Calcutta Streets

You cannot truly enjoy the essence of Kolkata if you do not take to the streets of this city. The City of Joy has more to offer to those travelling on their feet and exploring the city than it can offer to anyone sitting inside their air conditioned cars and driving away to glory through the roads. The City wakes up as early as 4 am . Though not many people can be seen on the roads at that time save those who are regular train commuters and morning walkers , by 6 :30 business resumes with full force.If you go out for  a morning walk you will get to see some beautiful and unusual sights. People feeding pigeons on their rooftops or in the streets is an age old practice which  have been kept alive. Thus it is common to see a little child with his / her grandparents feeding lots of pigeons in the morning.

FEEDING PIGEONS ON ROOFTOPS
Animals have a special connection with sunrise. No sooner does dawn approach than all the cocks start crowing, the birds chirp and sing their own melodies , the dog starts attending to its masters orders and occasionally a cat can be seen outside its masters doorstep waiting to be let in and cuddled with love and affection.


The footpaths are mostly occupied by those without whom a morning in this city is incomplete- whether it be a weekday or the weekends.  A tea stall with the vendor going haywire listening to the many orders that comes pouring in is a regular sight.Often little boys also help their fathers and brothers in serving the customers.Men can be seen waiting in queues to get their beards shaved and hairs cut from the barber, who quickly  tends to the demands of each of his customers. The cobbler sitting at a distance too seems to be very busy mending the soles and stitching the shoes that have been given to him.All these people fight against time as their customers come with very little time in hand and it is up to them to work fast and well lest they loose a customer and fees! 

PHOTO COURTESY: PRAGATI GUPTA AND GARIMA JHAWAR

PHOTO COURTESY: PRAGATI GUPTA AND GARIMA JHAWAR

Varieties of transport can be spotted on the streets.Cars driven by the morning walkers fill in every inch of the roadside parking space; Buses and trams carrying people to their office or work place ; hand pulled rickshaws , though on a verge of extinction can be seen carrying elderly people mostly women for their daily marketing to the local markets.


The local markets are the busiest places in the mornings apart from the parks and gardens where there is a crowd of morning walkers. In the market there is a crowd of morning shoppers. Every direction one looks there are vendors howling on top of their voices to attract customers; the regular buyers bargaining to get their stuffs at cheaper rates; vendors fighting among themselves, sharing the newest joke, discussing politics and games and most importantly trying to make the maximum profit.

Chawls are a common aspect in Kolkata.Though not as famous as the Dharavi in Mumbai, there still exist a few and exhibit the same qualities as of the chawls of Mumbai and other places. Work for them begins as usual by collecting and storing water which comes only for two hours. The endless line and women folk fighting for their turn is an everyday affair. The kids help their mothers in doing the household chores. The men relax in the morning by playing cards or getting up late as they have a tiring day ahead. 

Education in India plays a very important role in securing the future of a child.Thus mostly every child goes to school either early in the morning, or in the afternoon after finishing off with their household chores or attend night schools especially run for those children who work during the day and help in the family income.

Mending of roads, bridges and other construction works in Kolkata are not new to the eye. In many places one can see tents being put up by the workers and their work begins as early as dawn. They work through the whole day to speed up the process of repair or building so that the people can use it to their welfare.

Mark my words, by the time you come back from your walk no matter which ever road you take you can hear the horns of the cars, see the dust emitted by cars in the air and notice parents dragging their willing or unwilling children to make them catch their buses to school(except on a Saturday or Sunday). The traffic guards and policemen are on their duties and the famous traffic jam has already affected the streets.

When in Kolkata you simply cannot miss out these small experiences which define the city itself. Even under such tension, pressure and hastiness one never fails to stop by and see the smiling faces of the people or the many stories that these faces tell or the spark in the eyes of the people. These are the things which truly gives the city its name- The City of Joy as the people are happy and positive no matter what the circumstances are.


Mandarmani – A Cool Respite

If you are tired of the scorching sun and the absence of rain in your surroundings, all you have to do is stop cribbing and set out on an adventurous weekend trip to a seaside where you can relax and enjoy. Though there are many such destinations near Kolkata like Puri and Digha which happens to be everyone’s favorite and traditional summer holiday destinations ; you can also, for a change explore Mandarmani , which is a very new seaside resort compared to the other two but is no less than the others. Mandarmani lies at a distance of around two hundred kilometers from Kolkata and can be reached in seven hours by car. Alternatively you can  take a train to the nearest station , Contai and then travel the next half of the journey by rickshaws or buses which ply regularly from the Contai station. Personally, I have always preferred long drives as you get to see and experience a lot of situations when you are travelling via road. However you must remember that Mandarmani is a sea beach and is under the influence of high and low tides. Thus the timings should be carefully planned as no one wants to get stuck on the beach due to high tides.

MANDARMANI BEACH

Mandarmani itself is a seaside resort which stretches up to a distance of fifteen to eighteen kilometers. All along this stretch are numerous hotels and resorts which are almost full and quite busy during the tourist season. If you think that going to Mandarmani means only to sit and bask in the sun and take a nice bath in the water you are mistaken. There are a number of things to do. 
ONSET OF HIGH TIDES IN THE EVENING
  • Taking a walk out on the beach and watch the sunrise or the sunset is an amazing experience and you cannot afford to miss it. In fact strolling along the beach you can also reach the Mohana or the confluence of two rivers. However with the possibilities of Quick Sand you need to be careful around that place.
  • There is  a small village nearby where the tribals live. You can take a quick tour of the place and feel humbled by the humility of the people there. 
  • Tea stalls and Food stalls mark the coastline . Probably after each hotel there is one such stall. Here people can order tea, coffee, and occasional food and sit and relax and spend hours after hours watching the sea.
    SUNSET FROM A FOOD STALL
  • There is a fish market along the coastline. Interestingly, the vendors in this market have contracts with the hotel . Every morning they supply fresh fish to the hotel. The tourists can also pick and buy their fish and get it cooked from the numerous tea and food stalls on the beach and relish them for lunch or dinner. 
  • Certain resorts offer a lot of  water sports like surfing and boating but these are only possible if they are compatible with the weather condition. Alternatively, you can play volleyball or other such outdoor games in the beach.All resorts have benches outside the gates where you can simply sit and read a book or observe the people on the beach. 
    BENCHES OUTSIDE HOTELS
  • In the evenings there are many curio shops where you can buy small local items for yourself or for gifting purposes. Local kids also roam around selling shells of different sizes, shapes and colors. Or you can collect some of the beautiful shells from the sea beach itself.
  • You can ride the local scooters which have a capacity of accommodating around twenty people at the same time and ply regularly for the tourists taking them for a ride along the full stretch of the coast at early mornings or in the evenings.
    CARS AND LOCAL RIDES IN THE BEACH
  • Local photographers are always on the prowl to attract customers . They click photographs in various ways and instantly print them for you in just 20 rupees per photograph. This rate is the same throughout the beach.
  • Red crabs are found all along the beach and are a beauty to look at . Crab holes can be found at every corner of the land and you must be careful of teasing such holes lest it might invite the anger and bites of the crab.
Some very interesting facts about Mandarmani is that the whole resort thrives on generators. Thus two hours in the morning (6 am -8 am)and two hours in the evening (4 pm – 6 pm) , there is no electricity in any of the resorts. This is the best time when all the tourists flood the beach. Also, the curio shops can only be seen on the coast from 3 pm to 6 pm after which as the tide starts rising; the vendors pack up and no sign of the shops can be seen. The fish market too sits only early in the morning when business flourishes the most and no trace of it can be seen as the sun rises. Again they sit in the evenings and disappear by 6 pm. Such unique timings have been made so that the entire situation can be adapted as per the tidal timings of the place.  

Off late certain tricky and dangerous situations have been reported but it has not dampened the spirit of the tourists visiting this place. Since the entire resort is built on a sandy beach, the probability of the wheels of your car getting seeped in by a quick sand is quite high. In fact my own car was stuck. Once such a situation arises you have no way out but to take the help of the locals. The locals have made it a business and charge anywhere between three thousand to five thousand rupees to help bring out the car.  Often many daredevils have made the sea beach their own platform of showing stunts with their cars and have taken their cars out too much into the sea. At such times the car and many of the people inside have even drowned under the influence of the tides. Thus, it is important to remember that one must follow the rules and drive along the beach and enjoy it in a safe manner. 

Nevertheless such accidents are common is every sea beaches and is the responsibility of the tourists too to take care and follow the rules of the place. Apart from such accidents which demand a bit of safety measures you can freely enjoy your stay at such a beautiful place . It relaxes your senses and re-energizes you from within to face the hustle and bustle of the city life with a smile on your face.

RIPPLES ON THE BEACH DURING SUNSET

Shantiniketan- Home of the Bard

Shantiniketan is probably the only place I have gone till date where the absence of technology did not hurt me.Though it has been almost three years since I went there but the memories of Ranga Matti and Khola Hawa are fresh in my mind as if it were just yesterday that I had made the trip. The best part of this trip was that I was accompanied by my friends and the fun that you have when you are with your friends is something that you miss when you are travelling on your own or with your family.

I still remember the  warm October morning in 2011 when I was waiting in the Howrah Station to take my first ever train ride. Bolpur can also be reached by cars and buses which ply regularly from Kolkata . But due to lack of time we chose to take the fastest way- a train ride which would take us in about two and a half hours.

If you have not taken a train ride ever , then I suggest that you should, at least once in your lifetime. The train moving at its own pace with the scenery changing outside every now and then is a sight missed by those sitting high up in the plane.Right from barren lands to crops being cultivated and animals grazing amidst lush greenery ; every sight can be seen and experienced. There is an equal amount of activity going on inside the train as well.People from all backgrounds and speaking different languages travelling together; food vendors , book sellers, candy sellers and achar sellers shouting on top of their voices to attract customers. Overall the two and a half hours journey seems very less when surrounded by such wonderful activities. On its way the train stops at various big and small stations to pick or drop people. Some daredevils also show their skills by trying to jump off from the moving train but display of such tactics are highly objectionable and dangerous.

