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Past perfect in Old Delhi

If you want to see the Delhi of old books and stories, spend a day in Purani Dilli.

The life in the lanes of Old Delhi. (Below) A tea vendor; The happy coexistence; Mirza Ghalib ki haveli.



My first tryst with Old Delhi, its Chandni Chowk, and other lanes had ended in a mutual dislike. All of 10, its chaos, crowd and odours were all a bit too overwhelming or beyond comprehension for me. For the flag-bearers of Delhi-bred Gen X, like me, Delhi was New Delhi, with its broad roads, South Delhi malls and new markets. Old Delhi didn’t fit into my idea of the Capital.
Once I gained some wisdom with age and developed appreciating taste-buds, Old Delhi’s narrow maze-like streets and ways were no less than treasure tracks. From once promising myself to never set a foot in that place again, I gradually turned into a life-time admirer of this part of Delhi.
The trips to Old Delhi with my father became the breeding ground for many stories and experiences. The food elsewhere after that was never to be had without drawing a comparison with the same from Old Delhi.
I still remember that shop in Khari Baoli (Asia's largest wholesale Spice market selling all kinds of herbs, lentils, rice and tea ) where my father and I would go to for buying our annual dose of saffron for kheer and other sweets. To reach his shop we had to climb up two levels of stairs. On the first floor, the Nepalese saffron-seller’s family would ask us a lot of questions to ascertain we were mere buyers and no one else. We would then be allowed to ascend to the second floor and wait for him in a room. He would then come with a lot of keys and open his big safe.
The sheer process of him taking out small plastic containers filled with saffron from around the world, sitting wrapped in cotton beds, would make me feel like living in a fictional world of secrets and unknown places. Armed with enough knowledge about saffron, just when I would think I have become ‘Miss know-it-all’, this largest spice market of Asia would stump me. I would righty guess the aroma of cloves, cardamom or cinnamon in that highly fragrant air. Then suddenly I would find myself standing dumbfounded at some shop. There was always a spice or two that I had never seen. That place introduced me to star anise. A live school beyond comparison! Perhaps why famous poet Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq said:
In dinon garche dakkan mai hai badi qadr-e-sukhan
Kaun Jaye ‘Zauq’ par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar

Those Dilli ki galiyan would then treat me the most authentic of recipes and freshest of flavours. For me, no one can still match up to Natraj ke dahi-bade, Chawri Bazaar ki chaat, Nai Sarak ki kachori, Fatehpuri ki kulfi and the rest. Those serpentine lanes and bylanes of Old Delhi might be a chaotic setup for many, for others like me they were and still are a place for exploration. No doubt, even large number of foreigners can be found exploring this charming spot of Delhi. Perhaps there is no other Purani Dilli on this earth.
You just need to visit Mirza Ghalib's haveli, spend some hours wandering in those lanes, soaking in the music that I always found in that commotion, and you would also get mesmerised by Old Delhi. A walk through the rooms where Ghalib spent last days of his life would make you also fall in love with this place all over again.
Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan, famously know as Mirza Ghalib, made romantics out of many with his ghazals and shayari. Though born in Agra in 1797, it was Delhi that saw the best of him after he moved here which was soon post his marriage at the age of 13. His residence in Gali Qasim Jan, Balli Maran, is a heritage site not only for the archaeologists but almost a pilgrimage for his fans and followers. The sheer Mughal era look of the place, with bricks, sandstones and a huge wooden gate, Ghalib's couplets and literature for the company, is a perfect way to end a day at Old Delhi. You can almost imagine the Delhi of Ghalib through his ghazal:
Ballimaraan ke mahalle ki wo pecheeda daleelon ki si wo galiyan,
Saamne taal ke nukkad pe batero ke qaseede,
Gurhgurhati hui paan ki peekon mein wo daad wo wah-wah,
Chand darwaaze par latke huye boshida se kuch taat ke parde,
ek bakri ke mamiyaane ki awaaz,
Aur dhoondhlayi hui shaam ke be-noor andhere,
Aise deewaron se moonh jor kar chalte hai yahan,
Churi-waalan ke katri ki bari bee jaise,
Apni bujhti hui aankhon se darwaaze tatole,
Isee be-noor andheri see gali qaasim se,
Ek tarteeb charaghon ki shuru hoti hai,
Ek quran-e-sukhan ka safa khulta hai,
Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ ka pata milta hai.

And, who knows if you are paying attention you might even find yourself in these lanes, just like these poets did.


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The Seychelles: Here, life’s much more than a beach

The waters and sunsets of these islands will spoil you for life.



