Shilparamam

Now is the best time to visit my place, the state of Telangana, when the temperatures drop low at night and stay pleasantly cool through the day. There’s so much to see and do here- historical sites like the Golconda Fort and parks like the KBR National Park. But there’s one place I can’t highly recommend enough- Shilparamam, “an arts, crafts and cultural village” at Hi-Tech City, Madhapur.

Set like a village
Set like a village

Shilparamam has a rural set-up and the shops within its campus remind a visitor of a Village Fair. It costs 40 Rupees to enter ( about 0.6 USD and 20 Rupees for children. Entrance is Free for kids under 4). A couple of huge Terracotta Horses stand guard at its entrance, making it hard to miss.

At the entrance
Terracotta Sentinel

Even though it is located in one of the busiest parts of the state, the complex itself is free of vehicles, which makes shopping such a breeze. I let the kids run about, with supervision of course, as we were there in the afternoon and it wasn’t too crowded.

Shilparamam opens at 10:30 in the morning itself.

The shops are vibrant, stocked with handwoven clothes, paintings, sculptures, pots, pans, jewelry and other tchotchkes. It’s hard to decide what to buy and what to skip. Prices range from affordable to exorbitant and most shop-owners are willing to bargain. Many of the stuff you buy support NGOs take better care of those in need of help. So, instead of the usual Buyer’s remorse, you end up feeling generous after a bout of shopping. (I can imagine Prasad rolling his eyes at this!)

At another stall

A beautiful Display
A beautiful Display

It’s not just a shopping complex, but holds much more than that. Everyone, young or old, can hang out an entire day and not run out of things to do. It’s probably not a great place to dine, as there aren’t many options to pick from. (There are good restaurants in the vicinity with better food).

Pencil Shading
Pencil Shading by a local artist

The Village Museum is built like one of the many villages one can find in the South. Life-like models going about their everyday activities like selling wares at a market, performing rituals, sculpting etc. displayed in the museum will stun you for sure. The puppet show run by an old couple is always a hit with the kids and adults alike.

Life-like models on display

That's me!
Yours Truly! ūüôā

Wait wait… there’s more- A rock Gallery, Sculpture Park and other attractions which I missed because we ran out of time!

Last but not the least, there’s Music and Dance too. An open-air theater showcases performances by musicians and dancers from different parts of India. And local performers entertain the shoppers along store-lined streets, singing some foot-tapping folk songs.

Music and Dance

A total package for the whole family, everyone ends up having a gala time! Not only can you do all your souvenir shopping right here, you will also leave with a flavor of Rural India.

(The only drawback is navigating to and from this place through dense traffic! Uff!)

30 things to do in 2016

30 is going to be my number soon. That’s because I’ll turn 30 next year! And I feel…. nothing, actually. Not happy, not sad. It is just going to be another birthday, another year. But I love new beginnings- a new day, a new year,¬† a budding love,¬† the start of a journey of parenthood etc. And (you may be totally aware of this!) I love drawing up lists, goals and resolutions. Oh no, not again, did you say? I know I have done this before and I have failed to keep up with most goals. But this time I have a plan. I’ll tell you how I’ll tackle my list (in a different post) and post monthly updates too. So please, pretty please, bear with me and read my goals, will ya? And keep me on the right track; I know my sister will!
1. Buy a sewing machine
2. Learn basic stitches
3. Sew a summer dress/ skirt for Medha
4. Paint a wall hanging for our hall
5. Scrapbook with Medha of her cousin’s visit
6. Make a photobook with Medha’s pictures.
7. Make a photobook with Madhav’ s pictures
8. Turn the spare room into craft/reading room
9. Post before/after pictures of craft/reading room project
10. Bake a cake and decorate it with Medha
11. Throw a handmade birthday party at home for Medha and Madhav
12. Read “Big magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert
13. Read a kannada book
14. Read the photography book Prasad gifted me
15. Complete Spark ecourse
16. Complete Onward and Upward ecourse
17. Have pictures taken with my sister for the blog
18. Write thank-you letters to the most important people in my life ( I know who they are)
19. Volunteer at Madhav’s playschool
20. Write to a magazine/ newspaper.
21. Visit a National park
22. Learn to drape a saree beautifully
23. Watch a play
24. Add 10 new followers to the blog ( to make the count 90)
25. Change the blog’s “about” page
26. A weaving project with Medha
27. A plush doll with Medha
28. A garland with Medha
29. Visit a historical monument/palace with the kids
30. 365 days of journaling

Wish me luck!

