Workshop with Steve McCurry
january 2013 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 7
Power of Place The
Travel can change your life
pazhani A fictional TRIP TO A TEMPLE TOWN
The Theyyams of North Malabar
Chasing the World’s Cleanest Air
A Tr fouip for Tur r to key
iipnfo!r W r T A to fourkey r Tu 4 P3
January 2013 N a t ion a l
G eog r a p h i c
A WORLD OF WONDER
Galápagos and a world of discovery that can add sparkle to a child’s life—and yours
Indelible memories of the island city, with a little help from the filmmakers of Bollywood
T r a velle r
the power of place
Pico Iyer, Tahir Shah and six others on how travel changed their lives
DISCOVERING THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE
Chitwan’s rhinoland reshaped one man’s life forever
CROUCHING TIGERS, HIDDEN DRAGONS
VOL. 1 ISSUE 7
in d i a
BUS TO PAZHANI
A fictional journey on a public bus to a southern temple town
in search of THE WORLD’S CLEANEST AIR
The author takes a deep breath of Tasmania, far from polluting winds and full of pure Aussie energy
WINTER WARMERS IN SURAT
The spirit of Gujarat through a foodie lens
Snoozing sea lions in the Galápagos Islands.
6 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2013
David Thyberg/shutterstock (SEA LIONS), DEA/M.SEEMULLER/De Agostini Picture Library/GETTY MAGES (TURKISH PLATE)
Men transform into gods during the Theyyams of North Malabar
On The Cover Photographer Tony Anderson took this picture during a feast in Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico. The image captures the lively spirit of the traditional feasts, the Vaquerias, celebrated with lots of music, dance, food and fireworks. www.natgeotraveller.in www.facebook.com/ natgeotravellerindia
12 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire
Voices 40 National Park Snow leopards of Hemis
126 From Delhi Kicking back in Shoghi
44 The Icon Mystery of the Great Sphinx
130 From Mumbai The Hidden Village next door
20 Real Travel Chasing the thrill of high places
22 Frontier Tales The environmental impact of travel
112 Sport The new water sport of flyboarding
114 Adventure A desert trek through the Thar
133 Photo Workshop Tips from Steve McCurry, one of the most iconic voices in portrait photography
18 Paper Trails Packing is hard, even in fantasy worlds
26 The Idea Conservation in Africa Go Now 28 Art for the senses in Kerala’s backwaters 30 A biking and music festival in Goa
118 Record Journey Speeding through the Southern Ocean
short breaks 122 From Chennai Chettinad’s grand mansions
136 Photo Contest The best of reader’s photos
last page 144 Dire Straits The endangered leatherback is one of the world’s largest turtles
32 Taste of Travel The world’s best local food festivals 36 48 Hours The harbour lifestyle in Sydney
January 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 7
TonyAnderson/taxi/getty images (cover), NEELIMA VALLANGI (desert), Amber Merrell (flyboarding), Ana Margarida/shutterstock (sphinx)
16 Tread Softly The ocean is not a garbage dump
Editor-in-Chief Niloufer Venkatraman Deputy Editor Neha Dara Senior Features & Wildlife Writer Natasha Sahgal Senior Features Writer Azeem Banatwalla Art Director Diviya Mehra Photo Editor Ashima Narain Senior Graphic Designer & Digital Imaging Devang H. Makwana Senior Graphic Designer Omna Winston Consulting Editor naresh fernandes Publishing Director Manas Mohan Ad Sales Vice President Eric D’souza (98200 email@example.com) Mum bai Associate Account Director Chitra Bhagwat (firstname.lastname@example.org) Key Account Executive Rahul Singhania (email@example.com) DELH I Consultant Jaswinder Gill (firstname.lastname@example.org) Deputy Account Director Rajmani Patel (email@example.com) Key Account Manager Saloni Verma (firstname.lastname@example.org) Bengaluru Key Account Manager (SOUTH) S.M. Meenakshi (email@example.com) Che n n ai Consultant Shankar Jayaraman (firstname.lastname@example.org) ACK MEDIA Chief Executive Officer Vijay Sampath Chief Operating Officer Manas Mohan Chief Financial Officer VISHWANATH KOTIAN Vice President (Operations) Sandeep Padoshi Business Head (Digital) Shubhadeep Bhattacharya Brand Manager Ritika Basu Subscriptions Manager Swati Gupta Senior Manager (Legal) Lalit sharma Manager (Print Production) Sagar Sawant
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J. Michael Fay, Beverly Joubert, Dereck Joubert, Louise Leakey, Meave Leakey, Johan Reinhard, Enric Sala, Paul Sereno, Spencer Wells Printed and published by Mr. Vijay Sampath on behalf of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. Printed at Manipal Technologies Ltd., Plot no 2/a, Shivalli Village, Industrial Area, Manipal-576104 and Published at Amar Chitra Katha Private Ltd., 3rd Floor, Krishna House, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai-400013. Editor: Ms. Niloufer Venkatraman. Processed at Commercial Art Engravers Pvt. Ltd., 386, Vir Savarkar Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai-400 025. Disclaimer All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is strictly prohibited. We do our best to research and fact-check all articles but errors may creep in inadvertently. All prices, phone numbers and addresses are correct at the time of going to press but are subject to change. All opinions expressed by columnists and freelance writers are their own and not necessarily those of National Geographic Traveller India. We do not allow advertising to influence our editorial choices. All maps used in the magazine, including those of India, are for illustrative purposes only. COPYRIGHT © 2012 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER: REGISTERED TRADEMARK ® MARCA REGISTRADA.
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Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman
Matheran’s many look-out points create an ideal setting for existential reflection.
was 17 when Helen, a young Brit who was on a gap year, stayed with my family for a few days. At the time, I had no idea what a gap year was, and when she explained that she was taking a year off to travel around the world, I was surprised. And terribly envious. The thought of withdrawing from everyday routine and travelling from place to place at whim seemed very exciting to me. It still does. In India we tend to frown on the concept of a gap year. Students who manage to break the mould and take time off to travel are secretly talked of as lazy, unambitious wastrels. When my friend Zaheer was selected to participate in a Raleigh International expedition to Belize for ten weeks, it took months to convince his parents to let him go, as he would miss a year of college. The same college whose classes he never attended, the same college outside which he sat on a motorcycle chatting with friends until it was time to go home. Luckily, he went. Needless to say, he returned with experiences to last him a lifetime. Another friend Kathy spent one year as an American Peace Corps volunteer teaching at a school in rural Nepal where the only food available every day for every meal was dal, rice and boiled potatoes. I learnt from her that you don’t need a lot of money to have a gap year—it can be in a quiet hill station working to earn your keep or volunteering in a school. Travel is about discovery. But more than seeing new places, travel is about discovering something about yourself, about epiphanies, finding “aha”
If I were in charge of the planet, a gap year would be mandatory for every student, and most adults too
moments, when you feel connected with your surroundings, when life makes perfect sense. A few months after Helen’s visit the monsoon was in full swing. I made a trip to Matheran, a carfree, pedestrian-only hill station close to Mumbai, with a few friends. Back then the town would completely shut down during the monsoon. Every hotel would board up their buildings, shops were closed, the train service suspended, and you were lucky to find a store to buy essentials. We were staying in an old colonial house with a tin roof, and the sound of the rain on the roof was always deafening. Whenever the rain eased up we would take long walks. We saw no other humans. At Echo Point one day we sat quietly on the edge of the hill. The mist rolled over us, then cleared, then came back thick again. No one exchanged any words. Sitting there seemed to be enough. I felt connected with the place, the deep red soil, the pestering monkeys, the endless rain. At this place, in that moment, my world made sense. It was probably my first travel epiphany. I thought of Helen, and envied her even more. But I also knew that I would feel that way again, at another time, in another place. On a Himalayan peak, in the jungles of Ranthambore, or even in the swimming pool of a fancy hotel, if I manage to disengage with routine, with expectations, with the baggage I carry, I experience that precious moment. Sometimes this magic lasts a few minutes, sometimes I feel it for days. But every single time, it makes the trip more meaningful. If I were in charge of the planet, a gap year would be mandatory for students, and most adults too. n
January 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 13
Rishi s/flickr/getty images
Letters Inbox Hidden gem
hivpuri, a district in Madhya Pradesh is known for the Madhav National Park and Scindia cenotaphs. But, it also has the Surwaya fort, which does not seem to be very well known to tourists. It is a small but beautiful fort that can be reached by driving twenty kilometres east of Shivpuri. Inside the fort, is a beautiful open garden, three exquisitely carved temples, an open air museum, a step-well, and a pillared Hindu monastery. These are all surrounded by four stone watch towers. Some of the structures have been damaged over time, but are still wonderful to see. -Anil Gulati
s a child I always feared monkeys. I had seen them jumping down from tree tops and entering houses in search of food. Many years later, I learnt that about a sanctuary mainly for monkeys near Jorhat. I could not resist the temptation to visit the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam. At the sanctuary, I waited to spot a hoolock gibbon, the only ape in India. Over the next few days I saw the stump-tailed macaque which is an extremely rare animal, capped langur, and the gibbon that I was looking for. After seeing these happy creatures that were frolicking on tree tops, my respect for them grew and I soon felt that I was amidst my new found friends—primates!
-Tej Narayan (National Geographic Traveller ran a feature on Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary or Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in the September 2012 issue)
I intend to preserve my entire collection of Traveller for a long time, especially to read to my grandchildren when they visit during their vacations”
I can’t tell you the joy and happiness I felt when I first saw an issue of National Geographic Traveller with my 11-year-old granddaughter, whose mother purchased it for her while travelling from Hyderabad to Bangalore. Needless to say, I subscribed immediately. I intend to preserve my entire collection of Traveller for a long time, especially to read to my grandchildren when they visit during their vacations. I
wait eagerly to read the new issue every month -Pratibha Murthy I enjoyed your latest issue of National Geographic Traveller, India. The editorial “heartbeat of a city” touched a chord with me and reminded me of how I felt while travelling in the Philippines. Congratulations on the innovative ways in which you ignite the travel bug in all of us. -Rajesh Pamnani
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14 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2013
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All the temples in the Surwaya fort have a couryard with finely carved figurines.
Packed for Everything Even in fiction, only rich people manage to fit it all in
’m always envious of the heroes of Georgette Heyer’s historical romance novels. Heyer’s characters (most of them superlatively rich) never pack for themselves. There are servants for that, and the need to be well-dressed at all times trumps the need for keeping your luggage light. Your valet will fret if you don’t carry a dozen spare cravats, and you can always hire an extra carriage or two for the excess baggage. The hero of These Old Shades is happy to send his long-suffering valet back and forth between England and France for any small thing he has forgotten. In Devil’s Cub, a character finds a few dozen bottles of good wine in a French inn and immediately arranges to hire a coach or a boat to transport it home to England. For most of us, packing for a trip is a little more difficult. If we’re flying, luggage restrictions oblige us to somehow fit everything we need into the smallest, lightest possible bag. Magazines in their summer issues offer tips for doing this, none of which seem in the least bit practical. Before us is dangled the mystical figure of the seasoned, sophisticated traveller who is somehow able to dress for every occasion and meet every travel emergency with the contents of a small backpack. Of course, the implication is that if we were sophisticated, seasoned travellers too, we wouldn’t be lugging around these overloaded suitcases and heavy laptop bags. As if rushing around airports and train stations and hauling baggage wasn’t stressful or unpleasant enough, we also have to worry about looking stupid. It’s at times like this that I turn gratefully to the various fictional characters who are even worse at this packing thing than I am. A classic example is the group of incompetents who make up the title of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). The early chapters of Jerome’s book are taken up
aishwarya s ubramanian
with planning and preparations for the trip, and at first they seem to have things well in hand. The three men manage the arduous tasks of making lists and gathering the items on them, and all that is left is to put them into the bags. Naturally, things go horribly wrong. Whole suitcases have to be unpacked and repacked, and many of their food supplies are inedible by the end of it. It’s particularly comforting to know that the narrator of Three Men in a Boat is the sort of person for whom the mere packing of a toothbrush is a challenge: “I dream that I haven’t packed it, and
Before us is dangled the mystical figure of the sophisticated traveller who is able to dress for every occasion and meet every emergency with the contents of a small, stylish backpack
wake up in a cold perspiration, and get out of bed and hunt for it. And, in the morning, I pack it before I have used it, and have to unpack again to get it, and it is always the last thing I turn out of the bag; and then I repack and forget it, and have to rush upstairs for it at the last moment and carry it to the railway station, wrapped up in my pocket-handkerchief.” I’ve been there. I’ve also had nightmares about oversleeping on the morning of a journey. The three men (and dog) do just this, and start hours after they’d planned to. Another traveller who oversleeps is Bilbo Baggins, title character of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Waking up mere minutes before he is due to meet the dwarves who are his fellow travellers (who, incidentally, have woken up on time), poor Bilbo rushes out of the house and is well on his way before he realises that he hasn’t even packed a handkerchief and isn’t sure he wants to go on this adventure in the first place. But then, Bilbo’s bad luck with luggage is unparalleled. He and his companions have their supplies refurbished at multiple points during the journey—and each time, some catastrophe befalls them. After a visit to the friendly half-elf Lord Elrond, both their bags and their mounts are stolen by goblins. Beorn, a strange man who can turn into a bear, offers them supplies to sustain them as they travel through the forest of Mirkwood, but the food soon runs out and they are forced instead to carry an unconscious (and very heavy) friend. Though the people of the town of Dale provide them with food and ponies for their journey up the Lonely Mountain, they must eventually abandon most of their luggage, and their mounts are eaten by a dragon. It’s unsurprising that by the end of all of his adventures Bilbo Baggins seems less concerned with material possessions. After all, he’s used to losing them. I suppose there’s a lesson to be learnt from all of this, unpleasant as it may be. Those of us who can’t be as superlatively rich as Georgette Heyer characters will just have to learn to travel as light as possible. If the characters in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy manage interstellar travel carrying only a towel, surely the rest of us can at least aspire to a well-organised backpack. n Aishwarya Subramanian is a writer and editor. She lives in New Delhi, surrounded by piles of books.
JANUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 19
VOICES Paper Trails
NAVIGATE The Idea
Imagine There’s No Countries Dissolving borders to protect wildlife By Costas Christ
kilometres (nearly the size of Sweden), the conservation area brings 36 national parks and reserves together under one umbrella, including the celebrated Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta, creating a wildlife wonderland for animals and ecotourists. The hope is that one day a single tourist visa will allow for easy movement between the five countries.
Lions roam Botswana’s Chobe National Park, part of a new five-nation protected area. 26 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2013
Until then, tour operators such as African Travel help plan a KAZA safari. “Unlike past top-down conservation efforts in Africa, KAZA will involve local communities from the start,” says Chris Weaver, managing director for World Wildlife Fund Namibia, “making sure that they, too, get the benefits and opportunities from increased tourism.” n
arlier this year, the presidents of five southern African nations—Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Angola, and Zimbabwe—announced a game changer: the creation of Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). Although not the first, KAZA could be the largest cross-border protected area in the world. Stretching 2,87,132 square
NAVIGATE The Icon
Great Sphinx Mysteries of the monolithic statue remain unsolved
Name game The Sphinx is an alias, created
by the ancient Greeks when the statue was already centuries old. The early name was
Hor-em-akhet, meaning “Horus in the horizon.” Horus is the Egyptian god of the sky. test of time Out of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx are still standing. Colour Me Mysterious It was originally painted in garish comic-book colours like red (traces of the pigment can be seen by its ear). CopyCat In Las Vegas, the Egyptianthemed Luxor Hotel’s foam and plaster version is 35 feet taller than the original Sphinx, which rises 66 feet. Close Shave The Sphinx originally sported a beard which eventually crumbled. A piece of its “stubble” is displayed in the British Museum in London.
Secrets Legend says the library of the sunken island of Atlantis is stowed beneath the Sphinx, with an entrance near its right paw. Nothing has been found, according to bemused archaeologists. Nose Job Contrary to popular history, Napoleon’s cannonballs did not shoot off the Sphinx’s nose. The evidence suggests the nose was intentionally cleaved off at least 300 years before the Little Corporal invaded Egypt in 1798. pyramid scheme If you don’t like the Saharan sun, try booking a seat for the sound-and-light show at night when desert temperatures are cooler. The programme bathes the Sphinx and pyramids in vivid colours as a narrator relays their history. friend it The Great Sphinx has a Facebook page you can visit. n
n Arabic, it’s called “the father of terror.” To us it’s a riddle. Who built Egypt’s Great Sphinx? No one can say for sure (though several of the more crazy theories finger space aliens). The huge limestone statue, as tall as the White House with paws bigger than city buses, was erected in the time of the Old Kingdom, probably during the reign of the Pharaoh Khafre, between the years 2558 and 2532 B.C. The crouching lion with a man’s head was ancient when Cleopatra gazed upon it in 47 B.C. It retains its allure to the powerful, as world leaders from Napoleon to Barack Obama have trekked to Giza to contemplate the same view that captivated the queen of the Nile. —Andrew Nelson
Louis Armstrong, aka Satchmo, serenades his wife during a visit to Giza in 1961. January 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 45
NAVIGATE Taste of Travel
Black mamaku, a New Zealand tree fern, tempts daring diners at Hokitika’s Wildfoods Festival (left); At Germany’s Spargelfest, the Asparagus Queen (centre) oversees a cooking demonstration; The Nidali mango (right) is one of hundreds of varieties at the International Mango Festival in Delhi.
Where is the Party The world’s best food festivals celebrate local tastes
Cold Harvest (January)
What goes well with chestnuts roasted on an open fire in the midst of a mid-January freeze? Ice wine, the sweet nectar produced from grapes frozen while still on the vine—is the perfect pairing to fight back frostbite. Ontario is the primary producer of this celebrated dessert wine, which can be a pricey passion because of its labourintensive production and low yield. For nearly three weeks, the Niagara Icewine Festival pours the fruity elixir at ornate ice bars, winery tours, gourmet galas, and food stalls. bearing fruit (February)
Phalaborwa, South Africa
South Africa has its share of edible festivals—crayfish in Lambert’s Bay, chilli and biltong in the Eastern Cape, prawns in KwaZulu-Natal—but the Limpopo Marula Festival is surely the most spirited. Celebrating the first fruit of the marula tree (the tart, nutritious, golf-ball-size fruits are the essential ingredient in the caramelly liqueur Amarula), the fest launches with rituals performed by local chiefs and
traditional healers and includes marula cooking competitions, open-air concerts, and sporting events. Bonus: Kruger National Park is just up the road.
small island nation has made the most of its luscious lamb, fisheries, and burgeoning dairy farms. Between meals, make sure to nab a pylsur—Iceland’s famously succulent hot dog.
Really Bizarre Foods (March)
Hokitika, New Zealand
Toasting wine (March)
Not even Gollum from Lord of the Rings would dream of devouring wasp larvae ice cream. But you—along with 12,000 other scorpion-sampling culinary daredevils— can. Every year, the globe’s gutsiest diners alight on the South Island at Hokitika’s Wildfoods Festival to feast on the world’s most extreme cuisine, from crocodile to kangaroo to worm sushi. Wandering musicians and mimes bring a carnival spirit. Anyone for the last chocolatecovered huhu grub? (It’s a long-horned beetle, but it reportedly tastes like peanut butter.)
Gauchos, grab your goblets! The Vendimia Festival serves up barbecued beef and mega-casks of Malbec, a popular red wine from Argentina. Add folk music, a flowery procession of regional harvest queens, and fireworks and you have Argentina’s over-the-top annual ode to oenophilia (love of wine). The monumental festival, staged since 1936, honours both Mendoza’s million-dollar wine-making industry and the local cultures and characters that have forged a unique culinary heritage in the shadow of the Andes.
Northern Bites (March)
long live the Vegetable (May)
Reykjavík, Iceland The Food and Fun Festival features an
international chef ’s competition and local guest-chef collaborations at Reykjavík’s best restaurants. It’s a chance to see how this
32 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2013
Asparagus roots run deep in BadenWürttemberg, but it’s the asparagus shoots that locals celebrate. Springtime in southern Germany brings spargelzeit—a
Lonely Planet Images/Alamy (Black mamaku), Martin Kirchner/laif/Redux (Germany’s Spargelfest), India Today Group/Getty Images (Nidali mango)
By George W. Stone
Sips of whiskey are savoured at a Scottish Highlander gathering (left); Rice cakes are displayed like jewels (centre) at the International Tteok Fair in Korea; At the Mistura Festival, a local serves up choclo, or Peruvian large-kernel corn (right).
Flask Masters (May)
Scotland’s national drink brings a spark to five days of frivolity during the Spirit of Speyside Whiskey Festival. You may know the storied names—Cardhu, Glenfiddich, Strathisla—but to savour these sips in their natural habitat is a thrill. Events also include distillery tours, tastings of new releases that will never be exported, whisky feasts, and wildlife walks (bring your own flask). Sugar, Spice, Everything Rice (May)
Seoul, South Korea
Korean tteok (rice cakes) are soft, colourful, whimsically shaped glutinous rice treasures. The Institute of Traditional Korean Food, which organises the International Tteok Fair in the country’s capital, has even dedicated a museum to these sticky rice staples, which easily absorb a range of flavours, from spicy kimchi to fermented bean paste to honey and peanut. At the fair, sign up for rice-cake-making classes or wander around sipping rice wine and gobbling up these confections.
