Rishikesh – Purification in Beauty

While we’ve been semi-lazy about travelling, I’ve been beyond lazy blogging. Soooo, my hypothetical fans, I’m back with another little experience into the mystical Rishikesh.

I don’t think this little jewel really needs an introduction. Nestled in the foothills of the lofty Himalayas, home to the mystical Ganga, and as ethereal as a crowded little town can ever get. The moment you enter the city, you’re going to be fairly eager to see Her. The ribbon of water that drives one of the largest religions in the world.

Word to the wise, take a breather because it’s going to take a bit of navigating through the small streets and bustling traffic before you actually break through to the view of a lifetime. Once you’re there though, you can feel the entire world simply melting away as you start blending in with the slow, cool surroundings.

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Looking upcurrent at Ram Jhula

We were lucky enough to bag a great room at the Ganga Beach Resort run by the Garhwal Mandal, a government run organization, for promoting the state of Uttarakhand. Right outside our room, the river noisily and busily made her way to other parts of the country and we could only stand there in awe of her beauty.

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Sunrise was always sudden and brilliant in our room

Clear, cold water that entertains thrill seekers, soothes troubled minds, and carries the willing onto their final journey to their maker.

There’s a fair bit to do in Rishikesh if you’re there for a long weekend. You can attend the daily evening aarti for starters.

You can also opt for long yoga classes, buy little diyas to set afloat in the river, and buy trinkets off the street side vendors.

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You can find a lot of colourful beads and jewelry around the city

Meat lovers will have a bit of a toughie since you won’t get any meat in the entire city but the vegetarian food is served hot and with love. There’s just no way you can say no to that goodness, especially if you’re gorging at the famous Chotiwala restaurant.

Taking long walks along the riverbanks and the surrounding forests is also a wonderful way to spend your time there. However, do remember to pack sensible shoes or you will end up paying choosing style (like yours truly!) over sensibility.

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A priest being more sensible on his walk than me!

We visited the abandoned Beatles Ashram, famous for a particular band that had called it home on their trip to India. Any wild guesses on which band it was? The entire site is full of haunting buildings in various states of disrepair, overgrown and rundown.

You don’t need to work too hard to dodge the elephant poo dotting the streets. It usually piles up to a fair bit of space so you gotta be literally blind to be stepping into it!

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Whoops!

The ashram is known for its lush greenery, its dark caves, and absolutely GORGEOUS graffiti. There’s a wee bit of a slope here so if you’re out of shape, you (and the entire world) will know about it pretty soon. (Yes, I huffed and puffed my way up too. And if you see the way I demolish a cake, you’d know why…)

Since you are going to be walking around the place, remember to cross over using the little ferries as well as the two suspension bridges, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula. If you’re not a fan of heights, water or wobbly bridges hanging high over the water, here’s your chance to face your fears and what nots. Interesting story, Lakshman was once meditating on the banks of the Ganga and she (being portrayed as a mischievous child) kept coming up to disturb him. Chortling loudly, splashing him, wetting his toes… Despite repeated requests when she doesn’t desist, he angrily curses her into silence for a long-ish stretch. If you are to look closely between these bridges, the water is not just calm, it is also quieter than a baby’s whisper.

Any other place, she’s her usual giggly, gurgly, cheerful self.

It’s never easy leaving the fresh sunrises, the chilly waters, and minute beaches of Rishikesh but somedays (when salary runs low and the world beckons), you have to pack your bags and bid adieu to this little holy town, promising to return soon.

PS: If you believe spirituality involves near death experiences, you could try a hand at white water rafting and bungee jumping.

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A little raft towards the end of their exciting journey against the Parmarth Niketan Ashram

PPS: I fell in love with the Ganga aarti here. See if you like it as ridiculously as me.

PPPS: Mr. Jobs has been an angel by giving us the little phone that rescues ridiculously amateurish photographers (c’est moi).

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Udaipur

The City of Lakes. The city of what love at first sight is made of. Well, the old city at least. The new one is pretty much like any other part of India. Busy and full of the everyday hustle-bustle. But the regular little shops and buildings soon begin to give way to narrow streets and quaint houses with huge doors and lovely hand-made paintings on the walls.

If you get a chatty cabbie (like ours), you’d quickly be updated on the political situation in the royal family, the goods, the bads and the uglys of how it affected his beloved city and what Udaipur looked like  in the good old days before people were allowed to construct their house pretty much anywhere they please. In fact, when you finally do reach your hotel, you’d wonder how this dude was able to fit in that much information in a conversation that didn’t even last a half hour!

Anyways, armed with all the mysterious intrigues that go with a story well told, the husband and I finished off all the check-in formalities (yawn!) and were led to our room. Now, since we were on a budget trip, all we really wanted were clean and safe lodging. This one, however, came with a view that allowed me to do nothing but stand spellbound as I looked out onto the gorgeous Lake Pichola. Granted that being slack-jawed with a bit of drool hanging onto my chin wasn’t very flattering but the bell boy seemed used to this reaction because he smiled indulgently as he put our bags down and exited silently. Quite honestly, someone should warn a first timer in Udaipur that they’re going to be gob smacked by something as beautiful as this.

 

We were lucky to get a hotel that was bang in the middle of the touristy part of Udaipur and luckier yet to have a brother in law from there. Our very own Nawab of Mewar 🙂  All we had to do was put on our walking shoes and follow his instructions and voila! Our stay turned into things that glossy magazine stories are made of.

Be it eating at the Ambrai restaurant and gazing out onto the lake and the City Palace or breaking our feet trying to walk the length of the gorgeous Palace and yet wishing for it to never end or just walking around the old city, stopping for coffee and picking up some catchy knick knacks, Udaipur turned our two day stay into a trip back into time. It almost seems like time has stopped moving forward here and you too could just lie back and soak in the feels with absolutely no disturbance from anywhere. I read a book, appreciated the fact that the lovely lake is quite clean despite being surrounded by a lot of civilization or watched the sunset turn the city golden and me into a poet and felt more at peace than I have in a long, long time. A pleasant evening at the Bagore ki Haveli watching a dance troupe perform local Rajasthani dances made us beam with pride at being Indian.

Of course, the reverie can be shattered when you’re damn nearly run over when you try to walk the tiny streets full of vehicles with blaring horns and no brakes, only to step into a well-planned deposit of cow dung or into an alarmingly deep gutter at sporadic intervals. The utter lack of cops is also something surprising. Completely unnoticed unless one of those wannabe-F1 racers takes an arm or a loved one away by accident and you’re shrieking in an ungodly fashion for them to bring it back! But then, even the moon has a blotch or two so I’m not going to be prissy and complain. Sigh… I loved the place and that’s just about that.

I realized this time that while it’s a lovely thing being a tourist, it can be quite heartbreaking sometimes. Especially when you’re packing up and leaving when all you really want is to spend just one more evening on the steps of the Gangaur ghat, gaze out onto the reflection of the golden lights of the city and understand what it really means to be in love at the first sight.

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Jodhpur

To be really honest, Jodhpur didn’t drive me crazy (ier?) when I’d visited it first. We’d travelled with a huge group and didn’t get to step off the beaten path too much (at all!). We did, although, stay at a beautiful property called the ‘Bal Samand Garden Resort’ and wow was it wow! The second time around though, I was really looking forward to it. Thanks to a minor disaster the previous day, we had to begin our vacation with Jodhpur instead of Jaisalmer. Now, trips that have been in the pipeline and have been planned threadbare for months have a way of setting off the excitement and come the day after Christmas, we were all up squeaking and squealing and couldn’t wait to start off already!

One of the first things to notice is the old world charm that Jodhpur has. Nearly all the buildings are made in the pale pink Jodhpur stone that lends a strong, stately look to the entire place. We stayed over a lovely little place called the Raghav Villas, which belongs to one of the cousins of the royal family. Blessed with a lovely little garden and a slightly confusing but mostly endearing architecture, the hotel housed us for two perfect days. Since we had missed Jaisalmer (boo!), the manager got us a cab to take us to Osian. A mini-Jaisalmer as they call it, Osian is pretty much the threshold to the massive Indian desert.

