Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mumbai Weekend Getaway - Karjat

88 kms from Mumbai, Karjat is where the coastal plains of the Konkan end and the Bhor Ghat begins. In the monsoons and just after, the area is a luxuriant green. Karjat has a number of health resorts, farmhouses and is a base for some easy treks in the area.

Sadia, who has already won a few fans here with her Sunrise over the Himalayas video, writes about her trip. You can also read about her impressions and expressions on life here. She also creates poetry with her pictures - here!

Over to Sadia:

A warm dry afternoon, a browning green landscape, the trickle of a calmly flowing river, colourful, drying clothes, bathing buffaloes, thirsty goats, wet feet and a hot, mossy, slippery contentment.
This was Kondavane village, near Karjat on the mid October afternoon.
This is about the trip taken the weekend before last with a bunch of friends to a friend’s farmhouse near Karjat. On the way we pottered about some villages around the locality.
A wanted, needed, desired, appreciated and in retrospect, loved, break from the coffee pots of bubbling urgencies into a place where time like lukewarm aromatic tea stands still and waits to be sipped and enjoyed.

The evening of course involved a lot of rest, even more photography (where I was specifically told to get a life and take pictures of humans instead of frogs and insects), an awesome barbecue of chicken, peppers and paneer, with women doing all the cutting and marinating and men doing all the coal heating and cooking. This was followed by, two awesome games of pictionary and dumb charades where everyone fought, made up, accused, cheated and freaked out and finally tired as children surrendered to a blissful, unpeturbed sleep.

It was fun. A raw, juvenile, childlike state of merriment and delight.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Sonali Sokhal - who has also done a story on Mauritius, earlier, writes about her trip to Berlin. She has recently started her own blog - here!


Like a stocky hausfrau, who slowly lifts her skirts up to reveal a saucy garter belt and much more, Berlin’s delights are not the obvious kind……………..

But, they tend to grow on you, as you take a crazy spin through this cosmopolitan city that never sleeps!

All I knew about Berlin, frankly, before my Air Berlin flight flew in from Amsterdam, was that it was the capital city of one of the most developed nations in the world; and of course, where “The Wall” had such an interesting history. That was before the roller coaster ride around the city started, and I must confess….I now know the exact definition of uber cool: Berlin!

Berlin is the ultimate expression of the cultural zeitgeist at work. A city in transition, it still retains the grandiose identity of a world power, and an emerging metropolis with a multi-cultural identity. Berlin surprises, delights, astounds and even revolts at the same time. It is a city which can turn over its character with each passing station on the S-Bahn or U-Bahn circuit. From the riveting, lively and very Manhattan style, Postdammer Platz with its tall glass buildings, to the super quiet Gendarmenmark with its opera halls and old statues, to the extremely decrepit route to the East Side Gallery where you get to see the last remnants of the wall, Berlin changes colours like a globe trotting chameleon in overdrive.

I reach Berlin at the height of the World Cup fever. And the general bonhomie is only too apparent. These Berliners are ready to party like never before. From giant plasma screens set up in marketplaces and squares for public viewing pleasure to the mini stadia created near the historic Brandenburg Gate, to the exciting World Cup VIP events at some of the most exclusive nightclubs in the city, the World Cup is rocking the city. The serious staid image is replaced by riotous and lively parades, happy fans and tourists swilling the streets, and a very eager to please suave Berliner.

We are staying in true Berliner style, in one of the exciting ‘concept hotels’ or art hotels popular in the city. The Propeller Island City Lodge is an art installation cum hotel created by the eccentric artist Lars Stroschen. Each room is a uniquely designed artistic representation of a theme. So you have the Orange room, where even the switches are orange, and the Coffin room, where you need to sleep in a coffin-like bed (note to all adventuristas: the coffin can handle only one person at a time!), the Therapy room, where you sleep in antiseptic environs, complete with a therapy bed. And while I am getting used to creeping around painted floors in bare feet, the unique concept in itself is nothing new to the city, which loves everything with a slight touch of the Bizarre.

To my disappointment, the only skinheads and scary people I get to see are a rather mature couple traveling in the metro. So it seems the punk rock style which defined Berlin’s music and cultural sensibility is giving way to a more stylistic and global appeal. In fact, a lot of the population is actually from Turkey, with even a representative for the Turks in the German parliament. But, yes, there are still places in the Mitte, where European sentiments run high. Though you no longer can guess which part was actually in the east or the west, there are times when you can imagine the city divided if you allow your imagination to run wild. Take a walk to Alexander Platz, the central hub of what was East Berlin and very close to the Brandenburg Gate, and you feel as if the canvas that built these mighty buildings was painted by eccentric giants. The Mitte by the way also boasts of the decrepit buildings and factories run in East Germany now defunct, but unmissable for the most superb and gigantic graffiti I have ever seen in my life. The Mitte by the way, for all music lovers and thrill seekers is the eastern part of the city, where old factories and garages turn into screaming, and raving nightclubs at night.
In general it makes no sense to enter a nightclub before 1am. The nightlife in Berlin starts rather late so as a result many clubs are nearly empty until 1pm/0:00. However, at least they are open until next morning. Nightlife in Berlin has an egalitarian tradition, it doesn't matter what you wear, how you look, how old you are. Another positive aspect is that the nightlife is cheap as it can be. You rarely pay more than €10.00 to get into a club. Or you could just cut the chase and go to the legendary Tresor, for the ultimate in techno music. Berlin has been credited with being the cradle for the emergence of Techno music, like its industrial and dark twin city in the US, Detroit.
However, if you are looking for less predictable forms of entertainment which end a little earlier in the evening, you won’t be lacking for choice. My personal favourite was the ribald and risqué Kabaret, a tradition which has survived the two world wars and the cold war to enter the new millennium still quite intact. With 150 theatres all over the city, the Kabaret and Vaudeville comedy is very high on the ‘Must-see- Must Do’ for any tourist in the city. Though the decadent and opulent settings have toned down a bit, the earthy humour and hedonism has given way to more carefully choreographed spectacles in clubs like Chamaleon Variete and the Wintergarten-Das Variete where we enjoyed a lovely combination of dance, juggling and acrobatics under a starry painted sky.
For the first time visitor, Berlin can be a confusing maze of stations and metros. The easier thing to do is take a hop-on hop off tour which takes you through the more touristy sights of the city and gives you a sense of bearing. The tours can range from the normal touristy ones, to the somewhat Bizarre including one that takes you to all the underground bunkers and Nazi horror zones. Apart from that though, you will not find a single mention of this period in Germany’s turbulent history. In fact, the only remnant of that ugly episode is Checkpoint Charlie where the last check post set-up by the American army is flanked by museums dedicated to the war and its aftermath on the city’s identity. Or the extremely unsettling memorial to the Jews which bears uncanny resemblance to unmarked mass graves.
Alternatively, you can also spend a quiet day in the city’s museums. Berlin is a museum lovers paradise, with about 170 museums scattered around the city. A three day pass sold at the tourist office at Europa Centre gives you access to about 50 of them. It is suggested that you go take a look at least some of them. After all, Germany was the seat of art, science and culture right from the renaissance till modern time. However, be warned that a lot of the museum captions are still in German.

But, if the maudlin is not for you, then leave the horrors of war behind and enjoy a beer at a plush café on the Kurfurstendamm, the plushest street in Germany and I suspect in most of Europe. This also boasts of the gargantuan luxury Mall, the Ka De We (the largest mall in Europe; and please don’t ask me why this supersize obsession is so big with the Germans!). If you are finally exhausted of the frenzy and excitement, or can’t handle another museum, and old buildings and bunkers make you want to cry, then a trip into this adult wonderland crammed to the bits with the most famous luxury brands in the world and 33,000 or so exotic foods and wines is just the right place for you to unwind in some heavy duty retail therapy. Germany is actually a great place for shopping, because it’s a lot cheaper than a whole lot of its other European cousins like France, Switzerland or Austria.
And of course, I did forget to add………the beer is actually very very good!

Tips for Travelers

• The tourist office at the Hauptbahn0f metro station gives you maps and information on tour buses. It also helps you customize our tours according to the length of your stay in the city.
• Make a trip to some of the Bizarre nightclubs and bars along the Mitte, Freidrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg.
• Take a stroll Under Den Linden (which means under the Linden trees) from the Brandenburg Gate to Alexander Platz.
• Visit the Pergamon museum, a feast of classical Greek, Roman, Babylonian and Islamic Art.
• In summer time the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) at the Gendarmenmark comes alive with classical music concerts. Visit it at night for a full view of this old square with its beautiful cathedrals and buildings.
• Go shopping- its really a good deal with bargains galore.
• Do visit a German beer garden; there are some really good ones in Tiergarten and other places. Some have imported sand and give a very beachy look and feel.

A note on the Techno music scene in Berlin

In Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, post-cold war enthusiasm mixed with techno's euphoric futurism. In 1991, the Underground Resistance EP Sonic Destroyer spawned a new label, Tresor. Named after the famous club, a former bank vault, Tresor became an institution for techno around the world and a home for the Detroit artists on the European continent. To some, it is the "heavy metal of dance music," this music which has occasionally been disparaged as sounding like "car alarms set to disco," this typically beat-heavy, bass-thumping dance music which has, in fact, derived some of its sound symbology from disco, as well as from funk, rap, and numerous lesser-known genres. The music appears fresh and compelling because of its frequent use of the newest and most powerful recording and sound-processing technology, and because of its role in the development of what is commonly termed "rave culture”. Techno is perhaps the most compelling and cutting-edge of contemporary popular music genres. Detroit and Berlin's importance is virtually Biblical in techno-music lore. Producers and DJs from those cities have going back and forth creating new sounds and genres within the genre ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Tresor club opened soon after that historic occasion, exposing thousands to world-class techno; its namesake label debuted in 1991, going on to release two comps hailing the "Berlin Detroit Techno Alliance."

Both metropolises had gone through hardships (race riots, massive unemployment, war, political upheaval, etc.), but their artists drew inspiration from such strife. Techno appealed to these denizens because it seemed to promise a better future. The music's accelerated, metronomic rhythms, and bold, synthetic textures portended escape from grim realities. Orderly Germans Kraftwerk forged the blueprint that Detroiters Derrick May and Juan Atkins extrapolated into the futuristic vehicle that has transported millions to higher states of consciousness.

Where to Stay

• Try a concept hotel- its fun, though not very high on the usual hotel luxury. The Propeller Island Lodge, Hollywood Hotel and Hotel Pension Funk in Charlottenburg area offer you unique opportunities to stay in quaint places.
• Alternatively go for the Hotel Pension Alexandra which boasts of a generous breakfast buffet.
• For a taste of celebrity luxury, go in for the Sorat Hotel Spree-Bogen, on the riverbanks of the Spree. This also offers a lovely champagne breakfast

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunrise over the Himalayas

Sadia Ravl's video of Sunrise as seen from Tiger Hill, Darjeeling, India.

Elephants in Lille!!

After the success of Lille 2004 Cultural Capital of Europe, now is the time to discover Lille3000. A new cultural event which will take place every two years, open to modernity and cultures, reaching out to artists, inhabitants and visitors. Traditions and innovations are at the heart of the event. Lille3000 transports the city on a voyage to India in 2006, then to Eastern Europe in 2008.
Our in-house Francophile - Sumedha Sood will be there for a week from 20th November. Her story and pics will be appearing here by the last week of November.

14 October 2006 to 14 January 2007

Lille in a sari... Come and experience lille3000!

Lille3000 - Bombaysers de Lille: a wonderful three-month extravaganza in which the city of Lille becomes Indian.

Lille is being adventurous once again! Bollywood posters, a transformed rambla, rickshaws in the streets, an organic city, a transformed urban landscape, Indian concerts, famous exhibitions, a station revisited, illuminations, a mix of incense and spices floating in the air – the magic of India comes to Lille in 2006!

Bombaysers de Lille (Love from Bombay and Lille)!!

The multiple facets of India - at the crossroads of art and modernity - represent the heart of the first edition of lille3000. We will be able to enjoy metamorphoses in the city, artists’ installations, exhibitions, cinema, performances and parades, tastes of Bangalore, Bombay (Mumbai), Brick Lane… and Finland.
Another recurrent theme of lille3000 is the avant-garde, with visions of the future interlinking with the Indian events. Examples include Les modernités recyclées, La Maison de l’Energie Vitale and the Futurotextiles exhibition, where innovation and technology come together in interaction with contemporary art.