11 incomparable experiences only to be had when in bhopal

Let’s face it, Bhopal does NOT appear high up on travel bucket lists or itineraries. Why, even when considering to visit it, you may well be asked “What for???” I was, and that too repeatedly.

At the most, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh is seen as a stepping stone for Buddhist Sanchi. On its own, it is a bit of an enigma, its secrets veiled from casual inquiry. Which is a good thing, for it means you will have the “City of Lakes” to yourself, with very few tourists, and be in the company of locals instead. Continue reading

bhimbetka—the prehistoric rock art wonders of india

Every time I think I am “different” as a generation or a nationality, I am reminded of how alike I am to my ancestors and to those in other geographies. There is nothing unique about me. Nothing at all. But it is not really such a bad thing at all—this commonness or ordinariness of human existence—for it creates a bridge which spans time and space.

Okay, let me explain. I too record my life around me because I am consumed by a need to do so. And so did my prehistoric ancestors. I too express my joys and fears, and so did they. And so do you, dear reader, sitting in another city, another country. And so did your prehistoric ancestors in South Africa or France or the USA.

When looking at it from today’s digital lens, it comes as no surprise. But when one sees it from a stage set 10,000 years ago, it is a wonder how prehistoric people in disparate communities around the globe were expressing themselves in a similar way, using the same forms and tools, no matter where they lived and whom they were with. And we, in 2018 are to a large extent, the same as them. Continue reading

photo essay: buddhist sanchi, stories told and untold

Sanchi. The little town in the heart of Madhya Pradesh had been calling out to me since as far back in time as I could remember. From before I moved back to India. Before I even knew the immensity of its import in the bigger scheme of things.

I would fantasize wandering around the 2,300-year-old Buddhist stupa built by Ashoka the Great, in the company of birdsong and golden rays of sunshine. It epitomized all my soul was constantly hungering for: a space which was closer to nirvana. Don’t get me wrong. I am a hard-core city person. I love the rat race, of ambition and success. But within a mantle of purpose and intention. Of meaning and depth. Sanchi, I believed could help me put the pieces, which I knew as my “life,” into some semblance of balance. For is that not what Gautama Buddha preached about. The Middle Way.

After many a planned trip crumbled to dust as a result of life’s unpredictability, I finally found myself this past month on a rickety bus, driving through ripened wheat fields. I was on my way to ancient Sanchi. Continue reading

india travel shot: pithora painting, the art of ritual in tribal madhya pradesh

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I came across this fantastical painting in the Tribal Museum at Bhopal. It would be easy to mistake it for art. But it is not. It is instead a ritual practiced by the Rathva Adivasis in Madhya Pradesh. Continue reading

preserving a disappearing heritage: the bagh cave paintings at bhopal state museum

Nestled deep in the heart of India, on the banks of the seasonal Baghani river in Madhya Pradesh, are a series of nine rock-cut Buddhist temples covered with jewel-like murals. Known as the Bagh Caves, they date back to the 4th to 6th Centuries AD. According to legend they were built by a Buddhist monk called Dataka.

Contemporaries of the better-known Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, only five survive of its original nine. Very few even know of these five. I for one, did not. Did you? Continue reading

incredible gujarat: from 4,400-year-old lothal to 120-year-old utelia

I was first introduced to Lothal on my visit to Dholavira, another five millennia old Harappan site across the white salt pans of Kutch in Gujarat. Multiple references had been made to it: of Lothal’s significance in the bigger scheme of things in the Indus Valley civilization and the incredible finds unearthed from its excavations.

Now at Lothal three years later, as I sat under a tree in the deserted site, the sun bounced off the satin-silk waters of the dock lined by 4,400-year-old sun-dried bricks. I could almost hear the banter between the dock-hands in the 24th Century BC as they loaded and unloaded the boats with bags full of carnelian and steatite beads, ready to set out for distant lands beyond the seas. Over the distance of time, traders, both rich and poor, in the nearby market haggled with buyers using stone weights and gold discs based on the first ever instance of the decimal system. In the intersecting narrow side lanes, little children played with clay animal figurines, marbles and cowries, punctuated with gleeful peals of laughter. Continue reading