Shades of history at Vivaana, the culture hotel

In the arid land of Rajasthan lies Shekhawati, a region synonymous to beautiful palaces and havelis rich in fresco work of art, explores Nitika Bajpayee…

Magnificent forts and palaces, men clad in colourful turbans, women wearing chunky jewellery and bandhini odhnis, camels lazing in the desert— all these visuals conjure up in front of the eyes the moment one talks about Rajasthan. The state has always been a top preference among foreign travellers and wayfarers who choose Rajasthan for its exotic setting.

The façade at Vivaana

Rugged landscape

Rajasthan is my maternal home and over all these years, I have extensively travelled across the state, mostly to be a part of the family functions. Though I have been to most parts of the state, some places always skipped from my itinerary and Shekhawati is among them. Recently, this very friendly couple – Atul and Devna Khanna, invited me to come and visit their 120-year-old havelis, which are now converted into a culture hotel called Vivaana. On a rainy morning, along with my hosts, I started off my journey to Churi Ajitgarh, where Vivaana is situated. The weekend trip to Shekhawati was perfect to refresh my senses from the regular city grind.

The journey to Churi Ajitgarh, which lies at the confluence of Bikaner, Jaipur and Delhi, took not more than five hours by the road. Poised quietly inside the triangle that is made at the mini desert region of north Rajasthan, Churi Ajitgarh shares its boundaries with Mandawa and Jhunjhunu and is by far, one of Rajasthan’s best-kept secret. While on our way to Vivaana, Atul shared some history about the village and the two havelis, which he acquired about five years ago. Churi Ajitgarh, the village was originally named Churi Jodha after the Jat Jodha who along with his family came her and settled down. According to local folklores, the ladies of Jodha’s family used to fetch water from the nearby village Ghodiwara. One day, the women of both the villages had a fight and the women of Ghodiwara taunted Jodha Jat’s family asking them, “Why don’t you ask your husband to dig a well of your own.” Jodha Jat’s ladies asked him to dig the well to avenge their insult. When he failed to dig the well, the ladies made him wear bangles (churies) around his wrist and hence the village came to be known as Churi Jodha. The village is now known as Churi Ajitgarh after the then ruler, Maharaja Ajit Singh, who also got the Ajitgarh fort constructed in the village. After this dollop on the history, I sat back and eagerly waited for the distance to Vivaana to grow shorter. Enroute to Churi Ajitgarh, we crossed Mandawa and Jhunjhunu. Maddening pace of city life, endless traffic jams, and stifling work cubicle were all conveniently forgotten at Shekhawati, where leisure of a different kind provided a refreshing escape from the metropolis.

Experience the way royals thrive

Experience the way royals thrive

Frescos coming alive

The region is nothing less than a semiarid dreamscape, where I was greeted by dazzling fields, fluttering fabrics, dry desert air and numerous fresco painted havelis and palaces. I noticed Shekhawati was not more than a sleepy little region except during the winter months, when it bustles with wayfarers who stop by to appreciate its laidback charm.

After crossing through Sikar and Jhunjhunu, two prime Shekhawati quarters, we reached Vivaana. Upon my arrival, I stood in front of the massive iron gate of the 120-year-old haveli. The unparallel fresco paintings and typical Rajasthani architecture truely makes Vivaana a compelling place to visit and gives an unforgettable magical experience to those who visit these havelis with two courtyards.

Enchanting

Enchanting

Vivaana is secluded in the heart of nowhere, but this is what makes it different, truely! Amused and thrilled to trace a mix of local people clad in saffron attire, foreign junkies, Israeli backpackers and international tourists in this palatial haveli, I advanced towards my room. Lavishly decorated with mural paintings and colourful frescos, my room was a perfect blend of the classic and the contemporary. After relaxing a bit, I set out to explore the property. Atul and Devna accompanied me and showed me the 23 beautiful suites and rooms, the state-of-the-art restaurants and the bar along with the swimming pool.

The world at Vivaana is a seamless transition from the old-world charm to modernity. Inquisitively, I asked Atul to give me a brief backgrounder about this haveli and what made him buy this humungous structure. “After hunting around the region, we finally came across the Ram Pratap Nemani Haveli which was everything we were looking for and well worth the pain endured,” Atul said, explaining that the two havelis that make Vivaana belonged to the Nemani Family, who were the descendants of Bakshi Ram Nemani and Ram Dayal Ji Nemani, the two Seth brothers who were brought to the village by the then ruler-Fateh Singhji in the early 19th Century.

“The Ram Pratap Nemani haveli shone in the light of the solo lamp post nearby and at the first sight, we were confident that we had reached our destination. No stone was left unturned to procure the Haveli and today, it stands tall and proud as Vivaana,” added Devna, Atul’s lovely wife.

