Television commercials and The common man

Is there a way to sense the pulse of a village, town, city or a country that you are visiting? Where do you go to comprehend the locals, their mind-set and their varied interests? What does a normal household look like in this village, town, city or a country? These are some of the questions that often cross my mind when I travel.

For me visiting a new place not only means sightseeing and ticking a few must do things off my list (yes, that is one of the plans!) but travelling gives you a lot more to look forward to. You have a chance to experience a different way of life!

Visiting a new destination also poses a few challenges like –

  1. Navigating unknown neighbourhoods, which sometimes can be unnerving. I had one such experience when I had booked a room at a hotel in Ambilly, France (it was the most economical that I could find near Geneva). As my main aim was visiting Geneva, I went there only around evening just before sundown. To put it nicely, I was happy that it was just a one night stay!
  2. Battling the local transport woes. On a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal with my sister and a friend we had the ride of our lives while taking in the sights via local transport. More on that in a future post.
  3. Language! Again I come back to France. But I will be honest, it wasn’t as scary an experience as I had imagined. Thanks mainly to my friend Julie, who is French!
  4. Food! It was never such a big issue for me so far in my travels as I pride myself in surviving even on biscuits. But on our trip to Nepal, this friend of mine who is vegetarian had major issues.
  5. Understanding the local customs. You either behave like you are trying to blend in or just stand out as a tourist. Either ways, having an understanding of the local traditions and customs helps. Like while visiting the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, my friend decided to stay out as the temple only allows Hindu’s.

From my personal experience I have come to believe that an understanding of the local culture and its people’s sensitivities make your travels a tad more smooth. But the point here is how do you know these local customs and intricacies of everyday life? I found this answer in a quote I came across in one of my travels. I do not remember the words, but it credited the local television channels of making the travellers aware of this.

I was intrigued by this thought. Can watching local television during your travels really increase your understanding of the locals? I put this idea to test when I travelled to Nepal in 2012. One evening when we had just returned from an early dinner, we browsed local channels. Obviously language was a barrier, but watching news, songs and most importantly commercials was not only entertaining but gave some insights too. Lot of questions were answered about how the local population dressed, how they spent their free time, where they ate, what products were popular, what did the non-touristy spots in Nepal look like! It wasn’t a complete A-Z guide, but knowing a few of these points was helpful in a better know-how of the region and its population.

So it just crossed my mind why not put this to test in India! How do the commercials shown on Indian television portray the local sensitivities to visiting foreigners? Do they give insights into the daily life of the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man)? A few that in my opinion did this are listed below (in no particular order) – 

1. Good things are happening

The Changing mindset – TANISHQ

2. We can be cheeky! Especially with those that rub us the wrong way.

The guide and his guidance – COCA COLA

3. Yes, our men care! And no, this doesn’t mean our women are weak.

Men will be men – ICICI PRUDENTIAL

4. Making the most of what we have.

Stuck in traffic – CADBURY DAIRY MILK SILK

5. Not a blanket rule, but many have specific days.

As Indian as it gets – McDONALDS

6. Of the people, for the people, by the people…. hmmmm!

Proper Parliamentary behavior – THE HINDU

7. We can even sell an air-conditioner to an Eskimo.

The Indian salesman – TATA SKY

8. Our reality

Manhole – CEAT TYRES

9. We still have families that eat together and live together!

The joint family – FEVICOL

10. Our ugly truth.

How can this be ignored? – AAJ TAK

11. Making hay while the sun shines…. and taking shelter when it rains.

Made for every season – CENTURY PLY

12. Yes, love happens in arranged marriages too.

Arranged marriages – CARATLANE.COM

What do you think? – Agree or disagree? Have any other examples to share. Please comment below.

Badami – Pattadakal – Hampi

Why?

Post quitting my fulltime job with a travel company, I decided to do a bit of travelling myself. For more than 5 years, I was stuck on a chair, staring at the computer helping clients travel the globe. I loved my work but now, I decided, it was time to make that journey and explore the world myself!

So, one fine day me and two (now!) ex-colleagues of mine took the plunge. They decided to come and visit me in my home town, Belgaum. They were short of time as leaves couldn’t be managed. So we decided to make it a short 02N/03D trip.

The Stone Charriot - Hampi

The Stone Charriot – Hampi

How and when?

We decided to take the following route –

BELGAUM to HAMPI: Belgaum – Bagalkot – BadamiPattadakal – Hospet – Hampi (approx. 310Km.)

HAMPI to BELGAUM: Hampi – Hospet – Tungabhadra dam – Koppal – Gadag – Hubli – Dharwad – Belgaum (approx. 270Km.)

Our day began at seven on a warm September morning last year. We started from Belgaum, Karnataka (my home) in a hired Tata Indigo, a compact sedan. Mom had packed some sandwiches which circulated in the car. Our driver however, wanted a proper breakfast of idli, sambar, coffee et al; so we gave in and made our first halt on a highway eatery. It turned out a welcome toilet break for us! Half an hour later, the driver ‘filled up’ and us ‘emptied’, crossing the green country side budding over red loamy soil we drove towards our first stop, Badami.

View from Badami Caves

View from Badami Caves

Badami is a small town in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka. The main attraction is the Agastya lake surrounded by magnificent caves with beautiful and intact carvings of Shiva, Vishnu and some Jain representations.

The Jain carving - Badami Caves

The Jain carving – Badami Caves

The oldest of these caves is said to date back to the 6th century. Across from the caves are the Dattatreya temple and an archaeological museum. We had to go all the way across the town to reach this place as there is no direct access for cars from the caves complex. The museum houses decent artifacts collected from the region whilst providing an insight into the history and geography of this area.

The Dattatreya temple is a small distance ahead of the museum and looked like it was in use. We did not investigate further as the heat was getting to us.

the carvings inside Badami caves

the carvings inside Badami caves

After spending an hour and a half here, we were back on the road by 12 noon. Badami did have decent places to eat but we decided to just drive on as we weren’t too hungry.

Only about 23Km from Badami, it took us around an hour to reach Pattadakal due to the small and bad roads. By this time the sun was turning very harsh and it exhausted the last bit of our energies. As we crawled towards Pattadakal, the scenery from the car window also started changing. The green patches were few and far between. But this was nothing, we realised later, compared to what we would encounter closer to Hampi!

Well maintained greens - Pattadakal temple complex

Well maintained greens – Pattadakal temple complex

Pattadakal, a town on the banks of the river Malaprabha has a temple complex with the oldest temple believed to be from the 8th century. It is a cumulative of monuments which are mostly in ruins now but an architectural wonder nevertheless. Being a World Heritage Site, it is well maintained with manicured lawns and clean surroundings. Some of the temples are still in use hence removing footwear before entering is advised.

Nandi: The Bull at Patadakkal

Nandi: The Bull at Patadakkal

A glass of sweet lemon soda and bag of crisps refreshed us and subdued the hunger pangs we had after our tour of this complex. We spent a good part of an hour exploring it and then some more time lazing around on a bench under the shade of trees.

Pattadakal monuments

Pattadakal monuments

It was just past three when we finally left Pattadakal for our final halt for the day, Hampi. Travelling further on the state highway for a few kilometers, we turned onto NH13 near Kushtagi. The journey till the national highway was a slightly rough one owing to small roads. Once on the NH13, it was smooth sailing all the way till Hospet. Entering the town just off the highway was again a big crawl with road works, narrow bridges and heavy traffic. This is the closest major town from where one can visit Hampi, about 13Km by road. If travelling by train Hospet is a most convenient base.

As a result, Hospet has a good supply of accommodation and restaurants which cater to the tourists. We however wanted to stay closer to Hampi and hence chose to stay at Hotel Maurya Bhuvaneshwari at Kamlapur. It is the only hotel that is located within the World Heritage Site and not surprisingly is run by the state government. It is quite affordable; has good food and clean rooms. Electricity supply is irregular though, which is the story in the whole area per say. We reached the hotel about half past five and literally crashed in the bed soon after.

After resting for an hour we decided to venture out for dinner. Since the area comprises mostly of tiny villages finding a decent place to eat was a big task at that time of the day. Quite frankly there isn’t much choice either. There was however this one family run place which did stand up to the great reviews we had heard of it. One recommended by many, including my cousin who frequented Hampi umpteen times, we decided to try it out.

Foot track towards The Mango Tree

Foot track towards The Mango Tree (day view)

A drive through the tiny streets, past some humongous boulders and down a narrow cobbled by-lane, we reached what looked like a banana plantation over a cliff. It was dark as a dungeon, but I felt liberated and much closer to nature. There was something in the air. Using our mobile phone lights we reached the other end of the plantation on a tiny foot track.

We came to a gathering of three-four huts, out of which one was The Mango Tree. In the dark of the night, not much was visible except the inside of the hut, which felt very warm and homely. It was lit with lanterns giving a very cosy feel. The food was again a mixed variety from basic south Indian, Punjabi paraths to Italian pizzas and pastas. We had lemon rice and parathas. Loved it! We were back in the room by 9pm and in bed by 10pm!

Ganapati

Ganapati

The next morning, after a satisfying breakfast of idli’s and coffee we set off to explore the ruins of Hampi. Since we already had a hired vehicle, we chose to do this tour of the ruins in the car. The other options are either to hire a bicycle, a two wheeler or an auto rickshaw. We also hired a guide as this was our first trip here. His knowledge proved invaluable to truly appreciate the history of this city which was the capital of the Vijaynagara Empire between the 14th – 16thcentury.

The Royal Enclosure

The Royal Enclosure

Mostly in ruins, Hampi was during this time a very prosperous and important trading center. The guide explained that the traders came all the way from China, Magolia and even farther away to trade in rubies and diamonds. After the invasion by the Bijapur Sultan though, there was extensive damage to the city and its monuments. The main palace made entirely of sandalwood was burnt.  Rumour has it, that it took more than 5 months for the flames to completely die down. Not surprisingly, all that is left of the palace is its foundation and a high platform built of stone. It is a bit of a climb up the platform but the view is amazing. Somehow, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of loss looking at the flat surface ahead which at one point would have been a stunning work of art and abuzz with hectic activities.

The musical pillars - Vittala Temple complex

The musical pillars – Vittala Temple complex

Virupaksha Temple through the boulders

Virupaksha Temple through the boulders

The other invigorating monument for me was the Vittala Temple. With its musical pillars and intricate carvings, this complex was something out of the ordinary. This complex also houses the stone chariot that has come to be a very famous symbol of Hampi. The major must see sights we could pack in were Virupaksha Temple, Hampi Bazaar, Monolith Bull, Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Big Shivlinga, Vittala Temple, Royal Enclosures, Queen’s Bath, Zanana Enclosure ( Lotus Mahal), Elephant Stables, Achyut Raya temple, Statue of Lakshmi Narasimha, Virupaksha Temple, Mahanavmi Dibba, the Stepped Bath.

Stepped Bath

Stepped Bath

Zenana Enclosure

Zenana Enclosure

A thrilling activity was to experience the river more closely. We hopped in one of the local’s coracle and spent half an hour gliding on the water. It was surreal to say the least to float among the boulders. In the evening just before sunset our guide suggested we visit the Matanga Hill. The view from the top of the boulders and ruins strewn wherever the eyes could see summed up the entire day in that one moment! As the sun was setting on the ruins of this once vast Vijaynagara Empire, I realized it was time for us to leave as well.

Elephant Stables

Elephant Stables

The view from Matanga Hill.

The view from Matanga Hill.

We wrapped up the day with another sumptuous dinner at The Mango Tree. As I lay on my bed, spending my last night in Hampi I had mixed feelings. Physically I was drained owing to the heat and all the walking. But my mind was still processing the huge amount of fascinating information it had gathered throughout the day!

Lakshmi Narasimha

Lakshmi Narasimha

The next morning after breakfast we set out around 9am from the hotel. This was our day to return home. Our trip was however, not yet over. En-route we halted at Tungabhadra reservoir. All this while we were on a trip which focused solely on culture and history but visiting the dam brought us back into the modern world.

Constructed on Tungabhadra River, it is a very big project. It serves many purposes from irrigation to electricity generation. The facility is just outside Hospet, off NH13. It has a decent garden, built mainly to beautify the place but the reservoir itself is an engineering marvel. There are other attractions like a small aquarium, zoo, musical fountain etc which were strictly ok. There isn’t much eating choice either except shops selling dry food items and water.

Tungabadra Dam

Tungabadra Dam

Gardens at Tungabadra Dam

Gardens at Tungabadra Dam

After about an hour and a half of exploring the dam and gardens around it, we left for Belgaum. The return journey was smooth as we took the National highway via Gadag and Hubli-Dharwad. Again we did not stop for lunch and were home by 6pm.

After thoughts……..

  1. For a second or third or any visits after that, a guide is not necessarily needed. After the first visit you get the general idea of the history, politics and geography of the place. Unless you are someone who is keen on all the facts and dates etc, you could pass this one off.
  2. I am glad we didn’t cross the river to Anegundi. I had read reviews of it, and I wasn’t too excited to see the place with whatever little I knew. (Goa is a better version). Moreover I dint feel like ruining the magic of Hampi!
  3. Spend more time here, for sure! At least three nights, so as to explore at a slow pace and enjoy the calm of Hampi.
  4. Here is a great read on the sights around Hampi.
  5. Coracle ride is a must – I am glad we did it!

    The coracle on Tungabadra

    The coracle on Tungabadra

Calm in the Chaos

Its Friday evening…teen-agers huddled together on a broad side walk facing the Arabian Sea, talk in whispers. Under the fading light and the sound of sea waves crashing against the wall, I try to sneak around and eavesdrop. Suddenly I hear a loud cheer, and the group breaks into a familiar song – Happy Birthday to you…!  A scene encountered on many of my strolls along the Marine Drive.

I’ve lived a life of a nomad for the last 12 years and have had a few opportunities to ‘settle-in’ in a few places. Mumbai is one which I called home, albeit for a few years. One place I and probably most Mumbaikars love is the Marine Drive, ‘The Queen’s Necklace’. Stretching from Nariman point, it is a 4.5Km ‘C- shaped’ boulevard in South Mumbai. Right from the moment the sun rises from behind the high rise buildings lining the boulevard till it disappears into the Arabian Sea; Marine Drive exemplifies this city.

The Queen’s Necklace is a place where the space-crunched city breathes some fresh air. People from all walks of life come here to find solitude. Young couples steal kisses, joggers get their daily health fix and kids play around while their parents enjoy the sea breeze. There are many vendors selling tea, coffee, warm salted peanuts, packaged water and so on. These are the things that add to our experience on the shore – good or bad is subjective!

Mumbai

Mumbai

Over the years I have bonded with this city both as a tourist and a local. My early visits were pure touristy. These were my student days, when going to a big city made teenagers have stars in their eyes. I was no different. Having seen the city and especially Marine Drive umpteen times in Hindi movies, I was mesmerized when I actually set my foot on it.

On my subsequent visits as I became more familiar with other parts of the city, my fondness for this metropolis grew beyond bounds.  And no sooner had I returned from my study and work stint of four years in England, I took up work in Mumbai in 2011. Life in the city was exciting and the crowd energetic. But I realized that this was not what fascinated me. It was my independence and solitude that I loved!

Among the places I sought for my ‘me time’ was Marine Drive. On some weekends when I got up early, I managed a walk on the boulevard, a cuppa hot ginger tea and newspaper. On a few weekdays, after office hours, it was a place to catch up on some office gossip, contemplate and watch the setting sun while gulping down scoops of ice-cream. Coconut, pineapple and chocolate were all time hit flavours.

With changing times, a lot of the city has transformed into unrecognizable forms. And over all these years the Queen’s Necklace has been a part of this city’s shifting dynamics. The sidewalk has been extended to accommodate a growing number of admirers, a huge sea wall built to secure the shore, comfortable sea facing benches and some flora thrown in to add to the beautification process. Like the city and its citizens, it has also seen a natural calamity, terrorist attack and communal riots. It however still remains a refuge for its citizens where they often find calm in this chaos!