Gandhi and Sabarmati Ashram

Sabarmati Ashram is a pilgrimage. No visit to Ahmedabad can be complete without spending at least a few hours in the Ashram.

When I lived in Ahmedabad, way back in the 90s, very often I would find myself at this sacred place on the banks of the Sabarmati. I could feel an energy indescribable sitting on the steps of Hridaya Kunj, the Mahatma’s cottage. Scenes of history would begin to unfold before me and I could hear the voices within and without moving us towards freedom.

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Hearing the history of the Hridaya Kunj

Work necessitated a transfer towards North India and it was not until January, 2016 that I found myself again in Ahmedabad. We were there just for the day but the short stop had to begin at the Ashram.

The Ashram, since I had seen it last, had seen a complete makeover. For one, the premises were under better maintenance. The Sangrahalaya or the Museum had been revamped. The Museum shop was better equipped. Last but not the least, the Sabarmati waterfront was akin to a promenade with lights and boat rides.

Did that take away from the power the Ashram exudes? No! Despite crowds and visitors it was easy to find a corner to disappear into and feel the presence of those who had walked these grounds. Sitting at the charkha and the table of the Mahatma was a moment which has to be felt.

 

My most special memory, however, will always be of standing at the Prayer Ground just past the Hridaya Kunj. This is the spot from where the Dandi March had begun on March 12, 1930. This is the place where Gandhi used to meet with people and address their issues and questions.

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Today, on the 147th birth anniversary of the Father of our Nation, I wish all my readers to find a life which is joyful, peaceful and meaningful.

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Posted in Ahmedabad, Colonial, Connections, Culture, freedom struggle, Gandhi, Gandhi Jayanti, Gujarat, History, Incredible India, India, Indian Freedom Struggle, Indian National Movement, Modern Indian History, pilgrimage, relics, Remembering, Sabarmati Ashram, The Raj, Tourism, Travel, Tribute, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spiti – a road trip of a lifetime

It is exactly two months today since I left for a road trip through Spiti but I already want to go back! Is it soon, I ask myself? And then I realize, deep down, I never wanted to return. But since that was not possible, I left a large part of me there. That way, in search of that, I will always find ways of going back.

I have had the luxury of being a world traveller since the last 35 years. No place would touch me the way Ladakh did in India, and Kenya, from amongst the ones abroad. Or so I thought. Till I felt Spiti.

Spiti is remote. Spiti is harsh. Spiti is stark. Spiti is beautiful. Spiti is magic. It tears your heart out, it wrenches your gut, it makes you cry but always leaves you wanting for more!

Its beauty has a vibe which reduces you to tears; there is an aura and a peace to the prevailing quietitude. I have never felt closer to the powers that look down upon us, and to myself, as I did in Spiti.

Spiti called out for some moments only with self and I am happy I succumbed to that charm.

Spiti and the road trip was all I had ever imagined it to be! It must be after years quite literally that I was on holiday without any family member and in a group where I knew no one. The anonymity that comes on such a journey is liberating. Everything happens at a particular time for a particular reason. My world came together in Spiti.

Do visit this valley to learn how to slow down, how to live, how to embrace beauty, how to connect with yourself.

I need to distance myself a little to be able to write about this trip of a lifetime. Till then, I leave you with a few images.

Posted in birds, camping, Connections, Ecology, ecosysytem, Himalayas, Homage, Incredible India, India, Mountains, Nature, relics, Silence, solitude, Spiti, Tourism, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Chasing the monsoons in Rajasthan

Rajasthan in August? You must be mad, exclaimed my friend and favorite travelling companion.“Rajasthan is a desert. Don’t you know your geography? A desert gets practically no rain and here you are contemplating a trip in mid-August?

Well, plan and I did and am I glad I did! Four beautiful days chasing the monsoon and romancing the stone. The lakes were full to the brim, water was almost at road level, happy waves bounced up and down, trees swayed happily, their leaves shone, the countryside was lush and verdant, the Aravallis were in ‘bloom’ as it were and everyone around looked happy. It was almost fairy-tale!

Yes, this is Rajasthan I am talking of. We are so used to Rajasthan being synonymous with the desert that think Rajasthan and think blistering heat, scorching sun and yellow sand. We forget that Rajasthan has many regions. A Jaisalmer-Barmer will be desert but an Udaipur-Kumbhalgarh is not!

Udaipur and Kumbhalgarh were balmy at 24 degrees Celsius and the mist added to the mood. Presenting a photo-essay on how lush our desert-state can be after a good monsoon.

Do plan a visit. The rains are still not over!

Posted in birds, Gardens, Heritage, History, Incredible India, Mountains, Nature, Rain, Reflections, solitude, Tourism, Travel, world heritage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tijara Fort Palace – the drive and the experience

I finally made it up that slope.

At one point I felt I possibly had no energy and that everyone would have to disembark and even then my engine would not revv up enough to make it till the top. It is only about a km from the village road to the top of the hill where stands tall the Tijara Fort. I was keen to come to a rest, as were the passengers sitting inside. I had gone all hot and bothered as am sure were they because of the smoke that was beginning to emanate from my nethers. The person behind the wheel braked, let me slide back a few metres, asked everyone in a monotone to buckle up and then stepped on the gas.

The caretaker of Tijara was looking down awaiting the new guests. Why on earth was he not coming down to help push me up? I hope it is suggested to Tijara Fort Palace management that they should make the road or else have a car park down below and escort guests up in jeep or an SUV. Poor me! Did anyone spare a thought for me? I was hot from inside and all dusty from the outside. But they parked me, disembarked, a very liveried-in-medieval-dress turbaned person came up to take the luggage and that was it!

The entrance of the Fort Palace is grand like all hill forts in Rajasthan. There are a dozen steps and a ramp (possibly used by horses or elephants) up to the Reception. That was the last I saw of my passengers as they disappeared. However, I found them all happy and satisfied on the return journey so I take it the weekend getaway was worth it.

As I was driven down the hill 2 days later, much more easily, and disappeared into the jowar fields, this is what I heard them say:

The drive: It is a 2.5 hours drive from the city of Gurgaon. Most of the road upto Dharuhera is good as you are on NH8. You then branch off towards Bhiwadi where too the drive is reasonably ok. Closer to Tijara the road disappears (though you are still on a State highway!). However, as happens in Haryana and Rajasthan, most of the villages come onto the roads so you are driving on a highway through an inhabited area which has potholes or speed-breakers which not only break your speed but can hurt the car if the clearance is low. Don’t ask me how many times I got scraped!

The destination: The Tijara Fort Palace is the newest addition to the Neemrana group of unhotel-hotels. It stands high on a Hill (the story of which you have already read!). The Fort palace is spread over extensive grounds and very well-laid out gardens. The main building is Hawa Mahal where you check in and where you find the sunset lounge and the Alwar lounge; the former for magnificent views and sumptuous tea; the latter in case you wish to watch some TV. ( the only place in the entire property which has a TV set and a few games like chess and carrom strewn about).

You descend a few steps or walk around on the ramparts and the periphery. From every vantage point looking through the arches you will be greeted by an oasis of palm trees. Across some gardens and you reach the pavilion which is the center of the grounds and the designated dining area.

A few more levels down and you reach the 4 storeyed Rani Mahal which is part of the original Fort and is now refurbished. Boasting 21 rooms over three floors and a huge suite on the 4th, Rani Mahal has nooks and corners, jharokhas, arches, turrets and incredibly beautiful sitouts. One turret has been left untouched while the three others have been converted into rooms. The rooms or Mahals as they are called, are named after leading Indian women painters. Their paintings, in original, adorn the walls and the room décor matches the colour scheme elegantly.

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Entering the Rani Mahal

The experience: We stayed in one of the turrets, Anupam Mahal, and it was a delight to be in an octagonal room with so many windows and an almost 360 degrees view of the countryside. Our other group members stayed in Nilima Mahal which has paintings by the famous Baroda-based artiste Nilima Sheikh. Most of the rooms were sold out but we did get to see the Vivan-Amrita suite, the Pushpmala Mahal, the Nayanaa Mahal and the Jaishree Mahal between checkouts and subsequent checkins.

 

A third area, the Mardana Mahal, is under construction. Rooms here will be designed by male Indian artistes. It promises to be sheer splendor and knowing what is in store, you do not mind part of the property looking like a construction site. If fact it adds to the ‘history in the making’.

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Looking from the Mardana Mahal and construction site towards the Rani Mahal

Note: There is no room service . The property does not have a bar license yet so the starry nights can well and truly be observed and enjoyed, without the proverbial glass in hand. 🙂 There is also no wi-fi in the rooms ensuring that you detox and disconnect from urban trappings.

The staff is courteous and pleasant. Given that they have a lot of ground to cover service may be slow at times. The food is ok. And you might as well enjoy it as there are no other options in the vicinity! Here I must add that I wish the buffet served some Rajasthani food and not chholey and paneer and bhindi masala!

The swimming pool is a nice area to relax. The pool is big but be careful as it has a built in Jacuzzi in one corner and many steps which you may miss. If swimming lengths it is advisable to do so in the centre of the pool! At the time of writing this post the changing rooms were still under construction.

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The swimming pool area

Tijara Fort Palace is your ideal weekend getaway to unwind, to watch the countryside, to curl up and read a book and pretend to be royalty from yesteryear. Like all Neemrana properties there is nothing to ‘do’ at the hotel but isn’t that is the reason you escape to such places? To do nothing and continue doing nothing whilst the mind and body energise and refresh.

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A panoramic view of the property

 

A request to visitors: Respect the sanctity of the place and the privacy of other guests. It would be nice if Honey Yo Yo Singh’s music is not played on a loud speaker in public areas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Architecture, birds, Colonial, Culture, Gardens, Heritage, Hotel, Incredible India, Indian monuments, Nature, Neemrana group of hotels, Paintings, Reflections, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Nathdwara, Lord Krishna and Picchwais

A Themed Week on Instagram featuring posts on Lord Krishna brought me face to face with a treasure I knew I possessed, to which sight I woke up every morning but somehow I never connected the dots.

I am talking of Pichhwais which are typical to the Nathdwara school of painting. Pichhwais are handpainted backdrops to adorn the walls behind the Krishna idols in temples in Rajasthan especially in the Mewar region. The word Picchwai is derived from the Sanskrit words: Pich = back; wai = hanging. They are painted on a starched cloth with the painter making a rough sketch and then filling it with colours. Traditionally natural colours and brushes made of horse, goat or squirrel hair were used. With modernisation and technology swamping the country you may find many instances of faster and less expensive materials being used. However, you will still find artistes using traditional colours on combing the inner lanes.

Legend goes that in 1409AD, an image of Lord Shrinathji, the mountain lifting form of Krishna, was discovered near Mathura when a cow strayed away from its herd to offer milk to the Lord. A temple was established there which was held in high reverence. In 1671 AD, in anticipation of the raids by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, it was decided to shift the temple to Rajasthan where it would remain safe. Along with the idol of Shrinathji, the halwais ( sweetmakers), the priests, the cows and their caretakers and the Picchwai painters all moved. They first stopped at Eklingji in Rajasthan where there was a grand temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. However, they moved further since popular thought said two temples of equal sanctity could not exist in one city. At one point the bullock cart got stuck and would not move. It was decided to establish the temple of Shrinathji there in the town of Nathdwara (Nath = Lord; dwara = gate).

Since then, this town of Nathdwara is an important centre for pilgrimage. The lives of the people and their occupations all revolve around the temple. Even after hundreds of years the rituals remain the same. During the darshan which is held at intervals, the sound of drums and trumpets announces the opening of the gates to the temple. The devotees press forward to get a glimpse of their beloved idol who is no less than a king to them. Since photography is prohibited in the temple, it is these Picchwais which serve as a memory and souvenir. The idol in the paintings is characterised by large eyes, a broad nose and a heavy body similar to the idol in the temple. Different motifs are used for different seasons. While summer is depicted by pink lotuses a night scene would have a radiant full moon. Other than their artistic appeal, they also serve to narrate tales of Krishna to the illiterate.

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The Picchwai which is our prized possession

The Picchwai adorning our home was bought in Udaipur some twenty five years ago and takes pride of place. However, it was not until the long weekend of August 15th, 2016 which saw me retracing my steps to Nathdwara , this time leading a group of art and heritage lovers to places in Udaipur and around. We left Udaipur bright and early to enjoy the 55 kms drive through the Aravallis. 2016 being a good year for the monsoon, the entire journey was through verdant green fields, lush forests, waterfalls and rivers.

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A good monsoon meant lush green surroundings

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A good monsoon ensured full rivers and waterfalls

The car park was a km before the entry to the main temple. The walk to the temple too was interesting as one passed shops selling wooden toys, ornamentation for Lord Krishna, puja items and of course Piccchwais. Nearer the temple were lodgings, guests houses and many a shop selling kulhad ki chai, rabdi, kachauri, the halwais speaking in Awadhi which almost transported you to the streets of Mathura. The temple is grand but unfortunately does not allow photography. Since our group had some senior citizens I had thought it more prudent to arrange for a VIP darshan ( yes, you can do that!). It goes against my principles but sometimes one has to think of the larger picture. A very well-educated, well-informed priest met us to escort us through some private routes towards the sanctum sanctorum. We awaited awhile for some other VIPs to join and then we were led towards the idol.  The VIP entry ensured we superseded the queues and also got to stand in front of the idol without being pushed around. I sent up a silent apology to the Lord and his devotees behind us and applauded them too for their patience. The priest then arranged for us to buy the prasad after which he escorted us out, a satisfied lot, and took our photograph at the exit gate with the mobile he was allowed to carry 🙂

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After the darshan, feeling satisfied and blessed

We returned to Udaipur feeling blessed and when I woke up to my Picchhwai this morning I felt like sharing this story .

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Central detail of the Picchwai which hangs in our home

 

NOTE : The trip to Nathdwara was under the aegis of One Life to Travel, a travel club which I run with the aim of promoting Indian heritage trails and off-beat destinations. Look forward to your joining us in one of our explorations discovering our own Incredible India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Architecture, birds, Emotions, Heritage, History, Incredible India, India, Indian gods, Indian monuments, Indian mythology, Lord Krishna, memories, Paintings, relics, Religion, Temples, Tourism, Travel, world heritage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hotel Deyzor – a world in itself

If Spiti is a world within a world then Hotel Deyzor in Kaza is a world in itself.

Situated near the BSNL tower (a good landmark) and a couple of minutes walk from the Sakya Monastery in Kaza, Hotel Deyzor embraces you with open arms from the word go. The cheerful exterior and interiors, the inviting cafe/dining room, the paintings, the quotes, the bric-a brac, every little piece has a reason for being there and speaks volumes of the attention to detail. Hotel Deyzor is a labour of love and it shows.

 

I stayed at the hotel for two nights while on a road trip with a group of girls through Spiti. The rooms are well-appointed, the bed linen crisp and clean, the bathrooms airy and well-lit with ample space. One of the many reasons to fall in love with this hotel are the number of cosy corners created to sit back and enjoy the view or curl up with a book. My delight knew no bounds on seeing the number of books lovingly made available for guests.

 

Food is the other USP of Hotel Deyzor. The chef is obviously very well-trained and each meal is thoughtfully put together. We loved the pea soup, the falafel wraps and the home made jams in particular. Lunch was served one afternoon in the garden behind and the quiche was one of the best I have ever tasted. The hotel goes out of its way to provide gourmet satisfaction to its patrons which is obvious from the walk-in customers it gets.

 

Did I miss room service or TV or internet or the trappings a modern, luxury hotel provides? My answer is NO. If I want any of these I would travel to a metro; not to a nature – retreat like Spiti. The senses are enhanced by the quiet and to be able to ‘hear’ the silence is a luxury we often do not find in our rushed lives. There is wifi connectivity for those who wish to update themselves with the world left behind. Electricity supply can be erratic but the solar energy harnessed takes care of your needs.

There are no ‘activities’ to indulge in during the evenings but then where else would I find myself being able to see the stars, or spot the Milky Way or catch a glorious sunset?

Spiti helps us breathe, it helps us slow down, it helps us look around and appreciate, and Hotel Deyzor respects all of these and much more.

Go visit it and find your own slice of heaven in this haven.

 

Note: Kaza is the subdivisional headquarters of the remote Spiti Valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Spiti is a high altitude bearing close similarity to nearby Ladakh and Tibet in terms of terrain, culture and climate. Kaza, situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of 3,650 metres (11,980 ft) above mean sea level, is the largest township and commercial center of the valley.

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A glimpse of an era gone by

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As you walk along narrow lanes and through old bazaars vestiges of what must have been a good life once pop up. This little shop is no more than a kiosk tucked away at the far end of the Mall Road in Simla. The shop is filled with watches, clocks, time-pieces, pocket watches, grandfather clocks and even a small cuckoo clock. I am sure heirlooms and treasures could be unearthed here.

The gentleman who runs the shop is hidden away somewhere between all the pieces and is often missed if you do not look carefully! Yet, he peers out from his perch and watches the world go by. I do hope there are people who stop by!

Posted in Colonial, life, memories, Reflections, Simla India, Stories, The Raj, Writer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments