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”

 

Posted in Architecture, Beautiful India, Historic India, Travel India | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

DSC00172

Great Egret

DSC00169

Ducks

DSC00175

Turtle basking in the warm sun

DSC00176

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

DSC00177

Painted Storks

DSC00187

Coromant bird

DSC00179 DSC00180 DSC00189

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.

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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

 

 

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Historic India | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Gallery | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Sunburn Goa 2014

Held in December since 2007, Asia’s largest music festival is here again. The Sunburn Goa is many music lovers dream. It is being held at Vagator Beach in Northern Goa.

For more information head on to…

http://www.festicket.com/festival/sunburn-goa/

 

 

Posted in Festive India | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

For the families like us, with a sole earning member and a fixed salary every month……planning, prioritising, compromising, budgeting and reallocating is very much a part of routine. So, planning an expensive abroad trip is an overwhelming luxury and risk in managing our funds. And on top of that…a trip to America, a country much costlier in smallest of things than my precious India, is definitely a very bold decision…

americaI had expected an overflow of excitement when the days would near for a vacation to the America. But, I am surprised at myself because I am quite subdued! Is it because I suppressed my excitement long enough so that it doesn’t jinx the trip ? Or an unknown place, the only exposure of the lifestyle there being through Hollywood movies or books, intimidate me already? Or the long planning of what to do , what to pack, how to best use the vacation with every dollar spent to its full, exhausts my mind? Or is it that the little voice in my heart which always insists on patriotism is afraid, that I would fall in love for all the material things and the small freedoms which at times are not available here?

I am afraid too….. of behaving like a wide-eyed kid in the Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, or Alice in wonderland, of wanting the vacation to never end, of desires that would take birth after biting the forbidden fruit…..

I know what all good values my country has to offer but I am also aware  where all there is much to be desired……small issues which lead to a crib against neighbors, politicians, public facilities, double standards in relationships …. I don’t want to come back and start feeling more antagonised towards the way of life, here in our country!!

There is much too love within the families here….which though results in melodramatic outbursts, emotional blackmail, unsolicited advices, unnecessary heartaches and verbal castigation to prove that one has failed to do duties towards family……..Yet this same dependency on each other, quality to stick together, reverence towards parents and unquestioning attitude to follow orders from elders of family is what, has prevented our families from disintegration…from frustrated gun toting kids….from runaway teenagers…..from loss in faith in the institution of marriage….

Times have changed much and many people are breaking away from the typical set up of tradition, culture not because they have lost interest in the traditions etc but because they want a little more freedom within the traditional set up….

I love our traditions, the festivities, the small arguments and the subsequent make-ups but I value my freedom to choose, to agree or disagree, to relate or to simply keep quiet…. And I have been termed a rebel……. So that makes me little afraid of myself…. Afraid that my views will become stronger….afraid that I will advocate more freedom for women to dress as they want and to choose who they want…..afraid that I will defy my parents and keep relations with only select few whose thought process is similar to mine….afraid that I will change!!

Off on a vacationIn another couple of days, I leave for a long vacation to America…..And I am excited…..maybe the joy will spill over once I board the flight….

Link | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A photo journey : Havelock Island, Andamans

I had never seen so many hues of blue till I made a trip to Havelock Island , Andaman Islands. The most popular and the best beach in Asia, Radhanagar beach with its silver sand strewn with thousands of beautiful shells and corals, elephant rides in sea, snorkelling was so breathtaking that I could not stop shooting photographs. Here are some that I simply wanted to share…

From the ship deck

Approaching the island

Light House

Trail to tents

Tents at the island

Beach

The kids were immensely happy covering each other with sand and playing mermaid, making sand castles and  hut of twigs and grass or simply running in and out of sea. They did not want the vacation to end ever….

Kids at play

Tidal fury

Out in the Arabian Sea

A lone ship

Setting sun

The night watchman….this crab was moving fast when our torch-light dazed it momentarily and it assumed a ninja like attack stance…..

The night watchman

 

 

 

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sun City: Jodhpur

Clock Tower, JodhpurA hot cup of coffee is my utmost requirement when I am tired and post my shopping adventure I sure was tired, famished and in no state to go searching for a coffee cafe near the “Clock tower” of Jodhpur though it has many eateries catering quick bites. The market place near the clock tower is the much sought after shopping area for handicrafts and ethnic clothes.

Someone told me to head for “Shri Mishrilal Hotel” which isn’t a hotel really but a small room in the extended arms of the Sardar Kot Gate known for its thick ‘lassi’ or sweetened and very thick buttermilk. This little joint exists since 1927 and is recommended by the Lonely Planet Guidebooks. It lived up to its fame because after one glass full of the lassi and a plate of Jodhpur’s famous ‘mirchi vada‘  (stuffed and fried large chilli) I was myself stuffed enough to skip dinner.

Shri Mishrilal Hotel

The much written about and much  visited Jodhpur is famous for its forts, palaces, lakes, Rajasthani meal thali and furniture much of which is exported. Besides shopping, the love for architecture, history and visiting new places becomes an added reason for my weekend trips to Jodhpur from Barmer, my current place of residence.

