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.

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La Dolce Vita – The magical Amalfi Coast!

Two summers back, I had spent a memorable  time in Italy, Europe. While the rest of Italy remains well charted out in the Indian travel scene (that includes the bus full of people doing Europe darshan), Amalfi and the beautiful coastline of Southern Italy was quite a chance discovery for me.

We were staying in Germany and I used to switch on to German television channels to learn Deutsch. It was a trick that my “lehrerin” (teacher in Deutsch) from language school had suggested. Germans are known for their wanderlust and it is during one of those binge watching of travel shows on television, that I discovered the dreamily romantic and the holiday hot spot for the rich and famous – Amalfi Coast.

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A trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia – A bit Closer to ‘Heaven’

Last Sunday, I returned home after completing an epic Euro Trip of sorts. For most of the part of my trip, I was travelling with my best friend, one who is known as ‘the husband’ for the more mundane and prosaic world, to some places which have been on my bucket list for quite long.

To tell the truth, a year and half of my stay in Europe, did change my perspective towards life. I love the utter chaos of Calcutta but somewhere down the line I do miss the quaint little coffee shops and those cobbled streets of European cities. The story with omnipresent ‘honking horns’ of Calcutta is that I abhor when I am here and I miss them when I am outside where driving on a road is actually a civilised affair. Alternatively, I miss the serenity when I am back in my hometown. The traffic itself is a a jarring reminder of the adventure ahead on the road.

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Stories from Barcelona – La Boqueria Market

Barcelona is a city that I immediately felt at home. While the whole of Europe and especially German cities takes pride in being prim, proper and every thing nice, Barcelona is that wild untamed spirit who refuses to follow rules. In my mind, Barcelona is a lot like Calcutta.

The city has a unique feel which is hard to describe and anybody visiting the place can feel the pulse while setting foot on the majestic La Ramblas. Barcelona is often called the party capital of Europe and a pitcher of Sangria while walking across the La Ramblas will make you understand the precise reason why it is called so. But make no mistake, Barcelona is more than just La Ramblas, the beautiful beaches, or for that matter those masterpieces by Gaudi or Camp Nou. The die hard Calcutta girl within me will suggest that you take a walk down the Gothic Quarter ( a part of the erstwhile walled city) or walk past the Barri Gotic and you might just feel that you have just walked past one of those much photographed and iconic North Calcutta lanes- probably of Hedua or Shyambajar. Does that sound lustworthy enough?

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Of cities, short stories and memories of a lifetime – Paris

Prologue:

Every city has a tale to tell of her own. Some are rather bland, some colloquial enough to hold your attention, some refuse to leave your mind long after its all over and some are just timeless…just like Waheeda Rehman. I cannot imagine any city to be a man. In my mind every city is distinctly a woman – with a scent of her own.

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The DDLJ trail – In search of the Bollywood fairy tale in Switzerland

Every year thousands of people from all over the world visit Switzerland and a vast majority of those tourists are people from the Indian subcontinent. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful countries of the world. But apart from that there is one very important thing that has influenced every one of us – the ones who grew up on the staple diet of Bollywood, SRK and the nostalgia of the 90’s, to visit the nation. No prizes for guessing the answer – Yashraj Films.

We have to accept it that when Sridevi romanced a ‘starting to be potbellied’ and sweater clad Rishi Kapoor, while wearing impeccable Chiffon sarees and pearls and singing – “Tere mere hoton pe meethein, meethein geet Mitwa” in Chandni in the lush green Swiss valleys – we all wanted to be there and do a role play!

And then came the game changer called “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (DDLJ) which has probably defined romance for everyone who belongs to my generation. When a young SRK flashes his dimpled smile and looks at his best onscreen partner Kajol to mouth the golden words – “Koi baat nahi Senorita, bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain“, we have no other alternative left other than going weak on our knees.

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Murshidabad through my eyes…

Christmas holidays or “Borodiner chuti” is big in this part of the world. I belong to a city who wears her hat of colonial past with elan and pride and frankly speaking I do not see anything to be ashamed of there either. You cannot change history and if you want to, you belong to the same class of Taliban fellows who were trying to demolish Buddha statues in Bamian, Afghanistan, a few years back. They probably tried a bit too hard to prove that Buddhism had not left its footprints there a few hundred years back. So when anybody asks me what is there to be so proud about Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and why it should be preserved since it is a constant reminder of the British rule in the country, my only answer to them is – my dear! since you asked that question, you made the distinction about ‘class’ and ‘crass’ so clear in front of my eyes 🙂

That part of the rant was necessary, since my chosen destination for spending Christmas holidays with family this year was – “Murshidabad”. Anybody aware about this long forgotten chapter about India’s brilliant past will know that Murshidabad is not only about the famous “Battle of Plassey” that changed the course of the history of the sub-continent. Unfortunately, like many things which I find unbearable about India’s education system, our history books have relegated the pomp and grandeur and the long history of the Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad – the last flag bearers of independent Indian rulers in this part of the world, to a mere 8 marks essay type answer in the history answer sheets.

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