Since cars could only go upto a certain point, we had to choose to travel by camel or by jeep (which we did because my back had decided it was being neglected and was acting up and also because we are a little chicken). In retrospect, travelling on camel back would’ve been a better idea. The jeep was, at best, a rickety old machine that was hanging onto all its odds and ends with all that it was worth and at worst, a little rusty thing barreling its way into isolated wilderness carrying two very uncomfortable people on its back.

We bumped and grinded our way to a quaint Bishnoi village and were treated to some of their lovely warm hospitality. Right in the middle of the sandy loneliness were two little houses and we made our way to one of them. The little building was home to a lovely couple with some of the most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen. So much so that I nearly picked up their tiniest son because I just couldn’t bear to say goodbye to that face. I also nearly picked up a baby goat who was equally ridiculously cute. Clearly I am one of those people. Ugh! In fact, the appeal was not just in the eyes of these babies, but also in steaming hot food cooked on a wood fuelled stove and the joy with which it was served to us. Times like these make you wonder if happiness isn’t really in the little things like feeding complete strangers with love, taking joy in explaining your camel’s health stats to them and watching in pride as they go nuts over your lovely wife and children.

The next day we were taken to the super famous Umaid Bhawan and Mehrangarh fort. Grand and overwhelming, both these monuments have a way of transporting you back in time. When you can imagine yourself in whimsical and bright fabrics, flitting around under the garb of royalty. We happened to find some place at the Mehran Café on our way down from the Mehrangarh Fort and boy was it worth it! Thanks to all the foreign tourists, their kitchen offers scrumptious western as well as Indian food. Going by the sandwich I was served, oh good GOD yes..yes baby YES!

This time, I swear, I completely fell for Jodhpur. The vibes of royalty, the warmth of Rajput hospitality no matter how far you are from civilization and the amazing laid back feeling of vacation that the place exudes isn’t something to be trifled at.

 

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Our day of love…and some

We’ve all seen those shady ‘Day of Love’ ads where gorgeous couples go to very public places and suddenly realize they’re in love, several years after they’ve been married. Then the scene cuts to them cuddling and wearing pricey wedding bands. Kind of depressing if you think of how they’d been planning to spend the rest of their lives with someone they don’t love and how your ‘Day of Love’ is about as awesome as a flea on a camel’s bum if you don’t have THOSE wedding rings. UGH!

Day of Love

However, a recent incident made me realize what’s what. I mean if you see the love of your life rapidly fading over the horizon and you’re on a train that’s chugging you onwards to your vacation, it isn’t the same joyous start of holidays that you envisioned. Dissing someone’s ‘Day of Love’ and then realizing that you’re probably going through the same thing, platinum band or not is just…well..eye opening. Know what I mean?

No?

Ok let me backtrack a bit. This Christmas, the one that has quite recently passed us by, the husband and I woke quite before the crack of dawn to begin our much awaited and much planned for vacation to Rajasthan. We were packed well in advance (a rare occurrence), I woke up bright and chirpy enough to actually have breakfast and look alive (an even rarer occurrence if it’s before 8am). We reached the station well before the train was due to make its appearance. All full of joy and thrilled to bloody bits.

The excitement clouded our vision you know, what with the station wearing a mild deserted look, the railway staff conspicuously absent and only a couple of chai wallahs and the nearly full moon to give us company as we yoga-d our chilled selves on the spot so we don’t freeze. Several trains came and went by. The people around us changed. The sky lightened and the world began coming to life.

Still our train remained obstinately out of sight.

After wearing our soles and patience thin, we lo and beholded our ride racing onto the platform as if the devil was on its ass and stopping about half a kilometer off from where we were assured, ASSURED I tell ya it would halt! Awkward shaped bags and zero self-respect in tow, husband and I literally barreled our way through HUNDREDS of people who had mysteriously congregated towards the train with absolutely no purpose in mind except to hinder us! The train squeaked to a halt and the husband vanished into the crowds! Frantic searching revealed nothing and I continued excuse me-ing myself through what seemed like the entire populace of the country. I would have had tears in my eyes had I not been so on the verge of a panic attack.

