Konkan Railways is considered to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in India. If you haven’t taken it yet, please do so and be mesmerized by the beauty of Western Ghats. Wanting to experience the ride, I decided to take the train from Goa to Mumbai. The Jan Shatabdi is the fastest train on this route though I was hoping that it would be in a much better condition. The train ride was great…tunnels and bridges over valleys, but the train was uncomfortable. Carry your own food and drinks as service isn’t that great. This particular picture was taken at the Ratnagiri Railway Station.
This weekend, I am sharing an image of an overloaded jeep, from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, India. Though it may seem overloaded, it is also the usual sight on roads, as there are limited taxis on this route. These jeeps not only transport people but also animals, food, and any other object that fits in or on it! The price is the same, be it the air-cooled balcony seats or the claustrophobic and crowded cabins. IF you don’t find in either, then just hang at the back.Having no option but to use one of these during my visit in 2004, I chose the air-cooled balcony seat (this picture is taken from another jeep). Though the journey was only half hour, I remember spending my time holding onto my life, or protecting my camera or getting a bunch of goats off me. By the end of this, I ended up doing all…though the goats were quite a handful. Better than any ride in Disneyland! And cheaper as well.
Auto rickshaws in India are always looked upon with suspicion. It is almost understood that they will ‘take you for a ride’ and never charge you the correct amount. Even with the recent hike in their meter rates, it is very difficult to find an auto which wants to run on it. Though things are getting better in New Delhi, the auto rickshaws of Bhopal haven’t changed much. The meters are hardly used and to make it worse for the commuter, they are used as decorative items! For instance, see the one in the picture. It wasn’t going to function so the driver decided to make it into a mean looking octopus! The idea was wonderful and the meaning was pretty much in your face…’Try to be smart, and I will definitely get my ‘hands’ on you!’
Salem, as a city, was quite a surprise. It’s access to the eastern ghats and lakes makes it a picturesque place to be in. Just a short drive will take you to Yercaud, a quiet hill station or to Mookaneri, a beautiful lake in the city. But Mookaneri was not always beautiful. Till a few years ago, this lake had turned into a city dump because of the sewage that was being drained into it. After a while, this lake which was known to host migratory birds literally dried up. Citizens and environmentalists of Salem, as well as all the three Ladies Circles and Round Tables of Salem have contributed to the 87 laks to preserve the 39-acre water spread. This lake in turn provide waters for more than 100 acres of land!
When I visited the lake, I was thrilled to see this beautiful lake and how it had transformed the city. There were still efforts to restore it to its initial beauty. I can’t wait to head back to Salem to see that developement!
I arrived here from Erode on the eve of the final of the World Cup. Was India going to win this one? Whether India won or not, Salem ladies Circle 91 won a lot of hearts with their great work. A very active circle, LC91 had various projects running in Salem and I got a chance to see 3 of them in a very short and quick trip. My first stop was at Tender Hearts- A Home for the Mentally Challenged. The Home has 52 inmates, who live and work at the Home. The Ladies Circle provides the institution with groceries and newspaper- a raw material that helps them make paper products, which are sold to meet some of the expenses of the Home. The Ladies Circle also actively tries to get orders for these products.
My next stop was at the Deaf and Dumb School near the Railway Station. The children of this school are housed in an old colonial building, which has large enough spaces. Out of the 90 children that are in attendance daily, half of them stay here permanently. The Ladies Circle provides a mid day meal, some snacks and sponsors special meals at various occasions. The excitement of the children upon seeing visitors was overwhelming.
The main project for LC91 is an orphanage home called Aravanikkum Karangal (handsofcomfort.org), which has 30 residents. Run by Reverend John Frederick Solomon, this Home provides shelters to 30 women and children, who are also provided with education as well as meals. Out of this close-knit family, 2 girls have been married and 7 are going to college. Ladies Circle India sponsors the education of these girls, as well as provides stationary, clothes, bed sheets or any other item that is required. An annual amount od Rs 75,000- Rs 100,000 is spent on this project.
Ladies Circle also executed a project which involved raising money for a surgery of a pregnant lady. In a short span, Ladies Circle with the help of Round Table raised Rs 50,000 which funded the surgery and saved the life of both the mother and the child. Apart from this, LC91 has also contributed to the upkeep of Lake Mookereni.
After a shot of projects, we landed at a fellowship event for the World Cup Final. India won the World Cup. After seeing these projects, I felt I did too!