Gaga for Garlic (July)
“There’s no such thing as a little garlic,” quipped humourist Arthur Baer. This is especially true at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, an aromatic annual homage to the humble bulb. Some two tonnes of garlic fuel the festival, which features a recipe contest/ cook-off, boundless servings of garlic ice cream and zesty garlic-topped dishes like scampi and stuffed mushrooms, and appearances by the current Garlic Queen. Our hint: Bring mints. Where the Salmon run (July)
Salmon are revered in mythology from Celtic Ireland to the Pacific coast of North America. During the Copper River Wild Salmon Festival, remote Cordova in Prince William Sound honours the iconic fish with music, crafts, and one of America’s most breathtaking marathons. The star attraction: salmon every which way you can—barbecued, on pizzas, and in chowders and gumbos. The funds from a seafood cook-off go to salmon education and awareness for school children. Mango Mania (July)
New Delhi, India
Some 500 varieties of India’s national fruit—revered in Hindu mythology as a symbol of joy and spiritual attainment—take centre stage at the two-day International Mango Festival. The many-coloured king of fruits is a
major Indian export, but flavourful fun is the theme here—take in the mangoeating competition, mango-carving demonstration, mango savouring stalls ( jams, juice, pickles), and some decidedly haute-cuisine preparations of mango that bring this ancient fruit to the forefront of modern gastronomy. Oyster Love (September)
Champion shuckers from around the world pack their oyster knives for Ireland to compete at the World Oyster Opening Championship, the centrepiece of the three-day-long Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. Get ready to shell out for the buttery bivalve in its many incarnations—raw, chowder, fried— and prepare to swoon for this ultimate aphrodisiac as bands jam in dozens of bars, Irish ales flow, and a lucky girl named the Oyster Pearl takes home her crown. Andean Appetites (September)
Lima, Peru At the Mistura Festival, cuy (roasted
guinea pig, an Andean specialty) makes an appearance, but the picarones (fried sweet-potato-and-squash dough rings), Afro-Peruvian stews, Peruvian-Chinese chifa cuisine, zesty fresh ceviches, and frothy pisco sour cocktails are standouts. Even the starches get star treatment: A thousand varieties of potato, large-kernel corn, and quinoa are whipped into dishes that run the gamut from street food to haute sensations. n
January 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 33
Nicholas Gill/Alamy (choclo), Robyn Lee (Rice cakes), Catherine Karnow (Scottish Highlander)
season to devour these white stalks in all their permutations. With its sandy soil, Schwetzingen prides itself on being the asparagus capital of the world (it’s in the heart of the “Asparagus Triangle”). Its Spargelfest honours the königliches gemüse (royal vegetable) with song and dance. Food stalls serve the tender, savoury sprout with smoked ham, beneath waves of hollandaise, and in soups and salads.
NAVIGATE National Park
Ghost on the Mountain Visiting the land of the snow leopard By Natasha Sahgal | Photographs by DHRITIMAN MUKHERJEE
The snow leopard (top) is a solitary animal that is most active at dawn and dusk; The high altitude and low precipitation around Hemis National Park results in scanty fauna and a brown landscape (above). 40 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2013
he altitude is high, the landscape rugged, and the wildlife rare. Hemis National Park in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, is one of India’s largest national parks. A visit here involves a lot of walking, camping, and extremely cold weather that goes down to -30˚C in winter. However, there are rewards which include views of dramatic landscapes, spotting endangered species of animals, scenic treks, and wilderness camping. The national park’s landscape has great variety: snowy peaks, barley fields, narrow gorges, rocky cliffs, and turquoise water bodies. Being a high altitude park, Hemis does not brim with wildlife and vegetation at every step. But it is still home to a lot of animals including the Tibetan wolf, red fox, Eurasian brown bear, Ladakh urial (wild goat), lammergeier vulture, snow cock, and Himalayan griffon vulture. Snow leopards are undoubtedly the
There are several homestays (top left) in villages near the national park; The long-eared woolly hare (top right) is found in high altitudes of India, Nepal and China; Blue sheep (bottom left) or bharal are the snow leopardâ€™s main prey; Visitors hoping to spot a snow leopard should be prepared for hours of high altitude trekking (bottom right) in extremely cold weather.
biggest draw here and seeing one in the wild is the holy grail of wildlife spotting. Only around 300 of these graceful animals survive in the wild in India. They are nicknamed ghosts of the mountain for a reasonâ€”their thick golden fur and long bushy tails allow them perfect camouflage and aid their elusive habits. Snow leopards move high above the treeline in summers, but descend to slightly lower altitudes in winter, probably in search of food. This makes it easier for visitors to spot them during the winter months of November to March.
from the airport to Zingchen (`400). It is possible to drive from Manali to Leh via the Leh-Manali highway (2-3 days). Stay
Visitors who want to spend a few days exploring the trails in the national park can stay in the village of Rumbak, at an altitude of 4,050 metres. This small village is one hourâ€™s walk from Zingchen (where cars stop and the walking trail begins). There are several homestays in Rumbak that offer clean rooms with very basic facilities.
The closest airport is Leh, around five kilometres north of the park. Taxis can be hired
Treks around the Husing valley, Ganda La pass, and Khardung are recommended to
spot the snow leopard and other animals. It is best to hire a guide from one of the many travel shops in Leh, since they can arrange fully catered camping on the route, take you to wildlife viewing points, and carry a spotting scope (a telescope used to look for wildlife) as well. A visit of 8-10 days is recommended to be able to acclimatise, sift through the hills in search of wildlife, and actually see a snow leopard. Acclimatisation
For travellers who arrive by air, it is very important to spend at least two nights in Leh before heading to Rumbak. This is to ensure acclimatisation to low oxygen levels at the high altitude. n
JANUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 41
Victoria Terminus, now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is one of the city's most iconic gothic buildings and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is extremely busy any time of day or night. 52 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2013
IN FOCUS ď€´The Power of Place
Bombay Dreams ď€´Mumbai
A British teenagerâ€™s brief trip to the island-city sparks a lifetime of obsession
Peter Adams/The Image Bank/getty images
by carl bromley
IN FOCUS The Power of Place
n my basement lie the remnants of an obsession with a city: novels, histories, ethnographies, journals, films, shopping bags, listing magazines, boarding cards, foot creams, CDs, film posters, postcards, video and super 8 footage. There’s also a cancelled passport with the name of the city stamped into it, Bombay, and a date— December 18, 1987.
There were 18 of us, touring India that Christmas and New Year, with a production of Romeo and Juliet. As soon as I boarded the bus from the airport, which took us to St. Xavier’s College, the city seemed to emerge, almost atonally, in short bursts of light, like flashbulb explosions. I was mesmerised by this otherworldly city, a city whose neon light breathed life back into me after a long, motionless day on a plane. I should have felt out of place. But I didn’t. I thought: If I had to be a city, I would be Bombay. I was a maniacal teenage cineaste. I would make journeys to London and spend days at the Scala cinema in King Cross’s red-light district watching exploitation movies from all over the world. My identity was saturated by cinema then; it was my reference point for everything. During that first hour in Bombay, I thought I was experiencing the real life equivalent of the opening frames of Blade Runner with its belching flames rising from a vast industrial plain. I had, by chance, been thrilled by the Amitabh Bachchan film Amar Akbar Anthony one Sunday morning on BBC television. I fell in love with Amitabh when he burst out of the giant Easter egg and sang, “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves.” This playful, cheeky badmaash was the kind of hero I had always wanted to be. ***** When we were given our tour itinerary at St. Xavier’s, I discovered that we were going to be visiting a film studio. On the morning of our visit, I found myself studying a vast poster for Mr. India, the Anil Kapoor-Sridevi starrer that was big that year. I was on one of the lower slopes of Malabar Hill, near where my host Anuj lived. There was a poster for the latest issue of Stardust on a wall nearby. A film hero was having his shirt torn off by a starlet’s ruby-red claws. The starlet had 54 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2013
her shoulder exposed and her fishnet stockinged leg wrapped around the crotch of the hero’s black leather pants. He was showing more flesh than the girl. I wondered if this was an augury of our trip to the studios. But the studios struck me as an extension of the slum land we had passed. The walls were stained by fungus. Letters were missing from the Seth Studios sign. We were made to wait for a long time in the car park, trapped in the heat. Some of us were beginning to feel faint; others were bursting to use the toilets. Someone from our host group was negotiating with someone from the studio over the fine details of our entry. Eventually we were admitted. We were given two conditions. No photos. And definitely no talking to the cast. As we entered the studio a man, in swift flight, marched past us, followed by his entourage. The girls from St. Xavier’s suddenly became more animated and excited. It was the superstar Mithun Chakraborty. That mullet of his! Those shades! I had seen him before. It came back to me: here was the film hero I had seen that morning on the poster, the one whose shirt was being ripped off by the starlet’s ruby-red claws. Later I noticed many of the kids on the streets of Bombay and elsewhere had styled themselves like Mithun: the mullet, sleeveless T-shirts, aggressively stone-washed jeans. His cult had spread everywhere. Amitabh, I learned, was yesterday’s hero. We watched Mithun’s repeated takes on a vast, palatial set while the film crew kept a firm eye on us. They were quite officious. When Marian, a member of our tour who had a Annie Lennox haircut, wanted to use the bathroom, a peon insisted she use the men’s toilet. Likewise, when Gary, a Goth with flowing black locks, wanted to use the toilet, he was marched to the women’s bathroom. As more of us used these toilets, we were getting more voluble about
Russel Kord/Alamy/india picture (film hoarding), akshay mahajan (flower seller)
The colour and cacophony of Dadar’s wholesale flower market (top) is best experienced at dawn; It's impossible to escape the bright posters advertising new films on the massive billboards (above) found across the city.
Prints of old film posters (left) can still be bought in a small poster shop in Mumbai's Grant Road area; Bollywood dance shows (top right) are colourful affairs that may tour the world; Mud guards (bottom right) of auto-rickshaws and taxis are often decorated with portraits of popular film stars.
the state they were in. (“Once seen or smelt, never forgotten,” one of us said of the experience.) A pretty starlet was dispatched to say hello to us and calm us down. I used this opportunity to sneak onto the set and try and perfect the Amitabh act I had been working on in my head. If only I could have leapt up and swung from the candelabra. If only my shirt had a more floppy collar. If only my legs weren’t so pale and exposed by the shorts my mother had insisted on packing for my trip. I tried playing the patriarchal father. “You will not marry that man!” I shouted at a pretty Xavierite who had slouched on a chair. We were ushered off the set by an anxious stagehand. Filming resumed and we were reminded how bloody boring film sets can be. Some of us were wondering what it would take to be cast as extras in the film. Some of us were wondering what the starlet’s plans were that evening. Some of us were ogling Mithun’s fine kneelength leather boots. And one of our troupe, Lucy, started shouting, “Fire! Fire!” We concluded that it was just another way of getting attention. She continued shouting. Then she started jumping and gesticulating. One of the lights had caught fire and no one seemed to give a damn. Mithun was intensely in character. He could not be disturbed. But the technical crew started taking serious note of this burning lamp. After all, their careers would be over if Mithun’s mullet got singed. They started running around shouting. Eventually, one of them grabbed a blanket and threw himself on the studio light until the fire was extinguished. That evening, as I recounted our experiences at the studio to Anuj who was driving us around Bombay, the city continued to work its black magic on me. I was reminded, again and again, of the billboards, of the curvaceous, primary-coloured filmi lovelies and leathered-up
heroes that decorated them—painted in garish, oily green, red, yellow and pink colours. Notwithstanding the dodgy toilets and a nearly catastrophic fire, I felt that the film gods had sprinkled some of their stardust on me earlier that day at the studios. I would carry that dust as I travelled around India. I carried it for years after. ***** A few years later, I was living in Oxford. Flannelled shorts and Nirvana was the rage. Thom Yorke, the lead singer of a band recently renamed Radiohead, could be seen in the local pubs looking lonely and morose. A term, “Generation X” had crept over from America and my generation was being daubed with it. As hard as I tried, I could never recognise myself in that phrase. I was too busy with Bollywood, too haunted by Bombay. I was engaged in the first of two hundred attempts to write a novel about Bombay. I owned Nevermind but I listened more to the soundtrack of Maine Pyar Kiya. Channel Four had started showing Hindi films regularly. This was an opportunity for me to engage in a form of time travel back to Bombay. I reacquainted myself with Amitabh Bachchan’s grand style as an actor. His voice particularly, its extraordinary depth, the tall, slender, cool machismo, his versatility as an actor, as romantic, comic and angry young man. All filled me with a reverence bordering on the mystical. But the Bombay that I experienced was elusive. With the exception of Amitabh’s Angry Young Man films, the Bombay of Bollywood and its magazines was mostly a plastic world, a microclimate removed from everyday Bombay. I became a beggar for a filmmaker who would just simply point their bloody camera at the Bombay streets and spend some time there. (There were exceptions. Some of Mani Ratnam’s films and Zafar Hai’s oddly neglected The Perfect Murder captured a january 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 55
akshay mahajan (poster painter, bollywood art on mud guard), RABOUANJean-Baptiste/hemis/ getty images (dancer)
IN FOCUS ď€´The Power of Place
The promenade at Marine Drive is always filled with a mixture of students, health-conscious walkers, office-goers on their way to and from Churchgate Station, young couples, and tourists enjoying this long stretch for its cool breeze, sea views, and beautiful sunsets. 56 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2013
january 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 57
IN FOCUS The Power of Place
genteel decrepitude and melancholy of the city that I savoured on my walks around Nepean Sea Road.) Still, Bombay’s landscapes became my dreamscapes. Most of all, I was haunted by memories of Marine Drive, the boulevard that hugged the seafront on our way to Anuj’s. The memory of the sudden splash of buttery bright light that emerged before us as Anuj took a sharp turn into the drive would daze me all over again. The light seemed to coil and flame several miles up the coast, to the high-rise buildings of Malabar Hill. The skylines of the cities I had lived in England before and after were flat and ambitionless in comparison. I would pore over maps to try and get a geography of my movements of the city. I used photographs to reconstruct memories but also slow down my experience of the city. Even when we were stuck in traffic, the city always seemed to pass too quickly. But the more I revisited Bombay in my imagination, the more territory I wanted—a city beyond my own limited travels. At first I read novels like Midnight’s Children and reports like Jeremy Seabrook’s Life and Labour in a Bombay Slum. Hundreds of books followed. In Oxford, I visited the India Institute library and pored through journals of geography and sociology. I would read the dense but brilliant analysis in the Economic and Political Weekly. None of this had any professional or scholastic bearing. I was more like a fanatical Dylan fan in search of another rare collectible. ***** Two decades haunting the video bazaars of London, Nottingham, Oxford and New York. Two decades trying to re-experience the city’s unique vapours in its literature. (Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and 58 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2013
The Moor’s Last Sigh satisfied this lust as did the short stories of Sadat Manto, Vikram Chandra and Rohinton Mistry. Antonio Tabucci’s Indian Nocturne captured the city’s eeriness; and in Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables and Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City the city found, finally, books that were its equal.) Reading Time Out Mumbai as if it was my local listings magazine. Hours spent on YouTube watching tourist videos of experiences on Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach or in Colaba. An enduring interest in the city’s architectures, both interior and exterior. The cinema of the 1970s, the labour wars of the '80s, the rise of the Shiv Sena, the lives of Anglo-Indian actresses in early Hindi cinema, the city’s architecture? What wasn’t I interested in? I didn’t get quite to the point where I could recite train timetables from Churchgate to Andheri, but I spent quite some time building an imaginary city in my head. I even imagined an underground subway system erected secretly by a 19th-century industrialist-turned-transcendentalist who wanted to build a metro that would link the city’s disparate places of religious worship. It was my homage to the old cosmopolitan city that seemed to be dying in the wake of the political rise of the Shiv Sena and the ruthless commercialisation of the city. The opening of Maximum City has an extended personal history where the author recounts his childhood in Bombay and feeling severed from it when his family emigrated to New York City. His meditation made me examine my own demented fascination and ask the question, “Why Bombay?” Mehta had spent his formative years in the city. I had spent my formative days in the city. I was on the cusp of young manhood, in a strange place I felt oddly at home in. The city has been the conductor of my obsession. It was the city that sent me
Peter Adams/AWL Images/getty images
The Gateway of India is one of Mumbai’s top tourist attractions. It is also called Apollo Bunder, and is the spot from which harbour cruises and boats to nearby Elephanta Island depart.
