Toronto…….waterscape walks

IMG_3424The best way to know a city, especially a city like Toronto with its pockets of antiquity and panache, is walking. I do not know about others but using the services of my two legs gives me a sense of permeability, of understanding a city’s past and present, the mysteries and marvels of urbanity and pastoral.

Toronto has it share of parks, green lungs of a city, and one that is making waves is Park HTO a six-acre public dry white sands beach/park along the Northern Shores of Lake Ontario.  HTstretches from Bathurst Street in the west, along Queen’s Quay with Eastern boundary on Yonge or York Street and Gardiner Expressway in the North. The omnipresent CN Tower is a spectator and a beacon and as a Torontian pointed out ‘you can never get lost if you follow the tower’ from whichever part of the city to happen to be.

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We start from the eastern half or HTO Park West, the site of former Maple Leaf Mills Silos, to walk along the waterfront towards the old Peter Street Slip, once home to industrial units and commercial structures,  gingerly stepping on the white sands, the dry beach dotted with yellow umbrellas and Muskoka chairs. The beach and the concrete paths are a walkers delight with only a metal rail separating land from the water.

IMG_3429The stroll continues on the Wave Deck, reflecting the waves of Lake Ontario, past the Marina with bobbing boats, brightly painted kayaks, schooners with unfurled sails and cruise ships.

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IMG_3426It is difficult to imagine that the area was once dominated by quays used by ships docking in Toronto’s Inner Harbour

IMG_3442Families and tourists take full advantage of the clear, bright summer afternoon with sun reflected in the unblemished waters of Lake Ontario, picnicking, walking, jogging, skateboarding or flocking towards Harbour Centre, a former warehouse and now converted into galleries and space for cultural events, theater and dance performances and the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal for ferry rides to Toronto Islands.
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Toronto Islands walk-on: We joined the ferry queue for Ward’s Island and were lucky to manage tickets considering the rush, bikes and pets included. It was the last Summer weekend before the schedule shifted to winter timings.

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View of city from the Island

Toronto Islands were continuously moving sandbars carried westwards by Lake Ontario currents and it was around 1858 that severe storms helped create the Island, completely separating it from the mainland. The Europeans referred to the main peninsula as “Island of Hiawatha’.  The Islands gained popularity as holiday and residential areas with amusement parks, hotels and shops. But around 1960s demolition of majority of construction, with cottages confined to Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, created open spaces for recreation purposes.

The ferry deposits us, the dogs and bikes, on Ward’s Island on the easternmost part of Centre Island. We make our way towards Centre Island, situated between Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point Island, a leisurely 3 km walk on the Boardwalk flanking the lake. Few minutes before Centre Island is the bridge for Algonquin Island another residential area. Ward’s Island is named after the Ward family who had settled here around 1830. David Ward was a local fisherman and it was his son William who constructed the landmark Ward’s Hotel south of the ferry docks at Channel Avenue. Till 1881 the hotel and Wiman’s Bath attracted visitors but by 1922 the hotel building deteriorated to turn into a grocery store and ice-cream parlor.

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It is a pleasant, car-free residential area with side-walk streets and a brief stop at the rocky Ward’s Island beach, close to ferry-dock along Withrow Street, we were back on the Boardwalk admiring the frisky waters with bobbing yachts and boats. There is ‘clothing optional’  Hanlan’s Point Beach, a 45 mins walk from Ward’s Island, on the western side of Toronto Island. .

IMG_3618The continuous walk on the boardwalk can get monotonous and best is to stop, sit on benches, take photographs and appreciate the silence. On the left is the stretch of water and on the right the green patches, play areas, clubhouses, Victorian mansions and beach houses shaded by trees in different autumnal hues. There are paths cutting across manicured green spaces, play areas, picnic spots and we took one towards the  Centre Island and the only open food kiosk selling pizzas. There are other eating options but we preferred to relax under the domed sky, people watching.

Close by is Far Enough Farm with common farm livestock and birds, the Franklin Garden, based on the popular children’s storybook character Franklin the Turtle, and Centerville, a children’s amusement park built-in 1967 with a 1900-style turn of century theme. Toronto Islands are clearly a family fun Island with beaches, ponds, boating, restaurants, tram tours and hiking and biking options.

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The vivid, sparkling Lake Ontario

The Middle Island is referred to as Centre Island and the Centre Island is called Toronto Island. Bit confusing and before we could get further confused, whether to watch the sunset and city lights from Olympic Island east of the Centre Island ferry dock or to leave. We decided to catch the return ferry from Center Island ferry point for Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and walk back to  Downtown past CN Tower and Roger’s Centre.

Information:

Best time to visit: May to September. One can spend an entire day on the Islands.

 

Urban Walks….Toronto…TIFF 40

IMG_3401 (1)Toronto in summer is a perfect antidote for eclipsing life’s turmoil and troubles. We landed on the sunny extended weekend (Labor Day) and the opening of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2015. The city was in perfect order, with ‘best foot forward’, and days began with usual touristy activities, lakeside stroll along the Harbor front, the exhilarating ride up CN tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and other outdoorsy activities cheered on by the brouhaha of TIFF.

IMG_3417We are staying on intersection of John and King West (Streets), the heart of Downtown and Entertainment district, and this is where all the action is. The balcony view of red carpet appearances had me glued to the deck chair as stream of black cars deposited stars on red carpets of Princess of Wales and Tiff Bell Lightbox theaters.

IMG_3418The crescendo of screams welcoming George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp (BLACK MASS) for their premiers (the ones I am familiar with as there were other famous ones) matched with street music and chatter of strolling crowds and rush hour queues for last-minute tickets. I too joined in the ‘fan’ line and waited at the backdoor exit of Lightbox but 30 minutes on and I walked off.IMG_3465

IMG_3416Evenings the cordoned streets reverberated to music, chatter, excitement of the waiting crowds, the rush hour queues drawing IMG_3415one into the fray.

I did manage to see one film Thank You For Bombing directed by Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder. The unique title and story is what made me select this film from among a bunch of interesting movies. The film chronicles (fictional look) three international television war correspondents on assignment in Afghanistan, the frenzied attempts to get that one ‘popularity rating’ personal and public. The tension of being in forefront, on delivering, filters through the scenes and Afghanistan war front comes closer home.

In the Question Answer session at end of screening someone put this question about the title and Director’s answer was her personal experience with war correspondents and how they wait for the one moment of ‘glory’. (These are not exact words but my interpretation).

Thank You For Bombing pieces together the action and experiences  of three correspondents sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to cover the aftermath of burning of Koran by two American soldiers. The correspondents are: the middle –aged Austrian reporter Ewald whose assignment s cut short at departure point (Vienna Airport) when he recognizes someone from his past coverage and his attempts to get the person arrested; Lana (Manon Kahle) introduced trying to release her frustrations in the Zumba class. Her angst is not being assigned ‘action news’ along with her male colleagues and the third correspondent, a couple of floors above at station headquarters, is Cal (Raphael von Bargen) a burnt out reporter desperate to get one story that will resurrect his flagging career. The scene where he forces an ‘innocent’ boy to throw stones and shout ’death to Americans’  conveys the level of  desperation.

This triptych of stories is a powerful portrayal of frailties and strengths, of situational conscious sacrifices for truth and justice and the whimpering end to their efforts. The three pay the prize of their mole like persistence and their refusal to gel with their work environment.  Finally, the denouement, when the actual bombs start to fall, and the stoic reaction of Kal and Lana. The frenzied scramble to the rooftop, the placing of cameras and mikes and bloody street scenes is a reality of being another job.

For me the movie is a flash back to my days as a news reporter in a small city in India and my attempts to cover important city events only to be sidelined by fellow journalists in search of freebies. It was nothing spectacular as being on the battlefront but the contents are similar.

IMG_3405IMG_3419TIFF movie screenings continue, the roadblocks removed, crowds thinned out… except for the quirky extras, the Muskoka  chairs, the glittering heeled shoes outside the theater showing  The Kinky Boots, the trickle queues of movie aficionados and evening strollers on King and John st.

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Pune—A Wide Palate

A city that comes together in diversity and versatility, offering up sounds, tastes and sights of a wide palate.

1971…Pune City, the ‘Queen of the Deccan’, a quiescent suburban town of wide leafy roads showcasing famous landmarks: the Aga Khan Palace where Mahatma Gandhi had spent few years as house prisoner; the Osho Ashram in Koregaon Park; the Film and Television Institute catering to Bollywood, Tollywood and all the other cine woods of the country; the Armed Forces Medical College and the National Defense Academy at Khadakwasla; the forts, temples and parks. To next-door neighbor, Mumbai, the city is a ‘releaser of tensions’ and to the locals, a bastion of Maratha culture and legendary Shivaji* and celebrious Maratha warriors, the Peshwas, who had challenged the mighty Mughals and the English army.

This was my first visit to Pune and the thrill of traveling in an ‘officer’s carriage’, allotted to my brother posted at Bhusawal, Central Railways, spilled over onto the city of wannabe film stars (Film Institute) and spiffy services cadets (NDA). It was a two-day trip and while my brother did his work, we (mother, youngest brother and me) visited the landmarks of this laid back town.

Pune City....the changing city scape
Pune City….the changing city scape

Subsequent visits exposed different facets of the city and the 2015 Pune is a constantly expanding suburbia. Mushrooming high-rises, pubs, boutiques, lounges, malls, hotels and industries shadow the green luxury. In Koregaon Park we are greeted by a barricaded Osho Ashram and the opulent Starbucks, more of a ‘decor’ lounge than a middle end coffee shop that one finds in the USA. The congested labyrinth of Camp area, choking with shops, roadside stalls, disintegrating colonial structures and proliferating education centers embracing narrow lanes are giveaways of the concussive new face of Pune.

Banyan Roots
Banyan Roots

The one constant are the abundant nebbish roots of the majestic Banyan trees. The trees are an intrinsic part of the city and at odds with the present of multitudinous ‘steel ants’, mopeds and two wheelers, mapping Pune’s narrow lanes and arteries. The influx of professionals and businesses has increased footfalls and traffic snarls with width of roads stuck in time.

A Punaite will argue that despite the people onslaught the city has retained its elegance and charm typified by the ‘dragon fly’ energy and attitude of a scarf covered face, with only eyes visible, slicing through traffic. This unique sartorial style is the ‘silent’ approach towards ‘girl power’. Altaf Tyrewalla, a ‘Pune Mirror’ columnist, writes that the city is guided by the young’s choice in clothes, entertainment and cuisine.

IMG_1722The city is swarming with the young, thanks to the flourishing educational institutions, IT industries and closeness to Mumbai. One has to live in a city to know its corners and warts and in twenty-five days we did manage to experience the banyan-tree resilience of Pune.

IMG_1731April is the month for Alphonso mango, piled up along roads, lanes and market stalls. This year the fruit is expensive due to recalcitrant weather but it does not stop the mango mania invading thalis (platter of assorted dishes), desserts, ice creams and shakes adding color to the city’s food spreads. We try the Marathi ‘thali’ (platter) and find that it is a platonic love affair and one needs to develop resilience for a sustainable relationship. Friends insist that home cooked Marathi food is not ‘so theekha (spicy) or clone-y’ and one can order specific Marathi and not a blend of Marathi, Rajasthani and Gujarati. I relish the Vada Pav from a roadside stall, somewhere in Camp area, as my friend’s driver insisted that it was the best Vada Pav* in town. Our neighbors, a young IT couple insist that we  try Irani tea and ‘Maska’ Pav and I get a taste of the functional at a Wanowari tea stall. A Pav (burger bun) is a Pav whether served with Vada (potato fritters), Maska (butter), Misal (spicy curry) or meats…a case of pedestrian with exotic.