Jodhpur is known as the sun city may be because the rulers of the Marwar were sun worshippers and also because the city enjoys bright sun all through the year. It is also called blue city because of the blue painted houses which can be seen from the fort ramparts. Probably the blue colored houses were meant for the upper caste brahmins during earlier days.

Blue houses seen from fort

In a recent two day trip to Jodhpur, I squeezed in some time to visit the well known Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan besides my shopping spree.

MEHRANGARH FORT :

This magnificent 500 year old largest fort of India still stands tall with thick sturdy walls on a hill 400 ft above the city spreading to a massive 5 km expanse. The original name was “Mihir-Garh” (Mihir=Sun + Garh= fort) but due to mispronunciation and local slang it acquired the current name.

Fort model casted in metal

Fort model casted in bronze

 The existing fort was made during the reign of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, in 1638. There are about five stories to the fort added by successive rulers. The fort museum houses large collection of paintings,armory, palanquins, head gears and turbans, musical instruments etc.

The fort has seven colossal gates one of which still bears the cannonball marks that hit the gate during the attack. Following the attack the fort walls were raised and another gate, the Loha Gate which was the seventh and last gate, was added to the fort.

The fort also houses grand palaces like Sheesh Mahal or the mirror palace, Phool Mahal or flower palace which are decorated with Belgium glass, intricate gold work,  hand woven huge rich carpets etc..

Every year Mehrangarh fort host the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in October. Local musicians, dancers and famed artists participate in the festival. The current maharaja is the chief patron of the festival. Considered to be one of the best 25 international festivals, it is also supported by UNESCO.

I haven’t had the chance yet to see the festival but I did listen to the street artists who attract tourists by playing their instruments within the fort complex.

 

A street artist with local stringed instrument

A street artist with local stringed instrument

Umaid Bhawan:

A major part of the palace is converted to a hotel managed by the Taj Hotels and was out of bounds for visitors. Out of the 347 rooms that the palace has only 10 rooms are accessible to tourists.

The king employed thousands of villagers for construction of the palace to provide them employment at the time of famine.

The palace boasts of a collection of vintage cars of the current owner of the palace Maharaja Gaj Singh.

Scaled model of the palace

Scaled model of the palace

There are many places within Jodhpur which I still haven’t visited and there is loads of shopping yet to be done. I must plan for a longer stay in Jodhpur, I guess….

 

Posted in Architecture, Historic India, Travel India | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Lord Ganesha’s visarjan (departure)

Ganpati Idol

Ganpati Idol made at home by Mihir Pendharkar

For ten days since Ganesh Chaturthi which is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada (August-September), starting on the fourth day of the waxing moon period, the atmosphere reverberates with songs and prayers in praise of Lord Ganesh. This is particularly a major festival for the state of Maharashtra. (Read Swarupa’s vivid description of the festival at http://thegr8wall.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/the-ganesha-chaturthi-festival-of-india/)

Lord Ganesha idols are installed in homes and at community pandals and the celebrations commence with immense fervor culminating on Anant Chaturdashi, fourteenth day of the waxing moon period. On the tenth day, the idols are taken out for a procession with much fanfare and immersed in flowing water(ideally). The immersion or visarjan denotes the departure of Lord to his abode.

In Hindu dharma the God may be worshipped in two ways….Nirakaar or formless which is worshipped through meditation and Saakar or with form which is worshipped as deity.

The physical form of Lord is considered to be the incarnation  as human body  made of five elements…the air, water, fire, earth and ether. The human body returns to the heavenly abode as a formless soul and all five elements become a part of universe again. To represent the cycle of creation and dissolution in nature, the idols traditionally are  to be sculpted from mud which again consists of the five elements of the universe. The mud is taken from nearby one’s home. On the tenth day the idol is immersed in a nearby water body where it dissolves returning the elements back to universe only to reincarnate again later next year.

The making of idol at home commemorates the creation of Lord Ganesha by his mother Godess Parvati or mother earth who fashioned him out of the dirt which she exfoliated off her divine body and then gave the inanimate statue a soul and life. (https://shomaabhyankar.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/elephant-headed-god-lord-ganesh/) There is a similar mention in story of Golem in Talmud scriptures.

Being a Maharashtrian Brahmin myself I too invited Lord Ganesha to our home. I decorated the temple at home and made all the sweetmeats that the Lord is fond of….the modaks, laddoos etc. But I am no sculptor. However I do paint so for my home I bought a small terracotta idol and helped my daughter paint it before doing the Pranpratishtha (invoking the soul of Lord himself to reside in the idol for ten days).

Hand painted idol of Lord Ganesha

Hand painted idol of Lord Ganesha

One of my cousins, Mr. Mihir Pendharkar is a sculpting enthusiast when it comes to Lord Ganesha’s idols. I have seen his creations when we were younger and from the days of making crude hand-made idols he has mastered the process now. Here is his this year’s creation.

While taking out the immersion procession, the devotees break out in frenzied song and dance with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm shouting their hearts out

Ganpati Bappa Morya….pudchya varshi lavkar ya!!” (Praised be Lord Ganesha ….please return to our humble abodes next year again)

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Posted in Festive India, Mythological India | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments