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Out and About

This last weekend, a bunch of us decided to make a holiday out of the music festival very popularly known around here as the NH7 Weekender. A great lineup of musicians and the wonderful weather of Pune in tow, we set out to make the most of the 3 day festival. This weekend was anything but non-eventful! Not for the music but for all the goof ups that happened around it, this can be easily termed as my series of serious unfortunate events. Many hiccups later, we found ourselves on the festival grounds and boy was I in for a surprise! As Nirmika Singh of Festival Sherpa, rightly puts it
“… you couldn’t have missed noticing how the majority of attendees have suddenly got younger. Laxmi Lawns this year was filled with compulsive selfie-clicking, shorty shorts-wearing high-school girls and their cigarette-smoking, peck-planting, shoulder-surf-offering boyfriends…”

The festival did nothing but make me feel old and degenerated. While I clamoured around to find my fit of people, 16-somethings happily bumped into me spilling more than just love. Complaining aside, between hopping stages, guzzling rum and hogging on German sausages, I did manage to listen to some really great music. Saturday was dedicated to a bit of Soul Clap, Raghu Dixit in the afternoon. By evening, we were set for Mark Ronson, who I believe was keeping Indian times since he was more than an hour late for the show! A fun set and a few sing-alongs later, we pushed our way into Nucleya’s gig. Now, Nucleya aka Udyan, I’ve been a fan of since my college days. Way before he was Nucleya, he was the other half of Bandish Project who I enjoyed listening to. His Saturday sets at Kitty Su in Delhi had only reinforced my faith in his brand of music. And I have to say, of all the shows I saw at this festival his was the most flamboyant. In terms of production, visuals and of course the music. Albeit, the average age of his listeners have gone down but his music still never fails to entertain me. I found myself acting quite like the 16 year old next to me (perhaps on acid) when he blasted ‘Jungle Raja’.

Rehman at nh7

Sunday turned out to be a chill day in more ways than one. All of us, as a bunch decided to make the most of Pune’s famed breweries and found ourselves at the Independence Brewing Company near Koregaon Park. One too many Belgian Witbier (and a bunch of Jager Bombs and Vodka-chillies) later we stumbled into the festival venue with a vengeance! Having missed Raghav Sachchar by then, we waited for Swarathma to get on stage. A bit of walking around to shake off the drunkenness, we positioned ourselves for the highlight of the evening – A. R. Rehman! He is a legend, yes. He is an extraordinary musician, yes. Showman, he is not! Musically the show was brilliant but a bit lacklustre when it came to leaving the audience wanting more. While I waited for him to belt out his most famous numbers, he only occasionally pranced around the stage in what could be called a ill fitting disco ball. Major hate towards the irritating camera man who hogged more limelight than Rehman did himself! I wasn’t there to see you cover Rehman with your fancy equipment, I had paid money to see the man in flesh, singing, playing the piano and doing what he does best.

Since the folks at OML had been cheeky enough to have Flying Lotus play simultaneously, we made our way out of the crowd, only to have “Why would you leave Rehman and leave?” thrown our way. Well, excuse me while I get refills and some fresh air!

Quite the interesting weekend, this. A celebration of music and a consolidation of our brotherhood thanks to some misplaced bookings and utter lack of customer service by Agoda. Big ups to Uber for sorting us out on our never ending trip thanks to network jammers at the venue. Such an irony, OLA gave out voucher codes but forgot to mention to us that neither network nor cars were going to be available for us to redeem those coupons. The only people coming out rich were the auto-rickshaw guys with their exorbitant muh-boli-fares. Touche!

 

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Over the years I’ve taken pride in having eaten many a food items but never did I think a day would come when I’d say, I survived drinking kerosene. When the highlight of the trip is such, it deserves a few words on this blog.
On a glorious Saturday when the sun was dim and the clouds in full glory, a bunch of us decided to drive down to the valleys of Western Ghats for a little camping. Gathering our gear not only meant tents, torch, shoes and the likes but also enough food to feed the village and a bottle full of kerosene for the fire at night. About 230 km south east of Mumbai, the ghats are beautiful and the drive full of picturesque corners. Punctuated by our love for chai and pakoras, (and the occasional pee breaks) we finally made it to Varandha Ghats after 6 hours. Deep gorges, beautiful waterfalls and fresh greens made up for the gruelling journey up the hill in a cramped SUV. A short trek up the hill and we had found our camping site with breathtaking panoramic views of the valley. A tiny little temple replete with red sindoor smeared walls and eerie bells set the mood right for a midnight sojourn of ghost stories. Dark was descending and we needed to set up our camp for our big party. Rookie campers gathered rocks and dry sticks while the pros hammered down the pins to the tents.

Amidst this bevy of activities, a group soon huddled to start the fire. And this is where kerosene starts to play an important role. Parched from the hike and the biscuits I consumed on my way up, I was desperately seeking my water bottle (heck! any water bottle…). It is then, in this twilight zone that I spotted a plastic bottle quietly kept on the side, sticker still intact indicating the mineral contents of spring water. One swig and a gulp later, I was burping kerosene and the fire starters desperately looking for fuel substitutes.

 "Oh! You can be the flame thrower now!"
 "Dragon lady"
 "Sayanee, light my cigarette please"
 "Are you burning inside?"

It is safe to say, none of these phrases sounded remotely funny to me as my next few hours were dedicated to getting kerosene out of my system. After multiple trials and a lot of staring into the blankness, I was finally able to rid my body of the poison. What followed were days of faint kerosene smelling breath and this innate feeling of being a mobile fuel container.
Takeaway: Must this happen ever, (let’s hope it doesn’t) keep a box full of salt or a burnt toast ready. Fibrous food items and generous amount of water can help dispel any poisonous alien items out of our system. And no that doesn’t apply for when you consume a whole bottle. It’s best you see a doctor then.

That apart, this trip turned out to be a pretty fun adventure. First we lost a bunch of our comarades to a faulty Zoomcar and then our search party to the dark. If anything, this trip has reinstated my belief in miracles. Nestled between the valleys, Bhor was a beautiful little village with fresh produce market and a penchant for unusually big jackfruits. Hidden in a nook is a dispensary that could serve as a girl’s best friend if you’re not used to exposing yourself to nature. The views breathtaking and the weather conducive, I would recommend this place to anyone with a few days to spare. Special ups to the boys for arranging this trip and making this quite the success.

x

There is something about girls and castles. Or maybe it’s just me ….
Having heard (and read on Tripadvisor) so much about the Windsor castle, I decided to finally give it a go on a lovely cold Monday morning. Owing to the fact that it was a Monday in January (not mid-term) I presumed the crowd to be thin. But to my surprise, if the number of people on a Monday is anything to go by, I can only imagine what the weekends would be like.

The train journey from London to Windsor and Eton Central is pretty fast and the little two coach train that greets you at Slough is just plain adorable. That said, don’t be fooled by Google map’s efforts in getting you lost in Windsor. Give the convoluted Google route a miss and follow the clearly marked signage around the town to find places. The castle is pretty breathtaking in itself. Quite literally overflowing with English opulence. It’s a pity you’re not allowed to take pictures in the state rooms but then again maybe there lies its allure. The audio guide is an absolute must and takes one through the castle and state rooms pretty swift. Though I have to say, I was a bit disappointed by the ‘doll house’.

Not so much an art lover, portraiture per se, I have to admit, some of the Van Dycks were absolutely spectacular! The silk in his paintings are still gleaming! A little walk around town and a quick visit to Eton later, I was back in London.

A day quite well spent.

p.s. Stopped at a little cafe by the river called, The Chocolate cafe. They had the most delicious apple pie and hot chocolate.

While London is an interesting city in itself, it could get a little monotonous. Having exhausted all the pubs in London, I decided to give Friday night a try in Bath. The drive from London was a pretty peaceful two hours but what was more exciting was the sunshine that greeted me near Swindon. Oh beautiful sun! One wrong turn and I found myself in Bristol driving along the river while looking for a pub for a quick round of Pimms.
Bath maybe on every tourists’ hotlist, but I found the city a little overrated (or probably because fall is not the best time to visit). I would rather spend my £20 at the heated Bath spa than have me walking around a tank for the same price. The town is quiet and cosy and the hike up the Cathedral gives a breathtaking view of the town. Friday night at Bath maybe less taxing on your purse strings than London. Lots of little restaurants and clubs to try out. My favorite one being Graze at Brunel Square. A little up the road, The Cosy Club was also a wonderful little haunt. Very unlike London, very rustic, very festive. Having said that, the English countryside is an absolute delight with its fall colors and natural ambient light. Also on the way stop by at the Fairtrade village, Saltford for some goodies at reasonable prices.

Here’s to more such unexpected adventures.
x

… And going with my recent fixation of all things Belgian [ hint, hint ] I’ve found me the next perfect thing to fall in love with. The Belgian DJ/Producer Stephen Fasano better known as The Magician, makes the most soulful house mixes. Add to the mix a bit of my favorite Years and Years, and we have a winner!
As funny as the video is, while I wait for some sunshine in this cold city London, these words are what I live by …

And it fills me up,
and it starts to shine.
And I see it burn when you bring me sunlight.

Of all the places I have been at, the country that charmed me most is Belgium. After all it IS the land of Tintin and Captain Haddock, my first loves. Also, the host country of the magical Tomorrowland which has been on my bucket list since I had discovered electronic music and long before it became mainstream. Quaint little villages, friendly people, hot waffles, even hotter accent [swoon] and surprisingly healthy nation of potato lovers. Though much of my album from this tiny country consists of landscapes and picturesque town squares, equally exhaustive is my beer list! With every region and its specialist beers I was spoilt for choice and boy did I enjoy it! While the English like to guzzle down their beer like cola, the Belgians enjoy it. Not that they swirl it in their glasses and spit it out, but if you happen to guzzle down a Belgian beer you could be counting stars sooner than you thought. With alcohol levels ranging from 6% to 11% some bars even have restrictions on the number of beers served to a single person [smart move!].

Don’t be fooled by the size of the country, it has much to offer. But they had me fooled by the size of Manneken Pis. Manneken Pis was exactly the size as drawn on the map! […And the map claimed not to be of scale] I have come to believe the Belges have great sense of humour or that they have an overenthusiastic PR mechanism in place. A national symbol that requires a microscope to spot!

The most common question anyone in Brussels is faced with I guess is, “Should I go to Bruges or Ghent?” I’d say Ghent. Ghent is quieter, smaller, prettier, classier and less Disney-fied version of Bruges. It also has a brilliant castle worthy of being in fairy tales with a hidden chamber of torture. Though I am not much of the ‘must-do-must-see’ places, I was threatened by my brother that he would disown me if I skipped Bruges while I was in Belgique. I do not know if it had to do with the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site or that In Bruges was shot there – a film that had him in splits. In all probability, the latter. Bruges invariably was swarming with tourists, not all Collin Farrell fans I hope. My personal pictures were constantly bombarded with one or two unknown entities whom I had to pretend I was friends with eventually since they hogged the better sceneries. The Basilica of Holy Blood was an interesting visit. A place where you can pray to the real blood of Jesus. Yes, that’s as real as God can get!

While I would like to make this post about how ‘awesome’ the country is, my rambling about their beer is probably not going to stop. At the end of every night I found myself ‘sampling’ some more beer from the region [sometimes beyond my capacity] and as much as I remember my mother asking me not to befriend strangers in my inebriated state, “Hello Google” doesn’t quite respond well to my mumblings. So till I find my Prince Charming, I am going to be ‘Drunk in Belgium’ [sorry Beyonce].

Hic!

Not everyone ventures into Amsterdam with the same enthusiasm to visit a museum as I did when I landed at Museumplein. While tourists flocked to the ‘I Amsterdam’ for a souvenir picture, I readied myself for what was museum day for me in Amsterdam. A day when drinking and smoking would take a backseat while I soaked the much needed art into my system. While Musuemplein has the famous Van Gogh Museum as well as the Rijksmuseum [houses Rembrandt], the one museum I absolutely and utterly loved was the Stedelijk. Not only do you get a staggering 50% off on flashing your student ID, everything about the museum is quirky. If modern art is your thing, forget Tate, I’ve found us a new love!

The architecture, the curation, the three stories high textile wall marking the levels, the little coffee shop outside, I loved everything about the museum. The Bad Thoughts show was excellently curated. Loved the short film by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler called Single Wide. Quite an intriguing piece of film making.

I have to admit, I’ve always fancied signage in museums, especially the toilets. Sometimes they precede the art for me [haw!]. Though Stedelijk scores high on the art quotient, it’s not too far from the toilet quotient either [Serpentine still takes the cake on that one]. While it may come as a shock to many, Van Gogh museum is totally overhyped and under delivers. Unless the man is a God to you, roasting yourself in the blazing sun for an hour and half to find out that the ‘Sunflowers’ are on a loan to the National Gallery in London for 6 months is pure torture. Only bright side is all the yellow the museum throws at you irrespective of the color palette.

By the time I could squeeze my way out of the gift shop, my body had contracted alcohol withdrawal symptoms. So I promptly decided it was time for the Heineken experience. For starters, it is not much of an ‘experience’ to write home about, if you exclude the two beers (and half) included in the ticket (€17). The (supposedly) 4D Heineken ‘ride’ is pretty much a let down lest you enjoy a mini earthquake and water being sprayed at you while you’re a barley grain on a mission to be brewed. PS: Some bubble guns are also let loose for extra effect.
But I have nothing to complain about since with my two pennies not only did I score a free beer mug [official merchandise], I also have a cool certificate as the official Heineken pourer! [for what it’s worth]

While I could go on about how wonderful my rest of the evening was, my memory fails me. The last I remember of this day is stumbling into a ‘coffee shop’ near Spui and gobbling down some ‘space cake’. Not for the weak hearted I must warn. As helpful as the Dutch folks are [very might I add], it’s better to know when the last tram is or where your night bus is from. Unlike London, night buses in Amsterdam run once every hour and the wait unfortunately is strenuous enough to kill any joy you might have been riding on previously.

Till then here’s to some beer by my lovely wife.

HeinekenCheers!
xx