Monday, August 28, 2017

Kerala Trip

Kerala also referred to as 'God's Own Country' is one of the most visited tourist spots in India. Every spec of this magical land is engulfed in varying shades of green - a pleasant treat to the eyes! The rains feed this beautiful land with enough water to ensure that the entire land is perennially covered with lush green carpets with tall coconut trees doting the sky . Sharing with you a few photos from this magical land. Enjoy!

Boating in Kumarakom

Houseboat in Kumarakom

Woman walking in rain

Rains in Kumarakom

Lush green paddy fields at the back of the lake

Man in front of a house

Man rowing in rain

View from R block

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Exploring Chennai....

I was born and brought up in the beautiful and vibrant coastal city of Chennai in South India, a city that has made me much of whatever I am today. Its a city where the reminiscents of our glorious past happily co-exist with the modernity of the present to create a fusion of a culture that is indeed unique. For quite sometime I had been wanting to dig deep into the history of my city and walk through the very streets and buildings which were the witnesses of many an event in history. This thought materialized on a beautiful Saturday morning  and I set off to visit the historic St. George's Fort -  the very place from which the city of Chennai (Madras) grew. For the uninitiated, the study of the history of Madras (Chennai) is of utmost importance to historians, as Madras sowed the very seeds for the establishment of British empire in this part of the world which would later expand its branches all over India and in Asia.

Fort St. George was one of the first few forts constructed by the British in India . The British who originally came to India as traders, acquired the permissions from the Nayaka king, Damerla Chennappa Nayaka to  construct a fort to conduct their trading activites. Francis Day of the East India Company had played a major role in this  by convincing their superiors that the area around the present day  St.George's fort  with its proximity to the beach and the availability of very good quality painted cloth would contribute greatly to the fluorishing trade in the region. Francis day along with Andrew Cogan laid the very foundation for the city of Madras which would later expand to become a very big metropolis city  in India.
The British had divided the fort and the area around as "White Town" where much of the Europeans lived and the area beyond as "Black Town" where the locals (Indians) lived. A classic example of racism practised by them during those times.

The present day St.George's Fort is converted into a museum. It houses several valuable artifacts and is a treasure trove of information for the history lover.Below is a picture of the St. George's fort museum from outside.

The fort museum is surrounded by greenery all around. Walking in the pleasant weather surrounded by the green foliage interspersed with shades of orange was  really a delightful experience.

The Fort museum, a three storeyed building has a great collection of various artifacts belonging to the by-gone era. A giant statue of Lord Cornwallis, stands near the entry of the ground floor. At the bottom of the statue are beautiful carvings depicting the historic scene where two of the great Indian Mysore King Tippu Sultan's sons are taken as hostages by the British after  losing the Third Anglo-Mysore War against  them.


Another blog post of mine describes the  famous Savandurga fort, believed to be almost impregnable but was captured by the British forces lead by Lord Cornwallis during the Third-Anglo Mysore war. Srirangapatnam , where the Fourth and final Anglo-Mysore war was fought leading to the death of the brave Mysore king Tippu Sultan also has a seperate blog post.

As we enter inside through one of the doors on the ground floor, we pass through numerous glass shelves preserving the well maintained collections of the Colonal rulers and the Nawab of Arcot. Robes of the British , porcelain of the Nawab of Arcots and the British, the medals released by the British to commemorate the various events and campaigns in Burma, North West Frontier etc  housed the walls of the museum on the ground floor.

As we move further on to the opposite entrance on the ground floor, very valuable information on the history of  Madras were displayed on the information placards that had been put up .One of them gave a representation of Madras and the various settlements in and around during the 17th century, when the city of Madras came into existence.Observe the key cities of Masulipatnam, Armagon , Pulicat (once a Dutch settlement) depicted in the maps.

I went upstairs through the wooden staircase to enter the first floor of the museum which housed the paintings and coins.  The huge room appeared much like a banquet hall with huge magnificent potrait paintings of the British generals, the royal Queen and the Nawabs affixed to the walls. The artistic strokes of the highly skilled painters with a pursuit for perfection had resulted in the "live potraits" of various famous personalities of those times. Most notable of them were the portrait paintings of Lord Clive, Governer of Bengal by Thomas Day and that of Sir Arthur Havelock, Governer of the fort St.George by the famous Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma . Other portraits of  the Indian kings such as the Nawab of Carnatic, were also to be seen.  Below is the portrait of Lord Clive by Thomas Day.

Just adjacent to the paintings section is the coins section containing a huge collection of coins belonging to the era of Tippu Sultan and Hyder Ali, the British, the Portugese (who ruled the area around the present day Santhome in Chennai before the British took over), the Dutch, the French etc.  They provided a valuable insight into the glorious history of our land.

In an engineering and technology era where subjects such as history take a backseat among the student community, it was heartening to see a bunch of school girls religiously taking down notes from the information placards put up on the history of the coins issued by the various dynasities that ruled the Madras region.

The third floor of the museum contains various artifacts belonging to the French who ruled Madras and occupied the St. George's fort between 1746-1749 before Madras was handed over to the British in 1749 along the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748. The third floor however, had been closed down for renovation when I visited the museum.

I proceeded further down the road to visit the historic "Clive House" where Robert Clive(who along with Warren Hastings is regarded as one of the key personalities in the establishment of British rule in India) once lived. The building is now an office of the Archaelogical Society of India (ASI).

Right across the building is the historic St. Mary's Church also known as the "Westminister Abbey of the East". It was built by the British and is one of the oldest British monuments in India. It was  here that famous  personalties such as Robert Clive and Elihu Yale (of the Yale University fame and who served as a governer of the East India Company)  got married. The architecture of the church is simple, elegant yet captivating.
Surrounded by greenery, the location of the church exudes a unique charm and tranquility and my thoughts go back to the days of the British era. Admist the foliage, a clock (which no longer ticks) is visible. Shown below are the pictures.

Further down, I see a "Fort House" which seems to be undergoing renovation. Notice the Roman Numerals "XXXIII" visible on the arches (on the second picture below).

In the recent years, there has been a push to have the St. George's Fort Chennai to be declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site owing to its historical status. As S. Muthiah , a chronicler of Madras summarizes, the Fort was the seat of power between 1640 and 1770s from which the British empire expanded its arms throughout India and beyond in Asia. It was the primary British settlement during those times and hence carries significant importance in Indian history. 

By now, my stomach craved for an authentic Indian lunch and I proceed to the Sowcarpet area to have  Gujarathi Thali meals. Madras has a significant population of Marwaris (hailing from the land of Marwar in Rajasthan) and Gujarathis who migrated southwards to seek new pastures for their businesses.The Marwaris are colourful, vibrant people with excellent business acumen. Many of the businesses in Madras particularly in the Parry's area are run by them. Our neighbours in Madras are also Marwaris. My search for a good Gujarathi restuarant takes me to the narrow and very crowded lanes of Prakasam salai,Broadway and I finally find a good restuarant serving Gujarathi Thali meals even at  3 PM in the evening. Being totally famished after the long walk, I gobble up my Gujarathi thali meals consisting of phulkas, a very tasty aaloo subzi (potato curry), a green-peas vegetable gravy, dal , rice , curd , pudina chutney and a mango drink. Simple but very filling.

I proceed further to explore the area around and to do some purchases. Parry's Corner is a huge commercial center in Madras and there is nothing on earth that you cannot find here. Vegetables,dry fruits,hardware,rubber etc. are sold at rock bottom prices and its not uncommon to find stuff sold at wholesale rates. Hence the area is very crowded and always teeming with scores of businessmen (women) and purchasers. I was delighted to see hand driven rickshaws operating in this part of the city. In narrow streets where the motor powered autorickshaws cannot pass through, the hand driven rickshaws are a cheap and a great way to travel short distances and experience the place.

I get down at Armenian street which was once a settlement of Armenians (from the land of Armenia) in Madras. 

There are many interesting history accounts of the Armenians who came to India. A few of them entered by joining the forces of Alexander the great. Later, the Mughal king Akbar invited Armenians to Agra.The Armenian Church constructed in 1772 on the Armenian street holds testimony to the long years of  relationship with Madras. As per an interesting BBC article, currently there are only 2 Armenians left in the Armenian street, one of whom is the guardian of the church.  Despite the dwindling populating of Armenians, the traditional rituals of the Armenians practised ages ago are still followed in the church.

I pass through an interesting building belonging to the 1930s and decided to capture a shot with my camera. 

Notice the pretty carvings on top of the windows. 

I proceed further to complete my purchases and finally head back home. On the way, I pass through the magnificent Madras High Court Buildings. Built in Indo-Saracenic architecture style, the building's architecture captivates the eye of any passer-by. Standing tall, witnessing the various events that changed the course of the history of Madras, the magnificent High Court buildings never fail to impress. The amazing architecture of the buildings is a great topic of interest for the students of art, history and architecture. 

As I board my bus back home, I felt a sense of fulfillment to have begun a lifelong journey of exploration and study of the rich history and culture of my country. A Saturday well spent!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trip to Srirangapatnam - the erstwhile capital of the Mysore kingdom

Srirangapatnam in South India was the former capital of Mysore during the reign of Tippu Sultan, the ruler of the Mysore kingdom (much of the present day Karnataka).Amazed by reading the stories of courage and valour of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan ( the father-son duo who were the rulers of the Mysore kingdom) against the British rule in India, I decided to see for myself the various historic sites which speak the stories.

My mind had been craving for an adventure for quite sometime and one fine Saturday, everything fell in place when I set off catching the morning train from Bangalore to  Mysore.
The overcrowded train , in which even the reservation compartment treated those with and without a ticket as equals, finally set off from Bangalore. Numerous small towns dotted our entire journey to Srirangapatnam.
However, the  effect of  the drought looming on this part of the country was outright visible. The fields of fertile Mandya no longer appeared lush green as it had been exactly 3 years ago when I passed through the same route. A sad state of monsoons in India this year. After about 2 hours 15 minutes , I reached Srirangapatnam.

Srirangapatna is a small town situated at distance of about 6 to 10 km from the present day town of Mysore. The present day Srirangapatnam is a small town frequented by locals and tourists for the very sacred and hugely popular Sriranganathaswamy temple, Nimishamba temple and other historic monuments.

My first stop in the town was the historic Sriranganathaswamy temple, a 1200 year old ancient temple, just a stone's throw from the station.

I had a very good darshan of Long Ranganatha, Sri Hanuman and the other gods - which I thought was a very good way to start the trip. Just a 2 min walk away was the Government Museum which sadly had no one except for the caretakers of the museum.

The building itself being an historic building captured my attention and so did the beautiful idols (excavated from the nearby towns such as Maddur,Mandya etc.) belonging to the era from 10th century onwards. The museum had very good photographs of various historic monuments and sites in and around Karnataka ,the famed Dussera Celebrations in Mysore etc. . Some of the interesting photos included the pond of Tippu's sister in Melukote, the various temples belonging to the Hoysala kingdom,  the various Muslim monuments in Karnataka such as the Ibrahim Rauza and the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Mahamood Gavan's Madrasa in Bidar and other interesting monuments.

Below is a pic of an idol of Surya excavated from Maddur belonging to the 10th century.

Just adjacent to the museum, is the ruins of the Lal Mahal, once a magnificent palace in which Tippu Sultan lived which was subsequently burnt by the British few years after the capture of Srirangapatna in 1799. Captured is some information given by the Archaelogy Society of India (ASI) on the same.

As I walked further down the beautiful town, I came across some interesting sights from the green countryside.. Observe the beautifully painted carts driven by the cattle...!

As you might have been aware, Tippu Sultan was an epitome of courage and valour and one of the very few Indian kings to have defeated the British.  Tippu captured the British and kept them as prisoners in the dungeons , the most famous of them  being the Colonel Bailley's dungeon.  Shown below is the the place where the Colonel Bailley who was captured by forces of Tippu and Hyder Ali during the Second Anglo-Mysore War was housed. He ultimately died in the dungeon.

The very scene  where Colonel Bailley is captured and carried on a palanquin as a prisoner of the war is depicted as an beautiful oil painting that houses the walls of the Dariya Daulat Mahal - the summer palace of Tippu Sultan at Srirangapatnam. The painting truly captures the awe of the observer and one is transported back in time to the  era of Tippu Sultan .

As we walk further down on the road, we come across the Water Gate, a part of the fort. I met two women there  who wanted to be photographed :)  So here it is, the picture of the two women with the Water Gate in the background.  The warm, caring and helpful people of Srirangapatna need special mention here. The locals go out of the way  to help the tourists with the directions.

 Tippu's body was found just 50 meters from the Water Gate.The place where Tippu's body was found is marked by the British. The British had very high regard for Tippu as a warrior, though he was eventually killed in their hands owing to the lack of support he received from the local rulers of other neightbouring princely states such as the Maratha Kingdom and Hyderabad.

Further down, from a distance, one can view the beautiful minarets of the Jumma Masjid mosque built by Tippu Sultan. Tippu also addressed the public from here.

As we proceed further, we see the beautiful architecture of the mosque, and I spent some time gazing at its architecture from outside..

I proceed further by walk to the bus station passing through further ruins of the fort.

Some of them even serving as cycle and scooter stands as the one below..

I proceed further down to the famous Dariya-Daulat Bagh (translated as the Garden of the Wealth of the Sea), the summer palace of Tippu Sultan . Its truly a treasure trove of paintings, jewels and other artifacts of Tippu Sultan.The exteriors of the palace are extremely beautiful  with well maintained gardens and the grass gleaming in the mild rains. It is one of the best maintained monuments in India , with the efforts to conserve the palace taken right from the days of Britishers when Lord Dalhousie during his visit was spellbound with the beautiful paintings on the walls and ordered for the conservation of them. The Archaelogical Survey of India  (ASI) continued the efforts on the conservation and preservation of the monuments and have done a great job at it. Shown below is a picture the palace exteriors.

Observe the beautiful lush green gardens surrounding the palace in the photo below.

The exteriors of the palace are covered by Bamboo sheets as a conservation measure to protect the beautiful oil paintings that give a glimpse into the glorious past of India.

A photo exhibition conducted by the Archaelogical Society of India (ASI) to mark its 150th Anniversary was going on at the time of my visit. The photo gallery showcased the amazing historic and culture heritage of Karnataka. It exhibited several photos of the monuments in Karnataka - Temples belonging to the Vijaynagar,Wodeyar era and Islamic monuments belonging to the Abdalis of Bijapur and Bidar and the Bahmanis of Gulbarga were exhibited.

The paintings on the walls of the palace were truly a class apart. Never before had I seen a historic painting depicting a scene as if it were happening live in front of my eyes. The Storming of Srirangapatna (1799) , a painting done by the British artist Sir Robert Porter needs special mention. It depicts the very scene where the British attacked Srirangapatna from all ends and captured the fort. The painting depicts the town of Srirangapatna engulfed in flames and against a far distance is visible the gopuram (temple tower) of Sriranganathaswamy temple. The painting  indeed  is a work of a genius. As you might be aware, Tippu fought bravely against the British defending his fort and losing his life in the end. The palace also showcased a large number of items belonging to Tippu Sultan such as his robes etc. An even large number of riches particularly gold, precious stones etc. were taken away by the British after the defeat of Tippu Sultan in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war and were shipped to England where they are currently exhibited in their museums.

The celings and the walls were decorated with some of the most exquisite paintings showcasing the lives of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan , life of the women in the courts etc. A particular painting of interest was that of a queen smoking Hookah and enjoying the music and dance of the artisans. There were also paintings of the guests from the neighbouring kingdoms... The Pathans,the Marathas were honorouable guests of Tippu Sultan as depicted in the paintings.

Indeed, it would require an entire day to fully observe and understand each and every painting depicting the life of the rulers of  Mysore. The palace also house some artistic wooden cots, sofa sets etc. which appeared to have been newly purchased. However these were existent right from Tippu's times!

An amazing three dimensional painting of Tippu Sultan looking handsome in his magnificent royal blue dress with golden embroiderary was hard to miss. There were several paintings by the British on the various forts which were built by the rulers of Mysore. (One of the forts depicted was Savandurga. My previous blog post describes my trekking experience to this very place).

After spending close to 3 hours in the palace, my next stop was the Nimishamba temple about 1.5 to 2 Km away from Dariya Daulat Bagh on the banks of the Kaveri river. I wanted to experience the tonga (horse driven carts carrying people) and hence lept on to one of them. It was truly an amazing way to see the beautiful town and the countryside. My driver was Pasha , a  warm-hearted local who spoke very good Hindi, a language I am compartively more comfortable in than the local language Kannada.  It was the best way to explore the town and I truly enjoyed the experience.
I got down an Nimishamba temple and visited the shrine of  Goddess Nimishamba.
The temple is situated very close to the river Kaveri. Devotees take a dip in the Kaveri during the visit to the temple.

Soon afterwards, I proceeded to the Gul Gumbaz (barely 1-2 km from Nimishamba), the place where Tippu Sultan along with his father Hyder Ali, mother, sisters etc. are buried.

A view of the Gumbaz from the entrance. Observe the white coloured Gumbaz standing on a raised platform from the exteriors of the arch.

A closer view of the Gumbaz.

On the interior is a seperate room containing the bodies of Tippu, Hyder Ali and Tippu's mother. On the exterior are the bodies of Tippu's siblings. There is a mosque adjoining the Gumbaz. I prayed my respects to the great warriors of our land and soon started for my return as I had to catch the evening 5 o clock train. There are Volvo buses which ply between the Gumbaz and the railway station. However do make sure you check with the timings of their departure. I missed mine by just a matter of 2 to 3 minutes and had to catch an autorickshaw to get back. I proceeded to the railway station with several stories to tell and here I am, blogging and sharing with all of you the tales of this enchanting, historic town!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trip to Savandurga

Last Saturday, I  happened to go for  trekking to Savandurga, one of the weekend getaways at a short distance from Bangalore.  Savandurga is one of the largest monolithic rocks in Asia and is popular with trekkers and rock-climbers. Quite a few locals also visit the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple and Savandi Veerabhadreshwara Swamy Temple located at the foothills of the monolithic rock. My purpose of visit was two-fold, one to do some trekking which I have not being doing for ages and another to see the remains of the fort which shielded the place from the British during the era of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, the father-son duo who were the rulers of princely state of Mysore.  The fort had been built in 1543 by Samanta Ray after which it stayed with Kempe Gowda till 1728. It was then captured by the Raja of Mysore and passed on to Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan. The fort was thought to be very sturdy and most difficult to capture among all of Tippu's forts .However during the Third Anglo Mysore war, the British troops under the command of Lord Cornwallis captured the fort on December 21st, 1791 subsequently leading to the downfall of Tippu Sultan who was ultimately killed in the Fourth Anglo Mysore War with an opposition having the combined forces of the British along with their  ally, the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Coming to the actual details of my trip, we started off on a beautiful Saturday morning from Corporation Circle and proceeded towards Savandurga passing through the beautiful Karnataka countryside and small villages and towns in between arriving at our destination in about 2 hours... Savandurga consits of two mountains - Karigudda (black hill) and Biligudda (white hill). A photo of the Karigudda (black hill) on which we were to start our trekking.

  After a quick pre-trek talk, we started to trek on the Karigudda... The weather was just perfect for trekking.. Though we were surrounded by a sheet of black clouds, we were lucky that it did not rain and the climate was just cool and perfect throughout our trekking. Could not have  asked for more.. My legs which had not be trekking for ages initially resisted to trekking but soon gave in as we started walking up the mountain. 

The view from the mountain was amazing.. At a short distance we could see the river Arkavathi , along with the hills of Ramanagaram (of the "Sholay" film fame) and further down we could see the skylines of Bangalore city. It was truly a sight to behold... Seen below is a pic of the river Arkavathi from the Karigudda..

As we trekked up higher, we came across several tiers  of  forts  each built at a good vertical distance from the other to safeguard the place from the British.. (as described above - they ultimately came to be captured by the British in the Third Anglo Mysore war).

Shown below is the pic of the one such layer... Seems to have a resemblence with Vagathor fort, Goa of the 'Dil Chatha Hain' fame. While Vagathor fort faces the beaches, Savandurga fort faces the plains , the arkavathi river and the small villages around..

So after posing and taking much snaps, we trekked further up until we reach the next tier of the fort.

 We trekked further up passing through  vegetation and huge rocks and finally reached the top..  A Nandi temple lay on a perfect place on the summit and our prayers were answered - a great trekking experience with the perfect climate and reaching the summit within a span of 1.5 to 2 hours:) What else could you ask for!

We stayed there for a while having lunch and taking in the beautiful scenary around. The BiliGudda hill was visible just across.Photos of the BiliGudda taken from the KariGudda shown below.

We started descending down after a while and the return trip also gave some beautiful views of the landscape below.

Descending was a lot easier than climbing..  Overall, its quite an easy trek which can be covered in a total of 3 hours (1.5 hours up and down)..  We spent an hour at top for lunch and taking in the fresh mountain air making it a total of 4 hours. Travel time from the city center (majestic) would be 2 hours one way.One can very easily cover the trip in 8 hours..So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags for the weekend and head out to get a dose of fresh mountain air , greenery and history lessons!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dilwara Temples - the Hidden Jewel of India

India is indeed a land of great beauty, culture and a rich history. Our country is known for having the greatest of diversities in everything.. be it the food,the people, the art and architecture, tradition, religion,etc . Though strongly rooted to our own cultural, traditional and religious beliefs, we love experiencing what other cultures,traditions,religions have to offer. Its this unique aspect that really sets us apart.

Rajasthan, in western India, is a beautiful land with its equally beautiful , colourful and vibrant people . The Ajmer Dargah, the shrine of the saint Moinuddin Chishti  visited by people belong to all walks of life and religion, is an outstanding example of the communal harmony that exists in our society.

According to me, the most beautiful architecture in Rajasthan  (and possibly in the Universe!)  is the historic Dilwara Temples, a set of 5 magnificent Jain Temples whose beauty cannot be described in mere words. Even the beautiful Taj Mahal , one of the seven wonders of the world, falls a touch short when compared with this.

Nestled away in the faraway hillocks of Mount Abu at about a height of 4000 feet in the Indian state of  Rajasthan close to the border of Gujarat, the temples are absolutely an architectural wonder. The Dilwara temples are a set of 5 Jain Temples constructed between the 11th and 13th century with the earliest of  them being built in 1021 AD.

The temples are as follows :-

* Vimal Vasahi, dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishaba
* Luna Vasahi, dedicated to the 22nd Jain Tirthankara, Neminatha
* Pithalhar, dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankar, Rishabha
* Khartar Vasahi, dedicated to the 23rd Jain Tirthankara, Parshva
* Mahavir Swami, dedicated to the last Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira

Elephants were used to transport the marble  from faraway places to this remote hilly area, at a time where no proper roads were available . The workmanship of the craftsmen is just uncomparable with anything else I have ever seen.

From the exteriors, there is very less indication of what lies inside! The extremely fine carvings of marble on the walls and the marble chandeliers just blow your breath away!
I have never seen any carvings which could match that of the Dilwara. I have visited the Taj Mahal too. But though its beautiful, the Dilwara temple just stands a class apart.
Unfortunately, photography is strictly inside this very sacred Jain temple, so you will have to just take in and register the beauty in your heart and in minds.. 

Since photography is strictly banned inside the temple, very few photos are available on the internet, some of them being scanned from the picture postcards selling outside the temple.. Putting up a few photos of the  magnificent marble chandeliers, carvings on marble which you would never see elsewhere!

If you have not visited these temples yet, you know its high time you pack your bags to visit them! Have a nice trip and do let me know your experience.