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Today marks the 143rd birth anniversary of an individual who was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and later was given the loving title of Father of the (Indian) Nation. He is more popularly known as the Mahatma, or enlightened soul.

October 2nd, Gandhi Jayanti or Gandhi’s birthday, is celebrated as a national holiday in India. And very well it should be for all that this petite (Gandhiji was five feet three inches in height) and unassuming man with a toothless grin has done for India.

He spearheaded India’s struggle for independence from the British, and all without raising one armament either in defense or offense. His weapons of choice? Truth, fearlessness, non-cooperation and non-violence.

I leave you all with a few quotes by world leaders who were inspired, directly or indirectly, by the life of the Mahatma.

  • In a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century.

                                               — Nelson Mandela

  • Gandhi did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition.

                                             — Jawaharlal Nehru

  • The Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United States.

                                              — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Gandhi showed how powerful change can start with one individual and spread to others.

                                              — The Dalai Lama

  • It’s time to heed the words of Gandhi: ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.’

                                                — Barack Obama

  • Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

                                              — Albert Einstein

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I recently read, back to back, two works of fiction that are based on one historical figure’s life. I didn’t expect them to be overly similar, but I wasn’t prepared for them to be so different either.

What made them so dissimilar was the point of view of each of the authors. And by that I don’t mean the first person or the limited/omniscient third person view they used to narrate the tale, but the perspective and understanding of the authors about the life and times of the subject matter.

The books are Shadow Princess by Indu Sundaresan and Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Both the books examine the life of Mughal princess Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal (yes, the Mumtaz Mahal of the Taj Mahal fame). The stories are set in an India of the 1600s that is thrown into turmoil by the constant bickering of the various invading forces like the Mughals, the British, the Portuguese and other opportunists.

Shadow Princess is the last of a set of three books called the Taj Mahal trilogy. Sundaresan sets the stage beautifully for Jahanara and narrates her story (in alluring poetic prose that enhances the ambiance) with the right mix of awe and slight disdain that Mughal lives tend to evoke in most Indians’ hearts. Sundaresan’s Jahanara is bold and decisive, but tempered by subtlety and decorum. When suddenly burdened with the responsibility of a mourning father and confused siblings upon her mother’s death, teenager Jahanara steps into the role with aplomb. Over time, she learns to protect her own interests with the requisite cunning that is inevitable in her position.

Shors’s Jahanara, on the other hand, is outspoken and in-the-face courageous. So much so that she rides astride a horse in broad daylight, walks around the city unveiled and openly disobeys her husband. In short, she could pass for a twenty-first century (almost American) teenager, if you didn’t know any better.

Having grown up in India and read its history, I know that Mughal women were rarely allowed outside their palaces and certainly never without purdah. If it were a princess, then her life was even more circumscribed owing to the intrigues surrounding her as the candidate for a powerful political alliance.

I feel Sundaresan, being an Indian and a woman, handles the subject with better insight into the traditions and restrictions Jahanara possibly faced during her lifetime and how those same constraints shaped her into the strong and influential figure she grew into.

Shors deals with the situation head-on and makes a formidable heroine of Jahanara. I didn’t dislike the book. In fact, after I managed to swallow my irritation (even if it took me several trials and dozens of pages into the book to get there) at how modern Jahanara and the other characters and their interactions with each other sound, the book grew on me. I loved the gumption and resourcefulness of Shor’s Jahanara.

This exercise brought home to me forcefully once more that a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, is colored by the past and present life experiences of the author among many other things. When we open a book, we’re stepping for the duration of the story into the author’s private chamber upon their invitation. And what each of us takes out of that visit, again, depends upon our own point of view as a reader.

Have you read two or more books by different authors but based on the same personality or incident? Please share with us your experiences from the activity!

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The latest developments around the world have brought to my mind the words of one of India’s foremost philosophers, Swami Vivekananda.

Picture of Swami Vivekananda taken from the cover art of one of the philosopher's biographies published in India

 

I present to you an excerpt from the landmark speech Vivekananda had given on September 11, 1893 at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.

(Notice the date? Yes! Coincidence? I don’t know…)

I feel the sentiments expressed by the philosopher over a century ago are relevant today more than ever. Without further ado, here goes…

Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

… I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.

I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

 

P.S: See here for the full speech. Thanks Meera for helping bring Vivekananda’s words to the fore of my consciousness at this point in time.

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An underground tunnel leads from inside the ramparts of the Golconda Fort to the walled compound (at a distance of about 3 kilometers from the fort), where all the seven kings of the Qutub Shahi dynasty (and other important family members) are interred. The tombs within this complex have been built in the time period of mid 1500s to late 1600s.

The structures stand today, weathered, but tall and sturdy. They bear testimony to the lives of the men or women who have lived within the walls of the Golconda Fort and have left a lasting legacy in some form or the other in the area where the current Hyderabad city in India flourishes.

At first glance, each tomb looks similar in shape to the one next to it. However, when you pay closer attention to the details, you see the big and small differences that point to the fact that the architect of each edifice was an individual with distinct visions, beliefs, and interests.

This collection of majestic structures is somber, yet ethereally beautiful.

When I stood in the middle of the circle of tombs, I felt oddly connected with all those people who had stood some hundreds of years ago in exactly the same spot, breathing the air that I did — maybe even aspiring for some of the same things that I do today – and possibly looking about them and willing themselves to remember the moment in time when they came face to face with the fragility of human life.

A map of the complex of tombs outside its entrance

 

This is a fake grave for the visitors. The actual body is, I was told, buried underground in an actual grave

 
 

 

The Assembly Hall at Golconda as seen from the top of one of the tombs

 

The unfinished tomb of Abul Hassan Tani Shah, the last Qutub Shahi ruler of Hyderabad. He died in captivity elsewhere, and hence his body is not interred inside this structure. I learned that the dome on top of the tomb is built only after the interment of the body. Also, interestingly, this edifice stands alone outside the compound wall that protects the rest of the tombs.

 

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Golconda Fort, which began its life as a mud fort, has withstood the assault of natural elements and humans for centuries and stands tall and aloof to this day. There are features inside the fort that are technologically so advanced that they could teach a thing or two to the military and engineers today.

Intimate details like: the low-roofed cubbyholes in the bodyguards’ barracks, where obviously the guards lived away from their own families with bare minimum necessities so they could protect their lord and master; or the alcoves in the walls of the queen’s palace where make-up articles could be stored; or the walkways within the several gardens that are smooth and worn from generations of ancient feet strolling over them tugged at my heart.

As I walked through the ruins of the Rani Mahal (the queen’s palace) and the zenana (the women’s quarters where the king’s harem lived), I could almost hear the rustle of silks as the women walked by in their colorful ghagharas and cholis (long skirts and intricately embroidered blouses), the numerous bangles on their hands tinkling in unison with their giggles and laughter.

They brought to my mind the fact that women and men — who had desires, aspirations, and likes and dislikes probably similar to mine — lived and died here. Some of them probably enjoyed the rich lifestyle given them inside these walls, but there were countless others who strained at the invisible ropes binding them to these palaces.

All that remains now to show for the lives of the various residents of the fort over the centuries are its somber ruins.

Here are more pictures I took inside the fort…

This tall wall curtains off the main entrance to the fort and fools everyone into thinking it’s just a rampart wall. It has parapets above it, behind which soldiers used to crouch and take inventory of the enemy camps during battles. The entry inside the wall that leads to the gigantic doorway is quite narrow, thus protecting the entrance to the fort from the direct assault of an army.

 

The doors guarding the entrances are made of metal and have pointed studs on them to prevent the use of elephants and large logs to crash the doors down during battles

 

Barracks where bodyguards lived. These barracks are situated right by the entrance. Obviously, if anyone wanted to enter the fort surreptitiously, they'd have to deal with the bodyguards first

 

One of the many reservoirs found throughout the fort -- they were used to store water for the residents' use and also to water the many gardens

 

Pipes made of baked clay were fitted inside the walls of the fort all the way to the top which were used to pump water (using Persian wheels) from a lake at ground level, filling several tanks at various levels strewn inside the fort

  

The king's mosque at the top of the fort

 

A temple inside the fort, built by the Hindu ministers during the reign of the last ruler of the Qutub Shahis. This was one of the highlights of the fort for me. Up until then, I was immersed in the Islamic architecture and lifestyle. I turn a bend in the road and there I was staring at a huge “Om” (the symbol written in saffron over a white background in the picture, one of the most recognized symbols of the Hindu religion), on top of a temple right at the heart of the fort. And it does not seem out of place. In fact, it seems just right. You see such sights throughout India

 

Queens' Palace -- these buildings used to be three storeys high before Aurangazeb's canons reduced them to ruins and rubble

 

Private gardens for the enjoyment of the queens

 

Inside the queens' palace

 

Inside the harem -- cordoned off now to prevent graffiti on the walls

 

Durbar or the king's assembly hall. It can get suffocatingly hot in Hyderabad during summer. Inside, where the king’s throne sits, the hallway has been so designed so that cool air flows through it during all seasons of the year. Basically, it was air-conditioning.

 

Ruins of a once rooftop garden

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First glimpse of the Fort from the entrance

The Golconda Fort – rather its majestic and awe-inspiring ruins – sits on top of a granite hill, at the heart of the old city of Hyderabad. Its origin dates back to the late 1300s. The area where the fort and the city of Hyderabad now exist (it comes under a larger area known as the Deccan) used to be under the rule of Hindu kings originally.

A view of the highest point (King's Assembly Hall) of the fort from below

During the reign of Raja Pratap I of the Kakatiya dynasty, it is said, a shepherd had suggested that the king build a fort on top of the hill where the structure squats now. The king acknowledged the wisdom behind the advice and built a mud fort on top of the hill. He then magnanimously named it after the initiator of the idea, the shepherd. (Golconda, a Telugu word, is the combination of two words: Golla = shepherd, konda = hill.)

Nagina Bagh: The garden of the serpent. This was where the king and his queens relaxed in the evenings. It is only one of the many gardens that exist within the fort. They all still maintain the basic structure, but the beautiful flowering plants and fruit tress, lovely sculptures, and fountains spraying sceneted water are all, of course, gone.

By the 1500s, times had changed and parts of India had come under the rule of Turks and Persians, and Islamic rulers from elsewhere. In 1512 A.D, the Deccan fell into the hands of Quli Qutub Shah, the first king of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, who made Golconda his capital (there was no city of Hyderabad by then). Thus began the exposure of the area to foreign architecture, traditions, and culture, all of which would eventually make it one of the stronger hubs of Muslim culture in India.

The Golconda fort is also known as the house of Kohinoor. Kohinoor, once the largest diamond in the world, was originally mined from this area. It was also one among the many national treasures of India that were looted and borne away to foreign lands by invaders. The diamond has changed hands over the centuries and now is one of the British Crown Jewels.

The main entrance (one of eight original entrances, but the only one functioning now) to the fort

The fort stayed impregnable for a long time, until the advent of guns and canons. Even then it withstood one of the strongest militaries of the time, the Mughal army (led by Aurangazeb, during the long-enduring Mughal campaign to establish control over South India), for months on end. It was during this siege that Golconda finally succumbed and fell into the hands of Aurangazeb.

Entrance to the queens' quarters

View of the Old City from the highest point in the fort

View of the ruins from a high vantage point within the fort

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Hyderabad — née Bhagyanagaram, the City of Fortunes — has an eclectic personality you’d be hard put to find elsewhere.

Larger-than-life statues of Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvathi. The size of the people standing at the base of this sculpture should give you some idea of its magnitude

Architecture:

In this city, the ancient Hindu architecture and the architecture influenced by the Islamic culture have jostled each other over the centuries and ultimately settled down into their own grooves. 

Architecture influenced by the Hindu religion is known for its use of color and sculptures. It, in fact, revels in the portrayal of larger-than-life forms of Gods, Goddesses, humans, and animals and their role in the mythological stories. No Hindu temple is considered complete without its share of intricate carvings and murals all along its walls.

A mosque

Diametrically opposite to this, architecture influenced by the Islamic culture favors tall towers and huge domes. Engravings on the walls depict austere, yet beautiful, geometric and freehand patterns, since Islam forbids depiction of humans in any shape or form.

It is quite common in this city to come upon a temple with its intricately sculpted images painted in riotous colors just around the corner from a solemn mosque, with its towering turrets and domes.

Sculptures on the face of a Hindu temple

 

Carvings on the walls of a mosque

Clothes:

You can’t leave Hyderabad without losing yourself in some shopping, especially for women’s clothing. It is one of the centers in modern India for eye-catching designs, colors, and fashions in ethnic wear.

Women in Saris

A six-yard sari (pronounced phonetically as: saa-ree), a timeless example of “less is more” in terms of exposure of skin, used to be the original choice of apparel for the majority of women in India. Unfortunately, it is not the most convenient of fashions, owing to its several layers that hinder free movement and also the amount of time and skill required to drape it in the proper style. As a result, a sari is losing its popularity as an everyday wear among the modern and younger generations. It has become just one ethnic choice among many, depending on the occasion and time and place.

A chudidar or a Punjabi Suit (a style that is the descendant of the traditions and

Punjabi Suit

 trends from parts of northern India mixed with those of the Muslim culture) is the most usual style of choice among women in all of India now. It is easy to wear, cheaper than a sari (usually) and stands up to the busy and demanding life of today’s woman.

Hyderabad has brought the trends from North-and-South and Hindu-and-Muslim cultures together and come up with a chic — yet ethnic – and traditional — yet immensely convenient — wear for women.

I realized on this trip that, these days in shops, there are as many style choices in chudidars as there are stars in the sky. (Okay, may be an exaggeration, but only slightly so.) They come in several prices ranging anywhere from $10/- a set all the way up to hundreds of dollars. Depending on the time, money, and energy you are willing to spend, you will find a style to suit any occasion, however big or small.

Food:

Dosa with Chutney, Sambhar, and a cup of piping hot coffee

The food in Hyderabad reflects the marrying of not only the two major religions of the region, but also several cultures from around the country (and beyond).

From roadside food vendors’ carts on the streets to small cafés on the curbside (with names like Irani café or Punjabi Dhabha) to posh five-star hotels, each carries a menu that can only be described as a delightful medley of tastes and flavors.

On the same menu, you see items such as: Hyderabadi Biryani, Gosht ka Salan, and Khubani ka Mitha that are examples of the gastronomic gems that are born of the Hyderabadi Muslim culture, followed by true South Indian specialties such as: Dosa-Chutney-Sambhar, Chicken Korma, and Payasam, with Indian-Chinese items like: Chicken 65, Chilly Chicken, and Hakka Noodles nipping closely at their heels, and Aloo Parantha, Kheema Naan, and Ras Malai, mouth-watering delicacies from various regions of North India, not too far behind. (See below for translation/explanation of the names of each of the dishes mentioned here, if you’re interested :-).)

Gosht ka Salan

Language:

The same ease and acceptance exists in their general outlook on life among the city’s populace. Telugu, Hindi, English, and Urdu — all with an accent/dialect unique to the region – are only a few of the languages you hear exchanged on an average day in Hyderabad.

For all its journey full-speed ahead into the 21st century and its willing immersion into true globalization – which has brought materialism and dwindling ethics and values with it, unfortunately – Hyderabad (and all of India, for that matter) still retains a flavor, an other-worldliness if you will, on a day-today basis that dates back to centuries of tradition and culture.

— ** —

Glossary:

Hyderabadi Biryani: Fried rice/Pilaf using chicken or mutton cooked in a style unique to Hyderabad.

Gosht ka Salan: A spicy curry of goat or lamb.

