Wednesday, 23 October 2013

19/10/13 and 20/10/13- Delhi, Agra and over-priced autos!

     Half a day dissolved in the pleasance of sleep. Reaching the airport well ahead of time, only to find that the flight has be advanced to an hour earlier, and relief at being early enough not to miss my flight. Reaching Delhi, visiting JNU and Kalka-ji. A wait for a friend, coffee ice-cream and a Kindle-read American Gods. Meeting an old friend, making a new one, and conversations that are random streams that intersect with and deviate from one another like a crisscross of rivers. Back to JNU when the Onam celebrations were nearing an end, repeating the process: meeting old friends, and making new ones.

     The next day dawns with a slow process of getting ready to head towards Agra. Uneventful auto and bus journeys towards the city. You would think that the constant exposure towards images and information about certain places would reduce the beauty of certain places. But I was to be pleasantly surprised. There was a short-cut towards the ticket counter that seemed to be unexplored by many. Willingly, we chose to walk the empty road. As we trudged through the grass, we spotted a long blackish snake winding its way through the grass heading off towards whatever destination it had in mind. With a quick goodbye to our reptilian friend, we went along our way. We saw camel-carts with the massive animals standing idly waiting for a savari (whether they were waiting for the savari or not, I cannot tell, but their owners sure wanted people to be filling up the carts).

     And then there was the queue. We thought we had to stand in a long-winding, never-ending queue towards the entrance, but there was a separate queue for women. There were, in fact, four separate queues: the high-value tickets and the low-value tickets for both men and women. Both the ladies’ queues were short, and thankfully, we got in faster than most others. Mostly, being all tourist-like, we took pictures of everything we could. But that got us to looking at the construction itself. Not that we knew anything of architecture, but the minute stones embedded into the marble walls, twirling into twines of colourful flowers, the carvings on the walls, the writings in Arabic and the intricacy of it all.

     Stuck near a tomb waiting to get out, the security does not allow the people who enter the innermost area to exit it. A crowded shrine, and unhappy people. Annoyed with the guards, who eventually cave in and let the people out. A tussle between women when push becomes shove. A quick exit. – With all things beautiful comes something not so pleasing. The Laal Kila. Exploring with a map absorbed into a camera, and understanding things better. Once again, looking at carvings, and looking with awe at the fort walls.
And then the journey back- an escapade not worth mentioning about, save for the fact that the bus that ought to have gotten us back to Delhi by 9.00 p.m. reached the bus stop only by 11.00 p.m. Filled with exhaustion, there was a quick dinner and sleep. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

18/10/13- ‘Jai Matha Di’: Of Horse Rides, A Visit to a Cave and a Temple Run

     Awake and ready by 7.00 a.m., beginning the day with a sort of sojji served in a leaf-cup by a road-side vendor, before the city has risen into the full vibrancy of a working day. Sitting in a bus, waiting for a mountain climb. A two hour ride with an in-between stop at a check post. The conductor says there will be a checking at the post. Getting down, I find only men surround me. A little perplexed I am wondering what to do, when someone else says the checking is only for men. I wonder why there is a checking, even! But I go
back and slip into the front seat in the bus, easily getting back into the cosiness of my niche near the window.

     In another hour, we have reached Katra. I rush towards the ticket counter along with a few other people. The crowds have not yet begun their sojourn towards a god, or their god, or their belief, or even their prayer. I am surrounded by youngsters- high school boys eager to make the climb. A ticket is obtained. Breakfast at 10.15 at a small food stall that made really tasty parathas, and then towards the foothills.

     At the base, there is a security check and I meet Raju and Sapna. Sapna is a gorgeous, young, shining black mare decorated by her owner with chamkis and bells- not necessarily something that is comfortable. And yet, she was the one who was taking me up 10 kilometres to rendezvous with the goddess.  She was patient. She loved walking at the edge of the road- the corner which faced the gaping slopes of the mountain. At bends in the mountain road, she would always take the outer arch. She knew her way about the roads. Sometimes, her owner would lag behind a bit, and with just a whistle or a call he would be able to bring her to a halt. It was a lovely experience. Riding a horse for three hours over hilly terrain is very very different from the short horse-rides offered on Chennai beaches, and by the time we reached the top, my body was numb.

     And then the temple: It was small and surrounded by fences- a little disappointing, architecturally speaking. There was a constructed cave that entered into the shrine of the goddess, through which there was holy water dripping towards the floor, giving a damp, dank feeling; a feeling of being stuck inside a womb! The goddess was three-faced, and shone golden, with the redness of her sari. I only said a quick hello and goodbye before leaving.

     Not bothering to get food, I ate something light before embarking on my return. I decided to walk. But there was no more time- no time for decisions or indecisions! And so the pace quickened. After a couple of kilometres, there were steps and I took them with the joy of seeing a short-cut. But still, there was the vague doubt of the lack of time chiming within the back of my head. And the speed increased. And there was no more time to stop and stare- the green mountains, the quietness of the mists were no longer the primary concern. The landscape shifted from the greenness of trees to the stark whiteness of shop walls. And still I was climbing down, incessantly looking at the watch, thinking- “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late”.

     Nearing the base, my feet nearly cave in, but somehow I manage to stagger towards an auto that charges too much. I walk further on hoping that some auto-driver will accept a decent price. Eventually finding an auto, I head towards the bus-stop. And then a return journey with a panic-causing traffic jam that was eventually evaded, and a safe-reaching within the expected time limit.

     A meeting of friends, a short conversation, a sending off of friends heading towards Srinagar, a delicious hotel thaali and a dreamless slumber.

17/10/13- A Day of Temple Visits, Seminars and Street Chaat

Wondering whether I will be all tourist-y and visit the various sights in Jammu… Auto tour around town- Ranbireshwar mandir in the drizzle and breeze, Hari Nawas Palace in sunshine through the mists of morning watching 100 kgs of gold shimmering in the light and taking pictures with the Jammu Tavi in the background, Kolkandoli mandir (visited by a five-year-old Vaishno Devi before she travelled past Katra) in the brightness of noon.
Seminars that gave headaches, that became a big deal, even though all I needed was coffee. Coffee given with sugar cubes and milk-powdery water and biscuits. Presentations in neatly dressed black clothes, eagerly waiting to be done.
A meeting of a relative’s friend for a short ride on a scooter and a car. In Jammu, the cars are all parked in public places, and the scooter is the mode of travel. Only when absolutely necessary does the scooter get you to the car to get to wherever the four-wheeler needs to take you. And so, in a scooter-then-car-ride, I got to see the Purani Mandi, the bazaar area, the old city, the green stretch, the four bridges that cut across Jammu Tavi, and various other multiplexes, four-star hotels and other buildings.
Stubbornly refusing to eat south Indian food, we found roadside shops that provided papri chaat (minus the sev),aloo tikki and kaladi kulcha (made with buns and kaladi cheese)- mouth watering, really. Even the thought of it makes me hungry. Rounding up the simple yet tasty meal with a 10 rupee coffee, I got back to the room. Conversations about terribly boring presentations, guides and other random strings of thoughts…

And now to bed.

16/10/13- A Whiff of Jammu

The Raghunath mandir at 8.00 a.m. is a beautiful sight. With steep domes spiralling out into the air, the temple is the abode of Sriram, Lakshman and Sita, surrounded by a multitude of gods and other minor deities. There is a circle within a circle, at the centre of which resides these idols. The two concentric circles comprise a variety of deities, including Shiva, Radhe-Krishna, Saibaba, and others. The sculpting is very different from South-Indian sculptures, and there are definitely more colours. Each idol is draped in a cornucopia of reds, yellows, greens, blues, pinks that shimmer amidst the mirrors surrounding them. There is a clear contrast of colours, even in the faces of the idols. A thought: Sriram was black, while Lakshman and Sita were white.
The temple itself was serene, filled with a profusion of parrots that were squawking in the fresh morning air. The bazaar area, where the temple is located, had not yet woken up, and the birds were enjoying the calm of the temple atmosphere. There were chants and bells and a harmony of music in the background.
Starting off with the serenity of the Raghunath temple, the day moved on into a more academic mode after the Vandana at Jammu University. Welcoming the delegates as well as the plenary speakers at their biggest and newest auditorium, the General Zorawar Singh Auditorium, the students of Jammu University performed a dance on Ganapathi Bappa. 

The sessions dealt primarily with the importance of Shakespeare and the necessity to look at the republic in his works, as well as gendered readings of some of his works. These sessions were interrupted by a tea break and, later, lunch. The food was delicious, serving chole-batura, sandwiches, pakoras, and gulab jamuns along with tea/coffee at 11.30 a.m. and providing mouth-watering parathas, rajma-rice, paneer butter masala, and cauliflower fry along with ice-cream for lunch.
Having had enough of academics (but definitely not the food), the next on the agenda was sightseeing. The Bahu fort and gardens, as well as a quick dash through the aquarium accompanied by a recently arrived friend, was to follow. The fort looked pretty massive and beautiful from outside, yet, it only comprised of a small Durga temple within its walls. Sitting amidst the clamour of bells and the rhythm of chants, breathing in the smell of sambrani, remembering the smell of granddfather’s-prayers-on-Friday-afternoons, there was a moment of serenity and a moment of happiness.
There was a slow breathing-in of the surroundings, and a slow exhaling of everything that was stressful. A moment of wondering- when someone blesses you ‘Sukhi bhava’ (I presume it translates into ‘Be happy’), isn’t that all we ask for? Not to wish one to get married, or get a job, or have children, or be well-to-do, but a deep desire for the other person to be truly happy with whatever she or he has, with where he or she is, at perfect peace and for the other to wish the same of yourself.
An old man, with a bandaged foot, sweeping the temple floor in a routine manner… I hope he is compelled by faith rather than forced be necessity- a futile thought. An offering of money, and an acceptance of it. Seems more logical and more needed than an offering to god. And we leave the temple/fort. But before we exit the walls of the fort, there are steps hidden in the dark, beckoning us to climb them. So we quickly caper up the stone steps and see a breath-taking view of the city lights in the evening.
Glad to have done something out of the ordinary, we went on down to a deceptively small garden. Walking around the lake, the fountains sing out to us. The yellow lights on the ever-so-slightly-rippling waters glimmer in the night. The spray of water from the fountain leads us down steps. And smaller decorative steps allow the water to traipse down their body, fluttering into larger, stiller ponds. Bridges soaked in the harmony of waters’ music separate fountain from fountain. A sense of elation fills us, as the tripping water skips and hums like the beat of the heart. A garden-walk-and-talk.

And finally there was dinner- buns with fried soya beans, a glass of goli-soda, papdi chaat that wasn’t really papdi chaat, and finally a traipse back to the hotel room, conversations about TV shows, and the welcoming bed.