Slice of the bygone era

Continuing our tour of the property, I realised the best part of the havelis are the picturesque frescoes which bring the place alive. The frescoes all around the havelis depict mythological and historical themes. They include images of Gods, Goddesses, animals, the life of Lord Krishna and also some erotic frescoes. The techniques employed for these frescoes were elaborate, and comparable to the Italian frescoes of the 14th century. The colours were mixed in lime water or lime plaster and were then made to sink into the plaster physically through processes of beating, burnishing, and polishing. All the pigments used were prepared with natural and primarily household ingredients such as kohl, lime, indigo, red stone powder and saffron. The frescoes at Vivaana are complemented with mirror work and intricately carved wood work. Once the hurricane tour of the property was over, I set out for a camel safari on the nearby sand dunes. Catching a glimpse of characteristic desert birds such as larks and beetles and numerous peacocks, was a glorious sight. The following morning, we went around the Shekhawati region, which got acquired its name from the erstwhile ruler Rao Shekha. While ruling the region, the Shekhawats built many magnificent forts in their thikanas, main region of their rule. Every thikana in the region has a fort and there are as many as 50 forts and palaces that were built by Shekhawat kings. And today, many of these forts and palaces run as heritage properties. The hotel manager told me that the entire Shekhavati region has time and again mesmerised millions of tourists who come here to see these beautiful painted havelis. Also, the region has aptly been dubbed as the ‘Open Art Gallery’ of Rajasthan.

Slice of royalty

As I ventured out to see some of these painted havelis, the driver told me that not only havelis, Shekhavati is also home to various small fortresses, minor castles, mosques and step wells. He told me it is best to avoid the car and take a camel safari to enjoy the beauty of this land of well-preserved havelis. Now, it is your turn to venture into the land of havelis and be a part of the bygone royal era.

Quickies…

  • How to reach – Jhunjhunu is the nearest railway station for Churi Ajitgarh. This railhead is connected to all the cities in India by trains.
  • Sanganer Airport located in Jaipur is nearly 150km away from Shekhawati.
  • The Organic Kitchen at Vivaana serves a variety of world cuisines and local flavours
  • Vivaana derives its name from Lord Krishna and means the ‘first rays of the Sun
  • For Reservations at Vivaana email at heritage@vivaana.com or call +919811276231
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Storytelling, conversation and more with author Kunal Basu

In conversation with author Kunal Basu, Nitika Bajpayee finds out what it takes to be a multi-faceted writer…

Author Kunal Basu

Author Kunal Basu

Stories are often born unexpectedly in unlikely places, believes Kunal Basu, the author of much-acclaimed books The Japanese Wife, Racists, The Miniaturist and The Opium Clerk. Basu looks back at the time when being an author was his cherished dream. Believing that he is a commoner, he set out to pen down extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Not many would know that Basu started writing and publishing in Bangla first during his college years, and later switched to English. Poetry is something that came to him in the beginning and stories and novels followed. We poked him to divulge details about the journey of being a writer, to which he said, “I had always known that writing was the only thing that mattered to me. In fact, I can’t remember a time when writing was far from my mind. Life’s challenges though, had held me back for some years before I could begin full-fledged work on my books. I never wanted to be a Sunday writer, someone for whom writing is just a hobby. I wanted it to be my lifeblood. There is no sensation comparable to holding the first copy of my new book in my hand – which inspires me to keep writing.”

Love for the written word

Raised by a publisher father and an author mother in a bookish household in Kolkata, Basu was a precocious child, who eavesdropped regularly into their conversations on art, poetry, politics and literature. Sharing the anecdotes on his family, Basu quips, “Writing, art and drama were my early passions, but like many middle- -class Indians of my vintage, I was waylaid into studying science in school and engineering at university, neither of which held any excitement for me.” Despite being raised in a family of literature lovers, Basu flew to the US to do masters in engineering. Talking about his education, Basu says, “Simply because I was a good student and had won a scholarship, I saw it as a free trip to see the world. More serious considerations finally took me to doctoral studies in management. Being a professor would be the least disruptive of my passion for writing, I reckoned, and it has been the working model for my life thus far.” Authors take stories from life and Basu is no different. His book The Japanese Wife is inspired from a story of an elderly Bengali man whom Basu met more than two decades ago, while he was traveling through a village. Sharing the tale, Basu said, “I knew nothing about the circumstances of their marriage, but this single unusual incident had stayed in my mind and came out as The Japanese Wife.” Many don’t know that Basu had actually started to research and write ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Cure’ much before ‘The Japanese Wife’ was actually published and the film was released. Explaining how he managed to switch from one book to the other, Basu says, “I had completed my passage from one book to the other, and hence wasn’t particularly distracted.”

Tracing ethnicities

The story of Basu’s book The Yellow Emperor’s Cure came up while he was strolling in a museum of traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing. Talking about his tryst in Beijing, Basu Kunal Basu is the author of The Japanese Wife, which is also made into a film by Bengali filmmaker Aparna Sen 5 books of all times: • The Mahabharata • Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) • Scarlet and Black (Stendhal) • Love in the Times of Cholera (Marquez) • Waiting for the Barbarians (J M Coetzee) says, “As an inveterate traveller, my stories are often born through daydreaming. Penning down this book took me about a year to research the three dominant aspects of the novel – the history of syphilis, Chinese medicine, and the Boxer rebellion. But researching the details of specific scenes happened alongside the writing, and stretched over two years.” Visualising characters is an important part of writing a book. For Basu, it is important to catch a glimpse of prime characters, while the plot is still unfolding. When asked if Basu actually was able to see his characters live, he said, “Fortunately, I was able to ‘see’ a young Portuguese doctor in my mind’s eye as I strolled in the Beijing museum. I saw him inside a pavilion of the Summer Place taking lessons from a Chinese woman, his teacher, who would in time become his lover. Researching the period and the key themes lent substance to these characters later on, but their initial impressions served as significant starting points.” As a literature lover and film buff, Basu has too many favourites to name. He is an ardent fan of Dostoevsky (along with the other great Russian authors), Dickens, Zola and Stendhal, Bankimchandra and Rabindranath Tagore, as well as modern day masters such as Marquez and Coetzee. “I am fond of films by Bergman, Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Kurosawa, Luis Bunuel, and many more,” he said adding, “Photography, documenting and collecting traditional crafts such as masks, wood carvings, handloom weaving, terracotta and metal sculptures from many parts of the world count as serious pastimes that have survived many decades of my life.”

Spreading wings

When asked who is the real Kunal, a writer, a philosopher, just a common man with common ideas, Basu said, “I am is still searching for the real Kunal, but he’s most likely to be an author given that I spend a great many of my waking hours at my desk, writing.” It is interesting to know that Basu lives in the world of his stories, and immerse himself completely once he starts working on a novel: eat what his characters would’ve eaten, listen to their music, travel to places they’d have lived in – enter their skin and become one of them. “Once a novel is finished, I make my getaway quickly to enter yet another world, for the story that I’d be writing next. While no grand philosophy drives my writing, the common ingredient that’s hard to miss is compassion for the lives of common people,” he says. For Basu, it isn’t important to name or define this quest as ‘spiritualism’, except that it stands outside his known world, and gives him deep joy in its contemplation.

Talking about spirituality, he said, “I have a deep excitement for the unknowable. It informs my sensibilities towards daily events. And I still draw my inspiration from the great ancients – Eastern and Occidental.”Lhasa, Bali and Yogyakarta in Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia, Samarkand, Morocco, Fatehpur Sikri, Cappadocia in Turkey, and South Africa are some of Basu’s favourite destinations. There are many more yet unvisited such as, San Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, Iran, Myanmar, the Hindukush, and Lahore. Now that Basu is out with his latest book, he is not in a mood to pause. He is writing a novel set in contemporary Kolkata. “This will be a departure for me, after four historical novels. It also means turning my pen towards the city I had grown up in and discovering the strange among the familiar,” he concludes with a message for our readers. “Your indulgence alone makes it possible for authors to create their imaginary worlds, having us travel to destinations far and beyond,” Basu signs off.

Rishikesh – A fresh getaway

The waters are blue and clear, the air is crisp and nippy. I am sitting on the promenade facing the clear waters, the sound of the gurgling Ganges is soothing to the ears. Thick jungles dot the other side of Ganges. I ask a local native about the same, and he says it’s the boundary of Rajaji National Park. Oh my Rajaji National Park is just across the shore, I wonder. I am in Rishikesh, the town synonymous with the whole idea of white water rafting in north India.

Soak in some fresh air

This is not my first visit to Rishikesh. But whenever I come here, the spiritual town seems new and unexplored. To me, Rishikesh has always been that magical land where adventure and spiritualism walk hand in hand. Situated in Uttarakhand, Rishikesh can be approached by road and by rail via Haridwar.

 

Here I am, by the banks - five months pregnant

Here I am, by the banks – five months pregnant

Biding goodbye to Delhi on weekends is a good idea, and the roughly five hour drive to Rishikesh is not very tiring. On a Friday morning, I began my sojourn to Rishikesh, this time with an idea to just relax and soak in the freshness the land boasts. Enjoying the breakfast aboard the Dehradun Shatabdi, I charted out my plan to explore Rishikesh. By the time the train reached Haridwar – the nearest railhead for Rishikesh –  my itinerary was set. The half an hour drive from Haridwar was scenic and minus the otherwise traffic struck roads. This time, we had taken the route that connects Rajaji National Park to Rishikesh. Thick blanket of jungle was running on both my sides and a shy animal doing a peek a boo enroute. The route is clear and is not known to many. The best part of approaching Rishikesh via this route is that it connects you with the wildlife and gives you a good chance to spot exotic birds.

The soothing scenery

The soothing scenery

After a while, I reached my place of stay for this trip. On the banks of the awe inspiring, tranquil Ganges lies a delightful retreat named Ganga Kinare. This hotel has majesty in a land where spirituality and nature are perfectly blended. There is hardly any need to freshen up when in Rishikesh, the fresh air breeze coming from the hills is enough to fill your lungs with eternal calm. A quick lunch at the café and I was ready to explore the riverside boutique hotel which boasts of a waterside esplanade. I was taking a quite stroll alongside the sinuous river on the other side of the shore I spotted a baby elephant. The elephant was approaching the river, perhaps to satiate its thirst, but this sight gave my camera a good exercise. I was busy clicking the images when I spotted a bigger elephant at a distance, and this one was indulging in a sand play. After a while the two animals slowly ventured inside the jungle.

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Go spiritual

It’s a sin to not indulge in some yoga when you are in Rishikesh, often touted as ‘the world capital of Yoga’. And I was at the hotel that has played host to the coveted ‘International Yoga Week’ nine times in recent years, and continues to be a pivotal space for Yogic gurus to impart their teachings. Dusk was still an hour away when I began my yoga session with the instructors at the resort. The session was conducted on the corridor overlooking the magnificent Ganges and I don’t know why but the same pranayam felt different and did some magic to my senses. The exclusive river ghat owned by the hotel allowed me to take a dip in the holy waters. The rooms at the resort are a sheer bliss for those looking for peace serenity and beauty. Since every room in the hotel offers a panoramic view of the river and mountains, it feels good to sit back and enjoy the scenery from the comforts of your room.

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Evenings are incomplete without attending the Ganga Aarti and when in Rishikesh, it becomes mandatory to go to Parmarth Niketan to attend the grand aarti. Here, children from the Parmarth gurukul dress up in yellow and saffron dhoti kurtas and herald the aarti by singing Hanuman Chalisa. People from all walks of life – locals and foreigners – sing along with the kids and light diyas on the ghats. To reach Parmarth, you have to hire a boat that takes you across the Ganges.

The promenade that leads to Parmarth is dotted ???????????????????????????????with curio shops that sell anything and everything you may wish to take home from this holy abode. You can buy some nice junk jewellery or rudrakh beads or simply indulge in some window shopping. After some retail therapy, you must and definitely must try the traditional Indian food, cooked in pure desi ghee at the Chotiwala restaurant. The delicious vegetarian Indian food, cooked with much love by the cooks at the Chotiwala will surely tantalize your palate.

Time for adventure

Early morning is the best time to visit Neelkanth Mahadev, one of the venerated temples in the holy city of Rishikesh. A 45 minute drive on the curvaceous ghat road will take you to Neelkanth Mahadev which stands tall between the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot. Surrounded by thick woods and two gurgling rivers – Pankaja and Madhumati – the temple attracts Shiva devotees from far and wide. Apart from devotees, the 12 km long stretch from Swarg Ashram to the temple is also thronged by trekkers and adventure enthusiasts. The picturesque landscape of the area lures one and all and the twitter of birds just adds more life to the serene calmness. If you are lucky, you may even find a shallow waterfall on your walk in the woods.

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After your tryst with spiritualism, it’s time to don your adventure cap and enroll for adventure sports of your choice. Many consider Rishikesh as a haven for white water rafting which shuts only during monsoon months. But since summer is harsh in this region, the next two months are perfect to indulge in the sport. Here in Rishikesh, you can of course opt for white water rafting and choose the distance as per your preference and expertise. Apart from white water rafting, you can also go for bungee jumping, surfing, kayaking, cliff jumping, rock climbing, rapelling and mountaineering. There are a lot of adventure sporting companies that organize jungle camping, and beach games by the riverside.

Rishikesh has all the elements to make your weekend getaway a relaxed one. This fall, if you are looking to rejuvenate yourself, we advise hit the accelerator and go for a road trip to Rishikesh.

Tale of a Shiva devout: Amish Tripathi

Tale of a Shiva devout: Amish Tripathi

Author Amish Tripathi idolizes Shiva at every step of his life. This IIM Kolkata alumnus never thought he would ever write a book, but today two of his books are national bestsellers and the final in the trilogy is releasing in Feb 2013.

Amish Tripathi is a simple man who is in love with two most interesting subjects – history and mythology. It is because of his interest in these two subjects that made him pen down the story of Shiva, a Hindu god, who devotees believe as the destroyer (Brahma is known as a the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer or the transformer). For those who don’t know much about Amish, here is a quick roundup of his life. Amish is an alumni of Indian Institute of Management Kolkata, a Shiva devout to the tee and his first book Immortals of Meluha, which was published 2010 became a bestseller the moment it was released.

On a humid afternoon when this not so simple man agreed to give to have a one to one conversation, I was overjoyed – mainly because I was about to meet the man whose first book became one of my favourites the moment I started reading it. I only knew him as the author of the unputdownable that I had read twice. But after the meeting, I was a satisfied soul because he charmed me like many of his readers with the deep-rooted philosophies that his books also talk about.

Historical flavour
The moment the conversation began, the author asked me to name my favourite character from the two books – Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas – of the Shiva trilogy. As I named the character, he immediately deciphered which one of the two ways of life (that according to him guide all human beings) I follow and believe in. Elaborating on the two ways of life – Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi, Amish said, “I believe all of us have a bit of Suryavanshi and a bit of Chandravanshi qualities within us. It has nothing to do with men and women, it is more your way of life. Suryavanshi way of like is about honour, law and compliance while the Chandravanshi way of life is driven by free will, passion and creativity. If you ask me, I would say I am more of a Suryavanshi as I like order, discipline but at the same time I have a bit of Chandravanshi trait also.”

Suryavanshi at heart, Amish strongly believe in the philosophies of Lord Ram and Islam. According to him, only two ways of life exist in this world. “None of the cultures, off Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi, is right or wrong. They are simply different. Change is not an easy process for those who follow Suryavanshi culture. But Chandravanshi cultures can easily adapt themselves to the change, which is need of the hour,” the author says. Talking about the world scenario, Amish considers the two ways of life could also describe the pattern the world is following at today’s time and age.

While penning down the first two parts of the Shiva Triology, Amish highlighted the philosophical interface, which kept the readers engrossed in the storyline. When asked if he is philosophical at heart Amish was quick to answer, “ I am inspired by the one of the speeches that Steve Jobs gave somewhere. The speech talked about connect the dots, which states you can look back in life and feel the experiences you have had over the time. Somehow those experiences led you to what you are today. But when you are having these experiences, you don’t know where it will go. Similarly, I didn’t do any preparation or research for the book. I would say I was preparing for last 25-30 years because as long back as I can remember, I have been deeply interested in history. And I am a voracious non-fiction reader and historical books have always interested me. I am a lover of boring, dry archaeological and research books. In a sense you can say all that I have read over the years was somewhere preparing me for the book. When I was reading all the historical books, they were more of a source of interest for me.” Like every youngster, Amish also wanted an illustrious career. Writing a book was never in his scheme of things. “I couldn’t make history my profession. During my time, engineering and medicine were considered the most obvious choice for a profession”, he says.

Deciphering Shiva
In both Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, people will come across some symbols that are used to give a section breaks in the story. One of the symbols is a seal, which is earliest ever symbolism used for Lord Shiva. Discovered during the Indus Valley Civilization, the seal is called Pashupatinath seal. “If you see the original Pashupatinath seal, the bottom quarter of the seal is broken. I used my imagination of what it could have been there on the bottom quarter, and I created a clay model of it and that has been used in the book.”
When readers like me were reading the book, we didn’t know much about the symbols that came in between the pages. The author has given all the attention even to symbolism and minute nuances, which readers could not comprehend. In the Shiva triology, the cities, historical facts, flow of different rivers are technically correct. In the Secret of the Nagas, I talk about a place called Brangadarai. The name Brangadarai is inspired by Gangadarai, a name of the ancient city name somewhere in Bengal.”

“The second experience of connect the dots was my family. My grandfather Pandit Babulal Tripathi was a priest and a teacher at Benaras Hindu University in Varanasi. All my family members, including my parents, are highly educated and religious people. I grew up in an atmosphere where dinner conversations were about mythology, history, religion, philosophy and we had debates on modern issues. In my family we always had room for every stand of opinion. Most of what I know about mythology and religion is from these discussions I had with my family. When I was growing up, I didn’t know all that knowledge would help me subcontiously in writing a book some day. Now when I look back, I find Steve Job’s theory make sense. All those years were somewhere preparing me to pen down this book.”

Born in Mumbai, studied in Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, Amish did his MBA from Indian Institute of Management Kolkata. It would be surprising for all Amish’s fan to know before writing Immortals of Meluha, he had never even written a short story. “I had no creative bone in my body. The only creative thing that I did in IIM was that I was the lead singer of my band. Most of my friends are stunned that I have actually written something. I sincerely believe it is only lord Shiva’s blessings that made me write a book.”

The whole idea of writing a book started as a pure philosophical discussion that Amish had with his family. “Some eight years back, I was watching television with my family. We discovered an interesting thing. Gods in India are regarded as devas and demons are called asuras while ancient Persians regard their gods as ahuras and demons as daivas. It is the exact opposite. So the discussion began about evil and good. A philosophy occurred to me, which I discussed with my family. And they asked me to pen down whatever I felt – the philosophy thesis. I was working that time and used to spare some three hours a day and write this philosophy thesis, ” Amish says.

After a year, Amish presented this thesis to his family, who after reading said ‘It is very boring’. “I feel very few people are interested in reading philosophy as it could get a little dry. My brother and sister in law advised me to write an adventure, a thriller. And bring the philosophy along that adventure. That is how the journey to the Shiva triology began. ”

The inspiration
It took Amish four to five years to pen down the first book of the Shiva Triology – The Immortals of Meluha. Talking about the struggles that came across while writing the first book, Amish elaborates, “I feel I was approaching the story in an absolutely wrong manner. Since I had never written anything before, I had no idea how to write what to write. I did what most MBA types do; I read some self-help books, made a plan, made character sketches for each of the character, date plan, summary of each chapter, story structure etc. But, a big but came in between. And nothing seem to go the right way and the story came to a halt.”

Amish’s wife, Priti Vyas adviced him to follow one simple thing. “She said I am approaching the story in my corporate way of life. To write the book I must understand that all the characters have a life of their own and they are living in a parallel universe. I have just been given the privilege of entering that universe and recording what you see. She said don’t approach the story with arrogance of the creater, approach the story with humility of being a witness. And I gave up all the control, wrote what I recorded in my mind,” Amish informs. Since history is his favourite subject, Amish is now gearing up for his the third part of his trilogy – The Oath of the Vayuputras. After the Shiva Triology, he also plans to write books on Lord Rudra, Lord Ram, Mughal emperor Akbar, his version of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Amish’s fans can take a sigh of relief as he is releasing the final in the Shiva Trilogy – Oath of the Vayuputras – in February 2012

Tourism ‘Oscar’ for ‘God’s Own Country’ – Kerala

Golden Gate Award in Silver Category at ITB-Berlin for Kerala Tourism’s The Great Backwaters Television Campaign

Kerala Tourism’s hugely popular global multimedia campaign to promote the backwaters has won the prestigious Golden Gate Award at the Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin (ITB-Berlin) – 2015, the world’s leading travel trade event.

