global art shot: kampani kalam, when east met west

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Two friends seated in discussion. Way back in the year 1810-12 in Delhi. Two very real, very ordinary people. Just like you and me. And if it weren’t for an art form that went by the name Kampani Kalam in the local Indian lingua franca, or Company Paintings in English, these two gentlemen would have been forgotten in the pages of time.

But they survived. The two, not meeting my eye, but seemingly fully aware of being the focus of my attention last Sunday, were part of a special exhibition at Delhi’s National Museum. Some two hundred other paintings hung around me, but this hung in the spectrum of time. Their true-to-life faces, their elaborate local costumes, even the hair on their arms and chest.

Through them, I could travel back 210 years. In a flash. Continue reading

india travel shot: a temple for a rajput biker and his enfield

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Last year, during the months of October-November, I travelled across Rajasthan by road with different cabs for each leg of my 35-day journey. I soon started to notice one constant element across the taxis’ dashboards. They had a framed photo of a young turbaned gentleman, either perched on it or hanging from the rear-view mirror. My first thought was: he must be a relative of the driver. But when the photograph kept cropping up in almost every cab, I was confused. All the drivers could not exactly be related to the same man.

So, I asked, though I really did not want to sound nosy or offend anyone.

What emerged was a story which, I mused, could only happen in India! But before I share the story, I was also told there was a special site associated with the turbaned gentleman and it was on the highway connecting Jodhpur with Udaipur. When I asked rather hesitantly if one could stop at it, my then driver laughed. “Whether you like it or not, your driver will stop there.” Continue reading

global travel shot: baha’i temple, a marble lotus in full bloom

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Be like the Lotus. Be the Lotus.

The Baha’i Temple in New Delhi, a gigantic 27-petalled blooming lotus in concrete and marble, is a gentle reminder of a key life lesson at the core of religions that have birthed in India. A life lesson which repeatedly states the importance of rising above the chaos of life and to bloom, like a lotus, unblemished. A popular term being: detachment. Lofty life goals, but one can try.

It is also one of my favourite places of worship in the world. A masterpiece in modern engineering. Peaceful and meditative. Four times a day, brief excerpts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and the Baha’i scriptures are read out, together. In tandem with the essence of the Baha’i faith that all religions are equally worthy.

There are over 7 million followers worldwide of the 19th Century Baha’i religion which was founded in Iran and has its holiest site in Israel. Its largest number of followers are in India. No surprises, since India is no stranger to syncretism, at times willingly, at times reluctantly, and often unconsciously. Another lofty life goal—syncretism—but one can try. 🙂

global travel shot: silk road opulence in bikaner

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Ever wondered what the homes of the Great Silk Road merchants looked like? Please look at the image above this paragraph. All the monumental edifices lining the pronged road belonged to one such family—the three Rampuria brothers—the wealthiest merchants in Bikaner.

A small princely state deep in the deserts of northern Rajasthan, Bikaner’s strategic location on the Great Silk Road promised, and delivered, immense wealth to its people through the taxes imposed on the wares that passed through it and access to markets for Indian commodities. Silk, spices, precious stones, metals, and opium made the people of Bikaner into billionaires of their era. 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

global travel shot: the 6th nizam of hyderabad’s wardrobe

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When you are one of the richest men in the world, a ruler of a princely State where diamonds are measured in kilograms and pearls by acres, and have an obsession for fine clothes, lots of fine clothes—this is what your wardrobe looks like. 🙂 Continue reading

india travel shot: wonders of trichy’s vishnu temple—travel like today is all you’ve got

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My beloved mom on our long-distance WhatsApp call: “You have just come back from Mysore!”

Me: “The temple towns of Tamil Nadu are a world apart.”

My beloved mom: “Why don’t you go later, say in April?”

Me: “Nooooo. That will be too late!”

I often have conversations like the above with my mom. She is a homebody. I am usually looking for the next travel adventure.

This time it was no different. Wrong, it was different.

When I said it will be “too late” I had no idea that barely two weeks after my return from a 7-day exploration of the temple towns of Tamil Nadu, the world would be turned completely topsy-turvy by a virus called COVID-19. Especially my own city, Mumbai. Curfews. Lockdowns. Flights, trains, buses, cabs—all services cancelled. I have been living, like others in the Maximum City which never sleeps, in self-isolation since the 22nd of March. No one in my gated community is allowed to step out of one’s main doors. Today is the 9th day. Continue reading

global travel shot: the durbar hall in mysore palace

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I could never get tired of exploring India. This past week, I stumbled upon a new found love. A love for India’s southern states. I was in Mysore.

The Durbar Hall, also known as Sajje or Dasara Hall, in Mysore Palace is the most photographed room, for a better word, in the city. I had visited the palace earlier, many moons ago, as part of a college educational two-week trip. I remember, distinctively, I had found it kitsch and over the top, and was quick to dismiss it.

I guess I have changed. It is still kitsch, but this time I found beauty in its perfect symmetry. The grandeur, imposing. The stories in its walls – riveting. Continue reading

global travel shot: uninterrupted prayers at the wailing wall

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Welcome to my blog post series on Israel, a tiny country where world politics and religions converge, and it takes a mere five hours to drive across its entire length. 🙂

So, is Israel on your bucket list? It was on mine. For a very long time. But I was filled with doubts on how to go about it. It turned out that the one country I was most unsure and nervous about travelling to solo and independently was in fact the easiest to explore on my own. Israel is an independent traveller’s dream come true.

Don’t believe me?

Come along with me as I blog about Israel over the next few months, the land of Yhwh’s “Chosen Ones,” in a series which traverses three Abrahamic religions and countless natural sites of mind-boggling beauty over a 15-day voyage—at the epicentre of which is the “Wall.” 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