In search of Diamonds at the ‘Shepherd’s Hill’

The first thing that I learnt was that all the world-famous huge diamonds…..the Darya-e-Nur, the Koh-i-noorHope Diamond, the Regent Diamond all were excavated from Golkonda mines! The fort city once, was an important trade centre of precious stones and gems and kings had a dripping with riches, opulent lifestyle.

That piqued my interest….diamonds are a girl’s best friend they say!!

Would I find another long-lost forgotten diamond tucked under some rock ….waiting to be found only by me?

Nagina Bagh

Nagina Bagh: It is here that all trade in precious stones and diamond was carried out

Arches near Nagina Bagh

Arches near Nagina Bagh

In Hyderabad for four days, spending time with my sister and nephew, we had one day ear-marked for a visit to the fort. Monday being a working day, we were on our own so we booked self-drive rental Zoomcar , a Ford Ecosport  at Rs 1200 for the day. We picked up the car from Gachibowli area of Hyderabad and with GPS to guide us, began our day’s adventure.

A day before, it had rained heavily and weather had turned quite pleasant…..no harsh hot sun. The timings to visit the fort started early at 9:00 am and to take advantage of the breezy cloudy pleasant morning, we reached dot on time for our tour.

layout of fortGolla Konda” which means ‘Shepherd’s Hill’ in Telugu(Language of states of Telangana and Seemandhara) lies 11 km west of Hyderabad city. The fort originally built by Kakatiyas of Warangal, on a 400 ft  high granite rock, changed many hands, from Bahamanis to Qutb Shahi rulers, before finally being annexed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1687. Qutb Shahi kings extended and built massive three-tiered fortification walls with 8 massive gates, 87 bastions 18 m high and mounted with canons, deep moat all around making the fort biggest and impregnable among the forts of Deccan  Plateau.

Outer fortification walls

Outer fortification walls with moat and bastion

Climbing some 380 uneven steps all the way up, our guide ‘Siraj Bhai’ showed us ruins of almost all important buildings of the citadel… the Aslah Khana (armoury), Nagina Bagh (garden), Habshi Kamans (Abyssian arches) guard lines, Taramati Mosque, Ramdas jail which at one time was a granary, Durbar Hall, stables, mortuary baths, Kilawat(private chambers of royal family), water reservoirs and a Hindu Goddess temple!

The curved wall at right hides the entrance gate Bala Hissar

‘Bala Hissar’ gate is the main entrance to the citadel. This entrance of the fort is so designed, that the gate is not visible to the outsider. This was a clever idea to prevent enemy from pushing open the gates with help of  elephants. The elephants would lose momentum and force and would not be able to force the gates.

Another marvelous architectural achievement at this gate is its acoustic design. The sound of a clap made at the centre of the entrance pavilion at ‘Fateh Darwaza'(victory gate) could be heard about a kilometer away at the hill-top in the fort at Bala Hissar Pavilion (the private residence of king). This system was used to signal any breach in safety and warn the guards at the palace of impending danger and to announce the arrival of important dignitaries. The layout of public and administrative buildings was such that the sound echoed at the entrance and was deflected by the walls to reach the highest point.

There are even other such walls of stone at the King’s hall of meeting, where something whispered in a corner could be heard at opposite corner without others getting to know about the message. This acoustic design was used to transfer urgent secret messages to the king!

Bala Hissar Gate: main entrance

A clap at main entrance could be heard 1km away

Sound echoes at the entrance Pavilion due to its construction technique of ceiling

Sound echoes at the entrance Pavilion due to its construction technique of ceiling

Fort from the Bala Hissar gate

Fort from the Bala Hissar gate

Arched Passages

Arched Passages

Arched passages for soldiers

Arched passages for soldiers

Besides taking great measures to thwart enemy advances, apparently the king made men, aspiring to join the royal army, pick up an iron weight of 250 kg! No sooner had our guide provided this information, our daughter who adores her Dad and considers him no less than the ‘Superman’ insisted that he should try to move that stone weight! Poor Aby, tried as much but could only manage to tilt the weight slightly, bruising his palms in the bargain!!

Trying in vain to pick the iron weight

Trying in vain to pick the iron weight

The fort also had a unique water supply system. Water raised by Persian wheels was collected in three different reservoirs and supplied by a network of earthen pipes and stone aqueducts by gravitational force.

Baked circular earthen pipes for water supply

Baked circular earthen pipes for water supply

Imagine the engineering skills prevalent during those days…the engineers beat the heat of rocky Hyderabad with an indigenous water-cooled walls in the palaces!!

Broken stone aqueducts along the walls of queens residence

Broken stone aqueducts along the walls of queens residence

The private residences of kings and queens within these colossal walls were well hidden from direct line of sight of visitors. The walls and arched pavilions were so designed that only a blank wall could be seen from where the visitor awaited for  private meeting with the  King. The private chambers of the kings and queens had separate mosques, fountains and libraries. The walls inside the now ruined chambers were lined with small alcoves which were used to place lamps and light up the palace. It seems the palace walls were plastered with some special mix of lime, jaggery and eggs which also kept the insides of palaces cool!

Queen's chambers

Queen’s chambers

A visit to the fort transports to a time gone by….I could imagine the bangles tinkling among the peals of laughter of queens and their maids, showing off their bejewelled necks and long fingers sporting huge solitaires, even their clothes studded with gems in gold embroidery….. The richness and grandeur now visible just in the expanse of the fort city…

With the last piece of information, that I could squeeze out of our guide, I made my way back to the entrance gate, climbing down the narrow stone steps, on which once palanquin bearers carried the queens, I heard somebody call me….

“Hello, Madam, one picture please” 

steps leading down to the Queen's quarters

Steps leading down to the Queen’s quarters; new city beyond the fort walls

A  young man and a woman who looked like two love-birds rendezvousing  far away from watchful eyes of their parents, accosted me at the steps within the huge Golkonda Fort….. Total strangers and they had the nerve to ask me  for a picture!

Flattered much as I was, the caution kicked in almost immediately, and I absolutely refused the girl’s request. Now, I am no celebrity (I would love to be one though)…. nor do I resemble any…..I wondered what their agenda was!

My husband Aby, teased me… “It must be your new dress…. That girl must have wanted to copy the pattern!” I tell you, he can be mean to me at times…. he deflated my secret euphoria in a second…..

Posing for a private photoshoot never hurt anybody!

Posing for a private photoshoot never hurt anybody!

However, the eager couple,  did give me the idea of indulging in a little photo shoot for myself and that is exactly what I did…. Getting framed in those gorgeous stone arches…

But alas!! I did not find any diamond large or small (not even teeny-tiny!!) fall out of some crevice or roll out from under a rock for me to lay claim to……

I should not have taken Marco Polo’s suggestion in his ‘Book of Marvels’ that reaching down in sand soil at Golconda would fill the hand in diamonds…..

Better sense prevailed and I went ahead and bought a pearl set from Hyderabad jewellers instead!

Local Information:

Location and Getting There: Golkonda fort lies 11km west of Hyderabad. Hyderabad is a well-connected city by road, rail and air. Buses, taxis ply till the fort which is a popular tourist destination. Self-drive rental cars are available with rates 100 Rs-110 Rs/hour. It takes roughly half an hour via Fort road if you are not caught up in office going traffic. Wide roads  make driving easy task despite of traffic.

Road to Fort

Road to Fort (via Google maps)

Stay and Food: A cosmopolitan city, Hyderabad has many options for tourists. It is famous for its Biryani and Seek Kebabs  in the old city near Charminar.

Light and Sound show: Two shows, one in English and another in Telugu/Hindi are organised at 7 pm near the Queen’s chambers of the Fort. Though we missed this show, but it is a major attraction at the fort and some say better than visiting during day!

 

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Oasis at Khuri

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

And there it was…A well….well-hidden under the muddy platform with an opening just large enough for only one pail at a time to reach in to draw water but when we had reached the camp resort, there was no activity, we failed to notice the  well, covered as it was. However, by six in the evening, when we returned to our tents from the camel safari, the well was a buzz of activity. The scene seemed to have come alive straight out of a painting…..birds returned to their nests chirping noisily and women dressed in riot of vivid red, green, violet ghagharas covered in tiny sparkling mirrors that reflect the bright sun and the golden expanse of sand, their arms full of ivory bangles and heads covered with colorful embroidered ‘odhni’, drawing water from the well and carrying the pots precariously balanced on their heads back to their huts.village belles

I was surprised to find sweet water well in middle of a desert. The old guard cum handyman at the resort, amused at our surprise, pointed out two more wells a little farther from the camp towards the village. He told us that the wells now maintained by the villagers, once belonged to some higher caste family who generously gifted the wells to the villagers.

With the intent of spending some quality time with friends and family, our group of fifteen including kids, planned a night stay at Khuri, away from the chaos of over-commercialized, overcrowded and expensive ‘Sam’ sand-dunes of Jaisalmer. We dumped our overnight bags in the tented accommodation and after gorging on delicious dal-pakoras and large mugs of tea and coffee at the resort, readied for camel safari.

A huge century-old Neem tree with its thick green foliage spreading out into a large umbrella, like one rich great-grandfather who takes all the children under his wings protecting, nurturing and bestowing upon them all the lavishness, sat silently at some distance from the thatched roof mud huts and tents of the resort, near the water-well, observing all the excited flurry of activities and us, the city dwellers. It was the only big green colored thing in sight on that brownish golden landscape.

well near the century old tree

The resort provided us with young robust camels, their seats decorated beautifully with colourful tassels and cloth sewn in patchwork. A spare camel cart was loaded with cold beverages and munchies for the kids along with instructions to bring the waste back. Our little procession travelled up and down the slopes of dunes deeper into the desert away from our resort.

Off to camel safari on our camels and Camel cart

Off to camel safari on our camels and Camel cart

The magnificent rolling dunes at Khuri with windblown twisted peaks like a soft-serve ice-cream and ripple patterned sand, stretch for miles till the horizon shimmering with a golden hue when the sun sinks in the vastness of this pristine lesser known desert destination.

Rippled sandy soft serve ice cream .... anyone?

Rippled sandy soft serve ice cream …. anyone?

The young and grown-ups alike were tempted to frolic…and sure enough, just like the carefree two-year olds with us, we slid, rolled and jumped away on sands. My twelve-year-old, the eldest among the kids, took off her Crocs clogs and dared me to race her up the slope of the dunes which of course was a very difficult task for me, what with my feet sinking at every step and sand filling up in my shoes!

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Two year old kids in our group having fun ….no holds barred

Dune bashing?

Dune bashing?

While we played in sand, our camels indulged in a relaxed tete-a-tete

While we played in sand, our camels indulged in a relaxed tête-à-tête

Young village teenage boys, very adept at handling camels, showed off their riding skills and raced the camels across the sweeping landscape encouraging a bunch of other visitors to ride a running camel. Suraj, a young boy with a ‘dhol’ on his shoulder persisted till we gave in and heard him sing folk song with dhol beats… and he was actually quite good! No sooner had the young artist left with his hundred rupee prize money; we were hounded by a father-daughter pair who wanted us to see the ten-year old girl dance to folk music. Fearing an avalanche of more such performers, we declined the request of the duo choosing to laze on clean carpet of sand instead, hoping for a spectacular sunset with our stock of beers, soft drinks and munchies.

Suraj with his dhol

Suraj with his dhol

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A young village boy riding and racing his camel

In a bid to outdo each other, everybody took turns taking shots of the beautiful sunset, Us!!silhouettes of each other, camels and of that one odd deer which strayed too close to the visitors at the dunes, before riding back towards the camp resort.

Though sun had set but it wasn’t quite dark at about six in the evening and there was quite some gathering a little away from the resort. That is when we discovered the existence of a well some hundred meters from the camp.

Sun sets  gloriously

Sun sets gloriously

As the darkness enveloped the whole camp resort, the activity at well dwindled and kerosene lamps along with some electric ones lit up. The chill of January evening forced us to huddle near the campfire in the resort.

The stage was set for the entertainment of the resort guests. Benches and tables were put up around the campfire, leaving space for the ‘Kalbeliya’ the snake charmer, dancers. Another surprise awaited us in the form of the dancers.

Dressed and adorned as women, complete with ‘lehengas’, bangles, face paint, kajal…the two men danced to the folk songs on burning ember or on small saucers, their waists swaying like snakes. It was not until we all joined in to dance around the camp-fire and the two dancers spoke up, that we realized the entertainers were men!

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For people at Khuri, life is tough. The extremely hot dry weather and sand storms force them to work during mornings and evenings. The wells are life-lines and the villagers diligently preserve water making efforts to reuse some water for whatever little farming they are able to do.

At home, I try to use water as carefully as possible but the amount of gadgets that we use in city unfortunately tend to waste water more. One night at Khuri made me realize how we take the water supply granted. Though I might not give up my city life all together, but in a small way, I have started recycling water wherever possible. I hope a little change in my lifestyle is a step to save environment.

Important Information

Location

Khuri, a small village, is about 40 kms south-west of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and relatively lesser known destination among tourists who spend time at ‘Sam sand dunes’ at Jaisalmer. There is nothing much to do at Khuri but because of its cleaner dunes some tourist who do visit it, go for night sky watching with their sleeping bags. Those who have time may take a chance of spotting some wild life too.

Getting there

Jaisalmer is connected to Jodhpur, the nearest airport city, via road and railway. Taxis can be hired till Khuri or visitors can drive up to the village.

Seasons

November to March is best time to be in desert of Khuri. The temperature during night may plummet to below zero at times but the day temperatures are pleasant. Summers are very harsh and absolutely not the weather to visit.

Stay

One of the hut accommodation  at resort

One of the hut accommodation at resort

Besides cattle rearing and some farming the people do not have much avenues for earning. The village is slowly waking up to the tourism opportunity because of overcrowding at Jaisalmer dunes. Some home-stays and camp resorts have come up which have mud huts with thatch roofs and tent accommodation.

The resorts offer packages of Rs 1600 to Rs 1800 per adult and Rs 650 to Rs 800 per child which include breakfast and traditional dinner and a camel safari. The camel riders, who act as guides, however expect some reward money for the safari.

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Modern Art in a Cave: Amdavad ni Gufa

What would someone expect when two great minds…. one who conjured up three-dimensional contemporary spaces with traditional concepts and another who with just a stroke of his brush created images on the canvas, amalgamate their ideas?

Yes! When art and architecture join hands…..it gives birth to this cave like Art Gallery under the ground to display….. the cave art! No, not the prehistoric one….but its depiction in modern art indeed…… the Hussain-Doshi Gufa. Both the artist M F Hussain and the architect B V Doshi are no more but their creation exists in the campus of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (C.E.P.T).

As a student of 3rd year in College of Architecture at Nagpur, I had read and studied about the Indian contemporary architect B V Doshi and his work and since then  wanted to visit the ‘Gufa’……. Had we gone for a study tour then, I would have seen it in a better condition than it is now….neglected, disregarded, cracking at joints and leading an obscure anonymous existence. Ironically the smallish ‘Zen Cafe’ just outside the entrance of this cave, enjoys more traffic and popularity!

I was in Ahmedabad for just two days and had already been to Sun Temple at Modhera (read post here) but I wanted to visit the ‘Gufa’ too. My twelve-year-old daughter doesn’t understand as yet my fascination with buildings ancient or modern…. and needless to say she was perplexed and not very interested in seeing the underground art gallery….I dragged her and her father there any ways!

Entrance to the cave "Hussain Doshi Gufa"

Entrance to the cave “Hussain Doshi Gufa”

The underground cave like art gallery was renamed after the name of city Ahmedabad (locally known as Amdavad) as ‘Amdavad ni Gufa’ because it has been made to resemble a natural cave (Cave = Gufa) with inclined tree like columns and undulated cement floor.

Tree like columns inclined at various angles

Tree like columns inclined at various angles

Made in the architectural style of ‘Blobitecture‘(buildings with organic, free-flowing, amoeba-shaped form), this underground cave structure is a continuous form like the natural sag of a cloth with its roof of interconnected domes made from a thin wire mesh covered in only one inch thick Ferro cement. The domed roof inspired by the tortoise-shell, are covered with small white mosaic tiles. The pattern of black mosaic tiles on the shells represents the mythological snake.

