Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Amazing Thailand

This series is based over my reflections upon visiting Thailand.

Shahjahanabad (Const 1648 CE)- The Legacy of Delhi Series (Vol 8)

'Shahjahanabad' is the eighth post in a series of 9 articles on the former capital cities which were built in the historical region of Delhi. Read on to know more..

Hill Fort of Kumbhalgarh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Know more about this incredible World Heritage Site here..

The Immortal Kumbh Mela - Mahakumbha of 2013

Believed to be the largest congregation of mankind in the world, read my series of posts to know how it feels like to be amongst a magnitude of people

Guru Dongmar Lake, one of the highest in the world

Few destinations have the ability to change your life; Sikkim being one of them. Check out the series 'Sikim Soujourn' to find out why ?



Monday, July 29, 2019

International Tiger Day 2019

Paw Print of a Tiger

A Trip to Remember

I have travelled to, and continue to travel (in spits and bursts, I have to admit) across India. I have been to three Tiger Reserves—Corbett, Sariska and Ranthambore. My first trip to Ranthambore though was a memorable one. I went as a part of a media group, on a FAM trip organised by Aircel for their Save Our Tigers campaign.

Learning about Tigers from the Specialists

In this trip, we got to see the good work done by Aircel (through their Save My Tigers campaign). We got to interact with the main forest officer of Ranthambore National Park and with Wildlife Specialist, Dr. Anish Andheria. It is during one such interaction with Dr. Andheria that I asked the question 'What was the tiger holding capacity of India's forests ?'. He thought for a moment and gave an estimate of 6000 tigers.

Tiger Numbers going up a cause for celebration

Yesterday (on International Tiger Day '19), the Prime Minister released the All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018. It stated that the number of Tigers in the country had reached 3000 (2967 to be precise). This leads to a sense of jubilation amongst the people and why not? The number of Tigers had dwindled to less than 1411 until 10 years ago. This was from a high of at least 20,000+ tigers at the turn of the century. So, it's a matter of celebration no doubt.

Sparing a thought for the lost gene pool

That said we cannot forget that, as a result of Tiger numbers going down, a vast gene pool of healthy tigers has been lost. The tigers of today carrying only the genes of the 1411 tigers who survived by 2008 into the future. They would not carry the genes of the more than 20,000+ tigers who were there at the turn of the century.

Forest Chowki inside Ranthambore National Park

The Challenges Ahead

So, coming back to the present, we must make efforts to double the tiger population of the country from 3000 to 6000. For that we need to deal with factors like Poaching (Sariska), construction of Tiger Corridors (so that Tigers can move from one sanctuary to another), Creation of new Tiger Reserves, etc. Work on Tiger conservation has to continue as this is a job, only half done!

Congratulations to the Conservators!
In the end, I would like to congratulate all the agencies and individuals involved in the tiger conservation program. They have worked hard to achieve this milestone! Great Job!

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Safari to Ranthambhore

My visit to Ranthambhore, the second one in total, was chiefly due to fond memories from my first visit and also so that I could visit the fort this time (although it's another matter altogether that I cancelled out the fort at the last moment to book another safari). 

 Sawai Madhopur Railway Station

I went to Zones 5 and 6 for my safaris. I insisted on booking the safaris online and also insisted on going to the Ranthambhore forest booking centre to collect my Canter Boarding Passes myself. Both the activities were quite an adventure by themselves as while the online booking portal offers limited options to pay online, the drivers of canters and gypsies were at their rowdy best (in the Ranthambhore forest booking office), yelling, breaking queue… Nonetheless, I got the boarding passes without much issues and as I mentioned earlier, had memorable safaris!

Vatika Resort, Sawai Madhopur (the resort where I put up)

To know what were my experiences on the safaris and to know whether I came across any presence of the elusive tiger do read my next post!


Friday, October 27, 2017

Tourist Safety and India - A Long Distance Relationship?

On Sunday, October the 22nd, a young Swiss Couple who were visiting Fatehpur Sikri (a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Agra) were brutally attacked by 5-6 boys after they, allegedly, refused to click pictures with them. The Swiss female received fractures and gash wounds while the Swiss male suffered from a fractured skull, hearing loss and a clot in the brain. Reported by the national papers on Thursday, October the 26th, this event impacted the conscience of many citizens of the country.

               Let's try to be Incredible for good reasons!
(Pic Courtesy - Ministry of Tourism)

This incident revealed the pathetic condition of the minds of every Two out of Three Indians involved in the tourism and hospitality industry who look upon tourists (be it foreign or Indian) as means of earning an 'extra' buck or two by either fleecing them, fooling them or by some other unfair means. Such people, neither respect the monuments around which they stand nor do they respect the people who visit them.
Such an attitude displayed by touts, false guides, hooligans etc only serves to spoil the experience of the tourist or traveller who has come down to India to see the monuments or attractions which belong to one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
The notoriety of touts in Agra, for example, has been observed by me (Came across a character who chased me from the door of the train till the time I sat in a shared auto heading to Agra Fort). I have heard worse stories from Fatehpur Sikri, where my friend and Travel Blogger Merwyn was threatened with physical violence when he refused to take the services of a guy masquerading as a guide. Even in this case, it was only when Merwyn dared him to lift a finger did that guy leave him alone.
So, when an Indian can face such a threatening behaviour in his own country what would a foreign backpacker go through is anyone's imagination.
While the police at Fatehpur Sikri have arrested those culprits but it is imperative for them to realise that mass sensitisation programs need to be seriously considered in order to educate people about the value of tourists and how to behave with them. As long as the attitude of people towards the tourists will not change, the country will continue to get bad word of mouth publicity from tourists who visit India.
One should reflect upon this point - What experiences are this couple going to relate to the people and media in Switzerland when they go back?
There was also this other incident (some years ago) of a Swiss Couple (on a cycling tour) being attacked and the female being gang-raped by criminals in feudal-minded Datia (Madhya Pradesh). My point is this, is there any sense in sinking millions of Rupees of taxpayers money in the Incredible India Advertising Campaigns (in the manner in which it is doing currently) while many continue to disrespect tourists with impunity?
A proposal for a Tourism Police has been repeatedly  ignored despite the fact that such an entity is required in a country like India more than anywhere else. In my opinion, the protection of tourists has to be accorded an equally important priority if not the highest priority as compared to the Incredible India campaigns. The sooner the government realises the better it would be for the prestige of the country which keeps taking a hit everytime a tourist is fleeced, robbed or assaulted - physically or sexually.
Another interesting aspect of this entire story was that it was the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj who first took cognizance of this event and not the (usually loud) tourism minister K Alphons.
In the end, it would be better if we pose this question to ourselves, that in 'the manner in which we are treating our guests, would we ourselves like to visit India if we were non-Indians'? In the answer to this question, we would find the answer to another very important question, and that is,

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Road Trip to Sadhaura and Nahan

Some trips are born out of planning, some trips are born out of a desire to see a new place, and some trips are born out of a wish to fulfill promises which had been made. This particular road trip of me and my family was born out of a promise my father made at a humble shrine of a Sufi saint, located at the foothills of the Himalayas, right next to a riverbed on the Himachal Pradesh – Haryana Border. The name of the town was Sadhaura (Haryana) and this humble shrine was located on the outskirts of it. 

Zooming across the tree lined NH 44

We set out in our car post filling our tanks, getting a brand new set of tyres (the trip was a long one, almost 250 kms one way, so it made sense to change our tyres especially seeing the fact that it was close to due date of periodic change of our car tyres), stocking ourselves up with cameras, GPS device and (vis a vis my father) memories of the place he had visited 29 years ago.

Thanks to the servicing our car had got we zoomed across the NH44 and via towns of Panipat, Karnal and Shahbad Markanda we crossed the town of Sadhaura. Now this bit we covered with the help of Google maps. The last bit of the journey was a tricky one because the landscape (as it existed in 1986) had changed drastically, to top it all the mountains which were close by had been shrouded in a cloak of mist by nature so it was really tough to fix the location of the shrine. What made it even tougher was that when we asked the locals for directions they kept on guiding us to local shrines which didn’t fit the description. Eventually father and son (the one for whom he had prayed for in the shrine, which is me), after roaming barefoot on the riverbed (the car after negotiating the sandy riverbed with some difficulty, the tyres of the car came to our aid over here, had been parked at a shrine which looked old) my father had a feeling that we were at the right place.

 The Blessed Dargah, which we finally found..

The remaining doubts which he had in his mind (he recalled that there were mountains visible right behind the shrine, something which we could not ascertain because of the mist in the air) were cleared by the young caretakers in the shrine who informed us that One, the shrine had undertaken some structural modifications since the last time my dad came  (which is why it looked a bit different), Two, this shrine was at least 300 years old and thus the only shrine which stood next to the river bed (at that location) and Three, the mountains ‘were visible’ behind the shrine and that they were shrouded in mist which is why we could not see it then (you could remember that one of the memories which my dad had of the shrine was that it was locate at the foothills of Himalayas).

