Aug 30, 2009

Into the Cradle of Democracy

Once upon a time….I always wanted to start a travelogue with ‘once upon a time’. But it is difficult to have such an opening for a travelogue, simply because a travelogue is more about our experiencing the present whereas “once upon a time” is about past, the history; Or so I thought till we made the trip described in this travelogue. So here I go...

Once upon a time, about 2500 years ago, there was a quiet awakening in the mind and spirit of the residents of a small town -located on a sea shore, almost at the far end of the western border of a civilized world. This not only left a lasting impression on the region, but over the centuries, the entire world’s history had a shattering impact. A large part of the civilized world, today think and feel differently because of the events that took place circa 500 BC in this little town. 


What transpired was the development of the first recorded attempt to introduce Democracy as a way of life. It could be just a coincidence or the effect of newly introduced system of democracy, but this period was also the golden age for that sleepy town; and nothing remained the same – for the world and for that little town known as “Athens”. 

(Of course, as pointed out by my brother, who has always been a mentor to me, in the comments below, almost a century earlier, the Indian sub-continent itself had another practising democratic state - Vaishali (in Modern day Bihar). A tale about that city, phir kabhi.) 


And here we were, free citizens of the largest democracy of the world, travelling – as a part of the first leg of our trip to Europe – to Athens. This was definitely not intended to be a trip to pay respect to the cradle of modern democratic state. But what we saw and experienced over 3 days in Athens was not only a journey of lifetime for us but a journey into the Cradle of Democracy itself.

P1000312 Mural at Museum

Nevertheless, this was yet to be experienced, and so my mind was full of trepidation as the plane glided into Athens, on that bright and reasonably hot sunny afternoon of May, 2007. I use the word trepidation because the web surfing had brought to me travails that tourists in Athens had poured about. The web surfing had also got me in touch with people like Matt Barrett - a blogger passionate about Greece. And the trepidation was because of the confusion about what we were getting into. Starting from the immigration desk, over next three days, however, everyone in Athens went out of their way to dispel our apprehensions – making us feel more and more at home.

P1000501 Art at Athens

The hospitality might come easier as far as Greeks are concerned but the language is something that make you feel closer home – as difficult to follow as we find the moment we cross into another state within our own country. The fact that most of the places we visited had names which were tongue twisters, as well as difficult to spell, was a rule. Add to this the fact about various ways the same place could be known as – due to it having been occupied by various set of cultures over different periods in history, and the confusion abounds. No wonder even Shakespeare had one of his characters describing his state of confusion as “It was all Greek to me”!

Painting of Potters at National Museum Athens

Being short on time, we used the early morning and day time to explore the city, while taking advantage of summer; evenings were spent in exploring the streets of Glyfada, a beautiful suburb, close to the sea shore with shops on both sides, of the main street, bisected through tram tracks. The area, bright and lively; was made more vibrant with the cosmopolitan potpourri pervading the streets. A couple of musicians, playing their instruments on the street corner, a man with a bioscope, walls with beautifully coloured tiles, aroma emanating from various eateries enhancing the flavour, all added to the quaintness of the street. 

P1000284 Tiled Wall

Early next morning, our taxi driver Dimitri –nay, our Friend and Guide for two days, who also owned his taxi, was at our hotel sharp on time & very eager to take us for a tour of the city, and other surrounding areas. Well educated and informative about the entire history of the places we were visiting, he was equally interested in knowing more about India and her culture. His observations on everything Greek – be it the corrupt politicians & civil service or the present culture – brought home to us the raw strands of wisdom similar to usually our own taxi drivers provide.

You may read more about him at my post -


The first trip that he had planned for us, took us on the route starting from ancient Acropolis of Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Nafplio. Corinth is well known for the canal cutting across the Isthmus of Corinth, linking the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Although it was finally built in 1893, the history does speak about earlier efforts to build a canal at this location commencing from 7th century BC right through the period of Roman emperors, Julius Caeser and Nero.


Our next halt was Mycenae - one of the mightiest kingdom of ancient Greece. Much more ancient in its establishment, and settled amidst hilly terrain, Mycenae is believed to have been established around 2000 BC before lost in the mist of time. It was rediscovered during the middle of the 19th century, by archeologists, and over the years they excavated most of the ruins of this ancient wonder.

Entrance to Mycanae

Mycenae is where Greek mythology meets the history, the most well-known one being the abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaos, the brother of Mycenae’s king Agamemnon - leading to the Trojan War. As one walks through the Lions’ Gate, one can easily imagine the dramatic past. The national museum at Mycenae, showcasing ancient art, sculpture and civilization – including golden mask of Agamemnon, indeed amazes you with the level of art, science and knowledge achieved about 3500 years ago. No wonder, the period of 1600-1100 BC in Greece is known as Mycenaean period.


It could be the same reason for why most of the souvenir shops were stocking only the replicas of these ancient arts - including their bestseller - the Pythagoras Cup – an intricately designed cup to be used for controlled wine drinking, invented by Pythagoras around 2500 years ago. The cup ensures that a person can drink only in a moderate level and if he decides to be greedy and overfills the cup, the entire contents could spill over from the bottom (may be onto the lap of the immodest drinker!). Imagine, that so far Pythagoras formulae has been the only pain ascribed to him!

P1000401 Bourtiz

The tour took us back to Athens from Mycenae via the Amphitheatre of Epidaurus and the port town of Nafplio – popular among Athenians for weekend trips, with its mid-harbour Venetian fort of Bourtzi and on-shore castle of Palamidi.


The Amphitheatre of Epidaurus showcases the advancement of Greek civilization. Designed & built in 4th Century B.C., the theatre, with 55 semi-circular rows to seat about 14000 people and a lush green backdrop to its centre stage, is renowned for its excellent acoustics. The theatre is so designed that even the unamplified sound of a match struck at the centre stage can be heard clearly by the audience seated anywhere in the theatre. On the other hand, the limestone material of the seats provide a filtering effect, suppressing low frequencies of voices, thus minimizing background crowd noise. Sitting in the Amphitheater, I could imagine the thrill of the audience 2500 years ago watching the performers enacting Greek tragedies.

P1000413 Epidaurus

The final day of our trip was spent in exploring the ancient sites of Athens itself in the morning, starting with the Parthenon, a 4th Century B.C. temple of Goddess Athena – the reigning deity and protector of Athens, on the Acropolis. Established as a temple as well as a treasury, the Parthenon was later converted into a church and then a mosque as the rulers changed in Athens, before finally getting severely damaged due to an explosion in the ammunition dump inside the temple. In the ruins now, one can still imagine its past beauty and strength. 

P1000456 Parthenon Temple of Athena

Comparatively, the temple of Olympian Zeus – construction for which commenced in 6th Century BC and completed in 2nd Century AD – which was renowned as the largest temple in the Greece during Roman times, lies in complete ruins now and its glory days just can not be imagined. A visit to the national museum at Athens again brings alive the ancient history while the stadium built for the first modern Olympics of 1896 AD connects the modernity to that glorious past.


Our last visit for the day, after exploring Attica Zoo -one of the best zoos that I have ever visited, was to the Temple of Poseidon, the god of oceans, at Cape Sounion, a perfect setting for signing off from Athens. The temple, dedicated to the second most powerful god in the Greek Mythology, is another 5th Century creation now in ruins. The temple itself has a dramatic location, lying on a cliff and surrounded with the lovely, blue, Aegean Sea on three sides. 


The cool breeze, all pervading peace, except the sound of waves breaking onto the shore below the temple made British Poet Lord Byron write:

Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep

As we left Athens the next day, I realised that the essence of Greece is in the beauty that looks desolate initially, but as you reach out to understand its history, it grows onto you and keeps you hooked forever. Paraphrasing Lord Byron, I would love to say:

“O City of Athens, ere we part, Give, oh give me back my heart!”

cradle 1

Jun 18, 2009

Ashtamudi - A Lazy Midsummer Weekend Amidst Backwaters

When you really want something, the whole universe conspires to help you realise your desire.

These lines from Paul Coelho’s Alchemist, an inspiration for so many of our generation, have been often heard and used. This summer I also realised the profound truth behind these. Bertie Wooster might have used his wodehousean sense of understatement saying – Jeeves, the guy knew his stuff!

But, I am digressing.
Early this year, we decided not to travel anywhere during summer vacation as our son Siddharth was to appear for his competitive exam.s But by mid-April, despite knowing about impossibility of finding an accommodation in any of the Club Mahindra resorts, the tired body & mind started craving for its regular dose of travel and relaxation. That’s when a wholesome desire made the universe conspire. A chain of unrelated events created together an opportunity for us and on 1st May, we were on our way to Trivendram, to spend a week in backwaters – Ashtamudi, followed by Poovar.

The surging crowd at the Mumbai airport the day immediately after the voting day was a stark contrast not only to the empty voting centres but also to the cloudless empty skies of the city. The smouldering heat of midsummer afternoon was stinging the eyes as we boarded the aircraft on the tarmac.

The air route from Mumbai to Trivandrum, specially for those sitting on the right side of the plane, is monotonous as the only features visible of the terra firma are: a shore line and the vast sea, made further hazy due to rising heat.

Closer to Trivandrum, the pre-monsoon clouds in the sky surrounding the aircraft, were the first welcome change in the sky while the huge pool of backwaters were changing the landscape . Soon, the aircraft glided with flaps readying for landing towards the land, the sea changed its colour, waves could be seen rocking over the beach seemingly golden with evening sun, and first sight of Trivandrum was a land thickly carpeted green with canopies of coconut plantations. An apt sight while landing in Kerala – the land of Kera (coconut), this sea of tranquility seen on arrival at Trivandrum was a perfect precursor to an idyllic holiday in which our first destination was Ashtamudi.

Reaching Ashtamudi from Trivandrum is a reasonably safe & swift drive that takes one to Kollam (Quilon), situated at the bank of Ashtamudi Lake. Kollum, a historic port town, has been on travelers’ map for a long time. Established sometime in 9th Century, Kollum has been mentioned by venetian traveler Marco Polo in his travels (spelt as Coilum) during 13th century. Marco Polo had noted the presence of various faiths & nationalities, including jews & christians in the city and had also noted the presence of trade with chinese & arabs. Even today, Kollum is the hub of cashewnut trade.

The highway, smooth but a bit narrow, lined with paddyfields & palm plantations, was dotted with small lovely bungalows through out – coloured in bright & unusual shades of yellows, greens, purples, reds and blues. The gulmohur and copper pod trees with their lovely blossoms of scarlet & yellow were providing a different hue to the combat between red flags of communists and the congress tricolour – a remainder of the general election process.

The only interruption in our journey we faced was a huge temple procession midway to Kollam. The colourful mechanized tableaus of hindu idols on the huge vans & trucks and people on both sides of the roads in festive mood with their coloured clothes – rather I should say females of all age with bright coloured clothes, while the male population was attired largely in whites & creams - made the interruption worthwhile, though as a result by the time we reached Club Mahindra resort at Ashtamudi Lake, it was almost dark.

The Ashtamudi Resort of Club Mahindra located at Chavara south on the bank of Ashtamudi lake is smaller in size compared to other resorts of Club Mahindra, and has cozier rooms but in amenities as well as hospitality, it matches the standards of all other resorts.

Ashtamudi, a lake with eight arms, is the second largest and deepest wetland ecosystem of our country and is also known as the gateway to the backwaters of Kerala. My first view in the morning of Ashtamudi Lake and resort was through the foggy lenses – not so much because of the fog on the lake but more because of the high humidity that was prevalent, obviously due to heat and huge expanse of water. I got to know that during monsoon, it worsens further with anything that absorbs moistures becoming moist instantly, even if kept indoors. So for once the chalk and cheese may really not differ much here. Incidentally, Marco Polo had also noted the extreme here and in his most interesting, and sometimes exaggerated, manner described it as under:

And I assure you that the heat of the sun is so great there that it is scarcely to be endured; in fact if you put an egg into one of the rivers it will be boiled, before you have had time to go any distance, by the mere heat of the sun!

The Lake, while not exactly capable of boiling an egg, has a character that changes with day. Serene in the morning hours with fog enveloping the traffic & muting the sound of fishing boats all around, mid-morning sun transforming it with its rays during the day into a bee-hive of activity, approaching dusk bringing out a melancholic mood with people & feathered-folks returning to roost and nights with only the sound of small ripples of water as a few ferries continue with their activity– in essence time can be a blur here as one sits and gazes across.

Keeping in mind the extreme humidity that saps the energy, we spent most part of the day indoor. The early mornings & evenings were though well-utilised with exploring the lake through cruise, taking a walk in the small villages nestled among islands in the lake or strolling through the town. The banks of the lake & the islands full of coconut plantations – also of cashew, bananas, toddypalm but chiefly coconut palms due to its multipurpose utility.

The random explorations of ours at Ashtamudi culminated in entire montage of memories – morning sunrays weaving their way through numerous Chinese fishing nets, Brahminy kites taking a flight at the break of dawn and intermittently wheeling overhead eyeing the catch of fishermen, small houses with thatched roofs on both sides of the lake using lake for regular transportation the way we use roads, a couple of ferries working late in the night - their reflection in dark waters resembling mumbai’s local trains on a day of heavy rains, bright eyed children with unbridled joy in the surroundings devoid of anything resembling comforts, a couple of fishermen fishing barehand after the dusk with the help of a petromax lamp submerged into the water, an old lady working on her coir making equipment converting a shade full of coconut husk into coir, another lady rowing a boat on her own making her own statement about women empowerment, sounds emerging of a choir singing in the church on one of the evenings, elephants decked up and readied for the procession of the temple festival at Chavara South or wonderful rendering of hindi movie songs – new as well as of yesteryears, by guest singer Mr. Shibu at the Resort.

As the weekend ended, we started the manic monday drive to Poovar - biding audieu to the lake & sea-shore of Kollam,

with images of the lazy holiday– some my camera could capture while most of them remain captive to the memory. More of the images captured by camera during this part of our trip can be seen on the following link:

Apr 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Lakes - and a half

(This blog is about a trip that I undertook to visit Nalsarovar & Thol lakes near Ahmedabad for birding & photography. While the "two lakes" part of the title is obvious, a half comes from a small pond - which proved to be a surprise treasure trove for birding.)
How does one describe the experience of travelling into the vastness of water – water where all pervading silence during the day is an exception to the chattering regime of waders, ducks and birds? Though there is a limitation to the language which makes it difficult to recount one’s encounter with the bounty that nature bestows on us, effort I shall still make!

A crisp but not very cold Friday morning, early March this year, found myself & Amit Gupta travelling from Ahmedabad to Nalsarovar. For the uninitiated, or new to birding, Nalsarovar is a huge reservoir of water (about 121sq km) about 60 km away from Ahmedabad, formed naturally in a shallow depression. The lake being shallow and marshy has made it extremely attractive for the wintering migrants – especially water-birds and cranes, who come in numbers. A night train connecting Mumbai & Ahmedabad makes it convenient for a day long birding trip and that’s how we were en-route Nalsarovar early morning.

As we reached closer to our destination, dawn was breaking. The rising sun gave light to the fields on both sides, exhibiting a large numbers of peafowls and peahens looking for the proverbial worm, white breasted kingfishers & Indian rollers on the wire, a solitary grey francolin on the road making a dash to get away from the traffic, a herd of neelgais, a marsh harrier looking for an early breakfast – in all, a good omen for our birding day ahead.

Nalsarovar needs to be explored through a boat and though the water is shallow at most of the places, it is the vastness of the placid lake that is breathtaking. Despite having visited the place about 2 years ago, I was still awestruck with the everlasting wilderness of the glimmering water mingling with the sky at the horizon.

As we set out in the boat, the breeze was wild, soft and free, making the heart light. The early morning serenity of the lake was fading away as birds were waking up to their tasks. The flocks of common coots were having their own version of bird race. Also engaged in various activities were garganeys, spot billed ducks, northern shovellers, pheasant tailed jacanas, godwits, purple moorhens, black-winged stilts, Egrets, Pond herons, Glossy and black Ibis, little grebe, Citrine and yellow wagtails, barn swallows, cormorants and brown headed gulls.

