Lessons from a month of cycling through Amsterdamse Bos

If you are following this blog, you probably already know that I live in Amsterdam. And practically every day for this past month of glorious summer, I’ve spent an hour cycling through the ‘forest’ near my home. Life and weather permitting, of course!

It dawned on me that there are a few lessons I’ve learnt from my one month of cycling through Amsterdamse Bos. I’ve jotted them down below:

1. You will significantly increase your protein intake. Every time I’ve opened my mouth to talk while cycling or unknowingly breathed through my mouth, insects have flown straight into my food pipe 🤮

2. On the odd day you’ve forgotten to wear your sunglasses, those very same insects will fly straight into your eyes 😳

3. On the days you have your sunglasses on and your mouth is tightly shut, the insects will find a way into your nostrils 😤

4. You can’t cycle and birdwatch, at the same time. When you suddenly spot a Western March Harrier sitting on a pole and come to a loud screeching halt, all the birds will fly away, including said Western Marsh Harrier. Four close sightings of this beautiful bird, yet, not a single picture ☹️

5. You will be overtaken by that odd guy who cycles with his hands tied behind his back! 😬

6. Runners will not stick to the lane earmarked for them. They insist on taking over the cycling lane, to prove that they can run faster than you can ever cycle! 🙄

7. All the luscious summer berries growing in the low bushes have been peed on by dogs 😳

8. And don’t even get me started on trying to photograph while cycling. I’ve tasted grass a few times! (Not the grass which is smoked or baked into space cakes, I mean the real grass found in parks and meadows) 😬

Jokes aside, Amsterdamse Bos has been incredible!!! Here’s visual proof of what a magical place it is! 😍

(all iPhone images)

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For more information about visiting Amsterdamse Bos, click here.

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The A-Z of Mumbai

The hubs & I enjoyed Jerry Pinto’s alphabet ode to Bombay / Mumbai so much, that over breakfast this morning, we made our own list. Just for fun!

Here’s the link to the original piece which appeared in The Hindu on May 20th, 2019  – An alphabet of hope for the city of dreams.

Our list is typed below. Everyone has their own version of the city. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

A is for the Art deco district which gave Mumbai another UNESCO site, Aarey Milk colony, and that feeling of ‘aamchi’ (ours) which makes everyone who comes here, call it home. And autorickshaws! NO, we don’t call them tuk-tuks. It’s either ‘auto’ or ‘rickshaw’!

B is for Borivli National Park, the green lung of the city and home to over 40 leopards, the highest leopard/carnivore density in the world; and of course, Bandra – the queen of the suburbs. Not to forget, the BEST buses which ferry thousands across the city, every day.

C is for the coastal road we don’t want, and all the places that make the city what it is – Churchgate, Chowpatty, Crawford Market, Chor Bazaar. And let’s not forget, cutting chai!

D is Dharavi. Please don’t call it a slum. This is where life thrives despite every possible adversity. D is also for dabeli, dhokla, and all the other snacks from Gujarat that have become Mumbai’s own

E is for the East India Company which left it’s indelible mark on this city, Elphinstone College (1856), and Eros theatre

F is for the fire temples of the Parsis*, falooda at Badshah’s, and the flamingos that visit every year

G is for the Gateway of India, built to welcome King George V in 1911, the Global Pagoda in Gorai, the gymkhanas of the city, and gola, ganna juice, and all the street food you can enjoy here

H is for Hanging Gardens and the Old Woman’s Shoe

I is for great public institutions like the IIT, and ice halwa!

J is for Juhu beach, Jimmy Boy’s for delicious Parsi food, and Jehangir Art Gallery

K is for the Kolis, the original inhabitants of Mumbai, King’s Circle, named after (you guessed it!) King George V, Kanheri Caves, the rockcut Buddhist monument dating as far back as 1st century BCE, the once ubiquitous kaali-peelis (black & yellow taxis), K. Rustom’s icecream sandwich, Krackjack biscuits, …….

L is for Lalbaugcha Raja, Mumbai’s most loved deity

M is for Mumbadevi, the goddess after which the city is named, the morgue (jasmine) flower, and mawa cake. Then there’s the Mithi River, which is now getting a good cleaning, and Mondegar, or Mondy’s as we’d call it.

N is for the Nano, the cheapest car in the world, Navi Mumbai (New Bombay), and Natural ice cream

O is for the Mumbai-special ‘one by two’, and the hearty omelette pav

P is for the Portuguese who handed over the Seven Islands of Bombay to the English, and Parle-G, Mumbai’s favourite biscuit

Q is for the Queen’s Necklace, Marine Drive

R is for Rhythm House, the legendary music store that lost out to downloadable music, the Rang Bhavan that no longer is, Regal Theatre, and the Railways, the lifeline of the city

S is for Sassoon Docks, the first wet dock in the city (built 1875), the much-loved Strand Book Store which closed last year, and the Sea Link

T is for the endless range of thalis – Malwani, Gujrati, Rajasthani, North Indian , South Indian, etc; and the city’s beloved Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

U is usal, misal and all the delicious Maharashtrian** snacks

V is Versova beach which happens to be the world’s largest beach clean-up project, Vasai Fort, and Virar trains

W is for WSD (Welfare Of Stray Dogs), the city’s favourite animal charity

X is for Xavier’s college, alma mater to so many of us

Y is for Yazdani, and all the other timeless Irani cafes like Britannia, Kyani’s and the now-closed Bastani’s

Z is for the zunka bhakar stalls which feed Mumbai’s masses

*********************************************************************

*Parsis are the Zoroastrian community of India

**Mumbai lies in the state of Maharashtra and is the state’s capital

 

 

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Khonoma, India’s first ‘Green Village’

I first visited Khonoma, for a day in December 2017, during the Hornbill Festival. And ever since, I’ve been wanting to write about this remarkable village and its community-led conservation success story. I’m so glad this story found a suitable home in Ensia, a solutions-focused nonprofit publication reporting on our changing planet. Ensia is powered by the Institute on the Environment — University of Minnesota and is a member of the Solutions Journalism Network & Institute for Nonprofit News.

Please click on the image below to read the article.

 

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Today, 31st March, also marks the completion of 5 years of No Roads Barred. This blog was the first step in what I’m sure will be a lifetime of writing and photographing. I know I don’t post as often as a “blogger” really should, but what I care about most, is telling stories that matter. So here’s to years and decades of writing-photographing stories that can elicit change. Thank YOU for following along! 🙂

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On International Women’s Day 2019

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I know I’m a day late with this post, but I’d still like to pay tribute to all the brave and resilient women I’ve met across rural India in the past 18 months. In addition to being wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and homemakers, these hardworking ladies are also farmers, weavers, fisherwomen, homestay hosts, guides, drivers, cooks, and a whole range of other roles.

I can’t even begin to imagine the hardships these women face on a daily basis. They cope with so many challenges, personal and systemic, despite their lack of education, and with very limited financial resources. And yet they continue to have a smile on their faces and generous hearts. They are nothing but welcoming & kind. Some incredibly memorable interactions with these ladies! 💕

(Women featured in the below montage are from the Indian states of Maharashtra, Assam, Nagaland , Madhya Pradesh & Uttar Pradesh).

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I’d like to especially mention Sheroes Hangout in Agra, which I visited a few weeks ago. This small but cheerful cafe, located in the vicinity of the Taj, is a testament to the strength of the women who manage it – all of them acid attack survivors. I spoke to the girls on duty about several things, including their dreams and aspirations, all shaped (positively, mind you) by the heinous crime committed against them.

So if you ever happen to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, don’t forget to stop by the Sheroes Hangout. You will love these real-life superwomen! The Sheroes Hangouts in Agra and Lucknow are an initiative of the Chhanv Foundation. A more detailed blog post follows soon.

 

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Ringing in the ‘Year of the Pig’ at the He Hua Temple, Amsterdam

With Chinese New Year just round the corner, the Hubs and I are looking forward to returning to the serene He Hua Temple, to welcome the ‘Year of the Pig’. During our six years in Singapore, we started a tradition of visiting a Chinese temple for Lunar New Year, and will soon be celebrating our second CNY in Amsterdam. In 2016, I even got to welcome the ‘Year of the Monkey’ in Mumbai.

I’m pleased to share more about the He Hua Temple in Amsterdam, via an article for the Jan-Feb’19 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore). Founded by the Fo Guang Shan order of Taiwan, this temple is the first and the largest temple in Europe to be built in the traditional Chinese palace style.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

2019_jan-feb_he hua temple

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

If you’d like to visit the temple during the CNY celebrations, you can view the schedule at this link. Festivities begin on New Year’s Eve (4th Feb).

For now, where ever you are in the world, I wish you a fabulous ‘Year of the Pig’!

🍊🍊 Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah! 🍊🍊

(Happy New Year! Be prosperous!)

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‘Weaving a future’ in rural Assam, India

My first published article of 2019 is here! This is the heartwarming story of Bodo weaver Sama Brahma, who lives in rural Assam, in the northeastern corner of India.

This also happens to be my first contribution to the highly respected People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), founded by senior Indian journalist P. Sainath.

Oct 2017. I first met Sama at the Aagor Daagra Afad office in Lower Assam. Her shy smile lit up the room. Sama & I do not have a language in common, so a kind Aagor staff member translated from Hindi to Bodo, & vice versa. That day, I got to know a little bit about Sama, her family, and her life. At that point, I had no idea I’d ever be meeting her again.

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Sama Brahma, photographed at the Aagor office, in October 2017

Nov 2018. I visited Sama at her home in a remote village of Lower Assam, along with Rahimol Narzary, the manager at Aagor.

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Sama Brahma, photographed at her home, in November 2018

This time, I got to know a whole other side of Sama – her tenacity and determination with regards to her children’s education, especially that of her daughter. She said, “I weave so that my daughter can become the first girl from our village to graduate.” 😮😮😮

Her words still ring in my ears. To hear this from a barely-literate woman in remote, rural India, made me so happy! It was a real privilege to meet and interview Sama for this piece for PARI. So without further ado, here’s the link to the article: Weaving a future

For more on the weavers of rural Assam, please read my posts:

A few glimpses of rural Assam, India

Meet the empowered women of rural Assam, India

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Full throttle into 2019!

As I begin 2019 with exciting writing and photography projects on the horizon, I take one quick look at the year gone by.

For starters, I got published in an Indian publication for the very first time, in 2018. In the past, I’ve been published in Singaporean magazines, Dutch publications, a cross-cultural magazine, but never in an Indian publication. So when The Better India accepted my piece about the weavers of rural Assam, I was thrilled! The story of these brave and resilient women is very close to my heart, and I’m glad I was able to share it via this powerful forum.

Interestingly, this is also the first time I’ve been published online (besides my blog, of course!). For more on the weavers of rural Assam, please read my posts:

A few glimpses of rural Assam, India

Meet the empowered women of rural Assam, India

I’m also especially thankful for all the appreciation my images received in 2018. On Instagram, my pictures were re-shared by Incredible India, Himalayan Geographic, Wildlife SOS, EverydayMumbai, DutchReview, and some others. I haven’t included all of the reposts here but I genuinely appreciate the love from these wonderful organisations! 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

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Strangely, despite my continued discomfort with technology, photography is now such an integral part of what I do. I’m looking forward to all the visual storytelling 2019 has in store!

And if you aren’t already following me on Instagram, I’m at @noroadsbarred.

Here’s wishing you a 2019 filled with many incredible achievements and exciting adventures! Full throttle ahead, my friends! Cheers!

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Winter photo-exhibitions in the Netherlands

For a photography enthusiast like me, one of the big joys of living in the Netherlands, are the many compelling photo-exhibitions held over the course of the year. These exhibitions feature a wide spectrum of image-makers, both past and present; and serve as an inspiration for my own photography and visual storytelling work.

For this piece in the Winter issue of ACCESS magazine, I’ve put together a list of photo-exhibitions in the Netherlands, on display during the next few months. These showcases give us an opportunity to make sense of the world around us, through the eyes (and lenses) of several master photographers.

Hopefully, this article is useful to photography buffs visiting the Netherlands, in winter. Enjoy!

Please click on the image below to read the PDF of the article.

Pg1_ACCESS magazine Winter 2018_Art

Read about places in the Netherlands here – ScheveningenKeukenhof, Delft, Amsterdam, & Leiden.

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The Volkenkunde Museum – Leiden, Netherlands

My first visit to the Volkenkunde Museum (the National Museum of Ethnology) in Leiden, was not to peruse its extensive collection. Rather, I was there in May 2018 for the annual WorldFair, which turned out to be a delightful celebration of world cultures; with music, dance performances, food, and handicrafts from all around the globe. Of course, lots of positive vibes too!

As I walked into the Volkenkunde that day, my attention was drawn to the imposing totem pole in its garden. This led me to dig a little deeper into the story of this North American indigenous icon, and into the history of the museum itself.

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The imposing Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw totem pole in the garden of the Volkenkunde Museum

I wrote this article about the Volkenkunde Museum for the Sep-Oct’18 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore). Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

2018_Sep-Oct_Volkenkunde

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

Read about other places in the Netherlands here – ScheveningenKeukenhof, Delft, & Amsterdam.

To read my PASSAGE article on the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, please click here.

 

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India@72

On India’s 72nd Independence Day yesterday (15th Aug 2018), I took some time to put together a montage of some of my favourite images from my 2017 travels through the country. During four incredible months there, I traveled to the states of Assam & Nagaland in northeast India, Chattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh in central India, Uttar Pradesh in north India, & of course, was based in my home-state of Maharashtra in western India. Visiting non-profits working in remote parts of the country, under the most difficult of circumstances, was a truly educational (and humbling) experience for me.

My images pay tribute to an India rarely seen, and rarely ever experienced. Each picture has been captioned below to provide you some background.

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(r = row, c = column)

r1c1: CM, the senior-most weaver I met in Bodoland, Assam, holds up the last dokhona (a sari-like garment worn by Bodo women) she had woven, about a year prior to our meeting. In her mid-60s now, she no longer weaves because of her poor eyesight but I had an incredibly fascinating discussion with her. The dokhona she’s holding up is more specifically known as a bidon, as it does not have any woven motifs.

r1c2: A procession of camels creates a roadblock on the outskirts of Raipur city, in the state of Chattisgarh in central India

r1c3: The national bird of India, the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) photographed in Manas National Park, Assam; a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This male peafowl was busy drying itself after a heavy shower.

r1c4: A Naga woman in Chizami village weaves at home using the traditional back-strap loom. She is one of the 600 weavers who are part of the Chizami Weaves initiative of North East Network, a women’s rights organization

r2c1: A common sight in central India – bright yellow mustard flowers against the backdrop of a blue, tribal house. Houses of the Gond and Baiga communities in the region tend to be painted blue as they believe that this colour drives away mosquitoes and insects. This photograph was taken on the outskirts of Kanha National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

r2c2: C, a Koli woman, prepares the ‘Bombay Duck’ fish, to be hung out to dry. Kolis are the original inhabitants of Mumbai city and most members of the community are engaged in fishing or fishing-related occupations.

r2c3: Phoolkali (in front) & Maya are two of the several elephants rescued by Wildlife SOS to date. Phoolkali is about 60 years old and used be a begging elephant while Maya, once a circus elephant, is about 42 years old. They are photographed here out for their daily evening walk at the Elephant Conservation & Care Centre, in Mathura, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

r2c4: Performers from the Yimchungru tribe gather outside their ‘morung’ (young men’s dormitory) at the Naga Heritage Village, in Kisama, Nagaland, during the 2017 Hornbill Festival.

r3c1: Nilesh Kushram, a talented young artist from the Gond tribe, seen here with one of his paintings. Gond paintings are extremely detailed and intricate, and they reflect the close connection the Gonds share with the forests they live in. Photographed at Shergarh at Kanha, a beautiful tented wildlife camp, located on the outskirts of Kanha National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India.

r3c2: The badly damaged muzzle of a former ‘dancing bear’, photographed at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility, one of four Wildlife SOS bear centres across India. Under the watchful care of the Wildlife SOS team, the muzzle has healed but the disfigurement remains. Wildlife SOS rescued over 620 dancing bears from the streets of India, thus ending the barbaric 400-year old ‘dancing bear’ practice in the country, in 2009.

r3c3: Paddy fields till the eye can see in Dehene village in Maharashtra state, western India. The village lies a mere 120kms on the outskirts of Mumbai city. This rural experience was organised by Grassroutes, a Mumbai-based social enterprise and responsible travel company.

r3c4: PS, a Bodo woman, catches fish in a rivulet, in Bodoland, Assam. She is using a traditional, conical-shaped basket known as ‘jakhoi’ to scoop-up fish from the water, and a gourd-shaped vessel known as ‘khaloi’ (tied to the waist), to store the freshly-caught fish. Both items are made by intricately weaving together thin strips of bamboo.

r4c1: Jute fibres hung out to dry in Bodoland, Assam. The state is one of the largest jute producing state in India, contributing to the country’s position as the top jute producer in the world.

r4c2: SB, a Bodo woman weaves at the ant centre in Bodoland, Assam. Weaving is a traditional skill in this part of the world, passed on from mother to daughter. The loom used is a pedal loom. Read more about the weavers of Assam here.

r4c3: A split-second sighting of a tigress known as ‘Choti Mada’ (meaning small female) at Kanha National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India. The tiger is the national animal of India and the focus of global conservation programs. Safari organized by Shergarh at Kanha

r4c4: The ancient Indo-Arabic artform of mehendi, wherein a person’s body is decorated with intricate designs, using a paste made from dried, powdered henna leaves

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