Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

When I first moved to Bombay (Mumbai) as a teenager, I genuinely  felt like Alice in Wonderland. Bombay for me is not just a city. It is  like a person. It makes me happy, it makes me sad, sometimes its sheer apathy has shocked my senses and sometimes it has wrapped me in its comfortable arms and given me hope. I have laughed with its crazy winds and cried when it has been shot and blooded. Often I have wondered if the city famous for its spirit is losing some of its soul too. Today, a friend, traveler and fellow blogger, Rushikesh Kulkarni who blogs here tells you the story of Bombay, a city with many, many shades. 

Marine Drive Credits: Nan Joshi

Marine Drive Credits: Nan Joshi

First there were the islands, then came the colonists who reclaimed land from the sea and the islands became one. The city of Bombay witnessed upheavals throughout her long history. The islands were ruled by powerful rulers belonging to illustrious dynasties. There were the Mauryas, the Chalukyas, the Silharas, and also the Sultanate from Gujarat until the European powers arrived. Portuguese came to Bombay first then arrived the British who received some of the islands in a marriage treaty with the Portuguese. All the remaining islands were soon captured and Bombay’s identity as a important trading centre was established. Incidentally, the city played an important role in the overthrow of the British – from the founding of the Indian National Congress to the Naval Mutiny – Bombay and her residents fought relentlessly for freedom.

A little over a decade later, fresh struggle broke out on the streets resulting into the division of the State of Bombay into Maharashtra and Gujarat. Shiv Sena was born soon after and opposed the influx of migrants from South India (a tactic used to gain sympathy of the locals, to be repeated by MNS an offshoot of the Sena against North Indians years later), the once thriving textile mills went silent and India’s blue collar workers were rendered unemployed, the chawls made way for towers and communal violence broke out. A series of bomb explosions rendered the city silent but terrorism against the city was to continue. Amidst all this, the city was renamed Mumbai and its financial importance grew exponentially.

Credits: Rushikesh Kulkarni

Credits: Rushikesh Kulkarni

Mumbai Skyline. Credits: Rushikesh Kulkarni

Mumbai Skyline. Credits: Rushikesh Kulkarni

For her residents, the mention of Bombay evokes many emotions. It signifies home and each one of them share a unique relationship with her. Most love her and can’t imagine living anywhere else. It doesn’t matter if they live on the pavement or in skyscrapers. Why? You may ask. The city is congested, chaotic, noisy, even hostile at times and everyone seems to be in a perpetual state of hurry. It is is most puzzling really. But still, the lights of the city seem to draw crowds like moths are drawn to a flame. The lit up neighbourhood are symbolic of the pulsating nature of the city nights. If you knew where to look, you’d find what you are looking for at anytime of the day. Cryptic as it may sound, Bombay provides for all your needs. Her capacity to momentarily satiate human greed is remarkable and if you are a hedonist, you couldn’t have wished for more. If you have a dream and the will, Bombay almost assures success. The rags to riches story can be heard in everyone of her bylanes. And as they say – work hard in the city and you will never go to sleep hungry.

Way back in 1956,  a movie named C.I.D was released, a very popular song from that film spoke of the way of life in Bombay. Strangely, all these years later Yeh Hain Bombay, Meri Jaan  (This is Bombay, my love) continues to be the most accurate song to describe the city and her denizens. Fast paced, nimble footed, moving swiftly one station at a time – the people of Bombay won’t surprise you, they will shock you. From casual indifference to overt concern they may seem helpful and hostile at the same time. Time is paramount to them and distances are calculated in minutes rather than kilometers. They are accommodating and will adjust-a-little to squeeze in more people in small spaces including railways compartments, auto rickshaws, elevators, and even bus stops on a rainy day. They have a distinct dialect which encompasses words from Hindi, Marathi, English and to a certain extent Gujurati to form a unique tongue; indecipherable to outsiders.

Streets of Mumbai by Rushikesh Kulkarni

Streets of Mumbai by Rushikesh Kulkarni

But as it is with any other city, the migrants add a new dimension to the overall population. A large number of migrants belonging to every strata of the society have altered the nature of the city. Most old residents reminisce fondly of the times when the city was much more liberal, open minded and friendly to people of all backgrounds. Ghetto-isation is much more pronounced with people belonging to minorities opting to live among their brethren as many housing societies follow absurd rules banning non-vegetarians or minorities from taking up residence. There are increased number of instances of sexual harassment towards women and this has led many to question the very safety once provided by the city to its female residents. The institutions that held the city together and provided her with the distinct identity through their yeoman service also show signs of tiredness and inefficiency. Whether it is the impersonal attitude towards the city of the new migrants or the weakening of the emotional bond of the citizens that they shared with her historically, it is difficult to tell. In pursuit of making ends meet and satisfying growing needs, one may have lost sight of what is more important.

Mumbai Local by Rushikesh Kulkarni

Mumbai Local by Rushikesh Kulkarni

Marine Drive by Me

Marine Drive by Me

As this untamed tsunami of change sweeps over the city, the cool breeze, an unrestricted sea view and the solitude at Marine Drive remain untouched. The monsoon continues to be dramatic and washes the city clean. The Gothic architecture mingles with the new age steel and glass comfortably, retaining its old world appeal that charms passersby. The sev-puri ( street food delicacy) remains symbolic of the varied emotions one feels towards the city while the Bombay Duck (deep fried and served crisp) makes this world a better place. Sitting on the steps of Asiatic Library, many watch the world rush past them while film stars add glamour to the island city; as each day future Shah Rukh Khans arrive at Victoria Terminal railway station, with a dream of making it big in Bollywood. Each afternoon a man enjoys home cooked lunch delivered by a Dabbawallah (complete with the Gandhi topi; Prince Charles was so impressed by them when he visited the city in 2004 he invited them for his wedding with Camilla Parker) as the Coppersmith Barbet keeps calling out to no one in particular. A couple steals a moment of privacy in an autorickshaw while a hijra winks flirtatiously at a young labourer from Jharkhand (in Eastern India). And as I stand on the footboard of a Churchgate bound fast local, the wind smothering my face, listening to the rhythmic noise of its wheels in motion, watching the city zip past me, inside the crowded compartment a man asks the passengers to adjust-a-little to conjure up the fourth seat for him.

That my love, is Bombay for you. Yeh hai Bombay Meri Jaan.

 

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral

 

With an imposing Cathedral on one side and an idyllic town on the other, Winchester Christmas Market looks like a film set all set for a Christmas magic. It is not a film set but it certainly sets the scene for a winter wonderland. Founded in 2006, the Christmas market boasts of being one of the best Christmas markets in the UK. It’s neither the oldest nor the biggest but it definitely sets the pace with its merry, yuletide atmosphere.

Take a walk down narrow cobbled roads and past the velvety gardens of the Cathedral and you will a see a scene straight out of a post card. There are around 100 little shops set in pretty wooden chalets whilst the lofty Gothic structure gives a stunning backdrop. Situated in the heart of Cathedral’s historic Inner Close and surrounded by an open-air real ice rink, the Winchester Christmas Market is reminiscent of ancient European markets.

wintry wonderland

 

The concept of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking part of Europe. The first Christmas Market was held in 1434 and was known as the Dresden Christmas Market. Since then, Christmas Markets became a significant tradition, it is essentially a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent.

traditional food stall

traditional food stall

Lovely Stocking fillers

Lovely Stocking fillers

The Winchester Christmas Market is one of loveliest Markets which offers a plethora of Christmas art, crafts and food. While you are here, don’t forget to warm yourself with a soothing cup of mulled wine or dig into some scrumptious mince pies. There’s plenty to take home too, this year the market features some of the finest British craftsmen and women offering unique jewels, paintings, textile art, glass painting and stuffed toys. Filing up the stocking never seemed this easy!

