Street Art in Fort Kochi: 12 murals that had me impressed

Earlier this year, I took off to Kochi, my maiden visit to ‘God’s own country’. I hadn’t done much research on Kochi, and wanted the place to surprise me. The only visual I had in mind were the 14th century Chinese fishing nets that have become a symbol of Kochi, and that was one of the primary reasons I decided to pick this location. That, and the fact I had never set foot in Kerala.

On my first stroll around Fort Kochi, I knew that this place was filled with street art gems that would have to be discovered over the next four days that I was here. The approach to my hostel was via this road which was walled off on both sides and had old trees providing the canopy. The white-washed walls were painted with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 ads. I had read about this Biennale, the first of its kind to have happened in India from 2012 onwards, but couldn’t recall much.

As I walked around Kochi, the walls started rewarding me with views of the artwork around this old town which is a melting pot of cultures. Towards the end of this year, from 12 Dec 2018 to 29 March 2018, will be the next edition of the Biennale. Street art by its very nature being very ephemeral, some of the art murals in this blog may not exist in a couple of months.

Here are some of the murals that impressed me. The art works showcased local portraits, concept works, hand-painted art exhibition advertisements and more.





There are some portraits, presumably of famous locals, strewn all over Fort Kochi. Accompanied by Malayalam text (which I could not understand). The works seem to be part of a street art project.



Mattancherry is the spice market district inside Fort Kochi, and walking along here the fragrance of the spices is almost like a perfume. Inside Mattancherry there are a few art galleries as well. But on the way there, I noticed advertisements of art exhibits, which were hand painted paste-up works. There was a very Zine feel to them.


But when in Kerala, it would be a pity, if you don’t dig out a street mural paying tribute to one of its local superstars — Mammotty! Engage in a conversation with locals on the Mammotty vs Mohanlal (the other superstar) debate, and watch in fascination how fans defend their favourite and take down the other.

All the art work shared here, most of it at least, seems to have been commissioned. But what’s street art if there is no element of rebellion involved? Fort Kochi was plastered with art work which fulfilled that gap as well. I shall talk about it in a future post.

Till then, keep guessing who I am talking about.

Junction: A book lover’s paradise in Thimpu

It had been a while since I had visited a bookshop. In Mumbai, I just buy books online, or visit one of the many book sales to fill up my quota of books. I can’t remember the last time I went to bookshop here and spent hours browsing through the titles. Or better still, finished an entire book over multiple visits.

So when I was roaming around the streets of Thimpu, Bhutan, I came across a bookshop named ‘Junction’. It was guarded by furry dogs, and looked quite inviting with its door stuck with pages from books forgotten. Located just off the main traffic signal in Thimpu, Junction really was one of the most attractive bookshops I’d been to in a long time. Unlike franchises such as Oxford and Crossword that I see in Mumbai, this one was a lot more cosy, personal and a place where a book-lover would feel at home.

Everywhere I looked around, there was some stamp or the other, of a certified bibliophile. Be it the pages from old books made into origami birds, or snapshots of authors with some famous lines from their books to the apparent appreciation of the Game of Thrones books/series that was on display all over the bookshop or even the chilled out dogs hanging around the bookstore; this was one place which could give an instant high to any book-lover.

The elegantly dressed Mui, the partner of the bookshop, who (wo)manned the reception/bill payment counter and always had something to give away — in the form of a calendar celebrating Bhutan’s indigenous weaving art forms to milk chocolates brought from a trip abroad. She is the kind of bookshop owner with whom you could chat for hours, without even making a purchase. The store was also managed by her friend, who seemed like a reserved fellow despite the lengthy dreads he was sporting.

I asked her if she actually was the owner of all the dogs hanging around the bookshop?

“I have only one dog, the other 5 are strays who hang around the shop. I use all the money in this box (pointing to the donation box) to get food for these guys every evening,” she said. Dogs and cats make my heart melt. So naturally, out came the money.

Junction had a good collection of books. I was naturally attracted to the books on Bhutanese culture and spent a good amount of time checking out a photo book, which I could obviously not afford. On the top floor of the bookshop, was a section of second hand books, a la the second hand bookshops you come across in expat tourist-heavy destinations such as Rishikesh. I noticed flyers of book club meetings, which happen regularly in the shop. I was even invited to one, but I would have to spend another fortnight to be able to attend it.

Apart from books, the shop also sold a lot of local Bhutan-made artefacts such as bookmarks, books made from recycled paper, book covers woven from wool and so on. I picked up one book cover for a friend who still prefers physical books over ebooks.

If you love books and happen to be in Thimpu, you should really check out ‘Junction’. Just take the right from the main traffic signal check post on the Norzim Lam. Walk around 50 metres and you will come across the bookshop on your left. There probably will be some dogs around the place.

Say hello to Mui, if she’s around. And pet that black shaggy dog on my behalf.

Munich diaries: Surfboarding in the middle of a garden on the Eisbach Welle

Surfing or Surfboarding is an adventure sport one generally associates with the sun and the sand. Something that you see from the corner of your eye while you are bumming around at the beach. The only surfing I have seen at home is on TV. So it came as quite a shock when I first learnt about this legit surfing that happens smack bang in the middle of a huge garden. That too on a river bed!

I am talking about the Eisbach Welle in the Englischergarten in Munich.

When I first saw it while channel surfing (no pun intended) many summers ago, I thought it was an indoor surfing-practise centre. Where artificial waves were generated. Till I noticed the surrounding greenery. And the penny dropped, that this wasn’t an indoors thing.

When I landed in Munich, among the Frauenkirche, the many beer gardens, die Altstadt and other tourist magnets, seeing the Eisbach Welle was high on my list. Of course, I did not have any delusions of trying my hand (rather legs) at the sport.

Eisbach Welle literally translates to ice-brook wave. The wave appeared for the first time somewhere around 1972 when the city was constructing a bridge over the Eisbach stream, which is basically a tributary of the larger Isar river that flows through Munich. Eisbach follows a 2km path inside the Englischer Garten. While the wave that formed initially was just a couple of feet in height, the local surfers with their ingenuity decided to improvise. The current wave, which rises over a metre, has been created by strategically submerging concrete blocks and having wooden planks on the side to stabilise the wave as well. It has become a surfers paradise since. Considering the nearest surfable ocean is almost a 1000km from Munich.


As you are trodding on the path leading to the Eisbach Welle, it is the roar of the waves that will first reach your ears before the actual sight. Now there are many ways to reach the Eisbach Welle. You could just put it in Google Maps and navigate right to the last step. Or switch off Maps once you hear that roar of water, and just aurally figure out the way. I did the latter. It’s not too difficult. If you are trying to locate it from the road, then it is on Prinzeregentenstrasse or near Haus der Kunst museum.

As I made my way through the clearing, there was already a crowd collected to watch the pros at work. And yes, it is only meant for learned surfers. This is not your beginner’s surfing school in Munich. I was under the assumption that things would be casual as it was an unconventional surfing destination. I was thinking bare-chested men in QuikSilver surfing shorts and women in long-sleeved spring cut surfing gear (Yes, I had to Google the technical term). But to my surprise, there were surfers dressed in proper wetsuits – the type you see scuba divers wear – covering the entire body complete with the zip tag hanging around the neck region. On enquiring with my cousin, I learned that the temperature of the water even in summers is under 20 degrees Celcius.

One look at the surfers and you know that these guys know their shit inside out. Considering the 10-12 mt width of the river, and the wave formations operating at its fiercest in a limited area, which is the real challenge, there is no scope for a party of surfers to be on the waves at the same time. Es wird chaotisch sein. It would be chaotic.

Since we are in Germany, you see a process to address this conundrum. At a time, only one surfer is allowed to surf the waves. If he or she falls, then they clear the space for the next surfer while themselves standing at the end of the queue which has formed. Order is the name of the game here. And it is quite fascinating to watch, to time the surfers. Maybe if you have time and can gather some friends around, you can even start taking bets on the sly. Just kidding.

You can either watch these surfers from the side of the river or head up the mound of the dirt path which leads to the road connected to the bridge. The bridge functions as a gallery, and the tributary of the mighty Isar river turns into a stage, on which the surfers are performing. Seemingly for the delight of its audience. Maybe I am exaggerating there. Most of the surfers don’t even acknowledge the crowd, directing all their focus on the waves.

I am not a surfer, but watching that sport was lovely. The idea of trying to maintain balance when every force is acting against you is a pleasure to behold. Using the correct stance, guiding the front of your surfboard in a way that nullifies the effect of the wave which is trying to topple you over, needs your 110 percent attention. Unless of course, you like embracing the river, that is. Mind you, the banks are made of stone. So you have to be ultra-careful if with your balance around the edge of the Eisbach.

As I said before, only experienced surfers should bother on this wave. The Eisbach stream, although isn’t as dangerous as the Isar river, has still claimed some lives. While the administration wanted to ban the surfing, owing to the danger it presented, a ‘Save the Wave’ campaign eventually prevented that. It was illegal till 2010. There were even reports of surfers being chased away by the police, and they had to eventually collect their surfboards from the police stations, after paying a fine of course. But by 2012, it was hosting a European River Surfing Championship.

Now, though it is woven into the cultural fabric of Munich.

Trento: A detour in Northern Italy, which reset my expectations from the country

Outside of India, I have never been on road trips.

So when my cousin floated the idea of going to Venice from Munich via road, I was completely on board. Unlike travelling straight to the city via a plane or train, road trips present immense opportunities for doing things at your own pace. The presence of a fixed train or flight schedule can be limiting to travel. This road trip just reiterated that fact.

On crossing the Austro-Italian border, one of the first detours we took for lunch was in a small town called Trento. This was completely unplanned, with the only agenda being having a traditional Italian pizza.

Off the highway we were quite close to the city centre of Trento. But just like most European cities, as I would later learn, there are lots of restrictions on parking your vehicle. If you are near a medieval city centre, then you have to look out for the No Parking zones. As only the citizens have the privilege of parking within.

Entering the city centre, the first thing I saw was the facade of a church. Taking a left, we entered a traditional Italian square, which I later learned was called the Piazza Duomo. With a fountain located in the middle of the small piazza, which had a church right behind and mountains on the right, it took me no time to start using my camera.

The church, called the St Vigilio Cathedral, was made in brown sandstone and unlike many European churches, did not have towering spires. The front facade of the church had the Romanseque circular window – the rose window – something similar to the one on the Santa Maria Del Pi of Barcelona or the Notre Dam Cathedral in France. One side of the church had an onion-shaped dome top. Whereas just above the apse region was an octagonal roof structure. The Cathedral is said to have been built atop an existing church going back to the 6th century. Behind this church, were remnants of what looked like fortifications with a clock tower at one end.

The Piazza Duomo had a fountain in the middle, which had the trident sporting Neptune on it. Surrounding the piazza, were buildings which looked like they were from another era. Some of these buildings had facades painted with biblical scenes. A gelateria here. A farmacia there. A ristorante around the corner. Most of the buildings were four to five stories high with semi-cylindrical orange coloured roofs covering them on top.

The restaurant we went to for lunch was much more modern. The pizza I ordered for, was hot, thin-crust, uncut, ham-mozarella pizza with lots of olive oil and pickled tomatoes on the side. Washing that down with Paulaner beer while it drizzled outside is one memory I now associate with the place.

Since this was just a detour, I didn’t really get to explore the town much. But Googling the place later, I came to learn that Trento was annexed to Italy only in 1919, till then it was part of Austria. It is an autonomous town, that explains why there were flags with a coat of arms, and which didn’t have Italian colours, in a lot of establishments. It is located in the Aldige river valley region of North Italy.

Unlike most detours, this one turned out to be a great experience. Suddenly I wanted to see more such small Italian towns. With their grand cathedrals behind charming piazzas.

We did do that. But that’s another post, for another time.

Barcelona diaries: Churros in chocolate heaven – Granja La Pallaresa!

Finding a place in the labyrinthine alleys of the Barrio Gotic, in Barcelona, is quite a task, unless you are accompanied by a local. After my Barcelona Ciclo Tour, I was famished and knew that nothing but a traditional Spanish churro (or xurro) would get me in high spirits to explore the city further. Granja La Pallaresa came highly recommended by not one, but two Barcelonians. Naturally, I knew I HAD to taste the churros here.

Located in Calle Petritxol, also popularly known as the sweet street, in the Gothic Quarter, the Granja La Pallaresa is a shop which is not very aggressive with advertising. The narrow lanes actually don’t give it much scope. In fact, I ended up walking past it on more than one occasion. In my defence the place was shut for the famous Barcelona siesta time. The board outside said that it would open at 4PM. With the clock saying 3PM, I still had an hour to kill. I decided to check out the Santa Maria del Pi cathedral which was just a 2 min walk from this place. 

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

I returned by around 4.15PM and the place was already buzzing with the evening crowd. In fact, I spotted a couple of people who were hanging around from before. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait outside for long and the liveried waiting staff quickly escorted me in the inner chamber.

The fragrance of hot chocolate and fried churros was wafting in the air as I was making my way towards the Pallaresa. But inside the cosy cafe, despite the perfumes worn by the customers, the aroma of chocolate was much denser. The crowd was a mix of locals and tourists, but majority of the people looked like locals – as I was hearing a lot more Catalan than any other language and also from the fact that not many were lugging around DSLRs and clicking the surroundings. Except for this bunch of these Korean women, with their exquisitely blingy smartphone covers, elegant overcoats and a Korean Lonely Planet guide. The leader of that group didn’t even call for the menu – but just pointed to a photograph inside her guide book to her server. And then she got around to making selfies with her gang of girlfriends.

Granja La Pallaresa was established in 1947 and has been in this spot since then. Granja means a traditional snack bar and Granja La Pallaresa is one which is renowned for its liquid chocolate treats. The serving staff dressed in white shirts, black trousers and a black bow, are a throwback to an era gone by. The immediate Indian analogy I could think of was the turbaned wait staff at the India Coffee House, that charming cafe opposite Presidency College in Kolkata. Stepping into such establishments, takes you back a few decades and la Pallaresa was fulfilling that requirement.

Taking some inspiration from the Korean women, even I didn’t call for the menu – something that is unusual. I just ordered the Xurros with Suizo, which was clearly the most popular item.

Xurros or Churros are the thick chakli or murukku-like fried food item made of dough (most likely maida/refined flour) which can be had with a dash of powdered sugar atop them or the best way – dipping in hot chocolate. Suizo is the that liquid dark hot chocolate topped with a mountain of sugarless cream.

It took a while for me to get my order (god bless that waiter who approached me after seeing me try to haplessly get someone’s attention) – and in a place like that, that can be torturous if the last meal you’ve had is breakfast at 8AM which is followed by 3 hours of cycling tour. Specially so, when you see the wait staff make two rounds in the kitchen to carry out two plates full of fragrant Churros to the main counter.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed to see just five churros along with the Suizo. “C’mon man, I can surely have more,” I thought. But by the time I was finished, I knew for a fact that I could have had no more. The fried dough of the Churro when had with cream and hot chocolate – is kind of heavy.

The Suizo in particular was mind-blowing. I love hot chocolate and my concept of hot chocolate, so far, had been chocolate mixed with milk and made into a thick consistency. At Granja La Pallaresa, hot chocolate was just that – Hot molten glazy dark chocolate! Of course, getting to the hot chocolate took some cleaning off of the smooth cream layer, which wasn’t sweet. So that was had with sugar-dipped thumb-licks. (I don’t care if you think that’s gross!)

