Thursday, 20 November 2014

Going the Desi Style...


With a constant doubt hovering over my head, I packed my bags and headed off to Lalitpur. The reason for my doubt was due to the presence of 3 Lalitpurs in India. Luckily I was in the right train and alighted at the right station. With my doubts banished, I was all set for my vacation which started off with a bumpy ride to a small village called 'Pranpur'.


Legend has it…

Pranpur which means a 'place of life' derives its name from a story which Rajpalji (Manager, Amraee Guest House) will passionately explain. So legend has it that a princess was traveling from Chanderi and she mysteriously fell unconscious on her way. The king's men tried to revive her but in vain. They approached the local doctor from the village (Vaid) and he got her out of her unconscious state. As per the story, the princess named the village 'Pranpur' as she got her life back thanks to the village and the local doctor. True to its name the village is truly full of life.

Yes to Data – No to Calls…

After the 1 hour ride, I was welcomed warmly by the staff of Amraee. One look at the guest house and facilities and you would wonder how a staff of just 3-4 people can maintain it so clean and green. The day starts off with a hot cup of tea and breakfast served under a tree that I named the ‘Wi-Fi’ tree. The reason for such a name is because your phone will show full network only at this spot, but try calling someone, the call won’t get through but try using the data network and it works, slow but fine.
 
Amraee Guest House
Better than an Alarm Clock…

After all that Bundelkhandi breakfast and lunch, I decided to take a nap and within 20-25mins of deep slumber, I awoke to a shrilling electric shock like feeling. It was a loud drilling noise and this noise was certainly not one those noises by machines. With my body in half shock and half sleep, I scuffled around the curtains to find out what was the source. I opened the curtain closest around my bed and found something I would never find in the city. It was a full grown wood-pecker that was looking at the reflective glass from outside and assumed that it had a competitor in the mirror. This encounter with Mr. Woody Woodpecker continued every morning, where my alarm clock used to fail waking me but our little birdie here ensured that I was up on time.


Getting Down & Dirty…

While I stayed at Pranpur, I had included a village tour in my itinerary and this was quite an intriguing walk. Thanks to the dedicated work by Amraee and Travel Another India, I was pleased to notice the friendliness of the people. Usually as a tourist, you are hounded by beggars or people asking money in return of their photos. This is one unique village that is so tourist friendly and yet shares their rich culture and heritage.

Some of the things to do when you are on your village tour:
  • Making Pots – Go ahead and get your hands dirty and feel the soil take shape as you wish
  • Bullock cart tour – Though I did not try this but this is one aspect that is not available in cities
  • Chanderi Sarees – Do pop your head into some of the weavers’ homes and ask for some already prepared Chandhri sarees. You may even get a good price due to the elimination of the middleman.


The village tour guide and other villagers will certainly rave about the ‘Baodii’, which is a step-well and there are quite a variety available in this village. Notice the color change in the waters as you check each of these cryptic wells. Experience the serene and simple lifestyle of a village through a stay at Amraee at Pranpur. This is one off-beat destination you cannot miss.

Other landmarks to explore while you are at Pranpur:

Chanderi Historical Sites: Kilaa Kothi, Badal Mahal, Koshak Mahal, Jama Masjid, Raja Rani Mahal, Kati Ghati, Kandahaar-Jii, Shishupal Tank, Shahzadi ka Roza and Chanderi Musuem.

Visit to Nanon: A Prehistoric cave that proudly presents carvings and paintings from the Stone Age era.

Visit to Kadvaya: Also known as the mini-Khajuraho.

For booking and other information on travel, please check www.travelanotherindia.com or contact book@travelanotherindia.com
Rajpal & Jaghban
  Text and photographs by Shrikant Ayyangar

Friday, 11 July 2014

The forgotten palace of Kodagu



The grey ominous clouds sound a final warning and large droplets descend from the sky splashing on the brown dirt of the school playground. The characteristic smell of the land when its thirst is quenched by the rain on a warm summer day is complimented by the fragrance of coffee plants lined along the washed paved road. Beautiful houses straddle this road; the courtyard a canvas for hundreds of blooming red flowers and towering trees with hanging branches. Colourful pictures adorn the walls of the school – today is Sunday and a blanket of silence wraps this remote corner of the Western Ghats. Beside the school, behind a parapet wall, stands an aloof wooden structure topped with a sloping brick roof; its appearance is shabby yet it retains an unusual air of nobility. A creaky wooden door leads to the courtyard of the one storied Nalaknad aramane (house) where a sense of gloom and despair is palpable. This modest palace was the last refuge of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of Kodagu, before he was deposed by the British in April 1834. It was here that the Haleri Dynasty of Kodagu, established by Veera Raja in the 16th century, breathed its last and faded into the dense jungles and lofty mountains of the Ghats.

