Short stories can get so addictive.
As they get shorter they get even more intense.
When its just three sentences….
Sometimes, when you reach a place you have to pinch yourself to realise that it actually exists. Doubtful Sound undoubtedly (no pun intended) is one of them.
I had the pleasure of having the most outstanding gelato recently in Milan. The smooth and creamy rich dark chocolate was sublime. The cone in which it was served was a perfect accompaniment and I was in heaven! I even had an ice cream burger- two scoops of delicious ice cream in a freshly baked bun with a merengue and dark chocolate sauce topping. A delightful example of human craftsmanship. Nowhere else have I had ice creams that have tasted better. The Italians have a rich history of gelato making and every town has its own traditions and flavours. There is a gelato store called GROM that’s opened recently in Dubai. Their cappuccino ice cream makes a frequent appearance in my dreams!
Of late my social conversations have been a bit gelato obsessed as you may have gathered by now. I was gushing about gelato with a rather knowledgeable foodie friend the other day who after hearing me patiently evangelising about the great Italian tradition of ice cream making had the following to say:
“The Chinese invented the ice cream in 300BC. As for the cones, they were invented in America by a Syrian immigrant who was a street hawker selling pastries. One day he came to his neighbours rescue who had run out of plates while selling his ice cream. He just folded a pastry in the form of a cone and gave it to his friend who placed a scoop of ice cream on it and the rest is history. The Persians had an ice cream culture too and so did the Romans. In those times it was a privilege of the rich until the industrial revolution in America enabled the commercial scale production of ice. The Italians have learnt well!”
So the journey of the Italian gelato has a Chinese origin and an American/Syrian/Roman influence. All I can say is that it’s an absolutely delicious consequence. I am a fan!
In my travels, I have come across acoustic creations which have left me baffled. The ancient world was full of unsung sound engineers who produced absolute marvels without the access to technology that our designers enjoy today. How could they reach such levels of sophistication? How did they process the complex maths as well as materials that are essential for this art to flourish?
I have no answers but here is a list of my favourite acoustic experiences:
Piped music at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most exquisite hotels I have stayed in my life. A 200+ year old heritage property set in a beautiful lake is a dream! No two rooms in this intriguing palace hotel are the same. As I closed my eyes lazing in my bathtub overlooking a beautiful part of the lake my attention was drawn to the gentle strains of flute. As I was getting dressed and subsequently heading towards the magnificent dining hall the notes seem to magically surround me wherever I went. I looked out for the music system when I was told that the engineering of the palace is such that the artist plays in the central courtyard and every corner of the hotel gets to enjoy the music! Apparently the sound waves travel through the channels carved out in the walls to every nook and corner of this ancient construction. Sublime!
Having a rock conversation at the Citadel at Amman, Jordan
Our guide took us to the ruins of an ancient roman theatre at the foothills of The Citadel in Amman. I have been to Roman theatres before and was happy to see the fact that this is a reasonably well maintained monument. All was well until the guide made me walk 100m away and asked me to turn away from him and speak into the stony walls of the theatre. To my utter surprise I started hearing my guide as I held my ear close to the walls. The engineering of this ancient construction (1000+ years old) was so intricate that the sound waves would travel through microscopic channels in the stone walls and carry across with complete clarity across a 100 meters distance and allow us to have a perfectly audible conversation. It is beyond my understanding how they could do this a thousand years back!
Clapping at Golconda fort, Hyderabad
The Golconda Fort in Hyderabad is amongst the biggest forts in India. It’s an ancient structure as well which was build almost a thousand years back. The fort runs along a mountain and hence has several levels to it. The sentry posts were at a distance and constructed such that the canopies work like the curvilinear base of our speaker systems and amplify sounds so that the sentries could warn each other incase of any danger. As we entered a sentry post we could hear the tourists in the other posts. While our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate this phenomenon I clapped too in sheer astonishment.
I have also enjoyed the musical pillars of Taj Mahal in Agra. Listened to the sounds of the Hindu Arti at the ghats of Benaras, a mystic experience that has layered chants and cymbals and bells that take you into a different world of trance. Not to mention the experience of a orator in Terragona Roman theatre where I delivered a grand speech to my family without a mike! I am not sure if they enjoyed my random afternoon sermon but I certainly felt like a Roman scholar!
I feel that sometimes when we have that breathless moment when we see a new technology we should not forget the notes from our past. The hills were always alive to the sound of music. It’s just that the tunes have evolved over time.
I visited a stud farm recently and was just awestruck by its opulence and grandeur. Beautiful rolling greens and air conditioned stables set in the midst of some of the most expensive real estate in the world! It struck me that if a race horse were to pen his thoughts and describe his life and aspirations, then what would they be? What would he think of us? Here is a different take on the privileged life of a rake:
“Dubai pampers humans & horses too. With regular massages and a swimming poolThe life of a race horse is actually quite coolThere are attendants for every need to pamperWhen you are hungry there is delicious organic feed brought in a hamperYou are paid to matePrecious Money is spent to even insure your stunning gaitAfter all of this, humans put us in an air conditioned home that they call a ‘stable’!I often ask myself, are they nuts?Dunno, but I will keep running this party till there is fire in my guts!”
It’s hard to leave Tanzania without a song in your heart and a head full of memories. The truth is that this ancient land fills you with an after taste, which clearly leaves you hungry for more. Between getting regaled on the tales of spotting the big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino & leopard), and actually seeing them in the wild, time flies! Every traveller has his big 5 experiences; here are mine:
The Migration Dance
The Serengeti is a grassland that sings a tune. It waves it hands as you pass by, welcoming you to its folds. The millions of animals that co-habit this space equally makes us feel at home as soon as we set our foot off the airstrip carved in the thick of action. A beautiful sense of peace envelops you as you drive through the grasslands enjoying the idyllic setting. Millions of wildebeest and zebras participate in the awesome dance of migration every year. As they move in a formation they create a spectacle that few sights in the world can match. Thousands of crocs lie in wait for them to cross the river Grumeti. And as they all gather by the riverside over several weeks, there comes a point of inflection when one of them takes the plunge of certain death and the millions follow through to the other side. Who will that chosen one be and why would it take that step is a mystery that has remained unansweredsince time immemorial. Such is the beauty of the Serengeti.
In the wild, conversations soon slip into a realm that’s at the cusp of reality. Here’s an interesting snippet from one of our many lunchtime conversations with our safari tour guide over some refreshing locally brewed beer:
“What happens when your 4WD gets stuck in the jungle? Not much really. Another 4WD pulls you out with a rope. Simple! The only difference is that the lions sitting nearby on a rocky cliff stare down at us, wondering as well about how long will it take to get the tires rolling!”
You will notice that every meal here is an experience to be savored and has a story. It’s never ending and you will understand this only once you are here.
Beware of the Lion Sized Expectations Syndrome
Humans! We can never be satisfied. After seeing over 50 lions in the wild we were stuck by the LION SIZED EXPECTATIONS SYNDROME.
We see cubs that were no more than a few weeks old. We have the honour of seeing a full pride of 20+ lions. We gape at the big fellas and their lionesses as they majestically took their evening stroll.
We see two magnificent kills, not to mention lions in the bush, on the rocks, on the road, stretching, yawning, growling and even had a roaring wake up call. What more could the poor lions do for us? This thought strikes me as I sit on a beautiful armchair in a luxury tent listening to Mick Jagger belting out ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’!
The Unusual Accommodation Choices
Where would you like to stay? A simple question can sometimes have a bewildering variety of choices. We stay in a tent next to a hippo pool; my loud snores participate in a symphony of hippo grunts through the night much to my wife’s amusement!
We also stay on the tip of the Ngorongoro crater. It’s a world heritage site with an incredible concentration of wild life. As we enter our resort, we are greeted by a welcome party of a dozen humans and a heard of zebras. Then one day, as we are served our meals in a tree house nearby, a couple of Cape Buffaloes found in abundance in the area, have an argument on the doorsteps; finally concluding it by breaking the very steps!
It’s a wonderful phrase that is the essence of this beautiful country. It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s a problem free philosophy… Words from the famous movie Lion King immortalise the soul of this natural paradise. Visit it to feel it