Homes away from home.

Home is where stories begin.

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Home is where we start dreaming. Home is where we are at peace. Home is where one can have warm food. Home is where one can laugh out loud. Home is where you can poop at ease.! definitely yes!

So when it comes to traveling, there is nothing better than finding home away from your own home. It sounds counter intuitive if you think. If you had to find a home somewhere far from your own, why would you want leave the one you already have? Adventure, my dear adventure. One cannot span the mountains and the oceans without an anchor ground, a place that makes you at ease with your surroundings. A place that gives you resting space, rejuvenates and charges you up so that you can carry on with your wanderlust. Such is a home away from home.

Enough romanticizing. What I want to talk about is the difference between staying at a hotel and a home stay.

I recently discovered the wonders of home stays and thought I would share it with everyone here.

For the uninitiated, home stays are places where you share your living space with a local person or a family instead of booking a hotel room. You may have to pay, may not have to pay. You might have to help the family with their chores in return of accommodation and meals.

What to expect from home stays?

They generally have  a local person or a family already living in that space. More often than not they entertain guests because they like it rather then the need for money. What it means is that one should be courteous and well mannered to your host. Stay away from communal and racist arguments. Avoid drunken house parties and brawl, unless the host is part of it, or at least okay with it.

Respect their privacy. Respect their property.

As opposed to staying at a hotel, where one can  pay for damages, here you might be damaging some ones house. House is a more sentimental possession to your host than a soulless hotel room to the company. So, not everything you break can be compensated with money. Take care of that.

Why I always try  to find a home stay before hotels wherever I go now?

Hotel rooms are like lifeless boxes. If you’re a solo traveler out to experience a place to its fullest, nothing can replace the warmth and expertise of a local host. Once you check in to a hotel room, no matter how plush, very soon you are left alone with the four walls and a ceiling to stare at. The clock ticks in silence and you can hear your heart beat to boredom.

Cut to a home stay. There will generally be a warm host waiting to welcome you. As soon you check in, you can meet your new local friend and start planning your day. Since the person has generally being staying there for long, he knows the secret nooks and crannies of the town that can add the local flavor to your stay .

You have the option of sharing a local home made meal with your host, which is impossible staying in a hotel room. We all know hotel menus and tastes always fail to replace home cooked food.

It’s a pleasure to see the town with a local. Your host may take pride in showing you his locality and with a smile would introduce you to his circle of people from the locality. Many a times it opens doors that are otherwise shut to everyday tourists.

There can be mutual exchange of knowledge, skills and culture. Like you can help your host setup a Facebook page. Or examine his sick relative. Or fix a little plumbing job for him, if you have the skills. At the same time you can tell stories of your folks from home and enjoy the stories of lives from your host’s place.

As opposed to surfing channels and internet in your hotel room, this is a much better trade off I say.

It is fun to stay in touch with them once you are back home. Unlike a hotel stay which is easily forgotten. You meet your home stay friends when they come to your city or you go there again.

Now, where to find hosts?

What I have tried is AirBnb.com and the app. Its the first name when it comes to booking a home stay. From a room in a house to a complete house to yourself, everything is listed. AirBnB is always paid and at times little expensive than budget hotel.

Next is Couchsurfing.com and the app. Staying for free is the norm here. It works on Facebook referrals and background checks. It works in your favor if you have also hosted some guests in the past, or at least have a verifiable Facebook account.

So, do check them out next time you are hitting the road. Cheers..!

 

 

 

Walk through graffiti lane, KOLKATA.

Whenever I travel I make sure to squeeze some time for checking out non touristy places of a location. It’s the best way to feel the local vibe unbiased by clean, decorated, post card perfect exhibitions of monuments and museums and markets.

So of all the touristy things that I could have done in Kolkata, I chose to do what I believe in. Chuck the museums and malls, and  wander to  get lost for a while. Lo and behold, I came across lanes full of youth hotels, backpacker stays in narrow alleys around Park street in north Kolkata.

While wandering I did come across a particular set of lanes, which intrigued me enough to deserve their own blog post. Entering deeper into the labyrinth of lanes, after a couple of turns, I was welcomed with a riot of color and art spread over walls on both sides of a walk way.

A little googling later tells me that not many people are aware of the graffiti lane near Park street.

Graffiti as an art form is not an Indian creations. Yes, we have been painting walls since stone age. But graffiti gained identity in the west as a means to shout out thoughts of the common man. More so in days before Twitter and Facebook, very few means of expression could make common man heard.

So where mostly these days public walls are littered with ugly political slogans, here was some dash of color, intellect and comic relief for public display where it is not really expected.

I had fun clicking them and enjoying the mind of the artist. Here’s your turn to have a look.

P.S. if anyone can tell me who are the artists, I’d be thankful.

cheers..!

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A day at Kumartuli.

Once upon a time long long ago the East India Company won the battle of Plassey and entered Calcutta. They decided to set up colony on the river banks of river Ganga. It was decided that a separate district would be allotted to the works-men collecting people of similar profession at one location. Hence Coomartolly or present day Kumartuli was born.

Today Kumartuli is home to potters from all over Calcutta. They furnish idols of Gods and Goddesses, primarily Durga idols. Their creations are not only the backbone of Durga puja celebration in India but also around the world. The idols are made mostly from clay and straw which is environment friendly too.

Kumartuli is also on any photographer’s map visiting Kolkata.  The artisans are lesser known hard working souls who toil for many hours a day for months at stretch to make a decent living. Be sure to tip them if required and get the photo clicking permit for rs. 10 and rs. 60 from one of the offices.