Black mosaic pattern depicting the mythological snake

Black mosaic pattern depicting the mythological snake

The architect was inspired by the Buddhist and Jain caves at Ajanta Ellora and the artist by the paleolithic cave art.

Paintings by M F Hussain on walls and ceiling of the gallery

Paintings by M F Hussain on walls and ceiling of the gallery

Painting by M F Hussain

Painting by M F Hussain

Another painting on ceiling

Another painting on ceiling

The snout like projections on the outer surface of domes were created to let the natural light in and make myriad patterns in the interiors throughout the day. The gallery has curved walls so the display of paintings was done in a separate gallery near by. This cave gallery displays Husain’s art  directly painted on walls and ceiling.

Snouts on the shell for natural light in a broken condition

Snouts on the shell for natural light in a broken condition

Entrance to the Gallery is few steps down and hidden by a small brick wall. Opposite to the entrance is a glass wall with Hussain’s art again for the natural light.

Glass wall for natural light

Glass wall for natural light

Viewing art and visiting art galleries is a sort of leisure activity….mostly for moneyed people. Had the Gufa displayed any other art, the activity would not have been a pleasurable one because the cave gallery is just like an actual cave….hot and humid.

In creating something extraordinary…. the architect and the artist forgot the need of comfort within the structure and combined with the vandalism that the cave suffered due to controversial paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses by Hussain, the structure lies unattended and forgotten by the people of the city itself!

For architects and the students, however it is fine example of cutting material and labour cost and thinking out of the box….beyond the regular RCC structures.

Local Know-how:

Location: Located in the campus grounds of C.E.P.T (Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology), Ahmedabad but these days more known by the presence of ‘Zen Cafe’.

Getting There: Ahmedabad is well-connected by road, rail and air. But once in the city, it would not be a surprise if people are not aware of this marvellous creation. However the campus of C.E.P.T University is well-known. Taxis, auto-rickshaws will take the visitor to the campus and anybody will give directions to the Zen Cafe. A nondescript sign hangs on the tree just outside the wall of cave pointing the direction of ‘Amdavad ni gufa’. Taking help of GPS  till the university campus is very good option.

Stay: Ahmedabad has many budget and  luxury hotels. It takes half an hour at the most to see the cave if the art gallery nearby does not have any scheduled exhibition.

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A Rainy Day Drive at Tamhini Ghat

A light drizzle that continued from late morning till early evening brought the pre monsoons in Pune.

Ata bagha Tamhini Ghata che thaat“(Now see the beauty of Tamhini Ghat) announced the Marathi newspaper soon after the pre-monsoon showers came thundering down on the parched soil and justified our on the spur decision of driving along Tamhini Ghat.

With some Idli(steamed rice dumplings) and chutney as breakfast, we left home but had to drive through the office bound traffic of the city. No sooner had we left the chaos behind, the rain gods smiled a bit too generously….

on way to Tamhini GhatI do love rains…I do but only if I am not the one who is getting wet! I love the different shades of green….emerald, olive, lemon, mint, juniper, shamrock that paint the trees, the shrubs, the mossy growth and the weeds and the rain washed leaves dance brightly….. I like that black tar ribbon of road glistening in rain.. just like the new skin of the black serpent…

What I do not like however is wetting my curly hair  in rain!! It becomes all frizzy, tangled and gives me a headache…. So while my husband and daughter waited for a safe spot to stop the car and  drench in rain….I was totally happy to enjoy the deluge from within the car…

A drive on Tamhini Ghat road is popular with driving enthusiasts in and around Pune. Tamhini Ghat road cuts across the Sahyadri mountain range connecting Pune to Konkan. The picturesque mountains, the  lush green valley, the gushing river, the brimming lakes and many big and small cascading waterfalls are tempting and make the drive worthwhile..

Mountain face with many falls

Mountain face with at least ten big and small falls

Enthusiastic people had stopped to bathe and frolic near the waterfalls that were near the roadside. A pot-bellied man with minimum clothing oblivious to my camera enjoyed his waterfall bath….the fall was good enough to be photographed, so I had to carefully avoid the man in my picture frame!!

Had to carefully shoot the falls to avoid the bare chested man who bathed oblivious to my photography!

Had to carefully shoot the falls to avoid the bare chested man who bathed oblivious to my photography!

Stepped waterfall

Stepped waterfall

Gurgling river

Gurgling river

At times the rains were so heavy that we missed out views of mountains and lakes because of the mist. It is inadvisable to drive in rain at late evening on Tamhini Ghat road so even though we wanted to stay but we chose to drive back to Pune sooner only on a different route….via Mahabaleshwar and Mapro Garden!

Mapro Gardens is a garden park in the hill station of Panchgani, Maharashtra, close to Mahabaleshwar. Besides being known for their strawberry produce and hosting annual Strawberry Festival, it is a popular tourist destination.

Along with a separate chocolates making plant, Mapro Garden has large covered area for Orchid and Tiger lily plants, lotus pond, strawberry cultivation field and not to forget a huge restaurant area.

Cultivated Tiger lilies

Cultivated Tiger lilies

Orchid cultivation

Orchid cultivation

sit out restaurant

sit out restaurant

Mapro produces crushes, jellies, jams, syrups, squashes, dessert toppings and fruity chews (pates de Fruit) and when we are in Pune , a trip to Mapro Garden is always on cards. The crushes and fruit bars is a must buy item on our list and so are their sandwiches, pizzas, shakes and coffee. During the strawberry season, farm fresh hand-picked strawberries with a huge dollop of cream and strawberry ice-cream is a popular dish of the restaurant.

