Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shillong- Scottish delight at East


Cheimatophobia , the fear of cold. If you have this phobia, better do not venture here in winter as temperature here may touch zero sometimes. If not, come and visit Shillong, The Scotland of the East.
Shillong was the capital of Assam, till 21st Jan, 1972, when the state of Meghalaya (the abode of clouds) was sliced out from the Southern Part, where lies the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills. Hemmed by hills and wrapped by mists almost throughout the year, this city is best visited after monsoon when fog infringes the least, cloud doesn't clout with the weather to impede your outing.
living root bridge Mowlynnong
Our plane landed at the Gopinath Bordoloi Airport at Guwahati , from where we took a cab for the four hour journey to Shillong. Once we crossed Barapani, the reservoir of a Hydel project, locally known as Umiam Lake, we knew that Shillong is not far behind. The cab dropped us at Police Bazar, a chowk from where the main market was located. We checked into a hotel and freshened up before strolling around gathering information about sightseeing in the local Taxi stand.  We learnt that a minimum of three days were needed to roughly complete all the spots.  We decided to cover the far off places first leaving the local spots for the last day.
Day I : Destination Mowlynnong , Asia’s cleanest village. In the entire 90 Km stretch cloud made the surrounds play hide and seek with our Maruti 800. The knolls carpeted with bluish green vegetation, the bamboo cottages or Rawais, the green valleys played the game in tandem. The road took numerous turns in the forest in the last leg and all of a sudden we reached the village. A hamlet as clean as one can be as littering is a crime over here.  From a 5 year old to an octogenarian, all busy in sweeping off twigs and dead leaves with obsessive zeal  and dumping them in bamboo baskets . A stream cuts through the village and across it stands the famous ‘natural root bridge’.  Crossing over is an experience in itself, where you are enveloped by roots on three sides and the canopy above. Next we were escorted to the watch tower, resembling a tree house, from where vast expanse of grassy plains of Bangladesh could be seen. Soon the cloud played a spoilt spot,  drawing the curtains over the feast. We climbed down.  Before leaving Mowlynnong , we had our lunch in a villager’s living room turned into a makeshift restaurant .  The desi chicken preparation has left an indelible mark on our taste buds. 

Wahkaba Falls 
Day 2: Next day was for Cherrapunjee ( 55 Km south of Shillong) which is locally called Sohra,  receives the highest rainfall in the planet just next to Mawsynram, 16 Km west. Our first break was at Wahkaba  Falls. We descended a few hundred steps to first see a small spring followed by the huge rumbling falls splashing into a pool below  amid foams and froth.  The mountain greens with its varied shades dive hundreds of feet down to touch the spring below.  We stood engrossed.
‘Chaliye saab aaj bohut kuch dekhna hai’,  said Vaisyaji  our driver.  We climbed up panting all the way. Heart patients should not venture down at Wahkaba.
Next, we headed for Mawjimbuin Cave, where we had to squeeze through the dark entrance of the watery cave. Rounded stalactites  and stalagmites oozes water making the short stint adventurous. We went to The Ramakrishna Mission which houses a big school, a hospice ad a temple. The Khashi tribesmen are in debt to this organization for their help.

Finally, we went to the Nohkalikai Falls, one of the heighest in the country. Fog, here, played spoilt sport again. We heard the roars but thick fog obstructed our vision. We returned after seeing the seven sisters falls, which is a cascade of the broken stream that falls parallel down into Bangladesh.  The cloud cover restricted our view though Vaisyaji said that vast part os Shylet could be seen from here on a clear day. We spent some time in the adjoining garden, helped ourselves with some snacks and started our journey back.

Day 3. The third day was scheduled for local sight seeing. We started with the golf course, one of the oldest in the country, set up by the British in 1898. At 5200 feet above the sea level, the lush green undulating turf is a treat for the eye.
wards lake

Botanical garden was next, which is a repertoire of both flora and fauna. Wards lake, situated at the heart of the city, was near by where we crossed a wooden bridge and went to the point from where boats are hired for boating. The flowers and the garden around were striking.  If you love photography, here is your hunting ground. Shoot.

Elephant Falls
Shillong Peak was our next destination. We climbed the watch tower to pan around for the whole city down below. Up came the wide angle lenses for the adults while the young ones drape in the hired Khashi clothes brandish blunt toy sword and pose before the loitering cameramen. Locals here make quick bucks. The Elephant Falls was not far from here. It is a three stepped falls and was named such by the Khashi people. The British later named it to Elephant Falls as a rock resembling the animal was found on the left side. sadly, an earthquake in 1897 destroyed it, but the name remained.



We came down to the city and next in our list was Don Bosco Museum, the seven storied house which is the repertoire of the indigenous culture. Artifacts  weapons, dresses of Meghalaya and the sister states displayed under one roof. At the top one can have a 360 degree view of the city.
W didn't have time for the museum of Entomology ( study of the insects) and a couple of nearby falls  ( Beadon, Bishop and Sweet), as it was dark already.
Barapani

The next morning we had to go down to Guwahati to catch our flight back.  While crossing the Barapani again, I was missing the mist draped green, undulating expanse of rounded hills, sparsely dotted with monoliths and occasional epitaphs reminding the frugality of our existence to nature, yet the time we spend in her lap is so precious, so meaningful in our lives.


Text : Courtesy Orissa Post 

 For more infos:-
Tourist Information Centres,
New Delhi

Meghalaya House,
9 Aurangzeb Road,
New Delhi – 110001
Ph no: +91-11-23014417
Tourist Information Centres,
Kolkata

Meghalaya House,
120, Shanti Pally,
Rash Behari Connector
Kolkata – 700107
Ph no: +033-24412159
Fax: +91-33-24411930

Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation
Polo Road,
Shillong – 793001
Meghalaya, India
Ph no: +91-364-2222731/ 2224933/ 2505012/ 2224471
Indiatourism
Tirot Singh Road,
Shillong – 79001
Meghalaya, India
Ph no: +91-364-2225632



                                                                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Merging of faith

Saab teerth baar baar, Ganga Sagar Ek Baar!
The chorus of the devotees filled the air. Omnipresent, as it seems, this adage can be heard in every nook and cranny of the island, the pilgrims proudly proclaiming this age old couplet to boost themselves. Years back, pilgrims was treading the hard clay soil of the holy island of Sagar, where every year lakhs of devotees throng to take a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. The soil - where through hundreds of years, or probably thousands - followers of Hinduism gathered in the end of the month of Pous (From middle of Dec to middle of Jan) to wash off their sins in the holy Ganges and make arrangements for the eternal journey after their death. And to follow this ritual thousands died en route in the treacherous terrain where hungry Royal Bengal tigers prowled in the land and crocodiles swarmed the boats in the river.  To top up this cup of misery,  looters and thugs maraud  throughout the entire journey. Thus the couplet which meant “repeat all pilgrimages but Gangasagar for only once” was more than justified in those days. Now all those dangers have been buried in the sands of time; only the couplet remained. 


I came to this island from Kolkata. I took a train from Sealdah and got down at Kakdwip 90kms away. The distance from the railway station to the jetty can be walked or can be traversed atop a van rickshaw. The jetty is called Lot No 8 which along with a ramp came into existence in 1990. When I reached there I was sucked into the crowd, jostling to take the ferry to cross over. Luckily the time of my arrival matched with the tide as during low tides or dead low water, ferry stops. Sagar Island, the last delta on the western fringe of the Sunderbans, is cut off from the main land by a canal of the main river Ganga. It's called the Canal Creek and locally, Muriganga. The ferry charge goes up from Rs. 6/- to Rs. 45/- during the Sagar Mela (fair). The Motor Launch of West Bengal water transport took us to Kochuberia on the opposite bank in the Sagar Island. One can also travel farther south up to Namkhana and cross the creek and land up at Chemagudi, 9 km away from the actual spot. The ferry charge is higher (Rs80/-) and the distance traveled in steamer is much more. From Chemagudi buses,  rickshaws or vans are available but not as frequent as in Kachuberia.

I took a bus from Kachuberia, traveled from the north to the southern tip of the island taking the 30 km long Sagar Main Road. While the bus traveled through the verdant green fields of this Island I thought what has brought me to this place? Is there some de javu of past life waiting for me? I have heard people left their old in this island at the mercy of Mother Nature. Some survived most died. Infertile couples used to pledge their first offspring to “Ma Ganga” if they become fertile by God’s grace. So many souls entwined with their own sad tales fill this island’s air, I thought. I have not come for the holy dip. I just wanted to get the feel of this fair and witness the feel of myth that has cast its spell on the devotee’s god fearing mind.

Well, time for some mythology then. Long ago a sage called Kapil Muni came to this island to do Tapasya. At around the same time King Sagar of Ayodhya went on to do Aswamedha Yajna. The horse went to the ashram of sage Kapil and disturbed him. Enraged, the sage tied it at one corner. King Sagar dispatched his sixty thousand sons to bring it back. They poked the saint out of his meditation and barged in to take away the horse. Kapil Muni got so furious that his anger burnt all of them alive. Bhagirath, one of the descendants of Sagar came to seek Kapil’s mercy. Upon his advice Bhagirath went to Devi Ganga, who flowed through the plane of India to meet the Island at the Bay of Bengal where the mortal remains of the sons were present. Being washed, these souls got liberated once and for all. That was the day of “Pous Shankranti” – the last day of the month of Pous. To commemorate this event pilgrims throng this Island for ages to seek redemption from their wrongdoings in this life.

I landed on the temporary bus stand and proceeded to the Ramakrishna Mission’s Temporary dormitory. Thin layer of straw was strewn on the concrete floor and the walls were ofHogla leaves (a palm like leaf). All the makeshift tents were of Hogla leaves. There were almost two hundred of them. The ones of R.K. Mission, Iskon , Bharat Sevashrama Sangha and Bastra Babsaye Samity (an NGO) are bigger with toilets and free food. It is hard to get on spot accommodation. It is better to contact them well in advance at their Kolkata office for bookings.

I came out to have a cup of tea and take a stroll. The sun was setting in the west and the russet sky reflected in the ripples of the holy flow. Breeze from the North was pinching my dry skin. I saw naked sadhus in the midst of the crowd swaying their bun and beard to make a point to his disciples who listened in rapt attention. In between his Chillum glowed and smell of ganja filled the air. Hinduism at its best and worst- belief and deceit laid cheek by jowl. I turned towards the Kapil Muni temple. In 1822 the original mandir was engulfed by the sea. The next went into it in 1973, when a mahanta of Ayodha rebuilt it.
 