Any tips to keep up with New Year’s Resolutions will be much appreciated!

Love,

Manasa.

Neuschwanstein Castle

For Mike`s birthday, we planned a trip to a place called Schwangau to visit the world famous castle, Neuschwanstein. Schwangau is a small village in the district of Ostallg√§u in Bavaria, Germany. I had seen photographs of the castle before; it was picturized in a few movies too (This castle was the inspiration behind the palace shown in Disney’s Sleeping beauty) and I was so looking forward to seeing it in real.

It takes about 2.5 hours to reach the castle from Winterthur (where we work), but due to heavy traffic near the German-Swiss border it took us an hour more.

Around village
The picturesque village of Schwangau

We had booked our room in a beautiful 4-star hotel called Hotel R√ľbezahl (we chose this pretty but a tad too expensive hotel because it was Mike’s birthday. There were other good, cheaper hotels in the vicinity too). Our suite came with a view of both the Neuschwanstein and another, Hohens√ßhwangau castles. It was simply fabulous!

After a perfect breakfast, we drove to F√ľssen, a town a few kilometers away from Schwangau. The town center has many shops, cafes and churches. Then we went to another town called Kempten, in the south-west of Bavaria. There was a Christmas market and nothing much.

Fussen
Fussen

¬†Our hotel package included a half hour ‚ÄúKonigsbath‚ÄĚ (King`s bath in German), a bath fit for royalty! We were ¬†also awarded a complementary 4-course meal at its restaurant. What can I say! I had the best German specialties starting with mushroom in an aromatic sauce, lemon and coconut soup, Gnocchi with onions and finally ending with 3 different Chocolate cakes. I enjoyed every bite!

 The Hotel booking also included guided tours to both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles. It was 0 degree C when we reached the castle the next morning. We went to Hohenschwangau castle first, which is a 20-minute climb up a slope. King Maximilian of Bavaria built this castle in 19th century as a summer and hunting residence for his family. This castle was the childhood home of his son King Ludwig II. It inspired Ludwig to build his own castle. And he did. 

View of the castle from our hotel
A view of the Castle on our drive
Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

I have never seen a building as beautiful as the Neuschwanstein Castle. The grey and white mountains that surround the White Castle lend it an ethereal,  picturesque view. 

Neuschwanstein was designed by a painter called Christian Jank. Swans flock the whole region (and hence the name, Schwangau) and they were Ludwig’s favorite birds too. Inside the castle almost all the paintings, wall hangings have Swans in them.¬†I learnt that King Ludwig would sit in his room in Hohenschwangau castle and look through a telescope at his new home being built.¬†

Ludwig is known as a fairy tale king. He spent most of his time pursuing his passion rather than ruling his kingdom. He used up all his money (not the state funds though, his royal revenue) on the construction of his beloved castle and had to borrow extensively.

Neuschwanstein Castle-001
Ludwig’s Castle

Sadly, he passed away before the construction could be completed. And it remains in this state even to this day. Despite that, it is still one of the World`s best architectural splendor.

Cheers,

Madhurya

In our neck of the woods…

  1. It’s mostly been Work, work and ¬†work lately. There’s so much to do, plus, I need to wrap everything up before I head to India.

Work work and more work

2. I still took some time out to crochet a bit (Just the thing to cheer me up!). I made this dress for my niece and a table-cloth for my mother-in-law.

3. I’m hooked on this and this websites for my cooking. The Vegetarian Chilli from this recipe turned out so great! I want¬†to get back to baking cupcakes; Its been so long! Mmmm… ¬†maybe after I return from my vacation? I have to make use of the Baking trays (of different shapes) that I received from my mother-in-law!

4.  I got a new haircut at a Salon recommended by my sister-in-law, where I also had my wedding hairdo done. Now I feel light and pretty; I even let my hair hang loose, something I did not prefer to do when my hair was long.

5. I love decorating our home for festivals, be it Diwali or Ganesh Chaturthi or Christmas. This time I made some garlands using my stash of color papers for Christmas.

6. We celebrated Mike`s 33rd birthday with the whole family at an American-style restaurant called Stars and Stripes. Of course we had a great time!

7. Mike and I decided to spend his birthday weekend in Germany at a place called Schwangau, where the world famous Neuschwanstein castle is located. We booked a room in a hotel close to the castle. Such a gorgeous place! It was so relaxing, I forgot all the stresses of the previous week (more about our weekend getaway in my next post).

8. In a few days I’ll be in India, with my family.¬†I am so looking forward to spending time with them and attending my little brother’s Wedding! And not only that, I can’t wait to show parts of my country to my mother-in-law and Guido, Mike’s best friend, who will be accompanying us on this trip!

Lots going on. Lots to go on. Wish me luck!

Cheers,

Madhurya.

The Palace of Illusions- Book Review

Any writing terrifies me (But I still write, because it never fails to perk me up after I hit “Publish”!), but writing about “The Palace of Illusions”¬† has so far intimidated me! Even as I write this, I know I will fail to do justice to this outstanding book. Still… I want to share my (divine) experience reading it. I don’t think I’ve said this before about any other books I’ve read, but this one just pulled me into its folds and didn’t let me go until I’d reached the end, exhausted, but blissed out. I found myself going through a wide range of emotions from pure sympathy to utter disgust, heart drum-rolling to being moved to tears, bafflement to feeling blessed as I read the book.

This story is, in essence the story of Mahabharata (one of the 2 major Sanskrit epics of India), told from the point-of-view of Draupadi, the wife of Pandava brothers. And Mahabharata (to those of you who have no clue what it is all about) is a narrative of the lives of 2 sets of brothers- Pandavas and Kauravas and their battle for the throne of Hastinapur. Almost every Hindu child grows up listening to the stories mentioned in the book.

I don’t know how true this historical fiction by Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni is, in telling the tale of the Mahabharata and how accurate the depictions of its characters are to Vyasa’s original, but I loved this one to pieces, mainly because it is told from a female perspective and also because the writer makes something so sacred, so austere, truly accessible to all.

I don’t say that I liked all the characters that peopled this book, not even the virtuous ones! In fact I found myself rooting for the “bad” characters at times, which goes to show that each one of us is a complex mix of both good and bad. I liked Draupadi, the central character, in the beginning, raw and innocent with a deep yearning for a better life, than the stifling, fortified life her strict Father had bestowed upon her. But with passing time and the unusual circumstances she’s thrown into, she hardens into someone unrecognizable, even to herself. With every turn of page, I liked her less and less. Guess who I liked the most? No, not Yudhishtir, the most righteous or Bhima, the strongest or Arjun, the bravest or any of her other dashing husbands. It was Karna that I fell in love with. Karna, the enigmatic. Karna, the thorough Gentleman. Karna, the magnanimous. Karna, her husbands’ fiercest enemy. And Karna, the firstborn of Kunti, the mother of Pandavas! I pitied and admired him at the same time. Like in “Gone with the wind”, where I kept waiting for the elusive Rhett Buttler to appear, so did I anxiously wait for an encounter of Draupadi with Karna.

Draupadi is destined to do great things. Powerful, but deadly. She is the main reason for the Battle of Kurukshetra, the war that pitted brothers against one another, killed innumerable beings and left mothers and wives without their sons and husbands. Vyasa, the writer of this epic is writing all of this even as the story unfolds. So I kept wondering whether all of this could have been averted. But no. As Vyasa puts it to Draupadi – “Only a fool meddles in the Great Design. Besides, your destiny is born of lifetimes of Karma, too powerful for me to change.” But… He does ask her to do (and not to do) certain things which might help change the course of history, but she will not do as she’s told…

I just couldn’t hold my tears back when her own husbands stand back, heads down in shame, while their enemies humiliate her in a crowded court by disrobing her. Her words “I’d believed that because they loved me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me- as much as perhaps any man can love- there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honor, of loyalty towards each other, of reputation were more important to them than my suffering. They would avenge me later, yes, but only when they felt the circumstance would bring them heroic fame. A woman doesn’t think that way. I would’ve thrown myself forward to save them if it had been in my power that day. I wouldn’t have cared what anyone thought.” Who comes to her rescue then, when even the man of her dreams, Karna, has joined the Shaming club? Lord Krishna. His words to her, “No one can shame you, if you don’t allow it.”, simple, yet so weighty left me beaming with joy.

Until the end of her life, Draupadi fails to see the divinity in Krishna. She loves him, yes, adores him, confides in him, yet, fails to see how he’s always there when she needs him. When others treat him as God, she scoffs at their ‘exaggeration’! A Chameleon, she thinks he is. I looked forward to their verbal exchanges- ¬†a treasure trove of wisdom I think they are. Here are a few examples-

“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”

“Even a curse can be a blessing, Krishnaa. Don’t you agree?”,¬†he called her “Krishnaa”, the female form of his own.