In the last few weeks, I have been suffering from a ‘writers block’…haven’t been able to finish a post, leaving a few drafts in my dashboard. They say that when you are out of form or out of inspiration, always go back to basics and that what I am doing with this post. I am going to write about Vellore, one of the stops I did during the making of ‘Small Stories’; experiences which also led to this blog.
I didn’t want it to end. I couldn’t believe as I got off the train at Vellore, that this was the last stop during my journey across India, a journey where I met hundreds of people who selflessly made sure that I was comfortable, saw numerous projects that made smile or cry, experienced the wonderful world of Round Table in India. If this could go on and on…I thought while I waited for my hosts.
Like any other city, my hosts made me feel at home immediately and gave me a quick tour of the city. The next morning I visited their project which was called ‘Workshop for Physically Handicapped Women’. Vellore Round Table 23 was one of the first few tables to have their own Trust and over the years, have successfully carried it forward. They chose to work with physically handicapped women and in 1974, and with a small capital of Rs 6000, made a workshop for them to come and work. The women were trained in light engineering jobs like buffing, filling and drilling of plastic and metal components. This little workshop gradually become an important employer of handicapped women and the number of employees has risen from 8 in 1974 to over a 100 today. The workshop also deals with sophisticated and High-Tech jobs of assembly of automobile switches, which are used as original equipments in the automobile industry. The workshop itself has been transformed from a ‘hired’ shed to two fully functional work sheds, owned by the Trust. It has been a long and a successful journey.
This success was due to constant fundraising of the tablers as well as the unstinted effort of the ladies who worked hard and provided with quality controlled products. In return, the employees are provided with all the benefits as per Government norms, which include Provident Fund, Bonus, Free Uniforms, LIC Policy, etc. The commitment of Vellore Round Table 23 is such that the project has received numerous awards- Best Project, Round Table India (1974), National award for the Best Employer of Handicapped People from the Government of India (1992), State Award for the Best Employer of Handicapped People, Government of Tamil Nadu (1993) and the Peacock Award for the project from Round Table India (1975, 1994).
Last but not the least, the dream for Vellore Round Table 23 was to provide a home for every worker, which would be built to cater to the special requirements of the handicapped. In 1995, the Government of Tamil Nadu helped in realizing this dream and gave land that could accommodate 43 houses. This land was registered in individual names of the workers. This dream was slowly realized.
This is one of the many ‘Small Stories’ that I saw during my 6 months of travel. It is inspiring to see the dedication and consistency of this project and how, over decades, they saw their dreams take shape. There is a lot of learning here for numerous tables in the world!
The Kumbh Mela came and it went. And now it would come after 12 years, so that wait has started…
Not wanting to miss this holy event in Allahabad, I decided to do a one day visit just before the event ended. The first few weeks of the Mela was a complete madness…with millions of people coming for the holy dip and the camps of the Naga Sadhus taking up most of the mela ground. I had some of this madness during the Simhastha Kumbh in Ujjain six years ago, when I couldn’t find any accommodation, or any vehicle that wasnt full. If that was crowded, I wondered how this would have been before my arrival. As I stood, now on an empty stretch of land, of what once was the Mela ground, I imagined a million people around me. At one point I missed the excitement…on the other I was happy not getting lost in a crowd.
I was staying across the Sangam, so took a boat to see the point where the waters of River Ganga and River Yamuna meet. I was told that there is also an underwater river called Saraswati that mixed with the other two. If it was there or not, this was a place to attain moksha. The images show the boat ride, culminating in a temporary platform of boats for pilgrims to take the holy dip.
One of the best kept secrets of the city of Amer is a 17th century lake ‘Sagar’, which was the primary source of water for the adjoining forts of Amer and Jaigarh as well as the city of Amer and its people. Tucked away beyond Kheri Gate and the Anokhi Museum, the lake can be reached by car and then one can walk around its boundary. Built during the reign of Raja Man Singh, the lake which is divided into two parts- the Upper Sagar and the Lower Sagar, kept a check on the water table of the region. It was designed in a manner that it was connected with various step wells in the region, which automatically filled up once the ‘Sagar’ had reached its capacity. We were the only tourists in the area, crossing a few locals, pilgrims and animals during our little adventure. If you are visiting Amer or the Anokhi Museum in the evening, do stop by. The sunset turns the mud plastered walls of Amer into a golden labyrinth waiting to be explored.