.In the early morning I saw lakhs of devotees taking a dip in the divine confluence. Priests were making a quick buck by chanting mantras and selling and reselling the calves to his clients who finger-printed them with vermillion so as to locate them in their journey to heaven. Strange rituals rule the roost and that too for ages. Shivering the pilgrims returned to the temple to offer their prayers to Kapil Muni with their inner conviction guarding their bare skin. Soon I returned to have my morning cuppa. Its time to leave.


Its time to go back, to the world of hardcore materialism, only a hundred Km away.
 
Courtesy : Orissa Post

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rambha, Chilika: Soak in a salty lagoon's lap.



Courtesy : http://www.trekearth.com/

The rain lashed the window pave of the AC compartment as our train was whizzing past inconspicuous stations on the Howrah-Chennai track. We were, actually, heading for a lesser known town south of puri and the gateway to Chilika, Asia’s biggest salt water lagoon on the Bay of Bengal.

Next morning we got down at Balugaon and headed for the OTDC Panthanivas at Rambha. The Panthanivas is a sprawling compound facing the lake with AC cottages, AC and Non AC DB rooms and a conference hall and a beautiful garden. Fish lovers can have a treat here with the variety of both the species and the menu which includes items of prawns, lobsters, crabs and a host of sea fishes.

Being clustered in the city our souls long for open space. We wasted no time but headed straight towards the jetty connected by a straight road inside the lake. The jetty is a makeshift fishing harbour from where you can ire a boat to take a short trip. But for sight seeing tours it is advisable to opt for the OTDC packages.

Next day early morning we headed for the Kalijai Island It has the famous Kalijai temple where thousands of devotees throng during Makar Shankranti.. OTDC arranges a boat if there are ten or more heads and they charge a total of three thousand bucks for Kalijai and back which takes six hours. One can see the Bird Island, Nalbana, Breakfast Island, Honeymoon Island, Ghantashila hill island en route. These places are a bird haven where Siberian birds flock in during winter.

But the most attractive part of this tour is a visit to Rishikulya Beach 18 km away, where Olive Ridley turtles visit for nesting and hatching. The turtles come in February for nesting and in April and May for hatching. One will have to get there at midnight to see the nesting when the turtles dig holes using their flippers to lay their eggs and floats back. During harvesting season one has to visit Rishikulya in the early morning during the harvesting season. Due to illegal killing of these turtles in the vicinity, one may come across a few carcasses and have to endure the stench. Its better to have precise knowledge of the timings of the visit of turtles at Rishikulya, as the window is slim, a week at the most.

Sunset at chilika

The evenings are pleasant and one can stroll in the beautiful garden in the premises while see the children play. Its time for a cup of tea with pakodas, or a bottle of beer to chill out.



Amitava Chakrabarty


Navigator: By train to Balugaon and then by Auto or Car to Panthanivas Nearest Airport is Bhubaneswar from where Rambha is roughly 130 Km.

Stay: PANTHANIVAS RAMBHA
Phone: 06810-278346, email: 
otdc@ortel.net 
Bookings at Kolkata : Utkal Bhavan, 55 Lenin Sarani, Calcutta. Phone 22651195/ 22654556 ...

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

If Dreams Were True




“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
 
Langston Hughes


Courtesy: Ron Leishman
Yesterday I dreamt a dream. Subconscious, they say, play an important role in its origin. But it was a consciously subconscious dream. I was flipping the web pages to gather information about the city of Melbourne just to try and write something worthwhile to submit an article on Melbourne in IndiBlogger. Soon the information cluttered up my brain and the bawl within gradually subsided when I let myself leave the idea of scribbling a story. Rather, it was easier for me to seek recluse on my sofa for a catnap. It was then when I dreamt the most colourful dream of my life.

A race course- all in black, white or shades of grey. A horse was running. I know him. He was the icon of a country reeling under the Great Depression preceding  World War-II. He is the famous Phar Lap, the champion thoroughbred racehorse. Each of his muscles expanding in exuberance of the race; each turgid veins throbs in victory’s own blood, upon the turf where he is winning one of the 37 races that he has won. The race faded out. I saw him encased in a glass case in the Melbourne Museum, cold, still and breathless. The woody ambiance has its sheen but somewhere spews deep sad sighs- sighs from the lungs fed by the 14 lb heart that is still preserved in Canberra National Museum. His heart stopped on 5th April, 1932 in America, where he ran his last race and was poisoned by a lethal dose of Arsenic. The window of hope was closed suddenly in the island continent thousand miles away.

The green race course suddenly changed into a stadium. I have seen this arena. It’s the MCG. I saw Steve Waugh walking down the pitch, collars up, with an aura of restrained flamboyance. One of the most successful captains the Aussies have ever produced. But I adore him for a completely different reason. It’s his philanthropic works down here in Kolkata. His NGO, UDAYAN, has been instrumental in setting up of a Leprosy Center for the girl child here in Nepalgunj, at the outskirts of the city of joy. A blind school has been set up two years later by him. An invisible bridge was built by this magnanimous soul which connected my city to the one which can boast of having the oldest sporting club in Australia; yes the Melbourne Cricket Club (Estd-1838). Tagged to it were interactive shows of National Sports MuseumEast Melbourne (http://www.visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Activities-and-attractions/Art-theatre-and-culture/Museums-and-libraries/National-Sports-Museum.aspx ). The 3D theatrical experience  of Shane Warne’s “Cricket found me” was flippantly passing through my eyes where I could see his ominous googlies but couldn’t comprehend what he said in the Australian accent.


 The MCG has somewhere merged with the Eden Gardens, The Hugli has meandered its way into the Yarra River; the “tom-toms” of Kolkata trams has merged with the sounds of the suave Yarra Trams; the Victorian Arts Centre at the South bank precincts finds a strange companion in our own Academy of Fine Arts, The Melbourne Theater Company stand cheek by jowl with our own Rabindra Sadan. Both being the cultural capital of their respective countries, I found a strange undertone of similarity that exists in visually dissimilar periphery.



A boat cruises along the Yarra and seeing the ships moored in the piers in the dockyard at Williams Town with vessels plying to and fro in the Hobsons Bay as I walk upon the Beach street has a strange resemblance with my frequent stroll  upon  our own Strand Road.

The known chime of the doorbell brought me back to the hard real world, which escaped for a few moments upon the soft sofa. I looked through the window and the urban ennui slapped my drowsy vision. 

Moments before Melbourne didn't seem too far from my own city, but now it seems far-far away.









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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Garchumuk and Atanna Gate: Where two flows merge.


Courtesy  :  www.WeekendDestinations.info  
Merely sixty Km from Kolkata lies a spot which can be reveled in the misty monsoon or in the winter sun.  It still is a picnic spot but can be a destination to hangout, any time of the year. Add Garchumuk to your -been there done that- list of destinations. The place lazes out at the confluence of the rivers Damodar and Hugli where visitors converge with their families and loved ones to chill out.
A boat ferrying commuters at dusk


We drove the sixty odd kilometers and the ride was good as most of the route was maintained by National Highway Authority. Crossing the Second Hoogly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) we took the Kona Express way. At its end, 10 km away at Salap, we turned left and got to the National Highway 6. We crossed another Toll plaza (the first was at Second Hoogly Bridge) at Dhulogarh and drove straight to Uluberia from where we turned left again towards Shyampur. An hour later we crossed the lock gate bridge over Damodar. To our right lay the beautiful expanse dotted with trees. It’s the bank of Damodar where the picnic parties frolic in winter. The 58 lock gates ( Atanna Gate, in local dialect) that bind the river give a to bluish green tinge upon the near stagnant water.  If you travel by CSTC bus from Esplanade, Kolkata, alight here. You must have a previous booking of the Howrah Zilla Parishad. A pedaled van will take you to the Bungalow.
Courtesy: http://kolkataonwheelsmagazine.com


To head for the bungalow one has to turn left. The road is undulated amid the woods. At its end lie the cottage type dwellings in the middle of a sprawling garden and park. Soon you will find that the campus is located at the vantage point, at the confluence of the rivers. The lunch can be ordered before the start of the journey. Arrangement here is fulfilling but not lavish. Boating in the river is an added treat especially when it drizzles and you don’t have a propensity towards cold. One can simply sit by the river, see ocean liners heading towards the Kolkata Port or departing to the sea. Else, simply count waves to kill time. Before returning one must not miss the deer park at Atanna Gate.



Places to stay:
 At Howrah Zilla Parishad Bungalow ( Tel: 033-26384633 / 34  Ext: 147). One has to download the application form (http://www.howrahzilaparishad.in/) and apply to the secretary, Howrah Zilla Parishad or WBCADC – 03322377041-43. A few local hotels are also available.

How To Reach:
Buy CSTC bus heading for Gadiara, from Esplanade. By train from Howrah to Uluberia and then by hiring a car. Best is to drive straight to the spot.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chandipur- Strolling on the quiet shore.


Rains playing hide and seek this year. Prolonged interludes of humidity casting its ominous spell on the citizens.  A couple of days break is good enough to give the sea a chance to placate the tired sweaty pours of our skin. Head for Chandipur, one of the nearest coastal beaches from Kolkata.

When the engine of the Dhauli Express nudged its way out of the station at six o clock in the morning, sleep was still wiping its last traces from our eyes. Four hours later we alighted at Balasore, a historical port city of Odisha, now a business and tourist hub. We hired a car (Rs. 250/-) while auto rickshaws charge between Rs80/- to Rs100/- for this 16 Km journey, depending upon the season. We headed for OTDC Panthanivas where our room was booked. As we proceeded towards the sea the whiff of salinity the air welcome greeted us. The breeze whizzed past the Casuarinas trees which hem the coastline here, dotted by a coconut tree or a cashew bush in between. Refreshing our desiccated souls with ice cold lassi, we headed for the sea, but not before ordering prawns for the lunch.


Luckily, it was high water time and the sea was near us, which generally recedes 5 Km off during the ebb tide. This bizarre phenomenon is hardly experienced anywhere else in the entire coastal belt of Odisha. The hard sand below our feet grips our sole as the semi-transparent sea ripples over. We had to walk half a mile before the water became waist deep and we felt any buoyancy. Anyone who wants to learn swimming can head for the Chandipur sea in High water. The hard undulated sand below will not let him drown while the calm sea will not challenge him while he floats.

In the evening we strolled by the sea as the tired sun picked up the last traces of orange before plunging behind the horizon. Fishermen with tired legs tow their nets to their huts. For them tedium is a way of life.




Sight seeing of the nearby Kshir-Chora Gopinath Temple at Remuna, the stunning fishing harbour at Balaramgudi at the confluence of the Budibalam River and the sea, Panchalingeswar temple above the Devgiri hills, the remnant of the dilapidated house of the Zamindar of nilgiri can be seen hiring a car. Rate is Rs250/- approx per head.

