May 1st is celebrated for many reasons… it is internationally famous as ‘International Labour day’ to commemorate various movements all over the world for worker’s rights. It is also ‘May Day’ - officially the ‘first day of summer’ for western countries since antiquity. It used to be celebrated as ‘Floralia’ by the ancient Greeks where they used to celebrate the goddess of love - Aphrodite and the god of wine - Dionysus - and I assume the festival involved a lot of drinking and lovemaking. Nowadays they have Mayday parades and dancing around Maypoles and May queens.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson even wrote a poem about it - ‘The May queen’ -
‘You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’
In India, we are already well into the hot summer by May, and our version of Floralia - Holi - is already over. We no longer celebrate wine or lovemaking - both are rather frowned upon officially! You need a license for one, and closed doors for the other.
But in Maharashtra we do have another reason to celebrate the 1st of May - It is celebrated as ‘Maharashtra day’ - the day that the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were carved out from the erstwhile Bombay state.
When the British came and conquered the entire land of India, they drew a new map over the bewildering patchwork of kingdoms and principalities of old and divided India into ‘Presidencies’ ruled over by a ‘Governor’ - all of whom reported to the boss of India - the ‘Governor-General’
The Western part of India was called the ‘Bombay presidency’ and encompassed parts of what is now Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sind (now in Pakistan) and even the Arabian lands of Aden and Socotra.
It was a fairly peaceful area - The Maratha empire was conquered and the area was largely quiet even during the 1857 Mutiny/ War of Independence.
The moneybags, merchants and others were already making huge money from the illegal Opium smuggling into China before the Mutiny - which had been officially arranged and organised by the East India Company - and after the Mutiny, the American civil war (1861 - 1865) gave rise to the Indian cotton boom as American cotton was no longer available, and huge fortunes were made by all the entities involved in the cotton trade - private merchants and government alike.
A lot of money was pumped into building docks and facilities, building trains and laying track, building factories - and fancy buildings and huge impressive edifices. All kinds of people streamed into Bombay looking for work and education and the city grew rich and powerful.
Bombay gained hugely in prominence due to the roaring trade and industry and became the ‘Urbs Prima Indis’ - the ‘Prime city of India’. Later the state of Sindh was hived off to become another state - and later, part of another country!
After Independence, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ was converted to ‘Bombay state’ - and the various kingdoms in the area - Baroda, Kolhapur, Dangs and numerous small states of Gujarat and Maharashtra - were merged into it. (Check out the book ‘The integration of Indian states’ by V P Menon for the fascinating story of how the old princely states were absorbed into the Union of India)
Later in 1956, there was a bit of reorganising due to the States reorganisation act, where the old states were redistributed on linguistic lines. Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were not happy with the idea, and predicted that this will threaten the unity of the country and may even result in the Balkanisation of India (and were proven right too, to an extent) but the idea kept going - and one committed Telugu dude called Potti Sriramulu actually fasted to death for the cause of the creation of a separate state for the Telugu speaking people - Andhra Pradesh.
This sparked off a lot of unrest in the country and in 1956, the SRC (States Re-organisation Committee) recommended the creation of linguistic states of Andhra Pradesh (for Telugu speakers), Kerala (for Malayalam speakers) and Karnataka (for Kannada speakers) but recommended a bi-lingual state (speakers of Marathi and Gujarati) for Maharashtra-Gujarat, with Bombay as its capital but keep the state of Vidarbha (also Marathi speakers) outside Maharashtra.
This was greeted with a lot of protest in Bombay state - and this escalated to frenzied rioting! On 21 November 1955, demonstrators were fired upon by the police at Flora Fountain in the capital city of Bombay. Flora Fountain was subsequently renamed Hutatma Chowk or "Martyr's Crossroad" in their memory. It is estimated that in a total of 106 people were shot by security forces during the period of agitation and at different places.
So ironic. Independent India shooting its own citizens.
Morarji Desai, who was the then chief minister of Bombay State was later removed and replaced by Yashwantrao Chavan as a result of criticism related to the 21 November incident. The then Union Finance Minister - C D Deshmukh - resigned his post rather than continue with the Central government, as they did not support the cause of a separate state for Marathi speaking people.
Finally, after a long and bloody campaign, the Kannada speaking districts of Belgaum, Dharwar, Bijapur and North Canara were shifted out into the neighbouring ‘Mysore state’ and the Marathi speaking districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha - formerly parts of Hyderabad state and Central provinces - were taken into Bombay state, as were the Gujarati speaking states of Saurashtra and Kutch. Thus the new Bombay state was known as the ‘Maha Dwibhashi rajya’ or ‘Great state with two languages’.
But even the hiving off of the Kannada speakers was not enough for people - they wanted a ‘Marathi only’ state - and launched a campaign called the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra movement’ for the same. The Samiti demanded the creation of a new state from Marathi-speaking areas of the State of Bombay, a Marathi state, with the city of Bombay as its capital. The Gujjus can get lost!
Finally, the Samiti achieved its goal and ‘Bombay state’ was split into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra on 1st May 1960.
Now even the name ‘Bombay’ has been removed from India and the city of ‘Bombay’ has been renamed as ‘Mumbai’ - so one can say that ‘Bombay state’ is gone forever.
While looking at this history of the ‘Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking people’ movement, it is interesting to study the story behind it.
At no time in the history of India, all the regions which now constitute the State of Maharashtra were politically one. They were ruled for centuries by different dynasties till Shivaji succeeded in carving out an independent kingdom for the Marathas in 1674. Even at that time, Shivaji’s father Shahaji was based in what is now Karnataka, and his half-brother Ekoji and family continued to stay there after Shahaji’s death. The Maratha empire extended well into South India - and when Aurangzeb attacked - Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram went to what is now Tamil Nadu, and holed up in the fortress of Gingee for years. Later, in the heyday of the Maratha empire. the Peshwas wielded considerable influence in the politics of North India. Marathi leaders ruled far-flung states such as in Gujarat (Gaekwads of Baroda), MP (Holkars of Indore, Bhosles of Berar, Scindias of Gwalior), UP (the famous ‘Rani of Jhansi’ Laxmibai was a Marathi lady) and many others - so why shouldn’t all these places also be part of ‘Marathi Maharashtra’? A fascinating thought.
But of course, there are ‘n’ number of stresses and strains and political factors and self-interests that go into this kind of decision. Check out this article for more information and opinions on this.
Since those days we have had many more separations of states - The first linguistically separated state - Andhra Pradesh - itself got further separated on tribalistic grounds into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh! Wonder what Potti Sriramulu would have thought about that!
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar got split into two (resulting in the new states of Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) on administrative grounds, in spite of having the same language… so one can easily see that politicians will always find some-or-the-other chauvinism to further separatist agendas. There are long-simmering demands for carving out states of Bundelkhand from MP, Gorkha land from West Bengal etc. There will always be some historical case for carving more and more - where will all this lead to?
Anyway - all this is beyond the scope of this little article - which was supposed to be just about me going to attend the Maharashtra day parade for the first time - on cycle!
So - it’s a birthday party for Maharashtra state! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M!
The day starts with a parade at Shivaji Park, Dadar. The Governor of the state along with the state reserve police, home guards, Mumbai Police, BMC Force, traffic police, among others take part in the parade. (The guv doesn’t march btw - he makes a speech and salutes the marchers)
Liquor sales to Indians are prohibited on Maharashtra Diwas across the state. (Why? I never understood this Indian passion to have ‘Dry days’ for every occasion. What is the point? Wouldn’t you like to have a party to celebrate a great day? Pop Champagne? Have a beer and barbecue? Be happy? If the idea is to deter a habitual drinker from getting drunk on that day - then won’t it be self-defeating...as the habitue would stock up on the eve of a dry day? It’s a most strange concept.)
Anyway - coming back to the parade.. Delhi has the Republic Day parade, and we have the Maharashtra day parade - which I was going to see for the very first time! I cycled my way over to Shivaji park and locked the bike to a convenient post and went off to find the entrance to the viewing area.
The Maharashtra government does not really promote the parade as an event to attract viewers - more’s the pity - and there were minimal facilities for viewers, and there were pretty few viewers as well - a contrast to the teeming crowds for the R-Day parade in Delhi. We were pretty far from the bigwigs and could hardly make them out. The governor made a speech - but I couldn’t hear that clearly. And there wasn’t a clear field of view for us to see the parade while seated - the wall of bamboos impeded vision - as you can see from the photos.
But the parade itself was quite nice. It was obviously not up to military standards, but the cops tried their best. They had a fancy band, a number of groups in various uniforms, sexes and battle gear. Apart from the cops, there were marching groups from various other groups like Home Guards, National Cadet Corps, National Social Service scheme - and even the Fire Brigade!
The grand finale was the drive-around by various vehicles - the cops showed off their motorcycles, their patrol cars and paddy wagons and even their fancy armoured cars with big guns which looked like they would be better on the border than in a city!
But for sheer coolness, nothing could beat the fancy red fire-wagons and the long ladders of the Fire Brigade!
I was very happy as I stepped out of the park - I had seen the M-Day parade! WOOHOO! Hopefully they will make it more spectator and citizen-friendly in the future.
I got on my bike and cycled home. Another Sunday well spent.
PS - For me, the most important thing about May 1st was that it was my mom's birthday :) Trumped May day, Maharashtra day and any other day! Happy birthday mom! Miss you.
Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple
Mumbai is full of small wonders, and the only thing that stops us - well...stopped me...from stopping to check them out is that we are busily going from one place to another and have no time to stop and explore them.
One such thing for me was the enigmatic temple with a very Japanese name - I had seen it a zillion times while travelling on that road, but had never stopped to actually check it out. But now I said that I will make a point of it - and cycled there to check it out.
The Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple turned out to be a little wonderland! An oasis of peace in busy Mumbai.
The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple started out as a Japanese Buddhist monastery and dates back to 1931 when it was built by a Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fujii, who was visiting India trying to follow the prophecy of the 13th century Japanese monk Maha Bodhisattva Nicherin. Nicherin believed that the ultimate salvation of humanity, who was contaminated by all that was evil, lay in India.
That bit of history really intrigued me… a Bodhisatava who believed that India will be the source of salvation - back in the 13th century!
The story of the monk who came to India 600 years after the said prophecy is equally fascinating!
Nichidatsu Fuji was the founder of the Nipposan Myohoji order of Buddhism, which is deeply engaged in promoting world peace. Born August 6, 1885 in Aso, Kyushu Island, Japan, he became a Buddhist monk at age 19 in opposition to the tendencies of the time, which strongly encouraged a military career.
As a pacifist, he was deeply impressed by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi.
‘I was astounded to see pictures of Gandhiji on the Salt March or spinning yarn. I felt I was witnessing something incredible unfold: at this time of modern scientific civilizations, a genuine revolutionary movement that does not rely on science or machines, which is, in fact, completely contrary to them, had been launched. Can such a movement overcome the solidly fortified institution of the modern state and create a different world, a world of nonviolence? Even if it does not succeed, I thought it to be a fine plan, with extraordinary insight. Spinning yarn or salt making are things even a disciple of the Buddha like myself can be part of and make a contribution. I decided to immediately leave for India to pray for the success of Gandhiji's revolutionary movement.’
He arrived in Calcutta in January 1931 and walked throughout the town chanting the daimoku and beating a drum, a practice known as gyakku shōdai.
In 1933 he met Mahatma Gandhi at his ashram in Wardha.
‘My first opportunity to meet Gandhiji came on October 4, 1933 at the ashram in Warda. Our meeting lasted only 15 minutes, and there was hardly any time to speak on matters of substance. We met the following day and the day after that, but unfortunately I could neither speak English nor Hindi. I therefore submitted an English translation of my views to Gandhiji. This is how it came to pass that I found residence in the Wardha ashram.’
Gandhiji was so impressed by the concept of the gyakku shodai that he added it to their prayer routine.
He went back to Japan during WWII and despite the dangers to himself he declared himself in favour of pacifism and went round Japan actively promoting it. This was actively dangerous, as the government was completely hawkish and anyone resisting the war could be immediately imprisoned!
He later recollected: “The Pacific war raged ever more brutally. I could no longer...keep silent about the war, in which people were killing one another. Thus I travelled through the whole of Japan and preached resistance against the war and [advocated] the prayer for peace. It was a time in which any person who only spoke about resistance to the war, would go to prison because of that alone”
After the war, he became a very active campaigner for world peace - another dangerous activity during the intolerant atmosphere of the Cold War.
“The reason I came to espouse nonviolent resistance and the antiwar, antiarms position was not because I met with Mr. Gandhi. Rather, it was because the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children, burning and poisoning [the population], a tragedy without precedent in human history, leading Japan to sue for unconditional surrender. In this we see the mad, stupid, barbaric nature of modern warfare.”
At the end of World War II. Fujii returned to India and built a World Peace Pagoda in Rajgir, in 1965. He also built a Japanese style temple in Rajgir which is still inhabited today.
The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii [1885-1985] was awarded the Nehru Award for International Understanding from India in 1979.
Read this amazing statement by him here.
In 1956, the same monastery was renovated into the present-day temple by the Birla family, whose trust maintains the temple to date.
That is amazing too. This was Jugal Kishore Birla, the brother of GD Birla - Mahatma Gandhi’s close friend and devotee. The Birlas do a lot of quiet philanthropy - something that seems to differentiate the old guard from the new tycoons.
I have never heard of the Ambanis doing any philanthropy! Even when they open schools and hospitals, they seem to be extremely overpriced premium stuff with a profit motive. (To be fair - if are doing quiet philanthropy, then obviously I wouldnt have heard of it! I do hope they are! )
The temple follows the order of Nicherin Buddhism and the main prayer of this school is ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’, a chant for peace. The resident monk, Bhikshu Morita, has been in India for over 30 years and has become something of a local legend after he fearlessly walked through streets during the bloody communal riots in 1992, beating his drum and loudly chanting ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’ as a call for peace. The chant, he says, is the key to total salvation. It’s not what you should understand but what you should adopt.’
Wow- That is another amazing story!
Check out another story on this here
And another one here
"We must go out among the people." Fujii taught. "In the Sutra there is a line that states, 'So this man, practising in the world, shall disperse the gloom of living.' Religion, which does not 'go' will not be able to provide the relief which must be brought about." The prayers of the Daimoku are to disperse this gloom. "Religion becomes isolated from the happenings of the world because it tends to be occupied in seeking solutions to one's own spiritual matters. If we fail to prevent a holocaust, one's desire for security is nothing but a dream. All must be awakened."
Unfortunately for me, Bhikshu Morita was not around when I dropped in - or if he was, he was smart enough to keep his distance from a sweaty fat cyclist in tight clothes.
I was so happy to have dropped in on this peaceful Japanese temple - Aum Mani Padme Hum! May their tribe increase.
Every place is full of stories and wonders - we just need to seek them out!
(This is an old ride - pre Corona :) )
Another Sunday, another day of exploring Mumbai by cycle. I was totally into this project - combining physical exercise with the zen of cycling and exploring the city.
Inspite of having lived in Mumbai all my life, and having seen it a zillion times - I had never actually been to Haji Ali dargah - one of the icons of Mumbai. So today was the day - I left early morning to tick that off my list.
I set out from Chembur and made my way first to Worli sea face - it was a really fun experience to ride the empty Mumbai roads and go up and down a number of flyovers to reach Worli and it is always fun to cycle on the sea face. The place is so full of positive vibes in the early morning - filled with walkers, joggers, cyclists and exercises of every description. The BMC (or whoever) has done a great job of putting up a number of interesting things out there - statues of R K Laxman’s ‘Common man’, benches...
...and exercise stations! These exercise stations are the brainchild of - and are sponsored by - actor Dino Morea, and were first introduced in 2013. Dino put these up for the good of common citizens and to help them in their fitness goals. Good on you mate!
From Worli I made my way to Haji Ali and locked my bike in front of the famous ‘Haji Ali juice centre’ and walked to the dargah. Finally! I was at Haji Ali! Alhamdulillah!
The dargah has a very intriguing story… It is the mausoleum of a pious merchant from Uzbekistan! Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari was a Sufi saint and a wealthy merchant from Bukhara - in Uzbekistan.Bukhari gave up all his worldly possessions, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century, and eventually settled in present-day Mumbai.
Wikipedia tells some random story about a woman spilling oil and he making it gush out of the earth for her and so on - but the most interesting outcome to me was that a wealthy merchant turned mendicant would travel from Bukhara to settle in Mumbai...in the 15th century!
He being a Sufi, apparently asked his followers not to bury him and make a fetish out of him - but to just chuck his body into the sea. But apparently his body - or his shroud - ended up on a rock off the coast...and of course his followers did just what he probably did not want them to do - and made a fetish out of it.
They built a memorial on that rocky promontory - and in due course of time, pious merit-seeking people built a fancy dargah and mosque out there.
It is about 500m from the coast, and they have built a little walkway to the place. It doesn't have railings and stuff and is covered by water during high tide - so you can visit only during low tide.
The walkway is normally chockful of beggars and pilgrims - but this being early morning was deserted and pleasant.
The structure itself is built in the Indo-Saracenic style - marble domes and stuff. The tomb itself is covered by the usual green shawl, and is supported by an exquisite silver frame, supported by marble pillars - something that the ascetic Sufi saint might be bemused about!
It was very pleasant there in the early morning and one could get awesome views of the Mahalaxmi and Tardeo areas.
After I exited Haji Ali - my eye caught another structure - a blue dome on the other side of the bay. I had wondered for years as to what it was - so I made my way there to investigate.
It turned out to be another mausoleum! It was erected in the memory of a lady saint - Saint Ma Hajiani, who may have been the sister of Pir Haji Ali.
The tomb was built in 1908 by- Haji Ismail Hasham, ‘a wealthy ship-owner and pioneer of Indian shipping.’ He founded the 'Bombay Steam Navigation company' in the 19th century and was one of the pioneering Indians of modern shipping.
(That sounds so exciting! I would love to read more about him and his life as a pioneer of Indian shipping)
He himself died soon after - in 1912 - and was buried in that tomb he had built himself! Most Egyptian and pharaonic, I must say.
His epitaph says ‘In memory of Amir-bahr Haji (I think it means rich sea-man who did the Hajj) Ismail Hasham Bahadur, A great captain and navigator of the Indian seas who died on 20th September 1912, and was buried in this tomb erected by himself. May he rest in peace.’
Well - good for him. May he rest in peace!
This dargah is also made in the Indo-Saracenic style, which was all the rage at the time - and sits on a rocky outcrop 80 feet above the sea. It is in good condition because it is maintained by the family trust - which also owns institutions like the Ismail Yusuf College in Jogeshwari and the Marine college at Worli (Which has since moved to Nhava).
Well - that was fascinating! I had no idea! What a discovery!
(The place has apparently been through a major restoration since I visited it - check out the details here - https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2019/05/07/reclaiming-the-lost-glory-of-ma-hajiani )
I was doing a project of exploring Mumbai - it had started by me starting cycling! I started cycling as a new project for the year - it started by being a fitness thing, but I got bored of going around in circles and started going further and further and exploring and discovering unknown parts of Mumbai (well...unknown to me at least) on cycle. By this time I had gone and explored various ancient forts of Mumbai - Sion, Sewri, Mahim, Worli, Bandra, Dharavi - by cycle. (You can check out the blogs by clicking on the links)
After doing this, the exploration bug kicked in a little more, and I started exploring even without a cycle. While going over the lists of tourist attractions in Mumbai - I saw that one of the main attractions was Mani Bhavan - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial in Mumbai. It was on the lists of all the Mumbai tour operators trips - and every firang visitor to the city seems to have seen it ... but I had never done so. It had never been in my mindspace at all - I had not known of it, not wanted to see it.
Well - this is 'diya tale andhera' stuff, and so I decided to check it out.
My friend Vijay claimed to know it well - as it was just behind his college - the Wilson college, Marine drive - and so we agreed to check it out together. I took an Uber and reached the place - and there was no sign of Vijay! He was late as usual.
The building was in a fancy neighborhood - Laburnum road, just off Marine drive. I thought rather cynically that Gandhi seemed to have chosen to live with this rich seth in a fancy location, rather than in a poor and humble place.
As per the Wikipedia entry - 'Mani Bhavan was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years, from 1917 to 1934. The mansion belonged to Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi's friend and host in Mumbai during this period. It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat Movements. Gandhi's association with the charkha began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.'
In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi - and I wonder if they paid the family anything for this prime piece of real estate? It would be worth many hundreds of crores today!
I wonder what the family of Jhaveri seth feel about it now :)
I hung around outside Mani Bhavan waiting for Vijay - and was stunned at the amount of tourist traffic the place seemed to have. Every minute a little tourist taxi would zoom up, a guide would hop out with his clients and give them some info about the place and they would be in and out within five minutes and off to the next tick mark on the itinerary.
My heart went out to the tourists - the guides were untrained and unqualified and obviously knew nothing about the place, about Gandhi, about Indian history or the freedom struggle. He would have mugged up something and duly replayed it to every client and just made up stuff when asked questions. Poor tourists.
I finally gave up on Vijay and went inside alone.
The place is rather depressing - being ill-maintained and utterly out of date. It doesn't seem to have been touched since 1955 and is a dead mausoleum.
The first thing you see is a big Gandhi bust, and there is a library full of his writings. Imagine that - he wrote so much! And like all Indian libraries - the shelves are locked tight and are dust covered! The books are things to be worshipped from afar and not to touched or read!
Go up the stair case - and you have his old room with a charkha and some knick-knacks of his. And a few cool dioramas - small scale models with little human figures and little houses and painted backdrops - depicting his life. But this too doesnt seem to have been touched or restored since 1955.
There are some cool framed photos - Gandhi with his brother, him as a young man etc and some frames showing evolution of Indian flag etc.
But overall, it is rather sad and depressing - showing the utter disinterest successive governments - Congress and non-Congress - have had in Gandhi's message and philosophy. Which is a great pity. All they do is pay lip service and make everybody put a flower basket in front of Raj ghat.
in 2010, Barack Obama became the first high-profile international visitor to visit Mani Bhava in the last 50 years. Before him, only Martin Luther King Jr. had visited Mani Bhavan in the 1950s.
I think Rajkumar Hirani's movie 'Lage raho Munnabhai' was the finest modern-day tribute to Gandhi and his philosophy and reintroduced millions to Gandhi - and it would be great if some modern museum curator takes this place under their wings and reinvents it. Old and forgotten museums like the Bhau Daji Lad museum have been resurrected by modern curators, and hopefully a similar thing can happen here.
It should bring out the ramifications of Indian history and Indian culture - British rule - the good and bad, why Indians fought for independence, the story of the freedom struggle, the uniqueness of Gandhi's approach and how it made a difference and why exactly Einstein said that 'future generations will not believe that such a dude ever walked this earth.'
The Apartheid museum in South Africa is so powerful that it makes your flesh creep - and Gandhi section there is better than all Gandhi museums here. Maybe someday we can do a better job of presenting our own history.
Till that happens, Gandhi will just be a face on a currency note - a legacy which MKG might not be very happy about.
Finally it was the day! We were off to the Kumbh Mela!
This would be my 4th Kumbh experience, and the second time that I would be going to the Allahabad - now Prayagraj - kumbh. The first time I went to the Allahabad was a truly life-changing experience for me, and I had very fond memories of the experience.
This time we would be going by train from Varanasi to Allahabad and staying in the Kumbh area itself. The UP government had invited hoteliers to create tented accommodation camps at the Kumbh venue itself, and had created a very spiffy Kumbh website as well. The individual tents were a bit expensive, so I had booked dorm beds for us for 4 nights.
Bharathi was very apprehensive about the whole idea - she thought the trains might be overrun by rampant crowds and the dorms would be a flea bitten mess. And she was not the one who had booked the tickets! Oh the humanity! She was professionally insulted!
'How dare you book tickets, you witless oaf?' she growled at me 'You are but a gnat or a cockroach compared to my glory!'
'But you only said that you will only book international tickets henceforth and India tickets are not worth your time!'
'Arre! Why should I book India tickets eh? I have seen all of India when you were still mewling and puking in your nurses arms! But how dare you book tickets? BE A MAN! Travel unreserved! Reservations are for wimps!'
Be that as it may - I should first put it on record that the Government machinery in UP has done an awesome job! Whether it's the bureaucracy or IAS or Yogi or Modi or BJP - kudos to all of them! I take my hat off.
Varanasi town and ghats were sparkling, the Ganga was clean and beautiful, and the Varanasi station was spotless! There wasn't even much shit on the railway tracks! The Indian railways is slowly but surely upgrading its train toilets from a hole in the floor to these fancy bio toilets which don't let the crap plop straight down on the tracks, but stores it away and treats it - and this has made a huge change to the stations. The train compartment was also clean and spic and span!
The train was late though. Oh well - I suppose you cannot have everything.
We took a rickshaw to the tent site, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the camp and the dormitory. It was quite a large camp, with umpteen tents and at least 10 dorms. Each dorm had 2 toilet+bath in it, and they were clean and functional and completely non-stinky. The beds and bedding were also fine - comfortable mattress, warm quilts and completely bedbug free! And they were (comparitively) cheap. The camp had its own restaurant where they served ala carte and buffet food - a fancy buffet and a cheap functional buffet!
The next morning we were woken up noisy fellow guests playing loud devotional music and giving no fucks whatsoever for their fellow man. Indians can be real assholes. But never mind - we were at the Kumbh!
We quickly freshened up and went exploring. We were close to the sangam point where the Ganga met the Jamuna (and the mythical Saraswati) and we decided to walk it - but when we were approached by a boatman who offered to ferry us there, we thought - why not? A boat ride would be fun!
And it was! The waters of the Jamuna and the Ganga were extremely clean and looked really inviting - but too cold! Brrr. We decided to postpone the bath to the afternoon and just took a joy ride and got off at the Allahabad fort, where there is an ancient banyan tree. The legend is that in ancient times, pilgrims used to climb up this tree and jump down to commit suicide so that they would attain moksha! Akbar put an end to this by building a fort around it, and now its a Hanuman temple. I wanted to see it, but was scared off by the lines - it would take 3-4 hours in that line!
We walked all over the Kumbh area, looking for the famed Naga babas - but was disappointed to see that we were late and most of them had left already. The organisation of the Kumbh was really remarkable - full marks again to the government. Modi/ Yogi had really pulled out all the stops to make this a showcase event. It was so organised, that the real complaint was that it was over-organised! There were food, water and lodging facilities for pilgrims and loads and loads and loads of public toilets, which were regularly cleaned and maintained!
I cannot stress the hygiene of the place enough. It was a spectacular effort. There were enough toilets to cater to the millions and millions of people shitting and pissing out there. I remember the sad state of the Ujjain Kumbh when me and Bharathi had visited in 2005 - it was a huge mess. This was amazing.
I don't know why our news channels are not talking about this more - to have crores and crores of people visit a place - that too uneducated villagers with no sense of hygiene - and create an experience with no trash, no shit and piss, no outbreaks of illness, no stampedes and no security issues inspite of all the high profile VIPs visiting - is a most remarkable achievement. Great job! Well done!
The Kumbh area was so huge that we were all fagged out by the time we came back to the dorm. We chilled for sometime and then went back to the sangam for the holy dip - by boat. Boatmen had come from all over with their boats - our boatman was from Chitrakoot - 250 km away - and his group had rowed all the way! It was extraordinarily pleasant to sit in that boat and see the river, and the fort, and the bridge over the Jamuna, the hordes of beautiful white birds on the rive and the people lined up for the baths.
The bath itself was also amazing! The Ganga water was so clean! In spite of all the hordes of people around, the water was wonderful. I don't know how they did it - but I hope they keep on doing it. We were so refreshed by the dip that we decided to do several more dips.
This was the pattern of our stay there - we used to go in the morning for a boat ride and dip, explore the kumbh, come back and chill till late afternoon, go for a evening boat ride and dip, come back to the dorm to take a hot bath, have heavy evening snacks instead of dinner and then go and sit by the Jamuna river side when it got dark.
The main snaan day for us was Magh Poornima, when it was an auspicious day to take a bath. We had missed the major snaans - the Makar Sankrant and the two Shahi snaans - which was a great pity. That would have been a spectacle worth seeing! Chalo - next time!
We discovered that there were a few naga babas still around at the Juna Akhara, but it was their last day there. So we went hunting for them, and finally found them! So that was done too!
On our last day, we had a late night train from Allahabad station, so we took advantage of the day to take a look around the city.
I was again impressed by how clean the city was! The place was spotless, disinfected with boric powder, beautified by wall paintings, and was not at all crowded!
UP govt - take a bow.
We checked out the Allahabad museum - one of the oldest museums in India - and the Allahabad cathedral - huge and impressive, but unfortunately open only on Sunday and Anand Bhavan - the ancestral home of the Nehrus. There was a really nice photo exhibit on the life of Indira Gandhi, with superb B&W pics. Those old time newspaper photographers were real masters!
We still had time to kill, so we asked an autowala what to do, and he deposited us in the wonderful Chandrashekhar Azad park (formerly Company gardens) which is a real gem - one of the finest public parks in India!
Finally, we went to the station area and had some chicken after a long vegetarian stint. Delzad was tempted by some roadside rabdi - and this had some unfortunate effects...but I anticipate!
We had a day more in Kashi, and we originally planned to just veg out on the ghats and soak in the atmosphere and see the world go by. But just then I saw a sign at the hotel offering a taxi to Bodhgaya at a reasonable price.
I was instantly interested. I had been curious about Bodhagaya for a long time and this was a good opportunity to check it out. We closed the deal and left early morning by taxi. Getting to a taxi is an interesting experience here, btw - we were staying right on the riverside itself, and the only access there was through tiny labyrinthine gullies, where there was no question of a four wheeler coming through. Thus we had to walk through gullies and gullies till we got to the main road. I loved it - it was fascinating to see the life of Varanasi at such close range.
As it turned out, it was fortunate that we decided to go on a road trip that day - because it rained and rained. We were comfortable inside the car - but we would have been cold and wet on the river.
It was a long way to Bodhgaya - about 260 KM - and took more than 5 hours each way. The roads were amazing though - beautiful wide cemented highways - probably part of the golden quadrilateral. India Shining! Never thought roads in UP and Bihar would be so awesome! I would say that they are much better than Maharashtra roads! Inspite of heavy truck traffic - must be part of a great industrial corridor - we made good time and didnt get stuck in any jams.
At Bodhgaya the driver handed us over to an E Rickshaw guy, as petrol vehicles are not allowed to ply there. The E rickshaw took us to all the major points - the various statues, temples and monasteries built by all the Buddhist countries around the world. Japan, China, Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Mongolia - there was even one from Bangladesh! The whole place was clean and neat and orderly.
The giant Buddha statue (Japanese) was clearly the main show - but each temple had its own nation specific charm.
The piece de resistance of Bodhgaya is the place where the Buddha went click, and said - Oh, I see! That is the whole point!
The 4 main points in the Buddha circuit are
1) Lumbini in Nepal - where he was born
2) Bodhgaya - where he said 'Aha! Eureka!'
3) Sarnath - where he have his first sermon
4) Kushinagar - where he copped it
As you can see - Bodhgaya is no. 2. He sat under a peepal tree and meditated till he saw the light, and that tree is called the Bodhi tree. The original tree is long gone - this tree is the 4th generation of that tree. There is an ancient temple built by Ashoka and various Buddhist kings in front of it, and there are many other places around....
the tree was where the Buddha sat, then there is a place where he walked around for a bit, then a place where he stood for a while, then a place where he took a bath, then a place where he....well - you get the idea.
Having come such a long way, the devotees want value for money, so they go around worshipping everything in sight.
The interesting part about Bodhagaya for me was the international range of devotees - there were faithful from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Bhutan, China, Korea...all sorts...and also a handful of firangs. Each of them seemed to be praying in their own style, in their own language and with their own rituals. I found it fascinating!
There was a tibetan yagna going on, with a whole bunch of robed monks sitting and one guy rumbling out prayers in a very deep bass. There were some guys who were prostrating their way around. They would stand, then prostrate themselves, stand where their head had been while prostrating and then again take a dive! There was a whole bunch of people on a package tour from Sri Lanka - all looking like Indians...but not exactly. I smiled at them and they smiled warmly back.
It was a lovely place, and we spent a lot of time there.
So much time that our E rickshaw fellow was cheesed off. We were not allowed to carry phones inside the complex and had put them in safe deposit - and when I redeemed it, I saw 40 missed calls from the poor guy.
We had a bite to eat from a roadside rollwala and then left to get back - because it was a 5 hour journey back.
It was lucky that we left in time, because we got stuck in some ridiculous jams on the highway, and had our driver not gone off the road and into some really deep detours in deserted dark places where I thought he was going to rape and loot us - we might be in the jam still!
But alls well that ends well and we were back in the Palace on Steps and enjoying a last night looking out on to the Ganga.
We got into the Air India plane which had waited so graciously for bawa and he fell asleep almost immediately and probably dreamt of bawi temptresses, exhausted as he was by emotional tension, the unaccustomed physical effort of running in the airport and the mental trauma of getting shouted at by Bharathi SWMBO
Soon we were in Varanasi, and bawa didn't have to fly to Gorakhpur or jump with a parachute or sail down from Kolkata, so he was pretty chuffed with himself.
The airport taxi was a rip-off as usual, and I booked an Uber instead. Uber and Ola is the BEST thing that has happened to travel in India, and if any slimy government stooge or gunda political party tries to nobble these two services, then they will die of leprosy via special curse from me.
I was very impressed by Varanasi! This was my third visit here over the years, and I had never seen it looking this good! Wide roads, spic and span cleanliness, beautiful wall paintings - it was looking amazing. Yogi and gang have done an awesome job - Well done UP administration!
We reached Dashashwamedh ghat and went around hunting for hotels. I had spent literally hours and hours researching Google Maps and Oyo and GoIbibo and Airbnb, much to Bharathi's puzzlement.
'Since when did you start making bookings for backpacking travel, eh?' she asked
'I....er....' I was quite surprised myself. What had happened to me? Oh god! I had got a communicable discease from Bharathi! After seeing her book hotels and tickets and trips and such stuff day in and day out for so many years, I was also infected! AAAAARRRRGHHHH! I was doomed! I was a booker!
'Oh shut up!' she replied crossly 'I never book any acco for India holidays'
'But what about the last time...'
'Oh, that was a one-off'
'And the time before that?'
'Oh that was because there are very few hotels there'
'And what about...'
'Oh get lost.'
Anyway, I digress. Where were we? Ah yes, Dashashwamedh ghat...
'So where are we going?' Bawa asked, fidgeting with his backpack. He had discovered late last night that he does not have a backpack and had gone running to Decathlon to buy one.
'Oh we will find one.' I said 'And today we will hit the jackpot.'
'It's your day man. the whole plane waited for you. We will definitely get an awesome room today because of your luck.'
And we did!
In fact, we got an awesome deal in the very first hotel we saw. He offered us his very best room at half price. But we couldnt believe it - it seemed too good to be true. So we shouldered our packs and tramped all over the ghats and saw multiple hotels, until we realised that the first deal was the best and we went back there.
It was on Rana Mahal ghat and was in a palace which was apparently built for Maharana Pratap to stay in. We got the most amazing room overlooking the Ganga with a beautiful sit out, where we sat for a long time enjoying the night views.
The next day we went for a dawn boat ride and enjoyed it thoroughly. The weather was amazing and the river was awesomely clean. The Ghats have also been cleaned up and beautified and are looking the best that I have ever seen. Again, I must put this on record - an amazing job by the UP government. Well done dudes.
We decided to take a tour of the city and booked the same from our hotel guy. Bawa fluttered his peepers at him (not his peepee...his peepers...his eyes!) and pleaded for a discount and the hotelier was so horrified that he gave us a 10% discount to make him go away. We went to see Sarnath - where the Buddha had given his first sermon - and it was quite a distance away through some terrible and horny traffic (horn blowing traffic I mean). Sarnath itself was quite pleasant, but we didn't have that much of time there and went running back through that horny traffic to see Benares fort.
I had not seen Benares fort as yet and was quite eager to see it. But unfortunately there was not much to see there. There was a museum, where the guards told us sternly 'No photography allowed'. I wondered why - but it was clear when I saw the museum.
It was the worst, piece of shit museum ever!
India is full of crappy museums, which look more like a garbage heap than a museum, but this would easily take pride of place.
The Maharani must have told the Maharaja to throw all the old junk and crap out of the house, and the Maharaja thought that it would be fun to put all the trash inside a glass case instead and see how many mugs would pay to see it.
It's so bad, that it's unmissable. You should go there just to see how bad it is.
But when we got out of the museum and were about to leave, we saw a sign that pointed to some temple and went to check it out. That turned out to be a lucky break, because that path led to the walls of the fort, which were right on the banks of the river. Now we could see how beautiful the fort was, and how lovely the setting was! It was wonderful. A serendipitous discovery indeed.
After the aarti, all the motorboats made a run for their respective hotels and looked very much like a bunch of spermatozoa in an orgasm. We were in a rowboat and enjoyed a night ride on the Ganges and enjoyed the beautiful illumination on the ghats. Again I will say it - an amazing clean up and beautification of the ghats! Well done UP!
Bawa's brow furrowed, he sweated buckets, he held his head in his hands and he moaned and groaned. He was in a crisis.
I had just given him a choice - either we can go for a ride somewhere, or we can go to see the Kumbh mela and explore a bit out there. I had won a stay at a resort in Panna Tiger reserve as a prize in a photography contest, and wanted to use that and see new jungle. Also, Panna was very close to Khajuraho, and I had been eager for years and years to see the great temples of Khajuraho. I had tried to get Bharathi to come to Khajuraho but she just sneered at the thought of an Indian holiday.
'I have seen all of India when you were just pissing in your pants re...' she would say. 'Now I do only phoren holiday. I spit me on your feeble plans. How dare you make plans so late in the day? I have already made plans for 2019, 2020, 2021,2022....and you are making plans in Feb for Feb? Tchee...thooo...'
An ugly fat bawa was not the ideal companion to see the sensuous carvings of Khajuraho....but hey, he must have been thinking the exact same thing.
Anyway, I digress. What wasI saying? Ah yes...Bawa in an agony of decision, vibrating fit to burst... and finally he said 'Kumbh! Let's go to the Kumbh!'
'Oh?' I said, raising my e.b.s 'Really? Are you sure? You don't want to take your Thunderbird 350....or your Thunderbird 500....or your Triumph Tiger...for a ride?'
'AAAAAARRRGHHHHHHH' he shouted, like a strong man in agony. 'Noooooooo...we can go on ride anytime! But Kumbh comes once in so many years! We will go to the Kumbh!'
'Yeah?' I looked at him disbelievingly. 'In that case, YOU book the air tickets. So if you bail out, then you will pay for the tickets.'
'Gah!' he was stung, and immediately pulled out his credit card, like a duellist pulling out his epee. (No...not his peepee...epee is a kind of duelling sword) and booked off 2 tickets for Varanasi. (or Benares. Or Kashi. They are all the same )
I flapped around doing a lot of bookings for the trip, which much amused SWMBO. It was like a small baby playing with his doll kitchen in front of Gordon Ramsay. She looked at me indulgently and told me that whatever i was doing was wrong, and what was the need to do any bookings in India anyway, and it was so amusing to see people making bookings a week before travel - but it was good that I was doing something at least, and not sitting on my gargantuan fat butt as usual.
Finally the day dawned - D day. We were flying to Varanasi. Luckily it was not an early morning flight, so I had a relaxed breakfast, and Bharathi had ample time to tell me that I had overpacked and what was the need to carry such a big pack and that I was not carrying enough warm clothes and that I would freeze to death in the jungle and that I was WRONG WRONG WRONG...Oh, your taxi has come. Bye! Have a great trip! MUAH MUAH SMOOCH SMOOCH
I called up Delzad and told him to get moving! He is well known for cutting things extremely fine at the airport and rushing to the check in desk at the very last moment and demanding boarding and scaring everyone there.
'Chill dude.' he told me smugly. 'I got this. I am already in the cab, and might even be there before you, enjoying a cooling drink and flirting with the pretty ladies.'
'Yeah?' I replied, impressed. 'That's good. I have done a web check in for both of us and am carrying the boarding pass print outs.'
'Not required bro....but thank you kindly.' he said 'I shall reach well in time. toodle oo now....I am going to catch a refreshing nap in this taxi.'
'Tell the cab to come by bandra and not by SCLR...' I started to say, but he had already cut the call.
'Go by Sion Bandra and the highway' I told the Uber driver.
'But sir, Google is telling to go by SCLR Andheri...' he said
'Balls to Google. Google can be full of shit. They have dug up that road and the traffic is out of this world. Go by the highway.'
I put on my headphone and went into screensaver mode. The ride was uneventful and fairly soon we were at the airport.
I called up bawa 'Where are you dude? Should I wait for you outside to hand you the Boarding pass?'
This time his voice was tense and funereal, like a bandwala on the Titanic.
'No man....I am stuck in traffic...I am in deep shit.'
'Eh? Where are you?'
'Arre, I fell asleep in the cab and this idiot came by SCLR and we are jammed in traffic. I can't even open the door of the car, they are packed so close together!'
'Shit! What will you do now?'
'I don't know...You go ahead...I don't think I will be able to take this flight...Let me see what are the options.'
I went ahead and checked in and cleared security and made my way into the security well and called again.
'Where are you now?'
'I haven't moved much....'
'Why don't you move out of that silly road and move into BKC and towards the highway...'
'Listen... is Aurangabad in Bihar?'
'Eh?' the sheer inanity of the question caught me off guard. 'What?'
'Aurangabad...where is it?'
'Where...it's in Maharashtra of course. Ajanta, Ellora and all that...why?'
'I am getting a cheap flight to Aurangabad.'
I clutched my head. 'What?'
'Yes...spot ticket to Varanasi is very expensive. flight to Aurangabad is cheap.'
My head was reeling. 'But why would you want to go to Aurangabad?'
'Google Maps shows that Aurangabad is very close to Patna.'
'Abey IDIOT. That might be some other place. Some ersatz Aurangabad. Definitely won't have an airport. The fare you are seeing is for Maharashtra.'
'Oh really?' I could just feel him deflating like a Chinese balloon. 'Are you sure?'
'Of course I am sure. Anyway - why are you doing this? Call Bharathi and ask her for options. She will have a spontaneous orgasm at the thought of making a last minute travel itinerary and criticise you at the same time.'
After some time he called back, even more morose.
'Bharathi laughed at me.'
'Well...what did you expect?'
'Then she told me that the best option was to take a flight from Bangalore to Gorakhpur.'
'Yes...she said that I take an overnight bus to Bangalore and then catch a flight from Bangalore to Gorakhpur, then take a bus to Kanpur and then take a train from Kanpur to Varanasi.'
I started to laugh out loud.
'Don't laugh fucker!'
'HAHAHAHAHA HOHOHOHOHOHO HEEHEEHEEHEEE'
'Oh fuck off.'
By this time I reached the departure gate. It was now less than 20 min to the flight, but the gate was closed and everyone was just standing around morosely.
Hey, what's going on?
I went and checked and sure enough, the flight to Varanasi was delayed. Very interesting. I went and caught hold of the Indian Airlines guy and asked him. he admitted that the flight was delayed but we should be on our way in a few minutes.
'No no no..' I said and explained the situation to him. How long would the flight be delayed by? Was there enough delay for my friend to catch the flight?
The dude pursed his lips, unwilling to commit himself. But then he told me 'Look at it this way...the incoming flight has just landed. It needs to deboard passengers and luggage, get cleaned and serviced and then load all the passengers. Say half an hour. could be a bit more.'
Well! Looks like there is hope!
I called up Bawa 'Where are you?'
'I have just gotten out of the jam and am heading towards airport.'
'Listen...the flight is delayed, so if you can make it here - as in to the boarding gate - in under half an hour, you can still make it.'
The poor guy sounded like the guy with his head on the block and the executioner saying that he has to go and take a pee before the next chop. A stay of execution!
In the meanwhile Bharathi was in hog heaven, churning out idea after idea. Every 2 minutes she would call me
'Arre...Tatkal ticket available for Mumbai to Varanasi on train. only 8K.'
After 2 min. 'Arre... tell him to fly to Ahmedabad and then take train from Ahm to Benares'
After 2 min 'Arre - Tell him to fly to Delhi, open the emergency window and parachute down to Varanasi.'
After 2 min 'Arre...Tell him to fly to Dubai and take flight from Dubai to Benares'
After 2 min 'Arre - there is a horse and cart here...'
I had a relaxed cup of coffee, while the bawa nearly gave himself a heart attack sprinting through check in and security and what not. It's a good thing the CISF guys didn't shoot him or something.
But his karma was strong! He made it!
Gasping, purple faced, winded and mortally chastened - but he made it in time for the flight!
Just then Bharathi called.
'Arre - tell him to fly to Kolkata and take a boat to Benares...'
'No no...It's alright. He made it for the flight.'
'He did? Oh Damn! Er...that is to say... I mean...that's great!'
All praise to Air India! May they always be late at the right time!
Baba Vishwanath ka bulawa aaya hai! We are on our way to Kashi.
bawa showing off his boarding pass
Thank god for Air India. May they always be late.
Another monsoon Sunday! ITS TREKKING TIME! AND CYCLING TIME!
Delzad was out of town so this time I convinced Adi to join me for a trek. He was excited and scared at the same time.
‘My back is paining bro’ he complained, but I convinced him to come along – we will do a simple trek. I also wanted to do some good cycling, and after some research, decided on Kondana caves. I saw it in Harish Kapadia, and then read Ashutosh Bijoor’s amazing blog on his cycling trip there. As soon as I saw the photos I was hooked...what an amazing carved cave temple! I want to see this.
This would be the longest one way cycling trip yet – about 70 KM! Kondana was near Karjat.
I started at daybreak – about 6 AM - and set out on the Bombay Pune road. I had done Karnala earlier, and it was the same route till Panvel, where the highway split into the Bombay Goa road, and the Bombay Pune road.
It took me about 5 hours, but luckily it was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that kept the temperature cool. Adi slept off in the morning, and set out late – but that turned out to be a good thing, as it took him only an hour to reach karjat and he caught up with me as I was having some wada pav for breakfast.
I loaded the cycle in the Scorpio and we went off to kondivade village. This is also the starting point of the trek to Rajmachi fort.
I was a bit taken aback by the crowds on the trail – it was packed! As this is a pretty simple trek, and easily accessible by road – you get a lot of first level trekkers, and also since packaged treks by companies are becoming a big thing, you get a lot of organised groups as well. There was a group of children and another couple of groups of adults there, and also a lot of family groups and local people as well, and Indian crowds being what they are, there was a lot of noise and the inevitable litter and garbage.
But on the other hand, it is a good thing that these people are stepping out of home and malls and seeing the hills and valleys and ancient culture of our country. Maybe they will develop a love of trekking and become mountain and history lovers. So good for them.
We found a villager who volunteered to show us the way to the caves, and that was lucky for us as he showed us a fairly unused and virgin way to the caves and avoided most of the crowds. It was doubly lucky for me, as I dropped my cap on the way and it was still there when we came back down.
The kondane caves are amazing! What carvings! What artwork! What a location!
They are 2000 years old, and still look regal and outstanding. The main Chaitya hall has a intricately carved entrance, and the wall carvings are superb.
Kondhane caves were first discovered by Vishnu Shastri in 1850. Kondhane, Bhaja and Karla are caves that are located around Lonavale. In fact, Dr. D. J Wilson in his writings mentions that the name Lonavala may be corruption of Lenavali – or the grove of caves
The stupa is in a damaged condition, and one can see large rock pieces on the floor that could have been part of the roof. A large part of this damage is presumably due to severe earthquakes in the Pune region that occurred between 1752 to 1812
The whole portico-area is carved to imitate a multi storeyed building with balconies and windows and sculptured men and women who observed the scene below. This created the appearance of an ancient Indian mansion. The carvings are truly exquisite, with clearly visible features such as the garments, weapons and ornaments they wore, as well as peaceful happy expressions on their faces.
Its simply amazing – I was very impressed.
We soaked in the place for a while, and then made our way down. It would be really nice to come here on a weekday, when there would be less crowds.
It was a pretty small trek, but then it was a longer ride so it was a Sunday well spent.
After the trek to Visapur, Delzad was very enthu about doing more trekking. I was also enthu about doing some long cycling, and so I thought of Karnala fort. Its close to the highway, so easily accessible on cycle – and it was quite a nice trek – not too easy, not too difficult.
We decided to go on a Friday, so as to avoid the crowds. I would leave early on cycle, and Delzad would follow later in the Scorpio and we would meet at Karnala.
Home to Karnala was about 45 KM, which was not too bad but definitely not a pushover either. It would be important to focus on proper nutrition to prevent cramping. I carbed up in dinner, and carried some electrolytes and a couple of chapattis.
It took about 3 hours, and the only unpleasant part was the disgusting state of the Bombay Goa road – more holes than road. It was a nice climb up the Karnala ghat at the end of the ride and the Police guy at the gate was very impressed when he learnt that I had cycled all the way from Mumbai.
Delzad timed the driver perfectly and rolled up a few minutes after me, and we loaded the cycle into the Scorpio and locked it.
Other people also seemed to have had the same idea as we did, of coming on a Friday to beat the crowd, and they created a crowd of their own.
There was a corporate group which was assembling there, so we decided to leave fast and go ahead of them. But after a bit of a climb, we ran into a group of school children.
‘How many children are there?’ I asked an organiser
‘120 children...and 45 parents too’ he answered glumly.
Shit! No way I am going to get stuck being 165 chattering children! I engaged turbo mode and climbed like a demon and zoomed up the trail – and overtook all 165 of them! Simply left them behind in my dust!
And once I was ahead of all of them, it was so incredibly quiet and pleasant. It was like being in heaven!
The Karnala fort has the most incredible setting – it sits right on top of the spire of the hill and looks like a fairy fort. Its an ancient fort – built about 1200- 1400 AD, and commanded the hill passes of Raigad district. It was built probably by the Devagiri Yadavas in the 1200s and further fortified by tughlaq rulers in the 1300s – which makes it really old – pre mughal. As the area was ruled by various dynasties, it was controlled by Gujarat sultans, then Nizam shah of Ahmednagar, then the Portuguese (who were really powerful back in the day), then the Marathas under Shivaji, then Mughals under Aurangzeb, then back to the Peshwas, until the British borg assimilated everyone.
Now the time of forts has passed, and the remains sleep. The hill has been declared a bird sanctuary, and there is only peace and quiet. The fort commands an awesome view all over the surrounding area, and you can see all the way to the sea. In fact you can see the forts of Prabalgad, Manikgad, Haji Malang, Chanderi fort, Matheran, Sankshi fort,Dronagiri fort, and Rajmachi from the top – which is pretty awesome.
There is a magnificent stone pillar right at the top – a natural basalt formation, its the remains of the lava flow from when it was a volcano. And magically, there are huge natural water tanks right at the base of the basalt pillar. Brave people do rock climbing on it, I believe – but obviously that is not possible in the rains.
The fort was incredible, and I climbed right to the top to avoid the crowds which would follow, and enjoyed almost half an hour of peace before the sweaty and reproachful face of Delzad appeared at the base of the fort. He had tried to engage turbo mode as well, but ran out of gas and was forced to march right in the middle of the gang of children. Poor fellow, he was completely fagged out and went to sleep at the top for a bit.
We decided to climb down before the kids did, and enjoyed a quiet and peaceful walk down and had an excellent lunch in a nearby hotel and then drove back home in the Scorpio. This ‘bike up, trek and drive back’ is an excellent idea.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!