electric shocks of excitement. I often think of the experience of the girls who scaled Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day in Peter Weir’s film. Some of them vanished, those who survived were never the same. Bombay, my Hanging Rock. Mehta’s book—much of which was set in the locale where I stayed in around Nepean Sea Road—made me think of Anuj, the young man who had been my host in Bombay. If only for a few days, he had given me the keys to the city. I could never forget the white Maruti Suzuki 800cc hatchback that he drove. It was known as India’s first ‘modern era’ car—the streets were still hogged by the stodgy but reliable Hindustan Motors' Ambassador and the Premier Padmini— and something of a novelty. While the rest of the traffic seemed content to canter slowly, Anuj wanted to pile through it. But what had become of him? Finally, after discovering that I had been spelling his surname wrong for years in my Google searches, I found a reference to him on a Campion School alumni site. But the reference to him was in the past tense. I wrote to Anand, the person who had written about him on the site, who I remembered as Anuj’s close friend. He confirmed my worst fears. Anuj was dead. In 1990, not long after my time in Bombay, he had fallen to his death in a tragic accident at the Kanheri Caves. I spent the day in a daze. I remembered rambling around the lower slopes of Malabar Hill by Anuj’s building. A lot of the area was under construction but there was still enough of the lovely bungalows and arched villas, enough foliage to give the place a romantic, melancholy air. Certain sounds of birdsong or a building style still remind me of it. By the time of my discovering Anuj’s passing, Amitabh Bachchan
was no longer the film hero I wanted to be. I was watching less and less Hindi cinema as it became less heartfelt, less romantic and much more materialistic. I even missed the dishum dishum of the much maligned '80s cinema. (I thought the film that came closest to capturing the essence of my experience in Bombay was Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express.) Curiously, as filmmakers were far more focused on capturing a global (but rather shallow) desi demographic in their cinema, I noticed more films that caught the ambience of the city I remembered. Space seemed to be developing for a modest commercial cinema that seemed interested in the life of the city. Filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap embodied this shift. ***** Recently I came across the issue of Movie magazine that I had bought in Bombay. I remembered an article about the actress Smita Patil, who had died, almost a year to that day of my trip to Bombay, at the age of 31, due to complications following childbirth. She wasn’t one of the Bolly Dollies of the billboards. Her beauty was more subtle. I remembered gazing at pictures of her adorable, but sadly motherless, one- year-old son at his birthday party. Anuj’s mother, seeing what I was reading, remembered a year earlier, people lining up outside the hospital just down the road, to give blood to their dying goddess. Imagine then, my delight, while watching Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat—a beautiful film, which, like few others, was so acutely aware of the city’s atmospherics, its morning moods and sounds—that the young lovelorn protagonist in the film was played by Prateik Babbar, the son of Smita Patil, whose picture as a child I had found so curious that morning in Anuj’s apartment, once upon a time in Bombay. n january 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 59
ip-zero (amitabh bachan), ip-black (boys tearing a film poster)
Despite several ups and down, Amitabh Bachchan (left) remains India’s most influential actor, and is venerated by audiences around the country; There's hardly a bare wall in Bollywood's first city. Every available spot is quickly covered with film posters (right) advertising the newest releases.
Bus to Pazhani A fictional journey of nostalgia to a southern temple town By Kuzhali Manickavel Illustrations by Urmimala Nag
South India bus finally lurches into view at 6.30 a.m. with the word “Pazhani” written on the front in Tamil and English. On the side, written in large cursive letters are the words “DVD Hai Sangeetha”. The song “Marugo Marugo” is crashing through the speakers, sprinkled with only a small cloud of static. There are empty seats. There is even a TV. Uncle inspects the front of the bus, the driver, and the conductor. Then he walks back to where my sister and I are anxiously waiting beside a pile of faded bricks. “Can we get in?” asks S. “Please?” “Private buses best avoided,” says Uncle. “And these young fellows are such rascal drivers.” “But there are seats!” I say. “We can sit down! In the seats!” “We’ll catch the 6.30 government bus. That will also have seats.” The 6.30 government bus arrives at 7.30, stuffed with grim women with large handbags, school children, vegetable vendors and drunken men who have tried to prop their faces against the windows. Uncle steps out into the road and puts his arm straight out, in again and then out. It looks like he is trying to cut a slice out of the morning air. “Oh my God, what is he doing?” says S. “Why is he doing that?” The bus stops and the driver shouts something which we can’t understand, though we have a feeling it isn’t very nice. “Come come,” says Uncle, steering us towards the door. “There are no seats…” says S nervously.
“There are always seats,” he says. We stumble through a tangle of starched saris and angry elbows until we are suddenly sitting next to a woman who says “sit sit sit sit” to us, even after we have sat down. The bus starts to move. We watch some people fight in the neighbouring seat and then we look out of the window. Cows gaze thoughtfully into the peach blush of the morning while people stand outside their houses and brush their teeth. Every so often we see sleepy men sitting importantly in plastic chairs at the side of the road. Everything is cool and a little smoky. “The other bus would have been nice, no?” I say as we stare at a group of children who are jumping up and down and waving. “Yeah,” says S. “I like listening to ‘Marugo Marugo’ in the bus.” ***** Until yesterday, my sister and I had been spending our holidays at Uncle’s house, reading his old books and looking at his perpetually sleeping dog. While our mother and aunt sorted through ancestral property issues, we had read Karma Cola three times and wondered if the sleeping dog was actually dead. One evening during a power cut, Uncle spoke to us about his new compost heap in the backyard, the degradation of morality in Indian politics, and Pazhani. “I have not visited Pazhani in very long,” he said through the hum of the mosquitoes. “I should very much like to go.” “Why?” I asked, waving my hands around my ears. “Why not? You both should come. Youngsters
South India shouldn’t stay inside all the time.” “But we don’t like buses,” said my sister. “Who likes buses? Buses are buses,” he said. “It will be hot,” I ventured. “Be ready by 5:30,” he said, slapping his arms. “We will go.” “5:30 in the morning?” The lights flickered on and Uncle got up, clapping his hands. “See? It’s an auspicious sign,” he said. “Are we going by bus?” I asked anxiously. “Why think about the bus? Think about Pazhani.” We watched him disappear into the hallway and then the power went again. The heavy chorus of mosquitoes picked up where it had left off. “I think that means we’re going by bus,” said S. ***** When we reach Pazhani, the cool, peach coloured morning has peeled back into a hot, sour day. We watch Uncle drink his fourth cup of tea and assure him that we don’t want any ComplanHorlicks, not even milk. He carefully inspects two bottles of water before he buys them and puts them in his yellow cloth bag. “You can walk, no?” he says. “To the top?” “Yeah, no problem.” “693 steps. You can walk?” “We can walk,” we say, because for some reason, 693 does not seem like a lot of steps when you are young and feel like you can do anything. “Ropecar is there,” says Uncle. An old woman, who seems to be folded in two, shuffles past us towards the first flight of steps. “We can walk,” we say. “No problem.” After the first flight of steps S decides to take it slow. She lags two steps behind Uncle and says she doesn’t want to talk while climbing. Uncle takes brisk but measured steps, stopping at each landing to stretch and shake out his legs. I climb the steps easily and believe that I will be at the top in about 10 minutes. I fall in step with Uncle and he greets me like he is seeing me for the first time. “Why did you like coming here?” I ask. “Why do you like staying at home?” he says. “I don’t. I just don’t like travelling. I don’t like the buses and heat.” “That is not travelling. That is just buses and heat.” “Are we almost there?” I ask, suddenly aware of the heaviness in my legs. Uncle looks at me in surprise. “Nononono, still much farther to go. You are tired?” “No,” I say. I lag behind Uncle, then S. Then I start writing letters to God. Dear Pazhani God, I think my legs are going to fall off. Please make the top come soon. Also I can’t breathe and there are old people going up past me and this doesn’t seem fair. At some point, Uncle goes to the side, sits down and takes out a bottle of water. I collapse beside him while S trots ahead a bit and then comes back to join us. “You wore yourself out,” she says to me. “No.” “We’re not even halfway up.” “I’m fine. “And then we need to come all the way down.” I ignore her and take a long drink of warm water. Dear Pazhani God, thank you for letting us sit down. Also if the top
doesn’t come soon and my legs do fall off, I feel that will be your fault. ***** When we reach the top, I keep asking Uncle if we have reached the top and we momentarily lose my sister in the crowd. When we are ushered into a bustling line, he suddenly turns around and says Look! Look! I turn one way and get an eyeful of elbows. I turn the other way and see something golden, some flowers and then I am outside again. And I am unbelievably happy. I’m not sure why– it could be because I have made it to the top and my legs haven’t fallen off. A woman comes forward, smiles, and puts something cool on my forehead. I smile back at her. I want to tell her that I almost spent this day sitting at my uncle’s place reading Karma Cola for the gazillionth time and wondering if his dog was dead. But instead I am here and it is the best thing in the world. I want to tell her everything that has happened today and then I see the tray poking into my chest, the small picture of a God obscured by streaks of sandalwood and vibuthi, the coins. “You want money??” I say. “You’re not happy that I’m happy? You just want money?” Uncle steers S and me into a corner where we sit and eat Marie biscuits. People around us rearrange their bags, stretch out and sleep. “I can’t believe she wanted money,” I say as I hand the biscuit packet back to Uncle. “Why focus on that?” he says. “Anyway, they also have to make money, no?” “Is it easier going down?” I ask. “Little easier,” says Uncle. “But only a little.”
“We stumble through a tangle of starched saris and angry elbows until we are suddenly sitting next to a woman who says ‘sit sit sit sit’ to us, even after we have sat down. The bus starts to move”
On the way down we walk single file, S first, Uncle, then me. The day has begun to cool and by the time we reach the bottom, the shadows are longer and the evening lights and smoke have started to rise from the street. We walk to a hotel where Uncle orders idlivada and tea for himself and samosas for us. He also orders two bottles of Coca-Cola. “Don’t tell your mother,” he says. We eat slowly, talking about the monsoons and the many ways in which the Southern Railways can be improved. Then we walk to the bus stand, passing hawkers selling colourful piles of underwear, paper-thin handkerchiefs and plastic cricket bats. We manage to catch a bus straight home. We even get a seat. Uncle sits at the edge, arms crossed, his bag sitting snugly between his feet. “Tomorrow rest,” he says. “Your legs will be quite paining tomorrow. Then day after we will go to Madurai, Athens of East. Athens of?” “East,” we say. “Also home of the famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple,” he says, settling back into the seat. “Are we going by bus?” asks S. “Yes,” he says and closes his eyes. We watch his face relax as he falls asleep. Then we look out the window and watch lights wink to life in the distance as the sky slowly darkens. “Maybe he’ll buy us Coke again,” I say. “Maybe,” says S. n Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of a collection of short stories titled Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings (Blaft Publications, 2008). january 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 93
GET GOING Sport
GET GOING Flyboarding
Water Rush! The new adventure sport of flyboarding is the wettest way to defy gravity By Azeem Banatwalla
ideos of Franky Zapata pulling off absurd aquatic stunts went viral on the Internet in late 2012. He soared authoritatively 30 feet above water, dive-bombing and somersaulting at will with the aid of a clever, water-propelled jetpack that nobody had heard of before. He called it the flyboard, and defined a whole new level of cool in aquatic adventure.
A watered-down version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, the flyboard was invented by French jet ski champion Franky Zapata in 2011. The base is similar to a wakeboard: light, with boots fixed to the base. Two pipes that project upwards from the base serve as hand controls for direction and balance. Water is fed to the board from a dedicated watercraft (usually a jet ski) by a thick hose attached to the base. The water spurts out from four jets (two at the base, two at the hand holds) to propel the board upwards. The concept is almost identical to the JetLev, a water-propelled jetpack made in Germany. The official flyboard is manufactured by Zapata Racing in France, and costs close to `3,60,000. How it works
Flyboarding requires two participants—one on the board, and another controlling a 100 horsepower jet ski and the power of the water jets on the board. More advanced flyboard models also have thrust controls on the handheld sticks. At maximum power, the board can hover over 30 feet above water. It is also possible to dive and zoom about underwater, or skim along the water’s surface at speeds close to 50 km/h.
After that, there’s the rush of free-styling with somersaults, nosedives and tons of gravity-defying stunts. Plus you get to look ridiculously cool in the process. Where to try it
Although flyboarding originated in France, it is most accessible to the general public in the United States, especially in Florida. PowerUp Watersports at Destin (www. powerupwatersports.com; `5,500 for 20 minutes) has certified instructors. There are also operators at Sarasota (Flyboarding Sarasota; www.flyboardingsarasota. com; `16,000 for 30 minutes) and Marathon (Florida Keys Kitesurfing; www. floridakeyskitesurfing.com; `11,000 for an hour). In the UK, WetJets has lessons in Hampshire and Peterborough (www.wetjets. co.uk; `12,200 for two hours including flyboard and jet skiing). Flyboarding is a new sport, and is slowly catching on across the world. Demonstrations by flyboarders from Thailand were held in Goa and Mumbai in November 2012. Expect to see operators closer to India in the near future. Watch it
The first Flyboard World Cup was held in Doha, Qatar, in October 2012, with enthusiasts from across the world attempting crazy airborne tricks in front of a curious but excited crowd. Visit www.zapata-racing.com for videos and news about when and where the next competition will be held. n
The hose attached to the flyboard is fed by water from the jet ski’s intake, and the thrust is regulated by revving the engine; Gravity-defying flyboard stunts (right) look effortless, and aren’t that difficult to pull off, once acclimatised to the board.
Dive in and out of water like a dolphin, or soar above the water like a superhero— flyboarding is all about freedom. While the flyboard apparatus looks bulky, it isn’t too heavy (around 30 kg), and manoeuvring around the water doesn’t require a great deal of strength. However, it does take around twenty minutes on the board to get acclimatised and balanced. JANUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 113
What to expect
Short break From Mumbai
A Forest in Hiding
A rural retreat unexpectedly close to the city | By Azeem Banatwalla | Photographs by Jayesh Timbadia
The kund (rock pool) below Patil House is fed by a perennial fresh water spring that enters the Hidden Village via a little manmade waterfall.
ost travellers on the MumbaiNashik highway don’t give more than a passing glance to the unmarked exit that connects to a crumbly road leading to Sakhroli village. Even while driving through, there doesn’t seem to be much beyond a few open fields, billboards advertising resorts several kilometres away, shops, and the occasional tree. However, a couple of kilometres along the winding road, a gate with conspicuous foliage catches the eye. A closer look reveals a small mud tablet with three barely-legible words inscribed. The sound of a stream can be heard as it swishes quietly under a little bridge ahead. What lies beyond is an oasis of leaves and branches that, a few minutes ago, seemed impossible to find
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in the barren landscape. Hidden Village is true to its name. Owner Tony D’Souza’s pet project, to create, in his words, “a place to forget about the city and just chill”, started in 2004 when he bought a patch of barren land and set about turning it into a forested retreat. Eight years on, tall, leafy trees overlook little cottages and tents, and routes charted by bamboo fences. Ducks, geese, and chickens with a license to roam free strut about in organised lines; the hens shepherd the chicks as they search for treasures in the mud. Marathi songs softly play from a radio inside a thatched-roof kitchen and dining area. The rural illusion is compelling. Only a few oddly-placed electrical appliances betray the fact that this is a hotel.
