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100 years of Jallianwala Bagh

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.

The place from where people were fired upon

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.

The narrow entrance to the garden

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.

The memorial. The way many youngsters we’re taking selfies and posing kind of was the exact opposite of the loss of lives that happened at the place. Maybe it is this freedom for which the sacrifice was made.

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.

The well in which people jumped to escape the rain of bullets

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.

The marble sculpture commemorating those who were martyred on that fateful day

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.

Lest we forget: The Partition Museum

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.

The Partition Museum

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 handshake statue in Wagah

War through Pantomimes: Wagah Border and the Beating Retreat Ceremony

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 Indian Side was filled to the brim. The whole spectacle is better enjoyed from Indian Side

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 Indian side with women celebrating while the lone guy with Pakistani flag trying to cheer up crowd in Pakistan

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.

Mixed Emotions: Land of Dawnlit Mountains- Arunachal Pradesh

“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.

Bhalukpong

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: The mighty Son of Brahma

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…

There is no way on earth that the mighty Brahmaputra will fail to leave an impression on you

Before these Bridges came, water transport was the only way to go. Accidents were common and technology has helped save lives

These Bridges are the lifeline of Assam. Without them transportation would be time consuming and unsafe

Fishing is a major livelihood way along the banks

These small bamboo structures made for fishing reminded me of Chinese Nets found in Fort Kochin. The ways of men are same and similar milieu breeds similar survival mechanisms

You cannot but marvel at the majesty of the River

At places you wonder whether this is a river itself, with the banks not visible from one end. Every now and then a Gangetic River Dolphin peeps out, giving the impression you are in the se

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.

The one Horned Rhino Kingdom: Kaziranga

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.

Elephant Safari through the Kaziranga National Park

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.

Misty morning in Kaziranga

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.

Stilt houses also called Changa are flood resistant

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.

This big swine even charged at me for trying to get close to him

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.

Paddy seems to be the main cultivation

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.

Cycling is highly recommended

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.

Cycling through the Tea Gardens is a different experience altogether

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.

Folk Night at the Orchid Garden

Worship of Shakthi: Maa Kamakhya Temple

We descended into a dark room, where the first thing you notice is the constant dripping of the water. You can see two pandits sitting at two points near a mound of garlands and flowers. They ask the people to kowtow in front of the garlands and touch the water and keep it on your head. The only light in the room is that of two flame torches that are lit in the room. If you keep electic lights, then the whole divine ambience might be lost, I felt. Somehow I did not feel very spiritual in the cave and kept walking, just observing curiously the happenings around me.

Maa Kaamakhya Temple

Kamakhya Temple must have been built in many phases from 8th to 17th century. In the outerwalls of the temple you see very intricately carved sculptures which speak of the craftsmanship of that age. At the same time, certain parts of the wall seems to be like plastered and bland, which kind of points to the deterioration of the quality of construction in later periods, I felt.

Sculptured walls of the temple

Another major thing you observe in the temple is the presence of huge number of goats and pigeons. These goats are mostly offered to Maata Kaamakhya. Kaamakhya temple still observes animal sacrifice, and I’m told that only male goats are sacrificed. I could see some male goats, called “kottanadu” in Malayalam, roaming freely in the temple as if it’s their domain until they’re sacrificed. They have this air about them that they are going to solve world problems with their life sacrifice and they are entitled to walk around as if they’re the masters there.

Goats are aplenty along with pigeons in the temple complex

Kids can be seen running all around the place. They have been very well tutored how to talk to the visiting pilgrims ( or tourist pilgrims?) Two of them approach me and tell me with conviction ” Bhaiya, give us some dakshina. You can have the blessings of Maa Kaamakhya. All your problems will be solved” I smile at them with my best childlike smile and tell that I don’t have any problems that needs solving. I do not know whether they even understand what I am saying and they lurk around for some more time and then leave.

A Timelapse of Maa Kaamakhya Temple

Maa Kaamakhya temple suffers from the same date as any other famous temple. It’s too commercialised with spirituality being sold at every nook and corner. Near every deity there is a Pandit who promises blessings. This combined with the rush makes this hill shrine devoid of any spirituality. Just like beauty, spirituality also likes in the eyes of the beholder. So Maata blesses everyone differently, I guess.

The impregnable Fort of Golconda and Sarandaz Khan’s treachery

The Mughal army had laid seige for eight months now. Many famines, deaths and losses later, Golconda Fort still showed no signs of surrender. The Qutb Shahis were in no mood to relent. Finally, Aurangzeb managed to woo Sarandaz Khan, an insider to show him a backdoor into the fort, thereby penetrating Golkonda fort for the first time in it’s history.

The Golkonda complex from it’s entrance

Built by the Kakateeyas, Golkonda means shepherd’s hill. The fort is one among the two impregnable forts of peninsular India, the other being there Aurangabad fort ( built by the Yadavas of Devagiri). Fortified in three layers similar to Aurangabad fort, Golkonda too has a full township housed inside it to withstand any siege.

Far away last the city, which needed no more fort to guard it’s fortune

Golkonda fort is an architectural marvel hiding many salient features. One such, is the clapping portico, where below a diamond cut dome, your clap reverberates and is carried to the “Bala Hissar”, or the citadel where the royals stay. This allowed for quick communication, if the fort was under siege.

The portico with diamond cuts where the clap reverberates and is carried to the distant Bala Hissar, the citadel. This was used to inform of event sieges.

The fort also offers a view of the present day Hyderabad City atop it. At the time, this fort protected some of the best known diamonds of the world, while today everything that makes Hyderabad rich last outside of it, viewable from this hillock.

There is a Kali Temple also atop the fort. The access to the Diwan-I-khas was restricted. I sat atop the hill in the satisfaction that I had finally conquered the impregnable Fort of Golkonda.

Patel’s Prodigies: SVPNPA

Whatever the provocation, I would appeal to you to remain calm. It is the primary duty of the Police. He who loses his temper no longer remains a policeman.

Sardar Vallabhai Patel

Etched on the walls in Sardar Vallabhai Patel National Police Academy ( SVPNPA ) are these words. When I found that I would be having some spare time in Hyderabad, I decided that I should visit my friends in NPA to see how they are enjoying their training in Indian Police Service ( IPS)

Patel’s golden advice to Police

Established in 1948, SVPNPA is older than NADT. Among the civil services, it is one of the training academies that outrivals NADT as far as infrastructure is concerned. As soon as we reached the academy itself, the giant gate had Mahatmajis words etched on it ” Be the change you want to see in the world”. Once we made our id cards, we were allowed inside.

NPA mess and hostel

The NPA campus in more than 200 acres, and is very well maintained. It’s almost 4 times NADT, my campus. Given the requirements of Police training, this is justified too. My friends in NPA who had left from IRS kept bickering about the rigour and rigidness of their training. However, in the end, I could see that they would not have it any other way and felt proud of being an IPS officer. That meant that the academy was serving it’s purpose.

View from Rajasthan House

As I was walking around the campus with my friends, we visited the sports complex. Among the accomomplishments board, I could find two famous IPS officers who had made Kerala proud.

T P Senkumar is on the accomplishment board in Sports.

IRS v IPS is a regular debate that we envounter in civil service aspirant circle. After interacting with my friends, my conviction that as long as you are convinced of your choice and have pride in the job that you are doing, you would not err whichever the service.

Where Dreams Are Made: Ramoji Film City

My first ever memory of Hyderabad is someone telling me about Ramoji Film City. This was when I was a kid and I wondered how a single place could accommodate palaces, streets, houses, Eastern/Western style architecture, gardens, farms, desserts and all. My little mind couldn’t fathom it.

The first film City that I would visit was not Ramoji, but the Film City in Mumbai, which is rather a small Enterprise compared to Ramoji. That is managed by the Maharashtra Government and headed by an IAS officer. As expected, it did not amaze me much.

Ramoji Film City

However, Ramoji was a different experience. As we entered the Film City, we were ushered into the premium lounge. Our tour was premium tour which had better experiences on offer. We were taken to the forest show where a director was taking us through the Film making process. A lady from the audience was chosen to be the actress in the reenactment of the horse chase scene in Sholay (Basanti)

Once this was done, we were taken through the different rides, other cultural showed, a tour of the different film sets on offer etc. They had houses with different elevations on each side, streets in South Indian style, North Indian, European, etc etc.

Spirit of Ramoji show

These days however the print attraction is nothing other than the set of the Indian giant movie, Baahubali. Usually once the movie is done, the sets of disbanded and the structures moved to storage. However, in case of Baahubali, given the huge popularity, the leadership at Ramoji decided to keep the set for public viewership. As the number of people who throng the set process, it was not a wrong decision.

Kaalakeya cutout in the Film set of Baahubali

A one man enterprise which became an empire, Ramoji Rao’s story is strife with so many narratives. One Telugu friend of mine considers him an inspiration, while another told me how the government and he conspired to grab the land in which the current film City is located. Spanning 2000 actress, the land was given to Ramoji for peanuts because of his closednesd to Telugu Desam Party, he fumed. Another friend quipped that despite all the investments, the film city was revenue deficit and not cutting a profit.

Whatever way you spin the film city story, you can’t come out of the place without amazement about the vision of it’s developer and art directors. Compared to how other film cities in India have managed their property, Ramoji Film city says another story. If not for that, a young kid, sitting at distant Kerala, at a time when communication medias were not so omnipresent, would not have wondered, how a single place could house both a Railway station, airport and a beggars house. That is how Ramoji film city brings everything together.