A serial window-sitter in me has had her share of stares and curses coming her way all throughout. Yet, time and again, the views from that seat have always made the struggle worth it. One such reassuring moment was reaching the Seychelles
From a tiny green island in the sea, as the view changes to blue waves turning white upon crashing at the beach, I am already telling myself to be proud of the window-stealing habit. This time though there was no resistance as the non-existent competition for the coveted spot on the plane came from the husband. And, once on land, this place welcomes you with untouched beauty and unbridled love that you will rarely find elsewhere.
The small airport, packing sea, greenery and hills, all in one frame, is your first tryst with picture-perfect vistas of this archipelago consisting of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. As John drives us to the hotel at the beautiful bay of Beau Vallon of Mahe Island, the largest island and hence the place for the country’s capital and international airport, we cannot help but admire the riot of colours the nature is and how well the people add to it. 
Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove, meanwhile, is one among those idyllic and romantic getaways of the Seychelles that any couple would have been dreaming of. Probably the reason why Prince William and Kate also chose to honeymoon on one of the Seychelles’ islands! 
Our hotel is also a peep into the country’s love for life and happiness. You work for five days or a half more and spend the rest partying or lazing around on the beaches sipping on the sweetest of the coconuts – the King Coconut, a huge variety of the species in striking yellow colour. After all if you have such ivory beaches at your disposal, why would you want to go anywhere to let your hair down.  As the sparkling turquoise waters of the Seychelles spellbind us, even a non-swimmer in me is unable to resist the new-found love for water and get into the infinity pool once the evening tides start spelling danger. 
If you knew all about great evenings, wait till you see the one at the Seychelles. Can they get better than floating in the calm pool, sipping on the cocktails made from the local spiced rums, coconut liqueurs, and just gazing at the setting Sun lending the sky beautiful tones of amber. The night, however, gets even better. Creole cuisine with an obvious abundance of seafood (read fish, crabs, lobsters, snail, octopus...) and exotic desserts due to the French influence, coupled with live country folk music and a dash of Calypso rhythms, somehow makes you believe you have found your heaven right in this land. 
The admiration, either at the natural beauty or the organised, simple and happy way of life, increases with every passing day.
The capital city of Victoria is nothing short of a modern French colony with its planned spic and span roads, colonial structures and green pathways. It is also a pedestrian’s delight as many must-see places are within walking distance. Right from the Clock Tower that was erected in the memory of Queen Victoria of England, Natural History Museum where you get the first lesson on the legendary Coco De Mer and black parrot among others, the National Park to the street market, all could be checked out on foot. Kenwyn House at Francis Rachel Street is an elegant example of French colonial architecture and a must-see yet often-ignored in Victoria. It also offers the visitors a chance to browse through the world-class jewellery from the Home of JOUEL- the premier luxury retail company in Seychelles. The collections are inspired by the Seychelles islands.
Among the cluster of restaurants near the Clock Tower, The Pirates Arms is among the few that boast of a small casino inside the restaurant. We still crave for the pizza and the cocktails the place had despite their casino having made us lose some of our cash. Such is the charm of the Seychelles that even if far from the country the evident Indian influences make you feel right at home. The many buildings and shopping complexes have Indian owners and are named so. Apart from a number of Bank of Baroda branches, the Quincy Street takes you right back to India with its magnificent Sri Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple constructed in familiar South Indian style. The currency of the Seychelles is also rupee – Seychellois Rupee. 
After Mahe, Praslin and La Digue are the next most-visited and approachable islands. We pick Praslin for its famous beach of Anse Lazio which has been ranked among the top 10 beaches of the world by many travel magazines and portals time and again. We opt for inter-island ferry rather than a plane to reach Praslin. The sudden showers and turbulence at the sea spark off a bit of fear but add a lot more to the 60-minute adventure ride. 
Robert Johnson, our transfer incharge from the jetty point to Hotel Coco de Mer and Black Parrot Suites in Anse Bois de Rose gives us a quick lowdown on the must-visit spots and rare flora and fauna. After indulging ourselves in the lip-smacking curries and desserts, ice cream on caramelised coconut on this occasion, we can’t wait anymore for Anse Lazio on the other end of Praslin.
Its snow white sand sparkling like gold in the sunlight, palm trees, large Takamaka trees, granite cliffs and thunderously-crashing waves have us in a trance in an instant. If waters at Mahe made me a convert, the crystal-clear blue waters of Anse Lazio has spoiled me for life. Anything less pure or beautiful will not have me even dip my feet into it. That might not bode well for future travels involving a sea, but as John Watson of TV series – Sherlock – says, “It is as it is.”
Like a star-struck teenager we bid adieu to Anse Lazio with great difficulty. The next meeting, with Aldabra giant tortoises, ignites similar youthful excitement. As we stop for some snacks at a restaurant, we chance to see these unique reptiles. Found only in the Seychelles, Aldabra giant tortoise is one of the largest in the world and can live up to 200 years. Despite their legendary laziness, a younger one establishing eye contact with me indeed makes me feel special. The hubby, much to my disappointment is only amused and not jealous!  
Praslin’s wonders don’t end there; Coco De Mer being the next. The buttock-like nut of rare Coco De Mer is the largest seed in the plant kingdom. Found only in islands of Praslin and neighbouring Curieuse, this Seychelles native has separate male and female trees; the gender known only when it produces flowers or fruits which takes almost 25 years. A reason why eating the nut which grown at the bottom of the tree unlike other coconut varieties is illegal and is used for cultivating new trees. The Seychelles black parrot, the national bird of the country, is also another unique attraction of Praslin. Found only on this island, in the World Heritage Site of Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve and the lower part of Fond Peper in Praslin National Park, you should count yourself among the luckiest on the planet if you are able to see one. We were not.
The dreamy night under the clearest of skies and abundance of stars with the rhythmic crashing of waves, however, more than makes up for it. As we gape at the horizon together, I know I have found perfection and love all over again in this place where land meets water in the most beautiful imagination.




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