Kite Festival 2009, Zilker Park, Austin

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The word ‘Kite’ brings several images with separate connotations to my mind.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Kite Runner – ‘Kite’ reminds me of the book ‘The Kite Runner‘ by Khaled Hosseini (also adapted into a film of the same name). It is a story of a boy born into a rich family in Afghanistan in 70s who now lives in USA. He let a terrible thing happen to his best friends during childhood. Several years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself and in the process, visits war-ravaged Afghanistan. Kite Running forms an integral part of the story and several pages of the story are woven around Kite festival, children and adults flying kites, kite flying competition and running for the kites that befall during the competition. The protagonist gets a second chance, but the story almost makes you wonder, will Afghanistan get another chance.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Makar Sankranti – ‘Kite’ also reminds me of the festival of Makar Sankranti in India. The festival signifies the beginning of the harvest season in India and is called by various names in different parts of the country – Makara Sankranthi, Pongal, Tilgul, Yellu-Bella, Lohri, Maghi, Uttarayan etc. During pre teens, I used to stand on rooftops with a couple of friends (in fact every male tween in the neighborhood) and practice flying kites just as the New Year arrived. On weekdays, we used to practice after coming back from school – 3:30 to 5pm. And on the weekends, the entire day, probably just after ‘Shri Krishna’ on TV. Flying a kite was particularly difficult on cloudy days – January being the coldest time of the year no sun overhead meant a temperature of 12/13 degrees.

A day before Makar Sankranti, which is usually around 14th January, we used to buy several kites, long threads and ‘Manjha’ (pronounced Mun-jhaa and means glass lining some part of the thread) materials. Manjha is an art and is necessary for executing the kite cutting techniques – pull and release. Don’t know whether the art (of buying, sharpening the thread and flying kites) has changed these days – I know kites are even available online these days, but buying kites from the shops is an experience to cherish. Note to self: Write a full post on ‘Kite Flying in India‘ soon.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to witness Austin Kite Festival (I missed Mardi Gras!).

Zilker Kite Festival

Zilker Kite Festival

Austinites celebrate Kite Festival on the first Sunday of March every year at Zilker Park, thus called Zilker Kite Festival. Well, it’s a coincidence that Austin Kite Festival started on the same year as Oscars, in 1929. It is organized by The Exchange Club, which is an ‘all-volunteer, national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community, develop leadership skills and enjoy new friendships’. It seemed that the festival is immensely popular among Austin families – and also among tourists since it is open to all and free.

People: Several hundreds of people – families, singles, couples, young and old, gathered in an open ground. Kites of plenty of shapes, sizes and colors could be seen on the sky. It was an amazing sight to see kids not even 10 years of age flying huge kites. A few guys looked pro – their sleek kites were flying the highest. What amazed me was that no one tried to cut the flying kite of others. The Kite competition was a test of high-fly skill rather than a combat. And this was such a huge difference from the way kite flying is done in India. Even a no gooder like me could fly even lame kites pretty high and cut the thread of another high flier. Sigh!

An army of Kites

An army of Kites

Everyone wasn’t flying kites though. Those who weren’t, engaged in a variety of activities. Some watched other fly kites. Some others were busy in wall climbing, rotating rings around their waists (don’t know the term for this) or getting tattoo/mehndi/henna applied on their bodies – some on palm, others on the pelvic or tailbone area. Few spread out sheets on the ground and were eating or just lying around. Others were busy checking out different food stalls. I checked out a chicken kebab from a Turkish stall – kebabilicious. And it was delicious.

If you happen to be around Austin at this time of the year, do visit Zilker Park on the first Sunday of March for the Kite Festival. And a must see is the mass kite ascension at 3pm.

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Two hours at Cubbon Park

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The earlier tryst: My first visit to Cubbon Park was in April this year when we (me and my parents) took a tour operator’s bus to tour within Bangalore and it took a scheduled break at the place. Half an hour at the Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum, a brief stint at the park itself (it was just after the spring), a passerby look at the Museum and the board that said there’s an Art Gallery in the premises led me conclude that the place demands spending a quality time and is a full day visit. So, went there yesterday to complete this must-see in Bangalore.

The Plan: Power cut in the morning ensured I couldn’t look for online tips before for the visit – how to reach, timings, must-see, must-do, avoid etc. A bengali travel book – ‘Bhromon Songi’ indicated Kasturba Gandhi Road is where I should be headed to. Based on the earlier tryst and the anticipation thereof, I budgeted for seven hours for the visit, including two for commuting – I was taking BMTC bus after all.

Bus journey: No conductor in the bus inevitably meant queuing up before the driver to get your tickets. Now, this spelled trouble. Twenty minutes after the bus started, it was only a kilometer from where it started. Left the bus and took an auto to the place.

Government Museum: I knew that on public holidays and Wednesday, the Museum is closed. On a Saturday noon, there was hardly anyone around. Took a round of the red building and found a guard who said that ‘its second Saturday, it is closed’. Now, consider this: In all of 15 months in Bangalore, I happened to visit this place for the first time and that too on a day it was closed. Bad luck, eh. The guard suggested to visit the Art Gallery – ‘first floor’.

Museum

Museum

Venkatappa Art Gallery: I’ve been to some Art Galleries in Kolkata, and in Delhi. Loved most of them, Academy of Fine Arts (Kolkata) in particular. The ambiance, buzz of people, overhearing intellectual remarks (‘how you should see this piece’ or ‘why is this painting the best thing to hit the art circuit in last one year’), the canteen all make a mesmerizing combo. Venkatappa Art Gallery looked a little different, rather strikingly different. There were only two souls at the entrance – both of them guards. This really dampened my spirit. ‘First floor’, one of them said.

The First Floor: What struck me, again, was the total absence of visitors. Paintings by 6 artists were exhibited – around 30 odd pieces. Paintings of Buddha (6 I counted), village life (8), horses were abound. There were around 8 abstract paintings – and as usual, couldn’t understand even an iota of it. Back in Nandan, you would find people around and if you seek help, they would help you understand the art, irrespective of your dumb quotient. I consider myself unqualified to comment on something I couldn’t understand. However, the paintings of Ravichandran seemed appealing, even to me. The village market scene, the dancer, the fruit seller all seemed life like. Predictably, all such paintings had one common thread (except the same painter) – they all featured women. I wonder what is it between painters and women? I found solace here – at least I found something in common between art galleries of Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. I was done viewing the paintings in twenty minutes – what I expected to take more than an hour.

The Park: The entrance raises your expectation – a little stadium to the left, a bamboo groove to the right and a walk towards the bandstand (LalBagh) like structure in front. However, I was disappointed when I came closer – plastic littered all around, the absence of flowers and only a few people around – the place didn’t seem like the Cubbon Park I expected. A little walk around was all the more disappointing – there were places to sit – but all dirty, there were plants around – but not flowers.

March

March

The Saving Grace: Amidst all these, a group of ducks(or swans?) and turkeys lifted my spirits. The sight of these folks moving in group – like an army troop marching and whistling away to glory – was amazing. Took a couple of photographs and videos of the march. Suddenly, most of the things around seemed interesting – the bamboo groove (its tall and clustered existence), birds and love birds. Hungry and tired, I bid Cubbon Park adieu.

Summary: Power cut, conductor-less bus, second saturday, visitor-less art gallery and flower-less park rendered my much anticipated Cubbon Park visit utterly futile. Thanks you birds for being the silver lining in an otherwise wasteful exercise. Probably, a visit next spring would change my perception. But till that happens, I wouldn’t go to Cubbon Park for Park-like experience. I would rather visit LalBagh for this.

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LalBagh – A scrumptious treat

Tourists visiting Bangalore make it a point to visit LalBagh. All the travels and tour operators keep LalBagh in their itinerary. However, I didn’t pay a visit to this picturesque 240 acre (1 sq Km) Botanical Garden until last Saturday. Here’s a brief description of what I saw, observed and felt during my 5 hours at LalBagh.

Map of LalBagh

About the place

The garden houses 1000+ species of flora and was commissioned two-and-half centuries back by Hyder Ali. It houses a lake, several gardens (Japanese, Rose, Bonsai, Topiary), world’s one of the oldest Rock formations (and atop it lies Kempe Gowda Tower), a magnificient Glass House and a Floral Clock among other things. LalBagh remains open daily from 6 am to 7pm (Entry Fee-INR 10). The place is a jogger’s delight.

Glass House

Glass House

Location/How to Reach

LalBagh has four gates – of which, vehicles are allowed inside only from the East Gate. Local buses ply between several parts of the city to LalBagh, which is only 4km from Vidhana Soudha.

What to See

Glass House: Inspired by the famous Crystal Palace of London, Glass House is surrounded by Pencil Cedars and Champaka trees.

Lake: Ideal for bird watchers, joggers, and of course, love birds. Spending some time around it may remind you of lakes in Ooty and Kodaikanal.

A bird drying itself

A bird drying itself

Kempe Gowda Tower: It is a monument built over a stone formation that is one of the world’s oldest (3 billion years).

Other Attractions: An equestrian Statue of Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar stands tall and beside it, lies a Floral Clock. The Clock is surrounded by Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. Other places you may visit include Band Stand, Dove Cot, Bonsai Garden, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Aviary, Deer Paddock and Lotus Pond.

TravellersDiary Recommends

Buy a LalBagh map at the entrance – it costs just INR 5. If you’re an early riser, come to LalBagh at around 6am. Jog or walk around the lake for a mesmerizing view with the breeze caressing your face and hair. If you are a Photography enthusiast, you wouldn’t be dissapointed, thats for sure. A little late in the day, have some roasted corn, half ripe mangoes or groundnuts. Sit on the benches aside the lake, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden or the Band Stand and watch – the birds, the trees and flowers, the lake and other people doing the same. If you like sketching, take your ‘implements’ with you and sketch. Sit atop the small hillock – KG Tower and feed your eyes the view of Bangalore. The Flower Shows, organized twice a year (26th January, India’s Republic Day and 15th August, India’s Independence Day) are a must see. Ans yes, don’t miss the Deer Paddock.

Upside Down

Other Resources

TravellersDiary Pics

LalBagh’s Website

LalBagh at Karnataka Tourism

http://www.horticulture.kar.nic.in/lalbagh.htm