Monday, June 23, 2014

Bangkok - where spirits reside among the living

Bangkok, the pulsating, vibrant city in South East Asia, conjures up images of shopping, food, night markets, foot massages, shopping, food, gigantic malls, Buddhism, shopping, food... it's an endless list

One of my first impressions of the city -
A Man U building wrap.
Over a year ago, I had travelled to Bangkok for a few days. I had hoped to share more details of my trip here. For some reason or the other I had not got around to it. 

One of the most highlights of my trip were the spirit houses.  

Sukhumvit Road, where I stayed, is one of the main streets of Bangkok. It has hotels and malls in abundance. Since I walked to many of the shopping areas on that street, it was an interesting way to really notice the buildings, street stalls, parks etc. 

One of the curiosities that puzzled me were miniature structures in the compound of every building. They seemed to follow traditional architecture but were made of the most fantastic material or had stunning imagery around it. I assumed these were akin to the 'prayer' corners we have inside every home and building in India, but I didn't know what exactly they were. I saw many Thais bowing before the structures or making offerings while passing by. 

Later, when I looked up on the internet, I found out these were 'spirit houses'. Thais are mainly Buddhists, but they believe strongly in the spirit world. According to their belief, every time a new building is constructed, the resident spirits in the old building/ plot of land tend to lose their home. To appease the spirits and provide a new home for them, the miniature structures are built. Failure to do so can cause all sorts of misfortune. 

Different types of structures indicate they are meant to appease different types of spirits. Almost all spirit houses had miniature dancers, elephants, horses etc. around them. All these represent the good-stuff that will keep the spirits happy. Some of the figurines inside the mini-homes resembled Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, but I can't say for sure.Thailand is very heavily influenced by Hinduism - history and all - so it's very possible. 

A spirit house with numerous
figurines around its base.

A closer look at the spirit house.

Fully adorned with glass pieces - a stunning reflective effect. 

I have no idea why there were zebras here. Maybe
they are meant to be 'exotic' versions of horses.

Twin houses in a flower market, caught against an evening sky.

A more humble looking spirit house somewhere
in the outskirts of the city.

I am glad that I got more information about the spirit houses and these did not get overshadowed by the more visible and popular attractions of Bangkok. If you ever visit, do take the time to look around you to notice these little houses. 

P.S. I have written about various other sights of Bangkok in separate posts herehere.

Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 - An Indian Summer

The past few months have been rather hectic. Travelling, coming back to packing & shifting house, settling down into a new home and managing work at the same time. Nevertheless, it all got done, with a little struggle, some heartache and lots of help from kind friends.

In between, I managed to make a couple of short trips outside the city, started going on long walks (doubles up as my exercise plan) which I like, around my new neighbourhood... generally tried to not get bogged down with all that's been happening around me. 

Some snapshots of what I saw, experienced or made me happy!

Beautiful lilies that just brightened up the place

palm, fruit, summer,
Palm fruit being sold on the streets

One of India's natural summer thirst quenchers is the palm fruit. I discovered this fruit very recently when I was living in southern India. I was quite intrigued by these large, purplish fruits loaded on handcarts. A colleague at work first introduced me to it and now I always look out for them as summer rolls around. Each fruit has three hearts or pods which are like the white portions of the coconut. Here, they are fleshy and hold water. As the fruit matures, just like in a coconut, you get less water and tougher flesh. Here's more information on it, if you'd like.

pune expressway tunnels
Tunnels on the expressway between Pune & Mumbai

I love going through tunnels. Even as a kid, I would wait for the trains we travelled in to run through tunnels. Numerous decades later, I still do the same. :)

pinwheels streets of india
A pinwheel seller on the street

The pinwheels make such a colourful picture wherever they stand. You'll see loads of children with harassed parents in tow surrounding the seller. Summer holiday fun.

sunset on the expressway
Setting sun via the car window

A gorgeous sunset in the horizon as we were getting into Mumbai from Pune, on the expressway. 

amaltas tree mumbai
A fully bloomed 'Amaltas' tree

As much as I love this city, some things about it are beyond my understanding. It's a city, I have realised, where most building societies do not take pride in beautifying the outside of their apartment buildings. Inside their homes - kick ass. Outside... ahem! Dull white, grey, brown are the oft seen colours in this dense concrete jungle. And then you suddenly come across a green patch, an oasis of green. Sometimes the city can completely surprise you and throw up vivid colours in the midst of the bleak landscape. Like this 'amaltas' (botanical name: Cassia Fistula) tree that's in full bloom. Heart's delight. :) 

indian wedding
A 'bling' procession

You're forgiven if you think it's a religious procession. But it ain't. This was a noisy, blingy wedding 'baraat' (groom's party) headed towards their venue. The large, brilliantly lit chariot seated the groom. Those big lights in front of it (partially obscured by the trees, such a pity) were incredible. They were carried in huge pots, balanced on the shoulders of men. The lights rotated around like in some crazy disco accompanied by mind-numbing, loud, blaring music. Definitely a recipe to go blind & deaf simultaneously. 

stormy sky pune expressway
A sudden summer storm that overtook us enroute

A wild, tempestuous mid-summer sky while road tripping between Pune and Mumbai. It came upon us suddenly with thunder and streaks of lightning. But very little rain. 

stormy sky pune expressway
Another shot of the stormy sky
Since, these were shot through the windows of the vehicle with the glass up, you can see strange reflections. Like here, where you can see one of the mirrors of the car in the sky. Quirky, I thought and left the photo untouched :)

Summer's by no means over. I hope I can still get some good things out of it, the scorching temperatures notwithstanding. As they say, make hay while the sun shines!