Neuschwanstein castle

It is hard to say for just how long I have wanted to write this piece, but today has finally arrived. I am on a plane from Paris back home, five hours have passed and five more remain. I could not have possibly written this any earlier than four days ago, and I have indeed contained myself for four weeks, so I will say it quickly and without much celebration: I finally visited Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, one of seven places I have always wanted to visit in my life and it still floats in my mind like a pleasant dream, not unlike how it floats among the clouds above the grassy plains of Bavaria.

The special place Neuschwanstein holds for me is why this essay is a separate piece and not simply a passing section in part three of my “Notes from Europe”. The third part will be published as usual in the coming week.

“Some don’t really consider it worthwhile”, said the tour guide with disbelief, leading us through the eccentric King Ludwig II’s love story with Wagnerian operas set in stone. Even Mozart perhaps does not have such a grand commemoration for his works as Wagner does. Every room, neigh every inch of every room is dressed with behemoth paintings describing scenes from Wagner’s many operas. On a certain level, it is emotional. You feel connected with Ludwig, a misunderstood character in my opinion.

I heard at least thirty people describe the castle as looking “like a painting”. Continue reading

Notes from Europe, part 2

Following my weeks spent in Portugal and France, I was back in Germany. One of the things I have found true, even in my previous visits to Germany, is that the country seems to be more systematic in a manner of speaking. Cleaner, more structured, with traffic that is more disciplined and so on. France was open, undoubtedly clean (except sometimes), but felt just a little bit more lenient. Portugal, though, is another story: the cobblestones always seemed to embedded with a hundred cigarette butts every square metre.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Berlin — a city I have never visited before — started by giving me a rather bad impression in that it felt unwelcoming. Like you walk into a party and then realise you were never invited. Now I am sure this is a notion dominated by the places I visited first, (an isolated place near alle der kosmonauten) and that if I had, perhaps, entered other parts of the city first I would have had a different experience altogether. Nonetheless, during my first day in Berlin I felt somewhat unwelcome. This changed over the coming days, however, and to my surprise I was navigating the public transit system of Berlin with more ease and nativity than any other city. The only two things that turned out to be true were the rudeness of the French (they are incredibly friendly) and the punctuality of German trains (whoever told me they were always on time was lying). Perhaps my most memorable experience on the busses of Berlin was when all of us (about twelve passengers or so) were requested to alight because the door of the bus was kaput. Continue reading

Notes from Europe, part 1

Tomorrow begins what I consider the third and final leg of my journey across Europe. The trip (or voyage as I prefer to call it — humour me) has been going on more or less as planned, but my grand plan of writing about it regularly here has not: often there is no in-flight Wi-Fi (see below), and a hotel I stayed at had an incredibly slow network, and the fastest I have come across till date, surprisingly enough, was in Lisbon. The first leg of my journey was across Portugal and France, the second leg was in northeastern Germany (Berlin and parts of Macklenburg-West Pommerania), and the final leg will be in southern Germany and Austria.

I sit in my cozy hotel room in north Berlin, about thirty-minutes from the Hauptbanhof, overlooking a quiet little residential street, as I pen this. I have probably travelled the S1 past Gesundbruhnnen and up and down line 150 a hundred times. That is probably an exaggeration but you get the point. The metro goes up and down the street noiselessly several times. The public transport system is robust here in Berlin, but not as punctual as I was led to believe.

Flying budget airlines

It is interesting that the next part of this essay was penned on an hour-long flight to Munich and eventually in the city whose football team I support.

Traveling with Europe, for me, was by two modes: rail and air. On a personal level, I have always wanted to travel Europe by rail, but, while cost-effective, trains are time-consuming for longer distances. Continue reading

Flying to Europe

Today begins my fortnight-long journey across Europe. There were two small — perhaps almost inconsequential — things I have always wanted to do: fly direct to Paris, and fly in an Airbus. As a Francophone, my first wish is understandable. The second was something I fulfilled earlier this year on a trip to Sri Lanka. This time round, it was a business class A330 on an (approximately) ten hour flight to Paris.

Boarding at Bangalore started at the strike of midnight, delayed by ten minutes due to security concerns of some sort. Once the plane took off, two things became clear: first of all, sleeping in planes is hellish; second, the earth is stunning. Cruising at nearly 950 km/h, the 8,000 km–long journey lasted seventeen minutes lesser than planned.

Fluffy clouds beneath.
Fluffy clouds beneath.

