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Last weekend in Kochi, a memorable slice of time

To me, travel is therapeutic at many levels. Whether I travel for work or leisure, or even to meet family obligations, I revel in the sensory overload that travel brings. Earlier this month, I was in Kochi to serve as external jury member for 3rd year architectural students at a relatively new private college. While that was an interesting experience in itself, the highlight of the trip was spending time with one of my closest friends and her family.

College buddies, especially if you’ve shared hostel rooms, clothes, intimate secrets and much more, have an understanding of each other that is rare and precious. Both of us found we had saved conversations up in our heads for years and years for the time we would meet and have a chance to have a leisurely conversation. So that was super fun. Just as much fun was interacting with her kids; who felt familiar after only two days of time together.

The ease of being with people who feel like family seeped into the one day we had free. We visited the touristy part of town, Fort Kochi, but we hardly had tourism on our minds. Instead, we wandered through artist Paris Mohan Kumar’s art exhibition at the iconic David Hall, a restored art gallery and cafe that was once a Dutch bungalow. The paintings, which were largely monochrome revolved around the themes of nature and human relationships with an emphasis on the female form, were fascinating in their ability to be complex and simple at the same time.

We then hung out in the cafe part of the building for a while, cooling down drinking mint iced tea and gazing onto the patch of Kerala green and the pristine white stone wall, solid like they built them in the 16th century. Talking, laughing, thinking. And having some unexpected deep conversations.

Soon enough, phone calls came in, errands were run and appointments were rushed towards. The afternoon went by in a tizzy of sushi tasting, professional commitments, shopping and driving around a city temporarily scarred by the construction of the Metro line.

A week later, I’m still carrying that slice of time at David Hall with me. Memories are not necessarily made of a famous piece of architecture, high culture or amusement parks. Nor of expensive meals, cruises and moonlit walks. They are equally made of ordinariness, of words exchanged with an 11-year old child wise far beyond her years, of time spent with someone who understands you better than yourself. Of laughing over spilt cold coffee and of counting ants climbing up a tree. And in the day of smart phone, of taking a goofy selfie.

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Let’s improve museums, but also create shared spaces to experience culture, explore identity

I started bemoaning the condition of Indian museums very early in life. I may have been eight or nine when I found myself peering through a stained glass at an exquisite Ming vase at Hyderabad’s Salarjung Museum. I remember being horrified and declaring an immediate ambition to become a ‘museumologist’, a term I was offered in an attempt by my bemused parents to add some vocabulary to what was clearly an emotional moment! Of course, my attitude of despair must have its roots in what I sensed around me, chiefly mum’s constant critique of how poorly Indians appreciated their own cultural heritage.

Today, as a mother of two eternally curious children, I am a vehement museum goer. No matter how dowdy or dusty, we go to as many as we can, as often as is possible. Not only to museums where collections are formally housed but also to archaeological sites that I see as museums of a different kind. Sometimes there is some interpretation offered, other times we have to do our own reading and research, but it is always interesting. And yes, with children now better traveled and exposed to international standards of preservation and interpretation, the questions on the quality of Indian museums are sharper.

Interestingly, they come with less angst. I don’t think my kids see life from the lens of Indian nationalism nor do they have that same view of India as an under-resourced nation fighting for its place among the cultures of the world. Instead, they seem to take things for what they are. ‘They could be better, but if it isn’t here, we shall see something else somewhere else!’- that’s what their attitude seems to suggest. Simply put, being Indian does not seem to be the focal point of their identity. Being city-bred, educated, English-speaking, internet-savvy, politically aware- these attributes seem more pronounced, and so they fit in easily with children of friends from other nations and contexts who are from similar backgrounds.

A few of my SPA students have taken up museums an other sites of heritage interpretation as their final design thesis projects. We have had intense discussions; for instance- Whose heritage are we choosing to interpret? Are we commodifying heritage? Is commodification ok if we also benefit communities? And then deeper issues about the self-perception of communities about what is their cultural heritage. All of these discussions highlight the vast differences in how people, across cultures and generations, perceive their identities and how sensitivity to a wide range of identities is crucial to nearly everything we do as interventionists- whether as architects, engineers, social workers, policy makers, lawyers and what have you.

