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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.

Minutemaid Tea and the Charminar

“Keep moving, Keep moving, You can’t go through this road” the policeman who blocked us kept blowing his whistle, waiving away vehicles and diverting people from the approach road.

Charminar from the Makkah masjid side

My friend Mithun told him we just wanted to see it for five-ten minutes only and then we’ll be on our way. He still didn’t agree. Then we showed him our id cards, explaining that we are Assistant comminssioners, on Bharath Darshan and hence might not find time to come later.if there is anything he could do for us, now would be the time. His tone and look had already changed and he allowed us entry.

Makkah Masjid at Night. The central dome was built from sand brought from Mekkah.

Any visit to Hyderabad without Charminar in the itinerary can’t be considered complete. If Gateway of India is the mascot for Mumbai, Howrah Bridge that of Kolkata, then Charminar it is for Hyderabad. Built at a prayer site, in the 16th century, the Char Minar was gratitude offering to the almighty for saving the City from an attack of plague. This was my second visit to Char Minar. The previous visit was during daytime and hence I could climb up the structure and get a view of all the surrounding streets.

In Search of Irani Chai

We kept on searching for Irani Chai. However, since it was late most tea shops were closed. The shopkeepers did come and ask us whether we wanted juice. However, noone had tea.

It had rained and the entire area did not resemble anything like a heritage site. The streets were filled with garbage and on enquiry we got to know that it would be cleaned at 4 AM.

One if the shopkeepers told us that night time the shops have to be closed as per police order. As we moved on, I heard someone call out “Tea” from one of the shops. The shop had a cut in it’s closed shutter. From the outside it looked like the shop was closed, but it was just a closure of convenience.

The shop with cut shutter

We went ahead and bought 4 tea. It was not Irani, but made of minutemaid. Very sweet, I thought. It somewhat resembled “Paalada” taste for me. After having the tea, we set out to roam around Hyderabad city in our car, while the night was still young.

Rathas of Udupi

Tryst with the famed Udupi

“Where can we find a good Udupi Hotel?” my dad innocently asked a rickshaw wallah. He looked at my father quizzically. I pinged my Dad and reminded him that we are in Udupi and all hotels here are Udupi hotels. You only had to ask which is a good hotel for vegetarians.

Go to any corner in India and you will be able to find an Udupi restaruant. They are famous for the vegetarian cuisine that they serve and are supposed to be prepared in the Saatvik style, avoiding garlic and onion and at the same time not compromising in taste.

Udupi Railway Station

The credit for this goes to the Srikrishna Temple, which is the institution around which a sleepy little place started to develop. It is the cooks of this temple which was founded by Saint Madhava, leading proponent of the Dwaita philosophy, who later took the cuisine of the temple to around the world and made it famous.

Sreekrishna Temple Gopura

Udupi is no longer a sleepy town. With nearby Manipal and the bustling beaches that wash its coasts, Udupi is a must visit place now.

Udupi Taali

Udupi Shiva Temple

Malpe Beach and St. Mary’s island

In the evening, I went to Malpe beach expecting a sleepy beach with very few visitors. Malpe was anything but that. It was bustling with tourists, watersports, roadside stalls and everything that could put Baga beach (in Goa) to shame. The winter being the season, Malpe has turned into a place where people from all nearby places pour in to enjoy their weekends. There were quite a few school buses from Kerala with children coming in to enjoy their annual tour.

I went to one of the roadside stalls (one among numerous) with live fish counters. Fresh fish with masala and chilly applied on it were kept in line and I just had to choose. I selected a fish called Kandai (Grey Mullet) which they fried immediately and gave. Having come from Nagpur, I was in mood for more. The mullet was very tastely fried. So I selected a bigger Chinese Pomfret and was bowled over by the taste.

I wanted to proceed to St. Marys island, which is also one of the Geological Monuments of India, however the ferry time was over.

Add Udupi to Your Must Visit Destinations

I intend to visit Udupi again. Coastal Karnataka has a life of its own and remains relatively unexplored by tourists from elsewhere. Udupi is home to a lot of places like Manipal Museum of Pathology and Anatomy, Kodi beach etc. It deserves atleast 2-3 days of attention. Add it to your bucket list and do visit it.

A visitor from far away: The story of Lonar Crater Lake

I stared at the starry sky from my hotel, roughly a kilometer away from where the meteor had struck. In this universe, endless and immaculate, we occupy such a minute place, I felt. Very often, this thought pops up in my mind when I stare at the night sky. However, tonight it filled me with a profound sense of humility. Lonar can do that to you.

I decided on this trip with no prior planning. Vidarbh region, except for a few wildlife sancutaries sprinled here and there, is empty of interesting places compared to other regions of Maharashtra. For me, time is a luxury, given that training is a residential programme and wishing for more than three days at one shot is blasphemy. I wanted to venture out of the comfortable 250km radius ( because of the time factor) and just ride into the horizon. Thus Lonar manifested in my mind.

Roadtrip!

Without contemplating much, I packed my bags, kicked off my Bullet and rode away. I stopped in Amravati, the first night and then rode the rest of the distance the next day. When you stand in the bustling local market of Lonar It is not possible to fathom that such an unassuming taluk would be the site of a cosmological event like this.

Another Bike Trip was in the offing. I just packed my bags and left

Crater Lake and its story

The crater lake in Lonar is the third largest in the world, and the only impact crater that has been formed in basaltic rock. Since it was formed in the great Deccan Traps, the crater still stands without large scale denudation. Its age is estimated to be around 500000 years as per the latest studies. The lake is saline and alkaline at the same time, and on the banks of the lake you feel as if you are standing on the banks of a sandy beach. The white sand and the salty nature of the air at stands at odds with the surrounding Deccan milieu.

Ready for the morning trek to the lake

As everywhere else in India, myths have been woven around the crater lake. The cruel Lonasura who unleashed his acts had to be vanquished by Lord Vishnu in the form of Daityasudan. The village has a temple dedicated to DaityaSudan which was constructed during the Chalukya times. Around the lake itself 14 temples and one dargah has been built at different times by various dynasties including Yadavas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas.

Ain-i-Akbari also mentions the lake and the use of the water therein. The high sulphur percentage of the water rendered it useful in making of soap. These soaps were sent to Delhi for use by the Emperor himself.

All along the banks of the lake I could see these antilion traps, which must be how the crater must also be looking from above.

Even though the lake doesn’t support much marine life, except a few algae and bacteria, the forest that has grown in the fringes of the depression is thriving with wildlife. Leopards, Langurs, Wild Boar all roam wide and free here. The place is also a magnet for birds.

Leopard Pug Marks found on the way down

After a walk around the lake, photographing the landscape and wildlife and reliving the history of the temples built around it, my guide and I venture to Amber Lake, which was formed by a splinter that fell of the meteor. This lake has fresh water unlike the main lake. There is a Maruti temple near this lake where the idol is believed to have magnetic properties and is probably made of the rock that came with the meteor. However, this property is now under the possession of a Kanitkar family which refuses to subject the idol to scientific studies.

Saas Bahu Well: This well, though dug on the banks of the lake itself has sweet water unlike the lake, which is highly alkaline (pH 11)

Bird Photographer’s Paradise

Lonar lake is visited by numerous birds. The MTDC board says that even flamingos can be spotted. However, my guide says this is not true. Past few years no flamingos have been spotted. I could spot birds like Bulbull, bee eater, jungle babblers, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Pond herons, parrots etc. But then to a trained eye, the list may be even bigger

A Lapwing at the banks of the crater lake

Undisturbed by Tourism

Lonar has not been disturbed by tourism and the place largely remains pristine. However, as I walked along the banks of the lake I could see some idols made of plaster of Paris, which I was told was used for immersion during one of the festivals. Here and there I find small plastic bottles, and such wastes. Elsewhere in the world such places would be celebrated and preserved. Our celebration of Lonar is confined to religion and preservation is confined to appropriation by the forest department. Quite a sad state of affairs, I feel.

Daityasudan Temple in the village is a classic example of Chalukyan architecture in the Deccan. It features many sculptures similar to the ones found in Khajuraho

Plan a visit to Lonar if you are in Aurangabad or Amaravati. This place can never disappoint you. Here are some of the things that awaits you

Sangeetha_Shankar

A Musical Night with Sangeetha Shankar in Nagpur

Famous Hindustani classical violinist Sangeetha Shankar happened to be in town. She was accompanied by her younger daughter Nandini Shankar on the violin and Pandita Anuradha Pal on the Tabla.

It was a delight seeing three women musicians together on stage. It was also a rare sight. I, for one, have never seen a classical stage performance where every artist was a woman .The programme which was conducted in Suresh Bhatt Auditorium, Mahal, Nagpur was organised by Kalidas Samaroh and the theme of the programme was Naree Shakthi.

I was not able to figure out the first raga which she played. Nevertheless it was beautiful. I slowly closed my eyes and within some time was transported to some other serene place. She followed this with a Dadra in Khamaj and then a Natiya.

A Classic Case Study of Outliers

Ms. Sankar’s family tree is a good case study of what Malcolm Gladwell calls outliers. Her daughters Ragini and Nandini are renowned violinists while Ms. Shankar herself is the daughter of legendary violinist N. Rajam. N Rajam’s brother T.N Krishnan is another violinist who is well revered in the classical music circles. If you keep digging, this family has seemed to have music in their genes. Or do they?

As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book Outliers, all of these “prodigies” have had the right exposure and right environment to have absorbed music into themselves. Most of them seems to have been initiated into music around the age of three and to have given their first solo performance around the age of 13-15. This seems to strengthen the 10000 hour rule popularised by Gladwell, given that 10 years is around the time where most people seem to hit the 10000 hour mark. Given that they already are experts by 13, by the time they reach their youth, they are maestros.

Deliberate Practice

It is not just the 10000 rule that these artists seem to get correct. They seem to be doing deliberate practice where the sessions spent on music are intense and self aware. This is also very essential to make sure that you improve in a particular activity.

Remembering Balabahaskar

While listening to Ms. Shankar, I kept remembering the violinist from Kerala who recently passed away in a car accident, Mr. Balabhaskar. Not only was he a gifted vioinist, but also a family friend.

Overall, kudos to Kalidas Samaroh for putting up such an excellent musical night in Nagpur. These kind of experiences make me love the place more. I will be in Nagpur for just 4 more months. Till now, nothing much has come by to make me fall in love with the place. I sure hope that the coming four months will be different.

Mominpura

Mominpura: Where the Night is young in Nagpur

I should be frank with you. Nightlife in Nagpur is woeful. The city goes to slumber by 11 PM. You will be hard pressed to find a hotel or shop that is open. As a nightowl who loves roaming around during the wee hours of the dark, this was something that I couldn’t at all digest about Nagpur. The only respite from this is Mominpura.

Mominpura during the Eid Night

Mominpura is a muslim neighbourhood. The whole street is full of shops selling Athar, Shurma clothing, Pan, Biriyani and meat items. I would not say that it is the most hygenic place out there, but if you find eating in Chandni Chowk or Girgaum Chowpatty okay, then Mominpura also will not fail you.

Even at 3 in the night, you can find biriyani or a kathi roll here. My favorite places here are Baba Tea and the small shops that sell chicken fry. The amount of oil that is present in each item can make you cringe. However, the food being tasty makes it a forgivable sin.

Baba Tea at 1

Don’t fret if you find them closed

The shop timings in Nagpur are police enforced and therefore after 11 you will see patrol vans doing round in and around Mominpura. For this exact reason, you may find the front curtains of these shops to be closed. However, dare to go behind the curtain and you will be able to find delicious food being cooked.

Safety checks: You can find the Police Patrol Van doing rounds

Jama Masjid

Mominpura also has a huge Jama Masjid. Try to visit during the day time if you are looking to go inside.

If you are visiting Nagpur and are into enjoying the local culture of the place, then I do recommend a night time stroll in Mominpura and the neighbourhood.