Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vanga to Magadha: Part V - Pawapuri, the Sinless Town

By the time we reached hotel it was almost morning. Ankit was going to home; Antony and I were going to Pawapuri. So at first we went to railway station to drop Ankit and then to bus stand. We were on time, bus to Nawada already turned on her engines. Unfortunately we got the last seat. The one located just below the music system. Sound waves coming from it were bombarding in our ears. Soon we figured out that, it would become very difficult after a while. Hence we got down from that bus.

Next bus to Nawada would take around 30 minutes to come. Plenty of time to have breakfast. After breakfast we boarded the bus and slowly left the capital. Earlier Ankit told us not to calculate time to reach a place by looking at the number of kilometers we need to cover. Situation is quite different on ground. Bus route Nawada pass through Bihar Shariff and Pawapuri. In Google Maps distance between Patna and Pawapuri is just 85kms (bus charge was 70 INR), probably a two hour journey. Let’s see how much time it would take to reach Pawapuri.  I think we started around '9AM'; after spending a lot of time we finally left the city limits. However fate was against us, we reach another traffic jam very fast and stuck there.

Only thing moving in that traffic jam was second’s dial in my watch. Dust from the road was coming inside the bus like hurricane. Then came narrow roads and short cuts. At some point of time, we started moving across a dried paddy field there was hardly any road there. I think we even crossed a dried canal bed too, bridge was some 30 meters awayJ. Finally we reach Bihar Shariff. After travelling for some more time, we finally reached at the gates of Pawapuri (holy city for Jains) - 85kms took more than 5 hours!!!

Pawapuri

In a horse pulled Rikshaw, we covered the deserted roads to reach various temples in Pawapuri. At first we went to the temple located farthest from road. It was empty, by the time we reached there it was almost afternoon.

Another temple is located just opposite to that. Drinking water was kept in an earthen pot near to the entrance. For us, tired after a long a journey, it was like nectar from heaven. Camera was prohibited inside the temple, you can’t take it inside even if you switch it off. I was quite reluctant to the idea of leaving camera outside. Probably after seeing my problem, people sitting there said “whatever you leave here will be here, even if you come after a week”. I did left the camera there and went inside.

Then to the next temple; in this was we covered two more temples and reached Jal Mandir.

Jal Mandir

Jalmandir, as name indicates is a beautiful temple made of white marble located in the middle of a pond. It is believed that Lord Mahavir was cremated here.

Main temples in this area are – Samoharshan, Gaon Mandir, Jal Mandir, Dadabari and Kundalpur. Out of this pilgrims can stay at darmashala.

By the way, if you want to visit Pawapuri keep enough money in hand. I saw only one ATM there; that too was closed. After having a late lunch we left Pawapuri in a crowded auto. This auto dropped us at junction from where a road is going to Rajgir. From here we got another shared auto going to Rajgir. This one was more crowded than the earlier one. Needless to say our journey was not at all comfortable. Outside sun moved away and darkness started Creeping in. After crossing the long walls of Ordinance factory and spending some more time we finally reached Rajgir.  

Sajeev.

Vanga to Magadha: Part IV – The Marriage

First time I was witnessing a north Indian marriage. Time to verify whether all those lengthy rituals shown in movies and described by many friends were indeed such long and colourful. Venue was located beside a narrow road. When we reached there, both bride and groom were there. We spent some time talking to Vivek, walking here and there. Then it was time for Baaraath. In older days, probably now also, in villages groom’s party will go to bride’s home for marriage as a group, known as baaraath. Now-a-days when marriage ceremonies shifted from home to auditoriums rituals also shifted accordingly.

However, we can’t avoid all the rituals. Hence groom will go out from venue in car (not on top of a horseJ), take a long circle and come back to the auditorium. So we walked along with Vivek, took a long round and came back to the venue. Baaraath was interesting, band group was playing romantic Bollywood songs – both old and new. Ankit and Antony was dancing along with other friends and relatives. I escaped from dancing and moved along with the baraath.

Suddenly, for a brief moment atmosphere was filled with sound and multi-coloured lights emitted by firecrackers. We came back to the venue and marriage ceremony started. Both exchanged garlands and marriage was solemnized. Then came versatile dinner.

In fact rituals started after that dinner only. One by one it was going on, for some time only groom was in the seat and then for some time it was bride only. One young priest was going through his set of rituals one by one. All of a sudden, one person sitting along with viewers started asking questions about some of the rituals. Needless to say, their arguments took considerable period of time and the rituals extended that much. Number of coffee cups were increasing rapidly in the dustbin.

We turned towards Antony, he was in sleeping mode. Next it was our turn, Ankit first and me next. When we reached inside a nearby room two middle aged people were already sleeping there. All of a sudden Antony woke up and started observing the ceremonies with such a keenness as if next is his turn. I think he was awake for rest of the night.

In the morning around 5.00, Antony woke us up and we came out. Ceremonies associated with marriage were going on. We said bye to Vivek - through sign language - and left for hotel room. It was very much dark outside. On the way we got a rickshaw; by the time we reached hotel room, sun rays were slowly tearing away the darkness.

One the way to hotel, I was thinking about the marriages in Kerala. Formalities hardly lasted 15 or 30 minutes. In Hindu marriages, an astrologer will find a good day for marriage (if and only if he is satisfied with both horoscopes). Now-a-days, there are a lot of constraints imposed on astrologer. For e.g. astrologer has to find a good day, but that day should be a Sunday :) Then there is something called muhooortham, most often it will be in between 10AM and 11.30AM. Couple can marry in this interval. At designated time bride, groom and their close friends and relatives will go to a temple (in case marriage is in a temple).

By the way there is something called Rahu kalam (Rahu time). One has to leave home for marriage before Rahu time starts or after Ruhu time ends.

In temple priest will give them garlands made of Tulsi, which the bride and groom will exchange later. Then they will exchange a bigger garland made of Jasmine. For completing the process they have to enter their names in marriage register as well.

After praying for a couple of minutes, newlywed couple will go to the auditorium. Depends on the amount of money spent by girl’s family, these auditoriums can accommodate 200 - 2000 people or more. Here, at the venue both bride and groom will exchange garlands once again to entertain the wider audience. Let me tell you that, by this time luncheon hall will be opened for guests.


Next item in the list is photo session and giving presents to bride and groom. Most often people sitting in the auditorium will see the backside of photographers only :) Then there will be a glass of milk (mixed with banana and sugar) which relatives and friends will ‘push’ inside their mouth. Milk and banana is a king of an old fashon arrangement, hence the so called v, x, and y generations hardly do these things. By this time, clock may stuck 12 :) and guests who had lunch in the first round may already reached home. 

Sajeev.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vanga to Magadha: Part III – Patna, City of Ajatasatru and Mauryas

When I woke up in the morning, train was approximately one hour away from Patna. I looked outside; there was nothing special, normal countryside slowly opening her eyes to day-to-day realities. After a while we reached Rajendra Terminals – a big station; after some 5 minutes or so continued our journey towards the capital of Bihar. By the way let me remind you that, Bihar and West Bengal occupied New Delhi’s Rail Bhavan for a considerable number of years.

Vivek already booked one room for us. Hence after getting down at Patna Jn we walked straight towards the hotel, ignoring a numerous offers for hotel rooms. It was indeed a nice hotel, and we got a room at a corner with numerous windows to bring the air inside. After taking bath we started with our iteneries.

Padri Ki Haveli

Padri Ki Haveli – first in our list - is the oldest church in Bihar. With the help of GPS supported ‘Nokia Here Maps’, we started walking in church's direction. There were hardly any eateries opened in that early morning. After walking for another 15 minutes we finally saw an open hotel – hot poori and sabji with some sweets.

drrrrr... I looked around to check from where the sound is coming. Antony and Ankit was looking towards the sky. Up in the air a plane was slowly descending to land in Patna airport. I never saw planes travelling that much close to ground. After having a (burned :) ) tea from a nearby stall we started looking for an auto. First one said 150. Searching for a better offer, we walked towards the next one only to hear a higher quote - 250. We moved further and Finally, we agreed with the third one and fixed the charge at 150.