Thanks to one of my friends who requested to see a sunset, I wandered upon the Nagargarh Fort, where we spent a few hours seeing the sun go down over the city of Jaipur. It was an oasis of peace in Jaipur, which was buzzing with activities below us. For someone who had been to Jaipur a couple of times before, this was a great find but there was more in store.
I had another request in the group…to see a sunrise. After asking around and taking a poll, I decided to take my friends to Galtaji, a Hindu pilgrimage nestled in the Aravalli range on the outskirts of Jaipur. Pilgrims comes from various places to bathe in one of the many kunds (water tanks) situated in the complex. As we were there on the day of Makar Sakranti, a festival which marks the beginning of spring, we were hoping to see Galtaji crowded with pilgrims.
At five on a cold winter morning, the four of us decided to climb the hills at Galta. With every step we took, the magnificence of Galta dawned on us, its beauty magnified by the hills that surrounded it. As we climbed the steps, we could already see a few pilgrims taking a bath in the water tank. Brrr…just looking at them gave me the shivers. Soon, we left the temple complex behind and climbed up to the Surya Temple (Sun Temple) on the top of the hill. And then we waited. For the next hour or so, we could only hear a few men talking and laughing loudly, and some people who were climbing the hill from the other side of town. The experience was magical as the sky changed it’s colour from pitch black to hues of blue and finally yellow as the sun came up. It was also the quietest hour and a half we spent together, everyone inhaling the fresh winter air, engrossed in their own thoughts. Sometimes, you don’t need to say a word and still have the best time together!
As the sun rose up, we started a descent. Galta is known for its monkey population and we were finally going to witness it. One by one, groups of monkeys took over our path, feeding on the food the pilgrims distributed. Even for an Indian, seeing hundreds of monkeys in a span of ten minutes, left me speechless. Making sure that we had no food in our hand, we made our way down and back home.
The best things in life are either free or cheap…and it was correct in our case.
Jaipur is considered to be one of the most visited cities for tourism. Most of the guests arriving into India prefer to do the Golden Triangle of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, which makes it a city thriving with hotels and restaurants, taxi’s, well-kept historical spaces, and of course lots of migration of people- both tourists who come here and locals who make Jaipur to make a living. Jaipur is known for it’s crafts- be it block printing, paper making, lac bangles, silverware, Meenakari jewelry, Quilting, Wire inlay…the list goes on and on, making the city popular with manufacturers of these export quality items as well as their buyers. And if you visit Jaipur during a local festival, this rush multiplies, the noise and chaos triples and sometimes, this magnificent city gets on your nerves.
Over the last few years, I have visited Jaipur a lot of times but this was the first time I was visiting during the Kite Festival. The marketplace is buzzing with excitement and every nook and corner would have a kite shop. Practice would start weeks in advance and kite enthusiasts would be on their terraces, preparing for the big day. It was overwhelming for even an Indian to experience this!
On request of one of my friends who wished to see a sunset, I explored and narrowed down to spending the evening at Nahargarh Fort, one of the three forts of Jaipur. Though Amber Fort is the most popular one, Nahargarh has a very strategic position on the tip of the hill, overlooking the city of Jaipur on three sides. Unlike Amber, which was the place of the residence for the founders of Jaipur, Nahargarh was a retreat. The small palace is worth a visit and provides a breath-taking drive from Amber, giving the viewer stunning views of the Jal Mahal on the way up. Many bypass this fort but I recommend it to everyone for its sunset.
Pearched on another edge of the Aravalli Hills is a restaurant which is run by the Rajasthan Tourism Board. Spread over a few turrets, this restaurants provides basic snacks and refreshments (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) on its menu. Though the ticket includes a complimentary tea/coffee, it is passable. Ghummakkad recommends that you take control of a turret and see the sun set over the city of Jaipur. Enjoy the sounds of the city from a birds-eye view and you’ll see how action packed the city is. I could hear sounds of vehicles from different streets, the horn of a railway engine at the station, but mostly I head people, who were on their terraces flying kites. A shout of ‘Kat Gayeee!!!” (I’ve cut your kite) was heard from various angles. There was a faint noise of children playing somewhere. And a distinct buzz of the city. Over a couple of hours, this sound dies down, the lights come on and the Jaipur becomes a completely different city.
If you are looking to do something off the touristy circuit, do go here but make sure you carry a jacket…its windy up here. Make sure that you don’t drive if you are having a drink as the roads downhill are steep at times with strong bends. Moreover there are cops standing at the end of this drive…with a breath analyzer!
Enjoy the pictures though they do not do justice to the experience.