NoLa_New Orleans

•March 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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A snow storm, a cancelled flight, a hundred alternatives and a generous favour later, ‘Tido’ and  I finally managed to join the crew aboard our flight to New Orleans, recently coined as the quirkiest city in USA. I call it a crew, given that we were 16 of us, most of whom were flying together and altering the flight environment to that of a typical Indian train journey, playing games, passing around food and walking around like it’s our living rooms. Sighing relief as we looked down upon snow clad landscapes in hope for some sun for the weekend, little had we known that we would land into freezing temperatures as well. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that the sun decided to pay us a visit and saturate the New Orleans architecture with myriad hues of warmth.

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Ending the night at 8 am and starting the next day at noon was made possible with the assistance of some ‘cafe au lait’ and ‘beignets’ at Cafe du Monde, the star child of the French Quarters. The relatively overhyped dessert was made up for by the under exaggerated architecture of the city. Long intricate balconies on colourful homes were complimented with an artist here and a musician there. My camera’s’ and me often drifted away from the crew wanderlusting for more.

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An insane hot sauce tasting session, requiring us to sign off waiver forms, called for some thirst quenchers namely ‘hurricanes’ and ‘grenades’, clearly keeping up with the quirk factor of the city. Repeated visits to DatDog and street jazz helped keep the momentum going. The eclectic people on the streets, seemed to seamlessly blend with the context and added to the constant invitation to the ‘party on the street’.

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The days turned to nights, jazz turned to party anthems, coffee to coffee patron and colours to neon lights but the people stayed. Everyone just happened to stick around and tune into the vibe as it changed by the hour. Once we started bumping into familiar faces from previous nights, the magnetism of the french quarters felt unavoidable for one and all.

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The last day finally had us explore something beyond the city life that we had been combed in since the time we landed. The swamp tour was our turn to bask alongside gators and herons, all trying to soak in the occasional sun. Miles of waterways framed by ‘spanish moss’ drooping lifelessly over muscular trees, was adorned by ample fauna which comprised of agile birds, lazy turtles and marsh-mellow hungry alligators.

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All in all a memorable getaway in the land of ‘mardi gras’. So here’s signing off from the Desi Crew until next time……..(hopefully memorial day weekend?!?!)

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Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Jagriti Yatra _ from outside within

•January 15, 2015 • 16 Comments

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“in the next 20 years the planet will witness the biggest nation building exercise ever……….and you can be a part of it.” These words at the Jagriti Yatra launch on 24th Dec, 2014, gave me goosebumps. They stayed with me and were often reiterated along the course of the 8000 kms across India in the fortnight to follow. The days that followed took me on uncharted paths to cities I had often planned to visit but never did. But now I did, with a whole new agenda, an agenda to understand, learn, imbibe and embody. It was a journey to explore how we, the 450 Yatris could participate in “Building India through Enterprise”.

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As we set out, I started feeling the weight of all that i had packed with me, my apprehensions, reservations, notions and even ideologies. But, with the help of some exceptional souls as my fellow travellers I managed to shed some of it along the way, making space for all that I had to learn from them. I started as that person in the corner not knowing whom to talk to next and what to say for a conversation starter, and ended up with a so called PR team doing all the talking for me. On a more serious note, these were the people who in such a short span of time understood me for who I was, helped me open up and facilitated the Yatra for me to a great extent. 

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The Yatra was about meeting these 12 unique role models, hearing their life lessons, enquiring about their entrepreneurial struggles and most importantly drawing inspiration from their vision and passion. They truly were a handpicked  team of stalwarts so inspirational that they held the power to challenge you and empower you at the same time. Their work often belittled my attitude to life but at the very same time they made me believe that I have the power to change it. They were living examples of the famous saying “Be the Change you want to see !!”

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The word “entrepreneurship” has had its various meanings for me, but the Yatra added a dimension to it by prefixing the word “social” to it. The term “Social Entrepreneurship” took me for a ride. The first few days on the Yatra, I often pondered on what it really meant. Looked for answers in my fellow Yatris works, panel discussions and role model visits. Being the person that I am, I was extremely hesitant to ask someone and I am glad I didn’t. It was my journey to understand what it meant and specially what it meant for me.

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“Social Entrepreneurship” could be taking up a cause like Joe Madiath at Gram Vikas or Bunkar Roy in Tilonia and taking to rural life for fulfilment of the goals established. This would entail a simple life with value added through daily achievements towards the bigger picture. “Social Entrepreneurship” can be manifested as seen at Aravind Eye Care or Akshaya Patra where technological advancements and innovative business models can impact human lives in large numbers. And “Social Entrepreneurship” can be an Infosys which sustains over 150 thousand livelihoods through the employment generated and supports millions more through the 250 crores of CSR budget generate annually. This does leave the definition open-ended but it also entails that “Social Entrepreneurship” is what I define it to be. It depends upon how socially impactful is my entrepreneurial idea, no matter whether its urban or rural, not for profit or for profit and small or big.

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A lot of grey areas were filled with technicolor as the days passed by. Ambiguities were cleared and even the greatest road blocks and hurdles seemes surpassable and achievable. All this through the endless stories of success, failures and lessons learnt from what I call a “family of friends”, my fellow Yatris. I strongly recommend Jagriti Yatra to advertise it as “over 450 Role Models”, as every Yatri brought something so unique to that journey that no one else could. The greatest learning is often said to be from your peers and I can second that totally. Admiration and respect were attributes I could not stop associating towards the people I met and even the people I heard off but didn’t get a chance to meet. 

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Every morning was a new struggle for me. A struggle to break out of my shell and meet someone new, to learn something new and think of something new. As some of my friends would say “isn’t this the point of the Yatra?”. These friends became sort of crutches for me that tread the path ahead for me and guided me comfortably into conversations. They often came with recommendations on whom to meet and whom to definitely meet. I can definitely say that these instantaneous bonds are the ones to be cherished and nurtured for life, making them harder to let go than anything else. I miss those faces for their grin, for their constant judgment of my age, their sullen eyes when we bid adieu and for those wonderful souls that took shelter behind those faces. 

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“Yaaron chalo……badalne ki rut hai……..yaaron chalo…….sanwarne ki rut hai……” the yatra geet brought tears to the eyes every time it ended. These were tears of joy, of hope and of a passion that I felt in those rooms filled with 450 fellow Yatris, each one boiling with a desire to do and to see change. To be a part of it. This was indeed a breath of fresh air given the common living room conversations which often hear statements like “who will do it ?” and “nothing is going to change in India”. But, the Yatra gave the answers to who can, who should and who will do it. The assimilated energy in room that rose with that song is a signal to what lies ahead.

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What lies ahead is “steps” towards self building, community building, city building and all towards nation building. And this cannot be done alone. These steps need to be taken in tandem with each other, with society, with rural and urban communities and with the public and private sector. They need to be steps with an impact as someone rightly said “Success is when I add value to myself and Significance is when I add value to others.”

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These 15 days gave me what no travels over the last 25 years have given me. It gave me a set of friends to cherish, a purpose to work towards, a passion to be driven by, a motto to ‘turn my words into actions’, a sense of responsibility to utilise my education and resources, a desire to work for my country and country folk and above all it gave me a Reason. 

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“be empowered……….not entitled”

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Venezia 2.0

•November 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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A breather from an exhaustive couple of months was once again the Venice Biennale. The buzz around this year’s Biennale curation kept me planning this trip for months on end and after a series of travel glitches I eventually made it, to spend a few days amidst the fog, chilly winds and swarms of tourists. All this for the love of architecture and of course Italy.

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This time round I felt like a pro guiding myself around the city without a map, passing by familiar sites yet unfamiliar sights. The daily walk to the Arsenale seemed afresh every time, brought to life by the people and nature as it painted different hues across the skies. The city seemed surprisingly cleaner completely inverse to the growing tourist population by the year.

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Attempts at exploring alternative routes to the same places led me into treasure troves of enchanting neighbourhoods. Sun kissed hues peeling off the homes, dotted with bunches of flowers creeping out of colourful windows seemed the perfect way to take a break. The clotheslines weaving a web through some of the cobbled streets had me glued there with my camera for extended time spans that probably had the residents get uncomfortable with me clicking pictures of their underwears in my frame.

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As surprising as it may sound, I hadn’t been on a Gondola in my previous visits. Giving into touristy pangs I finally went on one of the “coveted” rides across the city and under the Rialto. The constant fear of crashing into other boats and adjacent walls had me holding onto the rails rather than my camera to capture my ride.

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Articles, reports and studies keep reiterating the rising sea levels and the indelible possibility of Venice sinking to join the world of lost cities and myths. These make me want to go back soon enough to see the city in all it’s glory once again and the Biennale draws me in yet again. Hope to witness many more to come and return to the Venezia once again for an exciting blog post. Till the next time let’s imagine seeing ‘Venice in the water’ !!

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P.S. I hope it never happens

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

 

 

Montreux

•July 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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A rally of ‘yes’ and no’s, months of planning and a lot of excitement led up to a bunch of cousins taking off for a Christmas in the majestic Suisse Alps. And most definitely the words Christmas and Switzerland couldn’t do without mentioning Montreux in the same sentence.

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Known for its jazz festivals and christmas markets, Montreux always held a spot in my to-do list. A picturesque lake town sprouting between the jagged alps and the surreal lake Geneva.

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A cruise on the lake, a stroll by the lake and castle on its shore seemed most attractive for a days visit to this charming place. The Chillon Castle painted the perfect image of Montreux’s medieval heritage as it stood with its modest footage along the expansive waters.

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Courtyards and  stairwells constructed a maze of gothic architectural chambers. The chambers overlooked the lake as rays of sunlight pierced inside lighting up the entertainment dressed in period attire. Local music of the region, guards in armour and wine chambers recreated a vintage charm.

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The slick motorway grew to be my favourite piece of the built environment with its slender piers elevating the ribbon like expressway over the slopes and around them too. Its crispness adjacent to the natural landscapes and the absence of any signs of footings and origins made it a pleasure to watch and capture.

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‘Picture perfect’ is what i would call Montreux to end this brief post !!

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p.s. thanks to the stranger for this picture !!

 

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Pushkar_Rajasthan

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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A drive on the surprisingly improved Rajasthan highways left me with glimpses of barren landscapes seldom dotted with bursts of colour lent by traditionally clad women and eclectically painted trucks. Mid-way to Pushkar, I finally managed to capture one of these frames while waiting at a tea stall where the aroma of local street food – vadas and kachoris made sure every passes by knew that they were in Rajasthan.

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Mythology positions Pushkar at a very important crux of Hinduism with its creation associated to have been by Brahma – the Creator and its ponds being courtesy the tears of Shiva – the destroyer. These associated religious significances have resulted in hundreds of temples having mushroomed across the city since the 14th century. Even today the temple town holds annual fairs and celebrations attracting millions of devotees and a number of tourists as well. The neighbouring islamic pilgrimage of Ajmer adds to local visitors and also to the holiness and sanctity of the region.

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My winter visits proved successful finding some water in these holy tanks which are largely dry or artificially irrigated given the desert like conditions arounds. White and beige temples, houses and havelis clamber down the steps/Ghats leading to these tanks almost generating a homogeneity in this organic growth. Women dressed in festive coloured sarees, men dressed in crisp white kurtas and flocks of pigeons add the life and activity to the place. Priests running up and down the stairs add to the commotion as they coax the pilgrims into performing extensive rituals towards the various deities, the sun and the water gods and often towards their spouses also.

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If the lake front is combed with temples, so is the inland with more elaborate religious complexes and organisations. The narrow streets, often not wide enough for even a four-wheeler are always alive with Rajasthani crafts and food. Polka dotted orange turbans, earthy leather bags, patterned printmaking blocks, piles of coloured powders and aromatic spices make up the Pushkar markets.

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The wrinkles on the old mans face, the crumbling facades and the musicians song, all have a story to tell. Singing folklores and religious hymns, the local artists lend a surreal charm to Pushkar and Rajasthan and successfully carry on the rich tradition of the region which we as urban residents have left behind in these places where we come from. My visits to Rajasthan tend to take a retrospective note and think about what I have left behind, a imaginative note on what these princely regions would have been like and an appreciative note as to how the heritage still prevails.

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A long due post, this brings back memories of cherished holidays and family celebrations with the hope for many more. Closing this one with a thank you note to a buddy for pushing me to keep working on these snippets from my travels.

