Friday 18 November 2016

Dreams and Reality

I'm sure each one of us had experienced this at least once. You dream while asleep and the dream feels so real. Say you dream eating a bar of chocolate, and in the dream (a non-physical state), you get the taste of chocolate, you swallow it, you hold it in your hand...everything feels so real. You wake up and realize it was a dream but so vivid and real! We've heard and read about this world being an illusion, and so it is! As I'm typing out this note, what if I'm actually dreaming this. And as you read this, what if it's in your dream!! Just as in one's dream one is aware that one is dreaming, I sometimes just sit quiet and experience the dream and instantly I feel zoned out as if I'm observing my life in 3rd person!!Look at your hands, legs or at the mirror and be aware that it's a dream. How does that feel?

In stressful and conflicting situations, I've experimented consciously to remind myself that I'm dreaming and immediately the stress mitigates. Whenever i try this, in my mind I see myself throwing my head up and laughing at how seriously I've taken these silly situations. In the movie Inception, the concluding scene is my favourite. Leonardo spins the top which is to topple if it is not an illusion, but it goes on spinning signifying that it is a dream state. It's the same with our lives too.

Sometimes I wonder what is Reality? The moment there is duality there is illusion. And the state of non-duality is very difficult to imagine because when you think that itself is an illusion! Earlier people believed that the earth was flat and that the Sun goes around Earth. People those days believed that was reality until scientists who came later gave evidence that it was otherwise. What if whatever we know to be reality now, is not actually real? It really shakes up rigid dogmas and opinions we have about ourselves and others and of everything in general.

I was reading Dr Michael Newton's book "Destiny of Souls", where a woman who was severely abused by her husband on earth,  after death moves on to the spirit world to realize that her husband had taken on the role of the abuser, so she could learn lessons in a pre-arranged contract and they were actually soul mates. What if what appears is not real? What about people we don't get along with or difficult situations which are not what they appear to be? It does change your perspective on just about everything that has happened in history. 

When I was about 6-7 years of age, I had a recurring nightmare. In the dream I would be climbing a flight of stairs and at the top would be a scary looking ghost/person/entity who would be harm/smother me. This dream continued for a few months. One day I decided in the waking state that if that if I had the dream again, I would fight back (in the dream). And yes, this time again I was climbing the stairs and at the top stood that malicious entity. I remember reminding myself in the dream that I have to fight back. So, chanting the Gayatri mantra, I lunged forward at the entity, fought with it and I never had the nightmare again! Somehow the wisdom of that dream is surfacing now. All this is a dream and we have nothing to fear or lose after all! We have tasks to be accomplished, but we mess things up when it take it seriously and for real.

The best thing for me is to sit back and see the dream unfold! :-)

Wednesday 26 October 2016

The Lodhi Garden Tombs

Sheesh Gumbad from a distance.
I had been following the INTACH Delhi FB page for some time, so when we visited Delhi in March this year, I got the opportunity to attend one of their Heritage walks. They conduct walks every weekend and the weekend that we were there, the Lodhi garden walk was scheduled.
Tomb of Mohemmed Shah Sayyid.
During our two and a half years stay in Gurgaon, which is 30 kms from Delhi, we had visited the Lodhi gardens many times and of course seen monuments there, without knowing their significance. This walk totally changed our perspective on what we had seen multiple times but knew little about. 
The chattris on the dome. 
The Cosmic star which connects the dead to Heaven.

Islamic inscriptions on the dome. 

Floral motifs and inscriptions.
The Lodhi garden is spread over 90 acres of undulating lawns, jogging and cycling tracks and lined with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs and plants. But its name derives from the fact that it is home to some of well-known tombs from the Sayyid and more importantly, the Lodhi era, dating back to the 15th century.
The 'kumbh' or pot shaped carving which is very Indian has been incorporated here. 

Graves. The ones with the raised portion are those of men and the protrusion is called 'kalam'. 
Before the Lodhi era was the Sayyid’s era when the Sayyid dynasty ruled the area which was then known as Khairpur village. The Lodhis then ruled over the Punjab region. The Sayyid empire was unstable with a lot of internal conflict. They called the Lodhis to intervene and resolve the issue promising them rewards of land and money, which didn’t come through once the work got done. So the Lodhis decided to take over the Sayyids’ empire as a mark of retaliation and retribution.
The area around the tombs was converted into a landscaped garden in 1936 and was named Lady Willingdon Park, after the wife of the then British Viceroy. It was named Lodhi Garden post-Independence and was re-designed in 1968 by eminent architect, J.A Stein.

Although the garden is primarily dedicated to tombs from the Lodhi dynasty, there is one tomb belonging to Muhammed Shah Sayyid of the Sayyid dynasty. After his death in 1451 AD, the tomb was built by his son, Alauddin Alam Shah. This structure like the other tombs in the garden were made of Delhi quartzite, procured locally. It is a very hard stone, so very minimal chiselling work has been done on that. The quartzite is interspersed with red sand stone on which one finds the more intricate carving and designs.
Bada Gumbad

The decorated dome. 

The intricate stucco work in the mosque.. 

Notice the thick walls. 

The stucco work on the walls. 
Jaya Basera, who conducted the walk, pointed to some interesting aspects of architecture. The Sayyids wanted to send a message to the Hindus, that they have come to India for good and do not intend to leave like the Ghazni and Ghori, who repeatedly plundered India and stole many tons of gold, precious stones and metals. So, although Islam prohibits the representation of any life forms in sculptures and structures, they modified it subtly, to render them as an abstract representation of life forms which the Indians identified with.
Sheesh Gumbad.
The only Sayyid era structure in Lodhi gardens and is the tomb of Muhammed Shah Sayyid. The central main chamber is octagonal with the cenotaph of Muhammed Shah in the middle and surrounded by several other graves. It was customary for a person of importance to be buried in the center of the structure. Also, the difference between the graves for men and women are known by the raised middle vertical portion of the grave for men, also known as kalam. In Islam, it was tradition to bury the body with the head facing towards Mecca, which from India would be to the West. The dome above was made of intricately done stucco work and painted. There are also bands of inscription from the Quran. The structure is circular as opposed to the square structures built by the Lodhis. The central octagonal chamber has in its center the cenotaph of Muhammed Shah surrounded by several other graves. The main entrance to the chamber is from the south. Small chhatris (umbrellas) surround the main dome which lend the building an Indo-Islamic look. The dome is crowned with an inverted lotus shaped structure. The ceiling inside is decorated with carved stucco and has the cosmic star in the centre which is believed to connect the dead to heaven and has several Islamic inscriptions and decorative motifs.
The ceiling in Sheesh Gumbad. 
Next we saw the Bada Gumbad, which means a building with a big (bada) dome (gumbad). It’s the first Lodhi era monument dating back to mid-15th century. It’s a square structure and appears to have 2 stories from the outside. However, when one enters one sees a single chamber with a magnificent high ceiling. The absence of a cenotaph in the building, stylistic differences lend mystery to the purpose of the structure. Some believe that it served as gateway into Khairpur village in the 15th century. Adjacent to the Bada Gumbad is a mosque with a pavilion to the east. It has five arched openings with intricate stucco work of floral and geometric motifs. There is a prayer hall with inscriptions from the Quran on the walls and ceilings.
Sikander Lodhi's tomb. This couple out of the frame would have made it perfect, but I was feeling awkward asking them to move. 
Next to the Bada Gumbad is the Sheesh Gumbad, which means a dome (gumbad) covered with glass/mirrors (sheesh). This is because the dome and parts of the façade were completely covered with coloured glazed tiles which were imported from Persia. But today, with just a few cobalt blue tiles on the façade, one can only imagine the beauty that this building must have been, back then. This structure is again square like all Lodhi era structures and the inner chamber with the cenotaph are decorated with fine stucco work of floral patterns and Quranic inscriptions. There are several graves in the central chamber, possibly of eminent people during Sikander Lodhi’s time.
The walls of the tomb that make it look like a fortress.

Stucco work and glazed coloured tiles inside. 
Further ahead is the tomb of Sikander Lodhi. It’s a walled tomb which makes it look like a fortress of sorts, and is said to be the last prominent Lodhi era monument constructed in Delhi. This tomb is said to be inspired by the tomb of Muhammed Shah, since it is quite similar in appearance excepting the chhatris on top. The inner chamber of the tomb is surrounded by a verandah of arches with carved sandstone brackets. In the chamber inside, there are glazed tile decorations, painted stucco work and a single grave of Sikander Lodhi.
The Athpula or the eight pier bridge.
Our walk ended with the explanation of a fascinating structure- a 16th century eight-pier bridge, east of Sikander Lodhi’s tomb. It was built during Akbar’s reign, to span a tributary of the Yamuna river that probably met the Barahpula nullah further south. This was a part of the river system that drained the south Delhi area and then fed the Yamuna. It’s now called ‘Athpula’, (‘ath’ meaning eight and ‘pul’ meaning bridge) due to the eight piers that support the bridge.  
At the end of the walk, I asked Jaya as to why monuments in Delhi meant only Islamic monuments (Qutab Minar, Humayun’s tomb, Lodhi Garden tombs, etc), and where the Hindu monuments were, because the Islamic invaders came to India in the 9th century. She said that all Hindu monuments were destroyed and razed to the ground by the Islamic invaders, so there is nothing left. She even mentioned that they not only destroyed the Hindu temples, but also transferred entire blocks of stone and pillars to construct their own mosques, in place of the temples. In some structures like the Qutab Minar, one can see stone bricks and columns with Sanskrit inscriptions still intact. The horrors of the Islamic invasion are well known to everyone, but to hear first-hand from a historian about the same and to know that, no single ancient Hindu temple survives in the whole of Delhi, made me sad.
But I couldn’t remain sad for long. I had many things to do in Delhi before I left for Pune, but more of that in the next post. :-)
Notice how wide the bridge is. Maybe this was used by their elephants too to move to the other side. 
Though it was March, we had had a sudden heavy downpour in the morning. Unarmed with umbrellas, we still decided to make the best of the walk, and it was indeed a very informative walk. I would surely like to attend more walks with them. 
You may follow INTACH Delhi on their Facebook page. The fees for the walk was Rs 250.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may subscribe to new posts updates via email. Enter your email id in the 'Follow by email' on the right hand side panel. 

Also follow my posts on Facebook.

Friday 27 May 2016

Village Stays in India.

Last Sunday, the Times Of India supplement, Times Life, carried an article on ‘Rustication’ or rustic vacations that urban dwellers are increasingly searching for. I am no different. Having been born and brought up in the Maximum City, Mumbai, I have discovered that my heart lies in rustic India, in the beauty of the small, unspoilt villages and mountains, more specifically. There is something so heart warming about staying in villages and farms, breathing the pure air, eating food fresh from the farm and the pristine surroundings. Here’s a round-up of some of the village stays I've experienced and each one has been memorable. Of course there are more to come. Maybe, I’ll do part two on village stays sometime.
I've listed these in no particular order, although I've started with places closer to home.
In the alpine pastures in Spiti.
Velas: I visited Velas in February this year to see the hatching of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles. I stayed at Amol Soman’s spicefarm. The sea, sand, turtles, climbing mango trees, lip smacking Konkani food and lush spice farm made this a memorable experience. The rooms are no-frill, very basic, since Velas is relatively new to hosting people from the cities. But to make up for that is the sea (which I had all to myself when I visited), just a ten minute walk from the home-stay, the verdant spice farm and the relaxed pace of village life, which has not yet become touristy. Room tariff is Rs 700 including food and accommodation if you go as a couple or Rs 1000 only for the stay if you travel solo.
New born Olive Ridley turtles in Velas.

I had the whole Velas beach to myself. 

Amol Soman's spice farm. 

Lunch under a mango tree. The taste increased manifold :-)

A raw cashew nut.
Shreeyog Paryatan: I had visited this sleepy village in Sindhudurg with my husband in January 2015. It was a road trip, passing through sugarcane fields, vendors selling heaps of the fiery Kolhapuri chilies on the road side and passing through the bumpy roads on the ghats. The home-stay is run by the elderly Kadams who will treat you like their own family member. Mrs. Kadam is an excellent cook and even allows you to decide what you want to eat for the next meal and cooks accordingly. 25 kms away is the peaceful and non-touristy Tarkarli beach. Read my review on Tripadvisor. I do not wish you give out their contact details on this forum. So if you are interested, contact me. Tariff is Rs 1200 onwards for food and accommodation.
The vegetable garden in Kadams' house.

Fresh farm produce being sold on the way to Tarkarli.

Mrs. Kadam is a cook par excellence. 

The Tarkarli beach only for us. 
Panchgani: I did not stay in Panchgani, but had gone for strawberry picking in January this year. But if an opportunity presents itself I would stay on a strawberry farm too, so I’ve listed it under village stays. Panchgani is the lesser known and non-touristy cousin of Mahabaleshwar, where people from Mumbai and Pune escape to, during parched summers. Panchgani has stays for all kinds of budgets. Think of leisurely walks, picking strawberries in the numerous farms, eating gavran (village) Maharashtrian thali and basically doing nothing but relax.
Strawberries by the heaps.

Picking strawberries on the farm.

Rows of strawberries.
Rainforest retreat: The Rainforest Retreat or the Mojo Plantation is situated in a village called Gaalibeedu, around 10 kms from Madikeri, in Karnataka. I had volunteered for vanilla hand-pollination and also did a wall-art in one of the cottages depicting the local bio-diversity. The 25 acres of the entirely organic plantation grows coffee, vanilla, cardamom, pepper and fruits like pineapple (the best I’ve ever had), papaya, bananas, etc. The owners Sujata and Anurag Goel will make you feel at home, talk about Nature and bio-diversity with such passion that you are bound to leave from there with more knowledge about the environment and be more awed by Nature’s intelligence. The staff is extremely sweet and courteous. They invited me to their home for coffee in the wee hours of the morning, since I was to leave at 6 am. Tariff starts from Rs 2000 onwards. Website:

Inside the Rainforest Retreat.

Misty mornings with the song of the birds.

Food was delicious to say the least. 

Ravi, one of the staff who was extremely courteous and extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the region.

This cutie pie of a calf took fancy to my bag and wanted to eat it. A refreshing change from the boring grass, you see! 
Sullia: A friend had invited us to his brother’s wedding. The venue turned out to be a 100 acre organic family farm. With sections devoted to swaying coconut trees, towering areca nut trees, square paddy fields, the farm is a peninsula of sorts, surrounded by a river on 3 sides, making the soil rich and fertile. The highlight was seeing and eating the flesh of a cocoa pod, drinking water from a well (ah, so sweet) and gathering arecanuts which  freshly plucked by the dexterous tree climber. The wedding was completely, what we urban people would call, eco-friendly, though for them it’s a way of life and they make no deal about it! This is a friend’s farm which we were fortunate to visit and stay in, so it’s not for visitors :-)
Inside the farm.

See how the decoration is entirely made with leaves, fruit and flowers.

Eating a cocoa pod.

Fresh okra. 
Bhujodi: There was no farm here, but the warmth and love of my hosts at Bhujodi village, where I painted a wall, made this a wonderful experience. The simplicity and down-to-earth nature of these award winning handloom artists, Vankar Dayabhai Ala, his son, Ashok bhai and family makes me want to go back and visit them again sometime. I was kept well hydrated with copious quantities of buttermilk to beat the heat, simple, scrumptious rustic food grown on their farm (which I couldn’t visit), and stories and anecdotes from their lives as artisans. A bonus was watching the entire process of weaving apiece of cloth as the artisans hummed and sang Kabir bhajans.  Since I was painting the wall outside theirhouse, they hosted me.

A cow staring at me in Bhujodi. 

Ashok Bhai posing in front of my wall art. 

Homely food at Ashok Bhai's house.
Kukma: This was another village where I stayed during my Kutch trip. I was put up in a rustic-chic guest house at KHAMIR, an organization that promotes Kutchi handicrafts, and excellently so. I used to wake up before sunrise, grab some masala chai in an earthen cup (kulhad) and walk around the campus being amused and entertained by birds chirping on a high decibel, getting ready to fly off in different directions for food and admiring the gorgeous sunrise on the barren landscape with sparse trees. I painted a wall here too. See the pictures here. The food is simple and delicious and the staff is very helpful. The buildings are made entirely out mud, which keeps the interiors cool in the desert summer and the décor is simple yet elegant. They also arrange for cultural tours in Kutch. Tariff starts at Rs 750.
The simple yet elegant guest house at Khamir. 

Cups of masala chai over sunrise.
Spiti: Well, in trans-Himalayan Spiti, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to village stays, because except Kaza, the small town, there are only villages everywhere. I stayed at 5 different villages in Spiti. In Langza, I stayed the longest, volunteering in my host’s green peas farm. The job mainly involved weeding. Also helped with some cooking. Then I went to Komic, the highest inhabited village in Asia at the height of 5150 meters above sea level. In 2013, when I had visited there were only 13 houses and the total population of the village was 32 people. Next was Demul, Lhalung and then Tabo. Spiti is spectacularly beautiful from any village, so take your pick. Many backpackers and trekkers just  walk up to a village, knock on a door and ask to stay. Home-stays charge from Rs 150 to 300 for food and accommodation. The toilets are dry compost, owing to the dry, arid land and fragile ecosystem. The people are unbelievably kind and simple, because they have not yet been corrupted by people outside, but that may change soon with the promotion of tourism.
The entrance to Spiti. 
That's me pulling outs weeds on the farm. 

Spiti has many monasteries, their bright, lively colours contrasting with the browns and greys of the arid landscape. 

The highest inhabited village, Komic, as seen from the Komic monastery.
Ruhil Dhar and Kharapthar: I wanted to volunteer for apple harvesting last year so I visited a friend’s apple orchard in Himachal Pradesh, which his family has been managing for many generations. Both are remote villages, so you may not have heard of it. The work was hard for a city girl like me, but I managed to put in 5 hours of work everyday. The workers taught me how to climb trees, balance myself on slender branches, pluck the apples, without destroying the buds, collect them in the bag hung on my shoulder/neck and pass it down to the person standing below, successfully, without falling down. I enjoyed every bit of it. That together with the scrumptious, lesserknown traditional Himachali dishes like siddu, mash ke vade, etc made by my friend’s loving grandmother and served with liberal amounts of ghee, had me return with lovely memories.
The beautiful surroundings at Kharapathar.

Walking through the clouds and fog. 

A fully laden apple tree.

Variety of Himchali/Pahari delicacies. 
There are so many more villages to visit in so many other states in India, I've barely scratched the surface. Hope to visit many more soon. My aim is to visit at least one village in each state :-)

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may subscribe to new posts updates via email. Enter your email id in the 'Follow by email' on the right hand side panel. 

Also follow my posts on Facebook.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...