mind.

I was not even conscious that I had not thought about them for a very long time till I stepped out onto my balcony the morning after I had returned home for a vacation after two years. I was taking in the familiar surroundings with new eyes when, all of a sudden, I thought about Kalpana aunty and the child. I looked up and then to my right. Both the balconies were empty.

Somewhere in the midst of all the eager enquiries I made to my family about things that had happened in my absence, I asked my mother about aunty and the little girl whose name I did not know. Kalpana aunty always called her “beta”, the generic term of endearment used by a senior while addressing a child.

“The little girl’s family has shifted to some other locality”, my mother informed me. “But, these two are very much there”, she added. When I asked her how they were, she just shrugged and said that being loud and creating a nuisance was in their blood. I did not think any further on this matter as I sank into the pleasures of homecoming and catching up with old friends.

Two day later, after dinner, as I reclined on my bed with my laptop and was engrossed in what I was doing, I heard voices in conversation with occasional laughter and clinking of glasses. I sat up and listened attentively. I could hear several voices and now strains of an old Hindi film song, sung in a male voice, came wafting through. Certainly, there was a party going on as I could hear other sounds of applause, people chatting and loud guffaws, perhaps when a joke was cracked.

I went to my brother at his study desk in the next room and asked him if all these sounds were coming from aunty’s house. He grinned and, nodding in the affirmative, said tongue in cheek “shocking, isn’t it? What are people coming to nowadays?”

My mother too had to concede, though grudgingly, that they have started socializing more and were also civil to the neighbours. Not one to give up on her prejudices easily, she added, “Earlier they were quarreling and now they are partying. Disturbance it is, in any case”.

My father looked up from the magazine that he was reading and added “they do fight still but not so often and do not fly off the handle as before. The other day, Mahesh actually stopped and greeted me when I met him in the market”.

A few days later, when I had gone to our balcony to water the plants, I saw Kalpana aunty on her balcony, her back towards me and busy with something hidden from my view. As she straightened up and was turning to go indoors, her glance fell on me.

Putting aside the years of conditioning, where I saw her mostly as a monster, I smiled tentatively, half raising my hand in a hesitant wave and said meekly, “Hi aunty!” There was a moment of suspense before I saw aunty smile and moving to the end of her balcony that was closer to our side, said “Hello beta! Back from the US?”

I replied something appropriate which I do not recall now as I stood transfixed at the beautiful smile that had lit up her entire face and suffused it with a radiant glow. The five-year-old child in me felt happy, included and everything felt alright with the world.

………………

WAH! BHADERWAH!

A generation ago from now, people in India looked for well known holiday destinations, be it a hill station or a seaside town or a pilgrimage center. Treading the beaten path was the norm and many vacationed at the same place year after year. The present trend is to visit little known places, have unique experiences and ……well, also announce it to the world on social media! So, if you are looking for such a place which aptly fits the cliche’d phrase of “ a gem waiting to be discovered”, try Bhaderwah.

While Jammu is well known as the gateway to the heaven called Kashmir, there awaits a remote valley of Jammu which qualifies for a no lesser heaven – the Bhaderwah region of Doda district. It is at one extreme end of Jammu, 200 kilometers away, so much so that it is closer geographically and culturally to Chamba in Himachal Pradesh. However, the people here speak neither Himachali nor Dogri(the language spoken in Jammu), but have a distinct language Bhaderwahi and a distinct identity too.

Nevertheless, it is easier to reach Bhaderwah from Jammu rather than Chamba, due to better roads and connectivity. On the Jammu Srinagar Highway, take the road to the left after Batote and follow the river Chenab

River Chenab
River Chenab

for about 80 kilometers or so, past the bridge leading to Doda town and the landscape changes from rugged mountains to valleys, meadows, brooks and picturesque villages with terrace farms.

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Terrace farms in Bhaderwah valley

As tourism has not yet developed well in Bhaderwah, you have to rely on home stays for accommodation. Visit Discover Bhaderwah on facebook and Twitter for planning your trip.

There are several places to visit in and around Bhaderwah. The Padri Pass and Jai valley are both contenders for the top place but the latter has an edge as there are lovely hiking trails near Jai and you also get an opportunity to camp by the side of the rivulet coursing through the valley.

Jai (pronounced as Jaai by the locals) is about 32 kilometres from Bhaderwah and enroute, you also pass through another beautiful green valley called “chinta valley”. As you descend from Jai top into Jai valley, a long narrow valley flanked on either side by dense coniferous forests with the gurgling rivulet Jai nullah coursing through it, you will find yourself in the lap of nature (cliche intended). It is an unspoiled pristine valley and on the trails around it, you could be the only visitor on some days.

Staying options at Jai valley include the Youth Hostel and a tourist camp set up by a local. We stayed at the latter and the arrangements were just about adequate.

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Tourist camp at Jai valley

From Jai valley, the hike to Roshera Mata temple goes through a gentle trail after the initial steep climb from the road. It meanders through forests and meadows dotted with Gujjar huts.

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The hiking trail to Roshera temple

Gujjar hut

They are hospitable people and welcome you into their homes with warmth and easy chatter. After walking for about 5 or 6 kilometers, I rested for a couple of hours in a Gujjar hut where the mother and her teenage daughter were busy putting on a layer of wet mud on the earthen floor of their hut. The job done, they went to a nearby stream for a quick bath and then lit up the fire to boil milk. I was served a glass of hot milk though they themselves were on a fast as it was Ramzan.

Inside the gujjar hut

I did not make it to the temple which was another 3 kilometers away. There was a festival going on at that time and I was told that a lamb was sacrificed as an offering for the deity and I could not have watched it. Walking on this trail and spending some time with the Gujjars was an unforgettable experience for me.

Padri Pass separates Jammu from Himachal Pradesh and is at a height of 10000 feet and is about 40 kilometres from Bhaderwah. After crossing the Padri Pass, you will enter Himachal Pradesh and the road goes on to Chamba.

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Padri Pass

When you reach the pass, the vision that greets your eye is spectacular. It is a fairly flat pass with undulating green meadows all around as far as the eye can see. For a pass of this size, the crowds were sparse and you can walk around the grassy slopes strewn with tiny wildflowers, find a secluded area and lie down on the grass to gaze at the blue sky and the distant mountain ranges with snow peaks.

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Wildflowers on the meadows of Padri Pass

It is a day trip from Bhaderwah and definitely worth spending a few hours here.

Guldanda is another vast meadow around Bhaderwah and from here one gets a view of sonbain glacier, the source of river Neeru which flows through Bhaderwah.

Guldanda

Khani Top, about 25 kms from Bhaderwah is another must visit place offering commanding views of the valley.

While at Bhaderwah, one must visit Vasuki Nag temple and the gupt ganga shiva temple along the river Neeru. Vasuki Nag, the snake God, is the reigning deity of Bhaderwah. The temple contains idols of Vasuki Nag and Raja Jamute Vahan, made of a single black stone and standing at a slight incline on small feet without any support.

Idol of vasuki nag

Bhaderwah is also the base for the pilgrimage to kailash kund, at a height of 14000 feet. This pilgrimage, held in August every year, is considered to be older than Amarnath pilgrimage.

Plan for a 4 to 5 days trip to Bhaderwah, stay at comfortable home-stays with homely atmosphere and home-made food and make day trips to the valleys, Passes and grasslands around Bhaderwah.

A day in Monschau – all that we saw(and missed)

If you happen to be in Aachen in the extreme west of Germany, take a day off to visit Monschau. It is a quaint little German town with cobbled streets and the German trademark of half-timbered houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town is set amidst green forests as it is bang next to the Eifel National Park.