It is an intriguing experience to see these idols being made. We are used to seeing the intact human form in everyday life. What makes a stroll through a potter’s studio exciting is the sight of life like separate heads collected in one corner. Headless bodies being crafted at a different place. Straw made statues being layered with clay. Painters working to color the skin, then the clothes. Elegant dresses being draped on these life like idols.

It almost felt like one of those heads in the artisan’s head was smiling for real. Like those idols would move when no one’s watching. Like the asuras were actually froze while being killed by Durga ma. And the smile and eyes of Durga idols nothing less than hypnotic.

I was lucky to have been there  around Mahalaya, the first day of Durga puja. It is a very auspicious day for Bengalis. Its also the day when eyes of the Durga idols are painted. It symbolizes breathing of life into those idols. Certainly the idols did feel lifeless so far, but spookily real once the eyes came to life.

I’ll leave you with my favorite pictures from the walk.

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Your’s truly being a cooli…! 🙂

Be like Apong.

We all see the world differently. A foodie remembers places based on how excited his tongue felt there. A history buff remembers places depending on its importance in the scheme of politics and civilization in the past. A visual artist remembers the colors of the streets, sun rise, sun sets, patterns and textures peculiar to a place.

Then there are beer lovers. They hardly remember anything, if at all. Their memory is patchy, filled with missing hours and events. Those missing events are generally way too embarrassing to be enquired about. They get excited by availability of cheap beer.

Just like each country has its own flag. Each region has its own cuisine. There is beer, which also defines the existence of a particular community.

Ziro, in Arunachal pradesh, India, is no different.

Their answer to the world of local beer is called, lo and behold, “Apong”

Apong is beer made from rice. It has short shelf life. It is made in almost every home. It is available as cheap Rs. 20 for one liter. It’s the drink of the masses.

Apong comes in various forms, depending on its  distillation and taste. The more expensive it gets, the more refined it is, and begins to look clearer, like wine and tastes sweeter.

Rice beer is not only a drink but an integral part of north eastern tribe culture. It is made by women mostly, and acts as an accepted ice breaker between men and women of the community. It is also a part of the marriage customs. Some also believe it to have medicinal properties.

Here is a quick run through on the process of Apong making.

  1. You need a starter ‘cake’. It is a collection of rice or other grains which is fermented to produce beer.
  2. Grains are ground with little water and then dried to make the cake.
  3. Then they are kept in an earthen pot.
  4. Then the ‘secret medicine’ or yeast is added to initiate fermentation and the earthen pot is closed.
  5. After 5 days water is filtered through the fermented cake, and what we get below is pure ‘Apong’
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Apaptani household woman preparing Apong.

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Apong collects in the white vessel underneath.

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Apong is traditionally served in bamboo glasses. Pic from google search.

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Beautiful Apatani house., where I learned about Apong.

cheers..!

 

 

 

Wandermates #3 – Happy encounter.

” A journey is measured in friends rather than miles” – Tim Cahill

This is an attempt to share all the interesting stories of people I’ve come across while on the road .

One at a time.

We often bump into  a lot of people everyday. Some interesting, some outright rude. Some cunning and some sweet as honey. Nevertheless, for a brief moment,  two lives intersect each other.

Generally while traveling we’re more receptive to strangers.

I like to chat with the locals and hear the tales of their  childhood. The fables of the land. The beliefs built by that human being over a lifetime.

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India sounds more violent and criminal on news channels than it really is. While I traveled to North East states of India, I realized that they are like any other states of the country. The people speak Hindi, are proud to call themselves Indians and expect a lot of positive support from the government.

As I met these army men, conversation invariably leads to actual situation of violence in the region. In Ziro, the army man said ” there is nothing more than mosquitoes to kill here at Ziro”. “Please when you go back to your metros, do spread the word that we in north east feel as much Indian as anyone of you and love our country proudly, the media be damned.”

That was quiet a revelation for me. And at such moments I feel the importance of leaving the confines of the news channel smothering you with sensational news for the advertisers and venture into the reality to see the world with your own eyes.

Mental note : 1. People from North East feel Indian and proudly so. 2. They are well aware of the current affairs in rest of the country. 3. They want more people to visit and discover North east India and realize that a violent and forgotten, backward and unsafe vision of north east is only a myth. 4. They love Bollywood.

 

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Wandermates #5 – Gramlines

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Of the many things I liked about the Ziro music festival was that it was very relaxed and informal. The artists who performed on stage came down and joined the crowd, sharing drinks, chatting, enjoying other shows, being one like the audiences.

So on my way back, in the sleeper coach of my train, I found myself in good company of the Italian band called Gramlines. They had performed at the fest and had kept the audience in awe throughout the show. They play rock in an alternative/soft genre with good lyrics.Since I had the opportunity to talk to them, I was curious to know what would they do in everyday life. As audience, the general practice is to hold artist o a pedestal, and one never comes to know about them as a person. I find it intriguing.

To my surprise, theirs was not a full time band. They are a bunch of long time friends who came up with their own music, but still  are pursuing their education. So, one of them is a pharmacist. One is pursuing PhD. in Physics from Australia. Two of the members are students of philosophy. I was impressed to see that these guys were rooted firmly in the reality and not whimsically drifted to the lure of glamour and money.

It was also interesting to learn their understanding of what makes certain bands super successful and some die an unnoticed death under the shadows of popularity. They said that its mainly because to please the masses,  as a band, you generally have to deviate from your own style of music and become what is promoted to the population as ‘cool’. So, in return of money and fame, you might give away your creative freedom and emotion of the music.

You can checkout their Facebook page here  : https://www.facebook.com/GramlinesBand/?fref=ts

Have fun.

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