Hidden Village Further inside, the sounds of laughter and splashes emerge from a large, unconventional swimming pool (it’s actually a cementbottomed water tank) that is fed by fresh water from a perennial stream. It’s a colourful world far removed from the highway traffic that is just a few hundred metres away. There’s little distraction apart from a couple of quiet walks and a carom board. Rest and relaxation are rather unavoidable.
Explore Laze A stay at Hidden Village brings the bustle of city life to a grinding halt. The quiet fouracre property is cooled, even in the summer, by the abundant foliage. Most visitors will find comfort in relaxing on the front porch of their cottages drinking tea from earthen cups. The swimming pool, fed by fresh water, is well maintained. Fallen leaves may mislead some into thinking the pool isn’t clean, but that isn’t the case. A little away from the swimming pool is another small water body inhabited by tiny fish that conduct impromptu pedicures on feet dipped inside it. The games room has a carom board, billiards, table-tennis, a fussball table, and a dart board. There’s a separate play area for children with swings, slides and merry-go-rounds. A large animal pen near the entrance has rabbits and goats that can be petted and fed, as well as scores of chicken, geese and ducks. Walk Hidden Village is just off the MumbaiNashik highway, so there isn’t too much to see or do. Visitors can take an evening walk along a dirt trail to a nearby lake, to sit on rocks, and watch the sun set. The hotel organises a local guide to take visitors for a trek to the Mahuli fort nearby. Most visitors usually don’t trek for longer than a couple of hours to get a glimpse of Tansa Lake, but enthusiasts can venture out further into the rocky terrain for a longer outing.
There is a serene lake (above) around 20 minutes away along a dirt track. In the evenings, residents of Sakhroli village, and occasionally, their livestock, can be seen taking a dip in the green waters; Ducks (below), geese, and chickens often outnumber guests, and can be seen scavenging for worms in the ground.
STAY Visitors to the Hidden Village can choose between a quick day trip or longer stay. The accommodation options are the same for both (97020 55792/98671 55792; www. hiddenvillage.in). Tents Those on a budget can forgo the luxury of a bed to stay in crawl-in tents for two. They are reasonably spacious, with clean mattresses on the floor, a small table fan and reading light. Larger groups can book the entire ‘camp
In addition to providing a quiet escape for city dwellers, Hidden Village is a platform to restore the bruised environment and provide employment for local villagers. The area used to be a forest, filled with trees and interesting animal and birdlife, before being ravaged
by hunting and deforestation. The locals, often strapped for cash, resorted to selling firewood to traders to make ends meet. With the Hidden Village as a starting point, owner Tony D’Souza hopes to restore the local ecosystem to the way it once was, by slowly rebuilding the forest, improving the locals’ quality of life, and educating them about environmental conservation.
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Short break From Mumbai and interconnected rooms for larger groups (doubles `3,200-3,600; `2,300 for day trip). There are two honeymoon suites fitted with ambient lights and hot tubs, that are strictly for couples (no kids allowed), that have their own private entrances to the swimming pool (doubles `4,200; `2,500 for day trip). All prices include accommodation, meals, and all activities, except payment for the trekking guide, which is at the visitors’ discretion. No charge for children below 5. Half price for children aged 5-12.
Little trails and rock staircases connect cottages in the Hidden Village. They are often deserted, lending a feeling of solitude to the place. house’, a set of four tents packed together, that look like a strangely modern Native American campsite. The tents surround a large, sheltered sitting area, which is secluded from the rest of the property, and seems like a place where a large family could have a lot of fun. It has a hygienic shared bathroom (Camp House accommodates 8-12 people; `1350 per head for
overnight stay; `700 for day trip). Cottages There are five kinds of cottages spread across Hidden Village, each with its own design. The Tribal Houses are relatively minimalistic mud-houses with no airconditioning (doubles `2,800; `1900 for day trip), while the Crest, Hill, and Patil Houses are more spacious, and designed with little sit-outs
Food at the Hidden Village is a simple affair. It is cooked by local villagers, and is an understated buffet of vegetables, dals, rice, and one non-vegetarian dish (chicken, and occasionally fish). The spread is served in large metal pots and laid out in a sheltered dining area where visitors can help themselves. Meal timings are strict, and latecomers make do with a cold meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the dining area, while tea and an evening snack are served to guests at their tents or cottages. Special requests for food can be made, but are subject to ingredients being available and the cooks knowing how to make it. Barbecue equipment is also available on request. n
THE GUIDE The Hidden Village is outside Mumbai’s city limits, off the MumbaiNashik highway, around 80 km from Panvel.
Getting there Rail Atgaon station is the closest railhead to the Hidden Village, and is around 3 km away. It is on the northeast section of Mumbai’s Central railway line, between Asangaon and Khardi. Trains originating from Kalyan, going towards Kasara halt at Atagon. From the station, visitors can either walk to the property (around 20-25 minutes) or take a rickshaw (prices vary widely). Road The Hidden Village is around 80-100 km (around 2 hours) from Mumbai, depending on which part you leave from, along the MumbaiNashik highway. Take the exit towards Tansa Dam (or Atgaon) 6 km ahead of Shahapur. There are no signboards leading to the property. Follow the
road past Atgaon towards Sakhroli village for around 10 minutes, while keeping an eye out for an entrance with parked cars, bamboo fences, and foliage on your left. It is around 2 km before Sakhroli.
Seasons Being on Mumbai’s outskirts, the weather at the Hidden Village is almost identical to the city, with hot summers, heavy rains during the monsoon, and pleasant winters. Once inside, the temperature drops by a few degrees thanks to the abundant greenery.
Need to Know The closest general store is around 3 km away near Atgaon station. Stock up on snacks and supplies if needed. The Hidden Village is usually fully booked weeks in advance, so it’s a good idea to make reservations at least a month ahead for an overnight stay, especially for the cottages.
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urmimala nag (MAP)
dire straits Leatherback Turtle
hick rubbery skin instead of a hard shell—that’s what gives leatherback turtles their name. This large sea turtle can grow up to two metres in length and 900 kilogrammes in weight. That’s taller than most humans and heavier than a new born elephant. They may be large, but these reptiles like to move around a lot. When a few leatherbacks from the Nicobar Islands were recently tagged, it was found that some swam over
2,000 kilometres within just two months. While they do enjoy long migrations, they are known to always come back to their birth place when it is time to nest. They have an innate sensory guide believed to be connected to the earth’s geomagnetic field that help allows them to return to their place of origin. Leatherback turtles are critically endangered and their population around the world has diminished greatly. Nesting
sites in Malaysia that saw over 10,000 nests in 1956, only had 37 in 1995. Egg harvesting, coastal development, fishery bycatch, and injuries inflicted by boats are some of the main reasons for their disappearing numbers. These gorgeous sea creatures have been found to nest in some places in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They swim in Indian waters and can sometimes also be spotted on the beaches of the Gahirmata coast of Orissa. n
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Michael Patrick O’Neill/Alamy/Indiapicture
The world’s largest turtle | By Natasha Sahgal