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Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Miami

•June 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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A graduation trip, a family cruise, a much needed break after a crazy year……everything seemed to line up to get me to Miami, a city I had seen and pictured through movies and had long been waiting to visit, most importantly for my love of Art Deco. The endless South Beach combed in white sand and the warmth of sun felt almost heavenly after the never ending winter of New York. Miami felt so urban and yet so remote at the same time, with the beach and ocean drive transporting me to a completely different place, while the rest of the growing CITY seemed to be trying to hard to look like a CITY.

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The 20th century Art Deco has always been a personal favourite, but when complimented with Cadillacs, great music and some slick restaurants, Miami felt like it was out of the movies. The piercing heat also couldn’t keep me off the streets as I straddled along these architectural beauties, while my family cribbed and cringed to go back into the comforts of an air-conditioned vehicle. Never had I seen so much Art Deco at once, and ‘Oh it was wonderful’ as I often repeat myself describing my visit. The industrial graphic like ornamentation on the buildings was regularly complimented by a swaying palm tree, that sometimes rather than pleasing was more of an eyesore in the frame of my camera.

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Little had I known about the other landscape that Miami boasts of through its sprawling Botanical Gardens. The avid nature lovers and gardening enthusiasts – my parents, insisted we visited. The sensitive landscaping and careful attention to detail made the experience worthwhile. The natural yet designed water pools almost reminded me of my favourite ‘water lilies’ by Monet. Other exotic species grabbed our eyeballs at every turn showcasing a whole other world of tropical flora, rarely found in my native land, India.

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Miami left me with memories, incomplete memories……….that I long to complete over visits that I cannot wait to plan soon.

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Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

 

 

 

Cartagena

•March 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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After a series of freezing days in New York, the whiff of the warm and humid air at Cartagena airport felt almost like an out of body experience. Ok, maybe thats a bit too much, but it did feel great as the sunglasses came out and the puffy jackets went in. This beach city felt like the perfect start to my South American rendezvous, throwing much more at me than i was expecting.

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It was an eclectic mix of colourful homes mushroomed all over the older fabric, in contrast with the progressive skyline daunting the newer parts of the peninsula. The white towers(our hotel was one of these) almost seemed alien to the warm and cosy residential neighbourhoods. However, the historical fabric with all its charm couldn’t lured us into the walled city every single day and definitely every single night.

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This UNESCO world heritage site is definitely one of the best preserved pieces on that list that I have seen. It was extremely heartening to see owners and tenants touching up patches of luscious pink and earth mustards on barely off-coloured walls, to help make the place look impeccable round the clock. Balconies and bouganvillas adorned these facades to give them greater character and with stores and restaurants so seamlessly tucked into the walls. I could not help but click a picture of how even a Benetton store could look so pretty when in Cartagena.

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It wasn’t until a few hours that we felt the need to peek into every single courtyard we passed by, which furthered the mystery of the place. Often a time there was a swank little cafe nested in one of these and at times it was like a small dump yard. But the mosaics on the floors, chandeliers from the ceilings and the rustic ambience made each of them look intriguing. On our last night we did manage to find a table at one of these enchanting courtyard restaurants.

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But, in spite of the enticing shops and the decadent patisseries, the streets were the most amazing place to be. Every corner opened up 3 extremely inviting streets to enter, and we aimlessly roamed about witnessing hoards of people floating in one part and a quant walk in the other. Street artists, small vendors and food carts thronged plazas that would appear out of nowhere and coaxed us into halting a moment, and taking it all in before we moved on. And some of these plazas were the best places to be into the wee hours of the night entertained by local music and surprisingly mime artists.

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An extremely expensive cab ride to the fort seemed a rip off until I reached atop the structure. Breathtaking views of the city, further enhanced by the setting sun made for the perfect goodbye to the city. Watching the sun go down gave me time to take in these wonderful 3 days which I had no idea how they went by, and made me think of what would have I missed had we not made an error with our tickets and booked them for a day earlier than our planned date of departure.

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Signing off for Cartagena here, but not for Colombia. Medellin is up next, a whole new world of the latin landscape making sure that i keep coming back to Colombia and more of the continent.

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

 
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