The state tourism department bagged the silver prize at the Das Golden Stadttor (Golden Gate) Awards presented in the German capital on Thursday night. Kerala Tourism Secretary Shri G Kamala Vardhana Rao, who is leading the state tourism delegation at the ITB 2015, and Shri Suman Billa, Joint Secretary in the Union Tourism Ministry and former state tourism secretary, received the prize at a glittering awards ceremony.

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Kerala Tourism received the Golden Gate Award’s Silver Prize in the Mulimedia-campaign category. The award was presented for The Great Backwaters campaign in the television-commercial medium.Conceptualised by Kerala Tourism’s creative and marketing agency Stark Communications, The Great Backwaters campaign had won the Golden Gate Gold Prize in the Print category at the ITB-Berlin last year. Earlier, Kerala Tourism had won the Golden Gate Silver Prize for the hugely successful ‘Your Moment is Waiting’ ad campaign in the print category.

The Great Backwaters campaign of Kerala Tourism was notable for its use of aerial photography for the first time in the country on such a wider scale, covering the state’s backwaters as a single destination. A renowned aerial photography team from Finland had conducted the photography using helicams launched from the makeshift platform of a boat to capture the beauty and essence of the vast backwaters.

Presented every year at the ITB-Berlin, Golden Gate Awards, dubbed the ‘Oscar in tourism communication’, are considered the ultimate recognition in global tourism communication. The awards, in its 14th year, provide worldwide attention to the tourism industry.The awards are handed over to the tourism representatives and their creative works in different categories. The works are judged by an international jury based on a point system. Each category receives a gold, silver and bronze award. The award ceremony is held every year under the patronage of the German Federal Association of Film and Audio-Visual Producers.

Kerala Tourism Secretary Shri G Kamala Vardhana Rao and Joint Secretary in the Union Tourism Ministry (2) (1)

“We are honoured by the remarkable recognition for the Great Backwaters Campaign at the world’s biggest travel trade event,” said Kerala Tourism Minister Shri A P Anilkumar. “The award shows the significance of our state on the world tourism map,” he said. “The honour in Berlin will inspire us to promote our state further across the world. Our efforts are aimed at promoting Kerala in the most creative and effective way to a larger global audience,” Shri Anilkumar added. “We are highly confident that during ‘Visit Kerala 2015’, we will be accomplishing many more awards in various other categories,” said Kerala Tourism Secretary Shri Rao. He also added that the state tourism is committed to a substantial growth in the number of visitors to Kerala from across the globe.

Besides The Great Backwaters campaign, Kerala Tourism’s unique marketing strategies last year also included the theme branding of the hop-on-hop-off boats in the backwaters through a public contest among the state’s artists, the successful branding of the Mumbai Metro Train and several multimedia marketing initiatives during road shows and at industry exhibitions abroad.

VIBER ROLLS OUT VIBER GAMES WORLDWIDE

Viber, the leading OTT mobile communications platform, offering free messaging, HD-quality phone and video calls, launched Viber Games today, a major expansion to the app. Viber has partnered with leading game developers to bring unique gaming experiences to the platform featuring Viber characters and exclusive content. Initially released in Belarus, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore and the Ukraine late last year, Viber Games is now available worldwide.

 Viber-pop_in-handsThe launch line-up features Viber Candy Mania and Viber Pop from leading mobile game network Storm8and Wild Luck Casino from leading casual games developer, Playtika. The games were built using a new private API that allows users to sign in with their Viber ID to connect with their friends and contacts on Viber, send them gifts and brag about their achievements. Additionally, users will be able to send game invites via Viber, and see what games their friends are currently playing.

Games will take on the Viber brand look and feel, and feature many of the characters that have already become popular staples of Viber’s Sticker Market. The games will be promoted in the Games section on Viber and will be free to download via Google Play and the App Store. Access to additional features will be available via in-app purchases.

“Viber Games is the latest feature in our ongoing enhancement of the Viber platform,” said Michael Shmilov, Viber’s COO. “Whether users are bragging about their achievements, sending gifts or simply checking out what their friends are playing, Viber Games is another engaging way for people to connect within the app.”

“As a pioneering leader in mobile social games, we’re committed to partnering with companies that expand our reach and provide innovative player experiences,” said Terence Fung, Storm8 Chief Strategy Officer. “We’re delighted to be a launch partner for Viber Games, debuting two new Storm8 titles that bring to life Viber’s popular characters and offer a new level of social interaction among friends.”

“This partnership opens up a new channel for Playtika to introduce our world-renowned social slots to Viber users via a new game we developed specifically for Viber – Wild Luck Casino,” said Elad Kushnir, VP of Business Development at Playtika. “We are excited to take advantage of Viber’s existing communication channels to add another layer to the game experience.”

Three games are currently available, with more to follow in the coming months:

Viber Candy Mania by Storm8 – Sweeten your day with a delightful new game! Follow Viber’s popular sticker characters Violet and Legcat through the levels, as you match and collect candies in this sugar-filled puzzle adventure.

Viber Pop by Storm8 – The best bubble puzzle adventure game yet! Defeat the Evil Bubble Wizard and rescue little buddies. And, for the first time ever, you can play with your favorite Viber character, Legcat!

Wild Luck Casino by Playtika – From the makers of Slotomania, an authentic slots experience is at your fingertips with an exciting range of games to choose from. Play with your friends to win free coins and prizes, then share the good vibes by sending gifts.

Viber Games Features Summary:

  • Gift sending: Send gifts to your Viber friends; receive rewards for the more gifts you send
  • Leaderboards: See how your scores stack up versus your Viber friends’
  • Invite friends: Invite your Viber friends to download the games to play with you
  • Bragging: Tell your friends when you beat their high scores
  • Friend progression: See what levels your friends have reached in the game
  • See what games your friends are currently playing.

Flyin Solo this Women’s Day with Hotels.com

On the occasion of International Women’s day, Hotels.com lists top solo travel destinations

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This international women’s day, rediscover yourself as you travel solo or with your gang of girls. Solo travel as a trendhas caught on a big way among the young independent woman. Gift yourself a holidaypacked with adventure, funand learning and take off solo to experience a world that you have never seen before. As an ode to the spirit of womanhood and to inspire the independent woman in you to travel, Hotels.com has compiled a list of places that are a must-do as solo destinations.

Chile –  Valparaiso

Hotel Recommendation

Ibis Valparaiso

3.5*

Priced at Rs.3, 336* per room per night

Japan- Tokyo

The hospitable, clean, prompt, polite, efficient, friendly country of Japan is extremely safe for women and also happens to be a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Be rest assured ladies, day or night you can walk on the streets and not be afraid. Start with the fascinating megalopolis of Tokyo, hop a bullet train ride past Mount Fuji to experience the contrasting tranquillity of old Kyoto. Lodgings, from venerable ryokaninns to modern hotels, are designed with single travellers in mind. You can enjoy a communal hot spring bath, meditate in a Zen garden, and dine at the counter of a sushi restaurant—a classic favourite of solo travellers.

Hotel Recommendation

Hotel Niwa Tokyo

3.5*

Priced at Rs5,482* per room per night

New York

The city that never sleeps, the Big Apple of America, a city with so much to offer it is impossible to see it all. Visit the famous Central Park, stroll through the West Village, admire the Empire State Building, and unquestionably treat yourself to a New York-style slice of pizza.If you’re the kind of girl who likes to party, shop and eat, this is the place for you! Don’t forget to see the legendary Statue of Liberty while there.

 

Hotel Recommendation

YOTEL New York at Times Square

4*

Priced at Rs7,960* per room per night

Nairobi,Kenya

If you’re the types, who likes a bit of city and a bit of nature, then Nairobi is the place for you. The best of both worlds for travellers, Nairobi is a city that offers urban and safari adventure. Best part about Nairobi is that to take a safari one doesn’t even have to leave the city. From there, you can go on a coffee tasting session to experience some of the locally grown coffee in one of the several coffee shops found in the city. A must see is the Rift Valley, where you can see for hundreds of miles, right down to Tanzania.

 

Hotel Recommendation

La Maison Royale, Nairobi

4*

Priced at Rs5, 577* per room per night

San José City, Costa Rica

Antiques and museums give you a high?Well, then the breathtaking city of San José that is situated at 3,690 ft. above sea level in the Central Valley is the place for you. San José owing to its location enjoys wonderful temperatures year-round, and is both adventurous and convenient as a base of exploration for single travellers. Explore the impressive collection of museums and take yourself back in time. Make sure to check out the open air markets to see the copious amounts of indigenous arts and crafts. Don’t miss out on experiencing some of the best nature in the world, specifically the VolcanPoas.

 

Hotel Recommendation

Hotel Luisiana – Santa Ana

3.5*

Priced at Rs2,570* per room per night

Barcelona, Spain

Paris might be the City of Love, but Barcelona is the ‘city of Luvin’. Stroll Las Ramblas and enjoy Barcelona’s unique blend of Catalan culture, distinctive architecture, lively nightlife and trendy, stylish hotels. You’ll find Europe’s best-preserved Gothic Quarter here, as well as amazing architectural works by Gaudi. Look no further than the rambunctious La Boqueria market, where you can stock up on local delicacies

Hotel Recommendation

Barceló Sants, Barcelona

4*

Priced at Rs5,469* per room per night

Brussels, Belgium

For the single ladies who just want to take off from the hectic lifestyle to a place more peaceful, the capital of Belgium and Europe is the perfect getaway. Brussels is filled with 17th-century Art Nouveau buildings and daily flower markets. Visit Brussels’ very own Eiffel Tower, the Atomium. It provides great views, inside and out. Also, needless to say, get some chocolate and waffles. Belgium has some pretty outstanding selections.