We had set out on this trip however with the hope to see Sarus, Pelicans & Flamingoes from close quarters. Here, since our interest lied in the flock of Pelicans & Flamingoes chiefly, the boatman expertly steered us towards them. The mobile communication technology has helped them too as he was constantly in touch with other boatmen to get the exact location of these birds at the moment. Soon our eyes and cameras feasted on the sights of large flocks of Great White and Rosy Pelicans, followed by Greater Flamingoes.

It was very interesting to see and click pictures of these majestic birds from a different vantage point – almost at their eye level. The most interesting sight was of the greater flamingoes, submerged and floating in knee deep water and their beak giving them a snobbish uppity nose attitude – reminding me, for some reason, of British upper class as caricatured in stories and movies of Wodehouse.

The day had started warming up with the sun at a mid horizon level and having exhausted our camera batteries, we had no option but to return to the shore where rosy starlings and green bee-eaters were busy in their daily routines. Also, we could see a flock of common cranes, which soon took a flight and for sometime the sky was full of cranes and pelicans that were already patrolling in a large flock. A pied kingfisher about to make a dive for its prey, discarded the idea spoiling our chance of clicking it in action.

We left Nalsarovar behind to travel towards Thol, another lake, at about 40 Kms from Ahmedabad and about 60 Kms from Nalsarovar. The lake though much smaller in size is renowned for large variety of birds it provides shelter to. The journey, interrupted for a splendid meal, was peaceful but did not allow us to take a nap as it revealed unexpected sightings - first a male blackbuck with its harem in a field and then a flock of comb ducks – a sight that had eluded us at Nalsarovar.

While Nalsarovar is a never ending sight of water, Thol is a lake much limited and restricted with a bund, also supplying water to the fields around. It is a scenic beauty with woods encircling the lake amidst dreaming the sky. The readers of the Phantom comics could relate to this place immediately as it resembled the Eden that Phantom had developed for the variety of creatures he had saved from extinction. Though lacking in size, it made up in its variety. Birds ranging from common hoopoe, purple sunbirds, prinias, Indian robin and greater coucal to godwits, darter or snake birds, river terns, wigeons, pelicans, flamingoes, bar headed geese, common and ferruginous pochards, greater spotted eagle, marsh harrier, comb ducks, spot billed ducks, tufted ducks, northern pintails, painted storks, common cranes, – all were there. And above all, the prized catch - a few pairs of Sarus cranes lording over the place majestically.

As the sun started inclining towards the horizon, we reluctantly decided to leave the place and drove towards Ahmedabad. But as has been the case most often, the day was yet to finish with its surprises. On our way to Ahmedabad, as we took a turn on the road near a place called Gota, to the left was a small pond where we could see some bird activity. As we got down to have a look, the first sight was a berry tree full of Yellow footed Green Pigeons and a couple of koels. If these were welcome sights, what awaited at the pond was simply magnificent – common teals, river terns, sandpipers, pied avocets, spotbilled ducks, northern shovellers, black-winged stilts, glossy and black ibis and at a distance of few feet away flamingoes – all in plenty. And all of this, just at the outskirts of a city and so close yet totally oblivious to the traffic. For the first time I was engulfed with envy. However, since the setting sun was giving a perfect light condition, it was time to let shutterbugs take charge over my negative emotions and off we were to click more pictures.

Having exhausted ourselves totally by now, we called it a day and returned to Ahmedabad. On our way back, as we tallied our count of almost 100 species, lines from a poem, which I had read some time back but had not really appreciated the beauty till this trip, came back to me -
….ducks on a pond
A grass bank beyond
A blue sky of spring
White clouds on the wing
What a lovely thing
To remember for years!

For seeing more pictures of this trip, please click on the following link:

Feb 12, 2009

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

One of the most tiring & often frustrating aspect of being an amateur bird photographer is inability to get true colours of the birds. The cameras might be good but the zooms leave much to the desire. And closer one tries to get to the birds, faster they fly away. It is challenging but, as I started with, also very frustrating. Even in the best of the sanctuaries, one needs to tread so carefully to reach into that distance which, to a bird, should be acceptable as non-threatening.