The palace sits in the shadow of the highest peak of Coorg, Tadiandamol which rises to the clear blue sky and is kept company by equally impressive lesser peaks dotting the landscape. The mountain looks over the plains of Mysore, with its paddy fields and the meandering Cauvery, to the east and glances towards the distant sea-shore to the west. The journey to the summit begins at the aforementioned school from where one must follow a paved road threading the coffee plantations to the edge of the forest. A mud track continues from here and climbs steadily along the mountain face; it bounds over small streams and dives deep into the jungle and then re-appears on the open slope offering unadulterated views of the heavily wooded foothills. It darts across the mountain face and emerges into a wide clearing looking up to the towering peaks. To the left the top of Tadiandamol is faintly visible through a misty veil, to the right rows and rows of mountain ranges fade into the distance. The path then swerves left and climbs along the spur till it reaches a thickly wooded and steep section; the summit is another half an hour climb from here. After a hard day’s work toiling up the mountain the vista from the top is tonic to the tired lungs and heart. The wind howls lending wings to the fog which runs amok on the lofty ridges and swoops down the parched brown hills reining in the unbearable heat of the mid-day sun.


Back at the palace an eerie silence grips the decaying walls, wooden pillars and perforated windows. In the courtyard a forlorn pavilion narrates the stories of King Dodda Veerarajendra and his beloved Queen Mahadevamma. It remembers the capture of the King by Tipu Sultan and his subsequent escape from the prison in Periyapatna; it remembers the coronation of the King, the accompanied revelry and the aroma of feasts. It also recollects the final years of the King shattered by the death of his Queen – a bitter and inconsolable man. A fading mural spanning a wall on the ground floor depicts Dodda Veerarajendra seated on an elephant surrounded by spirited Kodavas. The ceiling of the courtroom on the first floor is intricately painted with flowers and the patterns carved on the woodwork are impressive. A secret stairway leads to a couple of dark rooms in the basement designed as a hideout in the event of a raid on the palace. The lonely corridors of the house evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the glorious history of Kodagu and its people. The tales of courage of the Kodavas, the roar of the tigers in the jungles, the worship of weapons during the Kailpodh Festival and the songs about the monsoon and planting rice reverberate in these empty halls. These halls are mute witnesses to the last days of Chikka Veerarajendra, a somewhat unpopular and unfair ruler feared for his cruelty. In April 1834, the British had marched into Kodagu and had captured the Madikeri Fort; they had then summoned the King to surrender in Madikeri thus ending the era of the Haleri Kings who had ruled this region for more than 200 years.
 
In the olden times the Kodavas were considered to be reputed huntsmen - bow and arrows were placed in the hands of a new born in the hope that the child grows up to be a fine warrior; this martial tradition has been kept alive by numerous decorated officers who have served in the Indian Army. Today Kodagu is known for its sprawling coffee plantations, pleasant climate, warm hospitable people and a vibrant culture. The days of conflict have been forgotten and the neglected aramane in Nalaknad is an added attraction for people trekking to Tadiandamol but even so it never disappoints curious travelers searching for the past – the lost legends of Kings and Queens buried in the dark jungles.

Deeptangan Pant

Friday, 4 July 2014

Wandering the lanes of Bylakuppe



As the darkness envelops the towering three storied temple adorning colourful victory banners, tassels, bright red canopies and a golden pinnacle hundreds of earthen lamps give birth to soothing light which grapples with the night. The hustle and bustle of the day has given way to a surreal calm - the sound of drums, trumpets, conches and cymbals which reveled with the morning sun has faded in the emptiness of the cosmos. The chorus of chants which resonated in the halls of the monastery has been swallowed by a vacuum. While sitting on the cool floor and beholding a red hue bathing the golden statues of Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayus time stands still and all worries disappear into nothingness. A child monk in ochre robes clutching prayer beads ambles gaily to the tranquil Buddha and gazes at the peaceful face; breaking from a trance he then prostrates himself and walks away humming.  Here on the steps of the Golden Temple in Namdroling Monastery, under a canopy of a starlit sky, the magical silence is broken only by the hushed voices of a couple of young monks enjoying a coca-cola. As the monastic town of Bylakuppe in Karnataka prepares to fall asleep it compels me to contemplate this eventful day spent wandering its streets.


Arriving in the dull town of Kushalnagar, sitting on the highway from Mysore to the hill station of Kodagu, one is pleasantly surprised to come across Buddhist monks dawdling through the market. From here a lonely road threading green fields runs to the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe known for the sprawling monasteries, Namdroling being the most popular, and its jolly inhabitants. The Golden Temple, in the Namdroling Monastery, houses huge copper and gold statues of Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayus which are filled with scriptures, relics, small clay mould stupas and statues which symbolize body, speech and mind of Buddha. The walls on third and second floors are colorfully painted to illustrate the life and teachings of Buddha, great teachers and disciples of Dzogchen (body of teachings and meditation practices of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism). On the first floor the walls are covered with male and female deities - some in wrathful forms attired in skins of living beings and bone armaments others in amicable silk and white. Behind the Golden Temple and to the right, silver prayer wheels, interspersed with giant red coloured ones, form a boundary which ultimately ends in a row of pagodas.


Heading further along the road, in the opposite direction of Kushalnagar, one comes across the civilian cluster called Camp One offering authentic Tibetan crafts, paintings and cuisine. Close by is the quaint Sakyapa Monastery with its golden and red heavy wooden doors, a neatly laid hall with bells, heavy drums and trumpets. Behind the monastery is a field where a thousand prayer flags flutter sending their message to the heavens. Retracing the steps, strolling past a decent pond and following the road across open country one comes to an intersection; taking a left here brings one to a mish-mash of massive monasteries and colourful compact houses with small courtyards and gardens. This settlement boasts of exquisite monasteries like Sera Jey, Sera Mey, Sera Lachi and Serpom. The artwork in the Sera Jey focuses on the life of Buddha – conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment, teaching dharma and the deed of passing away – and houses paintings of all the Dalai Lamas. During prayer hours the halls, drowning in incense smoke, come alive with the crash of cymbals and gongs accompanied with guttural chants. Other interesting murals in these monasteries are of the Four Guardian Kings of north (Vaisravana), west (Virupaksha), east (Dhritrashtra) and south (Virudhaka) which grace the walls of the porches. The walls also depict the Three Roots and tantric practices of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. 


In the evening when the sun transforms itself into a big ball of orange hundreds of monks gather in the courtyards of these monasteries to indulge in the Tibetan tradition of debate. It usually involves a couple of people, one standing who asks a question and the other seated who answers them – the end of a question is often punctuated with a clap. Buddhist temples are inherently bastions of peace and sobriety where troubled minds can find solace and Bylakuppe is no different. Add to this the opportunity to experience the life in a monastery up close complimented with delicious Tibetan food makes Bylakuppe an ideal destination for travelers aiming to relish different cultures. And I can assure you that listening to the clamour of claps emanating from the monasteries in the backdrop of the setting sun will cleanse the trepidations of an urbane life and rekindle a na├»ve sense of joy – if only for a little while!

Overseas tourists are not allowed to stay in Bylakuppe without a Protected Area Permit. Visitors can stay in Kushalnagar and make a day trip to Bylakuppe. In Bylakuppe accommodation is available in Namdroling Monastery, Sera Monastery and Paljor Dargye Ling Hotel located near Namdroling Monastery. For information on getting a Protected Area Permit please visit http://www.palyul.org/eng_resources_visit.htm.

Written by
Deeptangan Pant

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sim's Park - Ooty

Dr Satendra Singh - A student by choice; a doctor by profession.I am Dr Satendra Singh, Assistant Professor of Physiology, faculty at Medical Education Unit, Founder 'Infinite Ability' and Coordinator, Enabling Unit at University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi, India.

And an intrepid traveller out of interest!

Read about his visit to the The Sim's Park in Ooty -  http://theenablist.blogspot.in/2012/12/travelability-inaccessible-sims-park.html


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Kesava Temple of Somanthapur


The turn of the 2nd Millennium A.D. witnessed a marked resurgence of temple building traditions in South India furthering the new styles and techniques developed in the latter half of the first millennium when cave temples gave way to towering monuments of granite and sandstone. Though this era was mired in dynastic feuds between the Chalukyas of Kalyan and Cholas of Thanjavur, heralded the decline of Gangas of Talakad and beheld the rising Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra (present day Halebid) temple architecture reached new heights surpassing the glory of the bygone days. Kings and nobles showered patronage on gifted artisans and architects commissioning grants and lands for building temples. These temples which were the center of religious and social life also served another purpose of ensuring that the legacy of the Kings survived for a thousand years long after the winds of time razed their pompous kingdoms to dust. Today some of these temples lie forlornly in quiet villages sitting on the shore of a placid lake and reminisce of their heydays; the bustling capitols of the yore have lost their sheen but the temples still stand steadfast narrating the tales of proud Kings who have been forgotten.

Somanathapur is a non-descript village located 30kms from the heritage city of Mysore. However its narrow muddy lanes and lush green paddy fields harbor a well kept secret – the Kesava Temple. Dating back to 1268 A.D it is a classic example of Hoysala architecture and is considered to be one of the most striking Hoysala temples matching in poise and beauty to the Chennakesava Temple in Belur and Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebid. 

The monument is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and a nominal entry fee is charged for all visitors. Here on a weekend one can observe a teeming crowd consisting of school children seemingly on a picnic, foreign tourists, pious devotees, enthusiastic photographers and budding historians. Historically this temple was revered by the Maharajas of Mysore and records show that even in the late 1880s and early 1900s various dignitaries visited this marvel of human engineering and craftsmanship. 


The temple is accessible from the eastern side by a doorway, in a high boundary wall, which opens into a gallery running around the temple. The sight of the shining black towers rising against the cloudy blue sky is a delight; though watching the rain wash over the sculpture studded walls during the monsoons is equally enjoyable. A flight of steps descend to the stone-paved courtyard surrounding the temple which is raised on a raised platform (Jagati). Another flight of steps rise to the platform and then to the intricately carved entrance flanked by heavily ornamented Dwarpalas (Gate-keepers). The doorway leads to a dark closed hall supported by rounded pillars bearing minute carvings. A narrow vestibule connects the hall to the three shrines dedicated to Vishnu in the form of Kesava, Venugopala and Janardhana. The ceilings are covered with sculptures of gods and goddesses, blooming lotus flowers, stories from epics and mythical beasts.   

A soothing calm permeates the surroundings complimented by the filtered sunrays creeping through the perforated stone windows bathing the hall in a dim light. One can sit on the stone benches which are projections on the outer wall and escape into the nothingness experiencing a fleeting moment of unadulterated peace. 

This temple, as all other Hoysala temples, is truly remarkable for the thousands of sculptures which adorn the outer walls rendered possible by the use of soapstone as a building material. Soapstone has a unique quality – it is soft when mined and becomes hard on exposure to air thus making it possible to be carved into meticulous idols and shapes. A circumambulation of the temple gives an insight into the skill and precision of the erstwhile artists as not an inch is spared with carvings spread over the outer walls of the star-shaped cella, hall and the towers. An eave runs along the outer wall separating the upper section decorated with towers on pilasters and the lower half covered by images of myriad gods, goddesses and demi-gods. Vishnu resting on Shesh Nag in Baikuntha, Krishna playing his flute, Lakshmi with Narasimha, Durga slaying the demon Mahisasura and Saraswati playing the Veena are some of the noteworthy sculptures. Six friezes also run along the temple walls depicting birds, riders atop elephants and horses, makaras (mythical aquatic beasts), floral designs and tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata. One can spend days analyzing and understanding the significance of these artistic relics as they not only reflect upon the religious aspect of that era but also shed light on the social norms and how creative expressions evolved over time.

Visiting the temple is being led down the annals of history though the grandeur has been swallowed by the forces of nature and man. The stoic sculptures on the walls stare into the past and hark back to a period when a vibrant settlement flourished in this region and the sweet water of Cauvery nurtured the hopes of budding artists who aspired to leave their mark on this world. And although these nameless dreamers have long since been gone their ambitions live on unfazed by the incessant march of time.

Deeptangan Pant
April 2014