Mandu -A conglomeration of cultures

Indian history is so vast and diverse that studying it in one lifetime perhaps is not possible, the records of such a long time are available and the fact that it is such a vast country and there is so much diversity makes it an interesting subject no end. Whilst I was taught history in school, honestly, I was not that fascinated, for in exams that would ask which year who defeated whom and all that and remember the AD and BC and all that seemed a super headache. Perhaps the system of testing instead of narrating stories was what killed it. Whilst the class would invariably be interesting, the exams would be dreaded by all of us.

 

What the history classes did not achieve was ultimately achieved by ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ 

 

Reading these books whilst growing up is one of the highlights of my life and also a stark reminder that history always fascinated me. Especially when narrated well nothing can beat the stories from the past. So during this road trip to Pench NP, we decided to drop anchor at Mandu for a day.

 

Mandu, previously known as Mandavgadh, is an amazing location, ideally to be visited in Monsoon, is an amazing conglomeration of cultures and tells you so much about India’s diverse history. The story of invasions, prosperity, art and culture booming, eventually cultural invasions and most spectacularly even architectural conversions!!

 

As our guide narrated, originally founded by Raja Bhoj, Mandu was once a prosperous town, well populated and pretty educated and liberated society. It is said even the then lowly considered weavers would be able to write shloka’s in Sanskrit back then, that high was literacy during the times of Raja Bhoj in the 11th century. Eventually as the centuries passed, it was won over by the Afghans, the Ghuri dynasty was established and began Mandu’s golden age. (source : wiki)  The subsequent take over the the Khilji’s and during the reign of one of its most colourful king Ghiyas ud din who buillt a harem of almost  women to equal the number of wive’s Krishna had (as per our guide) tells you how many tales this place holds.

 

The most popular story, which has been told a lot and even has had a popular hindi film made on is of the romance between Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. The tale as narrated by the guides here is stuff of so many unbelievable happenings and makes you wonder as to how the people of that generation thought. The entire truth again is probably lying somewhere in between. How a Muslim king and a Hindu princess fall in love, their palaces which look to have been  built for practicing and performance of music and dance, the Rupmati pavilion built for her to worship the Narmada river before she ate anything overlooking the Narmada valley tells you of splendors and whims of the rulers of that era.

 

Mandu today has several World Unesco Heritage sites, its architecture from the days gone by tell you of the engineering that might have been used in those days. The swimming pools, to hot water showers, to sauna’s, numerous escape routes, the music rooms that involve telephonic technology almost are a delight to view and soak in. Do hire a good guide and do take in all the story he tells you with a pinch of salt, history they tell you might be distorted a bit, the narration however, helps build a more interesting experience. The architecture of the place as the guides show us has several traces of so much diversity Jain, Hindu, Muslim and Farsi influences are clearly visible telling you that each one came in and tried to leave their mark on history.

 

Although I visited it in March, a relatively dry and barren time of the year, ideally visit Mandu during Monsoon, not for nothing did the Mughal’s including Akbar treat this as a monsoon retreat. It is a pleasure that must not be missed. The Jahaz Mahal during the monsoon is a visual treat you do not want to miss.

 

Here are a few pics from our trip there :

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain's gave up! ;)

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain’s gave up! 😉

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect's of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect’s of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur's palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur’s palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

 

Building sand castles and embracing waves!

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Goa for a long time was very low on my list, I was always more of a guy who opted for Mountains and jungles to the sand and water. Not knowing swimming and being petrified of any water higher than my chest I kind of kept away. Two years back a free trip to Goa during August told me one thing for sure, Goa has a lot more to offer than just beaches and the ocean.

On my last trip since it was Monsoon and the sea was rough we didn’t really take to the beach for a long time, this time though the visit in November meant there was not much rough weather, it was warm during the day and you actually wanted to take a dip in the water. For a change on this trip we spent so much time in the water I don’t think I ever have spent as much time in water in my entire life’s vacations!