When we were returning to Balasore to catch the evening train to kolkata, it suddenly occurred that it was here near Balasore that the great freedom fighter Jatindra Nath Mukhopadhyay ( aka- Bagha Jatin, as he had killed a tiger with only a knife) laid down his life fighting the British troops.  Inspired by Swamiji's ideals, Bagha Jatin laid down his life just as he wished as he always said " Our death will awaken our country".
 Somewhere, a paradoxical pain got entwined in the joyous weekend.

Courtesy : Discover India.
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Bishnupur the land of “Trance in terracotta"


Shyam- Rai

When I was packing my bags for heading to Bishnupur, I was skeptical as to whether it was a right decision to slog in the autumn heat in the heart of Bengal. Some hill station would have been a natural choice. But prodded by my friends who insisted on salvaging their little knowledge of the history, I was sort of quasi-convinced that the trip won’t be a disaster. I was wrong, terribly wrong. I came back as a person who was better aware of the history of the soil he lives in.

                                                                                           
2885 Up Aranyak Express took us to Bishnupur  from Shalimar, a small terminus 5 kms away from Howrah and is easily accessed from Kolkata by cabs across the Vidyasagar Setu. One can board the same train at Santragachhi which is on S.E.Railway main line and accessible by road through the same Vidyasagar Setu.  Else you can board the 2883 - Rupashi Bangla Express which starts at 0600 hrs from Howrah and reaches Bishnupur(200km away) by 10 AM  The distance on road is much shorter, only 150 Km. CSTC busses are available from Esplanade in the morning. It will take about  four and half hours and even less, if you drive in your own car.

We headed for the tourist lodge to freshen up. Had our lunch and booked a rickshaw, the main mode of transport, for sight seeing. Fortunately he was a part-time guide too who went on with his commentary as he pedaled from one spot to another.

Bishnupur became the capital of the Malla dynasty in 994AD when King Jagat Malla shifted to it from Pradamnapur, where the first ruler of the dynasty Raghunath was crowned in 695AD.  But it boomed to its peak, centuries later, during King Veer Hambir. It was said that he was a ruthless ruler who plundered the wealth of all those who traversed his territory, came across in his looting spree Srinivasa Acharya, a beloved disciple of Shri Chaitanya and a Vaishnava scholar of Chaitanya cult. He became his disciple in Acharya’s influence and became a Vaishnava.  To atone for the sins, he in built the wonderfully designed “Rash Mancha” which is a unique combination of Bengal’s Chala (roof of a hut) and Egyptian pyramid structure. The façade of this 51 feet high and 80 feet long covered pulpit is poetry on burnt laterite. Every year “Rash Leela” is held over here from ages. Since stones are unavailable in this part of Bengal, the temples were built on burnt laterite(red-clay), rich in iron content. Soon he built another temple called Dalan Mandir for Mrinmayee which was the royal deity. One has to buy a ticket of Rs.5/- from the Archeological Survey of India counter at Raash Mancha to visit the temples.
Raash mancha

The temples in Bishnupur are named according to the number of miniaturized pinnacled shrines atop the main chala (mainly a curved cornice roof upon a rectangular structure, resembling the thatched roof of hut) of the sanctum. These are called RATNAs, e.g. Ek(one) Ratna, Dwi (Two) Ratna, Pancha( five) Ratna etc. Veer Hambir’s successor King Raghunath Singh built the some exquisite temples in his tenure. He built Malleswar Mandir in memoir of his predecessor (Veer Singha), Kalachand temple (1656AD) and Shyama Rai or Kesta Rai in mid seventeenth century, a pancha ratna temple in the  
                                                                                                             
name of Lord Krishna. This has porches on four sides and three arch entrances, which reminds us of Islamic architecture. One cannot be but dumbfounded seeing its terracotta designs and filigree engravings upon the burnt bricks all through. Close to it is Jore Bangla (joint house), built by the same king. Radhe Shyam, Lalji (Ek Ratna) Krishna Balaram, Nikunja Bihari and temples built by different kings of this dynasty. The temples, in general, have molded burnt and designed clay panels fixed on clay brick structures.  

The Radhe Shyam temple was built in later part of the Malla dynasty and is exquisite example of terracotta and stucco. Along with Keshta Rai this temple is one of the finest examples of resplendent terracotta architecture.  Madanmohon temple is another creation of the Malla dynasty built by King Durjan Singh in 1694 AD. The Ek Ratna styled edifice is intricately designed pillars depicting 64 dance poses makes one awestruck. This is arguably the best known temple of Bishnupur. Stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata are resplendently displayed in the walls.

The remnant of a fortress can hardly be seen but its existence is proclaimed by Pathar Durwaza- a fine arched gate way built with dressed laterite blocks. King Veer Singha built it in the second half of the seventeenth century. It has double storied galleries. The central passage is flanked by spaces which could accommodate troupes. The sides have arrow slits for the archers and the snipers who acted as the first line of defense.

From temples we can now move to Dolmadol, a huge cannon which lies in open air for centuries without rusting. The engravings upon the body of the cannon are interesting. Brute force lies cheek by jowl astute art forms. Using this cannon Raja Gopal Singh used it to drive away the Bargis (Maratha Warriors).
Dolmadol

Bishnupur’s contribution to music is no less intriguing. It has contributed the famous “Bishnupuri Gharana” to Hindustani classical music. It had started during King Raghunath Singh Dev and is still continuing with great élan.

The craftsman of pottery, jewellary, crockery, metal wares and weavers are passing the baton of a rich heritage replete with finesse. Baluchari and Tussar sarees made of finest silks are manufactured here. A long neck horse popularly known as “Bankura” horse is also a popular memento in demand.  Chhau Dance is one of the traditional arts that still thrive in Bishnupur.

In December end Poush Mela is held in the precincts of Madanmohan temple and the week long festivity and cultural programmes make Bishnupur a attractive destination for the tourists. In August, an unique ritual of Jhapan is held when the snake charmers exhibit their tricks with poisonous snakes to appease Ma Monosha, the goddess of snakes in Bengal.

One can also visit Mukutmanipur, a reservoir on river Kangashabati, 82 Kms away. Its serenity around along with the hilly landscape makes it worth visiting. Staying at Peerless Resort there is another experience to relish.



Hotels in Bishnupur: Bishnupur Lodge run by W.B. Tourism – 03244-252013; Hotel Bishnupur-03244-252243, Hollywood Hotel & Resorts, etc

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Day Near A Dam

Before the heat of the sultry summer kicks in, it is not a bad idea to explore the weekends with new destinations. Massanjore can be one of them, where the main attraction is the Canada Dam on the Mayurakshi river built by the Canadian Government in 1956. The pristine greenish blue expanse of water spreading over an area of 67 square kilometers is hemmed by hillocks whetting the urge of your visual feast. The lull that hovers around merge with the mist above the water surface to deliver a cocktail of intoxication as you sit numb on the lawn of the Irrigation bungalow.



Massanjore falls on the state highway between Suri( West Bengal) and  Dumka(Jharkhand). We took a cab from Bolpur 75 Km off and traveled through small towns like Dubrajpur, and thick forests to reach Massanjore. Once we reached the site we indulged in light refreshments on the road side tea stalls and straightway headed for the dam.  Canada Dam - and its specifications were depicted upon a white stone on the right.

 As we walked upon the 668 m long dam, hundreds of green parrots greeted us. They glided above us in small groups. Some sat on the Iron girders of the bays (21 in all, each 9.14 m in width) or dangle perpendicularly clawing upon the small fissures on the 47 m high wall of the dam. To our right lay the reservoir with its immaculate sprawl of crystal clear water dotted by bright yellow boats plying with tourists. Migratory birds wiz up in unison above the water as if they were following some unheard orchestra.

To our left was the rocky terrain where the river wriggles and hides itself from our view. The water was scarce as it was winter, the lock gates were barely open, just enough to feed the river out of extinction. As we try to trace its meandering path we saw to our left a picnic spot where groups reveled in the soft December sun. We crossed to the other side and went down the rocky steps for boating. The experience of paddling in the cool water and being encircled by birds is sheer bliss. 

We headed for the irrigation bungalow for lunch. In The evening we sat in the terrace with the setting sun with the sun gathering its russet coloured cloak just as the moon got bolder and glittered upon the tiny waves.

Where to stay: Mayurakshi Bhavan of the Irrigation Department, Govt. of West Bengal. A double-bed room costs Rs 300 per night. For bookings contact: Deputy Secretary, Irrigation Department, Water Resource, Development Building, Salt Lake City, Kolkata, Phone +91 33 23212259.

Jharkhand Government’s Irrigation Bungalow: for booking write to Superintendent Engineer, Irrigation Department, dumka-814101

A Youth Hostel exists nearby which can be booked from “Yuva Kalyan Office, 32/1, BBD Bag ( South), Kolkata -700001, Ph- +91 33 22480626

Navigator :  By Train to Rampurhat, Suri or Bolpur. From there hire a car to Messanjore. Regular bus service is also available from Suri to Dumka, en-route to massanjore.



Courtesy: The text was published in Discover India.
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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shantiniketan – The abode of peace




Sometimes taking a small step out can take you far off, lift you from the monotony as you start introspecting in the luxuriant freshness. Shantiniketan is one such place, which is only two and a half hours from Kolkata, yet the ambience there is so dissimilar and clean that it takes you in its realm of charm, instantly.

We deliberately did avoid the riffraff of the Pous mela as we were in no mood to toss ourselves in the hoi polloi, where enjoying Rabindranath comes a distant second to the froth and frolic of the pot bellied nouveau-riche.

A glimpse of the shrinking landscape
We stayed at Prantik, next to Bolpur, the station to disembark for visiting the Ashram. Mou, a friend of ours was kind enough to lend us the keys of her house at Prantik which was no less comfortable than a beautiful guest house. On the first day we hired a rickshaw and headed for the Ashram towards Bhubandanga. As the dark lanky fellow pedaled with all his might and his calf expanded with every thrust to fight an unequal battle against poverty, he started his rendition- “ This area is Bhubandanga, a village in the nineteenth century Bengal, named after the deadly dacoit, Bhuban, who prowled this area. The landscape was amazing. 
Over undulating laterite soil, lush green fields of paddy, orchards of mango and grooves of sal, shimul and jamun created an ambience where any tired traveler could take a break. Maharshi Devendranth Tagore, Father of Gurudev Rbindranath Tagore instantly liked the spot seeing it from the boat en route to Raipur. He sat under a Chatim tree and meditated and found peace. He decided to buy around 20 Bighas of land around the tree from the erstwhile zamindar of Raipur, built a glass prayer hall in the vicinity and planted trees to establish an Ashram which he named Shantiniketan, i.e., the abode of peace, he stopped as he was out of breath. Then he started again…

