pushkar: where the gods and seekers meet

Pushkar.

No Hindu pilgrimage is believed to be complete without a stop at Pushkar, Rajasthan’s rose garden. A polestar for the seeker within since ancient times, it is apt that the little town’s rose essences have been exported far and wide through the centuries.

Not that Pushkar’s spirituality washes over one like a massive tumultuous wave, creating an instant transformation. Nope. Nothing like that at all. It is instead subtle and gentle, with a consistent, tangible peace hanging around the 52 ghats and 500 or so temples which line its very soul—Pushkar Sarovar, Sarovar meaning ‘Lake’.

Yet, this devout peaceful haven, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur, is inexorably tied to an eclectic mix of myths and traditions which range from a first wife’s wrath to being the seat of the Hindu god of creation. Continue reading

india travel shot: hari ki dwar – doorway to god – haridwar

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How and why does one small patch of river and land spanning a mere few hundred metres become the holiest site in all of the country? The answer—faith. What else can explain the millions of Hindus from across the country who make the coveted pilgrimage to the brown placid waters of the River Ganges washing 2,100-year-old steps in a pilgrimage town nestled in the plains of Uttarakhand. Day and night. Hail or rain. Year after year. For thousands of years. Continue reading

travel diaries: hiking in the lonar crater

It was hot. Though still “spring,” the dry earth and parched twigs crackled in the heat under the relentless bleached sun. Nestled in a yawning hollow below me was a murky saline and alkaline lake. There was no path leading down. Just boulders and a smattering of clear patches.

I asked myself what the hell was I doing here.

High on every geologist’s bucket list, Lonar is the only hyper-velocity impact crater in basaltic rock on our earth. It was created some 52,000 years ago by a meteor weighing 2 million tonnes, hurtling at a speed of 90,000 kilometres per hour. Some believe the meteorite is still stuck inside the lake. But I am no geologist. For a devout Hindu, it holds in its folds scores of medieval crumbling stone temples. But I am no devout Hindu either. For the hiker, it is an opportunity to hike down and then up, an attractive enough deviation from the ordinary. Perhaps that was it. Continue reading

global travel shot: lonar crater, a meteorite’s shot at earth

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“That’s where the meteorite came hurtling from,” my guide Mahesh points towards the Gomukh Temple perched on a slight dent in the rim.

“When was this?” I ask, breathless, as I slip over rubble and step gingerly down boulders, trying hard to look where he is pointing to and not go tumbling down in the process.

“Some say 52,000 years ago, some say 570,000 years ago.” Continue reading

global travel shot: alamgir aurangzeb’s mosque in varanasi

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Varanasi. The very name rings of sacred Hindu scriptures, stories of Lord Shiva and Ganga, and Hindu beliefs on life and afterlife. The oldest living city in the world, it is the accepted embodiment of Hinduism.

Yet, perched atop Panchganga Ghat by the holy River Ganges, where five streams are said to join, is a lovely functioning mosque—Alamgir Mosque. It is also the largest structure on the ghats. Standing over the ruins of a Krishna temple [the lower walls of the mosque belong to the original Hindu temple], the Hindu deities lie in a nearby edifice. Continue reading

global travel shot: the unknown 5th century shiva saptamurti in parel

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You may well say, Aah, I have seen this sculpture before. That is, if you are a museum buff. Wrong.

Allow me to make a confession. I often find myself torn between awe at the cultural treasures with which India bursts at its seams with, and angry at the apathy, neglect and state of degradation in which many lie. I know I am not alone in this conflict.

Exactly a year ago I visited the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. Like very many others, I fell in love with one piece. Continue reading

cambodia: the sacred and ugly of divine rule

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[My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, on 6 March, 2016 in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here]

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From Angkor Wat to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia reveals that civilisations hold within them, both, the seeds of greatness and those of depravity

Continue reading

babulnath mandir: south bombay’s ancient shiva temple

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Perched on a hillock in the heart of Bombay, behind a rather inconspicuous entrance is the 200-year-old Babulnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

I hadn’t done much exploring in the city in the last couple of months (as you may have figured from my blog) and was antsy to start digging deeper again. Mention of the Babulnath temple cropped up whilst I was compiling an itinerary on ‘Mumbai in 48 hours’ for my sister’s very first time visit to Mumbai. I wanted to show her the touristy, as well as the local everyday sights. The temple, near Girgaum Chowpatty, I was told had to be in that list. Now was I going to wait till December to see it myself?? Haha. No ways! Continue reading

banganga: lord ram’s stopover in mumbai en-route to lanka

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“Excuse me, Banganga kahaan hai?” [Where is Banganga?]
This is the umpteenth time I have stopped to ask. There are no sign posts of any kind. Guided by countless shopkeepers, cab drivers and Marathi women with flowers in their hair, I finally find my way off the main road on to a small side lane with stone steps leading down into a valley.

Yes, I am confused. Around me urban Mumbai throbs with concrete high rises and bustling markets. The corner store keeper assures me, “Down the stairs on your right.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, sure.” And smiles.

So down the stairs I go, and at the bottom look to my right. A huge water tank guarded by deepstambhs, pillars to hold diyas, and surrounded by temples and dharamshalas clinging to its walls greets me with old world whimsical charm. Continue reading

nala sopara: mumbai’s ancient buddhist stupa and mythical temples

The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.

Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.

No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading