Saturday, November 24, 2012

Travel : taking the high road to Munnar

I've been arm-chair travelling, my computer and I. We've been stuck in Mumbai while the rest of the city was on holiday(the Diwali vacations should be called Travel Vacations!). So I'm trawling through my library of photos and have been re-living journeys past... smiling, remembering, refreshing memories long buried under the files of daily life.
Join me?

Isn't it amazing that the journey can be twice as beautiful and ten times more interesting than the destination? Journeys tell stories. Of lives and dreams and hope. Every passer-by is a spark for the imagination.
That man pacing at the bus-stop, is he waiting for his daughter to come home?
That boy running down the road, maybe he's found a secret path to the river where all the tadpoles have just hatched. Or maybe his mom is just shouting at him to hurry and buy some biscuits from the shop because some guests have dropped by. Maybe he had polished off everything in the pantry when she wasn't looking. Or maybe the guest is his teacher with a long list of complaints!

And so we go, past serene rivers that flow languidly between dreamy banks of gossiping trees, and holding up a mirror to misty, hazy hills that go up on tip-toe to watch the world go by.

Past tiny little villages and homes sheltered by giant trees, each one promising stories to tell. I want to live here for a day, climb up those rough-hewn steps overgrown with moss and grass, listen to the wind soughing through the trees.
I'm sure there are wild-flowers there . And a zillion butterflies. Maybe even a little mongoose or two. I'm sure a hundred birds are calling too... if I could only linger to hear them all.

On, past ginormous trees laden so heavily with fruit that they tempt me to stop, taste and linger. I could pause here and wait for each and every one of those jungle-jack fruits to plop down, relish their golden sweet-tart juiciness all-day long.
Pause a bit when local customs demand it. Even if it means knocking your head on a stone marker, as locals recommend all first-timers to these mountains do, to keep away all traces of car-sickness.
Even if you don't ever get car-sick. And even if you don't have to bang your head quite that hard!

And on again, past cool waterfalls racing and tumbling down in a breathless rush. Reaching out and splashing me with a come-and-play tingling spray of icy-cold water. Throwing out little rainbows that add a surreal touch of magic to the scene.
I love the look of water on rough rocks, the damp gleam and sheen. Almost as much as I love the music of falling water. Crashing, roaring, splashing...

And the little make-shift stalls that dot the way, selling mangoes and gooseberries and chillies and wax-apples... all floating in their own little pool of brine and spices. I wonder if they know how luscious those fruits look, displayed against those worn, dark planks reeking of wood-smoke and a thousand glasses of kattan-chaya (strong black tea) .

Linger awhile to marvel at a couple of Bonnet Macaques (see that little thatch of hair? That's how they got the 'bonnet' tag!) sharing a meal. A banana, a juicy, ripe mango and a fist-ful of peanuts make a feast fit to tempt even a simian king.

And smile at the wrinkle-faced little one swinging on a rope-like liana hanging from the super-tall trees. Absolute cuteness!
But what the camera cut off and what you can't see here is the absolutely deep ravine that it was hanging over, with nothing but a very precarious toe-hold on life.
Then gasp in awe as you look around and see yet another waterfall, driving down and pounding huge boulders to sand in what must be a centuries-old mission. Centuries? no, more like since the days when Time was a baby.

Then shiver a little with delighted excitement as the first chill breezes roll off the mountain-tops and the first velvet-y manicured bushes of tea steal into sight. Climbing the accident-prone ghats safely and nearing the destination prompts a sigh of thanks from many drivers who stop by tiny little road-side shrines like this one. And even more fervent prayers from others on their way down the winding, treacherous ghat-roads.

And then it's in sight. The destination. The reason for the long, long drive.
But I would make that trip to Munnar just for the magic of the journey. And the wonder of spectacular landscapes and stories guessed at, thronging past my window.

(Did you enjoy this little travelogue of the journey to Munnar? If you did, come back for the next post. I've got a ton of pictures to show you! You didn't think I'd leave you at the door-step to Munnar and not let you in, did you?! 
And, if you just can't wait, take a look here . 
Or go see 'Life of Pi'. I haven't seen it yet but I'm told Ang Lee has done a great job of show-casing Munnar's beauty in the film. I wonder how he enjoyed the journey ... )

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pink and Purple Perfection

Every time I see this hot-pink Cosmos beaming at me, I can't help feeling a huge smile building up inside me. It's as simple a flower as can be; absolutely nothing complicated about it. And, it's perfect!
Brilliant colour, easy to grow, a snap to maintain ... what more could a gardener want?
Did someone say 'fragrance'? hmmm ...

I wonder if it's the colour which makes it especially attractive for me?
But no, I'm not that crazy about pinks usually, though I'll always make an exception for Hot Pinks. Or Rani Pink, as we call it in India. Bright colours always get me going!

And then I looked around my garden (and in the hard disk of my computer where all my garden photos are stored) and realised just how many pinks and purples-bordering-on-pink I have cheering up my bit of growing space.
Well, what do you know? Maybe I do have a thing for Pink after all!
Like this very small, very pink bloom. 
I had bought the plant along with a bunch of others but hadn't got around to planting it in the ground yet; it was still in a regular-sized pot. And before I knew it, I was dealing with happy blooms. 
Wow! This is one easy-to-please plant!
And when those pretty blooms grow into fruits, and that too on a plant which is just 1'-tall now if it really stretches, then you know you have a winner on your hands.
And when those fruits are such an unusually pretty shape, appealing to the eye as well as the taste-buds, you know it is Olympic medal-worthy.
Oh, how I love thee, Carambola!

Almost as much as I love the Pride of India. May Queen, Queen's Crepe Myrtle ... call it what you will but this is one spectacular bloom to have colouring up your garden. Or rather, drifts of blooms.
 Even if it isn't exactly pink. Actually, there is a pink-coloured variety too but it never ever bloomed for me.
Yes, it happens to all of us!

But why would I quibble over colour when I have these purply clusters of blooms around golden centres and tipped with silvery gray-green buds. What a palette of colours to tease the senses! 

Incidentally, the internet is no longer content with just good ol'-fashioned lilac, mauve, violet, purple, etc. It insists that this shade of purple is 'Orchid' (not the flower, but the shade) . 
Which Orchid?
This one?
Or this one?
Or... the mind boggles ... could it be this orchid that they've named it after?

Still, for some strange reason I've always been fascinated by the different names we give to shades, such as ' cherry red' or 'peacock blue' or 'vermilion'. I can't always differentiate the minute variances in shade and hue but I love scrolling through colour charts with evocative names like 'pink cloud' or 'plum pudding' or 'purple fish' (seriously? Purple FISH?). 
I feel like I'm reading a children's fantasy book! Or Dr. Seuss at the least.
Then there is this silvery-leaved begonia which blushes very prettily with  a touch of sun.
Ignore those passionfruits, okay? That was just a hijacker trying to take over all available space. And, also ignore that large hole in the begonia leaf. (I'm told that it is usually a sure sign that chemical pesticides are not used in this space. So, yeah... that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

A few pale pinks do make a timid appearance in my garden. They're pretty in a way, I suppose, but in my opinion, pale pastels tend to blend into the background in the tropics. It's something to do with the way the sun glares at them. That super-bright light just bounces off those pale petals until it looks like the nuances are washed out and there is only an eye-scrunching blinding white to be seen. 

It's not so bad when they're indoors. Those pale, pale pinks do look much more attractive away from the sun. Or maybe it's just because it's on an orchid that does it. 

But as far as pinks go, I'm beginning to really love this Hot Pink 'n Sulfur Yellow combination. It's like a blast of steamy tropical colour that shocks you out of your soul . But, hey! I'm nothing if not Tropical with a capital T!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Monsoon vegetables in Mumbai

So I had gone Missing In Action. And that too after promising to post more regularly. Very irresponsible of me! But I've been so swamped with work from all sides. What's a gardener to do?

First of all, the Monsoons took over Mumbai.
You know me ... I get a little (okay, very!) giddy during the monsoons. Just the lightest hint of a drizzle is enough to get me into an ecstatic frame of mind. And then all I can do is to sit back and enjoy the moment.
I think I really must be turning into a plant myself!

And then, it's been 'monsoon veggie planting time'. One of our busiest times ever.
First there were veggie beds to prepare; dug up, manured and kept ready for the monsoons.
Then once it was here, there were seeds to sow, trellises made, seedlings to transplant, shelters made against the powerful gusts of wind that show up every once in a while.

