3 Steps to Darkness by Deepta Roy Chakraverti

With book fair being one of my favorite hauntings in the city, I was quite happy to know that Deepta’s new book would be available there. It has been almost three years since her last book Cursed at Kedarnath was released.  Even though I missed her book signing at the Book Fair I made it a point to not miss picking up the book and added it to my book haul from Book Fair 2020.  Incidentally, the name of the book ‘3 Steps . . . . . ‘ became quite relevant because it t was only in my third attempt in visiting the stall,  that the book was finally in my hands.

3 Steps to Darkness is a portal to ancient practices that coexist with modernity through reality or the undead.  Three short stories talking of witches, fairies and dolls which are often resorted to, to satisfy one’s own desires, make up the contents of the book. What is interesting to note is that the three objects of power are synonymous with women, making the readers interpret the power of women in light or darkness.

Armed with strong characters and even stronger desires, 3 Steps to Darkness makes it for a fine read to understand the darkness within ourselves more than outside. Power, desire, jealousy, unfulfilled wishes, denial, lust, greed and more are all within and once we succumb to any of them, it is only a matter of time till evil engulfs us.

The author takes the reader through a back and forth journey, separated by decades or centuries through her writing. The detailed description of the places and people would remind you of reading a Ruskin Bond, only with a different form of depth to it. While reading you would never feel the distance between today and the era gone by. The narrative flow gives power to your imagination and creativity to visualize it in front of you.

With three different stories, of three eras and locations; it was very hard to choose my favorite.  Thus, giving you a gist of all three.

Witches Never Forget

Set in Vienna today and in the 16th Century, it tells the story of Elsa and Anna; and how innocent women were subjected to witch-hunts by powerful oppressors. I have often wondered how women being hunted as a practitioner of dark arts have always been more than men. Or is it the patriarchal way of eliminating those they thought were weak? It is also interesting how those the mass looks up to and idolizes often mislead them for the benefit of strengthening their own position in society. The unimaginable torture, forget the term human rights, often lead to the formation of vengeful spirits who keep alive in their memories the injustice done to them and tell their stories in whispers, to those who can listen.

The Curse of Fairy Hill

I remember visiting Mussoorie with my parents for a vacation almost a decade ago. Even then I had felt that the cold winds and scenic beauty had much more than what met the eye! Set during the Raj, The Curse of Fairy Hill tells the story of an illustrious King and the Queen. The Queen overlooks the matters of the Kingdom winning the hearts of the people; after the King suffered an accident. The only wish she ever had was to have a loving and loyal husband; and to fulfill her desire, she wished at the Pari Tibba or the Fairy Hill. But it is often seen that what is granted to us is what we might need rather than want. And when a tweak in wish-fulfillment is met with denial of the same a boon might turn into a curse.

Darling Child

Like all married couples, Arun and Lila wanted a child. But to their utter dismay,  all natural and medical procedures betrayed them.  During a trip to Bangkok they met an old woman and found their Darling Child – Sunaina. But what happens when Lila gets pregnant and delivers a second child? This story highlights very contemporary situations and how a dark art is often fused in as a solution; only, is it a solution?  The family pressure of bearing a child; becoming blind in the desire of children so as to go to any lengths; the effect the arrival of a new child has on the elder one; the sadness of losing children – are all depicted in the story. But it is also intertwined with how dark arts has a feeling of its own and manifests its power by manipulating feelings and situations.

If you are into spine chilling stories then 3 Steps to Darkness is definitely the book to look forward to. You may not find ghosts and draculas here but who said subtlety cannot leave you frozen and speechless!

No. of Pages: 106

Publisher: Crossed Arrows, Doshor Publication

Available on: Amazon

Finding Chika by Mitch Albom

Very rarely are times when you read a book and really do not know how to put your feelings on paper, and Finding Chika is one such book. Years after reading Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom‘s Finding Chika rendered me speechless and in tears.  This review is my tribute to young Chika, who, though a young girl was a fierce fighter – and a fighter with gigantic hope and smiles. That is how she should be remembered and celebrated for those who would come to know her story through the book.

Born in Haiti and having survived the devastating earthquake, Chika was brought to the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage run by Albom and his wife Janine. Friendly and enthusiastic as was her nature, there was never a dull moment with her around. But the diagnosis of a terminal disease compelled her to relocate to America for treatment, and this is where the journey of a family began.

Just as hope is said to be the brightest star in dark times; Chika became the brightest star that ended the dark days of many people’s lives. She was the happiness that Mitch and Janine lacked in their lives, for she gave them the gift of parenthood. She was the hope; strength and resolution that made Mitch and Janine become doting parents and shoulder the responsibility of a child they loved dearly. Chika was a daughter, a friend, a family through relations; but in reality, she was the personification of hope, strength, resolution, dreams, happiness, and care. She was also the face of a young patient diagnosed with the fatal DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) or brain tumor in layman’s words; a patient full of life and energy to live each day as if there is no tomorrow.

