A Village New Year

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We brought in the new year in the charming Hoysala Village Resort.  The resort works on a Robin Hood sort of principle, taking from us and using the profits to benefit the neighbouring villages. The proceeds also go towards educating the children of all the employees in English medium, to give them a head start in the world.

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The evenings are given over to village style entertainment with folk songs and dances.  My boys were a bit unappreciative of this till I pointed out that the performers were mostly kids like them and just like a single piano performance(my boys learn) had months of training and practise behind it, so too did a fifteen minute dance performance. After that they watched most attentively. I was reminded of my own niece who is learning Bharathanatyan and amazes us constantly with her grace and poise.

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The highlight of the menu is home-style Kannada cuisine. I have spent seventeen years in Bangalore without eating as much Kannada food as I did in the few days at Hoysala. They had Holige on the menu every single day. Holige is known in Tamil Nadu as Poli and in Maharashtra as Puran Poli. It’s my brother’s favourite dessert and we have made plans to return already! They also had several local roti varieties like Akki and Jowar rotis, Ragi muddes  and other millet based foods on the  menu. These were totally delicious but also important to serve in a resort with such an agenda. Millets are not resource intensive and grow well in drought prone areas. They are loaded with nutrients and are the staple food of our hard working farmers. Bringing them back to our tables helps the farmers and helps us fight climate change. And of course they are totally delicious!

Very close to the resort are the 12th century temples of Belur and Halibedu. I visited the temple at Belur but missed out on the trip to Halibedu. The Belur temple took 103 years to be completed and you can see why in the enormity of the structure combined with the delicate detailing of the carvings. The temple was built by King Vishnuvardhan for his dancer wife Shantala. It is amazing to see such a celebration of the arts as an integral part of worship. And of course the laddoo prasadam is not to be missed!

The touristy outings aside, the children enjoyed the simple pleasures of bullock cart rides, board games (painted on tables) and hours of playing chaos tag and chain tag in the open grounds with not a single second of device time.

Final Summary:

  • Green Quotient – Well there are the millets! And there is the free availability of unbottled water. But multiple tiny bottles are also supplied daily, plastic bags are used to dispose of waste and there is no waste segregation. They had recycled tyre planters and claypot bins, which were charming but more needs to be done to preserve the pristine village setting!
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  • Food – Delicious and unique. While there is some generic north Indian curry style food on the menu, the real focus is on promoting local fare. The live counters where they dish these up tend to get crowded so need to factor that in.
  • Accommodation – The architecture and the flooring all have a strong local flavour. Everything is clean and nice, but not in-your-face luxurious.
  • Getting there – Hassan is a three hour drive from Bangalore. The roadworks increased our travel time but this is an easy place to get to, not only from Bangalore but also Mangalore, Chikmagaluru and Udupi.
  • Corporate visits – There is a board room, lots of rooms and eating space to make it eminently suitable for official events. But always with the village touch! Look at this meeting space with beautiful murals.
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  • The entertainment – They had a well equipped recreation room. Also, I loved that they had planned shows every evening. Tables are also set up in advance for each room which avoids the sort of chaos we experienced on our trips to Mahabalipuram(will post soon) and Dumduma lake(don’t plan to write about that trip).
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    The only negative here was the New Years eve program for which they had a compulsory charge that we paid for per head – not per room –  and the show had no variety and several repetitive performances. The snake dance was frankly unconvincing and looked like something choreographed in Bollywood.

The loud drums were more believable, since a lot of evening village entertainment is focused on keeping wild animals away. However, they were so loud and so relentless that we retired to our rooms long before the midnight countdown. My ideas of bringing in the New Year in a rural setting were greatly at odds with what was going on and I thought it best to retire early and pursue the quiet New Year plans in the morning, which my husband and I did! A quiet early morning walk in the village with not a single other human being around was how our year started and it was a good beginning!

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A translation

शहर बसाकर, अब सुकून के लिए गाँव ढूँढते हैं,
बड़े अजीब हैं लोग हाथ मे कुल्हाड़ी लिए, छाँव ढूँढते हैं..

To find peace of mind, we fled the cities that we made*
Armed with our sharpest axe, in search of the nearest shade


*A translation. Not my own. Just an appeal for responsible travel

A Question of Identity

I saw this joke on Whatsapp the other day:

A potato was interrogated by the cops. After 3 hrs of torture, it gave in and said “Main batata hoon! Main batata hoon!”

If you got that joke, you’re probably an Indian. If you didn’t, I hate explaining jokes but here goes.  In Hindi ‘Main batata hoon” means “I will tell” whereas in Marathi it means “I am a potato”.

We speak a crazy number of languages in India and not too many speak Marathi but everyone who has heard of the batata vada (most everyone) would have caught this pun like a shot. We wear our cultural diversity lightly most of the time.

But once in a while the whole language issue blows up. This was very confusing to me  growing up as a Tamilian in New Delhi. When people would be shocked that my siblings and I did not attend the Tamil school and had not been taught to read or write in Tamil. How did it matter, I would wonder. No one around us read or wrote in Tamil anyway. We could speak and understand. Why was that not enough?

As a grown up, I can see some merit to their thought process. Language is definitely more than a means of current communication. It is a means to communicate with your own history. A link with your past. And if you think history is only kings and invasions, think again. I wrote once about the formidable Meenakshi Ammal. If someone had not translated her masterpieces to English, I would never have learnt to cook the smallest thing that I had grown up eating. Or books! I have never read Ponniyin Selvan or the Thirukural. It is amazing to know that my mother tongue is a language that originated in 500BC and is still alive and relevant! But the wealth of literature and theatre and cinema are largely inaccessible to me. That’s a pity!

It is hard to obsess over that these days with so many cross cultural marriages. My husband is a pahadi who grew up in Hindi-speaking Uttar Pradesh. My sister got married to a man who has two mother tongues! His mother being from one state and his father another. At least three of my cousins are married to people from Andhra Pradesh and one to someone from Kerala. Fluidity and flexibility of language is very much a part of my family’s mental make-up. We often switch between three languages, sometimes in one sentence! But how or why to force the children to walk only one road?

It has been on my mind of late. It all started while in the market in Titisee when a Pakistani man reproached me for speaking to my son in English. He was all hamara desh and hamari zubaan which is very sweet to see but nothing could more forcefully represent that we were not the same desh than his ignorance of how many Indians there are for whom Hindi simply is not their first language!

Then I thought some more about it when the Metro boards were defaced for carrying Hindi signage. And then when a man lost a limb wading into a  crocodile infested pool because the warning was in Kannada (It should really have been skull and crossbones). And finally with all the unrest in Catalonia.

Language was invented as a means of communication. A link. When did it become a divide?

Strangely, my guess is that it is globalisation that is to blame. The more we mix and the more we homogenise, the more desperately we want to establish our uniqueness. The Pakistani in Titisee, Hindi was so important to him! Important enough to make a countryman out of someone who was traditionally supposed to be held in dislike, only because he was away from home. In a place surrounded by a different culture and language, he didn’t mind clutching even at straws. For me in my own country, not such a big  issue!

When our gated communities  start resembling suburban America and you cannot tell one city apart from another, we start giving undue importance to the little stuff. Paneer in Bangalore is not like in Delhi. Oh but our idli is softer! And language becomes a similar casualty.

This is also what I felt instinctively when I saw people in hijabs in Paris and when I saw Islamic flags all over Kerala. Was the leaning on symbols fanaticism or simply a desperate bid to hold on to an identity being swept away by larger forces?

If we can globalise and still localise, not trample over the little guy when we make big changes, we can maybe calm down and get over that prickly identity thing. And I have no better ideas!

Finally, on a lighter note here’s the hugely funny and trilingual Biswa Kalyan Rath’s take on language. Oh and this is adult language – discretion advised!

A house with many stories

It finally started to rain on our last day in Kirchzarten and it was cold and wet right from when we woke up. We have enough sunshine back home to appreciate cold,drizzly days in a way that Europeans don’t!

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The eagle flew down to its nest on top of the church going in an instant from menacing to maternal!

But though we appreciated the weather, this posed a challenge since we had to pick up our rental cars before driving off to Sankt Blasien where we were to stay in Villa Ferrette. My original plan for the summer holidays this year had been to rent a villa in Engelberg, Switzerland and spend our days hiking and cooking in and generally enjoying the beautiful outdoors. What we finally did was the usual criss-cross through multiple cities and the consequent barrage of new experiences. But I was insistent on this – at least one part of our holiday had to be in a house in a small and pretty hillside town. And Villa Ferrette it was.

