The other Victoria Memorial


Victoria memorial in India is pretty much synonymous with Kolkata. But Allahabad has its own version too. Built with Italian limestone, this monument was opened in 1906. It resides in Chandrasekhar Azad Park (named in honour of the freedom fighter), originally called Alfred Park (to commemorate Prince Alfred’s visit to the city), and commonly known as Company Bagh (possibly a reference to the East India Company). Hey, don’t ask me why so many names!

Here are a couple of shots taken on an early morning in September.

Victoria Memorial, Allahabad
Straight on

There used to be statue of the Queen, to whom this was dedicated. Since its removal, the open skies have filled in.

Victoria Memorial, Allahabad
Up close, in perspective

This is post #20 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

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The Tibet in Delhi


Earlier today, we visited Kashmere Gate. About a kilometer from the historical site is an old Tibetan refugee settlement. Within the settlement is a Tibetan monastery, and a thriving market, popularly known as the Monastery market. Our main agenda today was to visit this market. Despite the peak rush hour—Sunday afternoon—we managed to explore the shops and lightened our wallets a bit (okay, make that a lot!)

My real aim today, though, was to visit the Monastery. The Tibetan Monastery has been on my wishlist of places to visit for almost two years now. Despite having lived for over two decades in this city, I had no idea of its existence, until early last year, when I asked a Buddhist colleague of mine where she went to pray.

Having come all the way to the market, we made a quick stop at the Monastery. It may not be as large or grand as the ones in the traditionally more popular Buddhist cities, but it was every bit spiritual.

Tibetan Monastery, Delhi

We admired the seated Golden Buddha, and for a change, we took no photos of the interiors. There were many devotees, several of whom were dressed in traditional attire; and we felt it would be insensitive to behave like crazy tourists. We turned to leave, when a middle aged gentleman stopped us. “Have you taken the prasad (sacred offering)?” he asked us. And then quickly went inside and brought our two cloth bags and gave them to us.

We asked if it was a special day. Indeed, it was. It was the third, and last day of an annual fast, and an auspicious day, that we had happened to visit. Lucky coincidence, or divine intervention? I’ll leave that question alone; the world works in mysterious ways.


Photo taken with a Moto G3, edited with Befunky. Click/tap to enter my Flickr Photostream and Instagram feed.


This is post #19 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Holiday


It’s a Saturday, and I’m in the mood for enjoying a holiday 🙂 Winter has pretty much set in around where we stay. The warmth of the sun will be most welcome now.

It's all fun 'n' floric in the sea
Fun in the sun. Palolem beach, Goa

This is post #18 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Art for all


The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

–Pablo Picasso

Which is why, perhaps, it must spill out of the halls of exhibitions and galleries, and enter the public space.

Tray of stones
Three course meal

Perhaps it was the influence of Mario, or the general laid back ‘hippie’ culture that is now synonymous with Goa, that encouraged art to spill on to its streets — from graffiti on the rocks, to sculptures at street crossings.

Graffiti at Palolem
Graffiti on the rocks. Palolem beach, Goa
Close up of sculptures
Sculptures at a crossing in Calangute, Goa

Check out more street art from around India: Chennai, Darjeeling, Puducherry

Oh my! What sharp teeth you have!
Oh my, what sharp teeth you have! Graffiti at Palolem beach, Goa

This is post #17 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Not so gingerly


This morning, as we began making tea, Atul placed a piece of ginger on the kitchen counter and made an interesting observation. “This looks like a rockstar!”

And why not?

The humble ginger has been rocking my life ever since I can remember.

When we were kids, every year, on Diwali (that’s Naraka Chadurdashi or choti Diwali for folks in the north), my mother would heat up sesame oil and crackle black pepper and chopped ginger. Once the oil cooled down a little, and while it was still warm, she would tell us to eat the spices and then apply the oil directly on our scalp.

Diwali signifies the onset of winter, and this little ritual was performed to avoid catching a cold in the changing season. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to do, and we reluctantly gave in. Over time, though, we began appreciating it for its health benefits, and now, I willingly follow this practice.

Today, as the nip in the winter air pierces my skin, the comfort of ginger makes me feel warm. So I wrote a small ode to the versatile spice, that doesn’t discriminate.

The versatile ginger,
Some love to hate.
But that doesn’t affect her
She doesn’t discriminate.

She blends in well
In my tea as a spice.
And with garlic too,
She plays super nice.

She lifts me up
In bread and cookies
She’s the kick and tang
In my hot curries.

She’s the antidote
To my cold and sores
As well as a soothing balm
To my burning throat.

Ginger, there are some
Who can’t stand your sight,
But ginger, to me
You’re a rock star alright!

Here’s a picture of her, rocking her usual self.

I'm a #rockstar #ginger

A post shared by Kasturika (@kasturika.r) on

With this week’s daily post challenge asking bloggers to experiment, we decided to play around with the picture. I wanted to add fancy stickers and hashtags, and I assumed Instagram would let me do that. So I signed up – today. Turns out, it’s Facebook app that really fulfilled the requirements. (Yes, I’m terribly ill informed about social media apps!)

Here’s what Atul dished up:

She’s so happy I made it past the half way mark!

Psst. Since I’m celebrating my first day on Instagram, can I request you all to follow me? 😉


This is post #16 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Pots of fire


“I don’t think we’ll be able to catch the dance show. They’ll probably cancel it with this much of rain.” Sitting on a bench around a tree in the courtyard of the City Palace, two umbrellas and the narrow roof above us couldn’t prevent us from getting wet.

Earlier that day we had visited Bagore ki haveli and had seen the venue of the cultural program conducted every evening—an openair theatre assembled in the courtyard of the heritage building with a shamiana for a roof.

The stage
The Stage

Eventually, the clouds decided to pause the shower. We left the Palace and walked towards Gangaur Ghat. We stopped for coffee and a cinnamon roll at one of the cafes to recharge our (and my phone’s) batteries and then walked over to the haveli.

Tripolia
Tripolia—three tiered gate of Bagore ki haveli. Just beyond the gate is Gangaur Ghat

We looked at the ominous clouds and asked the guard about the program. “Oh! Don’t worry about the rain! We have all the provisions here. The show is definitely on.”

We bought our tickets as soon as the counter opened and then proceeded towards the theatre. The key to getting a good seat is being the first to enter. We weren’t the first, so the best we could manage was the second row at the mattresses laid out in front of the stage, barely a few feet from the stage.

7 pm. The musicians began performing the rather cliched Rajasthani folk song ‘Kesariya balam’. Soon after, the emcee walked out and welcomed the audience. The stage was ready for some very colourful peformances. First up, Chari dance.

Chari dance is a folk dance performed traditionally by ladies from the Gujjar community of Rajasthan. Living in the desert, ladies often travelled for miles to collect water in a ‘chari’. It is the celebration of this ritual of collecting water that is depicted in this folk dance.

Pots of fire
The ‘Chari’ waiting to be lit for the programme

Just as the emcee finished explaining the significance of the dance, the show began—on the stage in front of us, and from the heavens above.

In walked the ladies, dressed in colourful traditional attire, balancing pots of fire on their heads. Down came the shower of raindrops, applauding their entrance. The shamiana held up rather well.

The ladies clapped and swayed, moved around in circles and spun more times than my head could count. Out they walked to thunderous applause, drowned under the sound of the downpour.

Spinning
Spinning with a pot of fire on her head!

There were more dances, followed by the puppet show. Traditionally, it is the puppets who take centre stage, and the puppeteer stays behind a screen. But at this show, the puppeteer takes centre stage, revealing his craft.

The most thrilling performance came, quite fittingly at the end. A lady entered, balancing two pots on her head. Dancing gracefully, she made her way to the table kept at the back of the stage. She placed her hand on the raised floor behind the table, and then placed her palm on her forehead—a salutation to the stage.

She climbed up the table, still balancing the pots. And sat down. She bent forward, and picked up a kerchief placed on the table, with her lips.

The crowd applauded.

She climbed down, an assistant came and placed more pots on her head. In the meanwhile, another assistant unrolled a cloth package on the table. Out came shards of glass. She went back to the stage. She made the saluting gesture, and climbed above the table again.

We may have been seated on the floor, but we felt edgy. More than once my hands clutched my face. If the pots on the head and the shards of glass were not enough, the shamiana overhead was threatening to give way under the weight of the rain. A few drops of water were beginning to trickle down.

We all gasped in silence. I was too nervous to take any more pictures, my palms pressed against each other, in front of my face, praying with the dancer, as she walked on the table and began thumping her feet on the glass.

Dancing on glass
Pots on her head, glass beneath her feet

We all collectively heaved a sigh of relief and applauded for the marvelous performance.

The assistant climbed up a chair, and we assumed it was to help her unload. But no. There were more pots coming.

Eight! The crowd cheered, and the applause didn’t stop. Nine! We all went crazy.

And then the musicians began singing that classic song, “Dama dum mast kalandar”. Ten! The crowd went wild. We were certain the cheers of the crowd could be heard a few blocks away—we knew because we had heard the loud cheers of the audience the day before!

As the emcee walked out to wrap up the show, the crowd still applauding the performance, he announced something even more bewildering. The lady who had just captured our imagination was a ripe seventy years old!

If you visit Udaipur, be sure to catch the cultural show, and please buy the tickets for the camera. Most of the arts on display are on the verge of extinction, and the proceeds of the tickets are the only way these arts can be sustained.


Photo taken with a Moto G3, edited with Image Composite Editor and Befunky. Click/tap to enter my Flickr Photostream


This is post #15 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

The temples of Mylapore – a photo story


Mylapore is to Chennai, as Chandini Chowk is to Delhi. One of the oldest residential areas of Chennai, Mylapore is home to a colourful bazaar as well as a number of temples. Last year, we decided to explore this area on foot.

We began our journey at the Kapaleeshwarar Kovil.

Gopuram at entrance of Kapaleeshwarar Kovil

Of the numerous beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu, the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai is one of my favourites. The detailed sculptures on the gopurams, the elaborate kolams on the floor, and the peaceful ambience of the temple always leave me spellbound.

Kapaleeshwarar Kovil

We then walked towards Santhome Basilica. On the way, we saw a beautiful Jain temple.

Jain temple in Mylapore

The temple was closed, so we continued walking.

Santhome Basilica

Being Christmas time, the Church was decorated with colourful linen and stars.

Inside Santhome

San Thome Basilica was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, after demolishing the original Kapaleeshwarar Temple which stood on the grounds.

There is a small museum next to the Church which has architectural remains from older constructions, including some distinctly Dravidian motifs. Strangely, the plaques on the exhibit attribute it to the Church, even when the stone sculpture is clearly distinct from the rest of building materials on display.

Our next stop was the Marina Beach Lighthouse.

Marina Lighthouse

No, we didn’t have to climb all the way up. But it sure was interesting to look down the flight of stairs!

Staircase inside the Marina Lighthouse

The viewing area at the top of the lighthouse is quite narrow, and it was quite crowded. Nevertheless, the view was amazing!

Marina Beach from the lighthouse

With the sweeping panoramic views of the beach done, we decided to walk towards the sea.

