Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 4

Click here for Part 1. 
The next day, the morning dawns bright and sunny, albeit with a slightly chilly undertone. But, by now, having spent two days in NZ, I have realized that the morning chill is largely deceptive. It sticks around for a couple of hours and then ditches summer for the rest of the day. Thus, in contrast to the past two days of wearing warm clothes and then complaining or having to change mid-day, I dress myself more in tune with the weather. Today, our first stop is the souvenir shop. You must be wondering why we’re making a souvenir stop mid-way through our trip. Here’s where I rake up the mistakes from NZ Part 1 (remember the flip flops and the office formal footwear?) A half hour later, armed with decent walking footwear, we make our way down to the Fox Glacier. 

Directs from Punakaiki to Queenstown via Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Driving south-west from Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to Fox Glacier and finally to Queenstown
Just like we have our very own Siachen Glacier in North India, NZ boasts of two huge glaciers – Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. However, as opposed to the Siachen’s 70 km length, Fox Glacier is only 13 kms in length and Franz Joseph - 12 kms in length. We head down to Fox Glacier and park a distance away. We are told that there are many ways to experience the Glacier. Interested parties can enlist for an eight hour guided hike atop the Glacier (See the tiny people below? That’s what they’re doing!). Those pressed for time have an option of hiring a helicopter which drops you on the Glacier and then you can hike with a guide for two hours and, I presume, the helicopter brings you back. Obviously, the second option will be expensive. In both cases, hiking shoes, protective gear, torches and the like are provided. (To a friend who loves nature hikes, you’ll absolutely love this experience!

Tourist guides lead hikers through the crevices at Fox Glacier
Tourist guides lead hikers through the crevices of Fox Glacier
I am not interested in ice anymore. My husband isn't very particular either. Having lived in Minnesota - real life Narnia - for eight years, I have walked on all the ice and snow I would like to walk on in a life time. I can easily go a good dozen years without ever wanting to see ice and snow again. You’re probably arguing – but it’s a glacier! That’s different! You know - how you fall in love with an image, and then when you come face-to-face with it, initially you’re mesmerized, you probably even fall in love with it, and then when it goes overboard you kind of lose interest? That was the story of my relationship with ice and snow. 

A snowy morning in Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Snow covered Minnesota
I loved the first couple winters – went crazy building snowmen and having snow fights. Then, when I started getting tired of having to wrap myself in bales of wool and warmth even to step out to the next building, I couldn't wait for the snow and dirty ice to melt away! But, even as I moved out of Minnesota, I still loved the first snow of the season. Some experiences and memories are just too precious, they never fail to enthrall you! So anyway, back to the glacier. Those who do not wish to hike on the ice, still need to hike about a km uphill (steep) to get to the face of the glacier. And so, off we go. Loose rocks and gravel crunch below my feet. 

Hikers on their way back from Fox Glacier, New Zealand
The guided tour makes its way back, down the mountain
Towering mountains stand upright on both sides. To our left, moss and grass cover up the face of the mountain. To our right, the cliff falls away, steep and scary. Thin roped barricades have been put up, but if someone were to slip, it would not hold their weight. Every morning, depending on how the glacier advances through the week, barricades are adjusted. 

Safety sign boards up on display at the hiking path of Fox Glacier, New Zealand
A 'Red for Danger' sign board warns trekkers to stay well within the safety limits
The strange fact about the glacier is that after having retreated for 100+ years, it has now been advancing for the past few years. The guide at the spot tells us two Indian tourists from Australia lost their lives recently when they stepped ½ km into the safety barriers to click pictures and fell into the icy chasms. It makes me shudder for a second, but we drudge on well inside the safety barriers. I see the elderly walking with canes and matching us step to step, and it reminds me how much I need to work on my fitness. 

We get to the closest access point possible and the cool air drifting in from the direction of the glacier makes me shiver even in the warm summer heat. We watch people beginning their hike atop the glacier. We have come armed with Styrofoam cups of coffee, and though they have lost some of their heat, sipping hot coffee at the top of a mountain right next to an ice cold glacier can be a high in itself! Perched on some makeshift boulder seats, we take in the views for a little while. Surrounded by nature on all sides can be an exhilarating and a grounding experience at the same time. By the time we get back down on level ground, it’s past lunch time. We grab a quick snack on the way and start our drive down to Queenstown. 

Lake Wakatipu stretches out on the right on the way to Queenstown, New Zealand
Driving down to Queenstown with the lake stretching out on the right
This is how every little town in NZ is. Little singular attractions on which the rest of the town thrives. Incomes flow in through these tourist attractions and most employment in these towns run to support these attractions and related establishments like coffee houses and trek gear rentals. The drive down from Fox Glacier takes us a good portion of about five hours as we make a few scenic stops along the way. 

Dainty diners on the way to Queenstown, New Zealand
A diner, ensconced among the mighty mountains, one of many on the way to Queenstown
Unlike the little towns we have witnessed so far, Queenstown is a major bustling metropolis in itself. Built mostly around one part of the huge lake Wakatipu, this town is every bit a nature lover’s destination and an adventure seeker’s paradise. From bungee jumping to white water rafting, from sky diving to jet boating, Queenstown is a complete 180 degree turn from the quiet serenity so far. The streets are crowded, there are roundabouts in the middle of the city – a traffic setup not experienced in NZ so far and people! East Asians, Caucasians, Indians and more East Asians! Parking is at a premium and we drive around for a little while, finally deciding to simply check in to our hotel. Karauwaki by Hilton, the first actual ‘hotel’ on our trip so far, turns out to be on the other side of the lake – away from all the hubbub. It takes us twenty minutes to get out of the traffic and drive down to our hotel. We chuckle at the thought that maybe 4.3 million of the 4.4 million might be from Queenstown. (This, until we encounter Dunedin!) 

Lake Wakatipu as seen from the Gondola Ride, Queenstown, New Zealand
A view of the Lake Wakatipu
The meticulously groomed reception staff paste on a plastic smile and suddenly I find myself missing the friendly motel owners. Declining the offer to add on internet for $30 a night, we take our credit-card style key cards and trudge along to our room – one in many, along a long dimly-lit, classy, well-polished, un-ventilated hallway. We decide to freshen up and step out for dinner. The ‘travel booth’ near the reception, offers us options – considering that parking is a problem in the city, we can either avail of a boat ride – a jetty or a bus. We’re given timetables of the jetty rides and the buses, instructed on when the last bus leaves from the city, informed about one-way versus two-way rates and then sent along our way. Since it’s late already and we do not want to try our luck with the last bus back, we decide to drive and scour around for a parking spot. Luck favours us and thus parked, we walk along the streets peering into shops, adventure rides agents, haute couture boutiques and debate cuisines. Thailand wins hands down on Day 3 and thus, with the scrumptious flat wheat noodles, coconut flavours and spicy curries playing havoc on my taste buds, another beautiful day slowly draws to an end. Day 4 tells me about a beautiful legend, much like the fairy tales I used to listen to in childhood – about the Lake Wakatipu. Come back here to read about NZ’s very own Rakshas!

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 3

The series starts here
Driving back, by the time we reach the tiny little one-street town of Fox Glacier, it’s almost sundown. We find these little NZ towns amusing in that sense – except for three cities – Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin – the other towns that we encounter as part of our trip, are mostly one-street towns. To both sides of the street are various shops – mostly souvenir shops that sell t-shirts, books, trinkets and little odds and ends. Typical touristy stuff. Apart from souvenir shops, there are a few motels, a couple of restaurants, one supermarket, a couple of cafes and that’s about it. The streets themselves are hardly a kilometer long, if at all. The road to our motel intersects the main street of Fox Glacier at right angles, so after a quick glance at the street, we drive off towards our motel.

The one-street town of Fox Glacier, with Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in the distance.
The one-street town of Fox Glacier
Except for cities that are of the bustling metropolis variety, most towns in NZ will have motels, not hotels. In addition to being cheaper, motels are smaller – about a dozen rooms or so on an average, compared to a typical hotel with hundreds of rooms. They are mostly family owned businesses, run and maintained by the family or its delegates. Motel managers are typically friendly people and take a personal interest in ensuring that your stay is extremely comfortable. They often like to interact with people who stay with them – helping them with places to visit, maps, providing amenities in the room etc. – but they also do know that you appreciate your privacy, so in most cases, this will not feel like an intrusion. Another advantage of staying with motels is that added services like internet, cable TV etc. would often be free in motels compared to hotels which would charge you a hefty fee for the same. Motel rooms also come with kitchenettes stocked with utensils, crockery and such for those looking to cook in. And of course, wineglasses and such for those looking to unwind after a long evening! After having stayed in motels for a few days, when at Queenstown, we ended up staying in a hotel, we hated it even though it was the Hilton! At the time of our travel, an average motel room cost us about $80-100 a night.

A motel room - Fox Glacier, New Zealand
A quaint little motel room, offering privacy and solace.
The manager at our Fox Glacier motel enquires if we would like full-fat milk or fat-free milk to be stocked in the fridge and proceeds towards our room as we stay back in the office and talk to the lady behind the counter. Deciding that the glacier would have to wait till tomorrow, we take her suggestion and drive towards Lake Matheson, barely a 5 kilometer drive away. Towards the end, the gravel road turns into an unpaved path. Judging by the cars parked haphazardly, we figure it’s a parking lot. From here on, it’s about a 300 metre walk to the first point on lake. The walking trail is so built around the lake’s circumference, that there are lookout areas built every two hundred metres or so, aimed at providing breathtaking views of the lake. Lake Matheson is a famed lake, often seen on the cover page of magazines and books that cover New Zealand territories.

And when we and a few others stand there in the silence, looking up at the twin peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in the distance, flanked by nature on all sides, the soft ripples in the water serenaded by the gentle breeze, the shimmering reflections of the peaks in the water - we can see why this place would be a photographer’s favourite. With the passage of time, the setting sun lends various hues to the reflection of the twin peaks so much so that every few minutes, the click of the camera comes up with a different shade of the same picture. I am instantly reminded of a client of mine in the US, who is a photography buff. She had set up her camera on a tripod in her office, so that it faced the east window – where the sun rose every day. Every morning at the same time, she would click a picture. And in a year’s time, she had a full year’s worth of shades – every single morning different from the other!

Lake Matheson showing reflections of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook in the distance
Mount Cook and Mount Tasman forming perfect reflections on the rippled waters of Lake Matheson
We sit in silence for a while, my husband and I, and a few others around us. Conscious of the presence of others yet unwilling to breach the calm. Australian flies buzz in the distance building up a cumulative drone. There’s nothing else around, for kilometers. My mind wanders – what if someone were to get lost? What if someone needs medical help? 

Lake Matheson showing the reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, in a different hue.
Lake Matheson showing the reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, in a different hue.
Farmers and their families stay far apart. For farmers living far away, the NZ government is known to arrange for airlifts to the city hospitals, if the need arises. It amazes me and irks me simultaneously. How does a government care so much for its citizens? And then I think, why does it? Isn't it the individual farmer’s decision to go stay so far away where medical help might not reach in time by road? So, how long and how much should the government give in to – irrational decisions taken by individuals risking their own and their families lives for the want of privacy? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be insensitive. But to me, that feels like a selfish move - because in the time that the medical team gets to and from the remote site, maybe they could helped x more patients?