Scenes from nativity, a dazzling tree, sparkly rides and a chance to meet Father Christmas will definitely keep the little ones happy. What’s more? The whole thing builds up to a festive climax with the wonderful Christmas Eve carol concert in Winchester Cathedral.

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Think Amsterdam and one immediately thinks of smoky coffee shops, magic mushrooms, the infamous Red-light district with (mostly) doped topless girls by the window tempting you for a night of XXX fun and freedom to live life in your own terms; no questions asked. Amsterdam is like a scarlet-letter city; a city with reputation. But if you’re willing to look beyond the sexy haze of smoke; you will be rather surprised that the city has more to its reputation than the Red light district and cannabis kitsch.

Whilst I bypassed the Red Light district and the coffee shops what took me by surprise was the city beyond these two elements—the expansive parks, the beautiful old canals scattered around the city, the plethora of museums and the villages outside but very near to the city. And yes, Amsterdam is the city which gives you a whole new meaning to the word “freedom” but that has got nothing to do with the hash brownies and magic mushrooms; it lies squarely in people’s way of thinking, of accepting those of any race, any gender, any sexual orientation with no strings attached  while being friendly enough to help everyone not just with a polite nod but a smile.

Here are my top Amsterdam picks:-
Museums, museums and more museums:
The city is home to over 50 museums; a few of the most popular are located together on Museumplein (Museum Square; picture above). If you are an art buff, you will be spoilt for choice. The Rijksmuseum is one of the grandest museums; often considered as the “main” museum of Amsterdam. Designed by renowned Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers; the construction of this museum began in 1876 but was opened in 1885. The museum houses some of the best art by Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt. Its exquisite collection also includes Delftware, sculptures, archaeological artifacts, clothing, Asian art, and items from Dutch maritime history.

Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh’s Museum–Van Gogh Museum is a firm favourite with art lovers from around the world. And why not? It includes more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 of his letters. This expansive museum will easily take more than half of your day!

Anne Frank Museum

Anne Frank Museum

EYE Film museum

EYE Film museum

Anne Frank was one of Amsterdam’s most well known residents. The Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 263 was her home for more than two years during World War II. She lived here with her family and four other people in the hidden rooms situated at the rear of the building. The house converted into museum tells a rather sobering tale about the persecution of the Jews during the war whilst really forcing us to thinking about discrimination in general. A true eye-opener!

Whilst these are some of the more famous ones; Amsterdam has museums and galleries on various subjects from bags and beers to architecture and film.

Zaanse Schaans:

The Five windmills of Zaanse Schaans

The Five windmills of Zaanse Schaans

Located on the Zaan river bank and about half an hour’s train journey from Amsterdam Central is an open air conservation area and museum—Zaanse Schaans. This quaint little town houses some of the most well-preserved historic windmills and houses. The windmills were built after 1574; the whole place has a village like vibe to it and it can be easily explored on foot. As you leave the Koog-Zaandijk station; you will get an overwhelming smell of plethora of things from cheese to oil to paint; just follow your nose (or the instructions given) and you will reach the village of Zaandijk in no time.

A closer look

A closer look

Stumbling into a dream

Stumbling into a dream

As soon as you are within the vicinity, you will see the historic windmills standing tall and proud. The five windmills, the glistening river and the leafy by lanes surrounding the windmills gives you a feeling of walking straight into a dream.Some 250 years ago, well over 600 windmills were cramped into this relatively small area. This area was the first industrial site in the world and the windmills here produced a range of goods from paint to oil to paper.

Wake up and smell the cheese

Wake up and smell the cheese

And don't forget to try some Clogs

And don’t forget to try some Clogs

When you’re here don’t forget to visit the cheese factory and have a simple snack of hot cheese toast made with locally-grown bread with a selection of locally produced cheese. I normally run in the opposite direction at the mere sight of cheese but here you will get the best, gooey, melt-in your mouth, tender cheese made with a dollop of love which can comfort the most wrecked mind! And while you are at it don’t forget to take a closer look at another Dutch icon—clogs and how they were made.

Although quite tiny, Zaanse Schaans is well-worth a visit especially if you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cruising the Canals:

Cruising the Canals

Cruising the Canals

Amsterdam is often called the “Venice of North;” and for a good reason too. The city has more than one hundred kilo metres of canals, about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The three main canals: Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010.

The Seven Canals

The Seven Canals

Enjoying the canal view

Enjoying the canal view

Even if you are here only 48 hours, don’t miss a chance to do a canal cruise. It is one of the best ways to explore the city whilst enjoying travelling to and fro the various canals and getting a slice of Amsterdam’s architectural history.

Sex, drugs and rock n roll:

The Red-lights (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Red-lights (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The area consists of a network of alleys containing about three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. This district is one of the oldest areas of the city and has architecture and layout that is typical of 14th century Amsterdam. The area is also littered with a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and coffee shops.

The Red Light District is a tiny part of the old center. It’s a place locals will always try to avoid perhaps because of the crowded streets and costly coffee shops. Many Dutch people generally avoid smoking  in coffee shops. This is not to say they don’t smoke at all but they buy it from their trusted source “man” and prefer it to do in the privacy of their homes. There are many locals who actually don’t get so excited about smoking (Surprise, Surprise) it could be case of forbidden fruit too easily available! But that definitely has not stopped the thriving business of coffee shops as 80% of tourists would definitely make one visit to the shops and perhaps make a purchase.

As far as sex work is considered, Netherlands has been listed by the UNODC as a top destination for victims of human trafficking.In 2007 a statue called “Belle” was unveiled on the Oudekerksplein. The  inscription said “Respect sex workers all over the world”. According to a former prostitute who produced a report about the sex trade,  75% of Amsterdam’s prostitutes are from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. A former Amsterdam prostitute who is now a city councillor said: “There are people who are really proud of the red light district as a tourist attraction. It’s supposed to be such a wonderful, cheery place that shows just what a free city we are. But I think it’s a cesspit. There’s a lot of serious criminality. There’s a lot of exploitation of women, and a lot of social distress. That’s nothing to be proud of.”

The vibrant city center:

The Grand Amsterdam Central Station

The Grand Amsterdam Central Station

Amsterdam’s city center or Central Amsterdam is definitely one of the most vibrant and cheerful places I’ve ever seen. It has a variety of shops, restaurants and can be easily explored on foot or bicycle. My favourite spot here would be the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square).

Rembrandtplein

Rembrandtplein

Named after the famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn who owned a house nearby from 1639 to 1656.The defensive walls of this square was constructed in the Middle Ages to protect the city. This site held a gateway into the city. By 1655, the city had expanded beyond this area and it began to attract visiting farmers who brought their butter, dairy and poultry products to sell in the city and it became known as Botermarkt or butter market. The market continued under this name until 1876 when a statue of Rembrandt by sculptor Louis Royer was moved to the center of the square and it was renamed Rembrandtplein.

By the early twentieth century, the square developed into a center for nightlife drawing artists, youngsters and labourers. The Square still has a hippisque vibe to it. This place would be one spot where you can simply get lost, indulge in shameless people-watching or get acquainted with yourself.

 

Bath

Bath

A famous legendary story around the city of Bath, Somerset in South-West of England is that the first human activity evidence was found during 8,000 years BC. The place had an air of mystery around it, with steam emerging from a green, hot, lush swampy area. Prince Bladud father of King Lear, had contracted leprosy and was cured after bathing in the hot muddy waters. In gratitude, Bladud founded the City of Bath around the springs in 863BC.

Today, in the 21st century these springs continue to draw the travellers, artists, lovers and poets. And why not? With its quaint high street, cobbled lanes, velvety gardens, niche boutiques and Roman honey-coloured buildings feasting your eyes in every corner, the beauty of Bath has to be seen to be believed.

A UNESCO world heritage site, Bath was named as “Aquae Sulis” by the Romans in AD 43. Britain was notorious for colonising other nations but many, many moons ago Britain was a Roman colony. In AD 70, the Romans built a reservoir here around the hot springs before building a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess– Sulis Minerva. As a religious shrine and bathing complex, Aquae Sulis attracted visitors from across Britain and Europe, making Bath a popular destination.

 

Ancient artifacts

Ancient artifacts

 

Goddess Minerva

Goddess Minerva

With a very distinct air to it, Bath is very different from other English cities. A great walking city, it is a slice of Rome in England. Well below the modern street level, the Roman Baths are known for four main features: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the Museum.

The bath complex is a remarkable example of engineering as well as Roman art and architecture. Once completed in the 4th Century, it housed five healing hot baths, swimming pools and cold rooms, sweat rooms heated by an ingenious early plumbing system. The Great Bath at the centre, became quite a spot. Here, the surrounding statues of the Gods would float eerily in the clouds of steam.

Bathing, during that period, was a ceremonial ritual where one socialised with each other and even carried on business. Today, the museum gives you a taste of Roman life with actors dressed in various characters around the bath area.

Roman Architecture

Roman Architecture

 

Terrace View

Terrace View

the main spring

the main spring

The buildings above street level date from the 19th century and are made in the Georgian style. From the Roman Bath, I went to the lush-green Prior Park Landscape Garden, just across the Roman Bath . An intimate 18th century landscape garden, it gives you sweeping views of the city.Built by entrepreneur Ralph Allen with advice from poet Alexander Pope and Lancelot Brown, it is also very close to the famous Palladian Bridge, one of four in the world. A stream tinkling with clear, cold blue water breaks the harmony of the green landscape.

From here you can clearly see the Bath Abbey, an Anglican Parish church founded in the 7th century. A fine example of perpendicular Gothic architecture, the Abbey is characterised by sculptures of angels climbing to heaven, peal of ten bells, 52 windows and a large stained glass window. But its beauty lies in the fact that it easily blends in with other Roman buildings in the area.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

palladian bridge

palladian bridge

 

 

A slice of Rome?

A slice of Rome?

If I had to get lost in some place; I would choose Bath for its mesmerising beauty and tranquility. Roman Stoic Philosopher, Seneca,stated once, “travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind.” Bath, would be the perfect place if you’re looking to bring  your chutzpah back.

The spook story surrounding Paris’s famous Cathedral—Notre Dame Cathedral—prompted me to take the beautiful walk across the city surpassing several winding rues and lanes. Legend goes that Notre Dame is haunted by a ghost of a locksmith who was commissioned to make locks for the cathedral. He asked the devil for help and died a few days later. I hoped to get frightened but instead I was pleasantly mesmerized.

Notre dame

 

Construction of this grand structure first began in 1163. It is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture  which took nearly 200 years to complete. It is believed to have opened in 1345.  Paris is often regarded as the birthplace of Gothic structure and the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress (arched exterior supports) of this Cathedral make for a fine testimony.

nd-1

 

Stained Glass

 

As soon as you step in, a calmness envelops you and you will be welcomed by a sight of tall, nicely carved archways and beautiful stained glass paintings. Incidentally, during the French revolution, the cathedral was damaged and many of its treasures and statues were stolen. Although, some were found in the 1970s, nearly 200 years later.

Joan of Arc

 

The Cathedral also houses a rather beatific statue of Joan of Arc.  A deeply spiritual peasant girl who led the French Army to several important victories during the hundred years’ war. It also has one of the biggest Church bells–Emmanuel weighing over 30 tonnes.

Front

Notre Dame is a haven of architecture and history and the perfect place if you want to see a slice of the city’s rich culture.