Clouded though my senses were, I discerned what seemed like mere seconds later, the train screeeeeeeeeeeeeee-d to a start and jolting ahead, taking a couple of my heart beats along with it. Tossing my bag heedlessly into an open door, I leaped into the train with a strength that belied my earlier sniffelling moments. My feet touch the ground, the phone rings and it’ the husband on the other side sounding as breathless as I felt.

‘GET ON THE TRAINNNNNNNN’

‘NOOOOO GET OFFFFFF ITTTTTTTT’

So between both of us trying to tell the other to do what whatevs, the train chugs up faster with me hanging onto a door with a shred of a fingernail screaming blue murder to the husband to get on. The poor husband looking utterly downcast just shrugged and slowly but surely became a distant spot on my horizon!

Trying to catch your breath, re-making ruined plans and jabbering away on the phone at the same time isn’t easy. But we managed it in whatever little time it took to get to a biggish station. The husband followed in the train behind mine. Very filmy. And while I slo-mo’d my way to him and gave him the love eyes, he looked at me disapprovingly and said, ‘Now what?’ mere seconds after we were dramatically re-united.

So while we were brooding on in a strange town and salvaging our vacation, we got hold of tickets to come back home. On what was called an ‘Inter-City’ but was actually a disaster on wheels carrying the husband and me, a heeooj crowd and about a million peanut shells. On the way it stopped at pretty much every little village in rural Haryana and we were wildly entertained by a drunk man and a miniscule old lady hurling abuses at each other. That day I learnt that we must NEVER EVER underestimate the ass-kicking powers of caustic old ladies. Finding out that they’re secret ninjas with a vocabulary that would make a sailor’s ears burn can be quite a game changer.

Old Lady Madagascar

Such a hectic and entertaining day could only end one way. With us neatly tucked onto a couch and slumbering away the rest of the day. Feeling mighty sorry for ourselves and what nots.

So much for being punctual and on top of things.

Image Credits

 

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Old Age Home

You might know it but I was once an extremely vibrant person. This faded…being you see in front of yourself is but a ghost compared to who I actually used to be. The house used to ring with my laughter and I had a fiery temper too. Ooooh! Yes I did. I had family and friends. I was loved and I was popular. Most importantly, I had PLANS. Oh yes, such lovely plans. Plans to go to the beach over the weekend or to watch a movie. Plans to chill at home and cook up a feast.

Now I just sit in this small-ish room overlooking the lovely lawns and I wait. I won’t say I wait for death because I’m not quite there yet. But I do wait. I wish I could do more. More than read or watch a television show. Quite honestly, I’m bored.

I miss my home. The smell of fresh sheets, the way that house always had the right temperature. I remember the way the water gurgled, the way the doors banged. I remember everything. I remember the day I couldn’t take care of myself and had to be put in this home so someone else could. It’s not that I hate being here. It’s just that I always feel like a guest. I always feel like I’m going to head back. Unfortunately, I’m heading nowhere. Here I am. In this dollhouse, nothing more than a frail, porcelain doll. Loved and maintained but put away on a shelf. Far from the world.

I don’t drive anymore and I can’t drink. The doctor says no. although I’d love a chilled beer while eyeing some glorious fish ‘n’ chips. This was what I was doing when I first saw HIM. My laddie. People talk about love at first sight but that wasn’t it for me. This guy was HANDSOME and he turned heads everywhere he went. I didn’t know it then but he had found me beautiful too. A short few weeks later we were dating and married within the year. Close to six decades later, he left me with nothing but memories and a heart that ached more than my knees. That thought could put me close to wanting to die but I still really don’t want to go.

I want to walk on a beach. I want to learn to play the guitar. I so want to put together my own sandwich again. Meaty and loaded with mayo. The comfort, fatty home-made sandwich. Not the ‘approved’ BS I get here from my dietician. BAH! Wouldn’t that woman change if she had a bite of MY sandwich!

A creaking door brings me back to the present. ‘Your visitors are here’ says the nurse. I refuse help and get up on my own. I hobble and creak down the corridor to where my kids are sitting with their kids. I’d decided to move out of this Retirement Home once and for all. My laddie had put away enough money for me to live a full, happy life and I intended to do that.

The usual protests followed. They were worried about me but too busy or too far away to help me out regularly. ‘I have an assistant to stay with me all the time’, I declared. ‘I am leaving and I won’t listen to anything else. I don’t want to live like a trapped sparrow for the rest of my life! Whatever is left of it at least. I AM LEAVING!’ My sudden burst of energy surprises them. Eventually, they relent. Two days later, I am back home. I sit on my dusty couch and revel in the perfection of this little bit of universe that belonged to me.

My little nurse and I spent a week going about and putting the place back in order. She more than I. I could only do very little but I still did it. A week after I moved, I lay down in my own bed with the sheets smelling just as beautiful and comfortable as ever. I close my eyes and sigh.

Yes. Now, NOW I was ready to go. Now I believe, I was truly where I belonged and now, I believe I have everything that I could have ever wanted.

Watch out laddie!

Image credit : http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/lonely-old-woman-looking-out-window-13718014.jpg

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Talvar – Go nuts!

Some days, it amazes me at the volume of over-reaction we have in our country. Take a look at this.

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Read it?

Hmm…Now do you SERIOUSLY think showing your household help a movie is going to ‘change’ the way think or act? People are going off their rockers figuring out how the ‘moral of the story’ in this movie can be used to caution the help. Seriously? You’re going to ‘talk’ to them about how the movie showed the servants getting into trouble thanks to their own stupidity?

Listen up guys! First off, everyone in the country knew about this case and was following it panicky headline by panicky headline on the way to its current conclusion. Secondly, it also shows how, as help, you can waltz into a careless family’s house and actually commit a crime and go off scot-free! (If they ever did it, that is.)

What you need to do is STOP FEEDING THE MEDIA your out of proportion crazy and what you REALLY need to do is these things

  1. Do NOT allow anyone a free hand in your house, especially the help. You are the master/mistresses and that role also requires you to do more than being a lazy and over bearing ruler. BE RESPONSIBLE.
  2. Your help is miles and miles from home with little money and freedom at their disposal. Do you expect their friends to be the same ‘high level’ ones as yours? They’re going to make friends with other help, gardeners, drivers, car cleaners, etc. ACCEPT IT.
  3. One woman says she confiscated her help’s mobile as she was talking to strangers. Are you serious, lady? People have been attacked for much less and had I been in her place, I would’ve demanded my phone back and walked out. BE ALERT.
  4. Quit washing your dirty laundry in front of the help. Fighting and nit-picking shows cracks in your home and family and these can be exploited. By neighbours also! Basically, GROW UP!
  5. Lastly, you know that you can’t really survive without them so what’s up with this effin’ fiefdom? They’re your employees. Treat them the way you want your boss to treat you.

Watching a movie isn’t going to change anyone. If your help has decided to rob your or worse, this movie isn’t going to change jack shit. It’s going to in fact teach them how to convince the cops to let them go.

Everyone needed a reality check and quite frankly, this movie is IT. Everything that could go wrong in an average home has gone wrong in this family. Whether innocent or not, two people are behind bars and TWO PEOPLE ARE DEAD. Turning it into a media frenzied circus or a steamy, ’50 Shades of the Talvars’ won’t help. Two living people, one of them merely a child have been murdered and quite frankly, after the last rites were done, they were whisked out of the spotlight faster than their ashes dissolved in the Ganges. All that was left was an overwhelming amount of tantalizing information that fuelled gossip and debates around the country.

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Talvar – Prepare to walk the knife edge

In three words – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. No not the western classic. This movie – Talvar.

Talvar

Based on the wildly controversial double murder in the Talvar household, this movie is intense and gripping. Had it not been based off true events, it would’ve been equally good. Fast paced with an amazing star cast, this movie is good, good, GOOD.

The bad? I found the movie oddly biased. Quite surprising considering how controversial the actual case was. The entire feel of the movie tilts sharply in favour of the parents who are currently serving a jail sentence as per the Courts’ ruling. So while a lot of you (us) might believe that the parents are to blame, the movie prominently puts in a significant amount of doubt.

The ugly? Oh good God, the ugly! You sit through the whole movie in a state of disbelief. You end up wondering ‘Is this how weak our moral fabric is?’ Frankly, it’s bloody terrifying having this thought forced onto you.

Overall, the movie is a must watch. Beautifully directed and no talent has been wasted. Each actor has outdone himself/herself and you will absolutely carry this around in your mind for a few days at the least. You should debate and argue over this issue because the visualization of the horrendous crime has higher impact than reading about it in the newspapers or having it shouted at you by over-enthu journalistst.

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Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar Ya!

The final day of the lovely Ganpati festival. The saddest and the happiest day. No one likes the festivities to end and no one likes to say good bye. However, under all the farewells, there is ever the thought of wishing the guest a safe and speedy journey. And of course, ever there is the wish that guest leaves feeling happy and relaxed. So, we have the phenomenal Ganpati Visarjan.

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Step aside Sunburn, this celebration begins on the 11th day of the festival and winds down about 60 hours later. Rife with unparalleled excitement and enthusiasm, this party beats all others. From tiny home processions to massive miravnuks (processions) of maanache Ganpati (Ganpatis of honour, to be considered before all) wind their way around allotted paths, heading to the water body slotted for visarjans.

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Like everything else, even this ceremony has its own significance.

Traditionally, the idols would be made out of clay and mud from the riverbeds, worshipped with turmeric, durva grass and flowers, and then submerged in the same river. Going back where it has come from, the visarjan signified the Circle of Life. Hakuna Matata! And everything offered to the idol in worship was always eco-friendly. In the new age with plaster-of-paris idols, this becomes kind of redundant but the idea was that the devotee would be blessed with a long and healthy life, surrounded in plentiful with the gifts of nature.

The Circle of Life teaches us that all beginnings have ends and vice-versa. We are all involved in a huge circular motion with the rest of the universe and are but pawns in this big celestial game. It also teaches us that throughout life we will meet people from all walks of life and each is an integral part of the system, they deserve as much love and respect as the next person.

It is also extremely important to learn that there is no permanence in life at all. What has started must come to an end one day and everything must perish. Some before the next. When the Lord himself has become One with the Universe, so should we. Of course, there is never a need to fear this ‘end’. We must learn to be never be too attached to anything and detachment would make the process of separation all the more easy.

The idol itself is a channel through which we can connect with the Almighty and God does not have a physical form. One day, we are all going to meet him.

You can read more about it here at The Speaking Tree. Beautifully and succinctly explained. Don’t miss the slideshow…

On this day of the Ganpati Visarjan, I wish all of you a fruitful and bountiful year. I hope you all see times of joy, peace and love. We can all continue praying and look forward to seeing the Lord next year.

GANPATI BAPPA MORYA! PUDHCHYA VARSHI LOVKAR YA!

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Ganpati Bappa’s preferences….

The Ganpati festival is a beautiful way to bring the entire family and community together. To be joyful, happy and just be able to worship in peace. One can choose between enjoying this festival at a community center or hall where the idol may be placed or bring the idol to his or her own home.

If one does bring home a Ganpati home, there are some ways to setup the area where He is seated, so it is perfect. Just the way He would love it!

Before I list down some of the tips and best practices, I suggest you take a look here. Incredible website with all the information on preparing for a Ganpati sthapana, aarti and the entire festival itself.

http://www.ganeshchaturthi.com/

Once you have browsed this, I can tell you some things that the Lord is particularly partial to and you could get it arranged during the course of His stay.

  1. Durva grass

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2. Red flowers, prefferably hibiscus

3. Modaks

4. Janve

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5. Betel leaves

After all, we Indians are taught Atithi Devo Bhava and what better guest could we ever ask for!

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My favourite Ganpati…

It was a friday much like a monday and I couldn’t do my daily Ganpati post 😦 BUT to make it up to myself, I put up a picture of my favourite Ganpati idol. Srimanth Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati…..I always visit Him when I go back home and tell Him all my stories. Sometimes they’re happy ones, sometimes sad. But He always listens. Thank God for a friend like this!

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