Four reasons why visiting the Kochi-Muziris Biennale should be on your bucket list

At the Kochi Biennale

Fact: My first ever visit to the Kochi Biennale was on March 23, 2016 – just a week before it winds down. I am ashamed that I have not visited one of Kochi’s most potent attractions (not just in India, but around the world). Not once, but missed it twice, and the third time around when I visited it? I barely made it a week before it closes. But now that I have, here goes why you should too.

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Yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyardam, Kerala – all you need to know!

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam

Yoga vacation. The phrase conjures up visions of serene settings, enlightened devotees, and peaceful yoga practitioners. You get all these and more during a yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram at Neyyar Dam, near Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum – the state capital of Kerala).

I have been to the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam three times over the last 2 years for a yoga vacation. I have usually stayed at an average of 4-5 nights during each of my visits. While I have joked about my experience there in a previous blog, these vacations have been an immense grounding experience in our life. During our first visit, Mukund and I had no clue what to expect. But by the third visit, we quickly and easily slipped into the ashram schedule, even though it was a year since our previous visit.

Here are a list of things you need to know about visiting the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam for a yoga vacation.  

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Why I fell in love with the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

the naked boy

In my previous blog, I listed the basic information, including some tips and suggestions that will come in handy when you visit the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Now that I have got that formality out of the way, here goes why I fell in love with the Gardens as I spent close to eight hours across a weekend exploring it.

Day 1 at the Gardens: Spectacular. Immense. Incredibly well-thought, well-planned and well-laid out. I have only superlatives to describe my over 3 hours walk that first evening. And by that time, I had barely covered one-hundredth of this entire park. I ended that evening with the lights show (at 7:45 PM) at the Supertrees Grove that was simply spectacular. Yes, this word will occur a few times in this blog!

Light show

The sound and lights show at the Supertree Grove

Day 2 at the Gardens: After wrapping up the remaining business formalities the next day, I had close to 6 hours before I had to head to the airport to catch my flight back to India. I headed back again – the call of the Gardens was too strong! This time, I did both the Flower dome and the Cloud Forest (at least 2 hours each in both these exotic domes), explored the Indian, Chinese, and Australian heritage parks, and sat down to just stare and take it all in. After that, I had to simply say goodbye to this park, and head to the airport.

What was so special about the Gardens?

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Singapore’s Gardens By the Bay – a must-visit attraction!

GBTB Singapore

I traveled to Singapore on business during the third week of August to kick-start Suyati’s operations in that island country. The first step – to incorporate the company and open the bank accounts. Since it was a business trip, I did not expect to spend any time sight-seeing. I had already traveled to Singapore on vacation a couple of times before and had done the typical touristy stuff – the Merlion, Night Jungle Safari, Jurong bird sanctuary, the Singapore Flyer, Sentosa islands, the river cruise, Clarke Quay shopping  …yup, the works.

As I was talking to my CPA, he asked casually if I was planning to get some sight-seeing done. When I replied in the negative, he asked me to check out the Gardens by the Bay (GBTB or the Gardens) – a park constructed by the Singapore National Parks Board and dedicated to the public in October, 2011. I half-heartedly said yes, sure, if I find the time.

After the business formalities for the day were over, I did have time from 5 PM onwards. I hailed a cab and asked him to take me to the Gardens. 10 minutes later, my love story with the Gardens started.

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When the hunter shot You, were You sad, my Krishna, or were You glad?

From January 14th through the 19th, our family went on a pilgrimage to three divine places – Dwaraka, Somnath and Porbhander. The following image is that of Sree Krishna in Balka Mandir. Behind Him is the tree (still preserved, they say) under which He was sitting when Jara the hunter mistook His toe for the beak of a bird and shot Him. This incident was supposed to have happened on 18th February, 3012 BCE.

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Witness your thoughts. Say what?

Mukund and I spent 5 blissful days at the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam during our Christmas vacation. The days passed in a blur of back-bending (literally!) yoga classes and mind-blowing (again, literally!) meditation and Bhagavad Gita classes. Every day, we spent 4 hours in yoga classes, 3 hours in meditation and singing bhajans, 1 hour at the Gita class, and 1 hour doing karma yoga – helping to clean the ashram. We even attended a workshop on Bharatnatyam and tried out a few steps!

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The rape of our Gods in our temples

As the  word “rape” becomes de facto in our daily news and life, I would like to draw your attention  to a real problem that lakhs of devotees face everyday when visiting temples – the rape and abuse of our Gods.

Bear with me for a few minutes as I explain what I mean. This is based totally on my personal experience, and that of a few close friends who shared their experiences once I related mine. My intention is not to hurt any religious sentiments, but as true devotees we need to be fearless in voicing our anger when the system is wrong.

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The Feet that rules the world

I was in Pandhripur, Maharashtra last weekend. It has been my dearest wish to see Lord Vithala, and that wish came true on August 23, 2013. Mere words cannot describe the emotions and the happiness I felt when I saw the Lord’s form, but I sure am about to try!

The Feet that rules the world. And our hearts.

Can you think of a lord who waits to see His devotee

With patience, charm and with arms akimbo?

Can you describe a lord who runs to His devotee

With a smile on His lips and so willingly?

Can you imagine a lord who listens to His devotee’s whim

And comes speedily to where they sing of Him?

Can you conjure a lord who serves His devotee

Cooks, cleans, washes and even sweeps?

Can you believe a lord who has given His Feet

So that every devotee can touch and feel?

Can you divine a lord who has given His blessings

To all irrespective of caste, creed and belief?

If you can do so, then it is only my Vittala Lord

Only Vittala, only Vittala, Vittala, Vittala

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God’s Own Country indeed

During the last 3 weeks I visited three unique tourist spots in Kerala, my home state. Family and friends accompanied me as our road trip took us across the length and breadth of Kerala. For those of you who think I have way too much time on my hand (my boss for example!), these trips happened over 3 different week-ends.

And for those of you who have never visited this state shelved between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in the southern tip of India, this blog will not make any sense whatsoever! Kerala’s Tourism Department touts it as God’s Own Country and has successfully marketed it to the world. And to give the devil it’s due, they have been endorsed even by National Geographic. The National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named it “one of the top ten paradises of world” and “one of the fifty must see destinations of lifetime”.

Now for the places I visited – Kumarakom (backwaters), Kuttikanam (hill range), and Guruvayur (temple town). Kumarakom is verdant land surrounded by the backwaters near Kottayam. Famous for its bird sanctuary, Kumarakom is touted as the Venice of the East. Row boats, motor boats and house boats – I let life slide by as I watched the coconut trees and the paddy fields disappear from view. 

An hour to the south of Kottayam is Kuttikanam. We stayed in a resort at the top of one of the hillocks and the view was absolutely divine. The mist that surrounded us muted the tribal drums that came from the temple at the base of the hill and gave it an eerie and other-worldly feel. As the power outages were frequent, we were as close to nature we could wish for.

I literally came back to terra firma with a bump as we jolted across the real bad roads of Kerala (Detroit was heaven compared to this) to see my Guruvayurappan. For Krishna devotees, Guruvayur is one of the divine shrines that vies only with Tirupathi for its sanctity. In fact I think this is the only temple for Krishna devotees, but i have to admit I am biased and you may beg to differ. This temple town, with its roadside vendors and vegetarian eateries will delight any tourist, devotee or not. The four entrances to the temple is lined with shops that you have to pass through to see the Lord and many a time you end up spending more time (and money!) at these shops than inside the temple itself. I know my kids did!

How in God’s name did Kerala get such a wide and diverse greenery? What did we do to deserve this nature? Now the monsoon is upon us, and if you want to see nature in her overpowering glory, you have to visit the clean and scrubbed Kerala that the monsoon unveils during the next 3 months. 

What sheer joy to see the heavens open up, the earth soak up the water, and give off a unique smell (“manvasanai” in Tamil) that evokes memories of childhood when you willingly jumped in puddles of dirty water in your new shoes and uniforms on your way to school. I always loved the first day of school (usually during the first week of June) which coincided almost always with the first rains of the monsoon.

Mountains, hilly terrains, rivers, waterfalls, backwaters, temple towns, beaches – all in one State, all reachable within 6 hours of car travel. Yes, God’s Own Country indeed.

PS: If you have not heard of these places, go ahead and google them. And then visit them. You will thank me, right after you have danced in the monsoon showers, cruised slowly  in a houseboat, polished off  crispy vadas and cardamom tea, and counted 15 hues and shades of green.

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