The Churros – crunchy on the outside and getting progressively softer on the inside, were great in themselves. Dipping them in that dark hot chocolate, just elevated the experience to a whole new level. I was a kid again, who couldn’t get enough of his chocolate fix. And since this was molten dark chocolate with some cream, it was just the way I liked it. By the time I was done with this manna, I just wanted to take a nap inside La Pallaresa.

The yellow walls inside are full of local art work – mostly street scenes involving Barcelona as well as the establishment in some manner. I liked the fact that they weren’t using that real estate to advertise about the prizes they have won, which I am sure must be countless. The cane wooden chairs and marble topped tables are quite reminiscent of any traditional Irani joint in Mumbai. And the convivial atmosphere is similar.  
The place serves other specialities as well – such as the Crema Catalana – which is a Catalan version of Creme brulee. And another item I saw in the store window as a caramel custard surrounded by cream dips.

If you’re a dessert or chocolate lover, I don’t have to really state the obvious!

And yes, did I tell you, the weather in Barcelona was cold and it was raining heavily, before I entered the Pallaresa? Imagine, a hot chocolate and Churros in THAT weather:)

Barcelona diaries: An evening at Port Vell

Coming from Mumbai, I am a huge fan of cities by the sea or an ocean. I naturally veer towards sea faces and actively hunt out for them whenever I am in a new city. So when I was in Barcelona, I was suggested by my local friend Marta that I should walk around the Barceloneta area in my free time. Since I had no real agenda, and the cycling tour that I was looking forward to, was not happening in non-summer season, I had all the time to go explore Barcelonata.

After having had my fill of getting lost in the Barrio Gotic or the famous Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, and re-attaching my jaw – which was constantly dropping at the surprises that the Gothic Quarter’s charming alleys and squares were throwing my way – I decided to make my way to Barceloneta.

Now Marta had probably suggested Barceloneta – the beach area – which I realised in retrospect, which was on the left hand side from the ‘Barcelona’s Face’ art installation (seen above). But I ended up walking along the right hand side towards the Rambla de Mar and eventually to Port Vell, along a well paved and slightly raised pathway. This vehicle free walkway had traffic in the form of evening joggers, skateboarders, cyclists and people exploring the city on Segways. It was a bright sunny evening with lovely skies and a slight nip in the air.

The year 1992 is the inflection point for the city of Barcelona. You will constantly hear about the Barcelona ‘92 Olympics, which technically transformed Barcelona from just another local Catalan town to a world class city. The region around Port Vell which was an obsolete harbour –  used to be full of abandoned warehouses, industrial buildings and dumpyards – saw a complete transformation into an entertainment hub that it is today. It is connected to the main city, and before the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics, an urban renewal project transformed this place into a yatch basin and further development around this basin led to the formation of a wooden bridge called the Rambla de Mar.

As I was making my way across the Rambla de Mar to the edge of this walkway, I heard a loud horn – the kind that is famous in dock areas. Within a couple of minutes all the people on the bridge suddenly came to a halt. Turned out that a yatch was leaving the basin to enter the sea, and the Rambla de Mar had to make way for the same. Two minutes later the bridge reconnected and everyone passed through.

Sitting on the park benches at the very edge of the Port Vell region, I was admiring the skyscape which was playing with multiple warm hues thanks to the setting sun. You can easily spot the cable car wires which connects this area to Montjuic, a mountain which houses a museum and offers panoramic views of Barcelona. There was a funny white-coloured floating installation in the waters. It resembled a boy standing and monitoring all the revellers sitting alongside the promenade benches. On the north eastern corner I could easily spot some cruise ships and the famous W hotel, which is shaped like a sail and tends to reflect the sky thanks to the way the glass on its facade is positioned.

Port Vell is a non commercial harbour and is meant for the citizens’ entertainment. A mall by the name Maremagnum is the imposing structure which houses cafes, restaurants, shopping centres and even an IMAX theatre. I didn’t really go inside the mall, but was just exploring the charming cafes outside it, just beside the sea. The only old structures I saw in the entire area were the ornate office of the Port of Barcelona and some remnants of warehouses from before ‘92.