Hotel Recommendation

Pullman Brussels Midi

4*

Priced at Rs6,549* per room per night

Amazon Indian Fashion Week 2015 Update

Payal Singhal presents her Autumn-Winter 2015 at the Amazon India Fashion Week 2015

Payal Singhal Collection at AIFW AW 2015 (6)

​Neo-Indian collection taking inspiration from the delicate femininity of Chantilly lace and the effortless grace of the gamine Parisian.

Payal Singhal Collection at AIFW AW 2015 (5) (1)

Using light weight fabrics like tulle, organza, silk and lace, the line plays on the duality of revealing and concealing, gliding easily between sensual and demure. Muddy pastels – dusk blue, rose blush and stone grey, echo the subtle tones of French chic, enhanced further with French Knot placements.

Intricate embroideries and contemporary zardosi leather appliques add detail and complete the picture of redefined bridal wear.

Fashion rendezvous with Study by Janak

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On a crisp autumn evening, when traffic was going berzerk on the Delhi roads, I made my way to South Extension where the House of Study by Janak is located.

Upon entering this magnificent store I scanned my eyes through the 2 prominent sections of the store – for ladies and gents.Image

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Grape Escapade 2014 – A Tribute to Taste

Wine tasting is something that we all want to do, be it on a Sunday afternoon brunch or at a wine festival. So when we talk about wine festivals, how can we forget Goa’s Grape Escapade.

Goa’s most looked-forward to wine festival, The Grape Escapade 2014 is being hailed as the best ever in terms of attendance, operations, flow and offerings. Over 50000 people will experience a blend of fine wine, lifestyle, haute cuisine and entertainment over 4 days. Over a period of time the festival has come to be known as one of the biggest lifestyle festival in India.

Grape Escapade - Fashion show

Apart from being the only festival of its kind in Goa, the Grape Escapade is also touted to be one of the most popular gourmet festivals till date. Scheduled to take place from the 6th to the 9th Feb 2014 at Campal Grounds, Panaji-Goa, the festival will bring together restaurateurs, hoteliers, wineries and lifestyle brands, all under one roof. While live music and entertainment sets the tone for the evening, wine tasting sessions by an accomplished sommelier and food connoisseur will be conducted. Adding to the vibrancy, are special variety entertainment acts, jazz sessions, fashion shows and a beauty contest. More than 20 wineries will pour wines, while around 15 restaurants and catering companies will offer a range of gourmet food classics, including barbecues, pasta, oriental cuisine and other delicacies. Vegetarian options, chicken, and meat dishes will also be available, as will a bevy of luscious sweet treats.

In addition to wine, food and art, the festival has an elaborate stage set-up with a variety of musical entertainment, which features some of the best local performers in blues, jazz, world beat, as well as dance and other non-musical performances.  The festival also adds economic value to Goa every year as it brings together restaurateurs, wineries, and hospitality and lifestyle players. The Grape Stomping, which is a tradition at the festival, is a source of much delight and fun for the visitors and is an intrinsic part of the festival this year as well. Nikhil Agarwal, Sommelier & Director of All Things Nice will be conducting wine tasting sessions and pairing activities during the festival.

Grape Escapade 2013

The Grape Escapade begins from 6.00 pm onwards and is open to all. The festival is organized and supported every year by Goa Tourism.

Mr. Dilip Parulekar also announced the launch of tourism-related mobile app by RZ2 Games Pvt Ltd. which is into development of mobile application in Goa for last 7 years. The salient features of this Mobile Application covers the basic information required by a tourist such as demography, boarding and lodging, travel, important numbers, must see places, events, important details, do’s and don’ts while in Goa, etc. Any event happening in Goa can be listed and marketed by using this application.  This application can also help promote Goa as a destination for health care/dental cosmetic and also promote any hinterland of Goa, which are not on the main tourist map.

The schedule for Grape Escapade 2014 –

Day I Thursday 6th  Feb

6.15- 6.45pm Inauguration at the hands of the chief guest
6.45- 7.10pm Dance Performance – Sunder And Group
7.15- 8:10pm Trios (Andre Juke Box)
8:15pm onwards Live Band (brothers in arms)/(Alcatraz)

 

Day II  Friday 7th  Feb

6.00- 7.00pm Sigmund and troupe.
7.00- 7.20pm Africans Acrobates
7.20- 8.15pm Band “ evergreens”
8:15pm Live band (Crimson Tide)

 

Day III  Saturday 8th  Feb

6.15- 7.15pm Joe solo
7.15- 7.35pm

7.35- 8.15pm

Bollywood Dance performance “impressions”
Fashion show by ‘Siobhan D’silva’
8.15- 9.00pm Grape Stomping
9.30pm Live band(Carlos and Friends)

Day IV Sunday 9th  Feb

6.15- 7.15pm Kingfisher voice of Goa / duet / trio
7:15- 8:00 Acrobat performance by “Canon Bros”
8:00 -8:15 Grape Escapade Queen Contest
8:15- onwards Live Band and Dance troupe “Syndicate