Category Archives: India

Mawlynnong – A Model Village for “Swachh Bharat” Revolution

It was a pitch-dark night, I could only sense the jungle around me. It was the monsoon of 2014 when I first visited Mawlynnong, a tiny village in Meghalaya. Huts with thatched roofs were the only sign of establishment that could be spotted. I wished there were more street lights.

I was looking for a woman named Carol, whom I contacted on the phone for accommodation which she advertised on the internet with the name of “Bamboo Huts”. I doubted the whole arrangement since she neither noted my name nor demanded an advance, just confirmed the dates. On probing with locals, I was pointed to the Bamboo Huts and saw a man standing, looked like he was waiting for me.

“Hi, I am looking for Carol. I made a booking with her.” I said. I didn’t know if it was a right pitch because I didn’t have any confirmation to show.

“I don’t know any Carol”, he said sternly.

He looked pissed. I was puzzled.

“Do you have any availability?”, I asked sheepishly.

“No.” again a stern reply.

The clock already struck midnight. With the population of only 500, I wasn’t sure if I’ll find a guest house other than this.

“My name is Henry. Carol is my agent. I am angry because she did not communicate with me for this booking”, he said.

“Oh, I see. I called her twice to confirm. That’s very irresponsible on her part.” I said sympathetically.

Soon, he got warm and assured me there is an available hut and offered me dinner, which was music to my ears because I was starving from my 6 hours drive from Guwahati. The night couldn’t have been more eventful than this, and soon, I retired to bed.

Next morning, my eyes opened to another world. At around 7 a.m., it was drizzling and a bit foggy. The local women were already out cleaning the streets of the village. Suddenly, the reality hit me, another reason for me to visit this village was because of its identity of being the cleanest village in Asia. I looked around with the inspecting look, and noticed conical bamboo bins all along the street. The cleaning exercise is repeated on the evening. I was impressed and greatly surprised. Impressed, with the natural beauty of the village and surprised, by the natural consciousness of the people to make it clean.

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Living deep in the jungle, in a world still to be permeated by modern technology, the people of Mawlynnong have naturally come to understand the importance of keeping their surroundings clean and garbage proof. Two years after the trip, when I now reflect as a city dweller, I fail to understand why we despite all that we know haven’t come to the same conclusion? Isn’t it something which should come naturally to us?

Prayer bells in India

Photo Credits: A. Mittal
Photo Credits: A. Mittal

While browsing through my old pics, I stopped at these bell pics and wondered what was I thinking when I took pictures of these bells.  Sure, the dense clustered bells must have been an intriguing  factor, but the presence of so many bells in a temple not so heavily crowded was a little surprising.  These pictures are from some temple in a small hilly town of Chamba in Himachal Pradesh, India.

Bell sounds can be commonly heard in India.  And when you hear it, it is apparent that there must be a temple nearby.  In India, you will never come across any temple without a bell, it is a ritual here to ring the bell before praying.  After much thought on why it’s a norm for every temple to have at least one bell, I read somewhere that these bells are made of different metals in different ratios that gives them a distinct sound. It is said that when the tongue of the bell is struck against the outer cap it produces the divine sound of ‘Om’.   In Hinduism, ‘Om’ is considered as the holy syllable which encompasses all the sounds of our universe.  So, the theory is  by striking the bell before praying, you are inviting the virtual energy or vibes to engulf your surroundings while diminishing the negative ones at the same time.

Remember to ring a bell in temples in India. 🙂

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

 

Benares – The City of Gods

For Benares – If there is Heaven on this earth, it is here. Not because it is beautiful but it is the city of Gods.

Benares, also known as Varanasi, is a small town in Uttar Pradesh state of India. I had been thinking of visiting there from quite some time, and finally I made it last weekend. I decided to go to there on the festival of Holi. It can be reached easily by flight, train or car. Benares as I like to call it is the holy city of Hindus. It is said if a Hindu dies or cremated here goes straight to heaven. Well, my intentions were not fully spiritual. It is a unique city in a lot many ways.  Let me answer some questions about this city.

Why is the city so famous?

The city homes a very famous and important temple of Hindus – Kashi Vishwanath. It is the temple of Shiva who is deemed as the hippie God by foreigners. If you want to read about why is he considered as a hippie, you can refer to http://www.vepachedu.org/linga.htm.

What are the essential things to do in Benares?

Benares is small but has a lot to do. But 3 main things you mustn’t miss are – to roam around the Ghats; to eat Benaras Ka Paan (Betel leaves prepared and used as a stimulant) and to take home Benaresi Sarees (Indian ethnic wear).

What are the things you need to beware of?

The traffic in the city is crazy. Leave your vehicle and travel by cycle or auto rickshaws. Watch out for those pot holes in the road. Second, since the city is full of temples, the so-called priests sometimes squeeze out money in the name of donating to God. So try to be firm.

Where to visit in Benares?

The city can be covered in 2-3 days comfortably. 1. Kashi Vishwanath is one temple you would really want to visit. 2. I highly recommend visiting Ghats which are at walking distance from the temple. You should visit the Ghats both during sunrise and sunset. It is a beautiful site. Also see the evening aarti that happens every evening at 6 pm, it’s a spectacular site.

You can visit other temples out of curiosity.

On second day, you can hire a taxi to visit Sarnath which is about 15-20kms from Benares. Sarnath is the place where Gautam Buddha taught his first sermon. The place now has the ruins of monasteries, Buddhist temples, and a Museum. It’s small town full of monks.

One thing I am really sure you’ll love about this city is its Spirit.

Night view at Ghats

ImageSunrise at Ghats

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View of Ghats from Ganga

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Benares is famous for its small lanes. If you are not aware of the ways, you can easily get lost.

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Ruins of Monastaries in Sarnath

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Prayer flags in Sarnath

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A wild weekend

Last weekend I visited Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and spotted everything but a Tiger.

Was able to capture a stag crossing the path before us..

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Some other beautiful moments captured during the trip.

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Who is the most beautiful? me me me …IMG_0924 Photo courtesy: Payal, a friend of mine.

For more pictures look at my other blog entry here.

Together with the Nature

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Watching the sun setting down in the sand dunes where you can’t find a singly being in vicinity is one indefinable experience. I can best describe the feelings of the individuals in this picture as Pure.There is no desire of anything or qualms in life. The only want is to watch that very sun rising once again.

Picture taken at Thar desert, Jaisalmer, 2013.

Dwarka – Gujarat

And the holiday is over. This time I couldn’t get enough of it, I feel I would soon need another hiatus. Anyway, since Indian currency is depreciating against US dollar at a pace at which Sebastian Vettel wins his race, I am looking options to explore my own country which is vast and diverse in culture. This time I visited the state of Gujarat, a region which boasts its industrial development.

Gujarat is a place which connects to Indians through Hindu mythology, Indian freedom struggle, unique culture and food :-). Once you are in India you can’t really ignore this region as you will come across its name somewhere or the other. If you have heard of Mahatma Gandhi, there you go Gujarat is his birth place.

My trip involved visiting to lot of temples. Now to me Hindu temples offer lot of architecture excellence. While my family was offering prayers inside the temple I was at some corner zooming my lens to capture the intricacies of the monument; it left me in awe of minute details the architects had paid while carving each stone and chiseling mythological fables for us.

Below are the pictures of a temple called Rukmani Mandir which is located near Dwarka town of Gujarat. Rukmani was the wife of Lord Krishna but bound to a curse by a saint both Lord Krishna and Rukmani faced a separation of 12 years. She penanced for 12 years where now her temple is located away from the temple of Lord Krishna in Dwarka. For the reference I should tell you Dwarka is Hindu’s holy place, this is where Lord Krishna spent his 100 years of life.

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One man and his pen

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August 15th is the day of India’s Independence.  I would like to dedicate this post to him who gave India its national anthem. A Japanese Nobel laureate described his appearance as:

“His white hair flowed softly down both sides of his forehead; the tufts of hair under the temples also were long like two beards, and linking up with the hair on his cheeks, continued into his beard, so that he gave an impression, to the boy I was then, of some ancient – Oriental wizard”

Rabindra Nath Tagore’s contribution to India is an example of how some fights can be won by strong writing.  Gitanjali, a legendary book that is a compilation of his poems would touch anybody’s soul. The poems have based on humanity with shades of spirituality.

 “Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path-maker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust.”

I feel fortunate to have learnt about Tagore and his writings that fills me with immense pride and love for my country.

“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been
broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls; …
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit; …
Into that heaven of freedom,
my Father, let my country awake.”

Duped or not Duped, that is the question

It feels stupid to get duped in your own city.

Today was my street shopping day with a friend. Anybody traveling to New Delhi especially a woman should definitely visit Sarojini Nagar if shopping is one of the things on your list. This place is not only cheap but you get defected original high street brands (well the defection is not evident from a naked eye); exported stuff, knock-offs, and stolen originals. So you see paradise for a shopper!!. Highly recommended.

With the description of the market you can make out how efficient you have to be in your bargaining skills. You have to bring out the best in you in this shopping paradise. I would rate myself as an average bargainer as in I would only say twice to the shopkeeper and then if I really like the stuff I will buy it :(.  But frequent visits to this place has honed my shopping skills, now I don’t give up that easily and have also even tried walking past the shopkeepers if they don’t agree with my price. And they call me back with my price!!

So, somebody who is a locale, knows the language, knows the functioning of this market and is also enhancing bargaining skills got duped. At least I feel so. A nice branded expensive watch has been on my list for long. So when my friend and I was buying some women stuff, suddenly we heard a voice “Madame do you want a real Gucci or a Tommy Hilfiger watch?” At first we snubbed him but he was persistent. He started taking out watches of various brands from his various pockets (he had like uncountable number of watches hidden in his clothes).

“How do we believe you, this doesn’t look original?” asked my friend.

“Madame this is original, but it is stolen, you will find the same watch in the showrooms for US$150, I will give you in US$40.” said the seller.

Well even 40 bucks is quite expensive in this market, my whole budget for this shopping was US$40!!! yes imagine it is dirt cheap place. So we ignored the guy and gave him reasons for not buying it although we did like it. It was not at all looking a rip-off plus it came with a box. We asked for more proofs for its authenticity and he showed us some hieroglyphic numbers. Somehow that guy sounded convincing. Even to my friend who is a lawyer!! So after 3-4 denials we thought of buying it because the guy was so pushy. We bargained and got him down to US$32 for two watches. After a bargaining rally finally he agreed and we felt victorious, we paid, and he scampered away.

After a moment we kept thinking if it was a good bet. We again checked the watches and this time somehow we felt those were fakes. Although till now it is a mystery to us if we bought the originals or fakes. Because if these are fakes then we lost good amount of money. And till the end of our shopping day we kept asking each other if we were duped!!

So getting tricked in your own country convinces a thought that getting tricked in a foreign land is no shame.

A conversation

After watching the horrendous natural mishap happened in the Uttarakhand state of India, I am devastated and shocked with the intensity of nature’s fury.

Uttarakhand lies in the northern region of India beautifully adorning mountain ranges. This state is popular for its hill stations and pilgrimage destinations. Like all years, this year also, thousands of people visited to the holy shrines at Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamnotri and Gangotri only to witness death due to the floodings caused by the heavy rains and cloudburst.  The whole state as lies in the hilly region is prone to landslides. I watched the clips of the destroyed region on the news and they are very disturbing. People are still stranded in different parts of the state without food and any contacts as the road network got damaged and any sort of connection is not reachable to them. The rescue teams are in action to save as many people as they can however nobody can estimate the exact number of people who may have lost their lives in this accident. It is probably in thousands.

This video is just a fraction of the damage that has happened.

It is an intrinsic nature of us – to complain even without even realizing our faults. In this post I am trying to make a conversation between an affected pilgrim and the God.

What a pilgrim says to his God after witnessing this whole nature’s devastation.

“It was an epiphanic day,

I thought,

My materialistic pains will be alleviated,

If I see you,

I took a plunge,

Crossing rivers and mountains,

I arrived,

With folded hands, pure heart and teary eyes,

I prayed,

Not for me but for my family,

As I opened my eyes I was swept away,

I was drowning,

 Amidst the yelling people I was lost,

    Soon everything was in rubble

    I lost everything for which I prayed for

  And with that the faith in you

Are you really God – the most divine or a monster?”

How the God replied to this harsh accusation on Him:

“It is you who made me God,

And now you are making me a monster

I never asked you to come to me,

I never asked you to pray me

All I have asked you is to help each other,

There are others dying every day of hunger,

While you were feeding your family

There are atrocities happening everywhere,

And you watched them

It perturbs me more when I see,

What you did with the nature I gifted you,

You did not value it too

And you are asking me if I’m a monster

Don’t go find me at far off places,

You will not seek happiness

I am there where you don’t want to see

 Within you

I have given you the power to find solutions for all your pains

Once you’ll start valuing things I have bestowed on you,

And help people around you,

You will not need any GOD to help you.”

And I wished to die…

rape case

I came to this world only five years ago, was still trying to absorb its beauty and goodness. Like a pampered angel I walked, holding hands of Daddy. Everything seemed halcyon and glee. Ignorant of dreadful elements in the society, I played nonchalantly. And then came two human-looking figures, seeing chocolate in their hands, I was overjoyed. Not that I knew, I was beguiled. They pulled me to a place that was dark and silent. One by one they laid over me, something which I did not like. I threw my legs and scratched their faces with my nails. But they smothered me with their big hands. Tears rolled down my eyes. I wanted my mummy and daddy, but there was nobody to hear me. Both wretched monsters still continued their execrable and sickening ‘thing’ with me. I did not know what they were doing. I loathed as they touched my body and private parts tossing me around like a plastic doll and biting me infinite times, the pain was excruciating. And then both of them stood up I thought it’s over and I can go home but no it was not. They were not done playing with me yet. A broken glass was inserted in me through my private parts like I had no life. I can not even describe the pain I went through, any word in the dictionary would fail to measure my agony. It made my heart to groan but I could not as they stuffed my mouth. I could not think of anything worse than this but then a plastic bottle entered inside me, for once I thought was I born to witness this? Is this usual thing that happens here? And those human-looking monsters disappeared leaving me in a pool of blood. I wanted to shout but my voice could not come out. I whimpered incessantly. As the night passed the place grew darker and darker. I cried all night not  because I was hungry or in pain, but for taking birth as a girl. Now I know what it is being a girl. With the dawn of another day my sobbing was at last heard. I screamed seeing my mummy. Now I detested any touch by male, even that of my daddy!. I was taken to the hospital and as the world knows, I made it. But what life I have now with that trauma deeply engraved in my heart and mind? I have only one question – why did I live as I wished nothing but, die.

“Now piercèd is her virgin zone;
She feels the foe within it.
She hears a broken amorous groan,
The panting lover’s fainting moan,
Just in the happy minute.”

 -John Wilmot

My Thoughts:  This post is dedicated to the recent 5 year old rape victim in New Delhi. I chose to write on that gruesome act happened with that girl through her melancholic heart and not any long social correction message. I have nothing more to say on it.