When we drove back from Tamhini Ghat towards Mapro, the rain as well as the stormy winds had increased…. the trees swayed dangerously and it was difficult to see beyond few meters.The temperature had dropped and we had not equipped ourselves with jackets for outside car weather!

I felt bit chilly and gulped down two mugs of hot coffee as soon we reached Mapro and placed our usual order of  grilled veggie and cheese sandwich and veggie pizza.

Mr Pizza Guy ‘Santosh’ was working at brick oven doling out pizza after pizza for the waiting customers.

Santosh...head cook at pizza oven

Santosh…head cook at pizza oven

Soon, our pizza and sandwich was ready. We had deliberately eaten less breakfast at home, to work up our appetite and stuff ourselves with these….

Our veggie pizza

Our veggie pizza

Grilled veggie sandwich

Grilled veggie sandwich

With our hunger for sumptuous food and a wonderful drive satiated, we made our way back to Pune for our last few days of summer vacation…. back from the open air beautiful environs to the city life of traffic, pollution and chaos…

Next year, hopefully the monsoon will arrive on time and we would plan more such trips…

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The Fire Altar : Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujrat

The  first soft yellow light of the early morning fell on the face of the gold idol of Surya, imparting a resplendent glow shattering the darkness……It seemed as if the Sun God himself emerged from the sleepy confines of the garbha griha of the temple riding his golden chariot heralding the dawn of a new day. The priests began their chants extolling the Lord of Light and Life….bells rang in a synchronised pandemonium urging the town people to finish morning ablutions and join in the prayers.

The temple was so designed so as to allow the first rays of the solstice sun to fall on the gold idol and chariot of the Sun God. The pomp and affluence of the kingdom had spread far and wide…as far as the rays of that very Sun, to whom the temple was dedicated. It was rumored that not only the idol and the chariot were of gold but it hid a chamber which was filled with gold coins and precious gems of unaccountable value!!

Allaudin paced up and down in his chambers….”So much of gold…lying there under a statue? It is a waste…. Those men do not deserve such extravagance…Me…. I am the superior one….it is meant for me!!”

“Tanri bana zenginlik ve bolluk hibe” (Oh God, grant me wealth and abundance)

Allauddin Khilji attacked the Solanki rulers of Gujrat and plundered the Sun temple at Modhera. The second ruler of the Turkish Khilji Dynasty knew that the Hindus did not worship a broken idol or temple. He struck hard, defacing all the idols of Gods and Goddesses of the temple….desecrating the holy complex….that made it easy for him to loot the wealth hidden in the temple.

Centuries later the huge temple complex built by King Bhimdev I in AD 1026, lies in ruins still telling a tale of immense wealth, affluence and grandeur of the rulers who stood against invaders many a times regaining some of their power and splendour but later weakened due to frequent invasions by Mahmud Ghazni, finally succumbed to the military prowess of Allauddin Khilji.

Temple complex

In Ahmedabad for just two days for some work, I succeeded in persuading my reluctant husband (he chauffeurs me around always when I get this urge to wander in these architecturally rich historic ruins, poor chap!!) when all he wanted to do was relax and sleep! But he conceded because the possibility of us being in Ahmedabad again within next few months was quite less and also because he loves to indulge me ;) (Bless him!)

Me with my camera...all covered in along scarf!!

Me with my camera…all covered in along scarf!!

The temperature in Ahmedabad had shot up to 43 degrees at ten in the morning in first week of june, but with full sleeved clothes, scarves and hats on, I dragged everybody to Sun temple at Modhera…. I felt at peace and less guilty when my daughter exclaimed “Its beautiful, mamma

The temple complex is indeed a beautiful example of architecture and finesse of sculptors of those times. The many small and large statues of Gods and goddesses on the exterior walls of the temple are exquisitely carved out of sandstone.

We hired the services of the lone guide who had only little knowledge of the history and could not throw much light on the events leading to the fall of the Solanki Dynasty. He had learnt the history part to some extent and if I interrupted him, he would start all over again. With a quick tour he left us to take pictures and because he could see other visitors trickling in who seemed less nosy than me!!

Cool shade of Frangipani treeThe lawns around the complex with frangipani tree in full bloom was very inviting with the sun beating down on us but we chose to take a quick round of museum within the complex. Our energies were sapped enough and nobody was interested in more history and architecture…we piled back in the comfort of cool car and headed back to our room.

Surya Mandir, Modhera

Architecture:

Plan_Modhera_Sun_Temple_Gujarat_India

Plan of Sun Temple at Modhera (image via wikipedia)

Situated on the banks of now almost dried up river Pushpavati, the temple complex has three main parts…. the water tank ‘Surya Kund‘, the ‘Sabha Mandap‘ or the hall of gathering and ‘Guda Mandap‘ the sanctum sanctorum….all aligned along an east-west axis.

The Hindu practice of worship calls for cleansing of body before entering  a place of worship. The temple plan incorporates a huge water tank in front of the main temple also called as ‘Surya Kund’ or ‘Ram Kund’. The tank has many steps like the stepwells of the times and 108 small temple shrines along the perimeter. The ambulatory path along the four sides of tank is for ‘Pradakshina’ where the devotees can move in a circle around their God to denote that the Lord is omnipresent.