Hence a full resolution picture like this would be a dream-come-true:

or getting so close to a "magar" that you can advise it about maintaining dental hygiene (if only you are ready to forget the age old proverb "pani men rahkar magar se bair nahi lete"):

No, these are not the pictures taken at Zoo nor is this report about my having acquired a new zoom lens.

This is about Ranganthittu, a bird sanctuary unique by itself and Kokkare Bellur – a village about 100 Kms from Bangalore that has adapted itself to a lifestyle to suit annual visits of Pelicans & Storks.

Kaveri river, originating from Kodagu (Coorg), after leaving western ghats forms its first island at Srirangapattnam. Ranganthittu is a series of small islands located just before Srirangapattnam. Here, rather then conquering these islands, Kaveri has created a place that migratory birds find idle for nesting & breeding. Dr Salim Ali, with his foresightedness, was the first one to recognize the potential of this place and it was his efforts that led to conversion of this area in to a sanctuary.

My first visit to Ranganthittu was in October 2006. Those were the initial days of my passion for bird-photography. I was comparatively raw to the hobby and I used a Videocam for still photography. As a result, though we had a great time sighting White Ibis, Black Ibis, Darter, Stone Plover, Cormorant, Night Heron, and Brahminy Kite among other birds, my album had nothing great to show.

Since then, except the darter, I have had chance to see most of these birds in & around Mumbai itself, but in my mind I still could visualize the ones which I had seen 2 years back from such close quarters. Providence provided another opportunity to visit Bangalore and having completed my work decided to stay an extra day to visit Ranganthittu with my cousin brother – a friend, philosopher & guide always but more so through the growing up years of my life. The habits die hard - so off we were for bird-watching (albeit of a different kind) !!

We reached the sanctuary early morning, an ideal time when the the songs of birds can be heard easily - not because they are more vocal but because there are very few human beings around. Kaveri, in the morning light was resembling more like a placid lake, green in appearance, flowing discreetly as if not wanting to disturb the migrants it attracts.

In contrast to the serene river, the islets resembled huge colonies under reconstruction as Painted Storks, Open bill Storks, Spoonbills & Spot-billed Pelicans had staked their claims to various plots. Not at all concerned about the slump in property prices, these creatures were continuously chattering & calling out to their mates while finding suitable construction material to ferry to the site, and yet finding time enough to engage in courtship. The lower parts of these Islets were being occupied by Night Herons largely with few white breasted waterhens, large, little & median egrets also jostling for the space.

Countless number of cormorants had carved out a niche for their own and were spending less time in swimming & more in nesting. A few darters, perched among the tree branches, justified the reason for their also being called a snake bird.

A few Great Stone Plovers (Great Thick-knee) completed the picture, ever alert to the boats nearing them while unseen White throated Kingfisher filled in the back-ground score. Other birds seen included streak throated swallow near the entrance to the sanctuary, a few parakeets & grey hornbills in flight, Brahminy kites, sunbirds, tailorbirds, White browed wagtail & a pair of unidentified warblers.

The mammals, till homosapiens crowded the sanctuary, were represented by huge colonies of flying foxes. And yes, a few sun-bathing resident muggers, eyes closed & smiling at the memory of the last meal they had devoured, were occupying the smaller rocky outcroppings - oblivious to the floating population gawking at them.

Having feasted our eyes & having exhausted the shutterbug, we moved to Kokkur Bellur via a brief halt at 'Daria Daulat Bagh" - the summer palace of Tipu Sultan. A plain looking monument from far, due to sun-screen all around, hides the history that has been recreated through paintings on the walls of the monument. Situated amidst verdant green lawn hedged with tall trees all around is a single storeyed structure made up largely of wood.

The wall on one side of the hall depicts defeat of Colonel Bailey at Kancheevaram in a mocking style (the defeated colonel with knuckles pressed to the teeth depicting his fear & shock), the wall on the other side has been used as personal album of Tipu Sultan, depicting pictures of various kings of those times. It would be interesting to not only identify those faces but also to find out the reason for depicting them on the wall of a palace which was apparently used by Tipu to recover from the fatigues of the hard fought war. The colours of the courts have faded a bit but are still evidence to the rich heritage existing here.