I mentioned before that my favourite stay of all had been at Apt Stone Lodge, Salzburg. This is certainly true but the most interesting of all places has to be this one. We had booked on airbnb and my conversations with the homeowner before, led me to expect a spacious and comfortable home.

What I had not bargained for was a huge mansion with a hundred year old history!

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I am not sure I remember the whole story, and you should probably hear it from Marc (the owner), sitting on the couch in the Villa Ferrette living room as the cold winds howl outside, but the house is a hundred years old and the most significant house in the neighbourhood. Sort  of a manor house, if you will. While it has been completely renovated, including the stained glass which one might have supposed to be really old, a lot of the wooden paneling is original. So you are strictly not supposed to smoke indoors since it will set off a fire alarm summoning police and fire fighters and be a super costly affair!

For all its history, this house has always been free of Nazi influence. In fact after World War II, this building housed 100 orphans. The woman who ran the place worked tirelessly through the day and only had a few hours every day, after midnight, that were for her children alone. No one else was allowed in her part of the house at that time. I was so touched to hear this story! No amount of charity can make up for what we do to our own children at home and striking a balance is always more difficult for a mother.

At one point, this house also served as a rehab frequented by Hollywood celebrities! I will not mention names since I have no idea about privacy laws but it was a very La La Land moment for me.

While we were listening to these stories, one of us asked if any other Indians had ever stayed here. It seems they had, and they had come in a big van and had Indian food catered every day. Just as I was about to ask Marc if could give us the caterer’s phone number, our self-styled Phd friend scoffed, Indians need to eat Indian food everyday – no matter where they are giving me a dirty look as he did so. Does he  read minds now as well?

Our agenda for this trip was roaming around the Black Forest area and we used the Villa Ferrette exactly as we would have any other BnB but for people who are not on a short trip and have the time and space and contentment to stick around in one place instead of dashing about here and there, this is a great place to be. There are two pianos, one of which you can use, a great collection of music and movies and a projector room in the attic which you can use for group gatherings. Rather fun if you have planned that sort of trip. We do that sort of thing in Ooty and Goa.

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Finally, the practical tips: If you are staying in Sankt Blasien, do check out the beautiful church in town. Also, you would probably need a car – the nearest bus station is a good twenty minute drive away. It is a small place and you don’t have a wide variety of restaurants. The food is strictly local. That said, it is pretty and very close to the Swiss border. In fact, we took a cab down to Zurich from here when we had to fly back.

 

“And nobody shall pour dung, straw, stone into the Bäch…”

Freiburg

Continuing with my tardy Europe recollections, after our cuckoo clock adventures we had planned to take the children to Europa Park. But things panned out differently. We were down to our last set of clothes and Kirchzarten possessed no laundries. We had no choice but to skip the park and spend the day in Freiburg instead. So with a rucksack full of dirty clothes and two sulky children, we took the train down.

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Freiburg is the nearest city to Kirchzarten and is a university town. I had read on the net that it was a city rich in culture and heritage, besides being notably environment friendly. None of this background had prepared me for anything nearly as beautiful.


The dirty laundromat

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The walk down from the station to our chosen laundromat passed through tree lined streets and storm water drains. Wash and Art was an interesting place. We didn’t realize how much at first in all the sorting and getting change. The kids didn’t either – having discovered free wifi, but the ‘Art’ in Wash and Art refers to the artistic but risque photography that adorns its walls. As soon as we were done admiring the fresh smelling east german laundry detergent, we became aware of our surroundings and briskly shepherded our offspring out. There was a homeless man just outside and my husband was a little worried about the clothes but really he was too tall to fit into any of our stuff.

Why are there so many homeless people in Europe? Especially young, able bodied white men. This man looked like a junkie although one shouldn’t judge, but apart from that what is the reason? It seems like such a prosperous place!


The lady in the park

We took our boys to a nearby park to while away our time. Europa Park it was not, but we enjoyed the peace and quiet very much. Freiburg seemed like a safe enough place that we didn’t need to watch the kids all the time. They had fun running and climbing while we were content to sit back, look around and chat. There were a few other families who’d brought their kids in on cycles with child carriers attached. My husband was interested in the design of the cycle carriers and impressed by the abundance of cyclists and the absence of cars.

As for me, my attention had been caught by a woman sitting on a park bench, eating a lonely lunch. This was the second instance in a short span of time of someone looking miserable in such a beautiful place. Was she a teacher in the university or a shopkeeper? Maybe someone who sold books to the students there? A librarian? She had a canvas backpack of the sort you lug around college but she looked out of place in this young town.

Now you can be just as lonely in a crowd as all by yourself and the two have no correlation at all. But right then, I was thankful for our crowded, intrusive, inquisitive, annoying and omnipresent Indian families.


The woman from Bengal

There was a marketplace in the city center and a few of our friends who don’t have children had elected to spend the day there. We met up with them for lunch and my adventurous younger one (who had asked to eat wild boar like Obelix in Prague) ordered schnitzel. I have only ever heard of schnitzel in ‘My Favourite Things’ and it looked nothing like how I’d pictured it.

Our friends regaled us with stories about the fruits,  flowers, vegetables and souvenirs at the farmers market that was winding up before our eyes. They told us about a souvenir stall they had shopped at. Among the other things they’d bought was a wooden chopping board which they had had engraved with their names. Wooden curios seem to be ubiquitous in this part of Germany but the seller of the curios was a rarer sort by half. She had come to cold Black Forest from the balmy plains of Bengal as a child. She had been away such a long time but meeting Indians, and those who could speak her language had seemed to fill her with joy. It was such a small encounter. A chance encounter. But the few words spoken in a shared tongue had brightened up the day for all of them.

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Roaming the market place after lunch, we discovered the Bächle. Small canals with clean water flowing through them. From Wikipedia –

These Bächle, once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock, are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam. They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air, and offers a pleasant gurgling sound. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a Bächle, they will marry a Freiburger, or ‘Bobbele’.

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On a more practical note, I found these cosmetics in a store that were ridiculously cheap and the brand is unheard of in India. So if you have a large family back home you need to bring things back for, this is just what the doctor ordered. Although the brown eyeliner didn’t show up much on my brown skin.

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The boy who spoke so sweetly

Once the remainder of our friends returned from Europa Park, we spent the rest of our day just wandering through the town. The kids were cleverly maneuvering us in the direction of the park and hearing them chatter away in Hindi about parks, a young man detached himself from a group of students and asked us in extremely politely worded Hindustani if we were looking for a children’s park and offered to direct us to one. My husband thanked him and after telling him we knew the way, (also) politely inquired if he too was an Indian. He blushingly demurred and returned to his group. I could have told my husband had he waited to ask me first. Of course the boy was not Indian. He was Pakistani! The polite Hindustani was too close to well bred Urdu. Only the Pakistanis speak so beautifully I murmured. ‘All they do nicely is speak’ returned my BJP voting friend. Ah well!

Dastkar Once More

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A quick post to remind all that Dastkar is back in town! I had written about Dastkar previously here.

They will be around from the 11th to the 20th of August. I was away this weekend and I heard it rained a lot and I hope this lovely market was not completely washed out. I paid a short visit before I left. It was Day 1 and many of the stalls were not up yet but here’s what I thought:

  • Just LOOK at the amazing wood carvings! I expect they cost a bomb and were honestly too big for small apartments such as mine, but maybe some fancy hotelier picked up something.
  • Not too many fabric or saree options. There are so many direct weaver sales happening on Facebook these days, not to mention the many many weaver sales happening in Bangalore round the year, so this is not really a surprise. Probably not much of a loss either but I missed the stalls!
  • I did see a beautiful linen saree in pink and really the finest linen but it was too expensive for me. Things did seem more expensive than in other places.
  • The food was to die for as usual. I bought a lot of papads and pickles – the sort of thing Rujuta Diwekar is fond of calling real food. Any weight I gain is to be blamed squarely on her! They had dal baati choorma at the stall next door. Since that is real fattening food, I nobly skipped but I did try some choorma. It was SO YUM!
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  • They had some glass jewellery from Agra. Murano, you got competition!
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  • They had plenty of handmade jewellery in everything from antique silver to crochet. I like how tribal jewellery goes with handwoven sarees.
  • Mojris are a no brainer. Here’s what I succumbed to!
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  • There was a good selection of terracotta garden ornaments.
  • The usual gourd and bamboo planters marked attendance.
  • Paintings etc. of course!
  • Neev and other organic soaps were conspicuous by their absence. Not that I missed them. I buy my soaps now from Arun of Coco Naturals. He makes soaps on his farm near Mettur and mails them wrapped in butter paper with a rubber band around them. His soaps are amazing and I appreciate minimal to no packaging so he gets my vote every time. I had to give him a shout out.
  • There were no cultural displays or kite flying when I visited, but well – day one! I expect they will have all of that over the coming weekend.