Khubani ka Mitha: Khubani is Urdu for apricots. This is a dessert consisting of dried apricots in a thick syrup, served over a thick cream or custard. 

Dosa: Crepes made out of lentils and rice. One of the most common breakfast items in southern India.

Chutney: A spicy ground mixture made of peanuts or some kind of lentils to go with crepes.

Sambhar: Yellow lentil soup.

Chicken Korma: Chicken curry made using yoghurt and several spices.

Payasam: Traditional rice pudding.

Chilly Chicken: Chicken cooked in Chinese style (steeped in Indian spices) and garnished with lots of green chillies to make your eyes water along with your mouth.

Hakka Noodles: Also an Indo-Chinese specialty, crispy noddles that taste sweet and savory/hot at the same time.

Aloo Parantha: Unleavened bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

Kheema Naan: Flat bread with several light layers, stuffed with spiced ground goat meat.

Ras Malai: A dessert made of paneer (somewhat similar to cottage cheese) and thick cream.

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Hyderabad. Just the name sums up many visual and gastronomical treats for me.

This busy, historic, and throbbing-with-life city was the first stop during my recent

Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, which was the seat of power of the Qutub Shahis. This is a section of the ruins of the fort as viewed from the main entrance

 trip to India. It is the capital city of Andhra Pradesh — one of the southeastern states of India — and is a thorough mix of old-with-new and traditional-with-modern.

The original city of Hyderabad, now known as the Old City, was founded 500 years ago on the banks of Musi river. The founding of this city, not to mention its name, is steeped in romance and religious tolerance. 

Legend has it that crown prince Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah (of the Qutub Shahi dynasty that ruled the area at the time), who belonged to the faith of Islam, fell in love with a Hindu girl called Bhagmati. This girl lived in a village on the opposite bank of the river from the prince’s fort.

The prince used to continually brave even the flooding waters of the river to go meet with his flame. His father Ibrahim Qutub Shah, the then ruling king, who heard of his son’s infatuation decided to lend his support to the courtship. He soon had a bridge built over the river so his son could cross the river safely in any season and woo his girl.

One of the buildings in Hi-Tech City, the hub of IT industry in the state. Photo taken from: myhyderabadonline.com

Now, if that is not the height of tolerance and understanding, then I don’t know what is.

Eventually, Mohammed Quli married Bhagmati, and then ascended the throne at the death of his father. He went on to found a city, which he named Bhagyanagaram after his wife. (Bhagya means “fortune” and nagaram translates to “city” in Telugu, which is the language spoken by the majority of the people in my state. The name in its entirety can be seen as “The Fortunate City” or “The City of Bhagya” as in Bhagmati’s city – pretty clever pun on words, if you ask me!) Later when Bhagmati was awarded the title of Hyder Mahal by her husband, the name of the city was changed to Hyderabad to reflect her new moniker.

A view of Charminar – the historical monument that is the face of the city -- from the street

The bridge, called Purana Pul (The Old Bridge), that Ibrahim Qutub Shah had commissioned over 500 years ago stands sturdy to this day. The arched bulwarks underneath the bridge, made of heavy stones, exhibit not only the fine craftsmanship of those times but also a keen eye for beauty.

Since the bridge is narrow and would not serve the present-day traffic needs, a broader bridge has been built parallel to it for everyday use. The day I visited this bridge happened to be the eve of Bakrid, one of the holy days for Muslims. The whole area was teeming with people, so unfortunately, I couldn’t get close enough to take good pictures of this beautiful, yet practical, monument for love.

On the old bridge, there now flourishes a walk-through bazaar where shopkeepers squatting under small awnings do brisk business in a variety of stuff  beginning with chappals (shoes) to fruits to pearls to clothing.

I was thoroughly heartened by this fitting use — rather than naming it a heritage monument and cordoning it off from public — for the vision of a father who had this bridge built to serve a practical purpose.   

An aerial view of the monolithic statue of Lord Buddha in the middle of Lake Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad. Photo courtesy: Post card printed by the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Andhra Pradesh

Of course, as with most other legends in history that lack a recorded version, there are other theories to dispute this one about the origins of the name of the city of Hyderabad. However, I have always been fascinated by this story of love, romance, and understanding and have whole heartedly subscribed to this version of it. And I still do.

The current-day Hyderabad has outgrown the original city and has expanded northwards. As I mentioned earlier, this metropolis is a true amalgamation of new and old, modern and antique, and ethnic and technological (Hyderabad is one of the strongest hubs of the IT industry in India) now. There exists such harmony between one facet and the other that I cannot imagine Hyderabad without either.          

The city is also a living and breathing monument to the coming together of two major religions in India: Hinduism and Islam (over 80% of Indians practice Hinduism, while Islam and Christianity are the next two major religions practiced in

Night-time view of Birla Mandir, a temple for Lord Venkateswara, one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon, in Hyderabad. It’s made entirely of white marble and is famous for its serene beauty and architectural details. Photo courtesy: Post card printed by the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Andhra Pradesh

India). The two religions are so intertwined in this city that you would find it hard sometimes to tell where one begins and the other ends. The architecture of the several monuments in the city, along with local food and clothing (more details coming up in the next post :)), bear testimony to this very basic fact of this city.

However, as it usually happens elsewhere in the world, owing to the proximity of two religions, this is also one of the highly volatile areas in the country. I guess, not all practitioners of the two religions choose to apply the doctrines of tolerance from their holy books to real life.

Mecca Masjid, an example of history walking hand in hand with current life: People go about their everyday lives around the centuries-old mosque, which lies at the heart of the Old City

All one has to do is take a page from the history of the city — of the enormous leap of faith Ibrahim Qutub Shah took for his son, the religious tolerance he had adopted in the matter, and the empathy he had shown for the emotions of his son — to get some perspective. But, in today’s world, that looks like a really tall order.

When I mentioned the same to some of my friends – who were born and bred in the heart of Hyderabad, unlike me – they said I had too simplistic a view of the complicated matters that dictate the pulse of the city.

Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t. As with so many things in adult life, it depends on who is doing the asking and who is  answering…

The majestic tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, the founder of Hyderabad

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2011 – just the name sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are raring to go in this new year!

I had a great trip to India – thank you all for wishing me well on this trip. To borrow a phrase from one of my readers (thanks, Sharoon!), I soaked up the glorious medley that is India and came back content in the heart and nourished in the soul.

I couldn’t have wished for more beautiful weather while I was there! India (at least the southern parts of it) has seen an unprecedented amount of rainfall these past few months; the vegetation has probably been blindsided at first by this unseasonal bounty, but then it obviously decided to take advantage. Everywhere I turned, there was lush greenery. Living in the not-so-green section of the U.S, I’d forgotten how vibrant and dazzling the color green could be.

In addition to spending time with family and friends, I also crammed in some sightseeing – both historic and natural — into my already short trip. It made it all pretty hectic, but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I read this advice somewhere: pack a scented candle or a body lotion that you have never used before, when you’re setting out on a special trip. When you’re back home, all you have to do is whip out the lotion or the candle and voilá, you are transported back to an enchanted time. Of course, as it usually happens, I read these wise words after I came back from my vacation.

So, I’m going to do the next best thing. I have taken quite a few pictures during the trip, but how many times will you look at plain pictures, right? Now, if those photos came with the tales of behind-the-scenes, then that would be something!

I’m going to supply those stories for myself so that all I would have to do to go back in time and place is read those words. Words that would remind me what I heard, how I felt, and what I saw when I was either posing for the picture or snapping them.

I’m going to blog about my trip, on and off, for the next few weeks. My hope is that while chronicling the moments for myself (and my daughter, with whom I happily shared this jaunt, and who helped add new dimensions and perspectives to it), I’d be able to provide some entertainment to you all.

Also, this would be my way of thanking everyone who has had a hand in making this trip such a precious one for me!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to hoping each one of us finds some semblance of peace, something dear to remember the year by, in 2011!

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