Sadly, the state of this world-famous beach was not as beautiful as its surroundings. Nearer the sea, the beach looked more like a dump yard than a space to relax in. The only solace, for us, was the sounds of the sea – the waves caressing the sand and filth with equal warmth. Humanity may attempt to seek redemption and forgiveness through spiritual and religious pursuits, but isn’t it ironical how that concept of cleanliness, that is the holiest of them all, is still some distance away?*

Our route map:


* I don’t mean to pick on Chennai. In fact, it is a relatively cleaner city, as compared to many of its northern counterparts (especially the temples).


This is post #14 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Defining eyes


I first applied homemade kajal when I visited an acquaintance many years ago. While I waited for my friend to get ready to head out, I chatted with her mother — a tall and slim, simple rural Haryanvi lady. As our mundane conversation veered towards the use of kajal, she mentioned that she had prepared some herself.

I had a vague idea about kajal being nothing but soot. But the small boxes available in the market contain a sticky substance which smeared, so I wasn’t quite sure. She showed me her preparation. The homemade kajal that I saw was, indeed, soot and a tad rough to the touch. I gingerly dipped my finger in it and applied it to the waterline of my eyes. To my surprise, it spread easily and gave a beautiful definition to my eyes. I wondered how she had made it, but our conversation was interrupted, and I didn’t get the chance to ask her.

Life has a funny way of answering our questions, and seemingly disconnected memories find themselves being connected into one big picture. I had shelved this memory of the homemade kajal in the corners of my brain. Until one fine day — on the first Deepavali after our wedding, to be precise — I saw my in-laws performing a puja.

I saw them pray, and then light a large earthen lamp. They then placed an empty lamp, upside down atop the flame, supported by smaller lamps around the flame.

The next morning, I saw our own kajal, ready to be used.

Kajal
The soot collected overnight, a.k.a kajal

This is post #13 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Resilience


It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.

–David Allan Coe

The Gwalior Fort, constructed atop a hill, is a mammoth structure. Legends say its construction began in the 3rd Century, while historical accounts put it anywhere between the 8th and 14th Century. This Fort has seen numerous rulers and severe onslaughts across the centuries and withstood all that has been thrown at it.

As with many of the places we have visited, it is extremely difficult to paint a true picture of the scale of the structure. I could write about the long trek to the top, and the sweeping views of the city, but the closest that I can get to explaining it, is to point to the size of the people in this (incomplete) picture below.

A long way to the top
The entrance of Gwalior Fort

Photo taken with a Moto G3, edited with Image Composite Editor and Befunky. Click/tap to enter my Flickr Photostream


This is post #12 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

The White Palace


The Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior combines three European architectural styles—the first storey is Tuscan, the second Italian-Doric and the third Corinthian.

There is an eclectic collection of items housed inside the museum, which can be visited by the public. One section still serves as the residence of the heirs of this Palace.

We weren’t allowed to carry bags inside (there is a provision of a locker), and strangely, we weren’t allowed to carry umbrellas inside either. While the museum itself is entirely indoor, to exit the Palace, one must pass through the central lawn. As luck would have it, it began pouring just before we were about to complete our tour.

If you plan to visit this Palace in Gwalior, make sure you have sufficient time—we spent over two hours (excluding the rain delay), as there is much to see. And if you are short on time, pace yourself to keep the maximum time for the last section—the opulent Durbar Hall. We had read about the extravagant decor and seen pictures of the massive chandeliers. But it was only when we saw the hall that the reality of its grandeur hit us.

In our limited exposure to exotic places, some places leave a lasting impression, some of romance, others of awe. The Jai Vilas Palace, even with all its magnificence, left a somewhat cold and distant feeling. It’s hard to tell why – perhaps it’s the excessive indulgences; or the exclusively European architecture; or perhaps it was the weather; or just maybe, the contrast between the lifestyles of the common people, and that of their representatives, that is so blatantly visible to the casual observer.

Jai Vilas Palace
Jai Vilas Palace, house of the Scindias. The imposing structure and all its extravagance is visible right from the entrance.

Photo taken with Moto G3. Click/tap to enter my Flickr Photostream.


This is post #11 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging