Travel Diary: In search of Tulips and Bollywood (Silsila) in Holland

Every year thousands of tourists from the Indian subcontinent flock to Keukenhof gardens, Netherlands in search of their perfect ‘Silsila’ memory. In case you are still wondering what is ‘Silsila’ – it is a Hindi film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha which released way back in 1981. While the film itself did not do so well at the Box Office, it became popular due to the almost ‘casting coup’ in form of the alleged real life love triangle doing a role play on screen. Apart from that, the musical compositions by Shiv-Hari have now attained almost a ‘cult’ status.

The song “Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsiley huye” is a favourite among Bollywood buffs like me and it has transcended the boundary of generations. The lyrics and the music makes the song an instantly hummable one, but it is the picturisation that takes the cake!

We come from a county where we, and our neighbours, do take our films seriously, very seriously! As a result many like me flock to those tulip fields of Holland imagining ourselves to be the “white salwar” clad Rekha and our men to be the tall, dark and angry (but irresistibly so!) Amitabh Bachchan.

You may not like all Yash Chopra movies and the song and dance routine, but you have to agree that he was a genius! The way he imagines the picturisation of his songs, especially the romantic ones, I doubt anybody from the new breed can create such ethereal magic. ‘Silsila’ happened and thus began our fascination with Netherlands and the tulips.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Keukenhof gardens and the flower fields back in 2014 and again this year in 2017. This year, I went back to that area thrice during the peak tulip season and discovered many previous gems. As a routine, I do a lot of research and reading before visiting a place and it was then that I discovered that Keukenhof was merely a Spring garden. Undoubtedly, it is world’s most beautiful Spring garden where a wide array of Tulips of different hues are at display, but it is not the ‘only’ right place to go if you wish to bedazzled by the beauty of the never ending tulip fields, just the way it was shown in that song from ‘Silsila’.

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Nature’s canvas!

When to visit: The tulips and the vast flower fields may be the most recognisable icon of the Netherlands, but the actual ‘blooming season’ is very short and last from mid to end March to first or second week of May, every year. The Keukenhof gardens also remain open ‘only’ during those times of the year. The full bloom reaches around mid to end of April and it is, arguably, the best time to visit the fields and the garden. ‘Mesmerising’ will be an understatement for the view that you get to look at. If you are coming to Holland to revel in the glory of Tulips and ‘Silsila’, you have to  here around that time. At any other time of the year, you will get to look at the tulips only on picture postcards.

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Inside the Keukenhof Gardens

I have seen/heard from many of my friends visiting Keukenhof gardens being disappointed that they did not find the fields and so I decided to write this one travlogue. If I am of any help to you, pray for me that I might just tick another place on the map from my bucket list 🙂

How to reach Keukenhof: Keukenhof can be reached easily from any part of Netherlands. If you are in Amsterdam or any nearby town, you will find ‘combination tickets‘ for ‘skip the line’ entry and bus rides from.particular points like Schiphol Airport or Amsterdam central being sold everywhere. You may buy them over the counter or online from here. If you are visiting from any other part of Europe and there are numerous day trip/bus trips available.

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Can you ever get enough of this sight?


Reaching the fields (Short stay): If you are pressed for time and you have planned a day trip then you may try walking to the fields nearby the Keukenhof gardens. The fields lie at a distance of around 1-2 kilometres from the main gate of the Keukenhof gardens and you have to walk till there. If you have a car, you may drive down. Be careful as it is a narrow road and bicycles and cars jostle for space. Some of the fields are strictly private and you should not try to enter them without permission. My tip will be that you start early, reach Keukenhof but do not enter the garden first. Walk till the fields before it gets crowded and enter the gardens, later in the afternoon. Do not miss the gardens even if you are enamoured by the beauty of the fields. Trust me, you will love the gardens too!

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The ‘very’ Dutch postcard!
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Uncommon hues!
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More postcards!

When you have an extra day to spare: In case, you have some extra time to spare and you wish to discover the ‘real’ and not so crowded/touristy flower fields where I feel the song was actually shot, you may visit or hike or cycle through the world famous ‘Bollenstreek‘ or ‘Bloemenroute‘ (flower route) of Holland. The route encompasses several towns and villages on the way where tulips are grown on a commercial basis. The tulips and the fragrant hyacinths grown here yield huge money. During the peak flower season, this area is like nature’s canvas with a plethora red, yellow, pink and lavender sprinkled all over.

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The vast fields with lovely colours!
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Cannot stop staring!
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Crayons and colours. From a distance!

I walked/hiked through the Bollenstreek, taking some help of the Dutch public transport (mostly buses), from Noordwijkherout a small town which is easily reachable from Amsterdam. We moved towards Sassenheim and onward to Lisse. Actually, Keukenhof gardens fall right in the middle of the Bollenstreek. If you can ride a bicycle (which I cannot), it will be easier for you as the places are nearby and all you need is to gather a map and start. Google maps are quite handy and if you are renting a bicycle from any of the NS stations or from bicycle vendors, you will be probably provided a map of the area. If nothing else, follow the street signs and once you are just outside the centre of these quaint, little and very pretty Dutch towns the flower fields will guide you.

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On our way from Sassenheim to Lisse. One gets to see a plethora of colours on the way.
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More unknown hues.

What to carry: If you are hiking through Bollenstreek, you may find some dunes on the way, though I did not find many. Take along some easy to carry snacks as this will be a day long adventure and since these are non touristy areas, you may not find a eatery nearby. Carry enough water to keep yourself hydrated especially if it is a sunny day. Do not forget the sunglasses. Pray that it is a sunny day, since the flowers look best when the sun is smiling upon them. Also, do not forget to carry a handy jacket as the weather in Netherlands can be quite unpredictable. It may be sunny at 1 in the afternoon and raining at 3.

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A field full of fragrant hyacinths.

P.S. I had previously written an article in Bengali about my visit to Keukenhof in 2014 for ‘O-Kolkata’. This was before I had discovered the unexplored beauty of the Bollenstreek or Bloemenroute of Holland.

P.P.S. All the photographs used here are clicked by me and mostly unedited. Unauthorised use of photographs is strictly prohibited. Please take due permission if you wish to use them or otherwise legal actions will be taken.

#HomeKahon – The story of my Indian Home

The story of designing my first home from scratch.

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They always talk about first love, but rarely in our documented history do we prefer talking about our other firsts?

The first job, the first salary, first car, first home….

You may call me severely materialistic, but all these hold a very special place in my heart, just like my first “Aam Panna” I shared with my husband, the first story that got published or the first ‘Phuchka’ that I had in Calcutta after returning from Europe after a year and a half.

Designing and making a ‘home’ out of a ‘house’ is always a challenge, especially if it is your ‘first’ one. You want it to be special and unique. My wishes were no different. I was a never a big ‘home decor’ enthusiast.

In fact, I often scorned at my mother who would scold me or my sister at the very sight of us sluggisly sitting on the sofa and squishing away her cushions. I was always the lethargic kid (“lyadhkhor”) as they call in colloquial Bengali), who loved her sleep.

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Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16

There are days when I feel extremely bored and tired with this city that I have known since my birth. I want to get rid of that invisible umbilical chord which does not let me leave her and yet I cannot bear the sight of her any more – happens quite often nowadays.

But then there are days when she makes me fall in love, again…..and for a lifetime. Just like the unmatched euphoria of discovering the bling in the red from the first bloom of “Palash” across my balcony. I increasingly find it difficult to describe my relationship with Calcutta. She has almost taken the place of that unknown neighbourhood aunt whose turmeric soiled sari is often the most comforting factor in your life – that you have reached home at the fag end of the day and while the world around you might conspire to give you a tough time, you can sleep in peace for the night here.

Why I say this, is again a difficult story to explain. Last weekend was a super busy one for the city. The omniscient Bengali Panjika had wreaked havoc in the average Bengali’s life and the market prices soared with the thought of keeping the goddess of wisdom happy. The Bengali who always find a dilemma between keeping the two mother goddesses happy – Lakshmi and Saraswati and whom to prefer while making a career choice, was again trapped in that debate.

And then there was the Kolkata Literary Meet happening against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Memorial. The Lit meet, in its essence- epitomised Calcutta. Unorganised yet extremely rejuvenating…sessions which only could happen here in this city which is known for its eccentricity.

So while me and my husband man rushed to attend a particular session at KaLam, 2015 while walking past the beautifully designed Mohor Kunjo (earlier known as Citizen’s Park), we caught a glimpse of the Bengali Valentines Day madness. And truth be told, I was super happy to see all those sweet 16’s clad in their first yellow (“Bansanti) coloured saris and their counterparts in the oddly worn dhoti.

Continue reading “Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16”

The Ambassador-stories of the “Sarkari” car, yellow taxis and freshly minted ‘old’ times…

That Hindustan Motors has decided to stop production of the iconic Ambassador car at its “Hind Motor” factory near Calcutta is almost stale news now. Probably as stale as the Ambassador grew for our changing tastes and everything fast and furious. If I go on to say that the decision made me teary eyed, I will be lying. For long, it was almost common knowledge. The factory situated in the outskirts of Calcutta, near a place called Uttarpara was more in news for constant labour troubles and decreasing in production. We all knew that, Ambassador, once the symbol of India’s elite’s pride and prestige was nearing an almost slow death. Let’s be honest and accept that even though my father always preferred Ambassador over all other cars because of the leg space, boot space and comfort, it was never the ‘in’ thing for my generation. When me and my husband decided to buy our first car almost 2 years back, Ambassador was not even in consideration. Why should it be? It was outdated in design, in comfort and in style.

But this post is not about the things which made  the Ambassador extinct, rather this is about the stories and the moments which will also be a part of our memories revolving around the car which meant so many things to us at different stages of our growing up years.

Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey...
Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey…

From: Here

My first memory about Ambassador cars was not about the car itself but the place called “Hind Motor”. One of my father’s dearest friend lives in Srerampore, an old town situated on the banks of the Hooghly. I remember often visiting their place during winters for the pleasure known as “choruibhati” or “picnic” among us Bengalis. We used to catch a particular train from Howrah station and I always managed to wrestle a sit by the window to see the changing landscape unfold in front of my eyes. The hustle bustle of the city and the larger than life images of the Howrah Bridge later, the stories of small towns nearby Calcutta made me inquisitive…always. And the most intriguing part was about the nomenclature of these places – “Rishra”, “Uttarpara”, “Liluah” and there was another one called “Hind Motor”. My father was my Google during those days and he told me during one of those trips that “Hind Motor” was named after the famous Hindustan Motors factory situated there. That must have been early 1990’s because I distinctly remember him explaining about how an entire township had developed on the basis of the employment generated due to the gigantic Hindustan Motors factory. Being my inquisitive self, I must have asked him about why Ambassador cars were either white or yellow. To that, I was told that the white cars are either ‘private’ cars or ‘sarkari’ cars and the yellow ones are ‘taxis’.

Mind you, this was India of 1990’s. Globalisation had still not swept us off our feet and our NRI relatives were our mini “demi gods”. The 15 days they were here in India, they demanded every bit of the attention they deserved. We used to gape in wonder about the ‘biiiiiig’ cars they used to drive on the picture perfect roads. For most of us, owning a car during those times was actually a status symbol. Just like the instant edge that you had over your friend if your family had a landline telephone connection and your friend’s mother used to talk incessantly with her grandmother while sitting in your family’s living room. And the very few of the cars we knew was “Maruti 800”, “Fiat” and the grand old man- “the Ambassador”. While Maruti had already started making inroads into the dinner table fantasy of the middle class, “Ambassador”, the white coloured one, represented prestige, power and aristocracy.

I remember my father asking one of his friends about the car he had recently purchased. At this point, I must tell you that I have inherited my genes of “sucker for everything old” from my father. So while the uncle went on to lament how great a car Maruti was, my father constantly told him that he should have got an Ambassador. His reasons were simple. Even if you forget the comfort and the space the car provided, the ‘Class’ that it appended to your status can never be forgotten. “Abhijatyo” and the middle class Bengali- ah! that will make for another good story.

Strangely, a very inquisitive person like me also never questioned my father’s beliefs about the Ambassador being the epitome of class. Probably because the answer was written all over. My neighbour, a very high-placed Government Official, used a red beacon fitted Ambassador. And oh! boy, the moment it glided across the South Calcutta neighbourhood I lived in, it drew many a  jealous glances. Everyone knew that somebody very important lived in that house. Be it the parar pujo (neighbourhood Durga Pujo) or a certain cultural evening, everyone used to make a beeline at his house for some funds which he may procure for the association using his contacts for “advertisement”. In every decision he had an upper hand and the symbolism of all of that boiled down to that white Ambassador and the red beacon atop it.

Vintage

From: Here

While I watched this, I often wondered when will my father be able to drive such an Ambassador car which spells authority with such an elan. It would also mean me taking an upper hand over all my neighbourhood  friends. The mere thought excited me much. I used to hear hush hush discussions between my parents where my father told that his promotion is long due and after that he will also be entitled to use one such car. Fully funded on Government money…spelling power, prestige and class! The dream materialised soon after and while my father did not always use his office car, it did mark a key shift in the way others perceived us in the neighbourhood. While my father often generously offered lifts to other office goers in the same “office para” (yes! in Calcutta e have a para for office also :)), I felt immense pride at his achievement. He was a self made man and he deserved every bit of the prestige that the white Ambassador commanded. Incidentally, whenever my father uses his office car till today, he specifically mentions that he needs an Ambassador. Times have changed and the white Ambassador might have paved way for the much more fashionable BMWs in Raisina Hill, but my father remains a strong supporter of the car that contributed in some or the other way the name to reckon with what he is today. And while the landscape of my quiet South Calcutta neighbourhood has changed quite a bit in the past few years, the jealous glances and the glances of importance that my father receives every time the white Ambassador bearing the symbolism of it being a part of the Government machinery,  glides by has not changed at all over the years.  BMWs, Mercs and everything notwithstanding. I wonder what will happen a few years later when the last few remaining cars will be shoved past the Calcutta street keeping in mind the environmental norms and clearances? Will my father raise a demand for an Indica, Indigo or a Dzire? I do not know.

If the white Ambassador marked the journey of my family towards the fulfillment of their dreams, the yellow one will remain equally special for us. At least for me in particular. But like many other choices of mine in life, this was also somehow influenced by my father. Once during a trip to Bombay (he still refers to the city by that name, so do I ) he found it immensely disturbing that the “dikki” did not have enough space to carry his luggage. That is exactly when  he told me that Calcutta is better than any other city in India. Reason- We had “boro dikkiwala” (huge bootspace worthy) Ambassador taxi. The yellow ones. The ones that mark the cityscape to be Oh! Calcutta every time they show up on a movie screen. Remember the recent Bolly hit Kahaani? To think that one could even compare it to Bombay’s tiny Fiat taxis was almost blasphemous for my father. And I adhered to his belief. I still do.

Yesterday evening I was having a random conversation with one of my favourite juniors from college about how end of the road for Ambassadors in India meant death knell for our favourite Calcutta taxi..the yellow ones! He reminded me that earlier the Ambassador taxi was also painted in black and yellow. But I suppose I owe my memory more to the yellow one. The yellow taxi…the ultimate time machine to rush to a 9:00 clock exam while starting from home at 8:30 in the morning. “Taxi!!!!!” that one shout out from my father and I knew that I will well be in time for the exam. Much later, when valentines day became fashionable among us, hiring a taxi to impress the girl you wanted to date became fashionable too. The logic was simple, taxi fares were sky rocketing and the fact that you could hire a taxi meant you had money power. Come to think of it today, how stereotypical the process was. The girls never offered to pay the fare but aren’t you bound to take a few liberties with memories? Rain drenched, Victoria clad Calcutta memories?

Actually, you can take many! To tell the truth we were definitely the last of the imaginative young lot Calcutta had seen. Forum was the only mall that we knew of and Saraswati pujo and Rabindra Jayanti in my school were equally important as Valentines day. I went to a co-ed school and I know many of my guy friends perfecting the art of calling a ‘taxi’ with style and elan. All to impress his sweetheart! To think of it that the sweethearts have exchanged hearts with somebody else nowadays is a different story altogether 😛

But if I tell you that all of my memories about the yellow taxi are happy ones, I will be lying! The pain of catching an obnoxious taxi and begging the driver to take you to your desired destination, most often during peak office hours or rain, is one thing that every Calcuttan knows. I have fought with them, threatened to call police and have been often threatened at. Fighting, as you see is in a bong woman’s vein and she does not believe in taking taxi refusals lying down. Another thread of quarrel was picked up when two people almost at the same time manage to sit in the same taxi with precision which would have earned India a few more Olympic gold medals. While the taxi driver often suggested that ‘sharing and caring’ is the way to go, I protested. While the fight snowballed, so did stories. The rogue taxi drivers were often the villain but right now I can remember one who used to patiently wait for me at around 8:40 in the morning near Tollygunge Bangur Hospital. My in laws house in Calcutta is nearby and since I was always almost late for office, this taxi wallah bhaiya would decline all other passengers round that time and would wait for me to arrive. I travelled all the way from South to north and reached my office situated near Salt Lake. He earned a handsome amount every morning but somewhere that was not all the consideration that he had in his mind. The fact that loyalty can be known in a city which is increasingly turning out to be a much colder and scarier shadow f its former self was comforting thought.

If I had to end this memoir of mine with one another memory, it will definitely be about the yellow taxi which heralded the beginning of our every summer vacation. While all of my father’s and mother’s friends decided to meet at a particular time beneath the ‘boro ghori’ (big watch’) of the Howarh station, it was the big dikkiwallah Ambassador taxi that was always called to stuff in all the luggage.

Probably, their days are also numbered now. One by one they will vanish from the face of the city and with them, the stories of our childhood, our growing up years, moments marred with short stories, stories of love, betrayal, the moment of fetching a taxi to hide your tears after heart break, the moment of fetching a taxi to reach home quickly to deliver the news about your first job, the moments of taking my pregnant neighbour to the nearby hospital in a taxi since no ambulance was available…and the good news which later travelled back in a similar taxi, the smell of Calcutta written all over it once you step out of the Airport and a swarm of warm yellow happiness engulfing you…all that and more.

Calcutta will move on. The newer lot of taxis are lot more smarter and good-looking. They have car charging points, newspapers, GPS enabled dashboards. There are different varieties of them all. They are also often called cabs nowadays. But for us ‘taxi’ will always remain the good old yellow Ambassador car, just like the ultimate symbol of “Sarkari” prestige will be the white Ambassador. And if not for all of that, there is one reason why my father’s generation and probably some of mine will never be able to forget the Amby or the Ambassador. Remember ‘Aranyer Dinratri’  and the car that the four gentleman drove? Yes, it was an Ambassador.

Calcutta...a few years ago!
Calcutta…a few years ago!

(My own click)

P.S. – What happens to Hind Motor now? The thriving township – is it dead already or has the children moved to Delhi, Gurgaon or Bombay in search of a much better life.

A little bit of the blue and oh! yeah a bit of red too

My childhood memories of Holi remain entangled with the onslaught of annual exams. My school had this uncanny preference for preparing the exam schedule so as to support my Ma’s fervent plea of- “don’t play holi, otherwise you will catch a cold” gesture. I had no other option, other than to oblige. Also, our plans of visiting Shantiniketan during “Boshontoutsav” never materialised.

Once in college (technically University), the 1st time I entered that Gate No. 4 of Jadavpur Univeristy, the first thing I was told about was the snob value that is attached to you once you say you are doing Comparative Literature from “Jadobpur”(trust me, half of the times people doing English Hons. form nondescript colleges hadn’t even heard of it, but still looked at me with awe since I was kind of friendly with Tagore and Austen, both actually). I found the second one even more interesting though. The “across the jheel” romance angle. And before you started viewing the world with those rose tinted glasses on, you need to thank the entire “boshontoutsav” on campus…and “jodubongsher lokjon” (people of the jodu clan- a name attached to people from JU) were more than eager to make it even more colourful every year. 
But I was stuck! The one year I spent there was anything but drab. But during Holi I was just a silent spectator from the 1st floor Comparative “ledge”. My law school entrance exams were nearby and I could not afford to miss them. Greener Pastures beckoned me you know! though I am yet to decipher the comparative degree of blue I lost out on.
Once in NALSAR, Holi meant everything of breaking out. 1st year holi brings back memories of boys sneaking into the girls hostel and the resultant drama when the warden, the Registrar and the Vice Chancellor arrived. It was fun. Fun because it wa sthe first time I was playing Holi in a pan Indian set up. But my resilience was short lived. One egg on my head and fatak!- I was gone. After that the last two years had been drab. Working or not, I somehow was not interested in taking part in the festivities.
But this time in my 4th year, I suddenly realised we(atleast me) were too short on time. One year more and college gets over. and so does our coveted days of everything random. Not that we aren’t professional enough now. Seriously, that gets on my nerves sometimes, but I agree we have to be that ways some time, everytime. And even though this time not many were around, the bunch of us present here made sure that it was special. 
And special it was for us. For me, it was the proper Holi I played in my entire 22 years of existance….Colours, Sprinklers on the field, egg and last but not the least the “Keechar”. The “Keecharowali holi” just made up for everything. I was stinking with the 4 eggs on my head and the mud on my body. But so were my friends. But I was happy that I retaliated. Also, that the amount of running around on that manicured campus lawn made up for the amount I hogged during the holi break. There was no Bhaang or Thandai. But the vibes were infectious and the smiles, for once, were real. Here’s to the brightest and “junglee-est” holi I have ever played in my life. Here’s to my friends, classmates and juniors- Richa, Anku, Paridhi, Swetali, Nidhi, Nannu, Sadhika, Rana, Baba T, Nayak and Chau for making it this special. Thank you guys. And needless to say I missed Shreya, Samiksha, Runjhun, Jyotika and others being around.