While reading Finding Chika it felt as if Albom was having a conversation with Chika and listing down all the lessons that she taught him. She was fiercely attached and protective of Mitch and Janine which evoked the same feeling in them. The couple tried their very best in terms of giving hope, staying by her side day and night, getting in touch with the best doctors in the field and even traveling across continents for their little one.

Body Contentment:

For Chika, it was a journey of transformation- psychological and physical. But she was adaptive to both. Like every young girl, she fancied make-up and accessories and tried to blend them onto her appearances. She was happy with the way she looked! This is a lesson taught to the world where society often resorts to body shaming tactics. Many individuals, as a result, grow excessively conscious of the way they look which takes a toll on their mental and physical health. What we need to learn is to accept our identity and be content with it.

Spending Quality Time with people:

Chika found happiness in smaller things- beautiful dresses, hairclips, a visit to Disneyland, talking to people, spending time with people, visiting her friends, etc. Today, most people spend their time in the digital space without acknowledging the physical presence of the person beside. Today, people Whatsapp each other despite being in the same room! But Chika believed in spending time with her loved ones- endless stories, laughter and a little bit of being naughty- were the perfect features of Being Chika.

Redefining strength:

Children are often gullible and vulnerable, but Chika was not. She was the epitome of strength keeping in mind the terminal disease she was diagnosed with and the medicines, treatments and its side effects that she had to deal with at such a young age. She was tough and through her little way of coexisting with her disease, made it known to everyone that toughness is not always heroic sometimes it is silence with a smile.

Right to Choose:

With Chika being born to Haitian parents and later taken in by Mitch and Janine, her pure love for the latter made it very clear that children often choose whom to love. This goes beyond the biological norms of society. Some relations are born out of love, respect, and care and not out of one’s womb.

The Feeling of completeness

Just as a woman holds the family together with care, Chika held the couple together and turned their happy married life into happy parenthood. She completed the duo and made them a family. She made them more responsible for the needs of a child and taught them to keep the concerns of the child before their commitments.

Defining Legacy:

‘What we carry defines who we are

And the effort we make is our legacy’.

The last life lesson that Chika exemplified would always remain with the readers. It is how she carried herself and the effort she gave internally to show it. She created her own legacy through fighting hardships with smiles and spreading joy in the lives of all she knew.

Immortalized through the pages of the book Chika’s journey truly exemplified how she fought against time along with Mitch and Janine . . . . for one more day . . . .

The Last Wonders of Bali: Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur

As they say, ‘save the best for the last’, and thus the two best places were saved for the last day of my Bali sojourn. Both the Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur were quite a distance from Kuta and I had to start off very early to have enough time to reach and explore these beauties.

Gates of Heaven 

The Lempuyang Temple nestled amidst the slopes of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali is probably the most photogenic place I have seen so far. Also called The Gates of Heaven, it does take a lot of determination, strength, sweat, and toil to overcome almost perpendicular roads, around 1700 steps and reach the height of 1175 m above sea level to knock on the Gates of Heaven, on Earth!  It takes skills to climb up to the temple from the mountain base where the Agung temple is situated; but there are facilities for car parking, local transport and shared transportation making life easier for tourists. The entry to the temple costs 20,000 Rupiah per person. Being a temple, it is also mandatory to wear a Sarong, cover the shoulders and tie back your hair.

The Temple is so named because it seems as if beyond the doors of the temple one would enter the portal to heaven. The altitude and sky-touching height give it an illusion that one is nestled between the clouds.  It makes for a very popular tourist destination in Bali and clicking a photograph here is a must.  There are also special photographers whom you can hire to take your photos. The film is developed and handed over instantly. But, mind the line it often amounts to hundreds waiting in the queue.

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Way to the Temple 
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Gates of Heaven

Mount Batur

Never did I ever think that while studying volcanoes in Geography I would be able to see one with my own eyes. What was instantly thrilling and scary at the same time was the fact that the Batur Volcano was an active one and the last eruption was not so long ago.  It takes almost 2 hours to reach Mount Batur from the Gates of Heaven. Bali in October can be really hot but Mount Batur’s ride uphill made up for it- it was freezing cold! Do carry warm clothes even if you visit during summer for you would need it.

The first documented eruption from Mount Batur took place is 1804 and then again in 2000. In September 2012, it was declared as a UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It is interesting to note that there are settlements surrounding the volcano. I was not so daring as to visit the volcano from these villages but it was still a beautiful sight, seeing it from the mountain slopes. It almost resembled the mall roads of Indian hill-stations.

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Mount and Lake Batur 

Lake Batur

It is the volcanic Crater Lake formed due to the multiple eruptions in Mount Batur. The settlements around the Lake influence the agriculture and aquaculture of the region. It is also a source of several hot springs.

Batur Geopark Museum  

Previously called the Museum of Volcano Batur, it was renamed after Mount Batur was given a status among the UNESCO sites. It showcases the history of the region through dioramas. The entry fee for the museum is 20,000 Rupiahs. It is open Mon to Fri – 8 am to 4 pm, and Sat and Sun 8 am – 2 pm. If you are interested in Geography or Geology, then a visit to this museum is a must.

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Batur Geopark Museum 

Rice Fields

I had previously written to you about my experience visiting the Tegalalang Rice Fields. While that was a touristy experience; this was a rustic chanced sighting of the entire harvesting process. On my way to Kuta, I just happened to see numerous men and women working on the rice fields tending to it. The various different processes opened up in layers in front of me. What more, I could go closer and take photographs.

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Work in the fields 

Bali Foodgasm

Food in Bali varies to a great degree reflecting cosmopolitanism. You would find small shacks serving meatballs, soups, and rice with vegetables and meat; and you would also find pubs, restaurants, and branded cafes and hotel chains. I would personally recommend meatballs, sticky rice, and pork ribs. These three were my favorite. Another interesting find was flavors of drinks and snacks from known brands – Grape and Apple Fanta, SeaWeed Lays, etc. Of course in India, these are unheard of, probably because the market has not been very welcoming to them.

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To the best Food in Bali – Smoked Pork Ribs 

And with a planeload of memories and experiences, it was time to bid goodbye to this beautiful island. My departure coincided with Halloween and it was a wonder to see costume flash mob at the Bali airport. Young men and women were dressed up as witches, wizards, draculas, and widows to entertain the passengers. This time too it was Malindo Airlines with their perfect hospitality. A three-hour journey from Bali to Kuala Lumpur; and then another four hours to Kolkata- to home. It was almost past midnight when I landed in Kolkata- the streets were vacant and peaceful but in my head, numerous thoughts were buzzing about Bali, about the experience, about telling my close ones about the stay and of course, about writing it down on my blog!

That was all about my Bali Travels. I would soon be back with other travel stories. Due to the global crisis of the Novel Coronas Virus, it is an unsafe time to travel at the moment. In a country experiencing Lockdown, this is the time to think about self-improvement, spending time with family and pets, catching up on reading and some tips for self-sustainability. Till the situation is better, take care and do catch up on my book reviews from next week.

Bali: Up Close with Scenic Marvels, Thrilling Bridges and Shoppers Paradise

You bat an eyelid and days go by during vacations. After going on a whirlwind sightseeing spree in Ubud, it was time to explore places closer to Kuta and go down south. Breakfast was noodles as usual and before the clock struck 10 am, I was on the road. Though the number of destinations might be lesser than the day before but the travel time and the quality of the destinations made up for everything.

Bali Zoo:

It is the home of conservation, smart education, research, and recreational activities. With over 450 species of animals housed in the zoo, it is the perfect place for getting close with your favorite animals. The regular entry fee for an adult is approx. INR 356,500 Rupiah. This apart, there are several special packages which include special activities like ‘Breakfast with Orangutan’, ‘Night at the Zoo’, ‘Elephant Mud Fun’, animal presentations and birthday celebrations. Each package is differently priced and would have different inclusions like hotel transfer, zoo entrance, special activity and the like. The activities require pre-booking and are usually open from 6:30 am. For more information on the Bali zoo, you can check out their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Tegenungan Waterfalls:

Waterfalls are truly a beauty. Adding another one to my list of sightseeing, The Tegenungan Waterfall which remains open every day from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. The entrance to the same is 15,000 Rupiah for adults and 10,000 Rupiah for children. Should you not want to take a bath, do not worry. You can enjoy the scenic beauty, take a walk around the land; bathe, soak, swim; take great display photographs for your social media; try the waterfall swing or jump, and of course indulge in some local food and shopping.

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Tegenungan Waterfalls

Bali Bird Park:

If you love your feathery friends, then the Bali bird Park should garner a mandatory visit. Housing over 1000 birds of around 250 species, the park reflects the natural habitats of Indonesia, Latin America, Africa, Australia, and other places. To satisfy your hunger pangs there exists a restaurant and a café within the precincts. Informative documentaries and short films are screened in the 4D AC cinema hall. Special activities with birds can be pre-booked. The entrance fee for the park is 385,000 Rupiah for adults and 192,500 for children. For more information, you can visit their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Bali Toll Road:

If anyone was to ask me about a near-death experience, I would probably say this toll bridge. It’s a scientific marvel and also scary for a first-timer traveling on the bridge surrounded by pristine waters around as far as your eyes can go, planes zooming right above your head and cars and bikes swooshing past as if you are in a race arena. If you love thrill and adventure, then the Bali Toll Bridge is a must for you. Built over the Gulf of Benoa this 12.7 km long bridge was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September 2013 and has been busily used since then by thousands of locals and tourists.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana:

The Garuda or the eagle is the national emblem of Indonesia signifying freedom from oppression. The 120 m height of the statue of Vishnu on Garuda makes it one of the tallest statues in the World. The structure has been designed by renowned Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta. The park is situated on a hillock with the car parking area quite a distance away from the main statue. Car/bike parking costs 10,000 Rupiah while the entrance fee is 125,000 Rupiah. You can walk down the entire stretch or avail the timely bus services provided by the Park between 8 am to 9 pm daily. Vishnu and Garuda are two important mythological icons shared by Hindu-Balinese culture. Here, both adorn Gold Mosaic Crowns. More information about Garuda Wisnu Kencana can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

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Garuda Wisnu Kencana

Going on a Shopping spree:

Bali can be called Shopper’s Paradise.  You would find beautiful curios in the alleyways and shopping lanes of Kuta and also designer dresses, multi-cuisine restaurants and branded cafes and hotels in places like Ubud. Hereunder is a list of things that caught my eyes and some of them made it to my suitcase back home.

  • Colorful Dream catchers
  • Bali Fridge Magnets
  • Sleek and Chic Side Bags
  • Knitted Shrugs
  • Bali curios- Tshirts, Postcards, Caps, Bags, etc.
  • Last but not least local snacks.

bali shopping

It’s that time of the vacation when your heart starts pounding over the thought of having to leave it soon. With only a day left for me to spend, I wanted to spend it well and wisely.  If there was anything about volcanoes that I had read about in the geography books but could not practically see it before- I was about to witness the same. Also, did I mention it’s an active volcano?

More about it next week. . . . . . . .

Bali Day 4

Exploring Ubud: The Culture Hub of Bali

I completely do not agree with time when it zooms by during holidays. With a day gone I had only three more days to spend on this lovely island. Without wasting even a minute I set off for Ubud. Situated around 34 km North of Kuta, there are lots of attractions in and around Ubud which are a must-see during your visit.

Bali Swing:

One of the most popular attractions in the country is the Bali Swing. Though you would find a swing in almost every tourist spot, but this is the best! The Swings are of 10m/15m/20m/78m above the ground. They come in various shapes and sizes including Hanging Nests overlooking stunning views. Most people come with friends or families to sit and relax and take great photographs up in the air. The Bali Swing is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm and the entry charges come in packages 150,000 Rupiah onwards.

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Bali Swing

Campuhan Ridge Walk:

This 6 km Ridgewalk stretched over cobbled roads, water streams, lush fields, and thick foliage is ideal for trekkers. Campuhan translates to the convergence of two rivers. Along the walk, you would come across the Gunung Lebah, a temple at the site of the convergence. Should you be lucky you can also witness the holy ceremony of offerings being performed there. Since this is a trekking road, it is recommended you carry water bottles, boots, wear light but covered clothes, caps and the camera.

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Ridgewalk

Campuhan Waterfall:

Not sure when was the last time I witnessed a waterfall –up close. The Campuhan Waterfall is free-flowing, beautiful, picturesque and armed with of course a Bali Swing. There are special lockers to store your clothes should you be willing to take a dip. The entrance fee is 10,000 Rupiah per person.

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Waterfall

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:

This isn’t my first tryst with monkeys, but definitely the first with well-behaved ones. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a place that speaks of economy, religion, education, and conservation. With over 700 monkeys and 186 species of biodiversity; the sanctuary welcomes people every day of the week from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. The entrance fee for adults is 80,000 Rupiah and children, 60,000 Rupiah. It runs on the philosophy of ‘Tri Hita Karana’ or happiness among three parties- humans and humans; humans and environment; and humans with the Supreme God. The conservatory holds three temples- Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji and Pura Prajapati. Sharing a quick tip, should you want to save money on entrance fee just ride past the sanctuary on a bike and you’ll almost every time spot monkeys crossing the road.

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Spot the Monkeys!

Goh Gajah (temple):

The Goh Gajah Temple or the Elephant Caves were a 9th-century marvel. This elephant sanctuary depicts Hindu-Buddhist faith motifs throughout the temple structures. The entrance to the temple complex is uniquely marked by seven statues of ladies holding water pitchers. It is said that these ladies depict the seven important rivers of India- Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Sindhu, Kaveri and Narmada. The Temple is a site of archaeological interest as it was re-discovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923 and the bathing pool was unearthed in 1954. Wearing a Sarong is a must in the temple. Although it is available for hire, but remember I got my own. The entrance fee for the temple is 10,000 Rupiah.

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Main Temple Entrance
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Bathing Pool

Tegalalang Rice Terrace/ Bali Rice Terrace: rice Fields:

If you are looking to spend time amidst a picturesque location, swing on the relaxing Swings, walk along the rice-fields during sunrise/ sunset or shop and eat overlooking rice fields, this is the place for you. With an entrance fee of 20,000 Rupiah per person and a parking fee of 5,000 Rupiah, the fields make for a perfect destination for lovebirds and nature lovers. It is open every day from 7 am till sunset for the visitors.

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Rice Fields

Tirta Empul:

This Hindu-Balinese water temple comprises the main temple, holy spring, and the petirtaan or the bathing structure used for ritualistic purification. It is where the people come for ritual purification. I was lucky enough to witness the same. From children on their mother’s laps to the old, everyone took a dip in the waters of this holy spring. Built around 962 AD during the Warmadewa dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu. A hill overlooking this temple houses a villa built for President Sukarno’s visit in 1954, which now hosts important state dignitaries.

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Main Temple complex
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Holy Spring
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Ritual Purification at petirtaan or bathing pool

Ubud Palace:

Built during the 1800s by Late Ida Tjorkorda Putu Kandel, the Ubud Palace is the house of the rulers of Ubud. It boasts of intricate Balinese architecture complete with a beautifully pruned garden. Today, it is the cultural hub of the city and hosts various cultural shows. Entry to the Ubud Palace is free and open to all from 9 am to 6 pm every day. However, the various cultural shows might require an entry fee and this can be enquired at the entrance.

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Inside Ubud Palace

Ubud Writers Festival:

Unfortunately, I was one day too late. Nevertheless, I would be happy if someday I could return to the Festival. Started in 2004, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is one of the most celebrated literary festivals. Conceptualized as a healing project after the 2002 Bali Bomb blasts, the themes of the festival are drawn from the Hindu-Balinese philosophy. In 2020, the Festival is scheduled from 28 Oct- 1 Nov and the theme is Mulat Sarira or self-reflection.  More information about the Festival is available on Twitter, Instagram, and Website.

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A Glimpse of the hoarding for 2019 edition

Despite traveling for almost 70 km and more there were still many unexplored areas. My third day in Bali was close to Nature, Culture and the Roads! Leaving some glimpses behind.

Bali Day 3

Bali: The Land of Temples and Beaches

A new day refilled me with the zeal to explore this beautiful city and the best way to do it was to go for a walk, just to familiarise myself with the surroundings.  I noticed how despite having a robust nightlife, the city woke up early and completed the Morning Prayer rituals. On the doorstep of each building, you would find prayer offerings for good luck.

The Essentials in Bali:

Right outside Sekhar Bali homestay, you would find many eateries and restaurants offering breakfast.  But if you are on a budget trip then entering the INDOMARET/ MINIMART or ALPHAMART would be the right thing to do. You would get a variety of food in each of these stores (The prices may differ) – fruit cups, muesli, cup noodles – things that cause less hassle. It is recommended to stock up your inventory, should you be staying in Bali for a few days.

My next aim was to find a cheap and sustaining SIM Card. Since I was traveling internationally, it was cheaper to buy a Balinese SIM than pay the huge roaming charges deducted by my local SIM back in India. You get a number of SIM cards but I chose to opt for simPATI. A SIM card would cost around 20,000 -30,000 Rupiah. Some stores might ask for more and it is up to you to settle for a higher price or negotiate.

For traveling at ease one would require personal transport.  Bikes can be hired at 60,000-75,000 Rupiah per day (a little negotiation is required here!). There are options for hiring cabs from hotels/ resorts for sightseeing or you can opt for package sightseeing tours. All these options would depend on how much are you willing to spend.

Another MUST HAVE is a Sarong. It is a traditional lower body garment that needs to be worn by men and women when entering temples. Though all temples and religious sites have the provision of lending Sarongs to the tourists; but I chose to buy one- more as a memory. They come in different price ranges but mine cost 30,000 Rupiah.

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Colorful Sarongs for Sale 

With a ready backpack full of tour essentials – dry food, water bottle, Sarong, SIM, mobile charger, Purse, Cap/ Straw Hat, and medicines, I set off on my Bali tour.

Tanah Lot – The Land in the Sea:

Located around 30 km from Denpasar, Tanah Lot literally translates to Land in the Sea since during high tide; the temple seems to be floating on water. The area is surrounded by many Caves thought to have been created by Sea Snakes. Tourists are not to disturb the caves or the snakes (if spotted). Legend has it that the temple was built in the erstwhile village of Beraban in around 15th-16th century to honor the teachings of Dang Hyang Dwijendra by his disciples from the village. The original inhabitants of Beraban believed in monotheism until touched by the teachings of Dwijendra. The Temple Festival takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese Calendar.

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Tanah Lot Temple
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Walking across the Caves 

Since I happened to visit during low tide, I could walk around the place. It is advised to wear sneakers or sturdy shoes as the land is quite muddy and slippery. However, being situated right beside the sea, it has a great view which is utilized by every tourist by taking numerous photographs. The land around the temple has been developed for tourists and now hosts numerous eateries and souvenir shops.

Nusa Dua Beach:

My lunch consisted of one of the finest meatballs and fruit ice tea I had ever tasted and all under 20,000 Rupiah!  My next destination was the Nusa Dua Beach meaning ‘two islands’. Nusa Dua was developed as a tourist destination since the 1970s. The beautiful beach often becomes the hotspot for day trips as numerous eateries, water sports and resorts have developed nearby to provide all the amenities to the tourists. Should you be lucky you can also find a shell or two – like I did.

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People at Play 

Kuta Beach:

It was nearing sunset and I decided to head back near the homestay and explore the Kuta or the Sunset Beach. Formerly a fishing village, Kuta is now a developed tourist destination as it accommodates budget travelers and is near to the airport. Kuta is a bathing beach and visitors are allowed to have a gala time till around 5/6 pm. Souvenirs and drinks are also available on the beach; however, to keep it clean, food is not! But not to worry, cross the road and you would find some of the biggest food brands and shopping pavilions to indulge yourself in.

Bali War Memorial:

My last stop before I retired for the day was the Bali War Memorial. Back in October 2002, the city was a victim of terrible bombings which saw almost 200 deaths. The victims were of different nationalities and to pay homage to those who lost their lives, the Bali War Memorial was built on the site of Paddy’s Pub, one of the sights of the bombings; on the second anniversary of the bombings in 2004.  The Memorial consists of a large plaque made of marble with the names and nationalities of the victims written on them.  The monument also has the flags of all the nationalities who lost their lives. The Kuta Karnival is a ceremony and celebration held in October to honor the lives of the deceased. Over time, the activity became a major tourist attraction and a PR-able event. During the Karnival most pubs and the Kuta beach have various activities; water sports competitions and something for everyone. It embraces and celebrates peaceful diversity.

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Bali War Memorial 

I ended my day happy and satisfied with the sightseeing so far. But was also excited for all the mesmerizing sights I would see the next day. I leave you all the glimpses of some of them.

More coming up next week. . . . . . .

bali_2

Setting out on an adventure to Bali

My travels have mostly taken me to the West – in terms of residence or academics- but I got my first opportunity to travel to the East rather South East when Bali came to be on my travel charts. The Island of Bali, in Indonesia, reverberates scenes of romantic holidays in the first go, but it is much more than that. During my initial research, I found almost all kinds of geographical landscapes (except deserts) to be present in Bali. From pristine beaches to freezing volcano; from mesmerizing waterfalls to trekking ridges – you name a place and it is there! Being an international destination, and one which cannot be visited very often (call it time restraints or financial), it needs good research and planning before actually laying foot on this scenic terrain.

Research Essentials:

  • Dates
  • Flight options
  • Visa Formalities
  • To check the Weather and pack your luggage accordingly (Cannot be 100% accurate but we can always go with an idea)
  • Hotels/ homestays booking
  • Exchange rates and convert some INR to Indonesian Rupiah
  • International SIM cards
  • In-land transport options
  • A bucket list of places you really want to visit, their timings, entrance fee etc.
  • To check the local Traditions and Rituals and dress code if any
  • To make a list of Emergency Contact Numbers (including embassy etc.)

Planning your visit:

With a hectic work schedule in events, I hardly get time for holidaying around. But October being a festive month with a large number of holidays was my chance to sneak away to a much-needed vacation. Settling for 25th – 31st October 2019, the next immediate step was to scout for budget flight options. For this, Malindo Air was chosen. We had a 12-hour halt in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International airport before catching the connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali. The best part was since it was only a journey of 6 days; I did not require a Visa with an Indian Passport. Clearing immigration was enough.

Malindo Plane

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Accommodation and In-Land Transportation:

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Sekhar Bali Homestay

The weather in Bali during October would be hot and dry during the day but cool during the night. Surrounded by water bodies on all sides gives Bali a pleasant climate throughout the year.  This was a complete budget trip; the best in the lowest was my motto. After checking many options which at one-time included a villa I opted for Sekhar Bali Homestay, in downtown Kuta. Kuta is the most happening place in Bali, two-minutes from the beaches and the most envious nightlife you could ever imagine. The best exchange rate was from Dollar to Indonesian Rupiah and hence I converted the INR to USD to IR. Exchange Rates differ and it is best to check right before you are planning the trip so that you can get the best returns.  Like every place you have the options of hiring cabs and taxis- Grab and Blue Bird; but what most individuals prefer is to hire a bike that is available from 60,000 IR to 75,000 IR a day (oil on the individual).

Making a Bucket List:

Bali is a country to be geographically lauded for. From rice fields to forests; to palaces to islands; from volcanoes to museums; to beaches and waterfalls to temples – such diverse scenic landscapes to see everywhere. I jotted down quite a few places to visit but then not everything was physically possible nevertheless I have seen at least one tourist place from every category- from the famous Bali Swing to Ubud Palace; from Kuta Beach to traveling on the toll bridge; from Goh Gajah Temple to Monkey Park. Bali is a country steeped in rituals and hence in all religious places women are expected to cover their bodies and wear a Sarong.

Setting out on an adventure:

The common notion is that an adventure begins when you reach your destination; I believe the real adventure is during the planning phase, it just culminates when you reach your destination. Thus on a rain-washed evening, I set out with my back-pack to the Kolkata airport to catch a flight to this unknown destination. International flights are often scheduled in the evenings to post-midnight- a trend which I have generally seen. My flight was at 12:05 IST with Malindo Air. This was my first time with them and they were truly hospitable. In fact, they upgraded my seat to a Window seat with more leg space and a fine view. What More, they even added a meal to it!  The first leg of my 4 hours journey from Kolkata to Malaysia was smooth and without any turbulence. I reached Malaysia at around 8 in the morning (remember time zones change). Since I did not have a transit visa I had to wait for the connecting flight at the airport.

Malaysia Truly Asia to Bali:

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Model Planes at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 

Kuala Lumpur International airport like most international airports is cosmopolitan. With branded shopping arcade to clean toilets and huge waiting areas, especially for transit passengers – the airport provided all facilities to the visitors. After almost a 12-hour wait and several cuppa noodles later I caught the connecting flight – again a Malindo Air – to Denpasar.

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Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar

A three-hour journey later I reached Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar well past midnight. The view from the window was beautiful- twinkling lights and risings waves in the high tide! Of course, it was too dark to see anything properly but I did have the next four days to explore. After clearing the immigration and booking a Grab through the Free WIFI at the airport I reached Sekhar Bali homestay – my home for the next five nights. It was indeed a long journey and it was best to sleep it off to reenergize for a new day where many adventures await.

Lastly, I give glimpses of my travels ahead but would talk about them in greater detail in the subsequent blog posts.

 

Calcutta Nights: Hemendra Kumar Roy translated by Rajat Chaudhuri

Calcutta is beautiful. Wherever you place a camera, you get a vision. – Pradeep Sarkar

While Kolkata has long transformed into the city of Coloured stills; one cannot dismiss that Calcutta Nights still has a large part of it residing in the Black and White era of the past. Written originally by Hemendra Kumar Roy under the pseudonym of Meghnad Gupta, and translated by Rajat Chaudhuri decades later, Calcutta Nights explores the dark underbelly of the city which existed time immemorial untouched by the development of the society. ‘From Chitpur bordellos to Chinese opium dens, the darkest secrets of the city of palaces’ have been exposed by the writer-translator.

From the lives of prostitutes to the trafficking rackets as depicted by modern-day Crime Shows all find a mention in the pages of the book. It is interesting to note that the book was written way back in 1923, however, incidents, instances, and mindsets of the people have hardly changed from back then. Women have been acutely objectified with the use of words like ‘dish’, ‘merchandise’, ‘goods’  with a recurring usage of the phrase ‘fallen women’ to denote sex-workers. Standing on the other side of the journey many have accepted this profession as fate, many rebel day and night to leave the web of sexual abuse, and many enter willingly and have a zeal to thrive. But most often than not ‘Her laughter is the veil for sorrow’.

Chinatown today is quite well-known for Chinese restaurants, Chinese New Year celebrations, Dragon Dance, Chinese Temples; but do people remember the once-thriving opium dens of the Chinese neighbourhood -an addiction bred by many gentlemen to relieve themselves of their burdens through opium and more.

The narrative takes the readers through the Nimtala Ghats, the famous burial grounds in the city known for its sacredness and ritualistic importance. But do the residents of the ghats acknowledge it thus? Or is it a monotonous job that they have long stopped to care about except smiling profusely and telling the history of the place to tourists to earn a few extra notes?  These and much more seemingly ‘normal’ and ‘historic’ places are dwelling houses of the sins. Stories and instances narrated by the author tell the readers how intriguing the underbelly of the city actually is and how this whole new world has been created by the people of the city themselves – or rather their desires!

A chapter on the playhouses – theatre- of Calcutta truly illustrates how theatres played with the emotions of the people. Whether it be the start of an illicit affair; or keeping a mistress; whether it be a man or a woman running away with the actors; or starting a lustful relation; these became the natural backstage nuances at a playhouse. Remember Tagore’s Manbhanjan? Not everything is fiction!

Calcutta Nights takes the readers on a journey through the seasons, the festivities, the social hierarchy, and the economic classes keeping in mind always the psyche of the situation or the person in question. The description of every chapter is like a scene unfolding in front of one’s eyes; similar to the old photographs/hand-drawn scenes one sees in a museum. From the baijis singing in the goondas den to the silent sneaking away of preys to a dark corner on a moonless night; to the loud glamour of the deprived to find a prey and earn a penny, to the unraised brows of the workers on seeing women in places of significance, alone and searching . . . . . . . Calcutta Nights is a collection and depiction of the emotions of the night. But what was written decades ago holds true for society even today. The narrow lanes of the sex-workers’ gully or the plush hotels outside which one would find ladies waiting till midnight; the modern Babus in suits visiting opium dens or ghats to relieve their stress; the entwined web of  willingness, unwillingness, fate and above all the emerging crime from the darkest nights of all times.  . . . . . the story of Calcutta Nights that is here to remain . . . . . . .

Publisher: Paper Missile, Niyogi Books

No. of pages: 131

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon 

 

The Sinners by Sourabh Mukherjee

If you are looking for a mirror that shows the real face of corporate giants with hidden agendas, thirst for power, frenemies and ruthless market competition; the sinners is just the book for you. A fast-paced unputdownable thriller, yet again, by Sourabh Mukherjee, will keep you glued to the pages of the book.

Rewinding and unwinding

The story is narrated as a flashback and is presented as a series of mysteriously related events which ultimately ends with the climax. Mukherjee, from the very beginning, lays bare the signs of sins in the personality traits of all the major characters. What is interesting is that these characters are very relatable and almost always around us. One just needs to unmask the worldly masks to find the Sinners. The novel presents an array of intriguing characters from the biggest tech giant of the day-NexGen- a company that is the perfect example of the journey of a start-up to a corporate. Every character is nothing but a pawn in the hands of the mastermind. But truly, they are nothing by slaves of their own sins, their own weaknesses – traits that are terrible and compel them to turn into silent observers as their fate comes crashing down in front of them.

Unmasking the Sins

Whether it be a woman who has lost her love, or a man fighting to rise up in the corporate ladder, a jealous ex, a miffed wife, an over-confident player, an underestimated techie, a beautiful slayer; Mukherjee makes it a point to incorporate all. What is interesting is that not a single character is pure black or white. Every personality has traits of grey so much so that some exhibit multiple sins. In fact, it was as if, the author had personified the seven sins- Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth- through the illustrious characters of the book.  This is what makes the book special as no person is devoid of sin and gives way to their basic instincts, as every human being tends to do.

The Game called Corporate

Another very interesting aspect that Mukherjee puts across through his writings is the corporate environment. With the big businesses having almost reached their saturation point, it is the era of the start-up revolution. Nowadays, start-ups are a favorite with the media; and when they become successful and get praised by the society, not only the brand but also its top employees get trapped under the radar of media. As is said that a company is made by the employees, hence the higher the position the lonelier and competitive it gets among the subordinates and peers. One can trust absolutely no one. Even friends become enemies, not mentioning the actual enemies that one creates along the way. One is often forced to resort to ways that might otherwise seem ‘immoral’ and ‘betraying’, but these form part of the survival tactics. This corporate scenario is beautifully penned down in the pages of the book. A closer look at the storyline will surely make the reader understand how the foundation of the entire narration is formed keeping in mind the competitive corporate structure coupled with the complex basic human instincts and relationships.

Set against a highly relatable, realistic and practical backdrop, the sinners is a highly recommended book for anyone who likes to read contemporary thrillers!

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Srishti Publishers

Rating: 3.95/5

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Tape: Steven Camden

Steven Camden’s Tape is a narration between time.  A daughter rummages through her mother’s room and chances upon a completely different side of her parents that was yet unknown to her.  The story follows Ameliah and how she discovers the untold love story of her parents. Traveling back to an era gone by, understanding her parents much more than she ever could; Ameliah learns how she came to being all through the narrations of a Tape. It is often said that sometimes even though the loved ones perish, their memories reside forever. Camden makes sure to freeze memories in a Tape in order to drive ahead the storyline.  The story was published some five-six years ago, and in all honesty that an author could so beautifully play with an object deemed to be obsolete in the modern world is commendable.

Child Psychology at Play

Camden is quite successful in capturing the essence of child psychology. No matter which decade or era we talk about, the thought process of a child remains significant. While Ameliah tries her level best to dig out information about her parents from an unknown friend of her fathers’ who suddenly rings her doorbell one fine day; she is also often seen keeping herself in her mother’s shoes with respect to the choice of songs, playing the guitar and through many habitual similarities. This only suggests that she is frequently reminded of her mother with whom she could spend only very little time. Quite similarly the voice on the Tape is torn between the records he made for his lost mother and a final parting gift he wants to make for his beloved. Entering the teen years throws a child into a vortex of emotions and feelings that he/she had been thus unaware of, and this vortex is further aggravated by relationships.

The Web called Relationship

Much that one thinks it’s easier for a child to adjust to newer situations than an adult, it is often forgotten that a child’s mind and heart are more delicate than that of an adult’s. It is difficult to imbibe shocks as a child than it is to do the same when one is older. The author brings Ameliah and the voice on the Tape a notch closer through the shared bonding over personal loss.  While Ameliah loses her parents and moves in with her grandmother, the voice upon the loss of his mother has to adjust to a step-mum and step-brother. For a child it is difficult to give the place of a parent to a new individual, not counting the step-sibling rivalry which automatically falls into place. Camden plays with relationships through many layers in the story.  It is interesting to note that every individual has grey areas instead of complete black and white.

The Emotion-Coaster Ride

Tape is an emotionally draining story. What might seem like a straight forward narration of a story through a time portal, manages to take every reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Uncovering one’s past is not easy and sometimes one ends up questioning and judging the actions of the people. Whether it is Ameliah, her grand-mother, the voice, all have a past and an emotional aim in life. But what is interesting is the final twist in the tale which defies all rationale of love and brotherhood and raises an underestimated character to one of the most respectful of all.

A Story conjured in an Alternate Reality

 Tape is nothing short of fairy tale love story conjured in an alternate reality. Reading the complete story is bound to spring mixed responses. While some might discard the entire concept as illogical, some might grace it with an understanding that the novel is a work of fiction. But nevertheless, if the pages of a book fail to instill in me an alternate reality with experiences and situations which are usually unheard of but might have a 1% probability of occurring in the universe; the book is a winner already!

Publisher:  Harper Collins UK

No. of Pages: 363

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5