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Refurbishing and adapting iconic architecture to new uses is imperative. Demolishing important markers of history is tantamount to erasing a section of our collective historical identity. Raj Rewal designed the Hall of Nations in 1972

To come back to museums and specially the debate after the pathetic and tragic case of Delhi’s Natural History Museum, clearly much needs to change in how we manage our museums. Whether the fix is in devolving management or in bringing them all under a single umbrella, the fact is that museums and all sites of heritage interpretation must be given the utmost importance in our public culture. I’d vote for bringing a larger number of sites into public use for a variety of uses, of course with attention to safety and long-term preservation. The Purana Qila hosts a dance festival in Delhi, as do the Khajuraho and Konark Temples. The Lodi Gardens is a fantastic urban space where families picnic, couples embrace, theatre groups rehearse and fitness enthusiasts work out and the Nehru Park is known for music performances and food festivals, where kids in keds holding badminton rackets will sometimes tumble into a Bhakti music concert! Many other spaces that are now being considered obsolete, like Rewal’s Hall of Nations in Delhi, can be refurbished and used practically even as they serve as markers of our modern history. Instead, they are being demolished and petitions to save them seem to be currently unheeded.

 

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On the 1st day of May this year, this past weekend, The Max Foundation hosted its fundraising and awareness event ‘Chai for Cancer’ at Lodi Gardens, leveraging the sheer beauty and evocative power of the heritage site for a great cause! Viji Venkatesh, Country Head, The Max Foundation claims patients feel positive vibes here.

There are similar sites across the country that offer a chance at cultural education through osmosis, that offer the freedom of expression and exploration, that are in themselves spaces of interpretation. These must be better integrated with the city fabric through transport, branding and the seeding of activities as and when appropriate. A strategy that works on improving the quality of museums as well as opening up the idea of cultural interpretation through the creative use of heritage-rich public spaces can achieve two important objectives. First, they will open culture out to a much larger number of people and in this, keeping spaces and events free and open to public is key. Second, the new and varied interpretations of culture born out of these new experiences will impact how young people view their identities; indeed, this will generate some much-needed thinking about the question of identity in our society. I can see this ruffling feathers too, but that’s part of the social churn and I believe the more space we give for this churning to happen, the better off we might be!

 

The Maidens Hotel, a sliver of ‘old world’ amidst Delhi’s chaos

A colleague had an amazing idea. To take a bunch of us away from our usual office conference room to an alternate location for a day long brainstorm. A retreat within the city, she called it. In her infinite wisdom, she chose The Maidens Hotel in Civil Lines. And she stuck to her plan despite the flimsy excuses that others offered to escape the imprisonment of a location far from the buzz!

I felt a bit cheated at getting no opportunity to explore this lovely property that was built in 1903 to host guests attending the famous Delhi Durbar. Here are a few hasty shots taken post sunset. I’ll be back for more!

   
    
 

A sight for sore eyes: Humayun’s Tomb

Visiting a heritage site always gives me a high. I’ve had people roll their eyes at me about my particular enthusiasm for ruins and tombs, palaces and serais, but there is a magic in the texture and aura of brick and stone that has stood there so long and seen so much change. The Humayun’s Tomb complex, so lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Foundation, is a real treat to visit. Perhaps ‘the’ showcase heritage treasure for Delhi at this time, as the city struggles year after year to get onto UNESCO’s Heritage City list (this year I hear it’s losing out to Amdavad). It’s a pity, but I do find that a number of Delhi’s important heritage sites are not well maintained, with no information to help visitors contextualize what they are experiencing and with very little connection to the city at large.

On the Saturday morning we rambled through the Humayun’s Tomb complex, we saw long lines of chattering school children, photography enthusiasts, tourists and families, all excited and many in awe. I learn something new each visit at the small exhibition set up at the entrance to the Tomb. This time, it helped me explain a bit of the history, architecture and cultural context of the monument to our visitors from the Netherlands.

Humayun’s tomb never fails to impress; its scale and proportions, its craftsmanship so perfect. But beyond its historical value and perhaps because of it, what Udai and me (we’ve both visited several times before) most enjoyed this time around were the beautifully landscaped spaces that surround the smaller monuments in the complex. Spaces that allow you to sit and contemplate life, spaces that involve a little climbing up and down and offer a sense of adventure. As I pen this post, it does occur to me that this is a metaphor for how in life side dishes are often far more pleasurable than the mains and what we consider the ‘extra’ often adds the best flavours!

Some snapshots from my iphone6.

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The beautiful restored archway is a visual treat indeed

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Isa Khan’s Tomb, particularly the walkable boundary wall, is a particular favourite. This is the ideal place to sit and watch, people and parakeets….

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When your pre-teen does not want to be in the picture with you, you find other ways…

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And then, miraculously, he consents to a twofie!!

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Some 160 members of Humayun’s family are buried in this structure. This row of tombs on the external plinth, without any covering or enclosure, caught my eye….

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Looking outside from inside the jali….there are many ways to put things in focus…

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Kolkata’s delights: Eclectic Fairlawn Hotel

I’d only been once to Kolkata before, a long time ago. And I’d been dying to go. Our team at work had been engaged in a field study on auto rickshaws in Kolkata and a consultative workshop in December was the perfect occasion for us all to go in an engage with the project a bit more.

My colleague Manish, who is never satisfied with the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, bullied us all into booking what he called “a quaint heritage property on Sudder Street”. It’s only when we got there that we realized this was the famous Fairlawn Hotel. With its interiors painted a bizarre green, its walls cluttered with newspaper clips, photographs and paintings, and its rooms full of eclectic curios, Fairlawn is a sensory explosion indeed!

We spent quite a few amused and excited moments recognising famous faces, including Patick Swayze and Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor (who apparently spent their honeymoon here!), several photographs of British Royals (I’m not they ever visited though!) and some very detailed water colours of Fairlawn that I particularly liked. Fairlawn’s infamous owner Violet (Vi) Smith, who was well known as a talented racconteur and host, passed away at the ripe old age of 93 only in 2014! One could see, standing there in those rooms full of atmosphere, that Fairlawn had seen some really interesting times! The building, I gather from news reports online, is over 200 years and was inherited by Vi from her Armenian mother. Through its history, it has been a home, a barracks and mess for Canadian airmen during the World War II and finally, a hotel that was a must-visit for foreign visitors in Kolkata for years. Vi’s daughter Jennifer runs it now.

Amid our busy work schedules, we managed to sneak in some crazy pictures of ourselves in Fairlawn as well as some moments of leisure chatting while standing in its historic corridors.

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Manish and Persis lunching in the outdoor area of Fairlawn’s restaurant, a popular hangout for the hip and cool young of Kolkata

 

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The dining area….green is the signature colour of Fairlawn!

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Persis, all ready for our workshop, in the hotel’s breakfast room

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Post-workshop goofiness! Ming vase? Ooh la la!

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And the Bankura horse too!

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Lovely water colours, my favourite wall art in Fairlawn

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Another one…

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The upstairs living room where Vi held court

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The stairs going up to the rooms

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Outside the rooms, hangout space

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The goofy selfie- Moi, Persis, Manish and Shamindra

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Grins in the mirror

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Divya Agrawal’s sketches and words bring Jaipur alive #TheCityasMuse Runners Up

Divya is an artist and a designer. She is greatly inspired by nature, cultures, patterns and places. An architect by training, she Divya in Mumbai and co-authors a Design blog On the Design Boat.

Comment: The size of the computer screen (and some of you might be reading this on a mobile phone or tab) doesn’t do justice to Divya’s enormously detailed and accurate sketches. Through her beautiful drawings and eloquent writing, she has been able to offer a glimpse into the rich heritage and street life of the vibrant city of Jaipur.

Jaipur

An omni-present array of jalis, cupolas and jharokhas; red crowned with the desert brown, streets brimming over with color and people, rickshaws, cows, food, fabric and divinity. This is the walled city of Jaipur, a place that has enthralled and inspired me for the longest time.

A city, besides being a destination, is a celebration of its occupants and their culture. It is a living canvas with a pulse, a unique style; a repository for history, a landscape that is constantly colored by the people who live out their dreams & aspirations in it.
Home to a multitude, a source of livelihood to many, a city can also be an inspiration, companion and muse. Being a history and architecture lover, the Pink City’s grandeur and detail envelop me. I have explored Jaipur on foot over many journeys, a sketchbook in hand, from the rooftops in its bazaars to the calm and desolate streets of old Amer; falling in love with it time and over again.

A Street in the Walled City, Jaipur

A Street in the Walled City, Jaipur

The walled city lives at a pace that defies comprehension, life throbbing effortlessly and endlessly around its pink facades. I feel transported into surrounds of another era – so profuse is the striking succession of facades, replete with latticed openings, balconies and arches. The city surprises me at every turn – be it discovering calm courtyards behind bustling shop fronts, or, landing in the midst of vast chaurahas big enough to double up as bus and rickshaw stands with idle parking for cows alongside…. Equally mesmerizing is the transformation of these spaces. As shops down shutters for the day, temple bells welcome darkness and aartis fill the soundscape, permeating my soul with devotion and calm.

Hawa Mahal from the ‘Badi Chaupad’

Hawa Mahal from the ‘Badi Chaupad’

At times the chaos and noise magically disappear, like inside the Hawa Mahal, just off one of the city’s busiest streets. And then, as I peep out of one of its latticed windows, I can’t help but marvel at its architecture – who did ever think of a wall for a palace? Moving further on entering Jantar Mantar, I catch a glimpse of the City Palace and the Nahargarh Fort – three different kinds of architecture in a snapshot!

View from Jantar Mantar

View from Jantar Mantar

I find a foil in the invigorating, sometimes exhausting chaos of the city in some very unusual and calm historic spaces on the outskirts, including the abandoned city of Amer, complete in its breathtaking remains.

A Street in Amer

A Street in Amer

This unique intersection of people, culture and landscapes has been a deep inspiration to the explorer and artist in me. I have found tremendous joy in sketching Jaipur’s environs, experiencing its interiors, interacting with its people and discovering their crafts. Sights, sounds and smells of a place make for a complete experience. With it’s palate satiating offerings of desert specialties, lassi, kachouris and ghevar, the city makes sure that the foodie in me too never has enough of it, beckoning to relive the experience yet again!

Note: The text and images contained in this document are copyrights of the author. Material contained herein cannot be used in any format for any purpose other than mentioned in the contest guidelines.

Activism is no longer an option: Embracing it has been a reward

My FB page is a muddle this week. In between posts on seismic safety & disaster relief, and images of protests against the destruction of the Aravalli forests around Gurgaon, there are images of smiling me posing in a variety of sarees sourced from across India. At a glance, this may come across as insensitive, but I see these as the myriad forms of activism that have come to fill my life.

There are moments when I feel frustrated because we are having to fight so much for stuff that generations above us took for granted. Think green surroundings, clean air, an expectation of a human response if you had a road accident, the ability to eat healthy and affordable food, the struggle to find support for the arts….. I can go on and on. Then I remind myself that it is my responsibility and my job to stand up for what I think is worth preserving, encouraging, what I believe is worth fighting for.

This is not activism that leaves me drained and demoralized; not activism that takes away from other important things in life. This is activism that energizes me and I believe there are many ways to build enjoyment into these efforts.

Take for instance, the walk on Sunday morning (26 April 2015) to Save the Aravallis. We, like many others from Gurgaon and Faridabad, made a family outing of it, turning up in color coordinated outfits to hear eminent speakers and activists, hold banners and discuss our concerns with other like-minded people. The value that our participation brought to the cause is evident, but the value it brought to our lives is so much more. For my kids, they are learning early to ‘walk the talk’. Udai is working on animal rights and forest conservation for a school project and this was the most logical extension of what he has learnt. Aadyaa, born with an immense love for nature, is up in arms about the cause. [Note: Watch out for a fresh blog post on this, with more detailed information about the issues and the link to a petition to save the Aravallis]

Listening intently to details about the Aravallis, what they mean to us, what we plan to do to save them, etc

Listening intently to details about the Aravallis, what they mean to us, what we plan to do to save them, etc

Happy to join a large group of people who care!

Happy to join a large group of people who care! Photo credit: Seema Rao/Let’s Walk Gurgaon

The other piece of activism I want to highlight is the #100SareePact. It’s been pure joy. I don’t mind the preparation and the little bit of extra time it takes in the morning to drape a saree;. this has to be one of the most worthy causes I’ve stepped in to support. By wearing a saree, I support an entire industry of craftspeople and artists (weavers, dyers, block printers, painters, embroiderers) and a whole chain of distributors, accessory manufacturers, tailors, etc. I reinforce a sense of pride in my culture and traditions, I celebrate the relationships and circumstances that make a saree far more special that any other garment in Indian culture. I also get to feel good about myself everyday! Check out my gallery to take a peek!

Day 2 ‪#‎100SareePact‬ A gift from my mother. She bought this lovely cotton at a small weaving Centre near Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu. Joining the saree craze is Aadyaa who was salivating over mums new black and white acquisition this morning; here she is draping the fabric over her night suit!

Photo is a bit blurred, but the spontaneous joy with which my daughter draped my mum’s saree to give me company totally justifies the immense commitment the #100SareePact demands!

All in all, what I’m learning is this: One doesn’t have to give up to be an activist, though there are sacrifices to be made (waking up early on a Sunday morning can be tough!). For me, it is no longer a choice to live inside a cocoon, believing all will be well of its own accord. I am inspired in this by many friends who dedicate a lot more time than me working hard to ensure that traffic lights are put up, corrupt officers are booked, the destitute are aided, that marginalized voices are heard in policy making and so on. To stand there in support of the good work that they are doing is my small way of standing by them, of saying I care.

‘Meeting’ the Magna Carta at Salisbury #democracy #rights #justice

We swung by Salisbury on our way from Stonehenge to Bath. Walking towards the cathedral, built in the 13th century, I immediately recalled Ken Follet’s ‘Pillars of the Earth’, one of the most enjoyable books I have read about the construction of the first Gothic cathedral in England, set in a fictitious place called Kingsbridge. The author admits himself in an interview that the fictional cathedral he recreates in his book resembled Salisbury closely.

Gothic construction was a new technology in those times and the ability to create tall soaring structure that appeared light instead of the squat, heavy stone buildings they were used to certainly changed the experience of visiting the church drastically. Though I’m sure the Gothic cathedrals in Amiens and Lyon are more impressive, I really liked Salisbury, with its faux cloister and Catholic-turned-Church of England interiors.

But what was really fun about visiting the cathedral was ‘meeting’ the Magna Carta or The Great Charter, which is a document signed way back in 1215. Though the barons who protested the tyranny of King John did so to protect their own property and rights, two tenets from the document became the founding principles for democracy and common law in England, and consequently the world over.Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)

Consider these two tenets, keeping in mind the context of feudalism at the time they were written:

39. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.

For the first time, the king was no longer above the law. For the first time, the common man was entitled to justice. For the first time, the King (or Queen, as I remember Alice in Wonderland) could not scream “Off with his head!” and expect someone to carry that order out. It really hit me as I stared at the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, that many before us have fought hard for the rights we take for granted today!

And yet, so many continue to be unaware of their rights and in many countries, oppressive dictators continue to deny people basic rights and freedoms. That history not only is cyclical but also that different geographies experience their own cycles of oppression and freedom, making the world a hard place to understand.

I focused on the Magna Carta’s simplicity and directness and willed myself to absorb the meaning of those words. Not just in terms of being a citizen of my country but also in how I judge myself and those around me.

The tall Gothic spire of Salisbury

The tall Gothic spire of Salisbury. Tall, slender, pointed arches are distinctive of the period. The arches transferred the weight of the structure to the ground without the need for massive base structures. A lighter looking structure was possible and the eyes traveled upwards in a gesture of praise and submission to God above!

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Reflection of the stained glass windows in the baptismal font

Reflection of the stained glass windows in the waters of the baptismal font

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The mysticism of the past: Visiting Stonehenge

I’ve wanted to visit Stonehenge since the year 2000. Back then, I was pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and taking a course in historic preservation. Professor David Woodcock encouraged me to pursue my interest in cultural landscapes, and with his help (he leveraged his contacts at English Heritage and got them to send me every piece of research they had in their possession!) I wrote a great term paper on Stonehenge.

The mysticism of this circle of stones has stayed with me ever since. It’s the kind of place that evokes in me an unnamed indescribable fascination for history. I wonder how humans in those long bygone days conceived the world around them, how they built their social fabric and how they sowed the seeds for the complexities of existence that we take for granted today.

Stonehenge is a neolithic site created from enormous stones over different period of time probably to understand or pay obeisance to the elements of nature, namely the movement of the sun across the sky around the year. It is part of a larger landscape of monuments scattered around this area, dating from 4000 BC to about 1600 BC. Many of these, and more are being excavated and interpreted even now, seem to be ritual gathering places, burial grounds and they reiterate how important birth and death, religion and rituals must have been to ancient humans. No one knows how they transported these gigantic stones from far away to the site, and its hard to imagine the complete monument today when you see only a ruin from which stones have been taken away or that has degenerated with time.

It is, however, possible to feel the primal energy when you stand there next to Stonehenge. A sense of mystery and strength, of peace even, a dedication to the powers that be! This time, I had only an hour to see it, but it would be fun to return one day to this World Heritage Site and walk the entire landscape that includes Stonehenge, Avebury and surrounding areas.

Stonehenge is now accessed through this beautiful visitor's centre. It is impressive how well heritage sites are managed in the UK.

Stonehenge is now accessed through this beautiful visitor’s centre. It is impressive how well heritage sites are managed in the UK.

Sense of scale!

Sense of scale!

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A very happy me!

A very happy me!

A very happy Nupur too...

A very happy Nupur too…

Looks different from every angle. As you move around it, Stonehenge transforms

Looks different from every angle. As you move around it, Stonehenge transforms

Helps understand something of why it was built

Helps understand something of why it was built

How tiny the man is, how huge the stones

How tiny the man is, how huge the stones

Smooth stones, rough stones....

Smooth stones, rough stones….

_DSC7988The reconstruction of neolithic homes near the Visitor Centre really added value to the visit for me, as one could better imagine what life was like back then, bringing Stonehenge back from a monument of mystery to one that was used for specific purposes by real people!

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I miss my kids when I travel without them and here, I was tickled by how differently this one was experiencing the space as compared to an adult!

I miss my kids when I travel without them and here, I was tickled by how differently this one was experiencing the space as compared to an adult!

_DSC8001_DSC8002Also, a mention must be made of how well the site and visitor flow is managed. I was surprised to know that the entire 6500 acres of the World Heritage Site is owned and managed by English Heritage or the National Trust and that even the land around is owned by the armed forces and other government agencies so that the disturbances to the site and the experiences are minimal! It is possible to walk for miles through fields and woods to explore important prehistoric sites.

There’s a lot of fascinating info about Stonehenge online, if you want to read more….

Southwark through a local’s eye: A walk along the Thames in #London

I’ve anticipated this London trip for so long and yet have had little time to plan an itinerary. A work trip for the most part, I knew my touristic experiences would need to be squeezed in. I’ve opted to live with a friend, someone I’ve known since college and so, by default, I’ve been let into her little world. I let her lead me through her neighbourhood on my first day in what locals consider “the greatest and most beautiful capital city in the world”!

We started our stroll with a visit to her local square. Kids kicked a football around, a few stalls were selling trinkets and toys. The residential neighbourhoods we walked past were still and sleepy. A dog barked at us, a baby gurgles, the locals stood out in the sun in bunches, satiated with pints of beer and lazy lunches.

The neighbourhood square

The neighbourhood square

Riverward..on the way

Riverward..on the way

My friend lives in the London Borough of Southwark, south of the Thames and close to the London Bridge. And our walk took us river-ward. An area with Roman origins, the riverfront we walked onto is rich with wharfs and restored warehouses. On a surprisingly sunny yet balmy Saturday afternoon, the place had a zippy, young feel to it. Families out with their children, friends catching a drink at the pubs and restaurants that lined the Thames, that sort of thing.

Posh apartments,  redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

Posh apartments, redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

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The ramps that took the cargo from the qyayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

The ramps that took the cargo from the quayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

My first glimpse of the Thames...gasp!

My first glimpse of the Thames…gasp!

Love the clutter!

Love the clutter!

View across the river

View across the river

Wine stop!

Wine stop!

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Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over...

Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over…

The sun lit up the Thames and the famous landmarks that were spotted out to me dazzled and shone. The Tower Bridge, of course, the City Hall designed by Norman Foster and, as my friend put it, a miniature of the Bundestag Dome we saw in Berlin, and the HMS Belfast right there in the centre of the river. We walked across and around the Tower of London where, along with the swarms of tourists, the sea of ceramic poppies greeted us, a recently installed commemoration of the World War I in its centenary year.

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City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river...

City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river…

Walking around the Tower of London.  I was here 15 years ago...

Walking around the Tower of London. I was here 15 years ago…

The poppies...oh the poppies!

The poppies…oh the poppies! Blood red and stunning

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It's Renzo Piano's latest addition to London's skyline

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It’s Renzo Piano’s latest addition to London’s skyline

A surprising detour through the upmarket St Katherine Docks where the Queen’s gilded boat rests and where I was amused to see The Dickens Inn, rebuilt in the style of a 17th century timber-framed building and apparently inaugurated by the famous writer’s grandson. That the author spent a part of his life in this part of London is well-known but it was had to reconcile the images of Dickensian London in my head with the extensively redeveloped swank sights before me!

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine's is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine’s is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

err....like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

err….like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

Ceramic panels we walked by...

Ceramic panels we walked by…

Posing in front of the Dickens'

Posing in front of the Dickens’

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local's eye is the BEST way to do so!

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local’s eye is the BEST way to do so!

No, can't wipe the smile off!

No, can’t wipe the smile off!

And thus, after being introduced to this delightful part of London, I dragged my jet-lagged self back at last night, happily tired and looking forward to more good times here!

 

 

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