The waiter at the restaurant near Lake Matheson where we have dinner, gets into a conversation with us. Now that I think about it, staff at cafes and restaurants all through NZ seem to be the chatty, friendly kinds – often getting into conversation, wanting to find out how you like the country and such. She tells us that farmers’ children often study in the city and stay at boarding schools through the week, returning to their homes only for the weekends. NZ colleges also have specialized farming courses, and dairy farming technologies developed in NZ are world leaders in farming methodologies.

Post sunset, daylight falls rapidly and the roads are bathed in darkness. There are no streetlights and the only light to guide us back to our motel are the headlights on our car and the vanishing red tail lights of other cars in front of us. It’s the end of yet another day in the so-far picturesque trip – the one trip where I haven’t yet tired of taking ‘people-less’ pictures!

To be continued. 
Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A New Age Telling - Beauty and the Beast

How would 'Beauty and the Beast' be, if the setting were to be the 21st century? Are fairy tales possible in the contemporary world too?

The sixth edition of the Indifiction workshop requires a contemporary retelling of 'Beauty and the Beast'.
The plot for this edition can be accessed here. Please read the plot before you read the entry.
My entry to this edition can be accessed here. Feel free to leave your comment here or at the Indifiction link!

Every edition’s winners define the succeeding plot and judge the next edition’s entries. The winners of the previous round Medha Kapoor, Prasanna Rao and Janaki Nagaraj would be judging this round. This plot has primarily been coined by them in conjunction. Conceptualized by two popular bloggers TF and C. Suresh, Indifiction is a workshop for writers interested in fiction.

Disclaimer: Considering that this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I have kept the basic premise and the ending the same, even though it is a modernisation. It does not portray my views.
I would love to hear your views!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kaleidoscope!

That the blog is called Deepa's Kaleidoscope is no secret. But the fact that the second of my stories 'Domino Effect' has got published in an anthology called 'Kaleidoscope' - What is it if not a good omen? 


Also, proud to announce that the 'Domino Effect' has been chosen as one of the top 5 stories in the book! Available at offline retailers like Landmark and Crossword, you can also order your online copies at Amazon.

Click on Goodreads for reviews and more.

Shaurya says: A fresh breeze along the book comes in the terms of The Domino Effect by Deepa Duraisamy. The theme is how a chain of interconnected events started by the unaware protagonist changes the life of those who get involved in it. To weave so many different plots into a single story is not an easy task but the author justifies her work here. Click here to read the complete review. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 2

Part 1 of the New Zealand Chronicles can be accessed here.
Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, seasons here are inverted as compared to most other nations in the world. January is the season of peak summer. Temperatures are usually in the high thirties during this month. Back in India and Australia, summer mornings are balmy – hot even. Which is why, the next morning around 9 AM, when we wake up to a slight chill in the air, it confuses us momentarily but does nothing to hamper our plans. The next few days on our itinerary are about touring the west coast. Having checked out of our motel (more on motels soon!), off we go driving from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. 240 odd kilometers.

Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, New Zealand
Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast
Pamphlets picked up from the motel tell us that the drive through Arthur’s Pass is spectacular. Sure, we think, a tad skeptically. It’s their way of promoting tourism. Everything’s got to be spectacular.

A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth
But then, when we drive through it, we’re left spellbound. Driving on sinewy roads, magnificent scenic beauty creeps up on us every now and then, from behind mountains and beyond plains. Every few kilometers, there are detours – special trails for walking, hiking, biking and driving. Along the way, we take a detour and drive in to the riverfront – a section of the Waimakairi River – where there’s absolute solitude. Peace, calm and quiet.

A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth
I wonder aloud if the roads have been built that way intentionally – to keep paradise veiled until the last moment and then to spring it on us in such a way that we’re rendered speechless by the resplendence. It’s a powerful feeling - the serenity.

A dried up lake, along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
Once upon a time, glaciers ruled the earth.
There’s one more car there and no passengers. A biker on his bike, soaks in the view. You’ll find many similar locations in NZ – where there are no humans. Putting it in perspective – the population of the entire country – North AND South Islands put together is 4.4 million. The population of Mumbai alone is 20+ million. 

A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation - a detour along Arthur's Pass.
About 300 meters away, a rope bridge calls out to us. On the other end of the bridge built over the river, are hiking trails which lead into the mountains. We see an elderly couple walk into the woods. And then our mistakes flaunt themselves in our faces! No walking shoes. No running shoes. What good are a pair of flip flops or formal shoes if you set out on a hiking trail! Dejected, we stroll along on the foot bridge. The scenery on both sides of the bridge are remarkably different. To the west, the river opens out in full splendor – a yawning gaping water body with no end in sight – shaping itself to the contours of the land masses around it. To the east, it reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Kerala backwaters – constrained water bodies with greenery on both sides. I almost imagine a house boat moored to the side. I love the west view, my husband loves the east! As usual. Some photography sessions later, we make our way back to the car and get on with the drive. 

The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's pass
The first stop at Greymouth is for lunch and this time we stop at an Indian restaurant. Indian? Yes. The reason I need to pen this down here, is for a friend, who had recently written about her troubles finding good Indian vegetarian food abroad. Jaish, no food worries here! We find it surprising that every decently sized town seems to have an Indian restaurant. Strangely, New Zealand doesn't seem to have enough Indians to warrant the number of Indian restaurants we find in NZ. We’re told Indian cuisine is a tourist favourite in that part of the world – liked and appreciated by Asians and non-Asians both. The fact thrills me! NZ vegetarian food has a lot of ‘Kumaras’ in it. Even road junctions are called Kumara. In Maori, it essentially means a sweet potato, which is a local delicacy. But there’s the usual menu too. Our plan is to drive south from here but the restaurateur suggests Punakaiki instead, about 50 kilometers in the north instead. 

Parked outside an Indian restaurant at Greymouth, New Zealand
Stopover for lunch - Greymouth
Ours is not a strict follow-a-checklist touristy plan, we do not have points to cover in a day and rush through everything. We have a fair idea of where we want to go, but we have time to be flexible as well. And so, taking his suggestion, we drive off to Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. 

Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki
As the name suggests, vertically compressed layers of huge rock formations formed over millions of years give the appearance of giant stacks of pancakes. And midst these rock formations, exist blowholes – huge holes through which the raw, powerful ocean is seen beneath. With high tide, the ocean rushes into the rock formations and with tremendous pressure comes gushing out of the blowholes almost like a volcano erupting. Waves continuously crash along the rocks, water and mist splashing at you every now and then and it is always windy. If you plan to visit, do carry a light spring jacket with you at all times. With the wind and tides playing games, weather shifts here can be quite unpredictable. The sides of the cliffs can be slippery and with constant erosion, quite risky too. But stick to the path, and this is not an experience you want to miss. 

Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki
The cold water and the mist make me crave for a cup of hot coffee. Resting at a nearby cafeteria, we chat for a while with the girl at the counter. She tells us that NZ, except for the four most populated cities, essentially shuts down once summers are over. Tourism drives most of these smaller towns and with no tourists, people here shift focus to other businesses – like farming, or international visits. She tells us NZ folks travel a lot – because NZ is a small nation and most people having grown in farming families quite content in themselves, they have this insane urge to travel and see the rest of the world. NZ youth take off for six months or more at a time, touring different nations as backpackers, getting odd jobs and soaking in the local flavor of the city they live in. I wonder what NZ people, with their pristine natural beauty, think of other cities and nations. And then I remind myself the grass is always greener on the other side. But as a friend had recently shared – If the grass is always greener on the other side, the water bill has got to be higher. 

The next destination on our itinerary is another 240 kilometers down south along the west coast. And so, after spending some more time along the rocks, we take off again, this time towards Fox Glacier. A real glacier? Yes. Not one, but two of them! Ice Age meets New Zealand. Click here for Part 3.  

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!
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