OUR TRAVEL TALES: Never stop wandering....Never stop wondering....

Tag: Incredible India

Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

If you want to witness the ‘World’s largest human-powered Washing Machine’ in action, this is the place to visit.

Every morning at 4:30am, over 700 washermen or laundrymen and their families, start beating the dirt out of thousands of kilograms of dirty laundry in 1026 open air troughs at the over 140-year old Dhobi Ghat (washerman’s colony) in Mumbai.

Welcome to the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai.

I visited this place while I was visiting Mumbai for a friend’s wedding. I was lodged at Andheri and the best way to reach Mahalaxmi from there that morning was to catch the slow train from Andheri station till Mahalaxmi Station. The best view of the Dhobi Ghat is from the bridge across the railway tracks near Mahalaxmi train station and that is where from I clicked this panoramic shot. I saw row upon row of concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. The clothes were visible, some soaked in sudsy water, while some being thrashed on the flogging stones.

I requested a local resident at the dwellings opposite the entrance of the Dhobi Ghat to give me a tour inside this one-of-a-kind workplace. Once inside, I learnt about how this place functions.

Every night/early morning, depending upon the clientele each of the washermen works with, Light Commercial vehicles like Tempos or TATA 407s belonging to various Laundry Units that have set shop in the city or otherwise bring tonnes of dirty linen collected from hotels, hospitals, small lodges, hostels or other institutions to the ‘dhobi’ they work with in this Dhobi Ghat.

Each piece of cloth, be it a bedsheet, towel, pillow cover or a doctor’s apron is then carefully labelled and the label is inserted by a thread onto the corner of the cloth. This is done to ensure that the linen, once clean and ironed, reaches its earmarked destination without fail.

Once labelled, the clothes make their way to the respective air-troughs and washermen segregate them as per the colour and material of the fabric and then begins the cleaning process. Most of the linen that comes here is white in colour, so white coloured linen is washed and starched separately from the coloured one to prevent colour transfer that may inadvertently happen during cleaning.

I took a walk in the shops just outside the Dhobi ghat, most of which sell laundry cleaning materials in liquid and powder form.

After being dipped and flipped in detergent filled water troughs, the dhobis or washermen flog the linen on the flogging stones to get rid of the dirt and water. Then, once the water is squeezed out, the clothes are hung for drying with their corners inserted in the turns of twisted jute ropes. No cloth-hanging clips are used here.

Necessity is the mother of Invention – This unique way of hanging clothes adopted by dhobis facilitates speedy removal of clothes from the ropes in case it rains, as it can rain anytime in Mumbai or so is said.

By the time the sun comes out in full force, most washermen here can be seen hanging the cleansed clothes for sun-drying.

A few washermen have now even installed heavy duty washing machines inside the Mahalaxmi Dhobi ghat, which also has a workers union called the ‘Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co – op. Society Ltd.’ which was honoured with a World Record Certificate in 2013, by World Records India and World Amazing Records.

After being sun-dried, the linen makes its way to workers who iron it and neatly pile it up and pack them back for dispatch.

It can get sweltering hot inside the Dhobi ghat in the already humid environs of Mumbai city and thus, after concluding my walking tour through the Mahalaxmi Dhobi ghat I went and gorged on breakfast and lassi in a restaurant located within Mahalaxmi itself.

Instead of taking the train back to Andheri, I chose to splurge on the taxi on my way back, for I wanted to see another marvel of Mumbai, the Bandra-Worli sea-link, the photographs of which are another story for another day!

Welcome to India

Welcome to India

While you may have seen ‘Welcome to India’ signage’s at all International airports in India, this signage I clicked myself with is a technically correct one, for this one was planted at the Indian side of the ‘Wagah’ border that separates Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan.

Every evening one can witness a ‘Lowering of Flags’ ceremony here executed as part of a Military display by BSF (Border Security Force) personnel from the Indian side and the Pakistani Rangers.

Before the Ceremony begins and even during it, the spirit of patriotism can be seen running high in the visitors seated in the gallery as they sing and dance to patriotic songs being played by the ‘men in uniform’ guarding our borders.

Livin’ da vida loca…Local Trains and life in Mumbai

Livin’ da vida loca…Local Trains and life in Mumbai

 

It’s an old saying, “When in Rome do as the Romans do and when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere“. My visit to Mumbai, hence could not have been considered complete without a ride in the Local Trains or ‘Mumbai Local’, as they call them – the lifeline that helps this city commutes.

I was in Mumbai for a friend’s wedding with a few days of local travel kept aside for myself before participating in his Muslim wedding ceremony, which was a first for me.

Instead of lodging myself in a budget hotel, I stayed at my Aunt’s place and decided to explore the sights and sounds of Mumbai on foot, in a taxi and the local trains.

I decided to start my day of exploration from the Gateway of India and thus boarded the train from Andheri to Churchgate station in the morning hours that day. It is said to be one of the busiest routes on the North to South direction on the Western line.

Even though you may rarely see a Ticket-checker boarding the crowded locals and checking your tickets, don’t ever travel ticket-less on a Mumbai local, because if you do get caught, you would end up paying a fine and with the nominal costs of the tickets, getting penalised isn’t worth it.

I am a Delhi-ite, so crowds, claustrophobic as they may seem – do not deter me. Though I wanted to be brave and board the general compartment, I got swayed towards Women’s compartment and there I was, having survived the pulls and pushes, safely, with all limbs intact inside the train for my observational and introspective journey ahead.

Local trains in Mumbai, I pondered, are perhaps the best place to learn life’s lessons, provided you are willing to be curious, observant and patient.

From learning to find your way amidst a crowd of strangers, to breaking our comfort barriers and bonding with strangers – ‘adjustment’ is integral to our survival in relationships, work and life; and that’s the first lesson on display in a Mumbai local.

The rich and the poor, the old and the young, the businessman or a roadside vendor – all use the local trains to commute here, its a lesson in being grounded, of placing comfort over and above an ego-boosting, time-wasting ride in the car. I saw some who prefer to catch up on their sleep, while many start chatting with each other as if they have known each other through thick and thin. They greet each other, some smile while some get a shoulder to lean on and cry. People break barriers, amidst strangers, we find solace.

There are discussions happening all around you, that unknowingly update you on the political situation of the country, the windfall in the stock-markets, the latest twist in a TV Serial or give you a wisdom-filled advice on how to best handle your cranky boss at work or your mother-in-law.

Then there are those who eke their livelihood entertaining people, singing songs or selling curios on these locals. In the women’s compartment, I saw Marathi women selling earrings, bindis, bangles and more; and along with them came lessons in bargaining from the women they were showing their wares to.

The Mumbai local has the potential to teach you as much as you are willing to learn. All you need is a spirit to share, care and… not stare – I write that because Mumbai locals are considered very safe for women at any given time of the day or night.

May be, I thought to myself that it is because the wheels of the Mumbai local trains that keep moving, a journey on them is integral to understanding Mumbai, the city that never sleeps.

 

Two days at Amritsar and a visit to the Golden Temple

Two days at Amritsar and a visit to the Golden Temple

 

Yesterday, 14th November was “Gurpurab“, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak ji – the first Sikh guru and founder of Sikhism; and thus it was an opportune time for me to share this photograph taken by me on my trip to Amritsar, that of ‘Gurudwara Sri Harmandir Sahab ji’, popularly known as the Golden Temple.

We undertook a 2 day trip to the city of Amritsar in Punjab and below is a quick recap of how we spent those days there:

The most comfortable way of reaching Amritsar from Delhi is to take the early morning New Delhi-Amritsar Swarna Shatabdi Express and that is how we reached Amritsar by afternoon. They absolutely stuffed us with food on the train journey!

Then we headed to the area near the Golden Temple and booked ourselves in one of the many good budget hotels that dot the periphery of the Golden Temple.

A quick bath later we boarded a Taxi to reach the Wagah border town in time to witness the “lowering of flags” ceremony in the evening that is held daily at this place on the International border between India and Pakistan.

A nice Punjabi dinner at a Dhaba followed and we hit the bed early so as to wake up, get ready and do an early morning darshan at the Golden Temple the next day, which we successfully did.

We then went to the Museum on the first floor of the Gurudwara to understand more about the History of Sikhism and the famous-infamous story of Bhindranwale and Operation Bluestar that was carried out by the Indian Army in the Golden Temple itself!

Please note that while in a Gurudwara, you need to cover your head, whether you are young, old, man, woman or a child. There are scarves available in baskets at the Gurudwara entrance to help you do that. The prasad given in a Gurudwara is called ‘Kada prasad’ (wheat halwa) – it is absolutely mouth-watering! If you have the time, you can go ‘chak’ (eat) the ‘langar’ as well in the Gurudwara premises. ‘Langar‘ is a free for all meal that is served round the clock in most Gurudwaras.

A breakfast of delicious Amritsari Naan Paranthas followed at a stall outside the Golden Temple and then we undertook a much-needed walk through the local market to the historical Jalianwala Bagh, and sombrely saw the Martyr’s well and the gunshot holes in the walls over there…

Our lunch was in two instalments- one dish at the famous “Brother’s Dhaba”, followed by with a quick bite at the next door “Brahwan da Dhaba“…these used to be one restaurant but are now split by two brothers into two restaurants with similar names (One has an English word “Brothers” in its name while the other has a Punjabi word ‘Brahwan’ for it).

With our stomachs filled to the brim with food, minds filled with history and hearts filled with patriotism – we headed to the Amritsar railway station to catch our afternoon Shatabdi back to Delhi and with that, an eventful 2-day trip of ours came to an end.

Golu Festival: How Navratri celebrations in South India are different from North India?

Golu Festival: How Navratri celebrations in South India are different from North India?

Being from Delhi, I only thought Navratris meant fasting and these were the nine days in which Gujaratis played Garba while Bengalis enjoyed visiting Durga Puja Pandals!

Travelling in India during festival time is thus always an eye-opener and gives me an opportunity to learn about various customs and traditions practiced in different regions of the Country.

And this time around I learnt about “Golu” – a “Toy/Doll” festival celebrated during the time of Navratri in Southern India, as I visited one of the Temples in the the temple town of Karaikal in Puducherry.

“Golu”, has a different name in each of the 4 South Indian states. It is also known as “Kolu or Bombe Habba” in Kannada language in the state of Karnataka, as “Bomma Gullu” in Malayalam language spoken in the state of Kerala, as “Bommai Kolu” in Tamil Nadu or “Bommala Koluvu” in Telugu language spoken primarily in Andhra Pradesh.

Most girls grow up playing with dolls and setting up doll houses and Golu festival seemed to me to be an extension of that very hobby as it is young girls and women who display dolls, figurines, scenes from everyday lives along with idols Goddesses Saraswati, Parvati and Laxmi.

It involves building a rack of odd-numbered shelves of Kolu (or Padi)- usually 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11, set up using wooden planks.

The Kolu is then covered with fabric and it is then adorned with various dolls, figurines and toys according to their size, with the deities at the top.

As per the traditions, the first dolls to adorn the Golu should be “Marappacchi”, a pair of male and a female dolls. You can see one such “couple” in this photo I have clicked. In earlier days it was done to make adolescents aware of gender morphology.

If you see carefully in the featured photograph above, you can also see a half-cropped head of the figurine of Gandhiji in the lowermost tier.

I learnt that there are many stories about the origin of Golu. One of them has a significant connection with agriculture. It is said that in order to encourage de-silting of irrigation canals, Golu was celebrated, so as to create demand for clay materials – that are then used to make all these dolls.

Golu is symbolic of the feminine power and symbolizes that everything on earth has one creator, the mother.

Whatever be the stories behind “Golu”. This insight into the Golu festival and marvelling at all these dolls I saw in front of me, reminded me of the famous quote by ‘Ibn Battuta’ that “Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Indeed it does! So, travel, because, India is Calling!