Toy train to the hills

A trip to the hills is always special but when it happens on the famous toy train that runs from Chandigarh to the Summer Capital of the erstwhile British Empire in India, Shimla, it’s even more so.
Though I have not recently visited Shimla, these pictures from 2008 show the beauty along the journey and the thrill of being in the tiny train, now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The breathtaking valleys, the 100 tunnels, heritage train stations and the light rain along the way makes it one of the most memorable trips ever.



Kool Kollam


The inside of the lighthouse (pic from Mr. Google)

My recent short visit to Kerala took me to the quaint little town of Kollam (previously Quilon), virtually on India’s southernmost tip.
I did expect the place to be rather quiet (most of Kerala is rather so) but what I witnessed was right of a school history textbook.
What was striking was everyone takes it easy; there’s no rush for virtually anything; what can be done today is easily put off until forever, if possible, and everyone seems to be in a rather celebratory mood (perhaps my being there during the Onam festival had something to do with it).That said, I had read a few things about the city and was looking forward to the visit. And, one thing that fascinated me was the old Lighthouse, built in 1902, and then ‘strengthened’ nearly four decades later. Of course, that was on the itinerary, besides the old fishing harbour and the legendary seaside, not to mention the houseboat cruise on the famed backwaters.
I was a little bit disappointed, however, since the main structure was closed for repairs. Officials said they were in the process of installing an elevator inside. But just going around was quite an experience since it gave out an old world charm and I felt I had come back in time.
Kollam, also an old seaport, has had a strong commercial reputation since the days of the Phoenicians and Romans. Fed by the Chinese trade, it was mentioned by Ibn Battuta in the 14th century as one of the five Indian ports he had seen during the course of his 24-year travels.
The city’s rulers exchanged embassies with Chinese rulers while there was a flourishing Chinese settlement there. In the 9th Century, on his way to Canton, China, Persian merchant Sulaiman al-Tajir found Kollam to be the only port in India visited by huge Chinese junks. Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveller, who was in Chinese service under Kublai Khan in 1275, also visited Kollam and other towns on the west coast, in his capacity as a Chinese mandarin.
In 822 AD two East Syrian bishops – Mar Sabor and Mar Proth – settled in Kollam with their followers. Two years later, the Malabar Era began (824 AD) and Quilon became the premier city of the Malabar region ahead of Travancore and Cochin.
Kollam Port was founded by Mar Sabor at Thangasseri in 825 AD as an alternative to reopening the inland sea port of Kore-ke-ni Kollam near Backare (Thevalakara), which was also known as Nelcynda and Tyndis to the Romans and Greeks and as Thondi to the Tamils.

India’s Dharavi set to become a Kowloon

The mess that is Dharavi today
Children play on Kowloon rooftops
The concrete lump that was Kowloon
This is the centre of Dharavi

A couple of days ago, I read a book on Hong Kong’s famed Kowloon Walled City, which was pulled down to make way for a park in the late 1980’s. This after it became well-known as a hotbed for everything illegal, unlawful and undesirable. It was a haven for crime and criminals and both the then Hong Kong British administration as well as the Chinese had washed their hands off the ‘territory’ where around 50,000 people crammed into a cluster of ‘box’ apartments.
I cannot but help compare Kowloon with the now ‘world famous’ Dharavi slum in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai – the only difference being that while Kowloon was a clump of apartments, Dharavi spreads across the heart of Mumbai over several square kilometers.
As an Indian, I feel sad this great nation, which on the one hand is only one of four to have conquered Mars, on the other, it is has been unable to tackle this monstrosity. Is it that the powers that be are awaiting Dharavi to go vertical and, perhaps, collapse under its own weight? True, there are political considerations but even those have to be given a go by. That, however, is unlikely to happen anytime soon! God, therefore, help us!


‘Where’s my share?’

DSC_0076This photograph was taken in the main bazaar of the tourist-infested hill station of Kasauli in Northern India’s Himachal Pradesh State. There are as many monkeys in this once sleepy little town founded by the British nearly a century ago as there are visitors from the plains, desperate to escape the sizzling temperature. I am sure these predecessors of humans on the planet look forward to the summer influx with some amount of impatience since they then get to share the spoils, as is clear from this shot.
The look on the monkey’s face and the way the man is sitting and eating tells a story. Never mind the litter, but this is one of the better pictures I think I have taken!