Patna or ancient Pataliputra became Magadha’s capital after the Kings realised the importance of Ganges as a mode of transportation. Rajgir, the initial capital was closer to the mines that were located down south. However, with the rise of Pataliputra, it faded away. When modern Bihar was formed, Patna was a natural choice to be the capital. Theses pictures are from my one day roaming around in Patna.
My guide picked up a leaf that fell from the Banyan tree and handed it over to me. The very tree (albeit descendant) under which Gautama became the Buddha. The value we ascribe to things is proportional to your beliefs only. I remember that when I was a kid there used to be a bottle of water my mom had collected from Ganges and it was held very reverentially. I used to look at it with starry eyes, as if the object in front had some mystical powers. This time during my visit to Ganges, I couldn’t help but think of it only as a polluted water source.
Bodhgaya, a mere 15 kms away from Gaya is the city if Enlightenment. While Gaya is out and out a Hindu pilgrims place, Bodhgaya is a Buddhist centre + secular tourist destination. You see school children on tour, monks, foreigners, and the whole spectrum in Boddh Gaya.
Bihar’s first world heritage site (2nd being Nalanda), the current temple at the site is largely a modern construct. The temple construction that started with the Mauryas continued through to the modern times with British Government restoring a dilapidated temple (following Khalji rampage) and now many Governments across the world being stakeholders in developing the Mahabodhi temple complex. For example, the beautiful Gold “amalaka” atop the temple was donated by the Thailand Government.
As you enter the complex, you find the temple right at the centre of the compound. It resembled a “Vimana” of some South Indian temple. A greyish black temple, it is a well done restorative work. It’s height gives it a sense of grandeur too. However, if you have seen some of the South Indian temples, it might not seem that grand in scale. However, the main attraction of the place is not the temple, but the Bodhi tree that is behind the temple complex.
The Bodhi tree situated behind the temple sits at the same place where Buddha attained enlightenment. However, this tree is a descendant of the descendent of the original tree which was carried by Mahindra (Emperor Ashoka’s son) to Srilanka. Every time the tree was destroyed either by a vile King or by the vigours of nature, a new one was planted here. You will see devotees praying all around the tree. The best thing about the place is it’s cosmopolitanism. You find people from all around the globe praying here irrespective of their religion.
I could see a Caucasian woman preparing to do Yoga. She had spread her Yoga mat and was stretching in preparation for doing Yoga. It descended on me how Yoga has different meaning across the globe. In Indian religion, Yoga primarily refers to Raja Yoga where mind is of more importance than the physical component. However, as it went and did a round in the west, Yoga has taken the form of the physical, with different variants available like Power Yoga etc.
You also see how Hinduism appropriated Buddha as you go towards the Anantha pond, where Adishesha protected Buddha from the storm and rain. You see how Hindu stories wove made its way into even the stronghold of Buddhism.
In and around the Mahabodhi temple, you can find numerous monasteries established by various countries. Mongolia, Thailand, Japan, China being some of them. The 80 feet Buddha statue, built by the Japanese next to their monastery is a major attraction. While circumambulating this statue, I was reminded of Guruvayur temple. At both places you find statues of the devotees of the respective deities. There you find Poonthanam, Bhattathirippaadu etc and here you find Mahindra and others.
I am not sure if anyone will be able to attain enlightenment in Boddh Gaya anymore. As we attach more importance to the symbols than the message of Buddha, we are losing sight of the forest for the trees. As a tourist destination, Boddh Gaya is a must visit. As a religious place also it is top notch. But if your journey is spiritual, you might as well meditate under that coconut tree in your compound ( just make sure there are no ride ones in it)
There is a place in India for everything. Banaras is where people go to die and attain “Moksh”( salvation). Gaya is where those who couldn’t attain salvation before their death are remembered and sent to Swargalok (heaven). The dead incur expenses for everything here.
“South ka log bahut aate ho Kya yahaan pe?” I asked my panda( The guy who performs the rituals) whether a lot of South Indians come to Gaya.
“Aap log hi hamara kheti Hain” You guys only are our agriculture, he said. I smelled business in Gaya right from the start. However I wanted to see the process through because I wouldn’t come here again probably. Besides my mother fished out a strange coincidence for the day that I came to Gaya. It was the same day that my maternal Grandfather had died. And he used to talk about Shraadh in Gaya. So now I had no choice but to perform it.
If you visit Gaya, be sure to carry a lot of change. There are Brahmins and Beggars at every nook and corner waiting to give you blessings for money. The “pinda daan” that is performed here is the rituals of giving food and water to those who passed away, satisfy them and sending them off to heaven. It is said that it was in the Phalgu river (also called Niranjana) here that Sriram did the ritual for his father during his Vanvaas ( forest banishment of Ram)
The temple at this location was built in the 18th century by Ahalyabhai Holkar of Indore. The temple has a basaltic rock with a footprint shape in it. The belief is that this is the footmark of Bhagwan Vishnu. Hence the name Vishnupad temple.
After praying at the sanctum sanctorum, the panda asked me whether I wanted to do the rituals at the river or on the top ( a platform built above the riverbed) My mind was full of an image of a river with water flowing with some force. I answered at the river. When I reached the river, it was nothing as I imagined.
The Phalgu river is a dried up river with no water flowing through it. I asked the panda why there is absolutely no water in the river. I wasn’t expecting him to give any environmental scientist type answer, but barely to say that the water flows during monsoon or winter ( As Himalayan rivers have more flow during winter. I don’t know whether this is a Himalayan River) However his response surprised me.
Ye Sitaji ki shaap Hain. This is the curse of Mother Sita. On my further asking why Sita cursed the river, he couldn’t come up with an answer.
I was asked to make 51 balls of rice flour. There was a well dug up in the river bed for water, which was manned by a 10 year old. He received 5 rupees for each jug of water he helped dig for the people who came. I also took a jug of water and returned to the spot, where the panda had laid out a gaffitti with white powder.
Soon the chanting started. My maternal grandparents, Paternal grandparents, anonymous people from my family, people who died, who were murdered, who died in accident, suicides, died of animal bite, died of diseases, unknown cause of deaths, everything and everyone were dealt with. They were all paid obeisance too and would finally receive heaven. When all rituals were over, one leaf of rice was left at the river bed ( which I saw a cow eating within minutes of us walking off. These cows recci the area for rice balls dedicated to dead ancestors), the next leaf was taken to the temple and submitted at the foot of the deity, and the third plate at a tree in the vicinity.
The panda then told an elaborate story about how there used to be Brahmin bhojan in the earlier days during such occassions which would give mukti to the souls and I smelled a ruse. He wanted me to basically give him tips. This was in addition to the money I had paid at the Andhra Bhawan for arranging him. I did not argue much, but paid him some tips.
After this at every nook and corner, someone one woo you in the name of blessing and ask for Dakshina (tips). If you have parents/grandparents living, I suggest you spend money and keep them happy with the best facilities you can afford. Don’t wait to make them happy after their passing away.
It is said that the fire that engulfed Nalanda raged for six months. Such was the size of the university and the books that it contained. The mammoth structure was built of wood and bricks and both were burnt to the ground. As I stood at the ruins, I could see the burnt mark over the bricks. Such was the heat, that some of the bricks had even melted.
However, the story of Nalanda is not be remembered for the attack that it had to suffer. All things great will come to and end. We should rather be proud if such an institution that existed in the place and try to answet pertinent questions that it poses to our present society.
Nalanda is a portmanteau of two words. Nalin means lotus, which is a symbol of knowledge in Buddhism and Hinduism. Da means to give. This Nalanda is the place where knowledge was given. The present ruins are only a shadow of what was present during the glory days. It is said that the majority of the university might be still lying under the nearby villages unexcavated.
The walls of the university were so thick that it served as an natural air conditioner. The original entrance must be somewhere in the unexcavated areas and therefore the current entrance into the complex is cut through the walls of the monastery by ASI. As you enter the first monastery you find niches that used to hold statues of Buddha. As you proceed you are presented with big bathrooms, the study rooms of the monks, meditation rooms, lecture halls, kitchen etc. The elaborate drainage system also draws your attention. This is the layout of one monastery. Likewise there used to be 100 monasteries ( of which only 11 have been excavated) You may think of each monastery as a department in a college where a dedicated subject was taught.
As you move around Nalanda ruins, your admiration only grows larger. There were 9 storied buildings which housed books, lecture halls etc. The Sariputra stupa must be the most identifiable structure in Nalanda because all popular pictures are of this Stupa. This was dedicated to Sariputra, a disciple of Buddha. In most of Nalanda you can see three layers of brick construction each distinctly different from the other. One by Guptas, then Harsha and the Palas, each progressively trying to better the other.
The question Nalanda raises to us is very involved. Why is it that a place that produced such a great institution does not have a single great institution of learning to name at present? To reach Nalanda you pass through villages some of them really representative of the deplorable conditions in the state. How is it that a people which were so great fell into such despair? And hope come they are not trying to get back to their greatness?
Bihar, as I am witnessing in my travels is at least 10 years behind the rest of India, especially the southern States. I would be the most happy if that changes. Let’s hope that Biharis would rise up to the challenge and change it for the better.
Probably the first event in Indian History that had my blood boil was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It is probably the one event that shook the conscience of the nation and to this day kept alive in the memory of all across the country.
On that fateful day in 1919, General Dyer who came to the garden in Amritsar fired upon a peaceful gathering of people bearing no arms. The garden which had only one exit while also surrounded by high walls turned into a pile of bodies. The ground became red from blood. The helpless people even tried jumping into the well in the corner in a vain attempt to escape the British brutality.
General Dyer was commended for his action. In fact the committee formed to look into the atrocity gave him a pat on his back. For a nation that blew up the scale of the Black hole event, Jallianwala Bagh showed the double standards of the colonial master. India woke up to fight the tyranny and the flame that was lit in Jallianwala Bagh would fire up the imagination of many a youngsters culminating in the freedom of our country.
I had never seen any pictures of Jallianwala bagh until I stumbled upon it as I walked streets of Amritsar. In fact, it never crossed my mind that the infamous garden is in Amritsar. I was in a hurry to see the Golden Temple and Wagah border that I forgot to research about the other things in Amritsar. My trip was completely unplanned and hence the surprise.
Outside the gate stands a marble statue commemorating the people who were martyred on that April 19. The agony and suffering of that day is captured in the mass of faces in the marble. While each one of them might have been relegated to an insignificant number in a casualty, this sculpture actually gives everyone an individuality.
As you enter you feel an eerie sense that the history books have given you. The narrow lane leads to the beautiful garden where grass figures if the shooting can be seen. At the other lies the memorial of those who lost their lives and the well of death. At one end the Amar Jyoti keeps burning, while there is also a museum with the important persons who Rose in retaliation to the event.
Chance took me to Jallianwala Bagh in the 100th year of it’s happening. I returned ever more aware to the sacrifices my countrymen made so that I could enjoy the freedom that I possess.
Anybody who has read Manto would have experienced vicariously the horrors of Partition. The scale of such an artificial displacement very often doesn’t get the treatment it ought to in our history books. Many of them start with the British rule, the resistance to it and lead up to the events that lead to Partition and the formation of the two new states, conveniently ignoring the horrors that it perpetrated.
In the heritage City area of Amritsar, you will find a red brick colored building which is dedicated to the partition. The partition museum, tries to recapture and present before us the horrors that unfolded during those days where the large mass migration of people happened anywhere in the world.
For a museum that tries to capture the horrors of a colonial rule ending in such an horrific manner, I found it distasteful that the building looked Western in it’s architecture. Though there are elements of Indian style, the huge pillars and the arched windows reminds you of classical Greek or Roman buildings. This is no way a critique of the contents of the museum. It is probably one of the best museums I’ve been to.
Inside the museum, you find various artefacts that were left behind by migrants or carried over to the new country by them. Many a times, given the violence engulfing them, these refugees could only carry a few articles that would be the most important to them and many such articles are on display. You often realise that the same faith that divided them is what gave them the power to survive such a traumatic event, when you see the torn Ramayana, rosary beads etc that were carried by those unfortunate souls.
You also find historic documents newspaper articles, video footages, journals etc of the time. The horrors of Partition and the suffering that the birth of two nation’s brought forth are reenacted realistically in this museum. If you are visiting Amritsar, don’t forget to visit the Partition Museum. You will never see such a museum elsewhere. It acts as a reminder for the present and also a memorial for the past.
The soldier in the black clad Pathani Uniform beat his feet high. The Indian BSF Soldier raised his feet also high to touch his “pagdi” (headgear) and then spread both his arms wide and increased his presence. Then he adjusted the tips of his moustache as if to display his masculinity. If someone asks me the best way to resolve issued between two enemy countries, I would suggest the beating retreat ceremony of Wagah to be one way this could be achieved.
To those who are not aware, the Wagah border is situated roughly 30 kilometre from Amritsar. The Indian side is a village called Attari, while Wagah is in Pakistan.
The Indian side was filled with people right from the start. The infrastructure also is better in the Indian side with a whole stadium in two tiers set up in place. There are huge LCD screens and speakers also in Indian side, which seemed to be lacking in Pakistan.
The most notable difference in India is the presence of women in the ceremony throughout. The women spectators are given a chance to stand in line and run towards the gate with Indian flags in their hand. They are also given a chance to dance to some songs in front of the gate ( at a distance). BSF also has women jawan in the beating retreat ceremony, all of which was lacking in Pakistan. While the women from India side were dancing and creating waves, there was a one legged performer wearing a long Kurta with something in Urdu written over his chest and a flag in hand, trying to entertain the Pakistanis.
The whole spectacle is without doubt a better experience if viewed from the Indian side. You can join in the crowd and shout slogans and there is a conductor from BSF who will prompt you and choreograph your slogans.
There were even Europeans in the Audience. I doubt how they would have seen this whole spectacle. Once a part of a large group of countries with watertight borders and greater enmity, the current generation of Europeans must be unaware of the kind of controls that borders can place. To them it might even be amusing that such exuberant display and competitiveness could be present at an International Border. A time may come when India and Pakistan are back to being brothers and there is free movement of people, goods, ideas and capital. As of now, after the latest attack in Pulwama, the future seems bleak and the enmity only seems to ignite further.
“You replace my car. I don’t want anything else” the owner of the Maruti Alto said.
My driver was helpless. He kept negotiating. The next offer was even more ludicrous.
“You can keep my car. Leave your car to me” The owner of the alto was telling this genuinely. It was an offer and not a joke.
This was part of the conversation that we had with some Arunachalis while we were returning to Assam. Our car was involved in an accident and the other party started coming up with these kind of demands. The public which had gathered also supported this same line of arguments. In any other part of India, it would have simply gone to litigation and payment of accidental damage by the insurance company. Not in Arunachal. We were advised not to involve the police because once the tribe gets involved they back off from the situation apparently.
I don’t know this experience of mine is the norm in Arunachal, however this lack of law and order and the concept of community justice was something that I could not digest during my Arunachal trip.
As we neared Bhalukpong, we could see the distant blue mountains clearly beyond which lay the deep valleys of Arunachal. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the states which still needs an inner line permit for entry. Our inner line permits were checked at Bhalukpong Check post and after that only we were allowed into the state.
The inner line permit system was evolved by the British Government to control the movement of people from mainland India to these states where the British Empire had substantial economic interests at stake. The Government of India, in the name of protecting the indigenous culture and also in the name of security, still follows the inner line permit system for visitors to certain states in India. I couldn’t agree with the logic of this system and throughout the time I was at the checkpost kept thinking as to why this system should be allowed in the Union of India, where every states are equal partners.
Bomdi La and its Beautiful Monastery
I stood in the huge courtyard gazing at the monastery against the backdrop of the Himalayas. Pale, cold wind blew from the valley, while fluffy clouds moved atop the brown mountains that surrounded us. Laying in the lap of these mountains, the monastery in Bomdi La is a beauty. In fact, I found the setting of Bomdi La monastery to be more inspiring than Tawang monastery.
As you ascend the steps, you find the same pattern as other Tibetan monasteries. The mural embellished entrance, the huge prayer hall and then the Buddha statues. The most interesting feature that I could see all around was the cylindrical structures that could be rolled about an axle that could be found at many places in the compound. These cylinders, the believers say can absolve you of any sins if you were to turn them in clockwise direction. I could see them turning them as they went on to pray inside the monastery.
For a minute I laughed it off as a curious superstition. Questions like whether true sin existed came racing to my mind first. Even if they did, how is a mere rotation of a cylinder going to absolve someone of it? However, there is no need for a believer to see logic in something. And once we believe in something, it is true irrespective of whether it appears logical or not. I too reverently turned the cylinder once and emerged purified.
The War Memorials of Tawang
As you cross Sela pass and Tawang, you encounter remembrances of the 1962 war with China. The Jaswantgarh memorial, the War memorial in Tawang, the light and sound show that is conducted near the Tawang war memorial are all aimed at keeping the memory of the brave soldiers who laid down their lives for our country alive.
We also happened to visit Bumla pass, located at the Indo-Tibetan border. Unlike Nathu La, this border is not used for trade between the two countries. Bum La is for most parts of the year snow covered, and is also located at about an altitude of 15000 ft. The mountains that surround the place proclaim loudly how difficult a job is being done by our brave jawans. My appreciation of the brave soldiers of our country increased tremendously after the visit to Bum La.
Tawang monastery is another highlight of Tawang. One of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the world, it offers a good view of Tawang right at its entrance. I had visited on the day of Losar which is the Tibetan new year. As a result the celebrations were in full swing in Tawang. Prayers started as early as three in the morning.
Tawang is also home to some other attractions like Madhuri Lake, Jung falls, 6th Lamas birth place etc. Above all, its the ride through the towering mountains of Arunachal that will keep you attracted to the place. Some day, I would return on my bike to Tawang, I scribbled in my mind as I was returning from the place.
Brahmaputra is vast. As a person from the small state of Kerala, my imagination always run wild when I think of the big three rivers of India:- Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Indus. Of these while the Ganga and Indus evoke emotions of Bhakti, Brahmaputra commands a certain respect tinged with fear. It brings forth the image of a mighty God, whose inexorable flow consumes everything in its way. These images try to capture life in the Brahmaputra, taken during a short boat ride in it. This was taken at the Kolia Bhomora Setu which connects Sonitpur to Nagaon.
The View itself captivates you…
Before these Bridges came, water transport was the only way to go. Accidents were common and technology has helped save lives
Fishing is a major livelihood way along the banks
You cannot but marvel at the majesty of the River
Mechanised Country Boats chug along the river, with not much of safety gear in them in case of a mishap
A ride through the Brahmaputra is also a journey through the rural life of North East India. Wound in its flow are beliefs, customs and ultimately the beauty of life itself. It is an experience that no one should miss.
Manimalay trudged through the mist filled grasslands in the forest. Four of us were seated atop the cushioned seats fixed to her. The mahout, Tiber, kept on talking to her as if she could understand every word of it. Sometimes, he also got her with the stock that he held in his hand. Manimalay, a 40 year old female elephant, is one among a fleet of elephants who carry visitors into the National Park throughout the year.
The elephants which do the Safari duty in Kaziranga belong to different owners. Since of these elephants belong to the government while since to licenced private parties. The elephants were all female as far as I could tell, and I highly doubt that male elephants are employed for this duty. The 4 riders sit sidewise on the mounted seats throughout the safari, as the herd of elephants proceed to the park. The best thing about the elephant Safari is how close the elephant could get to the wild animals without being attacked. The con being the small area that could be covered compared to a Jeep.
At this time of the year ( Feb 1) it’s pretty cold in the morning and Misty in Kaziranga, and hence the visibility for the 5:30 Safari was a bit low. Still we managed to see some 3-4 one Horned rhinos, hog deers, wild hogs, wild Buffalo etc. They went on with their life not minding the unwanted intrusion that we presented.
Kaziranga and it’s mileu
Kaziranga National Park was a protected area right from the British times. Lady Curzon persuaded Lord Curzon to initiate measures to conserve the area after failing to see a single rhinoceros in the area. Spanning across 430 square kilometers, it is home to two-thirds if the population of one Horned Rhino in the world.
More interesting is the Geography of Kaziranga. To the southern boundary of Kaziranga lies the Asian Highway 1 and further south lies the Karbi Anglong Hills. It is an offshoot of the Deccan Plateau. The Brahmaputra and three other rivers form their valleys right in the of the sanctuary making it a fertile ground, while all the more flood prone. During the floods, the animals are sometimes carried by the water to the Karbi Naglong side of the highway.
I had entered through the Central Ranges, which is situated in Kohora. This is also the headquarters of the forest division. The Eastern division has the Brahmaputra so if you wish to see it, I suggest you go for Jeep Safari there.
The Mishing Village
One interesting part of the visit was a small detour to a Mishing Village. Most of the village seemed to be occupied with paddy cultivation. Every house seemed to have pigs, goats or hens as allied activities to agriculture.
The interesting feature of the houses of these Mishing tribes is their stilt houses also called changa. These houses built on bamboo pillars are thereby flood resistant.
A big swine lay in front of one of the houses, lazily, not caring who had come to his village. I went forward to take a picture and it snorted once. As I approached closer, it oinked loud and I just ran away.
Cycling in the Tea Gardens
The Karbi Anglong side of Kaziranga is full if Tea estates. You can enjoy a free walk through these gardens. However even more enjoyable an activity is to cycle through the gardens.
Anyone who goes to Kaziranga should definitely try this out. Cycles are available at the wildlife society. I cycled through the tea gardens and it was one of the best experiences in Kaziranga that I could ask for.
Folk night in the Orchid garden
The orchid garden hosts a folk night everyday at 6:30 PM. This was an assortment of the different dances of Assam. Except for Bihu, all of them were new to me. This is also something that is worth trying out, because you get to see some of the non mainstream artforms.