Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Independence Day Special

When I was in Rome amidst the 3000 year old roman ruins and artifacts  , I couldn't help wondering if there is any other culture that is as old as ours but is still alive and kicking in a society that is as evolved as ours. The belief system, culture and traditions of all the important ancient civilizations except our Indian is in history books , museums and for tour guides to spin stories from.
Commendable job by India !

On a related note , I love my country but I do not understand the concept of borders and excessive patriotism . I guess having a border is just a legal thing that makes the job of governing easier . People who aren't in the borders wouldn't understand this but people in the border areas , weather state or country , would understand that drawing a line in between doesn't remove the cultural and linguistic similarities that they share with their brethren across the border.
In my recent trip to Ladakh it was plain simple that Ladakhis have more in common with Chinese and Tibetians than mainstream Indians.  Their food , language , clothing , looks is nothing what anyone would associate with India . Nobody will say that Momos is part of Indian cuisine or that a slant eyed person has 'Indian looks' when in fact it is as much Indian as the region of Ladakh is.
Same with Tamilians down south . I guess their sympathies lie with LTTE for the reason that they share so much in common with them than say a Kashmiri.
The Punjabi dress ,language and food is similar to western Pakistani regions than anywhere else in India.

So let us not impose language , culture on someone just because they belong to a particular country or state because the country and state is man made. Its never existed naturally in the first place. I am sure south Indians would learn Hindi more willingly than they do now if it was not imposed on them and if they didn't have to hear lectures from everybody on how adamant they are.

Happy Independence Day folks !

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rome Ramblings

Rome wasn't built in a day they say , that is pretty evident to anyone that knows a thing or two about Rome. What they should add is this - It cannot be seen in a month . Yes, there is so much to cover and so much to see. Its mindboggling.
When I drew up my Rome itinerary I was quite clear that I shouldn't cram everything into those 2.5 days . So I didn't include the Villa Borghese and Roma museums though everyone raved and ranted about them. The Vatican on one day and the trinity of Coloseum-Forum-Palatine on the other was my plan with Pantheon , Catacombs and St Angelo castle thrown in between somewhere. The next half day would be to stroll around a couple of churches. But there is no end to the history you see in Rome and everything is so beyond words , you get stuck in one place marveling at every bit of this ancient wonder. What a marvelous place . It also helped that we had wonderful guides. The Indian lady in the catacomb of St Sebastian was excellent in her description of the place . She had a musical tone to her voice that caught the attention of listeners even more . Apparently she has been a guide for more than 30 years and the experience shows . I was pretty surprised to find this Indian at the catacombs but more surprises on this followed when we saw 'Sadhus' at the entrance to the Vatican showing off their 'miracles' .Kaushik quipped that we shouldn't be surprised if there were Malayalam language tours of the catacombs and the Vatican.

Of the 2 we visited, the catacombs of St Sebastian impressed me more and it was also older than St Callixtus . Without guides it will just seem like an underground tunnel with lots of holes but the history it holds is what enthralls you. This place started off as being a burial place for Pagans and eventually Christians took over. The Pagan chambers were elaborate and beautiful . We were in just one level and the place has 3 levels of burial chambers covering many acres. At the end there was a place for the families to have refreshments and this place opened out to St Sebastian Church. The footprints believed to be of Jesus were one of the highlights of this place. The catacomb of St Callixtus was less impressive but a good visit nonetheless . It was a burial place for early Christians and the popes. Both the catacombs have been sanitized and there are no bones/bodies .
Those visiting St Callistx need to make a note of their lunch hours - They are closed from 12 - 2 PM  . Also note that the catacombs are under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and Roma Pass cannot be used here. 