RIVER AJOY FROM THE TRAIN
BOLPUR STATION
Shantiniketan is a place close to nature. It appeals to the senses of a person and transcends the gap between them and nature. The beauty lies in the simplicity of the place and the innocence of the people living there. It is not a concrete jungle but a series of loose shacks, bungalows, green fields , villages and a number of tourist lodges apart from hostels for the students who come to study in the Visva Bharati University.

FIELDS 
When in Shantiniketan there are a few must see places that one has to visit.
  • The Visva Bharati University campus houses not only the University itself but also a centre for Arts and Culture, the house of Rabindranath Tagore , a museum, a prayer hall and a very famous more than a hundred year old Banyan Tree. There is also a handicraft section where handicrafts made by the students are on display . But it remains open only during the sessions of the University.
PRAYER HALL

BANYAN TREE
  • Family Park is a beautiful place which can be best enjoyed during evenings. watching the sunset amidst such wonderful surroundings of games , swings and food counters is not something one gets everyday.
  • Amar Kutir is a very famous handicraft centre. Anyone who comes here cannot miss this place.From hand embroidered dress, Kurtis, file, folders, jewelries, paintings to pora maati  (burnt clay) show pieces , everything is available here. One must take some souvenirs which reflect on the tradition of Shantiniketan from here.
  • Flower Garden Resort  is a lush garden-scape spread over few acres of land. One can name a flower and find it in the garden. Every direction one looks one can find a variety of colors – From red, pink, yellow , white roses to tulips, sunflowers, jasmines, periwinkles and some occasional fungi , everything can be spotted here. There are huts which can be booked by people to stay and relax in during short weekend trips .
TREES PRUNED TO FASHION

THE LONELY ANT

LOTUS’ READY TO BLOOM

THE ROAD TO THE FLOWER GARDEN RESORT 

  • Sanskriti Park is a unique display of the culture of India . It has traditional huts representing different States of the country . Inside the huts are those traditional items with which one clearly associates with the State- be it festivals, musical instruments, paintings, embroideries, etc.
ENTRANCE TO SANSKRITI PARK

TRADITIONAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS ON THE DISPLAY
  • There are many villages and settlements in Bolpur. If  time permits one can visit these tribal and non-tribal villages and experience the rural way of  living.
PAINTINGS ON THE WALLS OF THE VILLAGE HOUSES

A TRIBAL LADY AT WORK

  • The Village Haat sits only on Saturday evenings . It is a true reflection of the culture where the tribals sell their hand made items , Baul singers entertain people in their melodious voices – all in the banks of the beautiful Khoai.
  • Lastly, the river Kopai and the irrigation channel Khoai. One can sit on the banks of Kopai and feel that time has stopped . One can feel being transported to the time of the Bard and imagine how he could compose most of his masterpieces.
CROSSING THE KOPAI

A DRIED UP KHOAI

In Shantiniketan few things should be remembered.
  • With an abundance of mosquitoes at night , life can be bad.
  • Waking up in the mornings to find a monkey on your rooftop or veranda is not an unusual sight.
  • Cows and Goats taking a bath in the nearby river can be a pleasant view.
  • People follow the simple rural lifestyle Early to bed, early to rise; thus wandering around in the empty streets after ten at night is not advisable.
Nevertheless it is a trip one should make to relax their senses from the busy tension filled hustle and bustle of the city life.
A FARMER AT WORK



The Walled city- Jaipur

Jaipur is much more than just the Pink city of India. It is a rich amalgamation of modernization and preservation of the past cultural heritage. It is divided into two distinct cities- the new  and the old. It is the old city which is referred to as the pink city as under government’s rule all houses of this city has to be painted pink in color. Moreover this is probably the only city in the entire State which is surrounded by a huge wall; thus making the wall engulf the whole city . If you ever want to visit Jaipur it is advisable that you take some time in hand to cover all the tourist spots of the place. But unfortunately, I had only one day in hand. Nevertheless even with one day one can cover most of the places worth seeing and also do some fabulous shopping. The only trick is wake up early!

When you are going for a city tour you must try and arrange for a vehicle otherwise it becomes very difficult to travel from one place to the other especially if you have come for the first time and have no tourist guide with you. Right before entering the old city one can locate the Albert Hall Museum which stands as a remnant of a meeting held between Sir Albert and the then Maharajah of Jaipur during the British era.

ALBERT HALL MUSEUM

On entering the old city two things stand out clearly. One, the big gates of the city inviting you to explore its rich culture and two, the color of the houses , shops, hospitals, hotels etc; every single house is painted pink. The very first monument which you can see is the Hawa Mahal. It is a facade palace built mostly on pillars. It is said that in earlier times when the kings and his men would pass through the city gates the Queen , maids and the ladies of the royal family would get together in the Hawa Mahal to get a glimpse of the King and his men.  Also, during extreme summer days the Queen enjoyed the cool breeze by sitting near the windows of the Hawa Mahal.

HAWA MAHAL

Further down the road you get to see the Jal Mahal. It is a palace built completely on water. The reason why it does not sink is that it is equally distributed above and under water . There is only one way to reach the Palace- a boat ride. It earlier used to serve as the summer house of the Maharajah’s . Though now it is under reconstruction and closed for tourist viewing . Today it serves only as a museum.

JAL MAHAL

After the Jal mahal comes the main attraction of this part of the city -the forts. There are two different forts to be seen- the Amber Fort/ Amer Fort at the foot of the hills while the Nahargarh Fort is on top of the hill. Amber Fort is divided into two distinct parts- the residential part and the storing place of the artillery. From the gates of the Fort to the main residential Fortress one can travel via car, tourist buses, local buses, motor cycles or opt for elephant rides. I was told by my guide that within a span of fifteen to sixteen kilometres one can find over three hundred temples inside the city. It is a pleasant scene when all the guests going to Amber Fort are greeted by traditional musicians playing folk music on their instruments outside the  Residential Fortress gates. One can see vendors trying to persuade tourists to buy caps, hats, postcards and other little curios.

TRADITIONAL MUSICIANS
AMER FORT 

 The temple in the fortress is what greets every visitor first on their arrival. Many monkeys too visit this temple and food is sometimes left for them to eat. However many tourists also opt not to go for the temple and see it from outside as these monkeys can sometimes become a nuisance stealing food, money, specs, etc.

MONKEYS WAITING TO WELCOME YOU
TEMPLE IN AMER FORT

Going further up the fort one sees the Diwan-i-Aam or the Hall of public audience where the king used to listen to the common people. The common people of the city were allowed only till this point. From hereon started the private palace of the Kings and Queens . The entire palace is an architectural marvel. There are few distinct pieces of artwork which you must not miss.

THE RESIDENTIAL PALACE, AMER FORT 
  • The wall carvings and patterns on the roof of most of the doors and rooms of the palace have been made by gold. Interestingly, if you stand outside the room and watch the patterns they appear to have been made with yellow paint but only when you step inside can you understand that it is pure gold.
    GOLD PATTERNS 
  • The Sheesh Mahal or the Hall of Mirrors is intricately designed by making designs and patterns from mirrors of all shapes and sizes. In fact if you stand any where near this hall you can see your reflection and find at least a hundred  copies of yourself on the walls.Earlier Sheesh Mahals were the features of the Queens quarters. It is very famous in Mughal architecture and can be found in almost all forts made by them. 
    SHEESH MAHAL
  • Adjacent to the Sheesh Mahal there are wall carvings made out of a single slab of marble. This I personally call the Wall of Illusions. What from far can be seen as a pretty pattern of flowers and butterfly is not actually so. One can see the head of a snake, the tail of a fish and a lion and a scorpion all camouflaged within one single carving.
    WALL CARVINGS
  •  The artificial lake cannot be missed at all.  This lake was actually built in the form of a reservoir which stored rain water for future use. This lake not only served as a man- made wonder but also as a means of providing natural air conditioning to the palace in summer months. Water from this reservoir was also used to give water to the kings garden and promote saffron plantations within a platform built on the lake to grow saffron .
    ARTIFICIAL LAKE WITH SAFFRON CULTIVATION

Apart from these are the King and the Queen’s quarters, their recreational spots, their servants quarters, courtyards, kitchens and tourist shops .

Leaving the Amber Fort one has to take a steep road ascending further up the hill to the Nahargarh fort. Though not much is to be seen in the entire fort but it houses Jaivan the biggest Cannon in the world. It is said that it was fired only once by the Maharaja and after the destruction that it made, it was decided that it will never be fired again. This fort is a museum for the variety of strategic arms that were used by the Maharajah’s in various battles. It displays cannons, guns, pistols, gun powder making factory , shields, swords and the like. Further ahead is the Bhool Bhulaiyya where you tend to get lost amidst the various small and narrow lanes, by lanes, alleys, rooms and doors. There are also some puppet shops and food stores where one can eat while watching a puppet show. Photography is restricted in many parts of this fort.

JAIVAN CANNON

The Jantar Mantar is a solar observatory set up by the king of Jaipur. Till date it gives the accurate sense of time to the people. It was built  when time was measured looking at the suns rays and the shadows. The dial and the sun rays were the two important instruments to show the time in this observatory. Today with all sorts of modern gadgets and instruments like watches and observatories one may find technical faults at times; but the readings of the Jantar Mantar  are not wrong.

Your last but not the least destination should be the City Palace of Jaipur or the current residence of the Maharajah of Jaipur. It is a huge complex fragmented into two halves. While seventy per cent of the campus is opened to tourists in the form of City Palace Museum , around thirty per cent of the complex is retained by the king as his private property. In fact the revenues collected by the tourist visits are given directly to the King and the Government has no part to play in the whole system. It would take another post in itself to discuss the City Palace .

After sightseeing comes the time for food ! There are many hotels and restaurants built in the area. Most of these hotels offer both traditional Rajasthani  food and not so traditional foods as well. With lots of foreigners visiting the city everyday  the hotels have adjusted to make all its customers happy and satisfied. Thus where one would find Dal Baati Churma in the hotel one would also find drumsticks and Mughlai food. There are lots of roadside inns, hotels and restaurants to choose from and one would not be left hungry for long.


We save the best for the last and that is shopping! When in Rajasthan you must take a piece of bandhni ghaghras, lehengas, skirts etc. The Kurtis and Salwars are also made in traditional hand embroideries and prints. Block print is another famous technique used here. Leheriya sarees and dupattas are also quite in fashion. Jaipur is famous for its blue pottery. You get jewelries, coasters, plates, etc made in blue pottery with exquisite hand painted and hand carved designs.Hand made paintings of animals and Kings and Queens are also very unique to this part of the country. It is desirable to take few as it serves as great gift items.

More until next time . Signing off for now!

Fatehpur- The Deserted Fortress

At a distance of around fifty kilometers from Agra en route Jaipur lies the deserted town of Fatehpur. The journey from the entrance of the city to the actual fort has to be made either on foot or via auto-rickshaws. At the entrance gates are guide houses and parking spaces for cars, buses and other vehicles which bring tourists from all over the world to see this spectacle. Fatehpur was built by Mughal emperor Akbar on the birth of his son Salim (Jahangir), by his Hindu Rajput  princess Jodha Bai.

Thus on entering the fort the first and the biggest palace to be seen is the palace of Jodha Bai. The palace is divided into two distinct chambers. A Winter Palace which kept the chambers heated on chilly winter days. A Summer Palace which had ventilator shafts which provided natural air conditioning by making use of the lake behind the fortress. The lake today has dried up.Another interesting thing to note is that the walls were hollow and echoed. Thus no matter where you stand in the chamber you can hear what the other person says. This was used as a means of communication in the absences of telephones and other such gadgets. Outside the palace is a kitchen made specially for Jodha Bai where her vegetarian food was cooked. The now-charred walls of the kitchen is a proof of the activities that once went on in the kitchen. what is interesting to note here is the design of the kitchen walls.It has the carvings of Jodha Bai’s ear-rings. It is said that the jewelers used to look at these carvings and make ear-rings for her.

JODHA BAI PALACE ENTRANCE 

WINTER PALACE 

SUMMER PALACE

COMBINATION OF HINDU AND MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE AT JODHA BAI PALACE

EAR-RINGS CARVED ON THE WALLS OF JODHA BAI’S KITCHEN

The next palace is of Rukaiyya Begum, who was from Turkey. She was Akbar’s first wife and they were married off at a very young age. Though her palace is not as big as that of Jodha Bai’s, but the intricacies of Turkish carvings, paintings and drawings is sure to leave one spell bound. The interior of the chambers have been built into cubic walls where the Begum kept her make- up, clothes  and other  personal items.

WALL CARVINGS IN RUQAIYA BEGUM’S PALACE

INTERIOR OF RUQAIYA BEGUM’S PALACE
PHOTO COURTESY: SHAKUNTALA SEN

The third palace is of Mariam , who was a Christian princess from Goa. Her palace had beautiful chinese paintings and patterns drawn in gold. Today, with time, both the patterns and the paintings are on the verge of decay.

Akbar had for himself, built an elaborate Dream House . It is said that whenever Akbar wanted to have dreams he  used to go and sleep in this chamber.

DREAM  PALACE
PHOTO COURTESY: SHAKUNTALA SEN 

Tansen who was one of the nine gems in Akbar’s council used to sit and sing amidst rose water and open sky.His voice was such that it had mesmerized many including the emperor himself.

SINGING PLACE OF TANSEN

The Diwani-i-Aam was the Hall of public audience where Akbar met the common public. There was only one gate which served as the entrance and the exit both, as the common people were not allowed inside the fortress beyond the Diwani-i Aam.The Diwani-i-Khaas was the hall of private decision making where the emperor took important decisions regarding his kingdom after consulting with his nine ministers.

DIWAN-I-AAM
DIWAN-I-KHAAS

Right outside the Diwani-i-Khaas one can look at the dice board of Akbar where he used to play games. Girls acted as the counters of the game and whoever the emperor liked was added to his Harrem. Akbar  was said to have been very superstitious and thus had a fortune teller stationed inside the fortress itself.

AKBAR’S DICE BOARD
PHOTO COURTESY: SHAKUNTALA SEN

Lastly, the Palace on Pillars which in local language is the Hawa Mahal of Fatehpur. It is a five storeyed palace supported only by pillars.

  • The first storey was where the security was stationed.
  • The second storey was where Jodha Bai worshipped the sun every morning.
  • The third storey was used by Rukaiyya Begum to worship the moon on the festival of Eid.
  • The fourth storey was from where Mariam used to watch the sunset every evening.
  • The fifth storey was where the emperor met all his wives.
    HAWA MAHAL OF FATEHPUR
The garden adjacent to this palace was where the Mina Baazar was held exclusively for the ladies of the fortress.The princesses and the ladies were not allowed to leave the gates and so the market was brought to their doorstep.

A tour of the Fatehpur Fort is a reflection of the culture, values, architecture and engineering marvels present among the Mughal empire around five hundred years ago.The fact that their logic could be so advanced to build air conditioned palaces and forts with materials exhibiting high decay resistant qualities are a manifestation of the works of the genius minds in that era. Visiting the fort and its nooks and corners makes one feel transported to the Mughal era. Thus these architectural marvels and remnants of history act as portholes to the past , to unravel the stories that are lost in time.

WINDOW OVERLOOKING FATEHPUR CITY

Of Prayers And Blessings

If you are in Agra make sure that you have some extra time in your hands to visit  Fatehpur Sikhri shrine at a distance of about fifty kilometers from it. Though there are actually two very important places of interests to look at- the  Fatehpur fortress and Sikhri , my discussion here would be restricted to only Sikhri. Sikhri is actually a mosque that was built by Mughal emperor Akbar for his master, his savior and the one who guided him through all his joys and sorrows- Salim Chisti.



It is said that Akbar, despite having three wives -Hindu Rajput princess Jodha Bai, Turkish Rukaiyya Begum and Goan princess Mariyam did not have any children. He then traveled to Salim Chisti bare foot from Agra fort in order that his wish of having a son comes true. Salim Chisti blessed him and Jodha Bai gave birth to a son who was named Salim and later became famous as Jahangir.In fact the birth of a son meant so much for the emperor that Akbar established a fort in Fatehpur itself and when Salim Chisti died created a shrine in his honor beside the Fatehpur fort.

TOMB OF SALIM CHISTI
People till date believe that if you ask any three wishes from your heart the prophet blesses you and they are fulfilled. It is also believed that not anyone and everyone can actually visit the place- those who visits the place are called by the Great One.

If you want to make a trip to this holy shrine here are few things you must keep in mind. 

Do’s
  • Try and go during winter. 
  • If at all you have to go during summer (like I did ) wear light cotton clothes.
  • Make sure you wear long sleeves .It would protect you from the scorching heat.
  • Carry a sunglass if you want to.
  • Apply lots of sunscreen.
  • Wear thick socks as you have to open your shoes outside the shrine. 
  • Carry some cash with you . 
  • Wear a cap or cover your head with a cloth.
Don’ts
  • Avoid going during summer .
  • Avoid wearing short skirts or pants. It is not allowed inside.
  • Don’t carry any valuables with you as they might be pick pocketed.
  • Don’t trust anyone who asks you to submit your valuables unless they know your guide or are from the authorities.
After the Dos and Don’ts it is important for you to know few other points which would help you in taking a good tour of this place. 
  • The Sikhri is not only a shrine for the Great Prophet but it also holds graves of male, females, children, infants and the likes. 
    GRAVES/ TOMBS
  • There is a tunnel in the enclosed area which, (though now it is closed) is said to have a hidden path connecting Fatehpur to Agra and Delhi. In fact it is rumored that when Anarkali the courtesan who Jahangir fell in love with was buried alive in the solid wall, she was made to escape through this path. 
    THE SECRET TUNNEL
  • The devotees who come in lakhs or more per day offer stoles  and flowers on the tomb. They then tie the sacred thread around the walls of the chamber and ask for any three wishes that they want on the condition that they never reveal it to anyone. These stoles are later taken off and given in charity to make clothes for children who go to school in the chambers present in the mosque premises. 
    VISITORS OFFERING FLOWERS AND STOLES IN THE TOMB
  • Most people who come here are tourists and are not left alone by the vendors who sell almost anything- pens, model Taj Mahal’s, jewelleries, bags, hats and the like.
    LOCAL VENDORS
Another important sight which you cannot miss is the Buland Darwaza. It is almost a 107 feet tall door overlooking the entire region of Fatehpur. It is said that the Buland Darwaza is the tallest door in Asia. Right after paying homage to the great Prophet when one goes out and sees the view from the Buland Darwaza one feels as if the eyes of the prophet sees and blesses the people of the entire region and fulfills the wishes of all those who come to him.

BULAND DARWAZA
Next time you make a journey make sure you visit the Chisti and if you cannot visit it then remember that the prophet has not yet called you to himself and there will be a day when he would call you in the near future.

VIEW OF FATEHPUR FROM BULAND DARWAZA

Silent Expressions

Often many of us prefer taking a long drive. In such times it is obvious that one has to travel via National Highways or other expressways that would make us reach our destination faster. What does one usually do in such drives? Plug in  their earphones, sit back and relax. Some people go to sleep making themselves cozy in the small space that they get. Many prefer to chat with friends and spend the time.Personally for me this is my second highway drive from Delhi to Agra and for the first time probably I refrained from plugging in my earphones and actually noticed the surroundings.

I started my journey from the populated city of Delhi with tall buildings, massive government offices, roadside shops and off course the blazing sun. But after an hour so it was amazing to see the entire scenery change in front of you. After you leave Delhi proper you enter the Yamuna Expressway. It was told by my driver that the entire stretch of over 200 km long expressway was built by Jaypee in UP and in return the lands beside the expressway were given to UP . Nice barter system in contemporary times!


The massive buildings disappeared into yellow fields with occasional stretches of tall green trees. A beautiful sports stadium complete with a  golf course also stood by the expressway and so did a professional management institute.After a certain while the expressway started bifurcating into many lanes. This was for the toll booths that were made after a certain stretch. It is a rule that one has to pay for using the expressway in a particular area. In the sense, one has to pay for using the expressway in Delhi, Mathura, Agra and so on.


Throughout the whole journey what intrigued me the most was that after regular intervals there were small rest houses for the travelers complete with all good delicacies that one could lay their hands on. As I  entered in one of them I heard lots of noises. It was a splendid view inside the inn .There were people of all ages . One table had around six to seven friends sitting and sipping iced tea. They were probably making a small weekend trip . Where to, was unknown to me. Another table had a middle aged couple savoring idli and dosa. From what they were talking (They were loud and I was not eavesdropping) I made out that they were going to visit their daughter in Agra.A young couple who I think had just got married were making their way to see the Taj ( I hoped the girl would not ask him to make one for her though!). Another family was trying to calm their son down who was adamant about a certain food that he did not want to eat. A little girl sitting beside him (his sister maybe ) was silently watching the scene and finishing not only her own food but also her brothers.

 I was completely engrossed in the scene when my own food came. As we were in a hurry we quickly finished off our food and were about to leave. While waiting for our car I just happened to glance at the store attached to the inn. A young boy of about twenty was completely confused with the customers jumping all over him with their orders. He was baffled amidst so many customers yelling at the same time – Mujhe woh blue wallah chips do, Bhaiya mujhe orange juice chahiye, Mujhe chewing gum de do, bhaiya mera balance dijiye and the likes. Though I wanted to wait for some more time to see how he tackles the situation I was running late and so had to leave the guy and take to the roads again.


By the time we started our journey  the sun had almost gone down. The light had become dimmer and the series of inns and restaurants had disappeared to give way to the barren land with an occasional hut here and there.What was additional to this scenery was cows. There were cows everywhere. Looking past a sign board I understood we were crossing Mathura and there had to be cows .After all it is a sacred place as it was a birthplace of Lord Krishna. 

There were still miles to go in the journey and I started contemplating about the people who were in their cars on the expressway going to their own destinations. I saw a car with a man driving and a little child sitting beside him. Probably a father was taking his daughter home maybe from a hostel; another car had an elderly couple maybe going to their son or daughters place. Many trucks passed us. Some were carrying fragile items and some were carrying fruits and vegetables to be delivered to a vendor. A state transport corporation bus went passed us carrying around forty passengers. Some were probably going to their villages, some going for a vacation, some going to spend some time in a quite place away from the busy hustle and bustle of the city life- I would never actually know.

As I neared the end of my journey I thought that one can actually see and feel things around them if  they only looked at it. Every sight has a unique story to it. One just needs to discover that story and feel it.But what is sad in contemporary times is that people are so busy with their own lives that they do not have time to stop and think about what is going on around them. I have always been advised to stop the music in my car and watch the surroundings. That day I discovered exactly why I should do it. It gives a person a different feeling, a different pleasure that cannot be completely defined by words.

So, next time if you travel through a highway or an expressway take some time out and observe everything that you see, you can actually derive a story out of it. Every sight has a silent expression which would compel you to think about it in depth. 

Chouki dhani- a Hotspot Of Tradition

One can never know that in the heart of a modern city , there can exist a completely traditional (artificial ) village, until one visits Chouki Dhani. This is one such place which defines Rajasthan in  the way people have been perceiving it’s heritage for time immemorial. Chouki  Dhani is easily accessible via bus, car or rickshaws. The uniqueness of this place is that it is operational only after sunset to late night. It is a place where one can enjoy, take part in the activities, shop till their heart’s content and lastly enjoy the traditional Rajasthani thali .

Right from the gates of the place one would start getting the feel of the traditions of this place. People dressed in traditional Rajasthani attires play the dhol and nagada to attract the people’s attention and to welcome them in the place.Upon entering the place, it is a different feel in itself.

ENTRANCE TO CHOUKI DHANI

Everywhere that you look you see colours and smiling faces. Girls wearing colourful ghagra performing the traditional ghoomar dance complete with fire, matkas and balancing acts . Puppeteers narrating tales of Kings and Queens of the past with a variety of sound and visual effects. Magicians showing unbelievable magic, young boys and girls balancing themselves on the rope, bioscope wallahs showing movies on the reels, fortune tellers telling the future of the people with the help of a parrot – everything can engage and mesmerize  you for hours .

GHOOMAR DANCERS

PUPPETEERS

BIOSCOPE WALLAHS

When in Rajasthan it is impossible that there would be no games. Hence, there were game stalls as well. Gun firing, hoops, bowling, hitting the target all interesting games are available at a minimum cost of five to six rupees.Camel, horse cart and elephant rides are also available. It gave the children immense joy to ride on elephants and camels, who, it seemed were very obedient and tamed animals as they let the children touch them and play with them.

No tour is complete without shopping and yes Chouki Dhani offers you that too! Anything that you name is available. From beautiful umbrellas to ghaghras , From bangles to furniture’s, from show pieces to traditional Rajasthani artwork. It is an array of colors and tradition all under one roof.

Lastly what one has to make a mention of is the food. There are two distinct seating arrangements of having your food. One is sitting down on the floor like people usually do and the other is sitting on chairs like a proper restaurant.But in both places one can enjoy the traditional thali complete with all Rajasthani delicacies- Bajre ki roti, Dal Baati churma, curry, paneer, palak, acahar, papad, lassi, chutney, khichdi, kulfi etc. You can actually enjoy this meal  in an ambiance of folk music and immense hospitality of the people. Chouki Dhani promises you an evening that you can never forget -an evening highlighting the traditions of the place and it lives up to its expectations.

TRADITIONAL MUSICIANS AND SINGERS 

A Flight To Remember

I am not a frequent traveller, but whenever I travel it is mostly by flights as there is scarcity of time.Hence last week when I boarded the flight to Delhi from Kolkata it was also keeping in mind the scarcity of time.However, little did I know that I was not meant to reach Delhi this time on the first go. Co-incidentally the day I boarded the flight was the same day when the 15th Prime Minister of India was to be sworn in. With heavy air traffic generated all over Delhi, the flight had to divert to my dream destination Jaipur.Thus we were around three hours behind time but nevertheless we managed to reach Delhi for our connecting transport which was to take us to Agra. If you think this was  unexpected, wait till you read about my return journey.

I was to board the Kolkata bound flight from Jaipur at around 7pm in the evening. But by 6 pm it was announced that the flight has been delayed to almost 9pm at night. Being the impatient person I am, I started doing lots of things. I took out a book, read few pages and lost interest in it. After putting it down I went to the windows to see if there was any trace of the plane which was to take me home. I was not very lucky with this stance either. I took out a hat which I had recently bought and planned to sleep on the chair like Indiana Jones. But this too was a flop. I started walking around the waiting area. Probably this was the best thing that I had done. I saw people , expressions and colours all around me and they reflected more than books or plane spotting.

There were people of all ages. Right from babies to those who were above eighty years old, all travelling to Kolkata. There was a distinct identity that I could form by just looking at their attires. A businessman all dressed with proper suit and tie; students dressed in casuals -returning from a vacation or going for a vacation; housewives dressed in pretty floral salwars travelling with their children. A variety of languages and dialects were being spoken by all . Right from Bangla, Hindi, English to Rajasthani , Gujarati , Marwari etc. It was like the waiting room had become a mini India in itself. I was getting carried away by this sight myself when there was an announcement that the flight had been further delayed to 10:15pm.

This  time  the people could take no more and my mini India awoke forgetting all the diversity in its cultures and dialects to a united strength which asked for answers from the airport authorities. The situation was that due to bad weather conditions in Delhi, air traffic had been generated due to which planes were stuck in Delhi.Though they served us snacks , they could not pacify the irritation of the passengers.Every two minutes or so people were getting up to the customer care asking lots of questions- Where was the flight? Why such delay? Has the flight left Delhi? How long would it take? Will they cancel the flight ? People constantly kept in touch with their families letting them know of the current situation.

Everyone started talking to everyone due to  this chaos.  I made friends with some students who had just given their class twelve exams and were in Jaipur for a vacation. Another girl – an MBA student- was returning home after two years. There was a newly married couple who had already missed their connecting flight. A businessman from Chunchura was more concerned about his transport as his home was around a 100 km from the Kolkata airport. A research guy and a fashion photographer were constantly in touch with their group uncertain, whether they would be able to reach Kolkata in time for their  project.

At around 10 pm we got a confirmed news that the flight had left Delhi and was on its way to Jaipur. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. However the fight was not over. Now the passengers started fighting for free food that should be given to them on board because of the caused delay. Moreover they fought for good food and not dry sandwiches. Personally I found this comical . All I wanted to do was to set foot on the ground of my dear Kolkata and not waste time fighting for good food. Hunger had evaded me a long time ago.

Finally around 11 30 pm we boarded the heavenly flight to Kolkata. I slept in the flight off course so I was oblivious to what was happening. But I was sure of one fact that there were less murmurs as everyone was exhausted and wanted to go back home and sleep.As the flight landed around 1 30 pm in Kolkata airport and everyone ran towards the baggage counter to collect their bags there was a roar of “finally” echoing throughout the airport.

This is one such incident which probably all the hundred passengers would never forget in their lives. Though we know nothing about each other but it did portray the unity that we still have among the people which comes out especially in times of crisis.After collecting their luggage’s each one went their own way knowing that we might never meet each other ever again in life but will always be connected through this incident.

I learnt two very important things in life through this incident. First, no matter how much planning we do sometimes it just goes out of our hands. In such times one needs to be calm and bear the situation with patience. Second, no matter who you are and where you are from , in times of crisis all are one . It is the popular demand with many unclear faces which stands out and to which even authorities have to bend. On a more lighter note unexpected events are bound to happen during travelling. Thus it is advisable to plan the trip with some extra time in hand so that one can cope up with such situations.

Signing off until next time . . . 

My life My Way

I have always wanted to travel and experience new cultures, arts, cuisines, communicate with people and most importantly explore the unexplored paths. Thus for all my friends who love travelling just the way I do, this blog is dedicated to them. Let this be a communicative platform where we can share our experiences and learn about new places.

People think going out on a tour or a vacation is an adventure or an experience. But we often forget the small incidents happening with us throughout the day . Truly, if one changes his/ her perspective of viewing the world , then adventure would be everything that happens to them from morning till night. One need not go out of station all the time to discover new places. One can do that by staying right in their home town . It has often been seen that the love of another place makes a person know less about their city and more about the one they are fascinated with. Let us know equally about both and in details. Thus my aim from here would be to take up different places and discover the possible adventures that one can have in those places.

Lastly, a point which I strongly believe in is the fact the God’s greatest vehicle is attached to the human body- the legs. It is through walking that one can truly discover new places and explore roads that they can never forget. . .

I leave on this note hoping to bring something new very soon.  . . . . .