I completely now comprehend why kids love playing in the waves so much and why people are crazy about the ocean so much! The clean beaches of Baga, Candolim and Palolem did not give any reason for me to resist them.

Amazingly, inspite of it being Diwali, Goa was surprisingly empty, Monday to Thursday we almost had most restaurants, shacks, beaches to us or shared it with very few people and that was a big plus for sucking me in.

Wave after wave, we soaked up the wonderfully friendly warm water of the Indian Ocean, like small kids jumping, staining the sand, building castles, burying ourselves in the sand! I seriously felt like I had gone back to my kid days almost during this trip. Rediscovering the fun of doing things and absolutely forgetting what it seemed to people who might be looking is one of the most important supplement you get from the Goa air!

I guess it does something to you, you forget about the world, you get lost in your own fun world, you don’t care what it seems like, all you care about is living in that moment, ducking before the arriving wave and then rising with it floating and riding on it, being thrown back, gushing at how wonderful the water felt, how it feels like the ocean is pulling you when the sand retracts with the receding water that was brought in with the wave.

I wouldn’t ever be seen walking about shirt less (read topless) in my house, suddenly though, after the bath in the ocean, I don’t bother wearing a tshirt whilst I am half wet, infact I decided to drive back home all the way without a shirt and for me that was new. Guess its the air in Goa that does some things to you.

From a guy who always almost looked down upon the idea of Goa, which back then meant to mean guys go there for the sea and the daroo, has completely changed, second trip down there, back home since just two days and I already miss being there, I miss the sea, the sand, the lazy air, the million restaurants and most of all I miss being so care free about what anyone thinks about you! Like seriously the place does have a magnet that I can now completely comprehend! 🙂

जेवण on the Highway

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Whats a road trip good for if it doesn’t include some lip smacking food on the highway??

I am a total sucker for road trips, stopping where ever I want to, starting at any insanely hour (like 2.30am) not bother how many stops I am making to take a picture and above all the surprises that await on the highway in terms of food, many times you don’t know what and where to eat and yet from time to time you surprise yourself so very pleasantly.

One such occasion, we were passing through Pune and skipping the city, we have heard of the famous Vaishali restaurant in Pune but have not been able to check it out yet, and so about 45kms before Pune we start seeing boards of Vaishali on the highway. Immediately the stomach has made space for some food, I tell my partner in crime we must stop here.

As we ride into the hotel and park we do realise this doesn’t seem like the original, we enter anyway, ask the guy serving if it is the same Vaishali and he smiles and tell us no, this is different and that is different, yet, tempted by the fact that it offered Maharshtrian Food and not the steady South Indian or Punjabi, we decided to check it out.

The one drawback of being just two travellers is that we can order only so much, but, then my appetite helps anyways. So we ordered Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha, Jowar Roti and Chappati and boy was it delicious!!!

In any case I love spicy food and although the food was not as spicy the Thecha pretty much made up for it! It was an awesomely lip smacking and fulfilling lunch! I recommend anyone passing Vaishali to give this local fare a try.

Like the saying was, when in Maharashtra eat like the Maharashtrians 😉

The penchant to try something new

Food Discoveries! 🙂

The penchant to try something new has always lured me, its been like so attractive that I always pick up the bait and sometimes it leads to being caught up on the hook and wriggling like a fish for dear life. Well almost I mean, so one evening when we were strolling in a food republic in a mall checking out various counters for various things that they had to offer. One thing we were sure going to try out was the famous Chicken Rice of Singapore. It came highly recommended from a lot of people I knew who had been to Singapore and also had come across whilst researching before going to Singapore.

So whilst we ordered that which was served with a fiery red chutney (read sauce) which I tried a spoonful as they did not warn how hot it could be. The snooty Indian in me decided to go ahead and take a spoonful, thinking these foreigners can’t eat anything near to how spicy a Sev Ussal I eat normally, well how wrong I was, I was breathing fire in an instant and actually coughed my way to the Coke counter and till I finished drinking the whole bottle I was on fire, perspiring in the air conditioned hall. Eventually after I came back to my senses, we delved in the soup that they served along and carefully mixed the sauce in the Chicken rice which actually spiced it up and made it feel absolutely delicious. This is one dish you must have whenever you travel to Singapore! 🙂

Chicken Rice :
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Having tried this dish which was new for me I had to go and try the Prawn Laksa, however I couldn’t find it in the vicinity and whilst I was browsing for it I saw the word Octopus and Chilli together and I said to myself I just have to try for the heck of it. The word actually read, Hitchy come and consume me!!!! So I ordered, this Korean dish is traditionally called Nakji Bokkeum.

I waited with baited breath as the chef went inside the kitchen to come up with my sizzling plate, he came out and the smell was absolutely fascinating, I thought to myself hell you are gonna love this dish, it smells divine and masaledar actually for a foreign dish. This joy did not last long though, I mean my limited food taste buds could not quite fathom the taste of the Octopus, I took the first bite and it seemed weird for my taste buds but then I thought to myself you have to evolve and develop some taste’s as they are so foreign to us we might not be able to like them right away. I gave it another try, I always thought the octopus might be soft and slushy and kinda juicy, apparently this small octopus was nothing like that and very chewy, by the third bite I was ready to throw up. I said I cannot like this dish, no matter how nice prepared and no matter how many people consume it, I was not meant to eat this dish!!!!

Eventually an ice cream helped me return all sanity to my gut!

But I can atleast produce a photo of the Nakji Bokkeum 😀

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Wanderlust

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
― H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You

Blame it on some of these quotes that I have read, they have had such an effect on my mind that I can’t stay put. Nothing, I mean nothing now fuels me more than the desire to move about, to travel, not even cricket matches deter me now, I don’t even bother to look at cricket schedules before planning a new trip!

I now completely understand the meaning of the term “Wanderlust” and exactly no other word but lust could do justice to explain this feeling! Its greed you know, everyone wants you to buckle down, you just had a vacation, you just went there, you just came back! But hell, what has that got to do anything with me wanting to go somewhere now, again!

Another quote that explains my situation is this :

I’m more obsessed with the idea of vacation than any one particular vacation spot. I love to explore new places and cultures. ~ Candice Accola

It doesn’t really matter where I go, at times, yes, certainly I want to go to certain places, sometimes they require too much time and on others they require too much money and no, I cannot wait and gather either, I must keep on moving, I must make the in between time by moving about, more than the destination it is about the journey now, its like I just have to be on the move.

Sigh…

The Miracle

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“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Memoir

I read that quote at Cedo centre in Moti Virani in Kutch and it made me stop and think, the world is abundant of things to marvel at and revelling in ain’t it? If you want to that is, if you are able to stop for a moment, pause, breathe, think and let it dawn upon you! How busy have we become in our routines that we have just stopped noticing so many wonderful things around us. Let us endeavour to just give things one moment more, let us soak up things around us, find the joy of small things and I am quite sure they can make us so much more thankful to this world around us! 🙂

Bird Watching

Honestly, till before I bought my camera, I was never inclined in watching birds or identifying them, I did know a few species that were common but nothing more than that. Its the camera’s advent in my life and simultaneously friends like Shail, IHM and Sangeeta that I slowly but surely started identifying the birds. Once into the identifying thing, I realised how little we took notice of such pretty creatures, even though some of them were so near us we knew so little about them. After beginning to identify thanks to these buddies, internet and FB Group like the Indian birds, I have noted that as many as 19 different species visit my garden!!!! I never knew so many different fella’s actually came about to take a look at me every year!

The Birds of Indian Subcontinent (book), internet amazingly aided in the keen interest that was not developing. In fact since I started noticing these birds and I am thankful once again to my lovely friends Shail, Ihm and Sangeeta for this I have realised that every step I take outdoors is now so much more interesting than before, that so many of these fellas are there to be looked at, identified and noted albeit in the mind!

The day my friend Nitinbhai sent me the details of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat’s program of bird watching in Kutch I had decided that I was going to go. It was a total no-brainer, I knew that perhaps the best season is probably still about 50 days away but I wanted to find out the places where to look more than anything. What I did not anticipate was the fact that I was going to be amidst a crowd of hard core bird watchers (read lovers), Ornithologists, Botanists, Conservationalists and Environment activists!

It was fascinating to listen to these folks either when I asked them something or whilst they conversed with each other. To be frank I felt tiny, there was so little I knew about the world around us and I wondered what the hell was I doing all this while? So many questions never arised in my mind about how what happened and why? The finer details of all things around us amazed me and that there are so many people who actually look out for these things and appreciate it and try to understand solve the puzzle is surely something to be appreciated.

I also met one very senior bird watcher, Mr Shantilal Varu, apparently he has been keenly into bird watching and record keeping since over 50 years!!!! I found it quite staggering really, in an age when no such bird books were available as easily, there was no internet how this gentleman went about watching birds and identifying them. Fortunately for me, he was in our jeep at all times during this trip and I absolutely was amazed by the amount of knowledge the man had gathered about birds from so many years of observing them, he could tell us their traits, flight patterns, their call types and so much more. Also he would just not guess any bird unless he got a clear sight of it. Everything thing he saw, he would carefully note it down in small writing pad he had at all times. He then regularly transfer’s all this records into a diary that he maintains which could be useful for bird record keeping! Quite intriguing to me how much a man can love something and how dedicated and disciplined he becomes thanks to it. Simple pleasures of life I guess are just around us, its only about when do we realise them!

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All in all I must confess I am falling in love with this activity, yes, perhaps I will never be as dedicated to this one thing or be very disciplined about record keeping and yet I must say this bird watching is enthralling. 🙂

Since we are onto the bird watching theme, here is one passage migrant, a first timer for me, Red Backed Shrike, that Mr. Shantilal helped me identify. This Red Backed Shrike is a carnivorous passerine bird of the Shrike family, also known as the butcher bird for the way it consumes its prey. You can visit here to see how it holds its prey and eats it. This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Whilst it makes its journey to Africa for about a month in September you can spot them in Kutch! Amazing traveller these birds are I tell you! Here are a few shots of it that I managed to capture! 🙂

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Ray of Light in Kutch!

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Every day, every moment of this life, I realise how little I know, so many new things just keep on cropping up I cannot quite fathom how will I ever get to know it all! Perhaps, that is too vague a wish to have, but, then life is so intriguing that I cant help but want to know more and more and more, too bad its too short!

Just finished a three day early migration birding trip in my native land, this time in the company of ornithologists, botanists, environmentalists, naturalists, conservation minded and nature loving folks of BCSG (Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat) the experience I hope will stay with me forever and I will not forget so much I learnt about this world of ours in these last three days.

The fact that it was just my second visit to Kutch, my ancestral native land, the so called desert made me feel how occupied I have been in so many trivial things in life where as I had such a great opportunity so nearby to visit a wonderland of information, natural treasures, history and yet I have constantly ignored it. Hopefully this is just the beginning and more forays into this very interesting world will keep on going.

Most importantly, the company you have is of extreme importance. Mr Jugal Kishore Tiwari of CEDO (Centre for Desert and Ocean) is a virtual walking encyclopedia about the land, its history, its ecology, he was our host and guide this time round!! Every question you would ask him would be answered to utmost satisfaction! He also featured in this documentary on Discovery and I would recommend all of you to watch it. For me I am certainly going to visit him again with loads of questions and also to hear his stories and his experiences!

Fascinated and hooked I hope to share a lot of what I learnt in Kutch in the last three days here and also hope I will be frequenting the place and learning more about it myself! 🙂

Like I said I have just seen a ray of light in Kutch! 🙂

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