It was interesting to see Ankit’s position while talking to auto drivers. His body formed a bended ‘I’ shape, as if to offer some shade to auto and her driver 

Driver took us in a different way; different from the one showed by GPS, this new one looked longer in maps. Crowded with people, vehicle and tonnes of dust travelling through that way didn’t look so much promising in the morning. There were hardly any traffic rules followed on the ground; drivers were honking as if their life is completely dependent on that tiny equipment. After a while vehicles started coming in from opposite direction, then from the right and then from the left - complete jam. We had to stop there for some 30 minutes. Antony was sitting in the middle; he was in a calm and quiet sleep.

Finally we left that auto and started walking, again with the help of ‘Nokia Here Maps’. Interestingly, roads showed in the map were hardly 8 feet wide in the ground. From there if you moved some feet to the left or right, you will land inside some home.

After a while we reached a T junction, from here onwards roads are considerable wide. Here also driver’s hand hardly left that noise generating machine. After walking for another one kilometer, we finally saw the gates of Padri Ki Haveli. We opened the gate and went inside.

In a room – looked like an office room - we found a nun from Sisters of Charity. She asked us to meet the Father to get inside the church building. Father opened the doors and detailed church’s history and current situation. After talking to him for a while, and a couple of minutes silence we left the church and jumped inside a shared auto - towards Ghai Ghat. Tis Ghat was not in our list, but added in last minute to see and touch the holiest of rivers in India – Ganga (aka ‘The Ganges’).

Ganga and Mahatma Gandhi Setu

After getting down from auto we walked towards India’s holiest river – Ganga (The Ganges). Ghai Ghat is located a little bit away from the main road. Close to the ghat, under the shade of the bridge, there were a group of camels eating their daily breakfast.

With a length of 5.574km, MG Setu is the lengthiest River Bridge in India. Only ‘PV Narasimha Rao Elevated Express High way’, ‘Hosur Road Elevated Highway’ and ‘Bandra-Kurla Sealink’ (all three are not river bridges) are lengthier than this bridge in India. By the way, width of Ganges here is hardly 40% of the length of the bridge.

In front of me, waters of Ganga flowed calmly. I slowly walked towards water and touched her. Needless to say, water was very much dirty. After seeing the amount of dirt she was forced to carry, I wonder what ‘Ganga Action Plan (GAP)’ really achieved? Just like many other government plans, this also ended up creating big holes in exchequer than creating any meaningful output.

The colour of water or dirt she carries hardly created any effect in people’s mind. For millions of Indians, Ganga is mother and purifier. It is believed that taking a dip in Ganga will wipe out all the sins one committed enable him/her to achieve moksha. Unfortunately this belief didn’t stop people living in banks, industries, municipal authorities etc in dumping waste in the river. More than 50 people were taking bath at the ghat.

Close to ghat, a span of the bridge was tilted downwards. This particular span was supported by additional iron beams and associated structure from the ground and repair work was going on. By the seeing the progress of the work, one can easily assume that it will take another decade to finish. God help the people of Patna and Hajipur located on both sides of the bridge to cross the river fast.

Hajipur – Crossing Mahatma Gandhi Setu

This part of the journey was slow and painful. Because of the problems in a span, traffic was highly regulated; in some places it was one-way. In short it will take hours to cross the bridge and reach Hajipur. Girls sitting in opposite seat informed us that, it would take 3-5 hours to cross the bridge. Fortunately we reached the other side faster than that. More than going slow, my problem was the music player. Volume was so high and quality was so low that, it hardly resembled to anything called music.

Finally we reached Hajipur – a crowded marketplace. Here people are travelling on top of the buses as well. Was the conductor able to collect money from them? I don’t know.

From a nearby store we had Patna's traditional sweet ''. Some seedless grapes and pomegranate was enough to postpone our lunch for a couple of hours. Time to go back, we got into another auto and started our return journey to Patna. Ankit and Antony turned on their sleep switch. After struggling through that bridge for one more time, auto driver dropped us in Patna Jn.

