THE FIRST AND THE ONLY HERITAGE CITY OF INDIA

THE FIRST AND THE ONLY HERITAGE CITY OF INDIA
If I would have visited this city before 9th of July, which was technically not possible because of my internship ending on 7th of July, this blog post would have carried a different heading. Yes, for people who read Indian news regularly [1], it is not a big deal to understand which city I’m talking about. And if you still haven’t understood, it is Ahmedabad or Amdavad (અમદાવાદ in Gujarati), the former capital of Gujarat.

If we take a quick glimpse at its history, it was founded by Emperor Ahmed Shah I [2] of the Sultanate of Gujarat. My visit to Ahmedabad comes after the end of my internship at Bengaluru, as a holiday break with my family. Our journey began with reaching Mumbai Central at 5:40 am at dawn to board the queen of the Western Railways – the Shatabdi Express departing at 6:25.

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The Mumbai Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express at Ahmedabad Railway Station

This was not our first visit there. We had already visited it in September 2012 and this year, it was more like a breakthrough holiday rather than a tourist trip. As we had already visited Sabarmati Riverfront, Ashram, Kite museum and the City Museum then, we straightaway headed to Kankaria Lake.

The Kankaria lake is a giant lake with fountains and a mini amusement park in the shape of the logo of the State Bank of India (SBI). Ironically, the logo was designed by Shekhar Kamat, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and it is said that it was inspired by the design of the lake [3]. There is also a mini train ride which goes around the circumference of this lake. However, it is not a good deal to visit this place in monsoon as it is infested with flies.

 

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The Kankaria Lake at evening time

Ahmedabad is especially known for its Gujarati cuisine, which is famous all over the world today because of Gujarati expatriate businessmen opening food chains in various countries such as the United States and those of Europe. There are various joints available for refreshments of which we visited the Lijjat Khaman House at Maninagar, near Kankaria lake which is well-known for its dhoklas and pakodas. Gujarat is also famous for its sweets, particularly the mohanthal[4].

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Lijjat Khaman House, Maninagar

A peculiarity of Ahmedabad that one may notice on its streets is the presence of numerous ice-cream parlours. While most of the Amul parlours in Mumbai have closed, and there are hardly any in Bengaluru, you’ll find an ice-cream parlour in Ahmedabad with the same rate of recurrence as that of a vada pav wala in Mumbai or a South Indian joint in Bengaluru. These dedicated ice-cream parlours not only offer you with ice-creams but also with milk and other dairy products. The price of Amul milk per litre in Ahmedabad is INR 40, whereas the same is 42 in Mumbai, owing to transportation costs and shopkeepers selling at 1 rupee higher for reasons not worth mentioning here. Also, how many flavours of Amul cups or candies have you tasted in Mumbai? At least in the retail stores in my area, the only available flavours are some commonly known ones like Vanilla, Strawberry, Butterscotch, etc. However, the abundance of flavours at ice-cream parlours in Ahmedabad would surely make you go crazy!

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Amul ice-cream and milk parlour, Paldi

Gujarati cuisine is incomplete without the Gujarati thali. Yes, the same pure vegetarian Gujarati thali with four to five different vegetables, rotlas, farsan, and papad! The Gopi dining hall at Ellis Bridge [5] is one of the restaurants where this thali is recommended.

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Gopi Dining Hall, Ellis Bridge
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Gopi’s Gujarati thali for INR 250

If you are planning to gift your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother a new saree or dress piece, Gujarat is the best place. Both Ahmedabad and Surat are prominently recognized as one of the best destinations to buy female attire at the cheapest rates. I gifted my mom two designer sarees and my grandmother a simple cotton saree in just under INR 3500; can you imagine that? The same types of sarees from Mumbai or Bengaluru would have individually cost the same as the total price! My mother also bought for herself four fashionable dresses with each at almost half the price than that at which it is sold in Mumbai. Theoretically, if you wish to buy a new dress, the total cost of your journey from Mumbai to Surat/Ahmedabad and back plus the cost of the dress would still be cheaper than its cost in Mumbai, if you are willing to compromise your time for the same!

As it is evident to find street dogs frequently on the roads in Mumbai, cows are a frequent sight here. After seeing numerous cows on the roads, one may have to actually think twice to determine who has a greater population – street dogs or cows?

 

 

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A street cow at Naranpura

 

Our trip concluded with an Air India flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in the evening. The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport is a grand majestic airport with two terminals, just as that of CSIA Mumbai; with terminal 1 meant for domestic flights and terminal 2 for all international and domestic flights from Air India. It has several boarding gates, more than required; however, I found the airport to be somewhat mismanaged which was the reason for our flight departing one hour late. Also, surprisingly, this was the only airport where I found pigeons entering the terminal building.

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Pigeons inside Terminal 2, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport

They enter the building from gaps in the wall of the building facing the taxiway, yet this was still ok. The fact that made me heavily annoyed was that of Air India serving just a cheese bread with Real fruit juice at 9 pm in the night! Who wouldn’t like to have these extremely healthy plain slices of bread at dinner time when they’re expecting a tummy full dinner?

An interesting aspect of this trip was my brother’s commitment to his school homework which was truly appreciable. He was doing his homework on the train as well as in the hotel since it was to be submitted on the coming Monday.

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My brother doing his homework in the Shatabdi Express

We had planned to visit many places, such as the Akshardham temple at Gandhinagar but unfortunately, couldn’t because of the shortage of time. Nevertheless, there would surely be many more occasions of visiting the city; especially after the bullet train project is complete. In the monsoon season, I found the city infested with too many flies. Every sweets shop and restaurant uses an ultraviolet fly trap such as the one shown below:

The primary reason for this infestation is garbage and dirt. In fact, I found the city to be as dirtier as clean it was in 2012; maybe it’s showing a reverse result of the Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan in Narendra Modi’s own state!

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A balloon advertising for Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan at Kankaria Lake; however, it shows very little to no effect on the city!
BRTS bus stop (courtesy: Flickr)

No worries, every city falls in some or the other aspect. Nevertheless, Ahmedabad has shown the world the use of BRTS bus corridor [6] and is the only heritage city in India declared by UNESCO. The Union government has also planned celebrations on this occasion [7]. The city is already old enough, and one of the fastest growing cities. A new international cricket stadium is also being built on its outskirts. I’m already curious to know the venue of the final at the 2023 cricket world cup.

ચાલો જોઈએ!

References:

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ahmedabad-becomes-indias-first-world-heritage-city-unesco-site-indians-first-4742234/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Shah_I
  3. https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-story-behind-State-Bank-of-India-logo
  4. http://food.ndtv.com/recipe-mohanthal-442322
  5. https://www.zomato.com/ahmedabad/gopi-dining-hall-ellis-bridge
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmedabad_BRTS
  7. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ahmedabad-to-turn-i-am-davad-to-celebrate-world-heritage-city-tag/articleshow/59689658.cms

THE PRIDE OF THE MARATHAS

THE PRIDE OF THE MARATHAS

The Maratha Empire certainly had a profound impact on the history of India. When we talk about great names in the uprising of 1857, we can’t forget to mention Rani Laxmibai, Tatya Tope and Peshwa Nanasaheb – all from the Maratha empire – who fought until their last breath to save the falling throne under Bajirao II. Maratha empire in the 18th century gained fame by capturing the largest area from the Mughals and hence became one of the strongest opposition to the Mughals in Central India, all thanks to great Peshwas like Bajirao I. However, when we talk about this great Maratha empire, we can’t stop mentioning its founder – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who is well revered in Maharashtra even today, with one of the largest airports and railway stations in India named after him. Likewise, how could we forget Pune – the primary place residence of Shivaji Maharaj in his childhood?I had visited Pune many times earlier, but those visits were insignificant as they mostly involved coming back on the same day. Nevertheless, this time I managed to visit some of the most spectacular tourist spots that Pune is known for.

If you wish to visit Pune from Mumbai/Gujarat, I recommend traveling by train. Although a train journey from Mumbai takes longer than by cab or a deluxe Shivneri bus, you can experience the Bhor ghats – which were built in the 19th century to connect the interior Maharashtra with a strategically important port of Mumbai.

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The Mumbai CST bound Pragati express passes as we watch it inside the Pune bound Deccan express

Pune is famous for the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganesh temple. It was built by Dagdusheth Halwai (who gained this surname because of his business as a sweet seller). Wikipedia explains his story of building the temple as follows: –

Dagadusheth Halwai (Dagadusheth Gadve) was Lingayat trader and Sweet maker (Halwai in Marathi). He originally came from Karnataka and settled in Pune. After he gained fame as a Halwai, that became his surname. His original Halwai shop still exists under the name Kaka Halwai near Datta Mandir in Pune.

Mr. Dagdusheth Halwai was a successful sweetmeat seller and a rich businessman. In late 1800s, he lost his son in a plague epidemic. This caused Dagdusheth and his wife to go into deep depression. To heal themselves, their Guru, Shri Madhavnath Maharaj recommended building a Ganesh temple. This was completed in 1893.

Lokmanya Tilak, the Indian Nationalist leader and a contemporary of Dagdusheth, was a close friend of him. Tilak saw his dedication and the construction of the temple and it was here that the idea of celebrating public Ganesh festival struck him. It proved to be an epoch making event in Indian history.

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Dagdusheth Halwai Ganesh Mandir

We do not miss the darshan of this temple whenever we visit Pune. This temple has become a sort of an unofficial kuladaivat for our family now. And yes, one would easily get startled by the wealth used in the construction of the temple. The temple was built in 1893, even older than the Mysore palace, though it doesn’t seem to be! Photography inside the temple is not allowed, so this is the only photo of the Lord that one can click (from outside).

Pune is famous for its Puneri misal and Puneri milkshake called as ‘Mastani’. The name is derived from the second de facto wife of Peshwa Bajirao, Mastani. It’s a blend of ice cream and milkshake, though it’s costly – even if you have it from a small shop on a small street!

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The ‘mastani’ is at the centre – surrounded by two glasses of milkshakes

Pune is also famous for its legendary sweets chain – the Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale. One can also say that as Haldiram’s is to Nagpur, Chitale is to Pune; though the former has a nationwide presence. The ‘bhakarwadi’ is a unique delicacy here – though I don’t adore that much.

Next day, we made a visit to Lal Mahal, the palace where Shivaji Maharaj lived in his childhood. Technically, it is a small bungalow painted red. Since it was under renovation then, we weren’t allowed to venture inside.

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The old Lal Mahal amidst the heart of the city

The Shaniwar Wada is also located at a walkable distance from the Lal Mahal. ‘Shaniwar’ means Saturday in Marathi and Hindi and guess what, we made a visit to Shaniwar Wada on a Saturday itself! The Shaniwar Wada is said to be a haunted place and as per the reports of a night watchman, cries of a former murdered Prince ‘काका, मला वाचवा’ (‘Uncle, please save me!’) are heard on full Moon days.

It was formerly a huge palace but only its stone base is remaining today. Excerpts from Wikipedia –

The Shaniwar Wada was originally the seven storied capital building of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire. It was supposed to be made entirely of stone but after the completion of the base floor or the first story, the people of Satara (the national capital) complained to the Siva(King) saying that a stone monument can be sanctioned and built only by the Siva(King) himself and not the Peshwas. Following this, an official letter was written to the Peshwas stating that the remaining building had to be made of brick and not stone. The Wada was then completed and upon being attacked by the British Artillery 90 years later, all the top six stories collapsed leaving only the stone base, which was immune to the British artillery. Hence only the stone base of the Shaniwar Wada remains and can be seen even today in the older parts of Pune.

Also, On February 27, 1828, a great fire started inside the palace complex. The conflagration raged for seven days and hence, only the heavy granite ramparts, strong teak gateways and deep foundations and ruins of the buildings within the fort survived.

Had the remaining monument being built from stone, we would have been able to see it in entirety today, just like the several magnificent forts of Rajasthan and Gwalior!

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The Shaniwar Wada entrance
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The interior ruins

The Shaniwar Wada also hosts a high-flying national tricolor which is probably the highest in Pune.

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The national flag at Shaniwar Wada

Pune is a must visit city for people keen to know about the Maratha legacy and culture. Today, it is also an emerging IT hub, and it’s keeping its pace with top cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. The Mumbai – Pune urban agglomeration is also rapidly developing and there is a huge demand for property buyers in places like Khopoli and Lonavala, which are close to Mumbai and Pune both. Since the formation of the state of Maharashtra, Pune has been consistent on its status as a secondary million-plus city in Maharashtra, and guess what, Maharashtra is the only state in India to have two cities in the list of 10 most populated cities in India (List of cities in India by population), two cities classified in the X category as per the HRA classification (Classification of Indian cities) and two cities with franchises in the Indian Premier League. And what would you say when you see that Pune and Mumbai are the two teams competing in the IPL final? I’m writing this article before the start of the final match; let’s see who wins!

जय हिंद! जय महाराष्ट्र!

जय भवानी, जय शिवाजी!

A TOUR IN THE ORANGE CITY

A TOUR IN THE ORANGE CITY

Frustrated with the ongoing non-stop and everlasting series of assignments, tutorials, labs and exams in our college, I decided to take a break; though it was pre-decided in December, in the days of Technovanza. The orange city, the geographical centre of India, as it was referred to, by the British, the tiger capital of India, the second capital of Maharashtra, the city of our Hon’ble CM Mr. Devendra Fadnavis – this city can be called by several such names! Nagpur has been talked about in the history for various incidents whose effects can be seen in today’s modern world. Initially, when I asked my Nagpurian friends about tourism in the city, they all gave pessimistic replies as if Nagpur was a dead city. However, honestly speaking, it’s a place worth to visit for a 2-3-day picnic if you want to go moderately away from Mumbai and yet experience city life.

I reached Nagpur by the fastest train 12289 Mumbai – Nagpur Duronto, which arrived at 7 am, 20 minutes prior to its scheduled time, and the hotel’s check-in time was 12 pm, and hence we decided to stay at the station till then. Nagpur is an important junction where trains going from south to north and east to west meet. The Nagpur -Sewagram railway line is a common line for trains on both these routes. Hence, a train arrives at Nagpur station after every 10 minutes or so, thus spending time there is not a big deal. I was lucky to see many long-distance trains, the photos of some of which are shown below, which also includes the Nizamuddin (Delhi) – Bangalore Rajdhani which arrives at Nagpur at 10 am.

 

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A rail map of the Nagpur – Sewagram section of the Central railway

 

 

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Approaching Nagpur

 

 

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12289 Mumbai – Nagpur Duronto Express at platform 8, Nagpur

 

 

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A goods train filled with coal at Nagpur station

 

 

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Bangalore bound Rajdhani express

 

My hotel was on the North South highway corridor of India (NH-47) which is locally known as Wardha road or Nagpur – Chandrapur Road. The construction of the Nagpur metro railway is in full swing on this road, leaving only two lanes per side for road traffic.

 

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Nagpur metro rail construction on NH 47 (Wardha Road)

 

If you are fond of old railways, the Narrow-Gauge rail museum maintained by the South East Central Railway is worth visiting. It contains locomotives, coaches, equipments and other special tools required for maintaining its narrow gauge line from Nagpur to Jabalpur in M.P. This railway line would soon be converted to broad gauge under the Project Unigauge of the Indian railways and hence, the museum would serve its purpose of preserving the colonial era narrow gauge rail technology.