And then there was constant checks to be made, climbers to be trained up the trellis, neem to be sprayed (see what I mean? I dont know how they do it but the first leaves also showed up along with the first bugs)
.... oooffff! This is one hyper-busy gardener.
Actually, this is also one dead-tired gardener! But I'm not complaining (... too much).

Especially when what started off like this, soon becomes ...

... THIS!

Cucumbers have to be the most vigorously growing plants ever. After putting up trellises for the snake-gourds I was forced to take some time off because I was travelling. And by the time I got back and before I knew it, the little seedlings from the earlier photo (third in this post) had grown and leaped and galloped into the jungle you see here. Can you believe it?

Luckily, not having a trellis to climb up does not affect cucumbers much. In fact, in many parts of Maharashtra they are normally grown without a trellis.
The only problem pops up when it is harvest time. How do you find them under all that greenery?

Oh, and that's the start of a trellis that you can see in this pic. No, not the completed one in the background. I mean those little fragile sticks poking out from the cucumber plant swamp.
We really under-estimated how fast and how big these plants grow!
And they're growing on just good ol' traditional growth promoters ... well-composted cow-manure and neem. That's all! (Oh, and of course, on rain)
Doesn't it make you feel good when you can avoid all those chemicals?

So what are we growing now? Well, there's some bitter-gourd (not my favourite vegetable, which is why I thought I'd mention it first and get it out of the way)...

... and a whole lot of snake-gourds. This is the smaller variety which doesn't get really long like the regular ones. But the flavour is the same and demands that you cook it while it is still tender.

And these extra-long beans hijacked the snake-gourd trellis too.
I like growing these beans. There's something so very simple and easy about growing them. Perfect for those who'd rather enjoy their gardens more and sweat over it a little less.

And then there's the okra (ladies fingers) and the red amaranth.
All the bugs seem to love okra. They're usually the first vegetable plant under attack each season. Okra grows really well in my veggie patch because of all that sunshine.
So does the Red Amaranth.

The pumpkins aren't ready yet. They're still busy blooming. And I do love those flowers!
So do many foodies who love to batter-fry them. Have you tried it? To my mind there's something so decadently exciting about eating a flower!

This is just part of one of our first harvests. I had just gone out to check on them but when I saw so many vegetables ready for harvest, I just couldn't resist.
No secateurs or knife to cut them, no basket to collect them but I just couldn't wait!

Hey dont forget the fruits! This papaya is so full of fruits that I'll have to harvest some green ones to make room for the others to grow to their full potential. But that's okay because I love shredded green papaya lightly sauteed with a hint of coconut.
And green papaya (cooked) is so good for you!

No, I haven't forgotten the passionfruit. I built a few more trellises for them and now they're all over the place with their green globes of fruit.
Does it take longer for them to ripen if I look at it too often? I have a nasty suspicion that it does. But the glorious scent of their flowers makes the waiting so much easier. Seriously!

While the Sense of Taste and Scent are taken care of, the monsoon wildflowers take care of the Sense of Sight.
These wild balsams have sprung up all over the place, even among the vegetables. I hesitate to pull them out even if it means that I'll get a couple of baskets fewer vegetables. They are so beautiful that they qualify as food too.
Soul food, that is!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Red-hot Summer days

Have you heard Summer shout?
"Red!", she hollers as she paints Mumbai and my garden in every hue of that colour .
A fiery, incandescent, scorching, tropical red. Blazing hot, in-your-face loud. Bristling, boiling, vibrant, thrumming, oh-so-sensuous red.

Starry days are made of this. Fiery ixoras blaze their way to the spotlight in the summer garden. Burning, searing, fulminating.
"Hey, the Sun is a star too", they tease.

Summer's own mascot, the Gul mohur, holds sway now. Gaunt, barren canopy-tops are now an explosion of molten hues igniting the clear Summer sky.

A hint of green feathers its way but Gul mohur leaves in Summer are at best a walk-on role. Late to appear and hardly noticed. They'll have to wait their turn till the scarlet and crimson explosions burns itself out.

Hardly noticed, like this poor butterfly. Who would dare the glare of the sun to follow her antics now? Not me. My verandah is my sanctuary now.

The Jatropha is in its element now, though. The glaring, exploding, melting summer day is no dampener to its ever-cheery disposition.

Lobster claws or fire-sticks? I say blazing torch! Heliconias light up the furthest corners of my garden in a flash of impudent arrogance.
Burning their way to grab all attention from under a jungle of foliage.
Foliage? Does anyone actually notice any when the heliconia is fire-bright?

Glowing embers wrapped in a sheath of ice, the Bleeding Heart Vine masters the fine art of capturing a free-spirit. Have you ever seen a red more eye-catching?
But that's the name of the game. Summer's here to play, come who may.
And, until cooler days swing around, find a cool, shaded spot to watch the world go by.

(Did you notice I've changed the look of my blog a bit? Nothing drastic, just the typeface and colours. It looks fine on Internet Explorer but I found that it doesn't look so good in Google Chrome. How does it look on your screen? Is the text clear and easy to read? Please let me know, okay? )

Update : I've reverted back to the earlier Georgia typeface till I can figure out what is going wrong. If anyone has a clue, please let me know? I really liked the look of the Josefin Sans typeface (at least, how it looked on IE!)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Weird and the Wonderful

This post is for all the weirdly wonderful ... and the wonderfully different. The ones who choose to walk a different path, a more unusual, interesting path which no one thought of before.
The ones who think different and ask all the "why not?" questions that make the Custodians of the Ordinary turn purple with frustration. Especially when they find their Madness is actually Genius.
The ones who make Life so much more interesting just by being themselves!  

The Canonball tree is in bloom in Mumbai now with its quirky, weirdly wonderful flowers. So very different from just about everything else we see here. Have you ever seen a flower like this? I'm so intrigued by the candy-hued wriggly-looking staminoides on the hooded extension. And the ring of whitish stamens are equally fascinating. One set of fertile stamens and another set of sterile staminoides on the 'hood' , both working together . One attracts the pollinators (usually the carpenter bee), the other deposits the pollen on them to be carried away to the next bloom and carry on with its work of ... well, pollinating, of course. But what an ingeniously effective and, yes, different way of doing it!

For a more detailed explanation, see here . And weird becomes doubly wonderful when it is disguised as commonplace ... as in the common everyday Pineapple. Or rather, the blooms of the pineapple!  
Have you ever seen it? And don't you just love those colours?

And curiouser and curiouser, the fruits of each individual flower merge together to create one single fruit.  Now who would've thought of that? Not me. And I've been growing pineapples for years! I never even noticed their blooms till now. Quite possibly because they're growing in a far corner of my garden and the April sun is too fierce for me to wish to linger out for long.
Now I wonder what else I might've missed...

Definitely not the Passionflower! No one could ever miss the rather bizarre beauty of this bloom. It looks like a layer of petals topped by a twirly tutu topped by a faucet designed by an artist on hallucinogens. 
And yet, seen together, it all works ... beautifully. Like a true masterpiece.
And even better, it smells divine!
What??? You don't think the banana flower (or what should actually be called the 'banana inflorescence' ) deserves to be here? Come on... look again.  Doesn't it  it look like some alien creature in flight?
Layers upon layers of thick fleshy liver-red bracts tightly sheathing the actual flowers into a compact cone hanging like a pendant. Till they unfurl one by one, revealing their 'hands', so to speak.  
And that's not even taking into consideration that the whole banana plant is as different as you can get. That thick 'trunk' is just layer upon layer (yet again, I know!) of leaf stalks. And that each new leaf has to start its journey from the bottom up. As does the 'flower'.
And if you looked at your garden and saw a whole bevy of Dancing Girls? Anything non-weird about that?
Not about the dancing girls (we've got to be a bit blasé about such things in this day and age, right?). But the fact that they're dancing at the tip of the Oncidium orchid plants?
Hmmm... definitely worth comment!
And such beautiful dancing girls... oh yes!

And the 'weirdities' don't stop with the plants in my garden. Oh no! The creatures ... my beautifully diversely wonderfully weird garden creatures are never far behind. As you'll see in the posts in my Garden Creature Fest (pssst! look in the side-bar).
As for this Jewel Bug ... it's just plain beautiful! Even if it's differently so.

(Actually it's not laziness which is holding me back from posting more photos on this theme ... my blog has just switched over to the new interface at Blogger and I'm wrestling with it  and tying myself up in knots at the moment! Aaaargh!!! )