“‘ Try to remember that you are the instrument and I, the doer. If you can hold onto this, no sin can touch you.’

‘What if I forget?’

He said, ‘You probably will. Most of them do. That’s the beguiling trick the world plays on you. You will suffer for it-or dream that you’re suffering. But no matter. At the time of your death I’ll remind you. That’ll be enough.'”

I wish I could kiss the hand that wrote such words.

For now I’ll make myself happy by reading the book again. And again.

Letter to Medha

Dear Medha,

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write much to you. Not because there isn’t much going on with you, but BECAUSE there is! We’re too busy right now, neck-deep in your school stuff and home stuff. Apart from 2 big Weddings in the family, the arrival of guests home, there’s so much school work to do. If one day you have Crown-decorating competition, then the next day you have Leaf-Doodling (for which you won the first prize!). If one day you have to narrate a story in the assembly, then you have to read a book in front of the Principal the next. And now comes the hot sauce to this porridge- Assessments- for which Papa and I have to figure out how to squeeze the spellings of some 30 new words into your brain and teach you what consonant blends are (which by the way none of us knew until we read your book!). Phew! And… and… How about your Dance (Classical) class and your Tennis lessons (We took the month off from Tennis. Thought it best for my sanity!)? Most of the time I find myself navigating the busy streets, dropping and picking you up from one class to the other. I don’t dare think of the days when your baby brother joins various classes too! I might be becoming certifiably insane, but you, you’re so chilled about everything! No sweat, no tears about this crazy business we are in! But just enjoying everything, going with the flow… You know one really really good thing about you that I find highly improbable in a child your age? It is that you’re game for anything!

“Dance class?”¬†¬†“Why no Tennis today?”

“Don’t you want to go?”¬† “Hmmm… OK. Let’s go!”

“Tennis today”-¬† “Yay! Let’s go!”

“Painting?”¬† “Wow! Yes!”

“Let’s read a book” -“Will you help me? Then I will.”

“Let’s learn some new words” – ¬†“Yeah… OK” (with a slightly constipated look)

“Forgot a word?”¬†“Don’t stare at me like that! I’ll write it 5 times if you want!”

“Let’s go out”–¬†“YAY!”

“Let’s stay home”– “Yeah… OK. I’ll watch TV then.¬†What? No TV? ALRIGHT! Phone? OK OK… I’ll play with Madhav” (Looks at Madhav with a “Do I have to?” face. But goes with it…)

I wish I could be more like you!

What punctuates these short, overloaded days are the sweet compliments I receive about you- Papa commending me for having drawn you this far from the days of your struggling to recognize letters, to now being able to build words on your own. The Supervisor at school telling me how beautifully you dance and that I needn’t worry about your studies. My own friends telling me how well-behaved you guys are (despite my telling them, repeatedly, that you could be a couple of monsters at home!)!

Perks of this job!

Love you my sweet girl,

Mama.

Pumpkin Lighting Show

On a Saturday evening Mike suggested we go to the Pumpkin Lighting Show in a village called Rudolfingen. What usually takes about 5 minutes by car,¬†took us more than 20 minutes to get there. The route, the nearby field converted into a parking lot for the occasion, the village itself was packed with people. Just for a display¬†of an assortment of carved Pumpkins? I wondered. But I was proved wrong… In a good way, that is… ūüôā

The entry was about 5 CHF (approx. 5 USD) per car.

A big ‚ÄúWOW‚ÄĚ was all I could utter as we entered the dark alleys of the village. There weren’t any street lights but the whole place was blazing with the bright orange light spilling from the carved pumpkins. Pumpkins… they were everywhere. Of every shape and size! Movie Stars, cartoon characters, animals, flowers and various patterns were engraved on them. More than 1000 pumpkins were lit that day. Even the most weird-looking one was carved beautifully and given its place. I kept thinking… “Every Pumpkin has its day!”

This Show was started in 1999 to generate more revenue for Rudolfingen. And has drawn in a horde of visitors and profit ever since.

Pumpkin Lighting 2Pumpkin lighting 5Pumpkin Lighting 4Pumpkin lighting 3Pumpkin lighting show

We walked from one street to the other, clicking pictures until we had covered the entire village on foot. There was so much to see! And there were restaurants and open stalls that served food and drinks too.

Hats off to the organizers and participants who put in a ton of effort, time and patience into creating these masterpieces!

Cheers,

Madhurya

Photo credits: Mike