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

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

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

national museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

The National Museum, New Delhi makes the herculean task of experiencing India’s monumental heritage spanning 5,000 years—doable. You could always spend 3 minutes looking at each object in its 210,000 piece collection. But that would take 14.5 months with no sleep or meals inbetween. Or you could do an audio tour and spend a day exploring its glorious galleries through 64 masterpieces. And if you have just one and a half hours, then why not feast your eyes on its very best.

Earlier housed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan [President’s residence], the collection has its roots in 1947 when the Royal Academy, together with the governments of India and Britain, decided to hold an “Exhibition of Indian Art” in London. Selected artefacts from museums across India were collected for the showing.

Before returning the exhibits to their respective museums, it was decided to display the exhibition in Delhi as well. What a huge success it turned out to be! The overwhelming response led to the idea of a permanent National Museum being set up in the capital with its very own building by India Gate which it moved into in 1960.

The National Museum has it all. From the iconic Harappan Dancing Girl to elegant Gandharan Buddhas, from exquisite miniature Mughal paintings to luscious Tanjore compositions, from Chola bronzes to 20th Century decorative arts, from medieval sculptures of voluptuous Hindu deities to diamond and emerald regalia of its once-upon-a-time royalty. The Museum has all these, and much much more.

Here are my 15 favourite pieces collated after rambling through its collections and meditating over its audio tour. Doable in 90 minutes. 🙂 Continue reading

indian sculpture’s 1,500 year journey at the indian museum, kolkata

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A nondescript placard on the wall reads: “Buddhist Stupa, 2nd Century BC, Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh.”

I turn around and almost knock into a magnificent red sandstone 9-feet high railing and 23-feet high gateway, teetering in awe at its grandeur and proximity. It is covered profusely with intricate imagery of secular life and Buddhist teachings in 2nd Century BC India. Short inscribed labels in Brahmi script record the names of donors.

The monumental piece is nothing short of breathtaking. Much like everything else in the archaeology gallery of India’s oldest and largest museum, the Indian Museum located just around the corner of Park Street, Kolkata, and built in 1878 by the then British Raj.

Arranged in chronological rather than thematic order, the gallery showcases 1,500 years of India’s sculpture art, from which emanate its various schools and inter-linkages, in a seamless story.

Piqued? Come join me on a virtual tour of this collection under whirring fans, encased in a hot humid corridor in a Doric columned colonial edifice. 🙂 Continue reading