It is connected by bus, though quite limited in number and frequency, to central Aachen and it takes roughly an hour to reach this place.

I had looked up this place on the internet and almost all sites described this place as one “where time has stood still”. Its appearance has, it seems, remained unchanged for the last 300 years. Broadly, we knew that we must see the glass museum, the mustard mill, the Red House and walk around on the cobbled streets of Monschau, taking in the atmosphere. We knew that there will be no time to take a walk in the Eifel National Park or take a cruise in the Rursee reservoir.

Something unplanned happened right at the beginning. We boarded a bus at Aachen, with complete information on where to change buses, with the bus numbers, timings, intermediate stops etc. A mobile phone app called “DB Navigator” is a very handy tool for travel within Germany by public transport. Now Monschau had several bus halts and we chose, with all our worldly wisdom, Monschau bahnhof as our destination, expecting to get off at the main bus halt there and find ourselves in the midst of the bustling market. But Monschau bahnhof is in the middle of nowhere!

The bus dropped us there and sped away and we found ourselves on a deserted road with green fields on either side with no human habitation as far as the eye could see but there was a board declaring that it was Monschau.

We cut across the fields and walked on the cycling track which had a quaint shed with benches and tables as in an eating place and carrying the signboard “Monschau bahnhof”. Later, I read that there was a former Railway line Vennbahn which was converted into a bike trail. A woman on roller skates guided us through sign language (as she did not understand English) that we have to turn left and walk on for about 2 kilometers to reach Monschau town.

In retrospect, it turned out to be a sweet mistake as the walk took us through a forest with a gurgling stream and birds aplenty.

 

 

 

 

 

The path was rough, no doubt, and the walk was tiring but we would not have missed it for all the gaiety that Monschau promised. So, we did manage to go on a short hike through the woodlands of Eifel, though personally I would like to explore the Eifel National Park at leisure some day.

On reaching the town from the wrong side as most people would put it, we spotted the glass museum first.

The display, most of which is also for sale, contained not only the expected glass vases, bowls and plates but exquisitely made swans, dolphins, owls and other figurines in all imaginable mixture of hues.

 

 

Entry to the museum is free and the visual treat is not to be missed. The museum also has a workshop at one end where one could watch the process of making glass articles. You can also participate in making a simple glass ball, at a nominal cost. But, apart from choosing the colors and blowing into the pipe when asked to, you do very little but then you get to take with you your “creation”.

Exiting the glass museum, you will soon be engulfed by the winding cobbled streets with its cheerful cafes, neat and quaint houses with blooming flowers on the windowsills and shops selling all kinds of gift items, artifacts and collectibles.

Predictably, there were several selling glassware but we came across a unique shop selling traditional , wooden handcrafted items made at a place called Erzgebirge in Germany. Most of the items were tiny and crafted beautifully. Also, frightfully expensive. The river Rur (though it appears more like a stream) courses its way through the town.

We looked around for a place to have a simple vegetarian lunch and struck gold in our first attempt itself, as we were directed to this tiny cafe called “huftgold” by the girl in the shop we had entered to buy freshly roasted Arabica coffee seeds. The cafe served us a delicious mustard soup and grilled vegetable sandwiches.

Now, mustard soup is something we were planning to taste at the mustard mill cum shop at Monschau. The mustard mill, set up sometime in late 1800s, has been with the same family for more than a century and the recipes handed down through the generations. Mustard is an important produce of the region and there are mustard museums at several places in Germany and Monschau is one of them. Apart from seeing a mustard mill in action and learning about mustard cultivation and processing, there is a shop which sells mustard in all possible forms – mustard infused chocolates, wines, candles, jams…. We missed seeing the museum due to paucity of time.

In the 18th century, Monschau was famous as a textile production center. Reminescent of its textile heritage stands the Red House in the middle of the town.

It is a prominent building and as its name suggests, its facade is red, a pinkish red in fact. It is an 18th entury residence and business house of the textile merchant Johann Schibler. Four of the seven levels of the house are open to public and takes the visitor on an interesting journey into the 18th century affluence. The house displays the original furniture, furnishings, paintings, utensils and other artifacts in an impressive collection. The house is well known for its self-supporting, spiralling oak staircase spanning three floors and depicting different stages of textile production. The textiles of Monschau were famous far and wide though nothing remains of it today but for this heritage building. Red House is closed to visitors at 4 pm and we could admire only the facade.

There is a 13th century castle too in Monschau. We saw it from afar, after exiting the woodlands and were still trying to find our way into the town center. Parts of the castle are in ruins and one of its wings houses a Youth Hostel since the Firsr World War. The backdrop of the castle forms a perfect setting for music concerts and other events that are held here during summer.

The bus halt Parkhaus Monschau is quite close to the town center from where, a direct bus took us back to Aachen. Had we alighted here, we would have seen the Red House and the mustard mill but the walk through the forest more than compensated for what we had missed.

 

 

ON THE BANKS OF DONAU

Chances are that you would not have heard of Ulm, a mid-size city in Germany. I had not, till a nephew of mine had gone to study in the University there. I had imagined it to be a nondescript small town. When I visited this place, I was pleasantly surprised to find there the tallest church spire in the world, the beautiful Danube (Donau in German)flowing by its side and the most crooked house in the world, schiefes haus, dating back to early 1400 and now restored as a hotel. Ulm is also the birthplace of Albert Einstein.

Ulm is an hour and a half away by train from Munich. It lies at the edge of Bavaria, in south west Germany. It is one of the twin cities on either side of the river, with Ulm in Baden-Wurttemberg and Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Like most German cities, Ulm has a hauptbahnhof – the main train station – which connects to other cities and adjoining countries too like Austria and a good network of trams and buses within the city.

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The Old Town, with its cobbled streets, the Town Hall and numerous restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating is a charming place and I spent the first evening here. The town hall or Rathaus as it is called in German, is a wonderfully preserved building , covered with bright murals and featuring a 16th century astronomical clock.

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Rathaus – town Hall

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The facade of the Town Hall with the astronomical clock

Strolling in this area, you can take in most of the important places in Ulm – the church (Ulmer Munster), the butcher’s gate, the most crooked house and a walk along Donau.

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Ulm Munster

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The Ulm Munster is one of the most imposing structures. While the construction began in the 14th century, the current structure was fully completed only in 1890. The top of the steeple,which as of now is the tallest in the world, can be reached by climbing 768 steps.  Needless to say, it offers an amazing view of Ulm, the Danube and Neu Ulm across the river. The final stairwell to the top is a narrow spiraling staircase. one has to climb single file here and it is recommended only for those who are really fit. The interiors of the church  are awesome.

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The stained glass windows depicting biblical themes date back to the 14th century.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known to have played the impressive main organ of this church.

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Main organ of Ulm Munster

Though I visited several churches in the following days, in Munich, Vienna, Bratislava, Slovenia, Basel and Amsterdam, I found the Ulm Munster having an unmatched grandeur and spent some time again in this church before leaving Europe.

Across the road from the Munsterplatz (the square in front of the Munster), is the quaint marktplatz, the cobbled square encircled by the Town Hall (Rathaus),  the pyramid shaped library and restaurants with the fountain known as fish tank at its center. The fountain also dates back to the 15th century and was used by fishermen to keep their catch alive on market days.

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Fish tank – the fountain at the center of marktplatz

Leaving the plaza in front of the town hall and walking through the butcher’s gate, you come upon the Danube.

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Butchers gate

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Donau – The Danube

The river, as such, is not enticing at first sight.  It flows quietly between straight banks and looks more like a wide canal rather than a river.