That’s it – short and quick. If you happen to visit, do leave a message and tell me what you thought of it!

Almost entirely about cuckoo clocks

It was two months back that we went on this trip and it was about the same time that the WannaCry ransomware attack hit. In fact, on the same day we took our train to Germany. Having heard so much about German Engineering, I am pleased to report that it’s all true! Every time our train ran late, the delay was fine tuned to be the exact time taken by us to get off the train and run to the next platform in time to see our connection puffing away. Nah, I’m kidding. It was just the ransomware. Makes you wonder though!

We got to our hotel at Kirchzarten very late in the evening. And  also, got a shock. Now we had packed our clothes based on Accuweather and were expecting the Schwarzwald area to be very cold. Not only was Kirchzarten not cold, it was hot – like 30 degrees celsius which is a million degrees fahrenheit. And without the protective layer of pollution that we in India are used to, the rays of the sun hit us hot and direct. On our ten minute walk to the hotel (the delightful Restaurant Sonne, super old and beautifully restored) all I could spot in the stores was sunscreen! How were we so duped? I’d thought we were visiting Switzerland, but we seemed to have ended up in Phuket!

But Kirchzarten is a small place, and we needed to hurry to get dinner before thinking about anything else. We were lucky enough to find Fiesta. The food was good. The beer was better. The play area for the kids – the best! The staff were friendly and all young and enthusiastic, very keen to help. What a change from Prague!

But the next day, we had to man up and face facts. Which of our two sets of clothes (we recycled our clothes while traveling and saved a day, if you’re counting) would we be less likely to melt in? Fortunately, we were saved from making this decision for the kids at least as we found a max fashion style store down the road called NKD. 4 euro for a kiddie tee? China, I love you!

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I have a four Euro weather fix – I’m the King of the World!
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Medieval Church, ancient friendship – that’s my college roommate and I

Our plan for the day was to get to Triberg, see the falls, buy cuckoo clocks for my parents, my in laws, my friends who had neglected to buy a clock in Switzerland last year, their parents, their in laws and two big cuckoo clocks for some friends who’d recently moved house. Our return trip looked like this!

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By the way, this image is not my own – naturally! I borrowed it from critical cactus which must be the most inappropriate place to borrow it from. And so, I will take a minute to say this. Critical Cactus speaks about minimalism and not being consumerist which are good goals that I identify with. This one-time fall from grace was a group effort – not mine alone – and it soothes my conscience a bit to note that I bought nothing for myself!

But if you are visiting Black Forest and must take back gifts, really what else could you get? Switzerland is known as the home of the cuckoo clock but that is not what I saw. This is where the clocks are actually made. The clocks on sale in Switzerland were mostly China made knock offs. This was the real deal! All the clocks are mechanical which means you need to wind them up. Which might get to be a bit of a bore once the novelty has worn off! A quick recommendation for Oli’s cuckoo clock shop. Not that one is needed. This was easily one of the more popular stores and we got everything we needed!

Triberg is not as dense green to black as I expected the Black Forest to be – there was too much visible deforestation which was sad. Maybe this contributed to the sultry weather?

But it was great fun reading about the history of the forest.

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So in short, we stopped at this medieval village with the most gigantic and delicious tomatoes (I bought seeds!), walked all the way up to the falls, shopped(I fessed up already!) and then after some train related confusion (can we make the laundry today? time table? yes? no? return! return! return! missed train – noooo!! ok, caught up!) had a quick stop at Gengenbach and then got back.

 

We also saw many traditional black forest style houses with the wooden beams. I have not been able to figure out any reason for the design though. Do you know?

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PS. Do you know that the black forest cake – which originated in these parts is supposed to be inspired by the traditional dress from hereabouts? Also, the real black forest cake is so soaked in alcohol, it is strictly not for kids! I didn’t know this and will never look at the Just Bake version the same way again.