 

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A diesel narrow gauge engine at the museum

 

Something you can’t miss if you’re in Nagpur is Haldiram’s. They sell sweets of different Nagpuri flavours and some of them, such as Mava Jalebi and orange barfi are available only at Nagpur. Also, some of the Haldiram’s outlets also comprise of a restaurant which is famous for its chaat, ice-creams and drinks.

 

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Haldiram’s Orange barfi

 

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Haldiram’s mava jalebi

 

 

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‘Fruit temptation’ ice-cream at Haldiram’s, Sitabuldi

 

Nagpur has been historically known for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and his followers’ conversion to Buddhism at Deekshabhoomi, which was the largest public conversion in the world. Deekshabhoomi also holds a record for having the largest hollow Buddhist stupa in the world. It was my first visit to a Buddhist temple, and I also found East Asians there (don’t call them Chinese); but moreover, what I found, which is uncommon in Hindu temples is silence – no bells, no gossips!

 

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Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur

 

There’s much more to visit there, such as the ancient Shiva temple at Ramtek and Dragon Palace temple at Kamptee, both outside the city, Sitabuldi fort, Maharajabagh Zoo, various lakes, tiger sanctuaries and the recently commenced mine tours organized by the Maharashtra Tourist Development Corporation, at two mines near Nagpur. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit these places as we were supposed to leave the next day, because of my brother’s scholarship exam, whose date was informed too late by the State board, else we would have stayed there for an extra day as well.

Linguistically, I didn’t find many locals speaking Marathi among themselves; most of them prefer Hindi, just as in Mumbai, though Nagpur is a part of Maharashtra. The reason is because Nagpur was a part of the Central Provinces & Berar province in British India which was re-organised to Madhya Pradesh and a part of the province was ceded to Maharashtra. You would not find many people walking there, especially after sunset and roads get too lonely, except in the market areas. Rickshaw-wallas charge you heftily, almost ₹ 70 for a distance of 2-3 km, so I would instead prefer Ola or Uber cabs, which are available easily and you can also avail the discount with their coupons. I also found Nagpur comparatively cleaner than Mumbai. I do recommend a visit to this great city; hoping to visit other cities in Vidarbha too!

 

EXPLORING INDIA WITH INDIAN RAILWAYS

EXPLORING INDIA WITH INDIAN RAILWAYS

I am an ardent fan of Indian Railways; I am not praising myself, but I can name various railway stations, railway lines and trains in the country. I’m always of the opinion that India can be explored at its best with the Indian Railways, that’s because a journey with the train isn’t simply a journey between your source and destination. It’s a journey where you dissolve yourself into the different intermediate stations, railway facilities, and the stuffs around the tracks, such as the fields, the trees, the forests, the power plants, the rivers, canals, bridges, fly-overs, subways, railway crossings, villages, cities, people,… this is just an inexhaustible list indescribable in words.

Most of the people reading this article would be having a native place far away from Mumbai, and hence travelling to your native place from Mumbai wouldn’t be a special event for you; however, as I do not have any such, I feel unlucky as well as lucky – unlucky because I do not get to travel by trains to that extent as you all do and lucky because I get to travel to any destination I like. It’s like that I can make any city my destination for 3 to 4 days.

I’ve travelled to different cities in India by rail, including Pune (the most often), Kolhapur, Lonavala, Ahmedabad, Indore, Jaipur, Delhi, Vadodara, Shegaon, Akola, Mussoorie (Dehradun), Nainital (Kathgodam), Bengaluru and Mysuru. I’ve also travelled to some by flights, such as Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Port Blair. Although these rail journeys took a lot of time, I was fascinated by them much more than the flight journeys. The flight journeys in the economy class were uncomfortable and expensive; also, once we take-off, what we see is nothing but clouds. Some airlines do offer videos and music on-board; however whenever I sat in the flight, my mind always wanted the flight to land as soon as possible, just to get rid of that journey and I never genuinely watched or listened to any of those.

Whenever one plans outing, he/she thinks about different places that can be visited. However, in my case, it’s different. I think about different trains that I can get on-board and then visit those places; as an example, I had visited Delhi many times by plane; however, just to get on board the Delhi Mumbai Duronto Express, I visited it again in 2014. Many a times, I am excited about getting on-board a train more than actually visiting the city.

That was all about my passion about railways in general. I would now describe the journeys in the Udyan, Shatabdi and Sharavathi expresses I was recently into. Although I usually do not like clicking pics while travelling, this time I clicked snaps of various intermediate stations where the trains halted as well as passed by, the forests, the farms around and interesting picturesque locations. With a DSLR in hand, who wouldn’t want to make such use of it?

En route from Bengaluru to Mysuru and Hassan to Ranibennur, you’ll find countless commercial plantations of coconut, betel nut and banana. You’ll also find a number of wind power plants across the entire Karnataka. Hence, using such raw data, one gets to know the ecology, geology and the economy of a region. I’ve posted a few images of the interesting sites I saw.

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Coconut plantations seen between Bengaluru and Mysuru
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Betel nut plantations between Hassan and Arsikere in southern Karnataka
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Banana plantations between Arsikere and Hubli in central Karnataka
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Wind power plants – don’t miss out these while travelling from Mysuru to Mumbai! They’re seen on the hills across the entire Karnataka.
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Have you seen this before? A car parked on the platform of Chikjajur station, Karnataka
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Rocks in the Kaveri river bed (downstream river beyond Krishnarajasagara dam)
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A perfectly timed photograph as the train cruised through Srirangapattana – the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore during the reign of Tipu Sultan
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The motorman’s cabin of a DMU standing in a yard in Bengaluru
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A bird resting on the station board of Gangapur Road, Karnataka
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The CST bound Chennai Mail passes by as we watch sitting in the CST – KSR Bengaluru Udyan Express 
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The forests of northern Karnataka

 

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Rocky mountains, somewhere between Hassan and Hubli
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Farmers tirelessly working in northern Karnataka

Who gets to see all this in a plane?

You would definitely need to carry all the luggage along with you unlike a flight where you check in some baggage and carry the rest along with you. However, we four persons carried a total of 11 bags from Mysuru to Mumbai, carrying them in hand along the various foot-over bridges, platforms and trains; and hence, you actually do not need any coolie if you’re capable enough.

This was not intended to provoke a railways v/s airways war; it was just to share my personal experiences about travelling by trains. I also like to track my train using GPS on my I-Pad and measure its speed using a speed tracker app. With this, I get to know how far is the train from the next station and what’s its speed so that I can keep the camera ready!

If you are an non-Indian planning to visit India, Indian Railways also offers you luxury trains, designated as one of the best in the world, taking a tour of different destinations. Additionally, IRCTC itself organises various packaged tours by trains; although I’ve never been to any of them. Special trains are also commissioned to different destinations in the rush hours. The railways has built special lines to hill stations and it runs narrow gauge services on them. Hence, the Indian Railways has played a huge role in enhancing tourism in the country!

THE OLD CAPITAL WITH A NEW TOUCH

THE OLD CAPITAL WITH A NEW TOUCH

This is the continuation of my earlier post describing the attractions of Bengaluru. Now, as we move from Bengaluru south westward, we reach the headquarters of one of the southernmost districts of Karnataka, the former capital of the state and the capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore – the city of Mysuru. The city is quite old and the earliest references date it to some point in the 14th century. It has been the seat of the Wodeyar family for long, till date; with a short period being ruled by Haider Ali Khan and Tipu Sultan.

Our entry into this city wasn’t that memorable, we had to search for our hotel relentlessly because of a blunder by Cleartrip, OYO Rooms and the hotel. However, the hotel we booked (Hotel Pai Vista, near KSRTC Suburban bus depot) is one of the finest hotels in the city and we booked it at a discounted rate from Cleartrip and indirectly from OYO Rooms. If you ever visit Mysuru, I would surely recommend a stay there. It has all the amenities that a modern hotel of an international standard must possess. The hotel is named as ‘OYO Premium Mysore Suburban Bus Stand’ on Cleartrip and OYO  Rooms.

Although Mysuru is famous for its huge Mysore Palace and Brindavan gardens, there are a few lesser known attractions that I would like to mention first. The city hosts a sand museum which hosts various sand sculptures of animals, Gods, zodiac signs, a vintage car, a scene of the epic Mahabharata, etc. It is the first sand museum in India and all the figures have been sculpted by sand artist Miss M. N. Gowry. You’ll also find a wax museum which consists of two parts – a horror world (which is actually not that scary if you’re courageous enough) and a museum of musical performances, with all the performers crafted with wax. It shows still models of various kinds of musical performances such as Kannada, Punjabi Bhangra, African, Australian aborigine, Hawaiian, Jazz, etc. The figures have been sculpted by wax artist Shreeji Bhaskaran.

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A sand sculpture of a monkey and her baby in the sand museum
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One of the wax models performing in a Western orchestra

The Chamundi hill – one of the most sacred hills in South India is also located near Mysore and a road leads to this hill with these museums en route. There are many temples on this hill, with the most important being that of goddess Chamundeshwari. As there was a long queue for getting in, we managed to offer our prayers standing outside, facing the idol. There’s a temple of Shri Mahabaleshwara (Shiva) outside the Chamundeshwari temple, which is a protected ancient monument.

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The dome (कळस) of the Chamundeshwari temple

The Shri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens (Mysore zoo) is one of the largest zoos I’ve ever been too. You’ll have to walk almost a distance of 3.5 kms in order to view all the animals. It encloses abundant mammals, birds, reptiles and plants, from different parts of the world. Most importantly, none of these animals were captured from the wild; most of them are cured injured animals and one can even adopt them, i.e. pay all their expenses. Several personalities like Miss Jayalalitha (the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) and Mr. Anil Kumble (former cricket player) and companies like LIC of India have adopted different animals from the zoo.

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One of the rhinoceros at the zoo

Mysuru is famous worldwide for its century old Mysore Palace built when the old wooden palace was damaged due to an accidental fire. The new palace, whose construction started in 1897, encompasses a wide area clearly visible on Google Maps satellite view, as it takes a significant area of the city. The visitors aren’t allowed to visit everything in the palace; however, they’re allowed to see the old artifacts, statues, silver thrones, gifts, etc. used by the Maharajas of Mysore. Nevertheless, the palace is a chaotic place as there is a lot of rush inside and one has to proceed inside by removing his/her shoes in a shoe stand, which resembles a fish market. Also, the shoe-stand service isn’t free of cost either, it charges INR 2 per pair, in spite of the INR 40 entry fee . The palace looks much more beautiful at night, when it’s lightened with yellow bulbs.

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A panoramic view of the Mysore Palace

Christianity is also an important religion in Mysuru, and hence, churches and cathedrals were an important part of its culture. The St. Philomena’s church (St. Joseph’s Cathedral) is one of the most famous churches, established by the Maharaja in 1933. Its towers are one of the tallest in the entire city.

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A panoramic view of the St. Philomena Church

In the evening, one must visit the Brindavan gardens located adjacent to the Krishnarajasagara dam on the Kaveri river. The water for the fountains of the garden comes from this dam. In the evening, the garden looks amusing with fountains lightened and a musical fountain located on an opposite island.

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Me, with my mother and younger brother sitting before a fountain; the temple behind the fountain is dedicated for Goddess Kaveri; the dam seen behind is the Krishnarajasagara on the Kaveri river

In the month of May, the Indian subcontinent reaches extreme temperatures, especially in the inner parts like Delhi and Nagpur. However, as the southern part already starts receiving rainfall, we found Bengaluru and Mysuru to be much cooler than our home city, Mumbai and felt sweaty and too hot once we got back here; although we ourselves did not encounter a major rainfall. Hence, this summer vacation period isn’t bad for visiting these places if you find the rest of India too hot.

As Karnataka is famous for its sericulture (silk industry) and sandalwood forests, I would recommend visitors to buy silk clothes such as sarees and tops for women and kurta-pajamas for men. One can also buy sandalwood handicrafts such as showpieces, pure sandal soaps, face-packs, incense sticks (agarbatthis), etc. One can buy these products at government shops, such as the Kauvery (कावेरी) emporiums in Mysuru, which sell products without taxes (VAT exempted). However, these products are more or less expensive; as an example, a pure silk saree ranges at prices starting from a minimum of INR 2000, a sandalwood soap costing INR 60, a sandalwood face-pack costing INR 500, a sandalwood stick costing about INR 1000, etc.; yet sandalwood has a lot of health benefits such as a glowing and a healthy skin; hence, they’re worth of such prices.

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This Ashoka pillar (national emblem of India) souvenir costed us INR 2900. It is made from outer sandalwood.

Travelling internally in the city isn’t a big problem either; I saw a new concept of prepaid auto-rickshaws here. You must have come across prepaid taxis at airports and railway stations; but prepaid auto-rickshaws was something new for me. It took just INR 25 + INR 2 service charge for a distance of 4 km, i.e. from my hotel to the railway station. Also, they were readily available at about 5 am in the morning. For those who don’t believe me, I’ve uploaded a photo of the receipt.

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The prepaid auto service receipt

I personally liked Bengaluru and Mysuru honestly, more than any megacity I’ve visited so far; and I would rank Bengaluru above Delhi and Mumbai in all the metropolitan urban aspects. Mysuru is also known to be the cleanest city in India, though I didn’t feel that much. Traditionally, Mysuru was known only for its palaces, forts and as a capital of the erstwhile Princely State. However, today as many tech-giants like Infosys have established their training centres here; I call it ‘The old capital with a new touch’. Though Bengaluru and Mysuru are far from Mumbai, I would surely recommend visiting them, at least once, as I feel that I should visit Mysuru once more. It’s also a good destination for honeymooners, if you are unwilling to visit a hill station or a beach destination. If you’re a non-Indian and plan to visit India, you’ll like visiting these cities. This was my first visit to Karnataka and I journeyed there by rail, as I always prefer to. My passion for Indian Railways and travelling across the country by rail has been described in the next post.

 

THE GROWING CITY WITH A LONG TIMELINE

THE GROWING CITY WITH A LONG TIMELINE

India, as we all know, is the second largest populated nation today and is expected to achieve the first rank very soon. The gap between the rural and the urban is also decreasing alongside day by day. Most of the Indian cities have kept up with this pace, and I was advantaged to visit one such ever growing city, one of the top 10 in India, the capital of Karnataka, Bengaluru.

Most of us still refer it by its old name ‘Bangalore’; however, as the name was officially changed to Bengaluru, the original name as kept by its founder Kempegowda, I shall refer the city by the same. Today, most of the official places bear this changed name. The name is pronounced in Kannada as बेंगळुरु. For more information regarding its etymology, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangalore#Etymology

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The official name ‘Bengaluru’ on the board at KSR station

Bengaluru is not just the capital of Karnataka; it’s the capital of multicuisine food, silk markets, IT industry, cleanliness, a high standard of living, etc. It’s different from Mumbai in a variety of aspects, yet it’s not as famous as a tourist city as Mysuru, its south-western counterpart. However, there are a variety of tourist places packed with different cultures, like those of the Vijayanagara Empire and the kingdom of Tipu Sultan. I would describe a few of the places which I felt worth visiting.

The photos you see below show the various places in the huge, 200 acres Lalbagh Botanical Garden. It was built by Haider Ali Khan, the predecessor of Tipu Sultan, and has since expanded a lot. It hosts numerous trees, brought from different parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Australia, etc. Some of the 200 to 300 year old trees have spanned a huge area due to their unrestricted growth, which is uncommon in big cities. There is a floral clock, which is the first and the only one in the entire country. We also have a crystal house, i.e. a house made up of glass. You’ll also find a structure atop a hillock, the one in the fourth image, which is one of the four watch towers built by Kempe Gowda I protecting the medieval city of Bengaluru.

