Leopard sisters playing

Predator Diaries: Pench National Park

On my first safari, and the month had just turned December. A chilly and cold morning and within less than five minutes a jungle cat was sighted. It disappeared into the tall grass and then further into the woods. Later on the in the day, a jackal trotted along without a care in the world. Amongst all this of course I must mention the multiple numbers of white eye buzzard who had made the woodland their stronghold. When I look back now, I must say that the impatient part of me hoped for the tiger lurking around the corner waiting to show itself and make my first morning special. But it was not to be. Yet, now that I sit and write this I must say that it was hard to ignore the different predators large and small that Pench comprises of including the striped cat above all this in the food chain.

White Eyed Buzzard

White Eyed Buzzard

What allows Pench to have a successful number of predators in terms of both numbers and diversity is its high density of prey species including the axis deer. Pench ranks right up there with one of the highest number of spotted deer in comparison to other national Parks, tiger reserves or wildlife sanctuaries. To add to this are langur monkeys which are also found in abundance along with a few rhesus macaque who too seem very much at home in this dry deciduous forest. Larger prey species include nilgai or blue bull antelope, sambar deer and the Indian gaur, a large and impressive wild cattle. Add to this a healthy number of diversity of avian fauna, good fish life on the Pench river running through the heart of the park and a great diversity of insect life that thrive in this teak dominated country. All these facets together make Pench a thriving forest of Eden and a perfectly suited habitat of buffet on offer for the hunters as I found out in my four seasons of winter and summer spent here.

As a naturalist, patience was key and I learnt vey soon that seeking tigers here were going to be a challenge. Yet my eyes kept out for the other details that went around and never did the jungle allow me to let my guard down. Looks can be deceptive and I found that out while on a morning game drive when a rather cute looking jungle owlet was seen with a small sized serpent in its talons. It was not the last time I saw it with dinner. Many other incidents proved that if you were prey, death could come from the sky as much as from the earth. On a different occasion, a different victim, this time a palm squirrel. It had met its death at the talons of a hawk eagle.

Hawk Eagle with a kill

Changeable Hawak Eagle with a kill

Another incident happened by the Pench river where I was busy watching ruddy shelducks and river terns when unexpectedly, there was sudden flash of activity in the waters. Before I knew what had unfolded, a grey headed fish eagle was off with a struggling fish in the grip of its talons. Clearly the poor fish did not see it coming, and neither did I to start with. Buzzard presence could not be missed either and honey buzzards and white eyes dominated in their respective niche of open country and well wooded habitats. While the honey buzzard fed well on the abundance of larvae supplied by bees and at times wasps too, on one occasion I noticed a fascinating incident of a white eye buzzard feeding on a grasshopper. Clearly Pench is one of the best places to see birds of prey and I was fortunate to witness all this first hand.

Many memorable incidents include a special evening while driving back from the park to camp. Dusk had fallen and the lights had faded giving way to nocturnal life to move about. As I winded the jeep through the buffer forests with a group of journalists on board, we caught sight of a huge rock python passing through the road as it slipped away into the darkness of the forest. Its sheer size and constricting muscles seemed intimidating enough when I got down to have a closer look. Hilly and rocky terrain with good leaf cover and plenty of rock shelters give the rock python a perfect chance at becoming a successful predator in this thriving jungle book of Kipling. This particular ‘kaa’ that I saw, deserved every inch of respect. Another reptile which hunts actively and scavenges readily at any given opportunity is the monitor lizard. A miniature form of the komodo, it is easy to forget about their existence in the jungle till summer arrives when they make themselves more visible. Monitor lizards are active egg snatchers by nature but in addition to this, also very skilled hunters of small game.

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Bengal monitor lizard basking on a rock

Amongst all this, it was inevitable that predators would cross paths with one another and it is here where rivalry and competition of predators are seen in real. One such example happened earlier this year when a jungle cat had to make a run for it when it encountered a golden jackal who chased it deep into the woods before I lost sight of both.

The larger predators showed up on few occasions but when they did, sightings were special and all worth the wait. One such incident I can recall happened to be on a hot day in late march. The morning had yielded a male tiger sighting, but my photography guests from Scandinavia rode their luck into the evening when we encountered a tigress cooling off at a waterhole. What followed after this was far from what we had prepared ourselves for. A small pack of five wild dogs trotted towards the same waters where the tigress lay. In a matter of minutes, the calm and still ambience of the jungle  changed when the tigress got off her comfortable spot trying to pursue into chasing down a couple of the dogs while the rest flee. The dogs of course were too agile for her, but the whole air filled with cackling alarms of the dogs and the growls of the tigress. The jungle was at its most tense and looking back at that evening now still gives me goose bumps while my guests watched in awe. Something unique, something special had unfolded that evening and we were witness.

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A pair of wild dogs or dholes

Another such incident happened when we encountered a pack of eight wild dogs near a waterhole. The langurs continuously barked their alarm. It got me wondering since langurs unless got off guard are usually calm up on the tress even if dogs are seen in the vicinity. On a closer look at the higher branches and we noticed the reason for the monkey tension. Two leopards on two separate branches had been treed up by the pack of wild dogs, and they seemed to be holding on for dear life. As we sat and watched this go on, wondering about the escape routes for the leopards, out came a jackal trotting on to the scene that saw the dogs chase it with serious intent, the whole scene of the chase disappearing into the thick lantana. Such was the blessing for the cats, as both the leopards carefully climbed down before making a dash for cover.

Jackal with a kill

The elusive golden jackal with a spotted deer kill

Encounters of predators crossing our paths and that of one another happened more often than I thought as I spent more time in these jungles. While I witnessed the challenges of each predator unfold before me, their very presence both big and small, is what makes Pench a thriving story of the fictional ‘jungle book’. For as long as we are only witness and nothing more to all the drama that takes place in these jungles, there will surely be more predator stories to share.

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Trailing Vines and Wine Trails

We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine…

– Eduardo Galeano

Imagine, then the immortality of tasting over 15 different wines in less than 24 hours? But I’m getting ahead of myself, before the immortality, lay a 5 hour journey across a highway under construction. I was heading, not towards the famed vineyards of California or Beaujolais, but in the direction of Nashik, a city a few hours away from the bustle of Mumbai (165 kilometres) and Pune (160 kilometres), in Maharashtra, India.

