Friday, May 17, 2013

Taboo Destinations @ Hometown Holidays

I have been going to Hubli in Karnataka for 37 years without fail. It is where the rest of my family is settled. In a way you can say that I 'belong to' Hubli. It is also the gateway to one of the most visited UNESCO Heritage sites of India - The ruins of Hampi.

It takes precisely 3 hours for us to drive down from Hubli to Hospet (where Hampi is). But we never did even once in 36 years.

The reason?
We are the natives!

There is something about spending holidays at hometowns.
You are invariably under house arrest every time you visit !
Year after year.
Every year.

Because people are supposed to matter more to you than the places, we end up in a routine - we visit, we remain holed up inside the house with the relatives and finally go back to our work land never once exploring our native place.

On way to Bailakuppe
Last year I decided that just because I belonged to Karnataka didn't mean that I was never going to be able to see it. So I took an extended holiday. Asked my father, brother and sister-in-law to take some time off too. And we did a road trip. From Hubli in Northern Karnataka to Coorg in Southern Karnataka, covering almost everything that came on the way.

It was an effort. To explain to others why we needed to do this. Why we wanted to take 9 days off, away from the rest of the family so that we could see our own state. The sheer lacework
in stone at Belur & Halebeedu sites is something I wasn't even aware of till then. Changing faces of the villages was a revelation too. The Shiggaon rock garden, rice bowl of Gangavati plains, Bhadravati steel plant, Dubare elephant camp, Mysore palace, Madhikeri (Coorg), Talcauvery (origin of Cauvery river), Bailakuppe monastery, Tungabhadra river Chakratirtha (where King Krishnadev Raya used to throw prisoners into the whirlpool as their capital punishment), Pampa sarover (Kishikindha of Ramayana fame), rock cut 6th & 7th CE Badami caves, ruins of the 14th CE Vijayanagara empire at Hampi, Pattadkal & Aihole - we were on a roll!!!

To see what you have been reading in books all these years gives you a great sense of fulfillment. A sense of history, geography and an idea of your own being about where you come from. I also felt that if you are searching for environs that simulate your childhood, just visit a neighbouring area. It is a trickle down effect. Today's next-door town is just like the city of your younger days.

I understand it isn't always easy. Especially as our country is not fully equipped to be a disabled/child/elderly/pet friendly travel destination yet.

There are many who will also tell you not to 'treat your hometown like a tourist spot' but trust me you need to get out there and explore. It is our own native land that most often gets left behind in our 'log in' race and globe-trotting jaunts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Queen of the ruins @ Lothal, Gujarat

Queen of the ruins, my family calls me. There is something which attracts me a lot to the lost times. May it be the eerie Scottish castles or colonial remains of Ross Island in the Andamans. They all seem to tell a story. Each stone a different one. The way they saw it. From their angle, their perspective.

Lothal remains
Following one such urge I went to Lothal last August. Monsoon isn't the best time to visit this archaeological milestone but my mantra has been 'better off-season than never'. The road leading to the site isn't great. You will take about 1.5 hours to reach here from Ahmedabad. Remnants of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (2400 BCE) are seen here.

I like the fact that they have not barricaded the area. You can walk through the lanes and get a feel of place. But unfortunately you will see a lot of chattering tourists walking on the precious bricks despite polite and persistent pleas by the guards. There is a lack of stern administration and clean facilities but that shouldn't stop you from going to Lothal.

Here are the highlights-

Local Guide Hirabhai (+91 99787 82127) is moderately knowledgeable but eager to help and find out details for you. You can book rooms here to stay as well

Mr S S Parekh, Asst. Superintending Archaeologist, shuttles between excavated sites of Lothal & Dholaveera. Ask for him. An extremely knowledgeable and pleasant man who is happy to share information with interested tourists.

Please read introductory write ups for objects before looking at them in the museum. Photography is allowed only for the exteriors, not inside the museum. Videography is not allowed at all.


1. They have a trapezoidal tidal dockyard. The earliest (2400 BCE) and the only of its kind in the world. The dock walls are made of kiln-fired bricks (as opposed to sun baked mud bricks used for housing foundations). Do make time to take a closer look at them.

2. The structural remains are devoid of high walls for 2 reasons. 1st is that the superstructures were made of unbaked brick which eroded in floods of 1900 BCE and 2nd because of brick-robbery. 3. Look out for lanes, drainage, nullahs, sewer margins, double sloped floors, hair-breadth masonry joint (which made the construction water tight) and the Acropolis. This is what the Harappa & Mohanjodaro civilization was famous for pioneering.

4. Look at the wells from top. You will see the use of radial bricks. 3 inches wide in front and 4 inches wide at the end. Interesting details.

5. Lower town, bead factory, copper-smith's workshop and cemetery are uniform and have evidence that the rules were rigid for re-building and workers quarters as all seem identical.

Interiors -

6. There is a small museum close by. It is not in a very good state as there was water seeping in from everywhere but it houses some archaeological marvels. One of them being the twin-burial skeletons entwined together (it is a fiber glass replica. Originals are in Delhi archives).

7. Actual tools, weapons, ritual objects, calligraphy seals, ivory, terracotta, pottery, ornaments are showcased. The micro cylindrical beads of steatite are kept under a magnifying glass for you to see how fine they were.

8. A 5 stranded necklace of gold microbeads (less than .25 mm in diameter) and a circular gold beaded necklace (you can see the photographs only, originals are in Delhi archives) are worth a read and look.But you are lucky. You can see photographs of both of them in this post. I visited ASI's 150th anniversary exhibition in New Delhi this year where they had dug these pieces out of their archives for public display.

9. The stone weights & measures displayed are world renowned for their homogeneity and consistency. The lowest being 50mg (Dhanya, weight of a Cumin seed), 100 mg (Gunja, weight of a Ratti/rosary pea seed).

10. The museum has a publication counter. It is very good. You can buy brochures and booklets by ASI (which are always detailed and authentic) for Lothal and other sites in India from here. I bought a lot of them. Was quite surprised to see that they were not available at very famous ASI sites like Hampi and Halebeedu but were available at a remote site like Lothal.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Marathi cuisine @ home

"Aai, mala bhook laagli aahe (mom, I am hungry)", I would scream when I entered the house after a herculean day at school. The table would be set before I could throw my school bag on the sofa or toss those pointed shoes under it. Mother saw it all but never said anything until my meal was over. 'A hungry child is not to be scolded' was her policy. I took the food she prepared for granted. She had learnt to prepare marathi cuisine after her marriage and she was good at it. Dad loved it. It reminded him of his childhood. I hated it. it was ruining my childhood. I wanted noodles, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers.

One day she was gone. So was the marathi food from our lives.

Next time I went home, aamti had been replaced by katti saaru and masale bhat had lost out to bisibele anna. Uppitu substituted for kanda poha and paayasa had knocked down shrikhand/basundi. It saddened me and my father but there was nothing we could do about it. It was the sign of times to come.

Marathi Cuisine at its best
Some time back we bid farewell to some friends. The menu was Marathi.
It brought back beautiful memories of a plateful of lost time. The last I had this food in a silver thali was at my wedding :)

Times have changed. Yes there is a glass of sparkly wine next to the traditional platter but it still brings alive the charm of an era long gone by.

Seen in the above photograph are -

Kothmir vada - Coriander cutlet
Masala Bhaat - Spiced Rice
Suka Batata - Dry Potato vegetable
Bharli Vangi - Spice filled aubergine
Puri - Puffed bread
Puranpoli - Sweet flatbread made of jaggery and gram lentils
Kadhi - Gravy of chikpea flour and curd
Amti - Lentil sweet and sour curry
Koshimbhir - Mixed salad

Bagh Prints @ Madhya Pradesh

Hand block prints originally on cotton, now available in tussar, crepe and silk too. Vegetable dyes from Indigo, turmeric roots, pomegranate skin, lac, iron, tamarind seed powder, glue give it the characteristic rust/red/black/cream coloured look.

It takes three weeks to complete making a Bagh print saree after it has been printed. It is the time taken for washing away excess colour, boiling, regulated bhatti (oven) treatment for proper colours to emerge.

For history lovers - This painstakingly manual process involved in making this saree originated in the tribal town of Bagh, dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. Water used from the nearby Bagh river (a tributary of Narmada) plays a vital role owing to its mineral composition.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hola Mohalla @ Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, India

Hola Mohalla is a Sikh sporting event held every year in a public arena near Holagarh Fort close to a small river named Charan Ganga in the holy city of Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, India.

Warrior Nihangs celebrate it a day after the Holi festival to demonstrate ancient sports and martial art skills in simulated battles and competitions.

The image of the Gatka-Chakar (circular device for deflecting weapons) you see here is something that I had seen in a Hindi movie in 2006. I was fascinated but had no clue what it was. This year I saw another image of it and followed the deep trails and trenches of internet hyperlinks to figure our that they were a part of a bigger festival. In a matter of three days tickets were booked, arrangements were made and I landed up in Punjab last week to see Hola Mohalla 2013. It is also popularly called the 'Sikh Olympics'.

Gatka Chakar - Hola Mohalla 2013

This was not the first time I was visiting a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). I have always been amazed by its cleanliness, crowd control and lack of any beggars around. A prayer is called an 'ardaas' in Punjabi. I had gone to pray for a friend. I am not a firm believer of rituals but I do believe in the power of faith in the beyond. There is something beautiful about placing unconditional trust in something. It calms one down.

'Nihangs' are warrior Sikhs who carry forward the legacy of ancient warfare and are martial arts experts of  combat techniques of the bygone era. In today's world it is purely ceremonial and is exhibited only during festivals or special occasional. Activities related to their military and wartime prowess is called Gatka Art. It includes horsemanship, sword/stick fights, use of quoits/daggers/aquatics/archery etc. 

Anywhere in the world, combat sports come with a baggage of aggressiveness. But here, I found them to be serene, focused and determined. Most of them wore blues, whites, blacks and orange.

The street procession is called nagar-kirtan where they display their mastery and head towards the stadium where formal competition takes place.

I did not see many corporate banners or FMCG stalls in the area. I come from an advertising background but it always makes me very happy to see the lack of their presence as well. Untouched by commercialism is an aspect which you find far and few. This is one such place. Raw, rustic, unadulterated and pure in its form and talent. Both men and women.


You can stay there in Gurdwara rooms by the SGPC or hotels. Another alternative is to stay in Nangal of the Bhakra-Nangal Dam fame which is nearby. Silly me, I realised now, after decades, that Bhakra and Nangal are two separate dams, not a single one.You should keep at least three days if you want to see famous places nearby. One full day for Hola. One for visiting Anandpur & Kiratpur Sahib Gurdwara (preferably the day after Hola). One for the Brahma Temple,Naina Devi & Bhakra. The Bhakra Dam is a must see. It is one of the highest gravity dams in the world. The pride of India - Its work started in 1948 and was completed in 1963. Within budget and within time! The Satluj Sadan on bank of Govindsagar reservoir at Nangal is where the Panchsheel treaty of peaceful co-existence was discussed by the then Indian prime minister Pt. Jawahar lal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart H. E. Chou-En- Lai on April 28th 1954.

Satluj Sadan by Govindsagar Lake - Nangal, Punjab

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fabrics of India @ Calico Textile Museum Ahmedabad

Calico Museum, Ahmedabad
Founded in 1949 by the industrialist Gautam Sarabhai and his sister Gira Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, this one of my favourite Museums in India. It is in a dark quiet haveli (private mansion) with a cowdung+straw+clay flooring but don't let that dampen your spirits. The objects have been preserved painstakingly by the Sarabhais. Even though they have bronzes and other other works of art, I will concentrate here on textiles which make it unique.

Unlike many museums where you can simply walk in the moment you arrive, one needs prior appointment here as entry is restricted to just a few visitors per day. This this done to control the relative humidity inside the museum to preserve the condition of artifacts (mainly the antique textiles).

You can call them in advance on +91 079 22865995 or +91 9979738650 and book your place for the day you want to visit it. It is free of cost. You can also contact them on-
late 19th century Silk brocade & gold zari
Farshi Pyjama (Gharara/Sharara)


The viewing is divided into two guided tours. One from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. They take in only 20 visitors per day for this tour. You have to be at the gate by 10:15 am to enter (do not take this lightly as Gujarat is very punctual). It covers -

-Textiles and costumes of India (17th century onward).

-Textiles used in trade with foreigners (15th century onward).

-Regional embroideries, weaving, dyeing and block printing techniques.

The second tour is from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Be there by 2:45 pm. If not, your place might be given to last minute visitors as only 16 visitors are allowed in. This one covers the paintings, bronzes, manuscripts, woodwork, ceremonial artifacts, ritual arts etc.

You cannot take a camera inside. It is advisable to carry a small diary and a pen to scribble anything that you really like and would want your friends to definitely see when they visit. For example the article no.109 is something I have not been able to forget. It is a saree from Odisha in Gold & red silk which has 'Barakhadi' (the Oriya vowels) woven on its drape. Exquisite work.

Rumaal from Uttar Pradesh
Another one of my favourites is a small rumaal (handkerchief) with pulled thread work (jaali), chain stitch (janjira), shadow stitch (bakhiya), murri, buttonhole stitch, detached eyelets (hool) and satin stitch. This has been explained very well in a set of 4 brochures which is a working guide and has photographs/techniques of all the Indian embroideries you see in the museum. Approx. Rs. 500/- per brochure.

The souvenir shop has some other offerings too. Textile prints and books were my favourite. 'The journal of India Textiles' is a complete set of 7 journals with a monograph about printing on cotton in Ahmedabad. Approx. Rs. 2000/-

A coffee table book of 'Indian Costumes' from 18th to mid 20th century is quite detailed. It also has a section in the end with technical explanatory notes and complete pattern cuts to show how to replicate these designs with tailoring today. Approx. Rs 4500/-

You can see the markings and templates of an Angrakha style garment here. Something similar to what is on the cover of the book

I pride myself at being able to differentiate machine embroidery and hand embroidery but this museum crushed my pride to bare threads. They were so fine that if they weren't so old, I would have brushed them aside as machine work. Our ancestors were very hardworking, I can see that.

We had Kamalini Ben (Ben is Gujarati for sister) as our guide. She was very good and knowledgeable. You need to ask questions to know more. Children below 10 years of age are not allowed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Holi write up in Cox & Kings Travelscapes

Click on this link to read the write up - Holi across India By Vandana Natu

Holi Hai!!!!

Holi with friends

Every day is Holi & Diwali with him around :)