From Daria Daulat Bagh, we moved to Kokkare Bellur (KB). The road to KB is a turn off (on the left after passing Cafe Coffee Day outlet at Channapatna) from the newly laid six-lane Bangalore Mysore highway. As you move on, the road becomes much narrower & difficult to drive on, with furtehr obstacles created by villagers using the vehicles movement to thrash Ragi from its husk. Talk of effcient cost reduction & energy saving measure. The paddy fields around were proving to be a good food provider for egrets, black ibis, barn swallows, Indian Robin, Pied Starlings, wagtails, Tits & Brahminy Kites. The lake formed by a dam had numbers of terns flying around while common coots were busy finding food.

Soon we reached Kokkare Bellur which, deceptive in looks though, is not an ordinary village. A village with an area of about half a sqaure kilometer has been considered (for over last 500 years) as safe heaven for nesting by spot Billed Pelicans - a specie which has been in decline over the years and is being treated as vulnerable, and Storks. Incidentally, the word Kokkare means storks in Kannada. The village was reverberating with the sound of flapping wings of Painted Storks who were all around busy with courtship rituals & nest building & no senas were around to stop them from exhibiting their love for each other.

Spot Billed Pelicans, lesser in numbers though, kept taking a flight every once in a while as an overhead patrol to safeguard their nests from the Brahminy kites hovering in the sky.

Interestingly, this place is managed, not by any government agency, but by the villagers themselves who have adapted their lifestyle to create a perfect symbiosis. In order to provide a safe environment to the birds, a villager is ready to forego income from his trees, if the same has been selected by a bird for its nesting. In return, the bird's excrement, rich in potassium, due to fish based diet of the birds, proves to be a natural fertiliser. No wonder, this readiness to adapt the lifestyle to protect enviornment, has led to an increase in the numbers of nestings over the years.

Quite possibly, therein lies a lesson, for all the agencies - governmental as well as NGOs & do-gooders, engaged in protecting environment. Ensure that local people understand the issues as well as benefits resulting out of protection of environment and you can achieve better results.

Meanwhile, for us, the day ended with one of the most beautiful sunset.

For more pictures of this trip & of the flwoer show at Bangalore's Lal Bagh, please click on the following link:

Feb 8, 2009

Rajasthan - Roads Lesser Traveled (3rd & concluding Part)

Hello & welcome back to final part of the travelogue to Rajasthan! This part covers our quick trips to Charbhuja Ji, Nathdwara, Haldi Ghati & Udaipur. But before that, thanx once again to all who continued encouraging me with suggestions & positive responses!
Charbhuja Temple

This temple is situated at about 40 km from Kumbhalgarh amidst the hills of Aravali. I had visited this place about 30 years back. Being our family deity and having come this close, we felt it is time to renew the blessings.

Again a very small town with lanes just wide enough to allow one vehicle with people walking on both the sides, chiefly populated around the temple itself. The temple, dedicated to the warrior swarup of Krishna, is said to have been one of the two temples constructed by Pandavas, the other one being Kedarnath. One of the local priest also informed us that only those devotees are allowed to be open the doors of Kedarnath (at the time of re-opening after winter) who have paid their tributes to Charbhuja ji. I wonder though how the records are being maintained for this purpose.


Nathdwara, though not an architectural marvel, is one of the perfect examples of our temples. Unpretentious in looks from outside, but houses one of the most beautiful idol of Shri Krishna. No wonder people keep revisiting this place again & again just to have a brief glimpse of Krishna.

Alas, one brief glimpse is all one gets at a time. And the reason is the way the temple is managed. In order to change the jhanki of the idol as the day progresses, the darshans are open only for 45 minutes every 2-3 hours. As a result, there is a continuous build up of eager devotees outside the temple gates who rush in the moment doors are open. In fact during this trip, we could not enter the temple on our first visit because in view of large crowd of devotees, the temple authorities had cancelled the 9 Am jhanki – thus making the next one more crowded!

It seems, more than an effort to be the link between the Krishna & his devotees, the temple showcases the importance of persons in control and the VIP guests, who get preference once doors are opened. Having visited this temple twice, years back, as part of the VIP entourage, this time round I realised the pains & frustrations of visiting such places as commoners. Also illogical seemed to be the decision of not allowing mobiles & cameras inside. God seemed to have been imprisoned by a few human beings – so ironical for Krishna who born in a prison, was on earth to liberate oppressed ones. The attitude provided a stark contradiction to Ranakpur temples trust, which is more friendly towards the devotees & the tourists and has tried to balance both.


