Incessant rain, flooded roads, squelching mud, grey skies, dreary days, sometimes that is all we can see during the monsoon. How soon we lose our patience after the first relief from sweltering heat. Yet there is another side to the monsoon: waking to a world washed clean and bright after a night’s rain and breathing in the cool crisp morning air, listening to birdsong that seems to have a chirpier lilt in its merry notes, enjoying the sight of luxuriant grass growing by the side of the roads, and raindrops resembling dew, nestling on green blades, shimmering golden as they catch the sun that often plays hide and seek after a sudden shower. Nowhere is the monsoon more beautiful than on the hills and mountains that are so close to us. Khandala, Lonavla, Panchgani, Mahableshwar, all wear a glorious verdant look, with mountainsides lushly cloaked in green. Beautiful wildflowers in vivid hues cover hillsides and meadows and silvery white waterfalls gush down the mountainsides. The monsoons enhance the natural beauty of the Western Ghats tenfold, helping to hide the deep ugly scars of deforestation that show through most of the year.
I remember what a joy it was, splashing through puddles, during my school days in Mumbai, or walking out for miles as the first rain fell. It is impossible to forget the power of the winds that almost pushed one at Nariman point or the intense pleasure of meeting the rising waves on Marine Drive, Worli Seaface or Haji Ali, as we were drenched by the falling rain; salt mixing on the lips with cool fresh rain drops. A few days back we were back in Mumbai and woke to find it submerged in water. For working people it was an unscheduled holiday, time to relax, watch TV or just eat hot pakodas and watch the falling rain, or pretend the sun had not risen and go back to sleep. We postponed our departure from there, following the advice given on TV to stay indoors till 5 pm. Fifteen floors below we could hear the children from a nearby slum screaming in delight, looking out of the window we watched them as they played a tug of war. A little distance away we could see a group of boys, in a maidan, playing some game, while almost waist deep in water.
As we drove to the highway there was still water in places and youngsters were out in the rain without the protection of raincoats or umbrellas and little children were swimming merrily in the knee deep water collected on the side of the roads. Much later leaving Vashi, we were rewarded by our first glimpse of snaking waterfalls. Then followed the paddy fields between Panvel and Khopoli; a truly entrancing sight during the monsoon. These are small patches bordered by tall trees with wide canopies, and rain washed leaves, gleaming emerald bright. Once in a while we were greeted with the sight of a single tall palm or a small group of towering palm trees. The rivers flowing through were full and surging with power but rather muddy. Clouds half shrouded the mountains of the Khandala ghats. A little further we were rewarded by a sight of monkeys sitting on the expressway wall. A number of monkey families sat on or clambered up the wall. Mama, papa, baby monkeys along with aunts, uncles and cousins were all over the place. It was quite a sight. A few minutes later a policeman stopped us, very considerately choosing a spot from where we could spy a glorious waterfall, though shrouded in misty clouds. As the driver spoke to him, we took the opportunity of taking some pictures. We left the expressway at the Khandala exit and headed to Lonavla and Lion’s point which is on the way to Ambi Valley. We headed up the steep, curving road, and stopped at a spot where we could park the car and walk in the grass. Wild plants, cacti and wildflowers grew in profusion. Water fell from a mountainside close by and it was an idyllic scene. Walking a little further we came upon a brook singing its way down the mountain. Wispy clouds floated around like chiffon curtains. Reluctantly we moved ahead to Lion’s point, but we had lingered too long and it was dark by the time we reached it. Lion’s point is impossible to miss, due to its popularity, as there are always a number of cars parked there. It is blessed with a breathtaking view but more often than not, this is cloaked in clouds during the monsoon, yet it continues to attract people. The mist was swirling when we reached it and it was quite dark, yet there was a beauty in the scene. We parked on the other side of the road, where a dark hill loomed high behind us in the gloaming. Clouds added to the darkness and visibility was lessened, creating a strange unreal atmosphere. Passing car lights appeared eerie, diffused by the mists. A little distance away a reddish glow perhaps of a parked car, lit the silhouette of a tree, producing an unearthly scene. Carts of roasted corn on the cob or tea stood on both sides of the road, their fires adding to the mysterious atmosphere. People blended with the night, their faces barely discernible. Occasional showers of red sparks flew in the deepening darkness as the shadowy hawkers fanned the flames. There was neither view, nor light, nor colour, nor moon, nor stars, yet the rolling hilly mists, the growing shadows, the secretive night, all held us entranced.

The journey from Prague to Budapest began in the darkness. Once more I chose to travel in the restaurant car with it’s wide windows offering views on both sides. Orange tinted clouds appeared on the horizon after an hour of staring into the darkness. The world slowly emerged swathed in soft white. Trees stood like ghostly sentinels. The landscape alternated between tiny villages, farmland and meadows lined with trees and thickly forested hillsides. Thick cloud cover tucked in the sun and mists swirled around but even in the gloom, autumn’s splendour could be detected. Occasionally a row of trees, stripped bare appeared by the tracks and reflected in pools of collected water. Smoke twirled out of the chimneys of little houses and though warm in my little corner, I yearned a little for their cosy hearths. The very air seemed to hold its breath as even the leaves were still. How precious this hour of morning, how holy, a world waking up to a new dawn, a new promise, new hopes. A world which seemed to be renewed and washed clean. 

The lazy sun has finally thrown off its bedclothes and dressed the earth in filtered tones. The golden hour of the morning is softer and its ethereal light permeating the landscape seems to purify it. A strange scene appears before me. Fields reaped and shorn of their offerings now lie under a low yellow cover. Trees almost bare but with some leaves still clinging in strange round clumps to the branches. A sight I have never seen before.
Autumn is my favourite season. I love its glorious hues. An autumnal landscape unfolding its treasures in the morning light is a rate treat. My mind dulled by little sleep of the past few days, yet refuses to turn away from the glories on display and take some much needed rest. The past few days have been a blur. Landing in a dull and cloudy Prague, then rushing off to Rome for a week, greedily attempting the impossible task of drinking in the eternal city in the great gulps while squeezing in a day exploring the beautiful coast of Cinque Terre. The early morning flight back to Prague, stopping just long enough to wash and iron clothes and pack again, the early morning train to Budapest. The tired mind goes of on strange fancies. Perhaps the clinging round clumps on the bare trees are not its leaves but nests built by some bird. What kind bird is it that drapes bare trees with the green leaves that nature deprived it of, in such an artistic way. 

The light outside is the same that artists have painted landscapes in. I always notice it in autumn. If I could paint or even photograph it I would but at 139 km/hr it is only possible to look and enjoy. 

We are in Hungary but we left the sun in Slovakia. Despite the dullness of the cloud cover the landscape is richer here with forested hills hugging the Danube. The range of shades and colours is greater here an indication of more variety of flora. 

Across the Slovakian town of Šturovo we could see the breath takng site of the Esztergom Baszilika. The train stops at Nagymoros-Viségrad a small, neatly laid out place with little houses on tree lined avenues besides the Danube. Across the river stands Visegrad Castle, atop a hill overlooking the bend in The Danube. Though in ruins it is still an imposing sight. We stop at Vac and then it is straight to Budapest and the end of the journey. Seven hours just flew by. 

The white line on the Eastern horizon is very distinct from the black and growing. It is time for fajr and sleep heavy eyes are now wide awake and refreshed after an early morning dinner of kofte and coffee. A fitful sleep took over almost on take off. The darkness hangs heavy in the sky and over the earth, though slowly the light is growing but stars are still distinct over the horizon. 

I stare at my screen, it is not the wide range of the latest movies which are available that fascinate me or even the music or the games. It is the route which is fascinating. I steal glances outside. My window is facing east and I am eagerly awaiting the sunrise but at the same time the screen attracts me with its magical names. I am fascinated by the thought that below me lies the world. A world of mystic and legend, of history and stories, so many cultures, traditions, languages. A beautiful, colourful world now reposing tucked in comfortably in the bedclothes of the dark that still enfolds the earth. The screen offers a geography lesson. I look at place names rarely heard and wonder about them. Ashgabat, Buxoro, Astrakhan. I want to say the names aloud. Feel the taste of them on my tongue. But perhaps the Romanian gentleman to my left might have doubts about my sanity. I keep silent but in my mind I am savouring them. They are far away yet near enough to be on this route map. Air travel has made the world so small. The places one thought one would never see in life are just a short flight away. 

We have been flying over Iran. Tabriz lies somewhere to our South East. It is a sobering thought because the routes for all flights have changed due to the conflicts on the ground. Earlier all flight to Turkey or Europe entered Turkey from Mosul in Iraq. The conflicts, the killing, the danger, the fear, the deprivation of those on the ground not very far away fills me sadness. I want to shout stop stop stop I want to shout it out so loud that it reaches every corner of the globe. STOP! When I allow myself to think of what man is capable of doing to man the thought fills me with agony. There on the route before me are names no longer the stuff of legends but names which seem to take on a new life and are writhing before me in agony. Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Damascus, Aleppo. Once the cities of dreams, centres of ancient civilisations, cities which are carrying the ruins and histories of so much within them only to be destroyed and ruined once more. Barbarically destroyed in a world that stresses upon being civilised. A claim which it can never make good while there is a single drop of innocent blood being shed. 


I once strolled down paths of grace
where even time had slowed its pace
breezes flowed with reverent care
peace trod softly upon the air

Contented leaves let out a sigh
from gnarled giants that towered high
yet lay mirrored in silent pools
where fishes swam in languid schools

To sturdy trunks great creepers clung
on mossy boughs thick vines were strung
and ‘tween grassy blades bloomed
wildflowers spun on nature’s loom

The sun too had muted its might
and spread its rays as filtered light
through branches that joyfully swayed
showering trails with dappled shade

Ponds shimmered with bright golden gleams
ballrooms of happy, waltzing beams
while arias sung by wren and thrush
echoed from verdant hedge and brush

the evening choir’s honeyed tones
could melt the heart of hardest stone
while the setting sun’s mellow kiss
filled mind and soul with warmth and bliss

Now late into this still dark night
once more I yearn for that treasured sight.



Yesterday Ahmed was playing in the street with his friends. I wanted to play too but mother said I had to help her. There was a very big noise. It was so big that everything shook. It was followed by many others. I was so afraid, I hid under the bed. Mother was afraid too but she ran outside. People were shouting. I went outside. Everything was broken and burning. There was no Ahmed. Mother was wailing and beating her head. Our neighbour was holding her. My heart was beating loudly! Where was Ahmed. I waited for him but he did not come back. He never came back.

Today they buried Ahmed. They put him inside the ground. They put his little friends too. But Rashid was taken to the hospital, maybe they will put him in the ground afterwards, like they did my brother Faisal. Faisal went to a place called hospital. Children who go to the hospital are then put into the ground. My father said that was because they did not have something called medicines. I did not understand. Last night I could not sleep. All night mother cried. Sometimes she kissed Ahmed’s pillow, sometimes the new dress she had made for his third birthday sometimes his tiny new shoes. He would never wear that dress. He would never wear those shoes. Ahmed would never be three I thought.

In the night mother came to me and held me tight. I could not breathe. She kissed my cheeks and my eyes many times. Her face was wet with tears.

Today mother gave me a biscuit. It was from the packet she had brought for Ahmed. He liked biscuits. I also liked biscuits very much. I would have liked a biscuit sometimes but they were only for Ahmad. That was because he was smaller. I took a bite from the biscuit. It was sweet and crunchy, but I could not eat it, it was Ahmed’s biscuit. He would never eat it. He would never come back. Why Ahmed? I thought, what did he do wrong, he was so small and sweet,always smiling. He played with me. I thought of his plump face, his chubby pink cheeks, his big shining black eyes, his curly hair. I could never hold him again. I began to cry.

We returned in a daze, sometime in the afternoon, still caught up in the magic of the day’s experiences. What a day it had been, the sights that we had seen had far exceeded imagination or expectations. We were totally bewitched. Who could go through the halls of that lofty castle, look out over the countryside, taking in the little villages, the forests, the clear, still, blue green lakes, walk through what certainly were enchanted woods, inhabited by faerie folk and stay untouched.

It had been a day of epic proportions, the day when I was finally able to visit the place I had dreamed of seeing as a child, ever since I had seen a picture in a magazine, of a castle perched high on a mountain and wondered how it had been built. How lucky I was, to be able to share it and its wonder, with my daughters. I could see that this exquisite experience transcended generations and the enchantment captured us all.

The Village of Schwangau, Alpsee and the Mountains Beyond

Neuschwanstein Castle

Landscape seen from one side of the Castle, with Forggensee in the distance

The mountains around Alpsee, with a tiny glimpse of the Alpsee nestled below them

The Castle of HohenSchwangau, Schwangau Village, Alpsee and the mountains behind it, seen from Neuschwanstein Castle

Mariensbrucke The Bridge from where one can see the best view of the castle. Unfortunately we could not go there

After lunch we returned to our hotel but I and my elder daughter were full of restless energy and ready for more adventures. It had been cloudy for awhile, when we were at the castle and had rained a little too but it was clear in Fussen, the town we were staying in, which was ten kilometres away. We decided to discover the lake we had seen from the castle, Forggensee. It was just a short distance away from our hotel. We had barely crossed the street, when we came upon some tents. There, laid on a table was every kind of delight from France. Lavender oils and soaps, Savon the Marseilles, honey from Provence and olives from I forget where.

There were other tents too but we barely noticed them. Lavender soaps and I have a history and a loving relationship. Its fragrance is not just in my present but wafts in my cherished, childhood memories. My father, who grew up in colonial India used Yardley Lavender soap. Later it was not available in India, but when he went to work abroad, he always returned with cakes of lavender soap. The fragrance of lavender crossed the generation gap and tied our childhoods together.

After my marriage too there were always cakes of lavender soap in my ´home, though I had never seen or smelt the real thing till we went to Africa. There I found a lavender plant in the garden of the resort we stayed in and fell in love all over again. I put some flowers in my jacket pocket and was delighted that they held the fragrance even after drying out. The lavender stayed with me for a long time.

When I saw pictures of lavender fields, I dreamt of walking among them and simply gulping down the heady aroma. It has not happened yet though, hopefully it will someday. The lavender soap at this small stall smelt of the real thing, I just had to buy some and the honey and a little bag of olives, which were quite expensive. The lady only spoke French though and all we had was a rusty, schoolgirl version of the language. Nevertheless, we were surprised at being able to communicate with her. Of course a lot of gesticulating and smiles also helped and we made a connection and were able to actually strike a rapport.

We moved on and after walking a little came upon an unexpected sight. We could actually see the castle in the distance and sighing in pleasure we sat down on a bench that was probably placed on the pavements for tourists like us. Once more the enchantment began its work on us and we sat there, mother and daughter, talking about it in mellow tones.
A close-up of the side of the Castle visible from the Town of Fussen, 10 km away.

I opened my little bag of olives and started eating them. they were delicious. One slippery fella landed on the pavement and I thought I would pick it up later.

Just then a group of what seemed to be local residents out on a walk, arrived with a beautiful dog. The dog ran towards us and then it just had to discover that fallen olive. Its curiosity seemed aroused and it began sniffing it and before I could say a word, the olive was in its mouth. I was aghast, images of the poor thing choking on the olive flashed across my mind. Perhaps even a newspaper headline “Murderous tourist kills innocent dog, with an olive!!!” I would be on the news, dog lovers everywhere would hate me. It is funny how many weird things can flash across a mind in a few seconds.

Fortunately I somehow managed to communicate the situation to its owners who spoke only German, and showed them my now almost empty, bag of olives and said their dog seemed to have swallowed one. One of them put his hand in the dog’s mouth and got the offending olive out. Another connection was made and we were all full of smiles as they walked away.

It looked strangely dark. I looked behind and was shocked to see that a huge dark cloud had appeared most unexpectedly and was blotting out the sky behind us. Neither of us liked its threatening looks. Luckily we had not walked much and the hotel was just a few minutes away. Hoping to out walk the storm we started walking back hurriedly. we were too late though, in a few minutes we were drenched. It’s funny about getting wet, one tries their best to get out of it but once caught up in it and soaked to the skin one can, if not chilled, just accept it and try to enjoy it, so that is what we did.

It grew very windy too and when we reached the lavender stall we saw that the tent was almost blowing off and was held down by its valiant owner, whose husband had gone for help. We stayed with her and helped her hold the tent. The rain by then was pounding down on all of us and the wind whipping around. After a while we were able to leave her and the tent in safe hands and return to our hotel.

It seemed a fitting end to an exceptional day, anything else would have been too tame.

It was close to sunset when we left for the promised walk. Not wishing to waste anymore light we took a taxi to the seaside and started our walk from there rather than from home. February days, cloudy or clear are always beautifully pleasant and it is the perfect time to walk. The wind chill has abated and usually a pleasant breeze blows. The promenade was full of people, mothers out for a stroll, pushing prams with babies, while they brought each other up on the latest gossip, solitary joggers and walkers, families with children. The atmosphere was lively. As usual we caught glimpses of fishing rods and patient or perhaps simply lazy fishermen.

An Asian woman was pouring water from a bottle and it looked like she was pouring it into the sea. At this strange behaviour my daughter could not resist commenting “Yeah just in case the sea runs out.” In a moment we were chiding ourselves for laughing because she was actually pouring out fresh water for the cats that lived among the rocks. 

A little further we saw a couple walking briskly, both with their earphones on, were wrapped inside their own little worlds. It seems a shame that more and more people like to lock themselves up with sounds and voices only they can hear and lock out the voices of those around them. A walker went by smiling to herself. A little further on we passed another walker with a secret smile. 

A couple of boys appeared kicking a ball lazily on the grass. An Arab woman dressed in abaya and hijab, was smilingly attempting to fly a kite, with her little son looking excitedly on. it was a perfect photo op but I refrained out of respect for her privacy. Mother and child laughed as the kite fell to the ground. Sometimes words have to suffice to capture some moments. 

It was past sunset now, though it was still light and the sea was a lovely dark blue. A brightly lit pleasure boat that sails up and down the coast, sailed past in all its colourful glory.




On our right a few men lined up on the grass, and stood facing west, to offer the evening prayers, as one more day drew to a close. 

In the distance the brightly lit sails of Scientific Centre beckoned and it grew dark as it we reached there. it was a short walk but it left us with a pleasant feeling of contentment.