Dominating the town of Gwalior is its magnificent fort built atop a solitary outcrop of the Vindhyas. Since its construction in the eighth century AD, the fort has had many masters, with practically every ruler of India laying siege to it. Over the centuries, the armies of the Rajputs, the Mughals, the Marathas, and the British have passed through its gates. Lying at the crossroads of north India, the historic fort was a strategic outpost on the trade routes that fanned out from Delhi to Malwa, Gujarat, and the Deccan, and hence a coveted prize. No wonder Babur described it as “the pearl in the necklace of the forts of Hind” and Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, famously proclaimed, “The Gwalior fortress is the key to Hindoostan.”
Several years ago I took a course at the West Coast campus of the CIA in America. No it wasn’t what you are thinking, no cloak-and-dagger stuff – the CIA was the Culinary Institute of America and the course was an Introduction to Californian Wines J J Now I don’t remember anything much from the course, just that it was great fun and that I loved all the winery visits. So when the chance came to re-visit the Napa Valley with my daughter Tarini, who was a fledgling wine enthusiast, I didn’t hesitate for a minute.
The next step was to decide on what wineries to visit and where to stay. With over 400 wineries to choose from, this was no easy task and the friends we asked all had their firmly stated and contradictory opinions. Complicating the decision was the fact that the Napa Valley was no longer the easy-on-the-pocket destination it was in the 80’s when I was a penniless grad student in the US. Long gone were the days of the free wine tastings and decent hotel rooms now went for upwards of $200. So we decided on a selection of vineyards that would fit our modest budget and found an AirBNB listing with Superhosts Resa and Sam Shore who turned out to be every bit as charming as and hospitable as they sounded on paper.
The silver Mustang arrowed its way across the flat desert scrubland. All around was a blinding brightness as the rays of the afternoon sun beat mercilessly down. The way ahead gave no indication of what lay just over the horizon. The giant chasm of the Grand Canyon carved out by a single river, the Colorado, fully 277 miles in length and 10 miles across, on average. Had we kept on going, we would have ended up like the doomed duo, Thelma and Louise, in the final climactic scene of the movie.
My wife, Saroj, and I had made this same journey with our college friends, Anjana and Rajiv, nearly thirty years ago. Back then, we were carefree young adults in the prime of life, and it was an idyllic drive across Arizona, listening to the Travelling Wilburys who had burst like a supernova on the music scene in 1988. A couple of years ago, Rajiv left us too early, reaching his End of the Line, but his spirit and his laughter lingered on in my head. This return trip to the Grand Canyon had been my idea. And the young woman in the passenger seat was now my 27-year old daughter Tarini.
Guest Blog by Tarini Pal
Last month, I was lucky enough to watch a former frontman of one of the most critically acclaimed and influential groups in the history of rock music perform live in Pasadena: Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.
Being the child of parents who were born in the 50s, I had been introduced to rock at a very young age without even realizing it. I suppose I really began to develop my own interest in the genre about a decade ago though, when I was in college, a time when young minds are particularly susceptible to the way in which it romanticizes rebellion. And Pink Floyd’s psychedelic sound is particularly rebellious in that it isn’t tied to any particular form of music.
Expect the Unexpected
When trekking—whether in the Himalayas or elsewhere—always expect the unexpected.
The truth of this maxim has been evident on every trek I have undertaken. Circumnavigating the towering Manaslu in central Nepal proved to be no different, but that’s not how it started out. That very first morning, as our group moved out of the road head of Sotikhola, we had no inkling of the hardships to come. Indeed, the leisurely ten-day walk-in from Sotikhola (700m), gradually ascending to our ultimate objective, the Larkya La pass (5,160m), seemed like a great idea at the time.
Taking It to the Limit
My spirit and strength had been taxed to its limit by the rigours of this difficult trek around Manaslu. Our ultimate objective the Larkya La pass (5160m) was within sight but still seemed like a world away. I slumped down on the snow exhausted beyond measure. My BFF Praveen urged me on like a crazed cowherd, his words of Go Mayo Go and Lal Sitara Zindabad invoking the gods of all our childhood, resonating in my ears but making no sense. I closed my eyes to shut it all out. Was this the end?
Parades, Parties and Passion
So have you ever wanted to go to Carnival? To me the word evokes images of wild street parties, mesmerising samba music, throngs of costumed revellers and general bacchanalia. And of course, who doesn’t know that the festival is associated with Rio? That pulsating Latin city hosts the largest single celebration in the world with over a million visitors, half of which come from overseas.
Unfortunately it is difficult for Indians to be counted in that number. The exorbitant cost of flying to Brazil and back puts it out of reach of anybody except for the super mega-rich. But nil desperandum as the Latin saying goes. India boasts its very own Carnival in its very own holiday destination of Goa where you can party for a fraction of the cost !
A golfing weekend with Mayo 74 in the Deccan heartland
Golf is like a love affair. If you don't take it seriously, it's no fun; if you do take it seriously, it breaks your heart. I am not sure exactly who said that but it definitely fits my definition of this morbidly addictive game! Fortunately I am not alone in my magnificent obsession. It explains why six of us middle-aged and well-rounded Mayoites are winging our way to Hyderabad in the heart of the Deccan. Have golf clubs will travel, that is our chosen motto. Preferably for free but of course no-frills domestic airlines see it a different way and charge us an unfair premium for shipping our unwieldy cargo. You can always tell a golfer from the animated argument he is having with the check-in staff holding up everyone in the queue!