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But that could be because I was viewing it with eyes that have seen the rivers in India, the wild tumultuous rivers originating in the upper Himalayas and rushing to meet the plains or the wide rivers coursing through the plains to empty themselves into the sea. But the beauty of the Danube flowing through Ulm is enhanced by the green grass on either side, dotted with trees, which at the time of my visit had the russet hues of autumn and there are benches and cycling/walking tracks all along.

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It was an autumn morning and in the long walk I had along the river, I came across old couples taking a stroll, mothers pushing the prams with their babies covered in warm clothes, sprinters, joggers and cyclists.

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There were also ramblers like me, stopping now and then to watch the ducks or sit on a bench for a while. Occasionally, a rowing boat would smoothly, silently and swiftly glide along the river, the arm and leg movements of the rowers well synchronized.

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And of course the fall colors of the trees are a sight to behold, with the hues ranging from russet to golden yellow to flaming red.

 

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If you are in Ulm, keep some time for a long walk along the Donau.

Fishermen’s quarter is a scenic part of old town, with half timbered houses and flower pots on the window sills.

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Blau river,  flows through this part of the town into Danube.  The most crooked house in the world, Schiefes haus,  is also situated here. It is now converted into a hotel.

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Schiefes haus – the most crooked house in the world

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A visit to Ludwigsfelder Baggersee is also recommended. It has a serene lake with lovely grassland meadows around it, There was not a soul in the autumn afternoon that we visited but it seems this place is crowded in summer with swimming and other water activities.

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lake at ludwigsfelder baggersee

I spent my last evening in Ulm by visiting  the interiors of the Munster again and taking a long walk in  the grasslands around Kuhberg fort, from where you get an aerial view of Ulm and of course, the Munster.

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Ulm Munster as seen from Kuhberg

The river and the Munster are compelling reasons for visiting Ulm.  Make it happen during your next visit to Germany.

WITNESSING A TIGER KILL AT RANTHAMBORE

We had a tiger sighting in zone 3 of Ranthambore National Park within the first hour on the first of the four safaris that we had booked. We counted ourselves as lucky and happily clicked photographs as the tigress Arrowhead walked past our canter, unhurried and unmindful of our presence. Arrowhead is one of the daughters of the tigress Krishna, who in turn is a daughter of the legendary tigress of Ranthambhore – Machli. As Arrowhead moved farther and farther away, we watched her contentedly while waiting for the canter to reverse and move on to other parts of the zone.

 

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Arrowhead – credits Arun Chengappa

And suddenly, we saw stealth in her gait, trying to find cover behind the broken branches of the dead trees that were strewn around in that area. In an instant, many of us realized that she was stalking and were able to locate the object of her interest. IMG_2489

It was a wild boar, sitting alone in the middle of a marshy area, facing the other way and unaware of the predator closing upon him.  The atmosphere electrified as we realized that we were about to witness a tiger kill or at least an attempt to kill. The tigress did not waste time and charged. It was too late for the wild boar which started fleeing only at the last moment. The tigress reached the spot in two seconds, overshot and turned back with unimaginable speed and agility and pounced on the boar, holding it down and trying to choke its windpipe. We had a clear view despite the distance as the kill was made in an open area and we could see the boar struggling and the tigress also struggling to pin it down.

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The tigress made no mistake of releasing its hold till all signs of life ended and this took almost ten minutes.

It is very difficult to describe what I experienced then. Awe certainly, amazement definitely. Sorry for the boar but great admiration for the tigress. Also a sense of gratitude and humility that we were allowed to witness something which establishes the law of nature.  The killing and what transpired subsequently were indeed the rarest of the rare events which one witnesses in Indian jungles.

We expected the tigress to carry her prey farther from us into the thick jungle on the other side. While the kill was witnessed by people in our canter and in two more jeeps, almost all the jeeps and canters that were in that zone congregated in that area as word must have spread around by then that there has not only been a tiger sighting but that there has been a tiger kill. The tigress got up, surveyed the area around her, picked up the lifeless boar and, to our amazement, started walking towards us. She clearly wanted to go back from where she had sauntered in, on the other side of where we were.