I wanted to visit St Peters final resting place under the Basilica as well but the Scavi tours are limited to 250 people per day and the slots were full by the time I mailed them . The basilica itself is beautiful and ornate but as the husband put it , for people used to the grandeur of Indian temples , this doesn't seem like a breathtaking monument.  The main sanctum is nothing like  any of the churches I have seen . There was no crucifix that is usually a part of catholic churches. But it was interesting and beautiful . Michelangelo's Pieta is a beauty. The Cupola was closed by the time we were done with the church and this was a bit of a disappointment .
There was more of Michelangelo waiting for us at the Sistine Chapel . A part of the chapel is under renovation but even that didn't diminish the grandeur . The Vatican Museums as a whole is too large and has too many artworks to be able to enjoy in a few hours and even if we had the time it was too complex for an art illiterate like me to take in. Though we did love many of the items on display by the time we reached the end of the tour we were exhausted .

That day dinner was in the Piazza Campo di Fiori , The place is absolutely alive. And the Lamb was delicious. My husband gave a thumbs up to the pasta as well. We went to the same place for dinner the next day too , a different restaurant though and the food was just as good.

The next day was a big one - Colloseum . I hadnt booked the underground tour online but once we reached we decided to take that and boy , I am glad we did. Our French guide was charming and delightful in her description of the colloseum and the history behind it all. It was now pretty clear to me that visiting any historic place without a guide is just not the same.  Like the catacombs , the colloseum is simply an ancient ruin without a guide to explain the details.

Next in our itinerary was that Forum-Palatine combo. I knew there were acres to walk and the peak summer sun was quite unmerciful . And with no guide to help us we were a bit lost in the Forum. Audio guides aren't really very helpful here . There are so many things hidden from plain view that you need someone to point it out. Nevertheless , the whole place leaves you marveling about the architectural skill of ancient Romans. And the ruins are endless. Its a good thing there were portable water taps everywhere else the expense for drinking water would have beaten our airfare and hotel bill combined.
The palatine which I thought would be least interesting threw up a beautiful and huge ruin towards the end . By that time sudden showers had forced us to stop and the unplanned rest gave me my breath back . Plus it cooled the place down and so I really enjoyed the last hour or so in the Palatine.
We were quite hungry by the time we were done but there wasn't time to stop for a bite. The castle of St Angelo closed at six and we made a dash towards it. This place needs just needs about 2 hours and the view that I missed in St peters basilica was seen here. It gives a birds eye view of the whole of Rome. The Audio guide here is pretty good too.

The Spanish Steps that we visited next is really not a worth a visit but then if you have the time , why not.

My culinary experience in Europe is improving by the day . It started with Austria. The Schnitzel was pretty good and so were the traditional Viennese deserts - Apple Strudel and Sacher Tort with whipped cream. I tried chicken , pork , lamb in Rome and each one was excellent. The gelato near the Vatican was massive and it was a 'medium' cone. It had me wondering how big the 'large' one would be .
Dining under the stars in Piazza Rotunda near pantheon and Piazza Campo di Fiori were one of the best dining experiences I have had. Both the Piazzas are absolutely bustling under the stars.

Pantheon was the last monument we saw in Rome. Incidentally, it was the first one too . Right after we landed in Rome , we went to check out the look of Pantheon at night. . The amazing fact about Pantheon is that its the only Roman monument that is standing in its entirety till today . Its 2000 years old and still as good as new. Come to think of it , an apt place to welcome our special day - July 5th. Papa tried to get us hunt for a temple in Rome and visit it on our anniversary and I guess pantheon is the closest we got to a temple that day - It was originally built as a temple to the Roman pantheon of Gods and is now a church . Interestingly we started the day at this church  , went to another church in the morning - St Sebastian's and then ended the day with the mightiest of all the churches - St Peters Basilica and the Vatican . So July 5th was spent in holy places , albeit a little different than what our parents would have liked.
And my best moment in Rome - As the plane touched down on the Rome Fumincino airport , my husband turned to me and said that it has been a happy year together and it dawned on me too that , contrary to what all well meaning friends had warned, staying together as husband and wife has been even better than being a lovey dovey  'hitched' couple(Knock on wood)  . Nothing can beat what I felt at that moment.