Friday, February 17, 2017

Tips for travelling to Budapest

I have gained so much from others in the international travel community that I would like to pay back. Here are some tips for travelling to Budapest even though I havent been there yet - but my research has turned up pointers that may not be so easily available from elsewhere...

Tip No. 1 : District VIII has had a mixed reputation i am told, but I find its location wonderful - from a plethora of Indian restaurants to choose from, public transport at hand, and historic buildings everywhere you look !

Tip No. 2 : Travellers can take a 15 day or monthly public transport pass which is much cheaper than the 7-day / 3-day / 1-day budapest travel card. I am not sure the host of freebies are that much added value for the price.

Tip No. 3 : You CAN get on top of the Castle hill without breaking your knees on endless stairs. There is an ancient gate under the castle hill, facing the chain bridge. Take the road to the right of this gate - the Hunyadi Janos Ut. This road loops back uphill to the Habsburg Gate on top of the hill in less than 1.5 kms - a scenic 1.5 kms through interesting old buildings. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The international travel community

I have been researching a trip to Europe for some time. It continues to be simultaneously a cradle of modern civilization as well as a beacon of light for the evolving human experiment.

I am struck (not for the first time either !) by how incredibly helpful the international travel community is. Random travellers devote a great deal of energy and knowledge in solving other people's problems - atleast online ! Then there are these colossus of the travel community - the man in seat 61, Rick Steeves, but also others who have devoted incredible amount of time, finesse, expertise and just charm in laying out europe before us. There is comparatively little financial gain to be had from this advice, I am sure, if any at all. So it is astounding what a labour of love so many people make travel to be.

I was thinking - that if the nations of the world operated like the travel community - the world would be by far a better place !

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

By these actions were the Jat agitators reaffirming their faith in the Indian constitution ?

Someone has just put up on twitter, a purported list of 29 slogans raised by JNU students. you can see it here.

If true, some of those slogans should not have been used. But these are slogans only - not violent action. Similar slogans are raised in kashmir many times a year. Should sedition charges be applied in Kashmir or should the people there be talked to ?

Whereas the Jat agitators (and countless other agitators throughout our land, at other points of time) have caused a large no. of deaths by their actions, denied the poor their daily wage for days, put ordinary people through great difficulty by blocking roads, and caused enormous damage to public and private property.

By these actions were the Jat agitators reaffirming their faith in the Indian constitution ? Instead their actions remind me of those of the Muslim league in Pre-Independence India which engineered violence across large swathes to force the hand of the British and the Congress to create Pakistan. So it is the violent Jat agitaor who is following the footsteps of those who divided India. But BJP has no qualms about appeasing them... after spending decades whipping passions against appeasement !

Violence by Jat Agitators is rewarded in Modi's India

The votes of students, the labour and farmers dont seem to matter in india the way a caste's votes matter...

The BJP govt. is scuttling to find a reservation formula for agitators who have severely damaged North India's economy and have caused untold miseries to millions.. You can read about it here and here...

I have not noticed that perpetrators of so much violence are being hounded by police - but JNU students are - merely for questioning if a trial was fairly conducted !

This is a good trailer for Shining India that Modi and his hordes are building.. doesnt look like there is respectable space for most Indians in the shining india of modi's dreams...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There seems to have been no warfare for 2000 years !

I am still reading / watching Mesopotamia.. Here among others..

Civilized living in the form of settled farmers and beautiful pottery, seems to have begun in Sumer around 7000 years ago, although the first irrigation canals date to 8000 years ago.

Some 6000 years ago, trade facilitated the rise of many large, temple-centered cities (with populations of over 10,000 people) where centralized administrations employed various workers. It was at this time that Sumerian cities began to make use of slave labor.

These cities were most likely headed by a priest-king, assisted by a council of elders, including both men and women. There was little evidence of institutionalized violence or professional soldiers uptill now, and towns were generally un-walled. During this period Uruk became the most urbanised city in the world, surpassing for the first time 50,000 inhabitants.

The dynastic period began some 5000 years ago and was associated with increased violence. Cities became walled, and increased in size as undefended villages in southern Mesopotamia disappeared. The now deciphered syllabic writing started to develop from the early pictograms.

In conclusion then, warfare was not a part of the civilization that existed in Sumer from 7000 – 5000 years ago.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is India the only fount of wisdom of yore ?

Perhaps we were taught a smattering of many things in school, but I have forgotten most of them. What remains in memory are the impressions reinforced by conversations with family and elders, and what we see regurgitated in the Indian media, incuding social media. 

An oft-repeated theme is how great the Indian civilization is with no parallel in world history. That science, innovation and the arts grew only in India with the rest of the world in darkness. But as I read more widely now, I find that picture is simplistic. 

Eridu - city of 4000 people in Mespotamia (present-day Iraq, mostly) 5000 years ago. 

 Image Author : Таис Гило; Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Why have we heard about the ancient indian civilization only from our elders then ? Mesopotamia and the Egyptian civilizations are far older the the Indus Valley and Harappan Civilizations.

The fertile river valleys of the world where civilization first grew – Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, Yellow River, Indus, would all be mighty rivers.. yet we speak of the Ganga as if it is unique. In fact, the first civilization in South Asia grew around the Indus and Saraswati, not the Ganges. 

Pottery from Mesopotamia 6000 years old.

Image Author : Dmharvey; Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The Mesopotamian pottery above compares well with pottery from the Indus Valley civilization, 1500 years later. On left.

Image released by Los Angeles County Museum of Art and taken from Wikipedia.
Uruk city is 5000 years old, also in Mesopotamia. And had some 65000 people living in the city at that time ! 

Temple on the right was meant to honour their goddess of fertility.. 

Image Author : Marcus Cyron; Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Our Home has been taken over by Doves !

We have always had doves around, but lately we have positively been taken over ! They coo morning, afternoon and evening.. Make sorties to the feeding stations.. Roost on the Shehtoot tree - as indeed I can see one now as I type.. while another surveys the scene from our balcony railing..

These pictures were taken a couple years earlier.. 

I read up a bit about the pigeon / dove branch of birds  - apparently, they bob their heads in an attempt to keep their vision constant.

The guys you see in this picture are Laughing Doves.. common across India..

Two famous extinct species, the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon, belonged to this branch of birds. 

The Passenger Pigeon was once the most numerous species of bird on earth

In 1871, a single breeding colony was estimated to contain over a hundred million birds, yet the last individual in the species was dead by 1914. The species is thought to have been massively over-hunted for food for the poor. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who built India ?

I hv been reading about emperor Ashoka. The story about the rediscovery of his lion capital - which we adopted as our national symbol, is Here. There is only one surviving lion capital in full which was unearthed by a Britisher a 100 years ago. Clearly many Britishers have served India as many may have harmed it too.

The stories of what Indians have done to build India since independence are not that well known to me. There are the obvious captains of industry and those in politics. But who set up the stock exchange ? Who built the ports ? The highways ? The dams ? Who set up the IITs ?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Last Tree

I told my husband the other day that i would see no point in living after the last tree in our surroundings died..

The Mango Tree marked to be cut down when our relative's house was to be re-built (Photo by relative).

That may seem far-fetched but troubling signs have been afoot for decades.. All the old, giant trees in our surroundings have been cut down.. officially for road widening or residences, but also I suspect, illegally, for the wood..

They felt they could not save their much-loved tree.. (picture by the relative).

Because of the stresses caused by climate change and deforestation, large swathes of forests have been dying worldwide the last few years..

One of two giant Peepuls near Reliance Superstore in Bhiwadi.. they should form the very centre of Bhiwadi but seem to be suffering for lack of water..

Wake up ! More of us need to know and love, the trees around us.. they are as much as family as our brothers and sisters.. apart from food and the multitude of medicines and other critical goods provided by Trees, just their presence is reassuring..

Trees are our pathway to the sky.. hugging them makes you feel part of the core of the earth..

The other Peepul Tree in 
Bhiwadi near Reliance 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Two Different Points of View

Two very different points of view on the race issue now highlighted in the US. Both points of  view are valid, I think.

Dr. Ahmed talks here of the police disconnect with the black community and the over-militarization of the police forces when dealing with civilian populations. We say that about the police and para-military in various States of India as well, but in my view they are better than in the US. What do you think ?

An excerpt from the article below :

A different article (excerpted below, but you can read the full piece here) :

Among other things, the author points to cultural factors that are negatively affecting the black community from within : 70 percent of babies are born out of wedlock, and 50 % of all children grow up in father-less homes. 

The Painter who died young - Egon Schiele

In a Blog Post, Beth Caird talks about this major European painter, whom I had not heard of thus far..

Increase the size of the text above by clicking on it. 

You can read more about him here : And this evocative piece by Joshua Heineman :

This image from :

Race riots in the US

Race riots in America at first glance in some aspects appear to follow the rythm of Hindu-Muslim riots in India..

The comment in this article on the situation in the US now holds lessons for us too.. 

Read it here :

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Don't Panic !

The best documentary I have seen in a long time.. please do see it, with your entire family, immediately !

This World Don't Panic The Truth About Population

Could not some academics please propose Prof. Hosling for a Noble Prize, say for communication ?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Power of the Organ !

While out to see a 'Steam Rally' in the Cotswolds in England one day, my father and I came across this :

It was an Organ on wheels ! The music was sweet and folksy and loud ! The organ owner, David, told me that the organ is used at fairs and parties..

On a subsequent visit to the Cirencester church..

Isnt it awe-inspiring ? Picture taken by AM in Aug 2014

We saw this.. A Church Organ.. some 15-20 feet tall and perhaps 15 feet wide !

While the Organ was not being played that day in the Church, I have been able to hear simmilar instruments on Youtube since..

Listen to this impressive performance from Youtube, here..

We have not seen or heard comparable musical instruments in India.. but I understand that the humble harmonium is also a kind of an Organ ! See from Youtube here : Best Harmonium player - Part 2 -

Do read the story of the harmonium player in the notes below the video.

The embrace of the Sycamore..

On a visit to Cotswolds England, we were amazed by giant trees in the grounds of the cottages we stayed in.. Sycamores.. they were said to grow to be hundreds of years old.. Taller than the eye could see the top of, and almost as wide, they were an oasis of light green waving in the wind.. The video below will give you an idea..

I looked up Youtube to see other videos on the sycamore tree and found that over 11 pages of youtube search results, there were more videos on cutting sycamore trees than on them !

One stand-out video however, was this giant sycamore in woodland whose base had a hollow large enough for the video author to get into ! See here at Hollow Sycamore Tree on Fall Nature Walk - ThirdChoiceVideos HD -

Text information on the net was rich ofcourse.. I found the London Plane, The American Sycamore and the Chinar in India and Asia, to be related simmilar trees.. From wikipedia below..

And finally, this video.. brings tears to your eyes to think the giant sycamore we loved, started out as such a seedling..

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sparrows and Us

It is simple actually to integrate your life with those of wild birds..

Apart from the simple measures listed in the previous post (feed, water, etc.), have plenty of seating / work spaces in open alcoves around your house (balconies, aangans, lawn area, roof, terrace, etc.) so that you may spend part of your day in the company of birds.

When inside the house, ensure your windows look out at green areas (just plonking a couple of potted trees outside the window will do if you dont have a lawn) so when working or resting, you can glance up and notice the birds flitting around.

View from our Study window.

It is sad to find so many people lamenting about the disappearance of birds without taking the simple measures they could to help them. Worse, some people dont seem to feel their absence at all !

As Rob Dunn writes in the Smithsonian (Mar 2, 2012) : ‘Even if you don’t know it, you have probably been surrounded by house sparrows your entire life. Passer domesticus is one of the most common animals in the world. It is found throughout Northern Africa, Europe, the Americas and much of Asia and is almost certainly more abundant than humans. The birds follow us wherever we go.’ 

Sparrows and I

As an only child with busy working parents, the living creature i saw the most when growing up, were sparrows.. i watched them chirping away, chasing or grooming each other from the windows or when i lay in the sun in winter.

Image taken by Vijay Raman in Bhiwadi.

The sparrows were my family, you might say. My parents did not do anything to strengthen those bonds, but my grandmother did ask me to give a roti (Indian bread generally made at home) to the crow everyday - maybe he shared some with the sparrows !

In the mid-90s, my husband and I and our friends, began to notice we no longer had sparrows around our homes, or very few of them..

The newspapers started lamenting about the decline of the sparrows.. We were told the sparrows did not have enough food and water and we started to put out some. But we were not as invested in them..

This image is from the net. you can see the name of the painter on the left bottom.

It was not until 2011, when we had settled down in a new house with a small garden, that we truly developed a relationship with sparrows, and indeed all other birds who visited us. To begin with, the sparrows were few.. but as we put out feed (bajra - pearl millet), drinking water, bathing water and nest boxes, their numbers grew.

Now around 30-50 of them live in our full-grown Ficus tree (I have not counted them but watching their sorties in and out of the tree, and especially their morning / evening chirp chorus give me a sense of the numbers) most of the year.

Sometimes, they are inexplicably gone for weeks, which leads to much hang-wringing in our family !

Image by Vijay Raman. He entitled it 'Why we are running out of Nests !'

Thus I know from personal experience how you can 'grow' a sparrow population in your vicinity.. obviously try and avoid all things that would frighten them - loud sounds, people aiming toy guns at them or trying to shoo them away..

Sparrows need only a small entry hole to their Nest-Box.

Predators such as Shikra (a kind of a small hawk) occasionally visit (they have to feed their babies too !) but it is cats who should be discouraged..

In my earlier housing society in Gurgaon, our plenty-ful birds were all but wiped out by the ever increasing cat population..

It is also important to keep their feed-boxes and water sources clean, else many birds can die of disease.

Shikra - bird identified by Vijay Raman, picture taken by Bulbul in the garden at her home.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One of the most important videos I have seen recently

Lois Arkin talks about the Los Angeles Ecovillage she cofounded and shows its many parts in practice. Its about how small communities can set up their own infrastructure and services, live much closer to nature, collaborate in many fun and useful projects, and finally, do it all within limited budgets. 

This is one among many shared gardens which grow things, there are play and relaxing areas, and work areas such as shared Tool Shops !

There are only two rules in using the Tool Shop - put things back where they belong in 24 hours, and dont get blood on the tools !

Canning of self-grown fruit in progress here by one of the community members. 

The young inhabit the complex, as well as the old. We generally self-centered North Indians have a lot to learn from this successful experiment.

Kirsten Dirksen uploaded this ecovillage video as well as scores of others that i have been watching recently, on tiny homes and self-help initiatives. 

I found this moving..

Man making his life in a tiny home after divorce..

He needs help with his upcoming spinal surgery.. 

Latest information is in updates on the same page and large funders get paintings he and a friend made (see till the last in ‘gallery’) – I think they are real works of art.. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Inspiration from Tiny Homes for Middle-Classes in India..

We already have variants of tiny homes in slums and low-income settlements in India.. but even the middle and upper-middle classes could draw inspiration from the tiny home movement.. following the example of America, we have been falling prey to increasingly large homes - 2000 square feet ! No, 3000 square feet ! Even 4000 and 5000 square feet ! Whether taking the shape of apartments or houses..

Here's an inspiring story from America itself..

Interesting Idea - Linear cities ?

Many ideas about sustainable cities / urban landscapes are doing the rounds these days.. Vertical cities as well as compact, dense conglomerations have been proposed as desirable paths to take. Here is one more option..