After these doubts were cleared we proceeded to the shrine with an open heart and offered the beautiful chaddar which my father had obtained from a shop next to the Nizammuddin Dargah in Delhi.

The beautifully decorated inner wall, of the dome under which the Sufi Saint rests..

Once the customary pictures were taken we decided to head off to Nahan, to celebrate the fulfillment of my dad’s promise. Now, our car was a 2 x 4 drive but we were confident to take our city car to Nahan (a town in Himachal Pradesh, at an elevation of 3058 ft above sea level) which was at a distance of 30kms from Sadhaura.

Climbing the winding road upto Nahan

Bare hills beside the road to Nahan, it is hill sides like these which are prone to landslides during the rainy season

The road to Nahan took us through the town of Kala Amb. Post crossing the Himachal Pradesh border we started to negotiate the winding roads leading up to the former capital of the princely state of Sirmour. We drove cautiously whenever we saw a truck approaching and never accelerated beyond 30 kms per hour (and that too on an empty and straight stretch of road, which were few to find to be quite honest). 

 Lytton Memorial

Gurudwara Shri Dashmesh Asthan (Nahan Sahib)

Upon reaching Nahan we had lunch and after exploring the British Era Lytton Memorial, which is quite at the entrance of Nahan, we went to the Gurudwara Shri Dashmesh Asthan (Nahan Sahib) a historical site which was visited by Guru Gobind Singh!

A Panoramic view of the countryside, as seen from Nahan

After spending some time here we headed back. After negotiating the downhill mountain roads with the help of our brakes and tyres we hit the NH 44 and zoomed back to Delhi. The trip to Delhi took us around 5 and a half hour.

As mentioned earlier we were in a Tata Nano but that never made us nervous while driving on the Highways as we simply stuck to the Road Safety rules. While driving on the highways we ensured that we drove on our designated lanes, did not attempt to overtake from the wrong side and always yielded whenever a big truck came up. We used the dipper effectively and that helped. My brother and father took turns at driving as a fatigued driver at the wheel is an invitation to accidents.

I was never able to document this trip for my blog (due to certain events mentioned ahead). This trip was special not only because my dad was able to fulfill his promise which he made to the Sufi Saint in the 80’s but also because 10 days post the trip my dad met a terrible accident which led to a surgery and post operative complications. Today while my dad is hale and hearty but (upon medical advice) he can no longer undertake a 500 kms road trip like this ever again.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Yoga Retreat at Namah Vol. 1 - The Yogic Experience

 On the eve of International Yoga Day (which falls on June 21st) Namah Resorts organised a Yoga Retreat in their property in Jim Corbett National Park. The retreat included Yoga sessions led by Yoga experts from Saptarashmi and performing Yogic Kriya's like Kunjar Kriya, Neti Kriya e.t.c. I was one of the bloggers who was invited for this fitness themed travel trip.

Since almost an year now, I have turned to exercising and weight training in order to stay fit (keeping my health in mind) so I thought this was a nice oppurtunity to try my hand at Yoga, explore the Jim Corbett National Park (in the monsoons) and also explore the Namah Resort. So this travelogue is a part of a series of 3 articles where I would explore these three aspects one by one.

Everyday the retreat would start with us performing the Kunjar (or Vaman) Kriya and the Neti Kriya early morning. Let me explain these kriya's through pictures -

The Jal Neti Kriya is performed by pointing the nozzle of the utensil (used for Neti) and letting the water flow into one nostril and flow out of the other. This helps in clearing the sinuses and is greatly beneficial for people living in a polluted environment and asthmatic's. The two precautions which need to be kept in mind is that the water needs to be lukewarm (not cold) and that you 'have' to breathe through your mouth !

The Kunjal Kriya is performed in two steps. In the first pic here we have to drink as much water (luke warm and mixed with some salt) as possible in a short period of time.

In the second step of Kunjal Kriya you stick your fingers inside your mouth and massage the little tongue located at the base of your tongue so that all the water (which you just drank) rushes out. This kriya helps in clearing out your stomach of all the undigested food present in your stomach (which you had consumed the previous night) and hence prevents indigestion.

After performing these two kriya's early in the morning we would be treated to a Herbal Drink which consisted of honey, ginger, ajwain e.t.c.

The Yoga Gurus from Saptarashmi preparing water for the kriyas !

The retreat conducted by Yoga Instructors from Saptarashmi was a good one and they made us perform all kinds of asana's (pose's) like Pranayam, Matsya (Fish) Asana (Pose), Dhanur (Bow) Asana (Pose), Magar (Crocodile) Asana (Pose) e.t.c. As I was performing these asana's myself I was unable to click pics. So here are two which I could source-

Performing meditation which involves concentrating on one's breathing. (Pic source from FB Page of Namah/Jim Corbett)

 The Nataraja (Lord of Dance) Asana. This asana promotes flexibility in the limbs and core muscles which in turn help in retaining posture/balance. It also strengthens the legs and ankles.

 One of the favourite asanas which I performed was the Dhanur (Bow) asana where we would lie down on our stomach and hold our ankles with our hands. It really helps in promoting flexibility of our back muscles and strengthening our core muscles !

What made performing yoga for us bloggers a wonderful experience was the presence of the Himalayas and the jungles of Jim Corbett looking over us while we exercised !

This video shows the serene and lush green surroundings where we did the kriyas and Yoga (especially on the 3rd day). The chirping of the birds, the presence of the dense forests of Jim Corbett National Park and the Himalayas only add to the grandeur of the location !

 It is my personal opinion that performing yoga at such a serene environment is the next best to performing yoga at the sandy banks of the River Ganges !

(to be continued.....)

Note - Images, unless mentioned, have been clicked by Mr Arvind Passey)

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Himalayas at Jim Corbett National Park

The densely forested Himalayas (pic clicked from Namah Resort, Dhikuli) are an integral part of the Jim Corbett National Park, which surrounds it. It is home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna apart from being home of the tiger ! It is located in the state of Uttarakhand.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Begumpuri Masjid, New Delhi (14th Cent CE)

A close up of the facade in front of the main dome

Located off Sri Aurobindo Marg, in Begumpuri Village; this heavily encroached upon Mosque is a class apart, architecture wise. Constructed on the orders of Jauna Khan Telangani (prime minister of Feroz Shah Tughluq and son of Khan i Jahan Maqbul Telangani) , Begumpuri Masjid (Mosque) of Delhi was one in the series of seven mosques constructed by him with the others being - Jama Masjid (Ferozabad), Khirki Masjid (in Khirki Village, opposite Select Citywalk Mall), Kalu Sarai Masjid, Kalan Masjid (Turkman Gate of Old Delhi), Kalan Masjid (Nizamuddin) and Wakya Masjid (Lahori Gate).

View, upon entering the mosque
The moment you climb up the moderately steep stairs of this mosque, you would find yourselves in a lofty domed gateway which would lead you to the expansive courtyard (surrounded by a 3 aisled corridor whch is interrupted by gateway entrances and the mihrab) where, during its heydays, this ruinous mosque would be full of life and would have grand carpets spread upon its, now stony, floors and great shamiana's (tents) spread overhead so that the faithful could pray at ease.

.The large courtyard, where at one time large tents and carpets would be present to offer the prayers

 Worn out Mihrab on the Qibla (west facing) Wall
If we look at what remains of this architecturally distinct mosque, it is the manner it has been constructed. Jauna Khan Telangani took personal interest in the designing of the seven mosques he had commissioned and tried to incorporate a unique feature in each of them.

 View of the concealed dome
In this mosque the main dome over the Mihrab is screened by a large wall thus giving an initial impression (from a frontal viewpoint) that the dome does not exist. There are narrow (and dark) stairs which can take you to the top of this wall and the giant dome behind it !! The wall also has a slight slant to it , something reminiscent of the Tughluq style of architecture; and has false minars at both its ends, to beautify as well as to strengthen the structure.

Begumpuri Masjid is a 2 aisled mosque

Shot of an aisle
The roof of the aisles, which surround the courtyard have 2 rows of domes which are running parallel to each other. The walls of the mosque have arched gaps at periodic intervals, thus providing a view of the outside.

 Interior of the Main Dome
The Begumpuri Mosque, now over 600 years old, is also a classic example of how neglect, by the concerned authorities, resulted in the mosque being encroached upon by all sides by residential houses and squatters creating permanent residences 'inside' the mosque. It was only after a prolonged legal battle between ASI and those squatters the courts ordered all the squatters to be shunted out, one by one. But, that said even today the mosque can see the presence of anti social elements by seeing broken bottles and litter.

 Another shot of the courtyard, this time facing the entrance
It is recommended to visit the mosque during day time and preferably with someone. If alone take the help of the guard posted at the gate or 'just keep your eyes open'.