“Gurudev first visited Shantiniketan at the age of 12. In 1901, on the 7th Day of Pous, he established the ‘Brahmacharya Ashram’ which ran like a Gurukul system out in the open. In 1931, he formally started the Visva Bharati University, infusing funds that he got from the Nobel Prize and the royalties from his books, into his ashram” he stopped his pedaling. That is the ashram gate and there you will find a guide. My name is Babu Mukherjee, a Brahmin and a rickshaw puller. “Achha Namaskar!”. He left. 
Amra-Kunja
Bewildered, we stood pondering over his abilities when someone called us. “Sir, I am Samir, a registered guide who can show you the ashram”, he flashed his i-card. We hired him. Soon he took us to the Chatim tala. The old dead trees were replaced by new saplings, as old order Changes yielding place to the new. We entered the famous Amra-Kunja where Samabartan Utsav- the annual convocation ceremony is held every year. Each pass out is given three leaves of chatim to commemorate Devendranath’s first step in Shantiniketan.
Upasana Griha

 A Glass house for prayers (upasana griha) is located close by. The temple is devoid of any idols and men of any religious faith can offer prayers to Him over here. We saw Hindi Bhavan (famous for its rich library), China Bhavan (Centre of Chinese studies) Vidya Bhavan (College of Humanities), Sangit Bhavan (College of Music and dance) Siksha bhavan (College of science). Nearby was the Gurudev’s new house Dehali, where he used to live with his wife Mrinalini Devi. A red pebbled road covered by sal trees on both sides stretches itself from the Daheli to the Chaiti (or kitchen).  This road was very close to gurudev’s heart and whenever he was disturbed he used to stroll straight on this road, which he named Saalbithi. Within a flicker I saw a tall, white bearded man briskly walking on the red track, slightly stooping forward. His white hair and beard playing in the cold west wind. Then he faded in thin air. “Hallucination at its natural best” I laughed at myself.
Saal Bithi

 Far off junior classes are being held below the trees till today, following the Gurukul system of education that Tagore espoused and re-introduced in India.

 At the north of the campus is the famous Uttarayan Complex, where Rabindranath built his famous houses and lived. All of them were planned by Rathindranath, his son. UDAYAN, KONARKA, SHYAMALI, PUNASCHA and UDICHI are the five houses here. 
"The Matsa-Mahish" by Ramkinkar Baiz

The museum and the library is situated in Bichitra, now called Rabindra Bhavan. Manuscripts, paintings of the Tagore family,  first copies of books, prizes and belongings of Gurudev are preserved here. 
Kala-bhavan

Kalabhavan or the College of Arts has a museum which showcases paintings, murals, frescoes and sculptures of famous artists like Ramkinkar Baiz, Nandalal Bose, Binod Bihari Mukherjee ( Teacher of Satyajit Ray) and Somnath Hore.

One should avoid Wednesdays as it is the official day-off over here. One can visit the Kankalitala temple 4 km away adjacent to the Kopai River. The journey along the river will be etched permanently, so arresting is the landscape.

Three Kilometer away is Sriniketan, a place of manufacture and sales of traditional handicrafts, Kantha embroidery, Dokra Crafts and Batik paintings. In the adjacent podium I saw a group of Bauls singing Lalon Fakir’s songs, their content extolling humanity – devoid of caste, creed or religion. What else can be more befitting?

Navigator :-

 By Train form Howrah or Kolkata which is approximately 136 Km.
 By car The route is a bit longer about 214 km. Nearest Airport is Kolkata. Train is however the best option and Shantinikatan Express, Bolpur Express and intercity express are the best options.

Where to Stay:
       West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation’s Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge at Bolpur        (03463-52699), Camellia (+91 3463 262 043 ), Mark Meadows (+91 3463 264 870 ), Chhuti (+91 3463 252 692 ) are some of the hotels of stay. 
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

THE PEEVISH POET


                                              Courtsey : www.supercoloring.com



For a budding scribe befriending an established writer can give a boost to push your pen against the vicissitudes of the publishing world. But sometimes things can go the other way and the rendezvous can well turn out to be catastrophic.

I had one such experience last year at a writers’ conference in Agra. The two-day conference was attended by writers and poets from all over India and a few from abroad. As it happens, some desi writers started hobnobbing with foreign delegates to seek avenues for foreign trips. I, for one, was well contented with a coterie of unambitious participants. Among them was my roommate, a Sahitya Akademi award winner, from Orissa. He became a pal rather quickly. For two days we sat together in the auditorium ploughing through the tiring verbiage of the presenters.

As the celebrated expression goes “the morning shows the day”. The inaugural speech was delivered by one Dr Sashikant (name changed), a Padmashree recipient, for two gruelling hours until everybody started talking without bothering to lend their already exhausted ears to his monotonous renditions.

There were too many speakers and too little time at disposal. Too many papers were accepted and hence, the later ones had to be truncated. Most of us accepted the fate barring some “established” poets and poetesses who defied all fervent appeals to “cut it short”. One of them was an old lady who read her poems on the first day but insisted to be given a second chance to present her paper. The organisers curtly refused her. She left the auditorium in a jiffy, for obvious reasons. I read some of her works published in the poetry magazines I contribute to. When my turn came I delivered an extempore speech — a synopsis of my paper — on only the important points of the text and left the hall somewhat dejected.

 When I met her she was fuming. However, finding in me a patient listener, she vented out her anger against the organisers while I nodded in approval. When the storm subsided and the communication levelled down to a mere confabulation, I took the opportunity to present her my book of poems that I had penned a couple of years back. At the end of the conference, the organisers took us to the Taj. She invited me to sit beside her and started telling me her story. She was a spinster, not by choice, but by compulsion. She had to look after her ailing mother. She inherited a property for which she had to struggle for the greater part of her life in courts to deter land sharks from grabbing it. She was ostracised by her neighbours, who, according to her, wanted a share of her property.

When the bus stopped, we had to distribute ourselves into several auto rickshaws to reach the gate. At that point of commotion, we dissociated. Luckily, I found my roommate and went inside along with him. Soon the Taj engulfed us in its grandeur. Our eyes devoured the ecstasy of the symmetry of a mausoleum that epitomises love entwined with pathos. My trance was not destined to last long. Half an hour later I met the old lady on the main podium. She burst into a fit of irrepressible rage. “Why did you leave me like that?” she asked. A volley of choicest adjectives followed. Suddenly she took my book out from the bag and threw it at me. “I don’t want to keep a book by an author who deceives girls!” she shouted. I was left dumbfounded. How could an octogenarian consider herself a girl and where from did the question of cheating arise? But before I received any satisfactory answer, she was gone.

                                          courtsey :www.passiondeambun.blogspot.com

 A strange numbness devoured me. As if the emperor and his beloved were going to sleep. To me the grandeur of the tomb started to wean and dissolved in the ebb of the muddy Jamuna. Suddenly a few lines flashed in my memory:

Never saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
 And all that mighty heart is lying still.


(Published in Strange & Sublime in " The Statesman")
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Saturday, January 7, 2012

GIVING TIME A BREAK


                                                      
                                                            amitava chaktabarty


                                                The Church Of sacred Heart Of Jesus
                        (courtesy:-    http://www.virtourist.com/asia/india/pondicherry/index.html)                      

ANYBODY who has visited Pondicherry must have felt the eerie sense of tranquility in the air. Everything over there is replete with a sense of uncanny silence where the heart and mind can find solace. Probably because of the presence of the ashram and its disciplined devotees, who roam about with minimum interaction among themselves or the visitors, who automatically inculcate within them the discipline of the ashram that make the French Rivera of the East so calm and divine.
It is said that the great saint Agastha had his ashram over here. Probably it is for this reason and for the fact that this hamlet was immuned from the clutches of the British, that Rishi Aurobindo decided to establish his ashram over here. The British was still suspicious about his antecedents and considered him to be one of their principal adversaries though he was acquitted in the famous Alipore Bomb Case. He had no other options but to leave Bengal and settle in a French colony far off, to pursue the newly found divinity deep within him while he was in the lonely cell of the Alipore Central Jail between 1908 and1909. On 4 April 1910, he landed in Pondicherry for the first time and after years of Sadhana in internal Yoga he decided to set up his own ashram with only 24 disciples on 24 November 1926. Today, the ashram has become a gigantic institution disseminating the idea of higher spiritual consciousness for oneself and the community.
I happened to be in Puducherry (as Pondicherry is officially called now) a decade back and visited it recently for the second time and hardly saw any change in the ambience except a few more devotees and tourists. The same colonial heritage buildings, the same clean roads or rues, as they call in French, the same unhurried pace of the people, the same giant doors on walls decorated with bougainvillea, the same noisy surrender of waves of the Bay of Bengal on the rocky beach, all conspiring together to “give time a break”. In a few days Puducherry can take you in her ambit to lull your false ego and rejuvenate your battered soul. If you are willing for some meditation near the Samadhi Sthal, where the mortal remains of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is kept within the precincts of the ashram, you can even feel the magic of the soothing ambience creep into you.
The second visit gave me a strange sense of bliss, though the scorching summer sun was unrelenting. I stayed in the park guesthouse, which has a beautiful garden full of soft, carpet-like grass, ready to welcome your bare feet with its morning dew. I used to sit in a corner for a lonely recluse trying to reach out for my inner-self, which has been brutally subjugated by the urban world around me. After three consecutive days of this lonely practice I felt somewhat relived internally and was convinced to have added some spirituality in my consciousness. I was eager to stay for a few days more but compulsions back home barred my wish of continuing with this newfound rendezvous with myself. 
Time’s break was over for me. But before leaving Pondicherry I made it a point to visit the famous churches. So I visited the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was awestruck by the beautiful Gothic architecture. The gigantic columns holding the cross shaped arches, the fabulous inscriptions in the glass panes, the twin tower belfry, the sheen of the interior… all made me astounded. Amid that gigantism I came across a fragile lady clad in a tattered violet sari touching the illuminated glass pane, which had mother Mary etched upon it. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, I knew not for what. I couldn’t decipher whether she wanted something or was only there for the sake of faith. Then from the knot of the anchal of her sari she brought out a fifty-rupee note — must be her entire day’s earning — pressed her lips upon it, then worked her skinny hand up the glass so that it reached Mother Mary’s feet before dropping it in the drop-box. 
I realised that to attain such level of devotion one had to grow up in the atmosphere, which Pondicherry offers. Personally, I have miles to go before I reach such level of selflessness.





(was published in Strange & Sublime "The Statesman")
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