The enormous water tank

The Kund or the water tank also alludes to the Vedic belief of the sun emerging from the dark inertness. The tank is the water altar. The steps, cascading down in a inverted triangular form, are so made as to mirror the rising ‘shikhara’ or the pyramidal top of the temple.

The ‘Sabha Mandap’ is where people gathered for prayers and dancers performed as an offering to the Sun God.

Sabha Mandap

The two huge pillars just outside the sabha mandap were once adorned by an archway ‘Toran’ atop them. It was in practice then, to demolish the ‘Toran’ of the palace or temple of defeated king by the victorious king to denote subjugation.

This structure has 52 intricately carved pillars each depicting scenes from the two great Hindu epics the “Ramayan” and “Mahabharat”. The number of pillars denote the 52 weeks in a year. All possible surfaces are decorated with small and big figurines.

Carved pillars inside sabha mandap

The lintel beams, column frieze, capital, ceiling all have human figures in various activities.

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The main temple ie the sanctum sanctorum or the ‘Guda Mandap’ has plainer inner walls and the pyramidal ‘shikhara’ of the temple is ruined. The external walls are decorated with 12 large idols of Sun God riding his chariot of seven horses. The twelve idols represent the twelve months and the seven horses of the chariot represent the seven colors of sunlight.

Guda Mandap

The plinth of the temple depicts an inverted lotus temple as the lotus is considered to be the flower of sun god. Sex and childbirth were natural processes which were celebrated as abundance of fertility and hence erotic iconography and sculpture depicting natural child-birth adorn the temple walls.

Sun God on his seven horsed chariot

Sun God on his seven horsed chariot

Natural child birth

Natural child birth

Ornate ceiling

Ornate ceiling

There are few other temples dedicated to ‘Surya’ the Sun God in other parts of India, the most famous being the Sun Temple at Konark in form of a chariot. Ruins of another large temple dedicated to Sun are located at Multan, Pakistan.

Local Knowhow:

Location: The sun temple at Modhera is about 102 km from Ahmedabad, Gujrat.

Getting there: It takes about two hours to drive via Gujrat State Highway 41. The drive is comfortable with wide and well maintained roads. Taxi services are available within the city for pick up and drop. A minimal entry fee is charged at the gate to the complex. The ASI(architectural survey of india) maintains the ancient structure.

Stay: Though  we stayed at the Officer’s Mess Accommodation of Indian Air Force, but Ahmedabad has many budget as well as luxury hotels to boast of. Local food tends to be little sweeter, however multicuisine restaurants are plenty.

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Lure of the Taj

“Love is not finding someone to live with; its finding someone you cannot live without”

Love is immeasurable…undefined….limitless…boundless…we seek to be loved forever, remembered forever…..

One man who has been able to let his love for his wife known to the world was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan….His undying love survives even today in lore and is proclaimed in the mausoleum the TAJ MAHAL

The TAJ MAHAL....symbol of love

The TAJ MAHAL….symbol of love

One of the four entrance archway with side galleries

One of the four entrance archway with side galleries

I have seen the Taj umpteen times…really! And every time I see it I feel as if it was the first time.

I have sat in the red sandstone side galleries of the entrance archway, gazing at it, thronged by those thousand visitors vying to take pictures from every angle and obstructing my view yet felt calm and serene…

I have spent time marvelling at its beauty from the Mehtab Bagh…the moonlit garden, across the River Yamuna and felt its cooling charm brighten up in the full moon night…its beauty never diminishes.

The lure of Taj and its admiration transcends the confines of ages, continents,  languages and cultures…

During one of my visits, I met an old European couple…their faces like a wrinkled map of their journey together through all peaks and troughs of life. Both wobbled with their walking sticks, leaned on their younger relatives, used hearing aids, their hands quivered but the Taj had lured them all the way to India to celebrate 60 years of married life. The couple held each other, sat on the marble bench with Taj in background and amidst claps by onlookers and family kissed passionately posing for the camera.

Never had I seen such earnest love…as if the emperor and his queen were reborn in a new era, in new continent, in new avatar….. Their love was as true and as immortal as Shah Jahan and Mumtaz….

Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh across River Yamuna

Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh across River Yamuna

Shah Jahan married Arujmand bano, his fourth wife, and gave her the title of “Mumtaz Mahal”…..the chosen one of the palace. He was besotted with her beauty. Mumtaz, an ambitious woman had a say in all royal court matters and accompanied Shah Jahan everywhere… in war or peace. She bore him 14 children of which 7 survived. During the birth of her 14th child, Mumtaz died at Burhanpur where the Mughals had pitched royal tents while Shah Jahan went on for expedition.

The king was inconsolable, lovelorn and totally helpless. He gave up food, confined himself to his bedroom drinking and wasting away his life.

Order were issued for the construction of most beautiful mausoleum incomparable to anything in world. The land where the Taj stands was acquired from the Rajputs, artisans from far off places summoned, elephants loaded with whitest marble, yellow sandstone, black slate, red sandstone thumped their way in the Mughal capital Agra, huge labor force was gathered from all over the empire, calligraphers rode in from Iran, the Rajput allies sent their best craftsmen, precious and semi precious stones like Lapis lazuli, agate, turquoise, magnet stone, jade, bloodstone, onyx, corals were brought from far off lands like Africa, Ceylon(Sri Lanka), Tibet, Yemen etc…and thus began the saga of  the greatest symbol of love!!

After the construction of the mausoleum, Shah Jahan had still not shown interest in running the empire and his son Aurangzeb taking the advantage of his grieving father’s condition, usurped the throne and put Shah Jahan in house-arrest at Agra Fort. Aurangzeb shifted the capital back to Delhi. The dethroned emperor spent time gazing at his beloved wife’s resting place from his ‘Khwabgah’, the royal couple’s bedroom or from the terrace outside the bedroom.

Taj Mahal from the Bedroom Terrace at Agra Fort

Taj Mahal by the Yamuna River as seen from the Bedroom Terrace at Agra Fort

The amalgamation of persian and hindu architecture in large 115ft high white onion dome, inverted lotus finial, the char bagh or four gardens, the domed kiosks on the minarets and near the main dome, the floral motifs on the plinth walls, the Pietra dura inlay work, the intricate stone jalis, the painted ceilings in the adjacent buildings, the four working minarets… all make this big white structure a sight to behold.

In our times, we might not be able to proclaim our love with such grandoise but may be we can each say to our love:

“Grow old with me; the best is yet to be”

 

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Keoladeo National Park

As a kid in Ghaziabad near Delhi, I remember, my father planning a visit to the sanctuary. I was a mere nine-year old then and my younger sister just six and we were very upset with our father, for dragging us in the sanctuary for hours together even when the sun was up, in hope of seeing the migratory birds. Our age was such, that neither could we appreciate his enthusiasm and nor the reason for roaming in the forest.

A memory however had formed in my young mind….that of scorching heat, grasslands, trees, ponds, swamps…but no memory of birds!! So years later, when my husband planned to visit Bharatpur from Agra, I cringed slightly and tried to dissuade him but failed.

More famously known by its former name “Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary” in Rajasthan, Keoladeo Park is a National Park and a World Heritage Site popular among ornithologist and other tourists and is home to around 230 species of birds. Every winter the migratory birds visit this man-made wetland for wintering. This sanctuary is the world’s best and richest bird area.

The area, was once a hunting ground for the royals of Bharatpur where hunting games were organised for the visiting British Viceroys. The last organised shoot was in 1964 and later in 1976 it was given the status of bird sanctuary.

Bharatpur is about 50 km and roughly an hour and half drive from Agra. Taxi services from New Delhi, trains from Jaipur, Mathura, Delhi all make it an easily accessible place.

We started around 8am for Bharatpur from Agra as it was a foggy December morning. By the time we reached the sanctuary around 0930hrs, sun was up smiling benevolently allowing us to not shiver from chill of winters.

SignboardMany rickshaws were parked for visitors to ride inside the sanctuary. A signboard, in a blatant effort to murder the native language of those very viceroys for whom duck shoots were organised once, warned everyone strictly to not take cars beyond the parking in the park.

Obviously we ‘straightly’ agreed with the sanctuary guards and men behind the counter issuing entry tickets because nobody wants birds flying away with the vehicular noise.

A little negotiation and we hired two rickshaws to take us inside. The two rickshaw-pullers boasted about being able to name birds and to take us at spots where we could actually see birds. They offered their binoculars free for bird watching!

We were lucky to have hired our ‘guides’ as they preferred to be addressed as , because ‘Santosh Singh’ and ‘Ramlal‘ were the ones whom the sanctuary authorities approved and recommended because of their honest and amicable nature. And we did not once regret hiring them. They were indeed aware of birding sites and few names of birds having worked around the park for ten years.

Our rickshaw pullers and guides obliging us with shy smiles and a pic

Our rickshaw pullers and guides obliging us with shy smiles and a pic

Our kids, thankfully were enjoying the slow rickshaw ride since they could easily climb up and down plus they had the binoculars!

Soon we reached the denser parts of the sanctuary. That, the park boasts of variety of flora and fauna was clear from the deers, blue bulls, turtle, monitor lizard, butterflies and many birds we saw there. The park was a collage of dry and wet lands allowing various animals to survive and breed there.

Swamps

Swamps

Neel Gai or Blue bull

Blue Bull or the Neel Gai

Warbler

Warbler

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

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Great Egret

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Ducks

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Turtle basking in the warm sun

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Monitor lizard….nearly missed it due to same color of ground

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Painted Storks

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Coromant bird

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We spent about four hours at the park and by the last leg we were hungry, kids had become cranky and it was time for animals and birds to hide from the bright sun.  There is no restaurant close to the sanctuary. We chose to drive further and explore some ‘dhaba’ (a road side small eatery), which could give us with the Rajasthani ‘Lal Maans’ a spicy mutton or red meat local dish.

The trip to the park was successful as far as bird sighting was concerned and enjoyable….the kids did not mind the trip as long as we let them be free to roam to a distance within our view.

There were many bird enthusiasts who had put up their tripods and were willing to wait for the sun to go down to see birds returning to their perches. We did spot a white sleeping owl but we did not wish to see it or any other nocturnal bird ….. this was a good enough trip for us!

After having found our dhaba at some distance ahead we made a u-turn for Agra.

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Golu Devta Temple,Ghorakhal (Nainital)

My parents had come visiting and in a bid to escape the heat wave at Bareilly, all five of us, my parents, me, my husband and our daughter, left for Nainital for a long lazy weekend. We stayed at a private residence a part of which was converted by the family into resort known as Bob’s Place. It is a quaint little place with large garden, separate TV room with pool table and card table. The rooms were not equipped with television. The library had a functional fireplace making me want to curl up with a book and never leave.

The garden was teeming with flowers all different shades of yellow…..

Nainital was cold but since we did not want to confine ourselves to the resort rooms, we ventured to nearby areas. My mother never leaves a chance to visit temples at any place and besides the Naina devi temple at Nainital, we heard about this temple with many bells. She wanted to visit the temple and my curiosity was equally piqued….

Nainital,  a popular hill station in the state of Uttarakhand, India is situated at an altitude of 2,084 metres above sea level and has a pear-shaped lake.  The hill station town of Naini Tal was founded only in 1841,when the first European house(Pilgrim Lodge) was constructed by a sugar merchant. The town, soon became a favorite health resort and summer retreat of British soldiers, colonial officials and their families. Later, it became the summer residence of the Governor of the United Provinces. By the 1880s, Nainital became an exclusive English reserve, while the Indians were only as labour and servants to the ‘Gora-Sahibs…the Britishers’.

The district of Nainital has many tourist spots nearby, of which is ‘Ghorakhal‘(Ghora means horse hence Ghorakal literally means pond for horses). It is at a height of little more than 2000 metre and is famous for temple of Golu Devata or Lord Golu. The temple is about 4 km from Binsar wildlife sanctuary and about 10 km from Almora.

Lord Golu is the local God of the Kumaon region of state of Uttarakhand. He is considered as the incarnation of Lord Shiva. There are many folklores associated with the deity. The more popular one is about the favorite queen who bore a male child but was informed by the other jealous queens that she had given birth to a ball of stone. Few years later, the king came across a child who told the story of stone ball. The king punished the guilty queens and crowned the boy as king. The locals believe that Lord Golu dispenses quick justice to his devotees. Devotees offer animal sacrifice and bells to thank the God after fulfillment of their wishes.

bell shops

Shops selling sweets and Bells for the offering

Thousands of bells in every shape and size hang from the columns, the roof, the railings of the stairs and every possible part of the temple. Devotees also file written petitions everyday, hoping to get justice at the hands of Lord Golu. Shops outside the temple premises cash in on the devotees’ faith by selling gleaming brass and silver bells. These bells are sold not only as per size but also by weight.

Later we took a trek which took us to the rocky bed of a stream. Despite the cool breeze, the trek made us all sweaty which was excuse enough for us to play with cold water.

enjoying the cold water

Enjoying the cold water

Two days at Nainital were over a bit too soon. We had to return……what with Monday office and school!

Driving down the winding road, I took a last glimpse of the tall and majestic pine trees and prepared myself to face the hot and humid weather of Bareilly again….

Conifers

 

 

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1971, Battle at Longewala

A cricket match between India and Pakistan  is no less than a war….emotions run high with people on either side praying for victory of their teams, betting high stakes or promising lavish parties post a win. The players are under huge pressure to play well because a defeat causes so much of heartbreak and  depression that people burn effigies of the players, smash their televisions and in extreme cases commit suicide!!

India won by 76 runs, its first match against Pakistan in the ICC World Cup series at Australia…..people rejoiced as if a real war was won!!

Seeds of antagonism between two major communities, Hindus and Muslims, were sowed many years ago. The British fanned the flames burning the two religions, driving them away from each other to the extent that the huge country was finally divided in 1947 into India and Pakistan. Kashmir was annexed to India at the behest of King Harisingh, the then ruler of Kashmir. Pakistan and India have since been at loggerheads over the territory and gone on war thrice in 1965, 1971 and 1999.

Fence at Indo-Pak Border

Beyond the fence lies Pakistan, the archenemies of India.

While visiting Longewala, we had the privilege of observing the braveheart defense personnel at work. They keep vigil on the border every minute all the year round to protect the nation from terrorists and Pakistani army. These men in uniform have always believed :

“Ask not what the nation does for you, ask what you can do for your nation”

So be it harsh scorching temperatures or freezing cold,  scarcity of water and years of separation from families…..they stay put thwarting the advances of enemy.

Longewala War, 1971:

Pakistani airforce made pre-emptive strikes on Indian territory on 3rd December,1971. They planned to cross over through Longewala and capture Jaisalmer eventually.

 Border post 638Pakistanis dug up the border post and advanced 17 km inside the indian territory unawares of the 23 Punjab company of army stationed in Longewala. Pakistanis attacked with two columns of armored tanks.

Indian Army unit though outnumbered engaged the enemy and held them at bay all night. Early morning the Indian Air Force struck the enemy with hunter aircrafts.

The enemy had not anticipated an air attack and neither did they take in account the difficult desert terrain. The fierce ground and air retaliation by Indian forces made the enemy lose their nerve and they retreated abandoning their as many as 34 tanks and other armored vehicles.

Captured Pakistani Tank

The enemy however took with them the post pillar in their territory. Few days later, on 9th December the Kumaon regiment attacked the Pakistani post and retrieved the pillar of ‘border post 638′ and installed it on its rightful place.

The army and airforce worked in tandem to defend the nation’s territory and defeated the evil designs of Pakistanis with the enemy side having many casualties and heavy losses. A plaque at the Longewala post describes the emotional value of the war:

plaque at Longewala

This battle is one unique event in the military history of India. The nation on its part honored the brave men with high decorations.

We on our part should respect the sacrifices of the defense personnel and thank them for all our peaceful nights, freedom and carefree days. I salute our brave.

JAI HIND!! (Praise and Victory to India)

http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1971War/Suresh.html

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Rani ki Vav(Queen’s Stepwell): Patan, Gujrat

This gallery contains 25 photos.

Back from a long vacation recently, there was no agenda of another holiday. However a last-minute decision to join in a family get-together was the reason that we stayed overnight at Ahmedabad, Gujrat while returning from Pune. The next day being Sunday … Continue reading

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