Day 1- Between two guest houses and enough time to spare

Lush view from the lobby/chill-out space of Jati Home Stay
Lush view from the lobby/cafe of Jati Home Stay
I had read so much about Ubud and had even heard about this little town from a dear friend. And here I am, sitting at the cafe of my guesthouse, Jati Home Stay (Wi-Fi is freely available at most cafés), after a long day of walking around and, of course, the press meet for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014.

The ornately carved entrance to my room at Honeymoon Guesthouse
The ornately carved entrance to my room at Honeymoon Guesthouse
I arrived last night and was booked for a night at Honeymoon guesthouse, one of the many properties owned by the festival director Janet De Neefe. Staying in a traditional Balinese villa, although just for a night, was such a treat. I find it a bit daunting to arrive at a new destination in the dark of the night when travelling solo. I took a little walk outside and chanced upon Nick’s Pension, where I devoured a meaty club sandwich after travelling for hours from Mumbai. Yes, the adventurous side in me was dulled. But I knew I had plenty of time to sample Indonesian cuisine at its best.

Each room has a huge, ornately carved patio—something that I only noticed once I woke up. It was here that I thoroughly enjoyed a strong cup of Balinese coffee and felt much better, ready to take on the day. The rooms are clean and the bathrooms rustic, while breakfasts are as perfect as can be. I had to check that day as their rooms were already pre-booked but all went well as I would soon come to see.

I’ve been meeting many new people, mostly writers, many of whom are from Australia given its proximity to Ubud, as well as journalists from Jakarta and Bangkok. The town is a small one, so you can walk around if you have time to spare. But since I’ve to be at festival venues, some of which are over 15 minutes away, I’ve decided to take a ride every morning.

Continue reading “Day 1- Between two guest houses and enough time to spare”

Sharing ideas and so much more at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

Press Call UWRFI’m in Ubud for the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. It has only been a day since I arrived and it’s been fantastic. Even though I’m here alone, with no skills to ride or drive, getting around is easy. Today’s a relatively free day before the next four busy days attending session after session on just about everything – from writing and politics, to cooking, coffee and the arts.

The media meet just concluded and on board the panel were such authors as Amitav Ghosh and Elizabeth Pisani, festival founder Janet DeNeefe, and Azyumardi Azra, a prominent Muslim scholar, among others. They addressed the many reasons for their being there at the festival. Interestingly, the theme of UWRF 2014 is Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge. DeNeefe aptly mentioned that she was happy that this arts festival coincided with Ubud’s ongoing festival dedicated to the goddess.

Amitav Ghosh shared his thoughts on his works saying, “In Asian history there has always been some sort of a profound silence; it’s a problem that we face because there’s so much that hasn’t been documented.”

“For instance, from 1938 onwards, many Indians and Chinese left for Fiji and Mauritius as labourers. They left behind no sources, but using objects like immigration papers, it has been possible to reconstruct this occurrence in history. I’m also greatly fascinated by the opium trade. Again, this trade that financed European colonial trade hasn’t been documented,” Ghosh concluded.

Elizabeth Pisani, who has travelled for innumerable months across Indonesia said that her approach to writing and covering Indonesia is the same as the way she approaches everything else in life – to have a coffee. She recounted several instances of extraordinary happenings over a simple cup of coffee, or kapi, as it is known here.

“I got on a boat with no plan, but I found different stories everywhere I went. Indonesians are without doubt the most generous and hospitable people I have met on my travels, and I have travelled extensively across the world,” she said.

This was an exciting start to the festival with plenty of busy days ahead. To be a part of the media and to be able to cover such a great festival has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s proof that dreams do come true.

Off to Ubud, Bali’s cultural heartland

A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield
A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield

The day has finally arrived. I will be leaving for Ubud in Bali. Indonesia, specifically to attend the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. While each of the five days presents an exciting line-up of authors, artists and speakers that I plan to attend, I’ll be making the best of the days after the festival to discover this charming little town. You can look forward to my new blog posts on Ubud shortly. I hope to blog much about town in between all those sessions and my much-needed ‘me time’. In the meanwhile, here’s a piece that I had written for The Label that outlines a few reasons to get your self to this fantastic festival.

Take a yoga class, learn to cook Balinese food, or explore your love for surfing when you aren’t attending fascinating literary sessions 

There are a rising number of festivals for writers and readers, a seemingly endless list for music lovers, and still many others if you love the arts. And then there are festivals like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The main idea behind this festival—now in its 11th year—is to gather like-minded appreciators of the written and spoken word in an idyllic little town, abundant in paddy fields and artists. Still, it’s a well-rounded and inclusive festival; one that gives anyone with even the mildest interest in the arts, a good chance to experience a new destination. Poetry slam events, cultural workshops, music, films and more will keep you busy through the festival.

Stellar line-up Like always, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014 features an exciting literary line-up. Taking the stage, among the 150-odd writers from over 25 countries, is British travel writing great Colin Thubron and Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura. Master novelist Amitav Ghosh and a host of award-winning writers, including Hassan Blasim and Eimear McBride, are also big draws. This year onwards, the festival will host the winning author of the annual DSC Prize. So we’ll be seeing 2014 recipient Cyrus Mistry (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer) land on Indonesian shores.
A festival ticket will get you a seat at most of the events. But it’s the more intimate ones that you should also aim to be at. Hosted at partner restaurants and venues, you’ll be privy to freewheeling talks by writers and artists in an intimate setting.
Yoga with a view Five days of session-hopping might leave you craving for some less intense modes of relaxation, like yoga. Bali, particularly Ubud, is famous for its yoga studios and retreats; which is why the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival offers festival-goers free yoga sessions everyday at a location facing the stunning Campuhan Ridge.
Surf’s up Bali is big on surfing since it gets the full force of the surrounding ocean swells. This year, events around surfing will be hosted at the festival. When you aren’t on your surfboard or attending one of the sessions, head to some of the free surf-related events. Although it begins before the opening of the festival, on September 28, veteran filmmaker and photographer Dick Hoole’s photography display will showcase his works documented since 1973, when Bali first experienced a surge in the surfing scene. Amateur and pro surfers shouldn’t miss the panel comprising champion surfer Rusty Miller and author Phil Jarrat.
One of last year's performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield
One of last year’s performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield

Culture unhinged In between all those sessions, it’s natural to want to soak in the rich culture of this town. You can always opt for a solo experience. But with such a rare line-up of cultural workshops, you might be better off saving those explorations for later. Learn to prepare a lavish Balinese feast at the Honeymoon Guesthouse’s cooking school while you sip on local rice wine, after you return from a guided spice and herb tour to an Ubud market. Or, you could learn to whip up a three-course Balinese meal at a workshop by the Mozaic Cooking School. Although these are special events that come at an extra price, you can be assured that they are worth your time and money. You can also receive a hands-on apprenticeship in the iconic art form of Batik, or embark on a fascinating herb walk that will introduce you to Bali’s wealth of natural remedies.

Besides, there’s much to be experienced in Ubud, other than the much-awaited festival—from its many art museums and botanical gardens, to a sacred forest full of curious monkeys.
This piece was first published on The Label, a lifestyle magazine by Louis Philippe.

Snapshot Saturdays—Ranthambore’s Ancient Ruins

I like to take a break from words, sometimes. And I love to visually document stuff when I travel, try out new dishes or do something new. So I thought it might be nice to share it with you all.

This all-new section on A Delightful Space, called Snapshot Saturdays, will bring you one piece of imagery from the recent past, every Saturday. Hope you enjoy it!

This ancient stone structure is one of the many such ruins that can be found in the Ranthambore National Park

This photograph was shot in Ranthambore National Park, Sawai Madhopur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. We were on a safari trail that took us along the famed Jogi Mahal, when we came across this ancient structure.

Jogi Mahal, a guesthouse solely used by officials and dignitaries, lies in the middle of the forest! We later learnt from the owner of our guesthouse that the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his family stayed here for a few days in 1986. In fact, it was the first real break that he took since assuming the office of PM. Indian film actor Amitabh Bachchan and his wife, Jaya was also invited to Jogi Mahal at the time. Word has it that Mr Bachchan even sang a song after the then PM requested him to do so.

While I don’t have a picture of Jogi Mahal (you’ll be able to find a lot of them online), here is some information about these stone ruins that can be found on way to the Jogi Mahal gate of the national park that plays home to around around 60 tigers at present. You’ll find a number of such ruins as this, each one different from the other.

There are so many ruins in Ranthambore because the national park houses the ancient Ranthambore Fort, a World Heritage Site. Before Indian became an independent state in 1947, the Maharajas of Jaipur, who often used the Ranthambore National Park as their hunting grounds, inhabited this 700-feet-high fort. But before that, the fort was associated with Jainism during the reign of Prithviraj I of Chauhan during the 12th Century CE. The Nagil Jat clan built this  fort two centuries before this.

Besides being excited at the prospect of seeing a tiger or two (which didn’t happen, by the way), it was amazing to spend a few hours in the lush and paradisiacal national park with its ancient ruins and fort that still stand strong.

Scent of a season

Droplets of rain
Droplets of rain

I wake up this morning in a bed that isn’t mine. I look around and everything seems rather unfamiliar. Everything, save one distinct fragrance—that of the rain-kissed earth. I feel confused, yet at peace. I am at home, yet far from home. Now, it slowly starts to come together. A 10-hour train journey the night before brought me to Goa. I’ve left the balmy city of Mumbai long behind for the verdant Southern state, albeit just for a week.

Feeling light and bright against the raging grey sea
Feeling light and bright against the raging grey sea

Through the window of my villa I see the rain kiss the red soil outside. Further in the distance, the sea is a roaring grey entity, its waves rising and falling in a manner that seems urgent—almost as if they are calling out to me.

I don’t have an agenda to follow now that I’m here. Or maybe I do. For now, the bed-to-balcony walk seems like the only route I’d like to take. Instead, I go a bit further. I feel the drops of rain gentle fall upon my skin as I stand on the moist soil. Today is a special day.

I am a monsoon baby. I was born in the month of July. I came into this world many years ago today, the 21st day of July. It might be the reason why I love the monsoons much more than any of the other seasons. But then again, who doesn’t love weather like this.

Endless cups of tea are always in order when the weather’s so fine. A book to read or my notebook to write makes for great company. The air is so much cooler at this time of the year. The awfully hot and seemingly never-ending summer that just went by has blurred into the distant past. Everyone looks much happier than they were a few months ago. That’s what the turn of the season can do.

Most fascinating about the rainy season is the fresh and natural scent that’s hard to ignore. That powerfully evocative fragrance of freshly rain-kissed earth is like no other. It fills the land with a fresh and lush feel that no Indian season could ever bring.

I recently read up about a phenomenon, also known as petrichor. In a bid to study the science behind the rain’s aroma in 1964, a pair of scientists coined the term petrichor by combining the Greek words petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of the gods).

An apt term, indeed. But why does the earth exude such a strong, distinct smell that’s unlike anything else? The study determined that one of the main causes of this distinctive smell is the blend of oils secreted by a number of plants during the hot, dry season. As soon as it starts to rain, compounds from the oils start interacting with each other and get released into the air.

I can’t help but be thankful for this natural phenomenon. It’s such a pleasant aroma, one that can only be associated with the rains. The scent of fresh earth is comforting and nostalgic. Childhood memories surface; one feels carefree and light all over again.

Nothing quite like the smell of rain
Nothing quite like the smell of rain

Now, if I had the chance to create my own fragrance for a perfume, I would try to recreate the smell of rain. I’ve always loved natural-smelling perfumes. For the most part of my life I’ve used just a single perfume — Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea.

If there had to be another perfume or scent that I might want to use on myself or even as a pillow or air spray, it would most definitely be one that smells of the rain and the wet mud.

This post is my entry for the Godrej aer Inspire A Fragrance contest on Indiblogger.com, in which winning entries will help inspire Godrej to create new fragrance based on the participant’s entries. It’s a fantastic crowd-inspired initiative that allows the blogger to become a part of their think-tank. Let’s hope they are inspired by my love for the fresh smell of a rainy day.

More than just souks and sand

I often find myself looking through photos of destinations on my bucket list. Like the stunning cliff-town of Santorini, the temple city of Macchu Picchu in Peru, North Canada for a glimpse of the extraordinary Northern Lights, Sri Lanka for endless cups of tea on a paradisiacal island, Turkey for its grand mosques and open-air markets—the list is endless. While these places feature on most people’s bucket lists, there are others that don’t usually find their way to such lists. One of these places that I recently discovered is Oman. Here I was imagining Oman to solely be a land of deserts and souks, dates and spices. But this state in Southwest Asia is so much more than that. Think beaches and forts, castles and nature in all its glory. Yes, tourism in Oman is indeed booming, and there couldn’t be a better time than now to visit it.

I first heard about it from a friend who had visited Oman last year. She came back with stories of unspoiled coastlines, dolphin watching, cities with an old world charm and bustling markets. I started looking up imagery and blog posts of this unlikely travel destination only to be surprised at the number of tourists it welcomes every year. Who would have thought really!

Something that really piqued my interest in Oman was its natural beauty, and when I do visit, I definitely don’t want to miss the Bandar Khayran Reserve, given my love for nature and wildlife holidays.

In Oman, it seems like journeys are as interesting as the destination. Even though the reserve is a 40-minute boat ride away from the heart of Muscat, you won’t be bored during the commute, for you’ll be marvelling at the rocky mountainous landscape, the white-washed houses that overlook the deep blue as well as architectural points of interest. And, of course, the friendly dolphin pods swimming alongside your boat!

When you actually reach your destination— Bandar Al Khayran waters— you’ll have plenty to indulge in. Snorkelling and scuba diving reveal a new world of diverse species of underwater life including coral reefs and colourful fish. Oman seems to rank high on the eco-tourism map and it definitely seems like my kind of place, more so, because of the Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve.

Thousands of sea turtles migrate annually from other shores to lay their eggs on Oman’s shoreline. I hope to visit between July and October, as this is the peak time for turtle watching. Interestingly, Oman’s waters play home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles! Whales also frequent Oman’s shores particularly in A’Sharqiyah South Governate, Dhofar Governate and Al Wasta Governate, albeit at irregular intervals. Still, I’m definitely not going to give this a miss! If it’s your lucky day you might get to see one or two of these gigantic creatures of the ocean.

Besides spending time in the midst of nature, I also like to delve into the region’s history and culture. Oman is an ancient land that’s rich in history. The relics of innumerable forts and watchtowers are evidence of its well-preserved culture. Some forts like Nizwa Fort have been restored with impeccable care and are worth a visit, as is the Jabreen Caste that dates back to 1670. The palace’s frescoed ceilings carry Islamic-era inscriptions and intricate paintings. Strolling through the palace’s many rooms is sure to take you back in time.

I’m especially excited to see the Sun and Moon room, which was used by the Immam as a room for meetings and discussions. More intriguing is the fact that the ceiling of the Sun and Moon room is adorned with Islamic-style calligraphy. The room has 14 windows—seven are located near the ceiling and the remaining seven are at the bottom of the room—that keep the atmosphere cool throughout the year. This ‘natural’ cooling mechanism was devised to allow cool air to enter from the lower windows and to expel warm air from the upper ones.

I believe that the best way to soak in a region’s culture is to see it through the eyes of a local. This might be possible if one were to visit Oman’s many colourful souks that sell everything from incense and spices, to traditional textiles and local jewellery. Alongside Oman’s charming culture is luxury in all its forms—chic hotels, swanky malls, yachting and fantastic restaurants. Beauty has an address and from the looks of it, it can be found in Oman. Here’s where you’ll get all the information you need: http://www.omantourism.gov.om