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The boar was heavy and the tigress Arrowhead was tired after the exertion of the kill. Every time, she could walk barely a few steps before she had to put the boar down, picking it up again after a while.  At one point , she stumbled a little and at another, she took a short leap to clear some hurdle in her way. All the while, she kept coming closer and closer, but changed her direction several times which made the jeeps and canters to regroup to provide her sufficient gap for the cross over.  We had the closest view when she put the boar down again at the side of the track, between a jeep and a canter.

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credits- Amit Raj Jain

She picked it up again and made a dash across, tail up in the air in panic.

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The final dash to the other side – credits Amit Raj Jain

By then, all that we wanted was for her to cross the line of jeeps and reach her chosen space and feed on her kill in privacy.  Soon she was out of sight and we returned a subdued lot as what we had witnessed had impacted our senses in a strange way.

There are several national parks that can be visited over the weekend from Delhi but Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan should be on the top of your list. It is an overnight train journey to Sawai Madhopur, which is on the New Delhi – Mumbai rail route and is the town adjacent to the park. The theme “tiger” is present everywhere in the station(which incidentally is very well maintained and clean) – wall murals and paintings, metallic silhouettes of tiger on the station name board and on the facade of the building.

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Sawai Madhopur station

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There are no forest rest houses inside or even adjacent to the park and all types of accommodation ranging from the luxury hotels to budget hotels to mid range ones are to be found only at Sawai Madhopur. So you can stop thinking about contacts in the forest department for booking a forest lodge, which you may be compelled to do for a visit to Jim Corbett National Park or Bandhavgarh National park or kanha National park.

For jeep and canter safaris, booking has to be done online, with photograph and identity proof,  not just for Ranthambore but for all the National Parks in Rajasthan. So, you must book your safari first before finalizing the plan to visit this park. The park is divided into 10 zones and a fixed number of jeeps and canters are allowed in the different zones. Zones 1 to 5 are the most popular as chances of tiger sighting are quite high here. Entry and exit of each vehicle is registered and the safari time is adhered to – 6.00 to 9.30 in the morning and 3 to 6.30 in the evening.

There is an impressive fort inside the forest with a temple, which is visited regularly by the local population.

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Ranthambore fort

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The road from the main gate of the park to the fort is about 3 kilometres and you would come across people on bicycles, bikes and on foot too. Tigers have been spotted on or near this road, with no untoward incident.

There are several lakes and other water bodies inside the reserve.   The three famous lakes are Padam talao, Rajbagh talao and Malik talao. All three are beautiful in their own ways.  Padam talao is the largest and Jogi Mahal is located at its edge.

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Padam talao with Jogi mahal

Jogi mahal has seen better times.  Originally a hunting lodge for the royals, it was converted into a forest rest house. A stay at Jogi mahal overlooking the lake Padam talao teeming with wildlife and birds must have been awesome. Sadly, it is closed to the public now and seems to be in a sorry state of disrepair.  Soon, it would be nothing but a ruin, devoured by the jungle.  One can spot wild boars, sambhar deer, spotted deer(chital), crocodiles and a wide variety of birds in and around these lakes.

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one of the lakes in the evening light

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Seemingly indolent, but alert

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the stark beauty of the lake and the jungle

 

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spotted deer

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Lakes teeming with birds and deer

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photo credit – Arun Chengappa

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Sambhars wading in the lake

 

 

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Sambhars – alert and watchful

I end this piece with snapshots of the sisters Arrowhead and Lightning and the tigress Noor in different moods, captured during the other safaris.

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Wow! what a beauty!

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Arrowhead in a pensive mood

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Lightning walking past our canter

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Tigress Noor right on the jeep track

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Noor sitting contentedly on the side of the road

 

 

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Lightning settled down in the tall dry grass waiting to ambush

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Lightning with a grimace