Before going further let me state a point here - it is absolutely useless to talk about development when state authorities couldn’t even fix infrastructure bottlenecks, at least in the capital. What Bihar government what to showcase to investors? Half dead Mahatma Gandhi Setu where a round trip will cost you a day?

Patna Museum

After having some rest we restarted our journey to see the museum. It was better to take an auto to reach there. However, brain won't always work in an optimal way :) Walking consumed an alarming amount of time in our portfolio. By the time we reached there it was already 4 in the evening. After buying the pass we went in.

They started closing the museum from 4.30pm itself (from ground to top). Hence we ran from one galley to another one. In case you are in Patna and planning to visit museum, don’t forget to take a look at the building itself, I liked it.

Golghar

From museum we walked towards Golghar.

"located to the west of the Gandhi Maidan in Patna... After the devastating famine of 1770, which killed nearly 10 million people in regions of Bengal, Bihar and modern day Bangladesh, Warren Hastings, then Governor-General of India, ordered the construction of this beehive shaped structure for the purpose of storing grains for the British Army. It was conceived and built by Captain John Garstin, an engineer with the East India Company, and has a storage capacity of 140000 tons, it construction was completed on 20 July 1786." - Wikipedia

By the time we reached there, the gates for going to the top of the building was closed for the day (Entry fees was 2 INR). One guy sitting at the counter told that, they would open again around 7.00 or 7.30PM for laser show (entry fees for Laser show - 30 INR).

At night we had to attend Vivek's marriage, hence we ruled out laser show and walked back to the room. Darkness was slowly creeping in.

At night, we - me, Ankit, Antony and three other friends of Vivek – left the hotel for marriage. Me and Ankit was in a manually pulled rickshaw – my second ever journey in such a vehicle.

Sajeev

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vanga to Magadha: Part II – Kolkata, In the Capital of East

Our search for a budget hotel finally took as to Bhimsen Hotel located next to the station. From outside, this building looked more like an abandoned one from the sixties, which owners forget to paint or do any kind of maintenance. However, a new coat of fresh white paint made the reception area different. There was nothing much to negotiate – 600 INR for a double room. One hotel boy took our bags to the room and got a tip from Ankit. By the way there wasn’t any other option available for Ankit. Rooms with very high ceilings were more suitable for shooting old Hindi movies. After taking bath we left the room for seeing Calcutta. 

Bus stand is located very much close to the hotel (close to the station as well). We boarded an old bus going to Belur Math. In addition to being a member of old age fleet, a major portion of it was built using woods. Whenever bus made some sudden breaks – it was travelling so slow that there were hardly any chance for sudden breaks – I felt like some portions of it would fall apart.



After crossing jungles of old buildings – I would rather say abandoned old buildings, not because it is deserted but due to the absence of any kind of maintenance or painting – we finally got down at Belur Math.

Belur Math

View of Belur Math from Hoogly River
Founded by Vivekananda, math - headquarters of Ramakrishana Mission - is located on the west bank of Hoogly River. Here you can see temples dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda (where their relics are enshrined). After going slowly through different temples we finally went to the jetty to catch a boat to the other side of the river – towards Dakshnineshwar Kali Temple.

Going to the temple

Dakshineshwar Kali Temple

Ankit was very much scared to travel in boat. Travelling through the waters of Hoogley for quite some time was really good. We had to pass under the twin bridges before reaching the temple. Boat was good enough to carry 10-15 people; there was an equipment – painted in yellow colour - fitted at one side of the boat, which was used by one worker for pumping the water out. I still don’t know from where the water came in. It’s better to say nothing about the water flowing through the river – very much dirty and brown in colour.

Dakshineshwar Temple


We went inside and looked at the beautiful pillars and other structures. Even at that time, there were a lot of people standing in the queue for going inside. After a while, we walked towards an end and sat there – watching the red and yellow coloured buildings in front of us.

Built by Rani Rahmoni this famous temple was constructed in 1855; Ramakrishna was a priest in this temple from 1856 onwards. Opposite to the main temple, on the side of the river there were 5 more small temples. We took the gap in between those temples, to reach the ghat. Close to hundred devotees were there chanting mantras and taking baths. After spending close to thirty minutes there, we walked outside and started searching for a hotel.

As we didn’t have anything from the morning call of hunger was very much loud. Me, Ankit and Antony were about to enter a hotel; suddenly a group (flash mob!!!) formed from somewhere and about to pounce on us. In fact they were inviting us to their hotels to have breakfast. We ran towards another hotel for breakfast - poori, rasagullas and gulab jamuns.

Marble Palace

Our next destination was marble palace, located somewhere near to …? From yesterday onwards Ankit was confidently stating that, everything is very cheap in Kolkata. So we thought of going in a taxi to the palace; walked towards taxi stand and checked with multiple drivers about fare. After hearing those numbers Ankit hardly repeated his statement. Finally we got a bus which moving so fast that, walked might have proved better. 



After going in one direction for a long time, we got rid of that bus and walked towards the nearest metro station. My first journey in Kolkata metro. ‘Camera not allowed’ – was posted there also. Majority of stations in Kolkata metro – which drank public money like water – are underground ones. One can access the station from road side; ticket (5, 10, 15 INR) counter facility is available in every station. Thankfully RFID or NFC enabled tickets replaced the paper ones. Using this ticket you can open a small metallic gate to reach platform. In the same way, you can drop the same ticket to open another small metallic gates at the destination to go outside. As more of the metro lines are passing under the ground, journey was not an interesting one.

After coming back to earth, and checking with multiple people, we took a small road to reach the Marble Palace. One of the most disappointing moment in Kolkata journey – Marble palace will be closed on Monday’s and Thursday’s. ASI maintained building can have a holiday on Monday, but why on earth they want to close the building on Thursday as well? Did they know that we are coming? Security guard standing there didn’t allow us to go inside, but he did allow a car to go inside. Officials? I don’t know. Here, also photography is not allowed. I don’t know who created that rule. That building is already standing there for a long time, sweating under bright sun rays suffering all climate changes, rain and pollution. What difference a photo will do to that building? Rules from 16th centuries…



This is ridiculous, and I am tired of seeing this notice – don’t take photos - every now and then. What strategic importance Kolkata metro have to Indian security? If someone really want to do some surveillance, then they can easily travel numerous times through metro button camera and other equipment’s to map it. Can a number of pictures, taken by individual passengers will bring down the metro? In think we Indians have to come out of this narrow mind set about security. Here everything is prohibited, taking a picture from Howrah Bridge, metro station, marble palace everything. What more, once a security guard stopped me from taking a photo of Bangalore’s Mayo Hall. Other than its British inherited structure, and the price of real estate it stand, I don’t think that building have any other value. However people are behaving like, taking a photo is the biggest security threat country can face. By the way, in many places no one have any problems with taking pictures mobile camera.

After having some coconut juice we continued our journey towards Armenian Church, built by Armenians in 1707 AD this not only a monument but a cultural symbol as well.

Tram

One vehicle, looking more like a big soap box was coming towards us. These relics of history are popularly known as trams.  I don’t know any Indian city other than Kolkata, still using this loss making machines; by the way tram companies own huge land banks in this metro, which make them a prime attraction for real estate developers. Trams have designated paths to move, if some vehicle came in opposite direction creating a traffic jam, then it will prove a bigger headache for traffic police. In those crowded areas, we were walking faster than tram J

Armenian Church



We continued our expedition through that jungle of humans, where people are flowing through the road in both directions like rivers in monsoon. Every inch of road side is occupied by vendors selling various items – for a while you can see stores selling cloths, then colours, then bags, then sandals so on and so forth. It was so crowded that, if one of us walked fast it won’t be easy to find him again. One disappointment there was, we walked right in front of Nakhoda mosque and missed it. I came to know this mistake only at the night, when I reviewed our paths.

Armenian Chruch
Finally, we reached Armenian Church. It looked more like an oasis in the desert (full of people). Church’s entrance was hardly recognizable in that crowded colour market. In fact we missed the entrance once and a walked a bit further. Near to the get a white marble tablet proclaims that the church was constructed in 1707AD – “Armenian Church, Erected at 1707 AD”.

By the time we arrived at the gates, church was closed. Still they allowed us to enter the premises after hearing that we came all the way from Bangalore to see the church. In the middle of that chaos, this place offers peace.

Its architecture is a bit different, and probably the tablets (letters engraved in the tablets are probably in Armenian language) buried around the courtyard indicates the presence of a cemetery.

After hearing names like Armenian Church, Armenian street etc, I got an idea that the place might have a lot of eateries. Hence, I suggested Ankit and Antony - who were very hungry – to have food from there. However, there weren’t any traces of hotel. We searched and failed in finding a single hotel for next one hour. 

You may say, we searched at wrong place or missed some hotel. But let me tell you that, we enquired with locals on every 100m. Everyone pointed in some directions, which we faithfully followed without any results.

Antony and Ankit

Finally we reached Howrah Bridge and started walking through its sides. Bridge was vibrating with the passage of every vehicle. We took some photos as well; when we covered almost 70% of the length a traffic police man appeared from somewhere and told us not to take photos!!! He walked along with us till we reach the other end – probably to make sure – that we were not taking any more photos. After having a lime soda from a street vendor at the end of the bridge, we walked back to the hotel room. Fortunately there was a good hotel nearby.

Howrah Bridge

Towards Patna

Danapur Expres came on time and we got in. I thought, I could take a deep sleep in this journey. However, future had something else in mind. Passengers warned us that, around 4 ‘0’ clock in the morning train will reach a station where the possibility of losing your luggage to thieves are very high. What to do now, which is more important – one night’s sleep or luggage? Around 2.30 or 3am, two guys woke up and started speaking and moving here and there. For a while, I thought it was an organized attack by thieves!!! What really happed was, those guys became paranoid after missing their station.


Sajeev

River Banks

Crossing the twin bridges

Hoogly River

Boats standing near to the Ghat

From a Ghat near to Dakshineshwar Kali Temple


Me in front of Howrah Bridge

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Expanding the reach – Closer relations between US and Iran?

Recent decision by US administration to restart the business relationship with Iran is indeed a striking but not an unexpected step. This may probably the first time after Islamic Revolution in 1979, a US administration allowing a US based company (Boeing) to sell advanced materials to Iranians – the Shia heavy weight of Middle East and the corner stone of US foreign policy in Middle-East before the revolution.

It’s very early to say whether this will lead to a complete offset of relations between two nations. There are multiple forces in action here,

a. Saudi Arabia – a regional rival of Iran mainly due to religious differences, which may not want to see any close relationship between US and Iran.

b. Syria – Iran is a strong supporter of Syria’s Assad government. If US want to bring any stability to Syria, they need Iran on their side.

c. Russia – Whoever stands up to US, Russia may automatically become their alley. Naturally Russia will support Iran. In addition to that, Russia also have a long standing relationship with Syria, where they operate one naval base as well.

d. Israel – Probably more than anyone else this factor may affect US-Iran relations. As an arch rival of Iran, a stable US-Iran relation may be the last thing Israel want to see. At the same time, an improvement in relationship may reduce Iranian fear factor in Israel.

e. EU – This sudden bonhomie may be due to the realization that, EU allies won’t decisively act against Russia till the point they are dependent on Russian Oil and Gas supply. Building LNG terminals on Eastern US Sea board and supply shale oil to EU will take a lot of time. Restarting Iranian supply to EU will reduce the potential oil shock Russia can inflict on EU.

Hope that, the business relationship between US and Iran will expand, giving an oil boost to Iranian economy and enhancing the standing of the current government with in the country. However P5+1 countries have to make sure that Iran will neither seek nuclear weapons nor go for weapon grade enrichment.

Sajeev

References

1. US allows Boeing to sell plane parts to Iran - TOI