India, seems like a rather unusual destination for a wine trail yet fruity, alcoholic beverages have been recorded in India since the Vedic times (1500 – 700 BCE). Vedic medical practitioners like Charaka and Susruta even advocated ‘moderate alcohol use’ for better health. ‘Somaras’, mentioned in ancient texts, is considered to be the juice of a high-altitude fruit (as yet unidentified) which was distilled to produce an intoxicating, aphrodisiacal spirit. Surprisingly, one study by F.R Allchin suggests that India might have been the home of alcoholic distillation.

As it is difficult to distinguish floral, fruity, fermented drinks mentioned in older texts with wine as we know it today – wine-making in India is considered to be a rather recent undertaking, and it all begins in Nashik.

Nashik’s wine story begins with a gamble – a farmer returned from education in California, and decided to plant a few wine grape varieties on his family’s plot of table grapes. (Yes, something I learned recently, too – the varieties of grapes for wine are different from those we consume directly which are known as table grapes). He set up the first winery at Sula vineyards in 1999, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the next few years, several other farmers followed suit, aided by the Maharashtra government’s 2001 policy that ensured no excise would be applied to wines made from grapes in the state. The grape farmers-turned-winemakers learned from one another, sent their kith and kin abroad to learn more about winemaking, and even hired sommeliers from other vineyards in France, Australia or California to create distinct, indigenous wines. Today, Nashik Valley is a patented geographical indicator for wines produced in India.

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Nashik’s wine story begins at Sula Vineyards

Apart from Nashik, only the outskirts of Hampi in Karnataka (Krsma vineyards) and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh (Ambi vineyards), produce indigenous wines in the country. Yet, in global circles, India’s wines are rapidly gaining acclaim, produced as they are in the unusual terroir of our rich, black soil, tropical climate and ample rainfall.

Intrigued by the story and lured by the chance to sample some of India’s indigenous spirits, I found myself in Nashik. On the outskirts of the city, to the west and south-west lie several vineyards, each growing a variety of grapes and producing their own range of wines. To retrace the history of the region, I started my wine trails at Sula vineyards. They run wine trails every hour to cater to their popularity with tourists from Mumbai and Pune, and I duly joined a mixed group of corporates and families as we were guided through their factory. We were explained the fascinating process of harvesting, crushing, fermentation, clarification, ageing and bottling – with the differences that create a white, rose or red wine. The temperatures in every room of the factory was chilly, which are the ideal conditions for wine-making and perhaps, the most expensive overhead for winemaking in India. Sadly, as it was still early in the season for grape-harvesting, we couldn’t actually see the winemaking in action. A visit between January to March would be more ideal to see the entire winemaking process.

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5 S’s of Wine Tasting Image Courtesy: Sula Wines, Nashik

Finally, we were ushered into a sombre, tasting room with a large wooden counter with 6 bottles and numerous wine glasses that seemed to be waiting for us. A certified sommelier, then took us through the nuances of the ‘swirl, smell, see, sip and spit’ ritual of wine-tasting, as we were introduced to Sula’s incredible range with 2 white wines, 2 red wines, a pleasant rose ending on a high note with a sweet, Chenin Blanc dessert wine! I’d like to say that I tasted peaches and cherries, smelt woody fragrances and spices – yet, to the uninitiated, there’s a long journey before one can unlock the mysteries of wines. Suffice it to say, that I learned enough to appreciate wines better (and not pooh-pooh at the elitist, swirling wine-tasters!) and promised myself to enjoy them on the palate for longer than the quintessential, quick swig Indian drinker!

The following day, I was determined to scratch at more than just the surface of Nashik’s wine industry and I requested Manoj Jagtap, a self-learned, wine trail expert to guide me through. With his insights into the region’s history, a repertoire of experiences in vineyards across the world and his local savvy, we made our way across 3 other wineries in and around Nashik.

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Soma Vine Village’s oak barreling section

Our first stop, Soma was a humble factory with an incredible production of wines; white, red, sparkling and rose. At Soma, I learned a little bit more about the aromas and flavours associated with different wines; the fruity, flowery flavours of white wines; the woody, oaky flavours of red wines; the bubbly, frothy feel of sparkling wines – and the wide terminology employed to describe them. Tapping into Manoj’s knowledge, I also heard the anecdotal story of how sparkling wines (as Champagne in France falls under a geographical indicator, the rest of the world uses the term sparkling wine to denote the bubbly beverage) were first created by monks. During cold French winters, the natural fermentation process of grape juice and yeast is retarded. The residual sugar and dormant yeast in the bottles, once stoppered with a cork, break down to form carbon dioxide. The buildup of carbon dioxide made bottles explode, much to the curiosity of the cellar monk, Dom Perignon. Upon tasting the foamy, bubbly wine, he continued experimentation till he stumbled upon a production-worthy ‘champagne’. Our tasting session included 6 wines, Soma’s range of 2 whites, 2 reds, a rose and a Chenin Blanc dessert wine – which was similar to Sula’s range in terms of grape varietals and names, but had completely different flavours. Interestingly this time, I did taste guavas and smell pepper, but whether that was due to a palate being honed or a hyper-active imagination, I cannot say.

We drove on towards the south-west vineyards cluster, where the Grover Zampa farms lay. With impeccable gardens, an old-style stone structure and a hillside carpeted with vine trellises, Grover Zampa is an impressive vineyard. The only vineyard with a rugged landscape, I was told, as compared to the others growing on flatter topographies, Grover Zampa is reinventing itself. Once known as Zampa, it is rebranding its range of wines under the name Grover Zampa – with the help of Michel Rolland, the world famous wine consultant. A quick climb up the vineyard slopes cultivating grape varietals like tempranillo, shiraz and viognier, offered a spectacular view of the nearby ridges  and the glassy Mukane reservoir. During a visit to the factory, I saw the fascinating process of bottling; a team manually sticks labels onto bottles, then they are mechanically filled with wine, ending with the capping and sealing by another small team, before being put into boxes for storage and dispatch. While swirling and sipping some of Grover Zampa’s wines, I noticed some of their interesting, artsy wine bottle labels. Each year, Grover Zampa hosts artists from across India to enjoy the hospitality of the vineyards in exchange of artwork. Grover Zampa’s bottle labels currently feature the talent of contemporary artists like Sanjay Bhattacharya, Paresh Maity, among others inspired by the picturesque setting of the vineyards.

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Grover Zampa’s designer labels featuring contemporary artists

Lastly, we stopped off at Vallonne vineyards, a boutique vineyard with a smaller production of more nuanced wines. Vallonne’s vineyards are closer to the Mukane reservoir, and their charming south-east Asian restaurant, Malaka Spice looks out onto its blue expanse. Malaka Spice is a well-known brand in Pune and seeing it in a rustic setting like Vallonne, was a pleasant surprise, especially as it was lunchtime. Interestingly, their menu paired most items with a suitable wine and their food was delectable – a must-visit for anyone looking for an unusual culinary experience in Nashik. Later, we traipsed through Vallonne’s small factory and were once more, taken through the winemaking process. After 4 wine trails, it may seem like the same old spiel, but if you listen closely, each vineyard has its own story to tell. Vallonne vineyard’s claim to fame is their Rose created with Cabernet Sauvignon, an unusual accomplishment, as also India’s first wine with the inky-purple Malbec grape varietal. What’s more, as a boutique vineyard, Vallonne allows you to commission your own wine to commemorate a special event, be it a birthday, a wedding or a lifetime achievement. Their special 1o litre barrels can be branded with your name, a logo or any other caption you’d like, and kept to age for as long as you’d like – after which, they can bottle your wine and send it across, along with the branded barrel. Sadly, with little time left before my long journey back to Pune, we had to skip the wine-tasting session at Vallonne.

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Vallonne Valley overlooking the reservoir

Eduardo Galeano may not be quite right, as after 15 glasses of wine, I’m still mortal (and I’m not tempted to test that!). Yet the curious expressions of a grape after crushing and fermentation, barrel-ageing and bottling, has surely made me eager to unravel the secrets of wines! For the spirit-tourists and the wine-enthusiasts alike, as also the culinary travellers looking for something different, I would heartily recommend a wine trail through Nashik for an unusual insight into the art of winemaking!

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48 hours in Jaipur

There’s so much to see, do and experience across cities in India – yet, some cities with a well-known landmark or more, are often visited for just a day or two. Is it still possible to squeeze in all the interesting sights and sounds of a city? At Travel Scope, we think so…and we’re starting a new feature on how to make the most of your few hours in cities across India. We’ve already covered 48 hours in Agra in a previous blog feature, now here’s how to dash across Jaipur without missing out its highlights!

DAY 1

Start your day with a climb skirting the ridges that define the limits of the city of Jaipur. These ridges, with their historic fortifications, offer panoramic views of the ‘pink city’ buildings and the patchwork of fields that surround it. Listen to our guide narrate the Story of Jaipur from the nexus of Raja Amer’s rule to the present-day capital of Rajasthan, and learn of the geo-strategic significance of this city through history.

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Continue on towards the Amer Fort, one of the 3 forts that overlook Jaipur, and the most magnificent – with its artistic Hindu influences and its pretty Maota lake. Interestingly, Amer was a small place established by the Meenas tribe of Rajasthan, before Raja Mansingh decided to relocate his capital and rebuilt the fort upon the remnants of an older structure. Then tuck into a hearty picnic breakfast, and you imagine the city below changing over time.

For those who’d prefer a less active start to the morning, drive off in our Welcome Ambassador – a buxom, regal car that was once the preferred mode of transport for political bigwigs. While today, the Ambassador is only seen as a black-and-yellow cab in Kolkata, our beautiful, eclectically restored car is in a league of its own. Experience the luxury and comfort of this old-school automobile, as you are whisked off into the countryside for a scrumptious picnic breakfast – with champagne, for that little touch of decadent luxury! We can’t think of a more unusual start to the day.

WelcomeAmbassador

After a quick stop at your hotel, for refreshing and re-gearing yourself, head off to the Anokhi Museum. Located in a magnificently restored haveli (the local word for ‘mansion’), the Anokhi Museum of hand printing displays a selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects, all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition. The technique of printing from wooden blocks onto paper and textile, originated in China and spread across Asia. It may have inspired the first engraved woodcuts that lead to the printing press. This technique is still widely used in India, mostly on textiles. If you’d like, you can follow this through with a block-printing workshop, where you can learn the art and skill involved in this textile craft. What’s more you get to take home a handcrafted, hand printed souvenir and some colourful memories!

The Anokhi Museum also has an interesting cafe, and you can opt to have lunch here or at any of Jaipur’s restaurants! Head back to your hotel room for a little snooze, or dive right into our afternoon’s line-up of activities.

Late afternoon, set off on the Old City Walk with our local guide to help you navigate across a city where the history still echoes across time, and where tradition marries modernity. Visit the City Palace, with its royal collections of miniature paintings, armour, royal garments, textiles, and artefacts. Continue on to the ornate Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark, and listen to how its structure allowed women of the royal household to witness the rhythms and festivities of the city outside.

No travel experience is complete without shopping, and the colourful bazaars of India have something to offer even the most impatient of men! With specialties like local handicrafts, textiles, gems, silver jewelry, blue pottery and carpets, Jaipur’s streets can rival Ali Baba’s cave of wonders. Travel Scope can help you navigate your way across street hawkers and chic boutiques, with a personal shopping expert in search of those perfect souvenirs.

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Unwind with a signature ‘Pink Martini’ at the Rajasthan Polo Club in Jaipur – a heady concoction of tanqueray, rose syrup, martini rosso and creme de fraiche, garnished with rose petals! The Pink Martini is considered to be a tribute to the ‘pink city’, and has long been an insider’s secret at the club. For the equestrian enthusiasts, we can also arrange for the company of a horseman and polo-player like handsome Mr Ransher, with whom you can discuss Jaipur’s polo culture and its historic bond with horses! The Rajasthan Polo Club is located in the Rambagh Palace, and their traditional Indian restaurant, the Suvarna Mahal and the Italian restaurant Steam (built in train-like compartments) offer you great dining options.

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Head back to your hotel after dinner, and get a good rest before another day of city exploration.

DAY 2

Start your morning on a spiritual quest learning the ancient techniques of yoga. What better stage can we offer than an old, once-abandoned and since-restored haveli built in 1872! Naila Bagh Palace still retains much of its former characteristics, from the time it served as a residence for a former prime minister of Jaipur, and has hosted many international dignitaries. Yoga, comprises of techniques that lead to harmony between the inner self and the eternal environment, between thought and action, between the individual and the world, while meditation encourages self-reflection and self-realisation. Beyond the practice, learn how these traditions form an integral part of everyday spirituality and wellbeing.

For those who love to conquer the skies, start your morning in a Hot Air Balloon. Soar over the countryside with its patchwork of green fields and scrub forests, the blue-greens and browns of the water bodies, dry land and rocky outcrops. Watch picturesque villages begin their daily routines or the ‘Pink City’s bustling rhythm as you float over bazaars, forts and palaces and see excited children waving frantically at you. There’s nothing more magical than experiencing the countryside with a bird’s eye view as you fly, up, up and away!

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After a quick breakfast and shower, set off on your sightseeing trail. Begin with the City Palace complex, the seat of the Maharajah of Jaipur, which consists of an impressive array of courtyards, gardens and buildings. Afterwards, head to the Jantar Mantar observatory, built in the early 1700s by Sawai Jai Singh II, Jaipur’s ruler and a keen astronomer will showcase Central Asia’s rich legacy of astronomy. Its sixteen massive instruments are works of art in themselves and some can forecast the weather even today!

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Late morning, head off to the Samode Haveli or the Dera Mandawa for unusual culinary experiences; the former offers a coof-off with a chef and the latter, involves a hands-on cooking session!

Cook-off with Chef at Samode Haveli: Samode Haveli’s signature offering is a cook-off with a chef showcasing almost forgotten recipes from an old hand-written manuscript. Here’s to a truly inspirational, mouth watering palatial journey!

Rajasthani cuisine at Dera Mandawa: a hands-on cooking experience: At Dera Mandawa, one can indulge in a hands-on Rajasthani cooking experience. Start with a trip to the nearby market for ingredients, learn the recipes for regional specialties, followed by a scrumptious, regal lunch with the family. The passionate couple, who have converted this property into a heritage hotel, will be your co-chefs and hosts through the session – and the conversation is as interesting as their cuisine!

This afternoon too, you can choose between a quick snooze or a headlong plunge into the evening’s activities.

Did you know that apart from the spices and the tea, India was also at the heart of a roaring trade in precious stones, like diamonds and pearls among others. The Mughal Empire was lured by the promise of these precious stones, and they worked huge quantities of stones into their monuments, much to the delight of future generations of plunderers and thieves. Jaipur’s alleyways are home to some of the craftsmen and traders, who are well-versed with the lore of gems. To know more about the craft and the mythology of stones, Travel Scope can arrange for a meeting with a gemologist, which can offer an unusual insight into one of the many communities of Jaipur. (Psst..to see what other vanities gemstones serve, our Old City Heritage Walk trails past artisans who set jewels into the hilts of inimical, handcrafted swords – once worn by kings and princes!)

For those interested in gleaning an insight into the social fabric of India, perhaps our Women through the Ages experience would be of interest. As with most patriarchal histories, the unheard voice is that of the females. During this interactive session with an academic and writer, who has written and taught extensively in the field of Gender Studies, you can debate at length about issues from female feticide to sex ratios, from infant marriages to widowhood, from political participation to social roles of the fairer sex. The Women through the Ages is a refreshing, intellectual experience you wouldn’t be likely to encounter in any travel guide.

End the evening with sundowners at Nahargarh – another fort overlooking Jaipur, accessed by a winding road through dry, deciduous hillsides. Watch the sunset atop fort turrets over the rim of your cocktail glass or an elegant flute of wine, and the twinkling of the city lights welcoming the night. Light snacks or dinner can also be served from this vantage point.

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For luxury travellers, our Welcome Ambassador can take you in regal style and comfort to the City Palace. You can visit the private quarters of this regal residence, before being ushered to the Indo-Saracenic inspired, courtyard restaurant, Baradari. The inlaid marble work, the fluted water cascade, the brass and mirror decor provides the perfect backdrop for a fine-dining experience, and a conversation starter for the history and architecture buffs.

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A specially created menu offers you the best of traditional and global cuisine, and the restaurant’s signature drinks are the talk of the town. Surely, the perfect end to your 48 hour sejour in the ‘Pink City’!

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48 hours in Agra

The origins of the city of Agra can be traced back to the days of the Mahabharata, the epic poem of Great India when it was called Agrevana, meaning ‘the edge of the forest’. Agra served as capital for the Mughal Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries and flourished as a centre of art, drawing inspiration from Persian, Islamic, Turkish, Byzantine and Indian styles.

Agra’s greatest charm is the Taj Mahal – a magnificent marble mausoleum that epitomises love. Taj Mahal commands the horizon from most parts of the city and its rich history and romance has earned a place on the list of the Seven Wonders of the World. Yet Agra has so many more monuments that tell a rich narrative of the tides and times of Man – here’s how you can take in the city in 48 hours.

Set off from Delhi by train (there are two convenient, fast trains every morning, the Shatabdi and the Gatimaan) or by private cab with a train / picnic breakfast en route. Upon arrival in Agra, a quick hotel check-in and freshen up later, you’ll be ready to explore the city.

Start your Agra trail with a lesser-known monument, John Hessing’s tomb or the Red Taj. The Red Taj in Agra, is a smaller, red sandstone replica sans inlay and mosaic work which serves as a tomb for a Dutch soldier and trader John William Hessing. It was built by his wife, Ann Hessing, and was inspired by the Taj Mahal, and is a symbol of love commissioned by a woman in memory of her husband. In 1792, the 13-year-old Hessing landed in Ceylon, later joined the Dutch East India Company’s army, fought many battles in India, and eventually died as a part of the Maratha forces defending the Agra Fort against the British. At its entrance, are two Persian inscriptions— an epitaph and a chronogram: the former expresses Ann Hessing’s grief and the latter marks the year of his death.

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Continue to the Itmad-ud-Daulah, a marble tomb built for the grandfather of Mumtaz (the queen interred at the Taj Mahal) also known as Baby Taj. This name should in no way imply a diminuitive in either skill or splendour, as the Itmad-ud-Daulah, may well have inspired the inlay artistry on the Taj Mahal and is a beautiful monument in itself. With a more traditional structure, the mausoleum was built to honour Itmad-ud-Daulah, the once-itinerant traveller who set foot towards the East in the hope of making his fortune, and later, was the grandfather of some of the most powerful women in the Mughal Empire.

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Enjoy a late lunch at any restaurant of your choice, sampling some of the palatial pleasures of the Mughal Empire – from rich meat gravies to aromatic, spiced biryanis.

After a light siesta, follow the Mughal trail to the imposing Agra Fort. Located on the right bank of the Yamuna river, the Agra Fort is one of the most important and robustly built stronghold of the Mughals, embellished with a number of richly decorated buildings. Let our storyteller guide narrate the rich, evocative history of the fort, where emperors like Babar, Humayun, Akbar, among other historic characters held sway. Moreover, through one part of the fort, you can also view the Taj Mahal through window bars and grilles, the emperor Shah Jahan who was imprisoned here by his son during his dying years.

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Later in the evening, head to the Mehtab Bagh gardens offer sweeping, sunset views of the Taj Mahal, reflected in the Yamuna river. The Mehtab Bagh is a four garden layout, typical of Mughal constructions worldwide – with beautiful flowering plants, pools and fountains. While legend claims this was to be site of a Black Taj that the emperor Shah Jahan wished to build for himself, facing the monument he’d built for his love – no archaeological remains or historical records give credence to the theory. Amusingly during a recent trip, I also heard a security guard claim that had the Black Taj construction been successful, there would have been a bridge across the river – and I could almost imagine, the ghosts of the lovers, ShahJahan crossing over to meet each other, every night!

Spend the evening at leisure, before turning in.

Early the next morning, set off for the Taj Mahal, the marble mausoleum, which the emperor Shahjahan built for his queen, Mumtaz – universally recognized as a symbol of love and devotion. Beyond the intricate inlay artistry, Taj Mahal’s minarets, floors and calligraphy-embellished doorways create intriguing illusions in stone. Listen to the tales of Agra and the mausoleum, as also the romance between Shahjahan and Mumtaz or simply reflect upon the glory of the monument.

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After a shutter-happy morning, tuck into a hearty breakfast before making your way towards Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri was a city capital built by Emperor Akbar to honour a Sufi saint, Salim Chisti, which is perhaps the best preserved vestige of the Mughal Empire. The city complex includes palaces, pools, public audience halls, mosques and other places of worship, and (you guessed it) tombs! Experience the quiet of the queens’ palaces, each with their individual styles and dimensions. With Salim Chisti’s significance to the Muslims across the world, the tomb is abuzz with prayers, rituals and offerings – and offers an interesting insight into the age-old cultural traditions that are still practiced.

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From Fatehpur Sikri, one head back to Agra or can drive on to Jaipur. For those heading back to Agra, you can relax in the afternoon. For those who love arts and crafts, try our inlay workshop to learn the intricate laying of semi precious stones into the marble floors to create floral motifs. Learn how the craftsmanship has continued through the ages, its delicate artistry and craft an inimical souvenir to take home!

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Or set off on an Agra Old City Walk, past the Agra Fort Railway station with its distinctly European architecture, and the Jama Masjid district surrounded by the city’s old bazaars and fine architecture. Through these bylanes, you can hone your bargaining skills on everything from zardozi embroidery to inlaid marble objects.

For those driving on to Jaipur, stay tuned for our feature on the ‘Pink City’s’ short-haul delights.

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Book Reviews: Rivers of India

There are books that inspire travel, and travels that inspire books. This blog will be both – some books that inspired travel across India, and some adventures that inspired novels, which perhaps in turn will inspire you to chart your own journeys across India. Keeping with this month’s theme, these books also touch upon the rivers of India, as a backdrop or an inspiration – and these tales are woven around rivers.

AlastairHumphreysThere Are Other Rivers: On Foot Across India
Alastair Humphreys
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel

If you love travel novels based on first-person journeys on the open road, Alastair Humphreys’ There are Other Rivers could be a great addition to your library. The author traipsed alone across India from the east coast to the west along the course of a sacred river. Along the way, he slept beneath open skies or under the roofs of hospitable strangers, and this novel charts his walk across the country, on a shoestring budget. What he lacked in luxuries, he made up for in sheer experiences and adventures – and his journey could inspire other adventure travelers to venture on the road less taken.

 

RuskinBondThe Angry River
Ruskin Bond
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Short Stories

Ruskin Bond’s narrative is distinct in its lyrical quality, and his stories usually revolve around simple, everyday lives and incidents. The Angry River, at first glance seems like the story of a little village girl affected by a river flooding. Yet the character of the girl develops, as she deals with maturity and enters adulthood, so the book touches a chord in a hauntingly, evocative manner. While the book forms part of school curricula across India, it can appeal to audiences of all ages – keen on gaining an insight into the everyday trials and tribulations of the rural folk across India.

 

AmitavGhoshThe Hungry Tide
Amitav Ghosh
Genre: Fiction

Set in the 70s against a backdrop of the Sunderbans, in West Bengal, Amitav Ghosh’s the Hungry Tide skillfully weaves together the narrative of three characters, a marine biologist, a fisherman and a translator. The book offers rich details of Sunderbans’ natural history and the vagaries of the mangrove ecosystem, as also the political problems arising from its location on the border of India and Bangladesh. The novel is a riveting inspiration for those visiting the Sunderbans and is full of the emotional drama between the characters, making for an ideal travel read.

 

SanjeevSanyalLand of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography
Sanjeev Sanyal
Genre: Non-Fiction – History / Geography

India’s giddying history from its earliest civilization to its present-day politics, is best understood in the context of its geography. Sanjeev Sanyal’s book tries to answer some of the many curious questions that define India in his book, Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography. From how the country was named Bharat, to why the highest peak was named Mt Everest, from how the Dutch sailed to the subcontinent for trade in the early days to how the British colony laid down the railway lines – the book offers an interesting, witty look at India’s history and geography. The information gleaned from mythological lore anthropological theories, geological occurrences, historical documents and the author’s travels, serves as a delightful introduction to this rich, diverse country!

 

MeeraSubA River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka
Meera Subramanian
Genre: Non-Fiction / Ecology

Exploring 5 themes through the 5 sacred elements – A River Runs Again is an iconic take on India’s environmental crisis. A narrative of India’s ecosystem on the brink between urbanization, development and overpopulation, it touchingly details the tragedy and offers a small hope against the country’s decline into environmental chaos. Written informatively, yet with a compassion and deep understanding of the short-sighted environmental strategies and their impact on real lives – a definitive work for readers interested in a stark, realistic picture of India’s ecological context.

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Jungian Journeys through India

For the past 11 years, Travel Scope in partnership with Mindful Journeys – USA have facilitated a most unusual experience – a Jungian encounter with the soul of India’s heartland. Part journeys across India, part explorations of one’s soul, the study tours have been about exploring the archetypal soul of India defined by its mythology and history, as viewed through a Jungian analytical lens. The tour is usually 11-12 days long, takes in 3-4 destinations has individual and group discussions peppered with brief sessions of meditation, yoga and local sightseeing.
 

With Dr Ashok Bedi, a renowned Jungian psychoanalyst who conducts the individual and group sessions, his wife, Usha, who has a rich repertoire of knowledge and witticisms, and Regine Oesch-Aiyer, the once art consultant turned founder of Mindful Journeys – a travel company,  who facilitates the trip, there is an interesting assemblage of personalities on board. The trips alternate between the north and south of India, focus on cultural experiences and allow ample time for lectures and discussions – one can’t think of a better way to get exposure to and learn more about Carl Jung’s philosophy.

As Praveen Langham of Travel Scope India sums it up, “Over the years there have been a lot of repeat guests, who have great regard for Dr. Ashok Bedi and seem to enjoy the rich learning of the Jungian discussions”.

This year, the Jungian group ventured into central India with the Satpura National Park as one of their stopovers. As they explored Satpura, by jeep, by canoe, on village walks and night safaris, perhaps they learned a little bit more about this diverse country and its multi-faceted soul.

Here are some images of Satpura National Park with Carl Jung’s quotes to celebrate our years of journeying together!

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Reflections on the Jaipur Literature Festival 2016

Across India, January is increasingly being associated with literature festivals. Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and the state of Gujarat, all celebrate indigenous and international literature – each with their inimical selection of authors and other personalities gracing the stage. In Jaipur, the literature festival started off as a small effort and today, is being touted as ‘the world’s largest free literature event’ – and its history and acclaim made us curious enough to attend it this year.

 On the foggy morning drive to the pink city – we scanned the festival schedules to decide upon the sessions we’d like to attend, an important stage as with parallel events, one often misses out on more than one would like to. We reached our hotel – the heritage property Narain Niwas Palace, had a quick lunch and headed down the road to Diggi Palace – the potpourri of literary hubbub.

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The throngs of literature-seekers at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2016

The long queues moved faster than we thought, giving credence to the news of increased attendance per year, as also venue upgrades to accommodate the literature-seekers. The venue was split up into several sections of tents, with raised stages and audience areas – and we weaved our way through the chaotic crowds to reach our selected sessions.

Stephen Fry talking about the author Oscar Wilde

Stephen Fry talking about the author Oscar Wilde

Our first session was by Stephen Fry – the British actor, who spoke about his exposure to the author Oscar Wilde. As often with TV personalities, a real-life encounter creates very different impressions – and Stephen Fry’s sensitive, personal, heart-warming account of Oscar Wilde’s genius, arrogance and personal problems, brought out a different side to the author and actor alike.

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Author Amish of the Meluha trilogy and the Ramchandra series in an interactive session with the audience

The sessions we attended were of a wide variety: a panel on what makes South Asians laugh; a candid, interactive session with Amish – the author of the Meluha series; a political debate on the India Story; a discussion on India’s visual culture; a look at the insensitivity of media; readings by authors of select travel excerpts; a book-promotion by a Bollywood-cum-political figure, and a talk on the legacy of the British Empire, among others.

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A discussion on the visual culture of India with Steve McCurry, Vidya Dehejia, William Dalrymple, Aman Nath and Alka Pande

 

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Deciphering ancient knowledge systems with economist Bibek Debroy, scholar Sitanshu Yashachandra, oncologist Aarathi Prasad and mediator Sudha Gopalakrishnan

Over the next two days, we tried to attend as many sessions as possible, bumped into known faces, were overwhelmed by the crowds, learned tricks of how to bag the limited chairs at venues and how to dodge the crowds and chaos, with many impromptu photo-stops along the way! Every evening ended on a high note – discussing the highlights of the day, sharing juicy tidbits from the speakers, with a fair consumption of brews, cocktails and food!

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Travel excerpts by authors (From right to left) Anthony Sattin, Salil Tripathi, Christina Lamb, William Dalrymple, Alex Shoumatoff, Gerard Russell & Colin Thubron.

Beyond offering a platform for authors and readers to connect – the literature festival set the stage for cross-cultural interactions. With diverse panels of speakers and an incredible range of topics, each year, it attracts a culture-hungry audience from across the world. This festival, has today, made Jaipur “the literature capital of the country” – and only promises to get better as time goes by.

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Shashi Tharoor, former diplomat, writer, public intellectual and political figure, talking about the British Empire

We couldn’t help but think that the Rajput Maharaja Jai Singh II’s grand vision to set up public institutions and modernize Jaipur, which was responsible for the city being declared the capital of Rajasthan, has assumed a new avatar. Established with lofty scientific and cultural ideals, Jaipur continues to hold a torch to literature and learning. A movement like the literature festival is creating an enlightened, well-exposed, culturally sensitive youth while providing a great platform to disseminate the state’s rich heritage, history and culture – and we hope the literature festivals across the country, create the same ripples of change!

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A packed audience for the Shatrugan Sinha – Shashi Tharoor session

In the rich, cultural tapestry of India – with its colorful festivals and celebrations, the literature festivals would be a great way to understand how the traditions of Indian literature are being carried forward by the next generation. It is a chance to witness a modern-day India in the making – and we would highly recommend attending one of many literary events, from books fairs to literature festivals, from reading clubs to storytelling sessions that are defining the urban culture of the country today!

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Down Sacred, Secular Street: Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi

There is a lot to be said about a country, as diverse in its faiths as India, and as tolerant in its attitudes towards each. Today’s political factions and media warmongering may create tensions between India’s many religions; sow the seeds of dissension in the populace, yet the architecture of our cities tells a very different narrative. While taking a cycle-rickshaw or walking down Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, one can palpably experience the sacred yet secular way of life that is so typical of India.

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Chandni Chowk, a bustling, busy market for over three centuries was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in the 17th Century. The name Chandni Chowk, meaning a ‘moonlit crossroads or square’, could have originated from the pool that was built into the centre of the complex that shimmered on full-moon nights or from the silver traders that dominated the market at the time. This market served as an artery of trade in the walled capital city of Shahjahanabad, with gates leading to different parts of the empire from Lahore (present-day Pakistan) to Kashmir. Even in today’s bustle, the streets of Chandni Chowk retain their historical flavour.

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As you start the trail from the Red Fort, the red sandstone citadel of Shahjahanabad, you pass the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir on your left. As history would have it, Shah Jahan had invited some Jain merchants to stay in the city and permitted them to build a temporary structure for worship. While he did not allow a ‘shikhara’, the carved tower-like superstructure characteristic to most Hindu temples, the post-Independence period saw considerable reconstruction. The temple is distinct, as it has influences from Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, and is one of the oldest and most well-known places of worship for Jains in Delhi.

Adjacent to the Jain temple is the Gauri Shankar Temple, an eight hundred year old structure dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, built by a Maratha soldier. While the temple structure has been rebuilt, the older lingam inside with silver snakes talk of the rise of Shaivism in India. Legend has it, that the temple was around at the time of the Mahabharata, and has seen Yudhisthira worship here. Today, devotees flock to the temples to ask blessings for a contented married life.

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Continue down the lane, the Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib built in 1783, stands witness to the Sikh resistance to the Mughal Empire, as it marks the site where the ninth Sikh guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded at the orders of the emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam. Ironically, a tense political environment led to this structure alternating between a gurudwara and a mosque in the years after it was built, with the British Empire judicial body finally granting the Sikhs worhsipping rights in the early 1900s. 

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Sharing a wall with the gurudwara is the Sunehri Golden Mosque erected by a Mughal nobleman, a gold-domed structure that is largely hidden from view on the busy street that is Chandni Chowk today. It commands a view of the entire marketsquare and was the vantage point for the Persian invader, Nader Shah who ordered a brutal massacre of the city folk due to an insult to his guards as they passed through. That fateful day, the streets of Chandni Chowk must have flowed red with the blood of over thirty thousand innocents, as today’s markets do with bright, red-and-gold wedding saris.              

Opposite these two structures, stands the Central Baptist Church, the oldest Christian missionary in north India. With all the other houses of faith nearby, it is strange that land should be acquired by a Baptist Missionary Society along this very stretch to erect a Christian mission, perhaps Christianity’s own, little bastion on secular street.

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At the end of the road lies Fatehpuri Mosque, a 17th Century structure in red sandstone and marble with a little square fountain at the centre. After the bustle of Chandni Chowk, a strange calm pervades the mosque and at prayer time, one can imagine the chants resounding within the walls calling everyone of the faith together.

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One of the offshoots from Chandni Chowk, leads to an area known as Khari Baoli, a giddy maze of markets that sell teas, spices, nuts and herbs. Walking (and sneezing!) through the lanes of shops with neat piles of produce from the different regions of the country, it is easy to imagine the market being at the heart of trade in the bygone days. Retrace your footsteps towards the Fatehpuri Mosque, then a short cycle- rickshaw ride away is the Kinari Bazaar, specializing in wedding ceremony materials, with everything from brightly embroidered saris to wedding trays for gifts, from gaudy garlands and golden tassles to footwear and jewelry.

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The legacy of the Jains, is also preserved in some of the old havelis (or mansions) tucked away into one of the many labyrinthine lanes that branch off from the main road. The Khazanji ki Haveli, ‘the treasurer’s mansion’ is a dilapidated, decrepit 800-year-old property that once had beautiful wooden carvings, intricate designs on its marble pillars and the jaali work that is typical in Mughal style architecture. The haveli was connected to the Red Fort by a tunnel, long since blocked up by the government, which served to transfer wealth to the royal coffers by the treasurer and bookkeepers. Once a proud home of the Mughal treasurers, the dilapidated haveli houses humbler folk, who pay nominal rents to unconcerned owners. The property may have commercial value if converted to heritage hotels, however legal disputes, government apathy and a present-day disregard for history, would perhaps wipe out these last, few witnesses to the grandeur of Shahajanabad city.

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Another such haveli in the vicinity is the Mirza Ghalib ki Haveli, the residence of a famous Urdu poet who moved from Agra to Delhi and immortalized the fading allure of both cities in his couplets. The Archaeological Survey of India realized the heritage value of the site, and in 2011 renovated it into a tiny, dimly-lit museum nook that exhibits replicas of the poet’s books and accessories like clothes and utensils. Perhaps the poetry within the book replicas may still evoke a sense of the past, as it touched upon topics like the transience of life.

Lost amidst these lanes is an 18th Century building broken up into nine parts called the Naughara, literally ‘nine houses’, one of the present-day vestiges of the Jain community, complete with a beautiful marble temple of intricate carving.

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A cycle-rickshaw ride away through many more twisting-turning lanes, is the Jama Masjid, a mosque constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (more renowned for his Taj Mahal in Agra). The Jama Masjid, was originally called the Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, meaning ‘mosque commanding a view of the world’, and despite the lofty name, the Old Delhi walk gives credence to the idea of Shahjahanabad city being at the centre of the Mughal Empire’s commerce in bygone eras. Today, the mosque stands as an anchor through the turbulent, tumultuous times for the Muslim community in India.

Thus, tracing the tides of time, the ebb and flow of people and communities, of empires and faiths, the Old Delhi Walk gave us a taste of the secular, sacred India that throbs within the heart of a politically-disrupted metropolis.

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* For the foodies, there are other delectable tastes along the way: Rabri Falooda, hot jalebis, oily parathas and Mughal delicacies at the famous Karim’s – a cozy restaurant that boasts of a tradition of over a hundred years!

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Know more about the 8 ancient cities of Delhi: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=960666433974909&id=456637484377809

Slow Travel: A meander down the riverbanks of Bengal

“In India even the most mundane inquiries have a habit of ending this way. There may be two answers, there may be five, a dozen or a hundred; the only thing that is certain is that all will be different.”
                                                                  ― Eric Newby, Slowly Down the Ganges

            While India’s freedom struggle and her epic battle for independence inevitably focuses on the India-Pakistan divide, the truth is that the British Raj’s roots were first entrenched in the eastern part of the subcontinent by the erstwhile East India Company. In fact, several European countries held their first dominions in the kingdom of Bengal, including the Danish, Portuguese, French, and the Dutch, and the British were among the last to make their presence felt. When India finally freed herself from the British Raj, she ceded East Bengal to Pakistan, which then freed itself and became the country we know as Bangladesh. What remained in India was what we know as the state of West Bengal.

                  We recently took a fascinating journey down the Ganges in West Bengal and into India’s colonial past, onboard the ABN Raj Mahal, a boutique river-cruiser with just 22 cabins, excellent cuisine, and a thoroughly professional and knowledgeable crew.

            We set off from Calcutta [See our Facebook Posts on Calcutta at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Travel-Scope-India-Pvt-Ltd/456637484377809?ref=hl]. Serampore (or Shrirampur) is our first port of call. Serampore is many centuries old and has always been a thriving community and silk, cotton, betelnut, rice and jute made this a land of abundance and rich fertility. The Danes were the first Europeans to arrive here in the 1700s. During its Danish avatar, Serampore was known as Fredericksnagore.

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108 terracotta Shiva Temples at Ambika Kalna

 

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Serrampore

 

            We take a historic walk through Barrackpore, which was famous – or notorious – for being the site of the first mutinies against British rule. In the first incident, a company of Indian soldiers were “erased” because they refused to cross the dark waters between India and Burma in the first Anglo-Burma war. In the second – and perhaps better known – incident, Mangal Pandey, a sepoy was courtmartialed for attacking a British Officer, and this lead to the first organized revolt, which ultimately became the struggle for India’s freedom.

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            We wake up in the village of Matiari and visit the famous brass craftsmen of this region, before we cruise forward to Plassey – the epic battlefield where Robert Clive defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, then Nawab of Bengal, which was the turning point that gave Britain the jewel in its crown.

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The Battle of Plassey

 

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A Major-General in the British army, Robert Clive ( please read: http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/clive-of-india-the-making-of-empire/) was known as a ruthless, Machiavellian strategist – a manic depressive who had a taste for opium. Clive succeeded in securing India for the British Crown, and perpetuated Britain’s divide and rule policy in Bengal. The Nawab of Bengal at the time was Siraj-ud-Daulah, who had little use for the British, and laid siege to the city of Calcutta to extricate it from the British and return it into his kingdom’s fold. 

          During the Battle of Plassey, Siraj-ud-Daulah tried to flee, but was waylaid and assassinated by his own traitorous minister, Mir Jafar and his followers from the Nawab’s own court, who had colluded with Clive against him. Mir Jafar succeeded Siraj-ud-Daulah. Clive amassed a treasure and became a celebrated hero of the Crown, but in later years, the British Government turned again him for having such an enormous personal fortune. Shunned by his own society, finally took his own life.

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Robert Clive and Mir Jafar – after the Battle of Plassey has been concluded

            We find ourselves in Murshidabad and take a stroll through the peaceful Khushbagh (Garden of Happiness), which houses the tombs of the ill-fated Siraj-ud-Daulah and his family. Further along the river, Siraj-ud-Daulah’s magnificent palace, Hazarduari Palace has an extensive private collection of art and artifacts.

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Hazarduari – Palace of the Nawab of Bengal, Murshidabad

 

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Kotgala – a rich merchant’s house on the outskirts of Murshidabad, built in Georgian style

            Today we find ourselves in the heart of rural West Bengal. Amid mustard fields and mango orchards, we stop to visit the terracotta temples at Baranagar. At this point, the mighty Ganges is almost like a rivulet, winding through fields and sleepy villages. The back-roads of Bengal don’t belie the bloody battles that once shook its ground and only resonate a tranquil peace.

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A quiet moment on the Ganges

            As we moor near Farakka, we disembark, and take a full day road trip into the interior to visit the historic city of Gaur. Once a Hindu stronghold and then later a Muslim capital for over 200 years, Gaur has faded into oblivion, a quiet town with the remnants of beautiful palaces, gateways, and mosques scattered far from the hustle and bustle of contemporary India’s urban sprawl.

            From Farrakka we return to Calcutta with a heightened degree of perspective for where we have come from, after our voyage of discovery along the Mother Ganges.

 

Festive India – A Celebration of the Subcontinent

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.

                                                                                 – Sai Baba

 As the end of October draws near, excitement crackles as the air turns cooler and as India gears up for Sharad Navratri. Families and social organizations compete to throw the best Navratri parties, and food, drink and entertainment flow like there’s no tomorrow.

For the mythical demon King Ravanna, there really isn’t a tomorrow since these nine nights traditionally lead up to Dussehra , when he was finally slain by Lord Rama in that epic of Hindu mythology – the Ramayana. 

 

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The South Indian cultural center of Mysore celebrates Dussehra with pomp and pagentry!

But in fact, Navratri is really a celebration of Shakti – or feminine power, and each of the nine days is devoted to a celebration of her spirit in each of its different avatars. While in principal, Navratri is observed four times throughout the Lunar Calendar year, it is the Sharad Navratri which usually falls in October, that is the most celebrated of them all.

 To see the celebration of this festive spirit in its wildest abandon, head west to Gujarat. Here, the traditional way of celebrating these nine long nights is with a typical dance called the Garba, or the Dandiya, which involves groups of young men and women, decked out to the nines, dancing feverishly to the latest beats with a set of sticks that are beat rhythmically as they whirl in a mad exchange of partners. 

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Whirling to the Dandiya Raas beats in Gujarat


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A colourful Garba get up in Gujarat

On the eastern side of the sub-continent and even as far as Nepal, Durga, the most popular avatar of Shakti, is celebrated in truly epic proportions. Durga Puja is a five day celebration that sweeps through the entire east of India and Nepal.

 In mythology, Durga Puja is a celebration of Durga and her consort Shiva, as well as her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kakatiya – in fact, Durga Puja is an exquisite celebration of the arts and culture of the Indian subcontinent and the festival become a platform for some of the finest local artisans to display their skill. Calcutta springs to life and it’s worth visiting the city to witness the raw energy, emotion and excitement that fill the air.

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A Durga Puja procession in Calcutta – celebrating female power!

 As one of the countries with the most number of festivals and holidays in a year, India is a perpetual celebration. No matter which month you travel in, there is always a festival happening somewhere, and there’s really no better way to take your India travel moment and turn it into the memory of a lifetime than being immersed in this celebratory spirit.

 Indian festivals are all-embracing. So if you decide to don your oldest rags and play Holi, or want to immerse your Ganesha idol into the Arabian sea, or march in the procession behind the Dussehra elephants, or don a mask and participate in the Hemis festival, or kick back your heels to the Garba reel (Click here to see a great Garba video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fCGGToNK8k) , you’ll be welcomed, no matter where you are.

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The masked men at the Hemis Festival, Ladakh

Visit our Festival Calendar on Facebook to learn more about festivals in our part of the world!

https://www.facebook.com/456637484377809/photos/pcb.838403986201155/838402849534602/?type=1&theater

Call us today to plan your next journey.