Posted in Uncategorized

The Tryst with Tripura

“JAISING – Sire, could I make the goat live again, by giving up a portion of my life, gladly would I do it. But how can I restore that which Mother herself has taken? APARNA – Mother has taken? It is a lie. Not mother, but demon. JAISING – O, the blasphemy! APARNA – Mother, art thou there to […]

via The Tryst with Tripura — amritawrites

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Posted in Uncategorized

Remembering Pilanesberg!

My last visit to Africa was back in 2006! Sadly I have not had the chance to go back to the continent, the memories of whom still gives me Goosebumps. Thought of sharing some memories through this photo blog. And hoping to be back sometime… Till we meet again.

via Remembering Pilanesberg National Park! — my kmspace

Posted in Rural Travels

The Vijaypur Escapade

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As we listened to the rain drumming its rhythm on the thatched roofs of our cottage we failed miserably in trying to match up to its maddening pace. So we turned our minds to praying for a brighter morning. An eight hour drive from Kathgodam had drained us physically; but the spectacular vistas that we previewed on our way up had energized us mentally and we were in no mind to waste our vacation by merely watching the rain from our rooms.

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Early next morning as we were woken by the shrill call of the whistling thrush and a steaming cup of tea, we peeked out nervously to allay our fears and witnessed a theater unfolding. We saw the skies lift their mist laden curtains to reveal the shy smile of the sun spraying us with his benevolence. We applauded like the audience at a theater who gets to see the first act of a play after an excited wait.

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Vijaypur, in Uttarakhand is a quaint little hamlet and has not been subjected to tourism before now. However, with the state really waking up to the needs of new age tourists, Vijaypur can hardly afford to stay away from news for too long. We decided to check out the place before it got ravaged by the trauma of tourism.

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The town is comfortably located between Bageshwar and Chaukori and is the most convenient stopover to and from both these places. A dearth of places to stay in, has kept it away from limelight for too long but not any longer. Places like the Chestnut Grove Himalayan lodge are giving visitors another excuse to take a slightly longer break while travelling to places like Chaukori or even Munshiyari.

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Our stay in this pristine locale disclosed some fabulous trekking routes. We trudged up to the Dhaulinag temple, trundled down to the lovely Khantoli village and also treaded the path down to the Tea Estate hidden behind clusters of Pine groves.  On one of our treks, we got the glimpse of an unimaginable drama that nature was unfolding before us. Far below in the distance we saw black rain stuffed clouds slowly and gradually engulfing one area after the other drenching them with the misty haze of mountain rain. As we rushed for cover, we saw it wait for a few seconds, as if giving us the lead time. Then when we thought we were saved, it raced after us with renewed strength. Just when we turned the lock in our room, it beat down on us with its icy fingers furious at not having caught us earlier. We watched enamored from the warmth of our rooms as the mountain rains forming little rivulets slithered down our window panes frosting the glass to help us etch new stories on them.

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On our way to the pretty village of Khantoli we crossed some excellent landscape and met the friendly locals. One gentleman we met quite frequently on our treks actually started treating us like one of them and gave us a nod whenever we met. It filled us with a special feeling to know that we could easily belong to this paradise of peace only if we wanted to.

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The cacophony provided by the motley collection of Vijaypur’s birds is sufficient to drive away your loneliness if any. The chattering of the Barbet and the fluttering of the parakeets charmed our mornings and coloured our evenings. It was reason enough to lead us onto some exhilarating bird watching expeditions. On one such walk we strolled into a dense overgrowth and came across an interesting stone hut which we were told was the way houses were built in the area several years ago. We peered into its sinister interiors half hoping to see a Leopard charge out at us. As we gazed into its dark emptiness we were sadly disappointed to miss out on the thrill of adventure.

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Our days in Vijaypur were lazy and lethargic yet filled with an energy we hardly ever experience in our busy city life. We relished the idea of enjoying nature at its pristine best. We cherished every waking moment in its green surroundings beating each other in identifying the ‘who’s who’ in the avian world. As our winged friends flitted and floated around us, we relaxed in their pleasurable company.

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Gifted with its divine beauty, Vijaypur has sketched out the ideal route plan for you to escape out of life’s monotony. We took the plunge and were enthralled. Are you game enough to dive into its divinity?

 

Posted in Hotel Review

The Bell Beneath the Chestnuts

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Nestled snugly in a thick grove of green chestnut trees, The Chestnut Grove Himalayan Lodge is truly a traveler’s delight. Located strategically between Bageshwar and Chaukori in the sleepy hamlet of Vijaypur, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Chestnut Grove receives a motley footfall during season and even during off-season. Most use this as a night halt enroute to Munshiyari and then decide to stay on for another day and also stop over on their way back. For us however, it was a 6 night stand and an experience which we are not ready to forget too soon.

IMG_1279.JPGManaged by Linger and owned by Mr. Vivek Pandey of Grand Himalayan Adventures, Chestnut Grove is made comfortable by the loving smiles and careful attention of its cook, carer and Manager. The three individuals made sure that we not only had a holiday but rather created a memory that would last us a lifetime. Moreover, Mr. Pandey is a fantastic adventure tour planner. He mapped out the perfect itinerary for us which made it a totally unforgettable experience for us.

Finally the cherry on the cake was a visit by the senior Mr. Pandey , Vivek’s father, who made us feel as if we had come back home after having wandered away for too long. His stories of the nocturnal visits by a leopard who used to prowl on the neighbouring hills chilled our spines no doubt but at the same time thrilled our hearts to the core. We waited to hear at least one knock but was sadly disappointed.

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The kitchen at the lodge served simple yet delicious home style food. Savouring their eclectic cuisine in their sun drenched dining hall in the company of twittering Tits and a bookcase replete with an excellent collection is definitely a refreshing change. The food no matter how simple was always served piping hot which made it all the more delectable.

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Our cottage where we lodged was done up with decor which matched the surroundings we were in. It was a snug little place of stay which we adored absolutely. The most interesting was the bell which hung in front of the cottage and which served as the ‘intercom’. Whenever, we required anything, we would go and ring it. Raju, the carer would holler down from above “Yes Saar”. “Tea please Raju” ” Abhi laaya” ( getting it soon ) would come the cheerful reply reverberating with such enthusiasm that generated a lovely feeling of being welcomed from the heart.

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The enthusiasm was equally strong when we got to see the first glimpse of the majestic Himalayan peaks after two days of incessant rain. I was sitting with a book, not too keen on climbing all the way up to view the peaks, however, Raju was insistent.”Maam come. Beautiful sight”. His eagerness caught on to me and I happily trudged up to get mesmerised. I later realised that retaining this level of enthusiasm for things that are probably mundane  for you and infecting others with it is probably the best attribute in achieving successful tourism. Kudos to Raju and his team for weaving it in so effortlessly in their everyday practice of entertaining guests.

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Ramesh the manager of the lodge, a young enthusiastic person took us on bird watching tours. On each of our walks, he amazed us with his knowledge of the area and its avian population. He was a natural with identifying birds and later shyly confided in us that he had downloaded an app on Birds of Uttarakhand and was becoming quite passionate about this wonderful hobby. We encouraged him enthusiastically and found him literally beaming.

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Our room opened onto terraced steps thickly carpeted with dried pine needles. The whole area was embraced by tall lustrous pine and chestnut trees. A group of parakeets who had made the nearby chestnut trees their home made a mad rush from one tree to another creating a green canopy before our eyes as we sat sipping our morning and evening teas. The whistling thrush was our early morning alarm as it whistled gustily in full enjoyment of the early morning freshness.

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The day we left Chestnut Grove our feet were heavy as we trudged up the cobbled steps. There was a yearning to linger a bit more on the rain drenched forest path that led towards the village below, sit for a while longer before the smouldering flames of last night’s bonfire and more importantly ring the bell for one last time just to hear its tinkle and carry it in our hearts. It would be our definite pit stop for the next few sojourns to the Kumaon . However, the next time you visit Chestnut Grove, do ring the bell beneath the chestnuts to feel its chime reverberate in your heart forever.

If you need any other info on Uttarakhand destinations drop in a line at urtraveltales@gmail.com. I would love to help you experience the same magic.

Posted in Hilly Story

On the Serpent’s Trail

 Hike to Dhaulinag Temple

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Our stay in Vijaypur, Uttarakhand, was quite an eventful experience to say the least of it. It was spiked with allergy bites, back breaking falls (which still makes it difficult for me to remain seated for long), a swim in the boisterous mountain rivers, overturning of Kayaks and many more. On the whole it was exhilarating, exasperating and ecstatic. Though difficult to believe, but it was stupendously stress relieving. Trust me!!!

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It however started with the much awaited hike to the Dhaulinag temple located at a distance of 1 km from our place of stay in Vijaypur. For those who are still unaware of where or what I am talking about, look up your Google for more inputs. Also make sure you start packing your bags because no sooner you are finished reading this, you are going to make a beeline for the first train to Kathgodam.

IMG_1308.JPGLocated at a distance of 25 kilometres from Bageshwar,Uttarakhand, Vijaypur is a small sleepy hamlet just about waking up to the onslaughts of tourism. On our first night there, we were informed casually about the Dhaulinag temple located at about a kilometer away from where we were. Blessed by around 33 crores of (known) Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu Pantheon, the land of India has a temple or a Hindu place of worship snuggled in almost every corner of its vast geography. Dhaulinag refers to the snake avatar or mortal form of Lord Vishnu. Dhauli means ‘Dhawal’ or white and is the white snake form in which Lord Vishnu appeared on earth. The temple, built in Northern styles, is one of the oldest and most popular temples in the area dedicated to the serpent god. What excited us more was that visiting the temple meant taking a beautiful hike amidst verdant forests of Pine and Rhododendron surrounded on all sides by the majestic Himalayas.

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Geared and all set we started out. The gates of the temple were on the main road and painted a pretty picture. The yellow and red pillars enfolded within its embrace the shining temple bell to announce our arrival to the Serpent God far above. When you look up from the gate, you will hardly see anything to indicate that you have approached the temple precincts. It is then that you realise the challenge you have set for yourself.

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Trudging up the steep mountain paths is an experience by itself. The gnarled roots of the surrounding trees have spread themselves on the rocky surface cradling mud in their spiny fingers. Over the years these have been used as steps by the faithful who have braved the terrain. Unflinchingly they have scaled the heights and still do for faith has given them new wings to their feet. Sometimes on the way you will gasp for breath and rest your tired self on the stones placed where the trees have missed a step. These are the moments when the beauty of the surrounding nature will keep you gasping for more. You will be seduced by nature to keep on moving until she wrings out the last inch of breath from you and keep you floating altogether on a different high.

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We approached the temple only to behold another story unfolding before us. It presented a vibrant canvas of colours picturesquely complimenting the surrounding vista. The striking collage of yellow, blue and red walls stood out uniquely in the midst of the varying shades of green surrounding it. Despite its height the Dhaulinag is supposed to be very popular among devotees specially during Navratri.

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On our way back a whole new drama was waiting for us. We climbed back the jungle route refusing to take the metaled roads. A young and energetic chameleon popped out from its hole to check up on us for a while. We tiptoed down the mountain slopes strewn with dried pine needles. To avoid any unpleasant accidents (pine leaves can be dangerously slippery) we tread softly but surely on the path.

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At several places we witnessed the twisted trunks of trees torn and shattered by nature’s fury as it wrung out the very life from its roots. Charred logs with soot glistening on its trunks lay strewn across our paths reminding us of the immense damage incurred owing to the recent forest fires that raged through the lands.

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By the time, the sun reached mid sky, we had completed our walk. As we left the forest behind and entered civilization, a voice within our hearts screamed out loud and clear “Give me More!!!”

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Posted in Hilly Story

The Queen’s Meadow

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It was the peak of summers and Gurgaon was boiling. We needed a respite from the grime and sweat and from our own flaring tempers. The hills were alive with the peace we were craving for. So we surrendered unabashed to its allure only to return excited, energized and euphoric.

With the numerous choices laid bare owing to the locational advantages of Delhi, we had a difficult time making our selection. Then enticed by its beautiful name we ultimately chose Ranikhet. On returning, we congratulated each other for unanimously making the right choice for once.

IMG_2514.JPGSince we did not wish to run around like regular tourists, we decided to explore Ranikhet alone. We had booked our rooms at the KMVN Tourist Rest house. The place is located on the Mall Road but looks as if it is at the end of the road perched as it is on a hill top. However, as we realized later with interesting hiking trails snaking around it, the tourist Rest house became an incredibly attractive location for walking enthusiasts like us. Moreover, you can also cycle down the paths by hiring the cycles available at the rest house reception. The hotel staff will be only too willing to provide you with yet another way to partake the pleasures of their hilly haven.

Ranikhet was revived from its ignominy by the British in 1869 when they decided to build it as the headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment. Ever since then the sanctity of Ranikhet has remained undisturbed owing to it being famed as a Cantonment town. Today it houses the military hospital servicing both the Kumaon and Naga Regiment and is maintained by the Indian Army.

No tale told in India is complete without Kings and Queens and their saga of love. Ranikhet too, as can be gauged from its name, tells the taleof Raja Sudhardev and his beautiful queen Rani Padmini. Enamoured by the beauty of the place, Rani Padmini decided to build her palace here. The King subsequently named the place Ranikhet or the Queen’s meadow.

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In remembrance of its royal past the trees still hang pine chandeliers on their boughs. Every evening the red shimmer from the setting sun illuminates the pine bulbs and reminds the new travelers of its regal legacy.

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The pine bordered wooded paths in Ranikhet led us to take endless routes. We felt like walking on till we came across a quaint little church at the end of the road. As we sat on the stone steps to rest our tired soles on the velvet green of the grass beneath, we heard a faint hum of a church service. We looked around and noticed a makeshift altar in a cave that was carved into the side of the mountain. People stood there with folded hands and eyes closed lost in their payers. We closed our eyes as well to thank the lord for all the wonderful things he has left for us.

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The long meandering roads in Ranikhet are dotted with oak, pine and rhododendron trees   whose gnarled trunks talk of stories that have long been forgotten. While walking through their branches and tickling ourselves with pine needles we felt like listening to them all over again. We closed our eyes and laid our ears to the whisper of the trees as they swayed their boughs and swished their leaves to regale us with tales and trivia.

Lalit, our driver, understood our true passion and suggested a trip to Chaubattia. We readily agreed only to thank him profusely later for such an amazing experience. Read about our Chaubattia experience here.

IMG_1197.JPGWhat we missed in Ranikhet was probably the view of the Himalayan range. Owing to the recent forest fires, another example of man’s uncontrollable greed, there was too much of fog around to enable us to view the lofty peaks. Nevertheless, we knew we would be back soon since Ranikhet had exposed us to what no other place had done before it. We discovered that here nature stood before us naked, unabashed and unprotected, yet so powerful that no one dared malign its raw beauty. That has kindled in us the fire to search for, surrender to and perhaps save this strength within us. That is probably the legacy nature plans to leave behind for generations to come.

Posted in Jungle Trails

A Walk in the Clouds

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Our short trip to Ranikhet was coming to an end. While we had explored the quaint little cantonment town on foot and had taken a detour to Majkhali, a small village around 12 kms from the town, we felt we needed to do something else before we headed back to Gurgaon and relish the daily grind!

We had seen a signage for Chaubatia during our aimless walks across the town and wondered whether the 6km drive / hike from the KMVN guest house was worth it. A friendly inquest yielded two things. Chaubatia is famous for its apple orchards and the garden store sells fresh juices, honey, pickles etc. On a clear day, it also guarantees spectacular views of the snow-capped Himalayas. We were also told that Chaubatia offers a forest walk which allows nature enthusiasts to go for a hike among the Pine, Rhododendron and Chestnut trees.Sufficiently motivated we set off on the trail. IMG_1178.JPG

The 6km road from the KMVN guest house to Chaubatia is one that you wish would never end. It is soothing, to say the least, on your somewhat disoriented urban senses. The only sound that you hear is the rustling of leaves and the occasional vehicle that passes you by. But the road comes to its own after you cross the Jhula Devi temple and enter the last stretch. It is an uphill drive from thereon and the forest starts to weave its magic. We asked our driver to make the vehicle crawl as we rolled down the windowpanes and soaked in the fresh mountain air. Suddenly, the vehicle came to a halt when our daughter spotted a couple of Jungle Fowls crossing the road in their truly remarkable nonchalant manner. After a few unsuccessful attempts to capture them on our camera screens we moved on and soon arrived at the parking lot.

To our dismay, we realized that ours was not the only car which would be parked there for the next couple of hours. I became a bit apprehensive that our hike would coincide with close encounters with revellers and picnickers!

We approached the Guides’ hut and considered our options:

  • Visit the apple orchard – with a guide it came to 200 Rupees
  • Forest walk for 300
  • A walk up to the Bhalu dam for 700 (summarily rejected by our driver that there were no more Bhalus (Bears) who came to drink water and it would be too long for the kid)

IMG_1182.JPG The young adventurer made it easy for us! Let’s go for a forest walk as 7km is too long a road without proper shoes and an apple orchard is not worth visiting in the month of May. Time flies! The conviction in the young voice reminded us that the  day is not far away when she would not look up to Mom and Dad every time before taking a call.

We followed the young adventurer and our guide with whom we connected from the first minute. He seemed to represent the Uttarakhand which you had read about in the Jim Corbett stories when you were growing up. He shared a few titbits on the forest and said he follows a trail through the forest every day to commute to work from his village home further down. He reminded us that we were at an altitude of 6500+ feet above sea level and our trail would require an hour or so to complete.

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Our guide appeared motivated to help us appreciate the beauty of the forest and went on to describe the granular details of the nut that falls from the Chestnut tree, the medicinal use of Pines and Rhododendron and the touch me not plant that would give you a sting to remember. He showed us some enormous Oak trees that seemed to be there from time immemorial while discussing the phenomenal benefits of Oak in human existence.

However, he was frequently interrupted by a wildlife who had a bag full of questions for him. He seemed accommodative though and not before long, he opened his chest full of stories and shared with us his chance encounters with the leopard while commuting from and to the village. The way he described the apex predator of these forests, the leopard, was refreshing to say the least. You could not but notice the tone of affection in his voice for the animals. For him the leopard was simply  a slightly bigger version of its domesticated feline cousin rather than an animal that gets lynched by the angry villagers for intruding in their territory. He was quick to point out that the forest belongs to the leopard and the other animals and he was the one who was the intruder, trying to take advantage of the shortcut that the forest trail offered and trying to make a living by helping urban souls appreciate nature at its pristine best.

His stories and anecdotes made our experience surreal. We realized that though we could not see the animals they were all around us watching the intruders. The mark on the Oak tree made from the horns of the Barasingha, the droppings of the deer and the leopard reiterated that we were in a pristine forest and not a neatly manicured park built to entertain human beings.

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Our moment came when we reached a flat top from where you could see the sweeping valleys and the forests seemed to engulf us from all sides. At this point, time stood still and all three of us got lost in our own world. We were jolted back to reality when the guide reminded us that the place is not safe as many of the trees around could fall down any moment due to the strong wind. We looked around and realized that many of the trees had a charred look on their stems and branches. We were reminded of the forest fire that had decimated large tracts of Uttarakhand recently. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu and started our walk back.

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As we sipped into our cans of Rhododendron juice at the garden store, located at the entrance of the forest, we looked at each other. We did not say it! But the verdict was unanimous: WE WOULD BE BACK!

Caveat: I was delighted to have been proven wrong as we did not encounter a single human being apart from ourselves during the hike. The apple orchards seemed to have played the role of the Pied Piper and every single tourist on that day seemed determined to understand the intricacies of growing apples.

Posted in Delhi Travels

“Arre huzoor, wah Taj boliye!”

As a young kid, I was lucky to have visited the Taj Mahal. Like most, I had picked up the customary souvenir (a replica) to earn bragging rights among my peers. As I grew up, I was horrified to hear the story that the Emperor had ordered that the chief architect’s hands be cut post completion of the mausoleum. My young mind could not relate to this gruesome act associated with a building that is touted as a symbol of love. I decided never to visit the place again.

As I grew up, my resolution was put to test. First it was Ustad Zakir Hussain and the Taj Mahal tea campaign. Like many, I was mesmerized as the Ustad’s curly locks, lightening fingers flying across the surface of the tabla and his smile lit up our good old ‘Konark’ TV screen. The visuals were complemented by an anonymous voice: “Wah, Ustad, wah!” To which, the Ustad replied “Arre huzoor, wah Taj boliye!” And all the while, the shining white monument, resplendent in all its glory stood in the background. Feeling nostalgic! You can relive the magic on YouTube.

The next was when I realized that there is no scholarly evidence to the cutting of hands story. I was relieved as this provided a perfect excuse to break my resolution. Years went by and although I started visiting Delhi regularly, from where Agra isn’t too far, the trip to the Taj never happened.

Fast forward to 2015: as we were trying to settle down in Gurgaon it became clear to us that we would need to be inspired once in a while to continue to earn a living without letting go of our interests. After a couple of short visits to Lansdowne and the majestic Bharatpur, it was time to go back to the Taj. Following our customary research which enabled us to book entry tickets online prior to our visit, we hit the road. We took the NH2 as I was unable to convince our friendly driver of the merits of enjoying the Yamuna Expressway. After a friendly banter, we agreed to take the expressway on our way back.

The journey was fairly uneventful but as we entered Agra, the presence of the mausoleum was overbearing. It seemed all the road signs led to one direction and every other establishment had something to do with it. We settled down in one of the numerous hotels which ended with either the phrase “Palace” or “Mahal” promising to one another that we would be at the gates by 6am. Despite our best intentions and the hot cup of tea served by the only staff in the Palace who was up at that unearthly hour, we could not reach the gate before 6.30. We realized we had not factored the walk of around 750 meters from Shilpgram (eastern gate). From Shilpgram, where you can park your vehicle, you have the option of taking a rickshaw, a horse driven cart or just walk. If you stay in a fancier “Palace”, you are probably eligible for the battery vehicles which chose to ignore us, the lesser mortals as they breezed past. The walk, by the way is quite pleasant in the morning.

After flashing our online ticket receipts (strangely we were probably among a handful of visitors who did not have a printed ticket), we were allowed in for a few hours of bliss. A word of advice: the queues at the gate are separate for men and women and it becomes easier if you have more than a copy of the online receipts.

I would stop and let the pictures below narrate our experience for the next two hours. Suffice to say, the workmanship, the design and the architecture takes your breath away. As you admire the beauty of the mausoleum, it helps to have the excellent hand held audio guide to seek answers to many questions that are likely crop up in your mind.

For me, more than the questions, the realization that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great example of a fusion of various structural traditions (including Moghul, Persian, Central Asian, pre-Moghul Indian and European architecture) was more important. At a time when we seem to become more and more impatient and intolerant, it dawned on me that one of the finest memorials in the world is indeed one of finest examples of multiculturalism and assimilation of cultures. It represents India as it has always been and hopefully would continue to be.

In this context, I could not resist sharing this poem written by the greatest Bengali ever born.

You knew, Shah Jehan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove, therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart…Let the splendor of diamond, pearl, and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow. Only let this one tear-drop, this Tajmahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.

O King, you are no more. Your empire has vanished like a dream, your throne lies shattered…your minstrels sing no more, your musicians no longer mingle their strains with the murmuring Jamuna…Despite all this, the courier of your love, untarnished by time, unwearied, unmoved by the rise and fall of empires, unconcerned with the ebb and flow of life and death, carries the ageless message of your love from age to age: ‘Never shall I forget you, beloved, never.’

  • By Rabindranath Tagore (translated by Kshitish Roy) from One Hundred and One Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (pp. 95-96)

https://catalyst.library.jhu.edu/catalog/bib_724626

And here are the images (finally)

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Arrey Huzoor Wah Taj Boliye!

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Care for a walk in the park?

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What a way to start the day!

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The not so impressive Yamuna as a backdrop!

IMG_0444.JPG A memorial like no other!

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We call Taj our home!

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Till we meet again!

Posted in Jungle Trails

The storytellers of Bharatpur

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The dabbawalas of Mumbai taught us the art of service excellence. Is there a lesson to be learned from the rickshaw pullers of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary?

Upon our recent visit to the park, I met an extraordinary man who earns his bread by ferrying tourists on his cycle rickshaw across the 29 sq.km paradise, frequented by birds from around the world. He has been doing it for more than three decades and after two trips to the park where he doubled up as our guide, I felt privileged to have met someone who seemed as exotic as any of our avian friends who refer the bird sanctuary as their home.

Here is a quick list of my lessons learned from him.

Do what you love to do: The wise man of Bharatpur reaches the sanctuary gate at 5.30am every morning with the same enthusiasm that our eight year old daughter exuded when we entered the park for the first time. He informed us that over the last thirty years, he has never failed to reach the gate in time to pick up wide eyed tourists eager to lap up his stories on the park. He has accompanied the legendary Salim Ali tagging birds for his research activities and has probably ferried countless urban folks like us who struggle to spot anything beyond the peacocks, painted storks or the cormorants with the naked eye. But rather than feeling despondent, he weaves his magic. As he helps the tourists spot the birds in the bushes, treetops and water bodies, he adds anecdotes and stories. During our two trips, he made it a point that our daughter ticks off the birds that she had seen on the book that we bought from the souvenir shop located at the park gate. He was quick to realize where our interests lie and left no stones unturned to make us happy with an elusive sighting. It was his persistence that resulted in us having a sneak peek at the large-tailed nightjar.

During the six hours that we spent with him, it became evident that 30 years of doing the same thing has not dampened his enthusiasm. When asked how long he wants to continue, he smiled cheerfully and responded – till the time I am fit enough to ride the cycle rickshaw and till the time our rickshaws continue to stay relevant in the days of battery operated carts.

Stories over facts: During our first trip, he gauged our interests and probably classified us as amateurs who love birds but whose knowledge is somewhat limited. From that moment onwards, he switched on to a storytelling mode. Every bird that we spotted was tagged to a story. With effortless ease he kept our daughter enthralled with stories around the courtship dance of the sarus crane, the nesting patterns of the migrant ducks, the difference between a dotted and a spotted owl etc. He reiterated my belief that facts are for PowerPoint slides but stories are for moments that lives on in our memories.

The power of experiential learning: During his eventful journey traversing the three decades, he has taught himself to learn from his experiences. He was quick to point out that he benefitted from the innovative measure taken by the sanctuary authorities to train the rickshaw pullers to evolve into guides as well. However, it is experiential learning that allows him to go beyond rattling names of birds and add a bit more spice in his knowledge sharing sessions. It is this unique ability to personalize a sighting that puts him in a league of his own.

If you have reached thus far, you may be interested in knowing his name. While I deliberated on sharing his name and number, I felt it would be more fun if you discover him on your next trip to the sanctuary using these clues below:

  • He belongs to the Labana Sikh community, who are originally from the Sindh province, and who settled in India after Partition
  • He has been featured in an article on Livemint on the sanctuary
  • He has published two books on the birds of Bharatpur

Would love to know if you were able to spot him during your next trip to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and the lessons that you had learned.

And here are some images from our trip.

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Postcard from Bharatpur

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Maestro a work

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Time for some stretching

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Busy at work

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Good Morning!

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Picturesque!

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Till we meet again!