CDG is somewhat similar to BIA in more ways than one would want. This could be a one-off experience, and indeed I hope it is, but there are long queues, pointless security checks even for connecting flights, and even Sky Priority passengers like myself waited a good 30min at passport control — only four out of eight border police posts were in operation for some reason — and many missed their flights.

I pen this as I sit at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, waiting a three-hour period as my flight to Lisbon comes in. Having previously been to Germany, it seems to me, at first glance, that the French are friendlier. I would attribute this partly to the rich, multicultural society in France as opposed to the mostly white, Christian population of Germany. Continue reading

Sri Lanka, day 2 — Galle

I had heard a lot about Galle, the beautiful, colonial fortress town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, and today was rightfully all about Galle. As I said yesterday, a perk about visiting Sri Lanka is that every nook and cranny of the country is no more than a few hours away from every other nook and cranny. Galle, it is said, was where King Solomon sent his ships. The solid Portuguese-Dutch fortress encircling the old town is also supposedly the reason why Galle fort (as it is called colloquially) still stands untouched today in spite of the calamity that was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while much of the main town of Galle outside the walls of the fortress was sadly wiped out: “Thousands died,” explained our driver, looking out into the sea just one last time as we prepared to leave Galle late in the evening and head out to the Colombo–Galle expressway, one of the many testaments to the government’s excellent work to rebuild parts of the island nation severely affected by the catastrophe. I want to address this once again in a while, albeit in a completely different light.

One of several graves at the restored Dutch church in Galle

One of several graves at the restored Dutch church in Galle

The architecture in Galle is similar to the Portuguese architecture in Goa, India — and Portugal, certainly, but my point is that this lies along the trade route held in high regard by the various “East India” Companies of the British, the Dutch etc. Indeed the Portuguese lost this fort, like they did several others around that time, to either the Brits or the Dutch. Continue reading

Sri Lanka, day 1

The initial flight to Colombo, LK, was delayed by about five minutes. This, believe it or not, is the first time I have experienced a delayed flight; given how often and how many people complain about it, it might come as a surprise to you that I have, till date, never seen a flight come in late. Quite the contrary: flights have come in early, and I remember a flight last year even landed with ten minutes to spare. In any case, it was raining heavily and little was visible outside and we had soon reached our cruising altitude that our captain explained was 35,000 feet and a ground speed of 820 km per hour. It was an Airbus, which is another first to me because every plane I have traveled in so far has been a Boeing.

Airbus
Airbus

And then, like a jewel glowing in the dark, a metropolis beneath shines yellow. It is light pollution, it is the din of humankind, a turn off to see in person and worse still to be surrounded by it, the constriction, the stuffy society, the manmade encroachment into nature, and, although not always a bad thing, severe urbanisation. And yet, from so far up in the sky, it looks beautiful, like a testament of man’s survival on Earth.

Onboard food
Onboard food

The onboard snack was a hit and miss. The tea was great (somehow I always enjoy tea on flights) but the Lankan food, not so much. Perhaps it takes time to get used to? Continue reading

Munnar

This is not so much a travelogue as it is a bunch of random thoughts penned in conclusion to my recent trip across the Switzerland of the East. I have always loved clouds and fog and coniferous trees, and I was surrounded by all these for the past few days. (This article only has a few photographs; you can find others on my VSCO journal which I will soon publish my VSCO journal entry.) Continue reading

Manthralayam

I had been to Manthralayam purely by mistake a few months back. Manthralayam — or Manthralaya — is a Hindu pilgrimage site in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I did not visit the temple there, of course, bust instead spent close to an hour outside, photographing the devotees.

How I came to visit this place is not worth discussion: I was traveling to another city and decided to visit this because it was on the way and we had surplus time on hand. What piqued my interest in visiting Manthralaya was not its burial of the Madhwa saint, Raghavendra Swami (hence the pilgrimage), but the fact that, in 2009, the Tungabhadra river, which flows through the town, had submerged it in heavy floods. Continue reading

O’er vales and hills

Between my undergraduate college and postgraduate school now, I spent four months looking for a reason not to pursue physics. I found none. Physics has a logic to it, and an emotion few are lucky to see; once you are acquainted with it, it is hard to find anything else more satisfying than looking around you and being able to trace why something is the way it is, all the way back to around 13 billion years ago.

As I pen this, I sit with a cup of coffee, over two-thousand metres high on the edge of a balcony in a stoneclad house overlooking a deep valley embraced by several lush, green tropical mountains.

And it is not physics that I am thinking of. Continue reading