Sitting there, I was just wondering how underutilised the harbours in Mumbai are. Sure, Dockyard Road, Sassoon docks and many others are hubs for fisherfolk to do their daily business. Also a large part of the harbour line falls under the Indian Navy and some areas are part of oil refineries and so on.

But is that all the potential there is to the Mumbai harbour? Why can’t there be water transportation to reduce some congestion from the city? Why can’t there be a thriving culture/entertainment hub along the harbour? Ahmedabad has developed its river front area into a lovely walkway for its residents, why can’t Mumbai? Sure, Marine Drive, Worli Seaface and Bandra Bandstand have well developed and wonderfully maintained walkways. But the charm of the docks is something else.

Mumbai Port Trust could certainly make some extra buck, if only some of the sea-front areas are opened up for the city, just like it does during the Navy Week celebrations. I mean, the only time I get to see dock areas other than Ferry Wharf in Mumbai, are during the Ganpati immersions. At other times they are shut for the public or if you try entering some promenade, you have to be ready to answer a 100 odd questions. I know I am ranting, but a couple of these thoughts did pass through my mind, as I was enjoying the sunset while having a lovely bacon burger.

I felt there were certainly some lessons to be learnt there.

The Block of Discord: Three Modernism geniuses on one street block

When one talks about the architecture of Barcelona, one term that you will constantly keep hearing is Modernisme. This was the art form that had its golden period from the late 1800s to early 1910 in Barcelona and was expressed chiefly in the form architecture along with painting, design, decorative arts and more. This was a move away from the prevalent Gothic styles of architecture and it also played a major role in giving Barcelona, and in effect Catalonia, a unique cultural identity. 

The whole idea behind switching to Modernisme style was to reinforce the political and economical stability of the region of Catalonia, while the rest of Spain was going through bad times. This was a period when patrons gave preferences to Catalan architects over others. Just like its Football team, the Modernisme movement is also a symbol of the Catalan identity. It is fascinating how so many aspects of Barcelona have had an ulterior objective at some level – that of Catalan independence.

In Barcelona, apart from the Gothic buildings that you see in the Ciutat Vella or Old Town, you will find a lot of Modernist buildings outside the old town. The district of Eixample was the playground for a lot of modernism architects. And the gravity of this movement becomes evident when you learn that there are 9 buildings in Barcelona which have the UNESCO World Heritage tag – and all of them belong to the Modernisme school of thought.

Along the Passeig de Gracia (in the Eixample district), in one of the most expensive streets in Barcelona (and whole of Spain), one gets to see brilliant examples of this style of architecture.

There is one section in particular that had me impressed right from the moment I first set my eyes on these buildings, accidentally. So one evening while travelling back to my hotel I had to change my metro lines. At the Passeig de Gracia station, I couldn’t buy a ticket because the vending machine didn’t have a change for 20 Euros. So I had to head out of the Passeig de Gracia metro station to get some change. On exiting the metro station, I just happened to look on my right and there it was in all its lit up glory – the Gaudi masterpiece – Casa Battlo! I knew I was coming back to this very street in the coming days.

The reason this street is special, is because you get to see three buildings side-by-side, touching each other literally, built by three Modernisme geniuses who were almost contemporaries. And although all three buildings belong to the Modernisme school, they are as different from each other as the CST building is from the Gateway of India in Mumbai. This is the main reason this street block is popularly called the ‘Illa de la discordia’ or the ‘Block of Discord’. Interestingly, none of these three buildings were built from the ground up in the Modernisme style, but were renovated towards the late 1800s thanks to the patronage by the rich families living in Barcelona at the time about whom I will elaborate below.

So let us look at each of these masterpieces, which I had only enough time and budget to admire from the outside. Maybe the next time I visit this beautiful city, I’ll keep aside time and money to check them out from the inside as well.

Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadalfach

This building was commissioned by the chocolatier Antoni Amatller, and the building still has the Amatller’s chocolate outlet. I learned that after getting free dark chocolate tasters at the entrance of this building whose ground floor is free for exploration. The front facade of Casa Amatller is clearly inspired by the houses one sees along the the Netherlands or in the squares of Belgium – you know those triangular roof with a tetris-style sloping design (can’t think of another way of putting it). I also saw a lot of gargoyles and minor detailing on some strategic points, clear pointers to the use of some neo-gothic styling. I couldn’t understand the symbology behind the figures though. One unique thing I noticed along the facade was the almost wallpaper-like look. I need to research on this style of decorating the walls, which I saw quite a lot in Barcelona. Will update accordingly.

Casa Battlo by Antoni Gaudi
No two ways about it – Antoni Gaudi was a genius. His architectural style was nothing like his contemporaries. Even something as entry level for an architect as a lamp post – which was his first assignment that graces the Placa Reial – had the trademark Gaudi stamp of using elements from nature.

Casa Battlo, just like the Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, has a very organic sort of design. It wasn’t built from scratch but was a renovation of an existing building which Gaudi himself had built. Josep Battlo, a prosperous textile merchant bought the house in 1900 and wanted a design that would make his house stand out from the others on Passeig de Gracia. Instead of building it from scratch, Gaudi suggested plans to renovate it in 1904.

The first thing that strikes you as you admire the building is the complete lack of any sort of clean straight lines anywhere on the Casa Battlo facade. There was clearly some inspiration taken from the bone structure of humans, the fins on the body of a fish that were quite obvious to me. The top, I later learned was supposed to resemble the back of a dragon, and it actually does. Gaudi was already working on his lifetime obsession – the La Sagrada Familia – while renovating Casa Battlo. Sagrada Familia itself pays homage to design elements found in nature, so the departure in style as compared to other two buildings on this street is not surprising.

Even the glass on the windows were rounded in shape and it could slide up or down.

Let that sink in for a bit. Rounded glass windows with a up/down slide mechanism to let the light in was unheard of at the time Gaudi was making this stunner of a building – so he had to conceive and make these unique design elements as well. The balconies of the top floors resemble the skeletal structure of a sea creature. Rather the whole building had an almost exoskeleton like appearance. I really wish I had enough time to check Casa Battlo from the inside:(

Casa Lleo Morrera by Lluis Domenech i Montaner
Montaner is considered to be the ‘Father of Catalan Modernisme movement’ thanks to his prolific portfolio of buildings.

The Casa Lleo Morrera was a renovation of the building owned by the Morrera family. This looks much more traditional in its form as compared to the other two buildings. One can notice a lot of symbols such as the mulberry leaf motif – mulberry is called Morrera in Catalan, which was the family name; a lot of sculptures on the facade show figures with technological instruments of the time such as telephone, phonograph and so on.

These are just three of the many many Modernist buildings in all of Barcelona – there are hundreds of them and well maintained too. Maybe I’ll talk about them another time. It’s a pity that this style of architecture stopped getting any patronisation post the 1920s.

The Valley of Flowers: A slice of heaven!

“I will lift up mine eyes upto the hills, from whence cometh my help”, read the memorial of the British student botanist Joan Margaret Legge, who while collecting some flora samples lost her life after a fatal slip back in 1939. In this heavenly place that is the Valley of Flowers, where the mind is in a state of total ecstasy, this memorial acts as a stark reminder of our mortality.

Located within the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, in the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand, the Valley of Flowers is a national park where over 500 species of flowers, are the main attraction. It is open to the public from July to October, when most of the flowers are in bloom. The trek up to the Valley of Flowers starts from its base point – a small hamlet known as Ghangria – which seems to have more mules and horses than humans.

No sooner had I started the trek towards the Valley, than I noticed the stench of mule piss and dung being replaced by the fragrance of the wet earth and the countless flowers – a highly potent mix. Even though it was just a 3 km uphill trek, I was taking my own sweet time as I was surrounded on my way with exotic flowers. They came in all hues – blue, violet, yellow, orange, red. My mind kept wondering, if this route itself is so full of flowers, what lies in store at the actual destination?

It’s a stony pathway going downhill and then uphill, with the edges covered with green-coloured metal railings to lean on to. There are some patches however, where the road is quite narrow and definitely not meant for those suffering from vertigo. Halfway into the route, I was treated to my very first glacier sighting. In fact, a portion of the route went right through the glacier. And the glacier-n00b that I was, I slipped a couple of times, not anticipating the change in grip. My Woodlands which were ace grippers on the muddy path, were more like roller skates on the icy surface.

Clouds can be real mood-killers here, covering a majority of the high-rising black-coloured snow-peppered mountains. In the verdant greenery, those mountains look almost lifeless but when seen from the human vantage point, look quite majestic. Only when a drifting cloud engulfs you and reduces your route visibility for a while do you fall in love with the clouds. That is one experience no trekker is ever tired of.

After a couple of hours of negotiating various patches, slippery muddy and icy roads, I finally came across a wooden bridge mounted above a stream of gushing pristine water which led to a board that read in the Devanagari Script “Fulon ki Ghati me aapka swagat hai”. After already having been subjected to so many flowers and changing landscapes enroute, my expectations were on a much higher pedestal, than when I had started my trek. This was a UNESCO World Heritage site we were dealing with, after all.

I wasn’t disappointed. The sheer variety of flowers I came across, as I made my way through the narrow gravelly path surrounded by lush greenery, made me feel like I was bang in the middle of a flower-encyclopedia. A botanist I am not, so I didn’t really know the scientific or, for that matter, even the common names of most of the flowers. Blue poppies, Himalayan balsam, Brahma kamal, Edelweiss are just some names I am able to remember from some of the experts who were there to check out one particular species. Everywhere I looked, it seemed as if someone had maintained a garden, but it was all wild growth. There was a method to the flowery madness for sure. Patches of pink, yellow, white, purple seemed to be scattered in places. The textures on each of the flowers were quite different, it made me wonder how completely illiterate I am as far as flowers are concerned. Also how awfully over-rated a rose is!

The Valley of Flowers spans over a huge area and it is surrounded by green hills. I lost count of the number of streams and brooks that dotted the landscape. Intermittent mild showers and winds sometimes made it a task to get a good macro shot. But in a place like this, you are bound to go nuts with your camera. There is just so much to shoot and so little time.

I used to think that ‘a land of fairies’, was only the figment of someone’s imagination. But sitting beside the stream of fresh mineral water and beholding that colourful sight of the valley I realised, that this might just be one of those places. I have been on countless treks, but no other place has been as remote as this, as away from humanity, as visually brilliant! Where the only sound you can hear is of a waterfall cascading down from some mountain nearby, where the fragrance from the earth and the flowers around you is so over-powering you will hardly miss your perfume, where all your senses are excited to their limits, but the mind is still at peace.

This is one of those places.

When the rains decided to do a cameo in Konkan!

Konkan region is beautiful in the rains. But during the months of January and February, it can get quite cool thanks to the vast open landscapes and ample forests around (although locals are skeptical about that). In the months leading up to the rains, the Konkan belt can get unbearably hot. So when I went to my native place, Malwan – Masure, unseasonal rains was the last thing on my mind.

One of the things I eagerly look forward to when I visit my native place is to just wander for the sake of it: in the vast fields opposite my ancestral home during daytime or under the moonlit road which is snaking besides the fields. This time around, I was already noticing a gathering of clouds on my daytime strolls and I was really hoping for some showers. And well, the clouds weren’t just teasing.

It drizzled on and off for a couple of days while I was there. The interval between the rains was filled with an even cooler atmosphere. The landscape which was brown and yellow, got a nice touch of moisture which looked dramatic under the cloudy skies. Ok, I’ll stop with the talking and show you’ll the photographs I made instead.

The last in the series pretty much tells the story. Everyone finding random reasons to put off heading off to any other place from here.

Take Care,