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1. Sitting on an old tree, 2. The floral clock, 3. The crystal palace, 4. One of the four Kempe Gowda Towers

Bengaluru is also famous for its temples built during the Vijayanagara period by Kempe Gowda I to please the Gods. One of them is the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, in which a Treta Yuga era shivalinga is worshipped. It is built inside a cave in such a way that on the day of Makar Sankranti, sunlight falls on the deity, which happens only once in an year.

Not far from this temple, we have the Dodda Ganapati Temple and the Bull Temple. The Bull Temple was built by farmers in order to free themselves from the curse of Lord Shiva. As Ganesha is worshipped before any other deity, it is a ritual to visit the Dodda Ganapati temple before proceeding towards the Bull Temple.

In the heart of the city, near my hotel, we have the Vidhan Soudha (state assembly of Karnataka). It bears the inscription “Government’s work is God’s work” and looks magnificent at night. The High Court of Karnataka is located opposite to the Vidhan Soudha and behind the court is the huge Cubbon Park (pronounced as कब्बन पार्क), a wide area spanning garden in the heart of the city! The Visvesvarya Technological Museum is located on the other side of this park and hosts a collection of interactive scientific, technological and industrial prototypes and models. You can actually interact with them and try them out!

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The Vidhan Soudha inscribed with “Government’s Work is God’s Work”
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An evening at Cubbon Park amidst the chirping of different birds

 

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An exhibit at Visvesvarya museum, the eye of the dinosaur is fitted with a sensor, which detects the focus of a camera and moves the head of the dinosaur

Besides this museum, the Government Museum has also delighted visitors and tourists with a wide collection of historical artifacts dating to the Paleolithic Stone Age; excavated from various sites in India, Myanmar, etc. Most of them relate to the places in and around Karnataka.

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The old v/s the new: Government museum in front of an under construction glass facade building

Haider Ali Khan ruled the Kingdom of Mysore, of which Bengaluru was a part, for a while; he started constructing this brown palace, which was completed by his successor, Tipu Sultan and is today known as Tipu’s Summer Palace. There is a photo of Tipu Sultan on its ground floor, in which he always faces the observer, although it is looked upon from any angle. As the photography of this picture is not allowed, it’s not posted over here. Moreover, I encourage you to go and watch it live rather than relying on the images here. It also contains various gifts and toys of the Sultan, including an accordian in which a tiger is shown lying on a British officer.

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The Tipu’s Summer Palace built in Indo-Islamic style

Royal Challengers Bangalore emerged victorious in the qualifier 1 of the IPL and hence, they qualified to the final, which was also scheduled in Bengaluru. Hence, an unending line for tickets was seen at the Chimnaswamy stadium, which is also opposite Cubbon Park on 25th, the day succeeding the day when qualifier 1 was played. I also saw some crowd on Monday, 23rd, the day after RCB defeated Delhi Daredevils and proceeded to the playoffs; however that was nothing in comparison with the line shown in the image.  The defeat of RCB in the final shed the hopes of all the fans, including my brother, who immensely loves Virat Kohli.

 

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The line at the Chimnaswamy stadium on 25th May, the day after which RCB qualified in the IPL final

Karnataka uses its own unofficial state flag, the one with red and yellow colours; however, this flag is used on official government buildings, such as the one shown here (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.), flown alongside the national flag, at a lower height.

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The yellow-red Karnataka state flag alongside the tricolour on the Hindustan Aeronautics Building opposite to the stadium

As a city, I felt that Bengaluru is a bit cleaner. I didn’t find a lot of slums, neither did I find people defecating on the railway tracks (my train entered KSR station at 8:15 am itself, a time when it is common to find such people in Mumbai). The Namma metro and the BMTC have provided a good public transport system; however they’re crowded at any time of the day. The city is growing; it has grown much beyond Kempe Gowda’s Bengaluru, and has turned out to be the third most populated city in India, with over 15% of Karnataka’s population residing there. Since its foundation by Kempe Gowda, it has continued to support various kingdoms, lifestyles, cultures, peoples and languages. My next stop was Mysuru, which has been described in the next write-up.

 

 

The Star and Key of the Indian Ocean

The Star and Key of the Indian Ocean

This Saturday, the 14th of May marked the completion of my first ever journey to a foreign land, in the Republic of Mauritius – a small yet mesmerizing island in the Indian Ocean, thousands of kilometres away from India, but deeply rooted to the same. This article presents some of the facts and the beauty of the island that I encountered.

The Republic of Mauritius actually consists of many islands around the Indian Ocean such as Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, as well as the claim of the Chagos archipelago; however I visited the main island of Mauritius only, where a majority of the population resides. The island was uninhabited initially, the Dutch settled there first, followed by the French and finally the British, from which it attained independence in 1968 and became one of the richest countries in Africa. Today, a majority of the people are people of Indian origin (PIOs), including their Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth (अनिरुद्ध जगन्नाथ in Hindi), their President Ameenah Gurib Fakim, their Chief Justice Santi Devi, etc. The international airport is also named after Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam (शिवसागर रामगुलाम).

The Mauritian Rupee (MUR) is stronger than the Indian Rupee (as of today 1 MUR = 1.90 INR). Also, it may seem to be a bit expensive – where you may find a single vegetarian thali costing about MUR 650 excluding VAT, which would come to about INR 1400 for a limited vegetarian thali, that too at a simple restaurant in a village. In the eateries of amusement parks, you may find a box of 10 small samosas (about 2cm height) costing MUR 150 (INR 285). As a lot of ready to eat packaged products are imported from various countries like South Africa, China, France and India, their costs are relatively higher than the ones in their home countries. For example, you may find that a pack of Parle G biscuits manufactured in India is charged at double the rate. The concept of a maximum retail price is absent; hence shopkeepers are free to charge the products at their own prices. For example, a 500ml bottle of Coke is available at MUR 24 at a supermarket, whereas the same costs MUR 75 at a local store or an eatery. The main export commodity of Mauritius is sugarcane, whose fields are easily seen anywhere in the countryside as well as Mauritian tea, which is mainly grown in the South Central area of Bois Cheri.

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Sugarcane fields near Cascavelle

Mauritius is famous for its beaches, many of which are safe for swimming including the Flic en Flac beach, where my hotel was located. One can also enjoy undersea walk, tube ride, voyaging in the submarine, etc. although the rates are quite high, yet it’s a fantastic experience.

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An evening at Flic en Flac beach

 

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Tube ride at Belle Mare beach

Shopping malls in Mauritius, unlike India, are spread over a wide area rather than floors stacked upon each other, as there is a plenty of space available. Also, these are usually located away from big cities. One of the biggest malls is the Bagatelle, near Beau Bassin; also I shouldn’t forget to mention the Caudan Waterfront at Port Louis, which is made by redesigning a few old buildings and watch towers, just as the Phoenix in Lower Parel.

Mauritius is also famous for its ship model building industry. Ship models are considered to be lucky there, and hence every tourist needs to buy one. Some of the huge models are expensive, although many of the smaller ones are quite cheap.

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A speedboat model in progress of crafting

There is a lone fort in the entire country (La Citadel), atop a mountain called Fort Adelaide, from where one can see the entire city of Port Louis, the capital in a panoramic view, and would enjoy clicking pictures of the same. The race course seen in the image below is the largest horse race course in the Southern hemisphere.

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Panoramic view of Port Louis from Citadel

With about 52% Hindus, Mauritius is home to many temples, which can be found in every village or town. However, there is a Jyotirlinga at Ganga Talao, which is the 13th and the only one outside India, built in 2005. The idols in this temple are donated by various wealthy people across India.

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Worshipping Shiva at the Ganga Talao main temple

Also, there is a 108ft tall statue of Shiva near the same temple and a statue of Durga under construction on the opposite side of the road.

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The Mangal Mahadev statue at Ganga Talao

There is a volcanic crater formed by a dormant volcano at Curepipe, which also hosts a lake within. There is a ring road surrounding the crater, which is an ideal jogging track.

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The lake in the volcanic crater at Curepipe

I experienced one of the strongest winds throughout my life at the Gris Gris beach, the southernmost point of the island, where my hand started moving automatically and I was about to fall. You can notice my t-shirt flying in the wind in the image below.

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A visit to Mauritius is incomplete without a visit to Chamarel – a place where one can see seven coloured earth. The sands are formed by mixing of repelling ferrous and aluminum oxides which gives it such exotic colours. One can also find a waterfall near this place which is formed due to volcanic activity.

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The seven coloured earth at Chamarel
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The waterfall at Chamarel

If you are interested in exploring and interacting with wildlife, the Casela bird park at Cascavelle is meant for you. You can experience a safari, wherein your bus drives through the enclosures of various animals and they stand at a hand’s distance from your place. Also, there are provisions for interacting with and touching lions in their enclosures, feeding giraffes at separate costs. You can also freely meet domesticated animals like rabbits and chicken and safe wild animals like the deer.

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My father touching a lioness at Casela

The culture of Mauritius is quite diverse and multilingual, French is the commonly spoken language followed by English. PIOs can speak Hindi, although they usually communicate in French. However, Bollywood is quite popular among the Mauritians and you can find posters of Hindi films outside cinema halls (I found those of Baaghi – the film starring Shraddha Kapoor and Tiger Shroff at Port Louis). Hindi, hence, is a commonly used language for many radio stations, TV programmes and news; although the accent of some people is slightly different. Mauritius, however, doesn’t have any official languages, and hence ironically, the Mauritian rupee does not bear the verbal denomination in French or Creole. Instead, it bears it in Tamil – a minority language.

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The 200 Mauritian rupees note

With all the above mentioned attraction, there’s no doubt as to why Mauritius is known as the star and key of the Indian Ocean since ages and why did the colonial powers fight for such a small yet strategic island. Visiting Mauritius is not a big deal; one can get a direct Air Mauritius flight to Mauritius from Mumbai, which costs about INR 37,000 per adult for a return journey; however we went through two Air Seychelles flights with a change over at Seychelles, as we booked a tour through Thomas Cook. A number of tour operators also organize trips there and it’s a wonderful destination for honeymooners; neither do Indians require a visa for visiting (visa free access). So why wait? Why don’t you book your tickets now?