A quick tour to Udaipur was part of our plans and with the times lost in travelling to Nathdwara on a day when we could not have a darshan, we actually had a very brief glimpse of Udaipur. Having stopped in Haldi Ghati for about an hour, we really had a paucity of time. Udaipur is a city having rich mix of history & natural beauty and hence it needs to be explored with about 3-4 days in hand and here we were, trying to compress it in few hours.

While Kumbhalgarh is the place to experience how people lived as warriors, Udaipur is the city to experience the lives of rich & famous during peaceful times. Nothing better showcases this than the City Palace – the palace of the Mewar dynasty, which has been converted into a museum. As one walks through the labyrinths of the castle, one can see the rich heritage of Mewar dynasty, boasting of names like Rana Kumbha, Rana Sanga, Rana Udai (founder of the city), Rana Pratap and Meera Bai. A number of functional rooms of those times have been maintained in the same manner as if the time has just stopped there and only the visitors have kept moving on over the centuries. Interestingly, while the clothes of these kings make one visualise their hude physique, most of the walk-ways in the Palace are barely large enough to allow only one person at a time.

Rajasthan had a tradition of painting its capital cities in a uniform colour – Pink for Jaipur, Blue for Jodhpur & so it is White for Udaipur. But curiously, the countless coloured panes of the windows peeping into the city provided a different view to the rulers. The traditions have continued even with the change of times.

City Palace is situated at the bank of Pichola Lake. Far on the right side of the lake, on a cliff of a small hillock one can see Sajangarh, another palace of the dynasty, viewing indulgently the neatly laid out Udai Vilas Palace (now a top of the line hotel), Lake Palace (a hotel in one of the islands in lake, well known for being a location for James Bond’s Octopussy), and Jag Mandir (a garden on an island from the dynasty times now converted into a restaurant). Though dried up in part, a small bridge connecting 2 parts of the lake near City palace, give a feel of the lake resembling Venice in earlier days.
The museum, showcasing the entire history is a pleasure to walk through. The sole irritants were the nose-up-in-the-air guides from various hotels accompanying foreigners, and thus assuming an inherent title to being superior then the large crowd of Indians tourists around. A number of them were pushing & shoving aside even the kids in order to lay down the red-carpet treatment to their clients.

From the city Palace we could see the Pichola Lake, filled with a variety of ducks and decided to take a boat ride into the lake. Apart from observing the city Palace from the waterfront and Lake Palace & Jag Mandir from close quarters, we could also see numerous Common Coots, Common Pochard, Spotbill Ducks and 2-3 varieties of cormorants, one providing us a proper look at its turquoise blue eyes.

We once again returned to Udaipur on the last day to catch our flight back to Mumbai. The journey, through the forests for part of the route, crossing dried up Banas river and part of which is through new highway being laid out to connect Mount Abu with Udaipur, also provided us a chance to visit a temple which is supposed to be original Nathdwara temple & from where the idol was shifted to the present location. We were informed by our taxi driver that even now, once or twice in a year, the idol is shifted to this place on the expressive request of the god which he communicates to the chief priest.

The place was serene due to absence of any devotee and resultant commercial culture with the priest busy in updating himself with the latest news. In contrast with the heavily commercialised approach road to Nathdwara Temple gate, there existed only one artisan whose work, though limited in display, spoke volumes of his capabilities. Though selling the products much superiors in quality, the prices were reasonable and the bargaining was dealt with smiling countenance. We in fact wondered, despite globalization and networked India, how many such small artisans’ talent is unexposed & hence not properly rewarded.

The journey though did not end without a surprise in store in form of a new nice & swanky

airport at Udaipur. But on ground infrastructure availability was not adequate as the journey ended with the customary delay of flight and availability of information being too little & too late.
However, for me, it was time to look back at the last 6 days filled with mostly great memories and look forward to here & beyond for another holiday. And for those who want to have a look at more pictures clicked during this part of the trip, can visit following link