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The color blue….rarity in Gurgaon

The 2015 trip is more of fresh air and discussions about ‘polluted’ Delhi vying with Beijing for top honors in air quality. There are no trips to Amanora Mall, the new shopping address in town, forts or temples. I sit in my little corner of a hill under blue skies, a rarity in Gurgaon, and watch the ubiquitous water tankers toil up the steep hill road of NIBM, Khondwa. Another Pune…

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*Shivajien.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shivaji

* Vada Pav…. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vada_pav

Containers…creative wrap ups

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan…..temple offerings
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China….Pots and pans…containing gastronomic delights

 

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Sausalito, California…..taffy temptations

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Hung Hum, Kowloon, Hong Kong….the daily catch

Wheel Power……Transportation

Slow and steady, the Rickshaw continues on its journey through lanes and streets. ‘Pulled rickshaws created a popular form of transportation, and a source of employment for male laborers, within Asian cities in the 19th century. Their popularity declined as cars, trains and other forms of transportation became widely available’…..en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rickshaw
The word rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (人力車, 人 jin = human, 力 riki = power or force, 車 sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle.
Macao… colorful and trendy
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Allahabad…clinging to the past
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Hong Kong….
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Beijing…..power variants
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Travel- Fantasy

Allahabad Rickshaw

A RICKSHAW JOURNEY. …An Introduction to an ongoing ‘Fantasy’.

‘These hauntings make up the invisible story of our lives, the shadow side of the resume, if you like.’ Pico Iyer in SUN AFTER DARK…..Flights into the Foreign.

A scene replays in memory, the year 1958 and father, holding on to marigold and rose garlands, waving from the door of the railway compartment, on way to Bombay (now Mumbai) to board the P&O liner* for England. Air travel was in nascent stage and any trip to the western world was by sea.

The railway platform had turned into personal fiefdom with friends, family, business associates wanting to be part of the epical send off. Father had been a popular and active member of Rotary Club, the Masonic Lodge, business associations and neighborhood committees, explaining the massive turnout at the open platform of Allahabad railway station. Another reason could be that apart from prominent and political families including the Nehru family, only a handful of Allahabad citizens had ventured to foreign shores. Decades later, in 1975 and in comparison to 1958, it was me and my eldest brother when I boarded Air India flight at New Delhi airport for my first journey to the USA. Going abroad had become a regular travel feature.

Father kept in touch with snail mail and picture postcards from ports of call sailing through the newly commissioned Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea with stopovers in Egypt, Gibraltar, Spain, Italy and France and breaking journey in England. The picture postcards addressed to me carried instructions to show them to the German Principal of my convent school, St. Mary’s Convent. I was a shy 6 year old and the very idea of waiting outside her office to share a personal letter was unthinkable.

He had returned after six months to a tumultuous welcome and for days our house turned into a community hall with an enthralled audience listening to his travel tales of ‘hand shake with Queen Elizabeth 11; witnessing a fox hunt and the musical bowl he had been presented with; about the spectacular Eiffel Tower (Paris)and the Coliseum (Rome); the mysterious Bavarian Forest, Vienna, Amsterdam, Geneva, Venice, Scotland, Edinburgh and other cities and monuments. The coveted items were the tape recorder, Swiss chocolates and watches, my German blonde doll rolling her blue eyes and saying ‘Ma’ whenever her stomach was pressed, a sky blue can-can dress that was one size large for me and I had refused to give it to my cousin, and other western apparel and gifts for me and my brothers. There were envious innuendos on my mother’s French chiffon saris, how they were a compensation for the six month absence and looking after a household of five children and equal number of hanger ons and helpers.

We all basked in the glory of father’s trip oblivious that this bug was being transferred to five siblings who would be mapping out their journeys, India centric trips and business ventures, to Australia, Cyprus, USA and Canada. We lost our father to cardiac failure (1960) before he could take our mother to America. Their bags packed, tickets and passports ready but he was destined for another journey.

The siblings did not let go of his dreams. The eldest and youngest brothers set off for Australia on completion of studies, to expand the family jewelry business, the second brother to the USA, Stanford University and World Bank to pursue higher studies and employment and third to George Washington University, USA and later on human rights missions to East Timor and other nations. I was not one to lag behind and kept afoot of my four brothers with Summer school in Stanford University, stays in Oman and Hong Kong, travels to USA, Canada and Asian countries including my own, India. The third generation continues to unravel the journey thread.

‘The Rickshaw Journey is about small steps to realization, confrontation and re discovery, journeys linked to the soil and mind. ‘. this is an introduction to a travel memoir in the writing…..