Saturday, 8 December 2018

Things to do in Mcleodganj: The Kora Circuit

I have been visiting Mcleodganj since the year 1987 but somehow had been unaware of one important facet of the Buddhist tradition – the Kora. Kora is a form of pilgrimage wherein you circumambulate a holy site (Parikrama in the Hindu tradition). In Mcleodganj Buddhist, young and old, take the Kora circuit around the hill that has the residence of Dalai Lama and the monastery and therefore considered holy. Surprisingly it is little known.

The Kora in Mcleodganj

This tradition on circumambulation is common in both Buddhism and Bon. However, in Buddhism the walk in a circle is clockwise whereas in Bon it is counter clockwise. Two famous Kora are the Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.

Huge prayer flags on the Kora route, Mcleodganj

The route in Mcleodganj is well paved and away from the town’s honking traffic amidst pine and deodar forest. The route has stringed prayer flags small and large. Buddhists believe that the fluttering of the flags carries the prayers written on them onwards.

The Kora route has benches placed all along for people to take rest

If one gets tired then one can sit down on one of the benches lined up along the route. The older people do sit down to take rest and chant prayers.

Prayer wheels of all sizes on the Kora route in Mcleodganj

The path is lined with prayer wheels in different sizes. Some are made of metal; others are of wood. Some are very small and look antique as if they have been brought from Tibet while there are others that maybe be 8-10 feet in height. The prayer wheels are always on the right side of the devotee.

A Tibetan lady at the prayer wheels on the Kora in Mcleodganj

On the Kora route there are stones carved with the Buddhist prayer Om Mani Padme Hum. The stones are in various sizes and some of them are brightly painted.

Artistically carved stones with Om Mani Padme Hum written on them on the Kora in Mcleodganj

Apart from the serenity and the beauty of the path, the dense forest is a paradise for the birdwatchers. I saw several birds and one could spend several hours just observing them.

Kora route in Mcleodganj is a Birdwatchers paradise 

Langurs come down the mountains in winters and one comes across them in this area. Unlike monkeys they do not trouble people. They are busy with themselves.

Langurs preening each other on the Kora route in Mcleodganj

I liked the Kora circuit so much that I performed the Kora twice in three days. I thank my Tibetan friend who introduced the Kora to me and took me around explaining things on the first visit.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels on the Kora in Mcleodganj 

This route is, fortunately, little known to most tourists and therefore not crowded.  There is something special about it.

Wind carrying the prayers written on the flags

The cleanliness is impressive. Jute bags function as dustbins.

The serene Kora route in Mcleodganj

All in all the best part of McLeodganj, for the devout as well as the curious tourist.

Also read:
Bon Monastery in Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness

Monday, 30 April 2018

My Experience of Digital India: A Case of UCO Bank

UCO Bank is one of the Nationalised Banks of India

I worked at a location near Chandigarh for about a year and my organization’s salary account was with the local UCO branch. After a year, I moved to NCR Delhi. At that time, I did not close my UCO account, as the final salary was yet to come in my UCO Bank account. Once all my financial transactions were complete, I decided to close my UCO Bank account, as there is no point in maintaining several bank accounts. In addition, one has to mention all bank accounts (irrespective of whether it is operational or not) when you are filing tax returns.

Since all banks are nowadays connected with each other digitally, I went to a local branch of the UCO Bank in Gurgaon. I went there sharp at 10 AM which is the timing of their customer dealing but had to wait for at least half an hour for the ladies and gentlemen of the bank to start dealing with customers. Then I was in for a shock when they told me that I cannot close my account like this and I will have to physically go to the branch where I have the account to get it closed. This despite the fact that I was carrying all documents to prove my identity as well as Original Pass Book, unused chequebook etc.

Well I did not give up. A friend of mine was going back to the place where I had worked and he had his account in the same bank branch. Therefore, I gave him an application for the Bank Manager along with the Pass Book and the unused chequebook so that my account can be closed. He called me from the bank and said that the bank is not accepting the documents. I called the Manager from my registered mobile number with the bank asking them why my account cannot be closed despite presenting all documents and that the person carrying the documents also is an account holder with the bank. The manager told me that I have to be physically present to close the account. They expect me to “physically” make a round trip to 700 km spending two days and five thousand rupee only in order to close an account.

I did what any sensible person would do. I withdrew whatever little money I had in the account by making some purchases. Now the UCO bank can do whatever they want to do with the account with Rs 4 that is now left in the account!

Digital India with rules from colonial times!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Places to visit in Manali: Jogini Waterfalls

At the Jogini Waterfalls

During my last trip to Manali I stayed at Vashisht which is about 3 km from Manali. It is less crowded and has better views of the mountains. But it was only when I had gone to Old Manali that I noticed from far off there is a big waterfall above Vashisht.

View of Jogini Waterfalls from Old Manali

So I decided to go trekking there. The trek to the lower base of the Jogini waterfall is an easy one from the Vashisht temple. Beyond the temple you pass through the narrow lanes of the village and then once you come out of the village the walk is very pleasant among the pine woods and small rivulets.

The trek to Jogini falls goes through beautiful Pine forest

There are a few eating joints also on the way till the Jogini shrine. The shrine and the area are considered holy by the locals. To reach the lower waterfalls there is a slight climb after the shrine.

The Jogini shrine near the waterfall
Majority of the locals and tourists come only to the lower Jogini waterfalls as it is easily approachable.

The lower Jogini Waterfall
At the lower Jogini waterfall I met a gentleman who runs a hotel in Manali who discouraged me to go the upper Jogini waterfall stating that it will take me at least 45 minutes of hard climb to reach the top as I am a city dweller. Fortunately I did not heed to his advice and went up the path.

The lower Jogini waterfall as seen from above while climbing higher up
The trek from the lower waterfall to the upper comes in the category of a moderate climb. On this stretch there are no kiosks and no water till you reach the waterfall so it is advisable to carry your own water and eatables. While climbing one can see the lower waterfall as well as the scenic view of the valley and the Beas River and the snow clad mountains. There are plenty of wild flowers blooming making your trek more pleasant.

The upper Jogini Waterfall
I reached the upper Jogini waterfall in another twenty minutes and was mesmerized by the view. Unlike the lower Jogini waterfall the upper one falls over an overhanging rock and therefore has a free fall.

Rainbow at the Jogini waterfall
As it was the second half of the day the sun created beautiful rainbows on the falls. The spray from the waterfall also cooled me after the climb. I spent about an hour there soaking in nature at its best and then it was time to head back.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Places to visit in Narnaul: Chor Gumbad

Chor Gumbad, Narnaul

I have been crossing Narnaul over the years and used to notice an old structure from the road but somehow did not see it up close. Now it is no longer visible from the road as residential houses hide the view from the road. This time, despite the fact that I was passing the place very early in the morning, I decided to stop over and see the place.

Chor Gumbad, Narnaul basking at Sunrise

The structure is located on top of a hillock in the sleepy town of Narnaul. It was built by Jamal Khan, an Afghan during the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1351 to 1388 AD) as his tomb. What I heard from the locals though is that right now there is no tomb inside. It is a square shaped building with minarets at each corner. Though the administration has done some repairs to the structure but it has also closed all access to go inside the building by putting a closed perimeter fence with grills. So one can only look at the Chor Gumbad from a distance.

A dawn, Statue of Subhas Chandra Bose and a man doing Yoga

Over the centuries the place got into a state of disrepair and it became a hiding place for the thieves and vagabonds and that is why it probably acquired the name of Chor Gumbad (the dome where the thieves reside).

Chor Gumbad from a distance with the statue of Bose in the foreground

During the current days the local administration has developed a park with walking paths encircling the structure. It seems to be popular among the locals for morning and evening walks as well as a place for doing Yoga etc as I believe there are not too many parks in the city (and at that one which is well maintained and has a beautiful backdrop!). There is also a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose.

A well maintained park is popular among morning walkers at the Chor Gumbad 

Despite being arguably the most important historical building of the town there is just a small signboard. Haryana Tourism department must make proper signage’s to encourage tourists to visit the site.

Another view of the Park at Chor Gumbad, Narnaul

Narnaul, a small town in Haryana, is about 170 km from Delhi on the Delhi-Rewari-Khetri route and can be reached by road in about three and half hours. It is also the district headquarters of Mahendragarh District

Also read:
Dhosi Hills
Rural Tourism

Sunday, 21 May 2017

VFS Global -- a Kafkaesk nightmare

Passport to travel

I belong to the elite club of JNU professors. We think the world of ourselves. We are waiting for a revolution, just as the Jews wait for their Messiah. Once in a while we are forced to venture out of the self-sufficient campus established on the Aravalli hills. Why? Silly. To apply for visa of course. We often get invited by this and that Western university as guest and visiting scholars. I decided to go to the Gurgaon VFS, with my visa application thinking it will be less crowded. “Your appointment is at 9 am. Please come 15 minutes early.” said the online mail. I’ll be free by 9.30, I thought and innocently I planned the rest of my day. Here is where my nightmare with VFS office begins. Till 10 am there is no staff in this dystopia except the Safai Karamchari. Finally one young woman troops in, unapologetic. After going through my check-list, she asks me to wait for the Bio-metric staff. The wait is futile. After having wasted the whole day, I demand that I be transferred to VFS Delhi. An email is sent to Delhi VFS to get rid of me. This place is worse than a Government Office, I crib. It should first introduce biometrics for its own staff. My husband nudges me gently: “Keep quiet. They can spoil your application.” Delhi is Delhi, I tell him undeterred but a little anxious. Next day, the airport metro takes me to the gates of VFS Global. It was the first time I was travelling by airport metro and I was indeed impressed. Then start the problems. My water bottle and the humble biscuits I always carry in my bag are not allowed inside. Security is so tight that you can barely breathe. The gate-keeper would not let me in without an appointment letter. It takes me nearly an hour of argumentation, pleading and grovelling to get in. The words of the doorkeeper in Kafka’s famous parable Before the Law resound in my head: “I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last.” Why do I feel claustrophobic despite air-conditioning? Waiting for my turn, I soak in the surreal surroundings. It is a truly Kafkaesk world. Badly paid employees, all in early twenties, in ill-fitting, low-waist black trousers and velvet shirts, stuttering around like peacocks, enveloped in an aura of authority. Indians have a deep love for uniform. It starts with schools, the malls, the guards, the auto drivers and what not. Nowhere in the world does one see such an intense culture of uniform.

My turn comes fast. The young man at the counter has terrible nails. Must be a hard-core nail biter, I imagine. Well, with a job like this it is inevitable. Cash or card? Card. Access denied. Once, twice, thrice. You have only one card, he asks astonished. What about cash? No, then come again with a fresh appointment. How long will that take? I don’t know. My cup of sorrows is full. They cannot harass me in this manner, I am Prof in JNU my head screams. The echo replies back “darling, you are not at home.” You leave your den and the world pounces on you. All of a sudden the young man looks at his phone and says excitedly “twins”. The neighbour in the next booth congratulates him. Should he not be in the hospital, I ask myself. Probably no leave. He looks at me in the eye, smiles and directs me to an ATM where I could try my luck. Expecting absolutely nothing from machines, humans or the gods, I drag my tired feet to the ATM. Cash tumbles out! I dash back and the rest is history.

I am relieved to be back in the sanctuary called JNU. Recuperating from the ordeal, I try to find something positive in the experience. Maybe the Monaco biscuits will be eaten by some poor, hungry children. I wonder, how will the embassy treat my application? Am I really a Guest Scientist or an intruder? Also I cannot help wondering why we complain about Western arrogance when our own people are so mean to each other?  I sigh, I seek azadi from this absurd world.

Meanwhile I plan my revenge. You are reading it!

Note: This is a Guest Post.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Food Review: Amritsari Kulche at Breakfast Point

Amritsari Kulche with Chole and Tamarind Chutney

Chole-Kulche is a popular fast food in the northern parts of India and is available at every nook and corner is most towns and cities. Most of the Kulchas (flatbread made of maida) though are made of maida (wheat flour without the bran) and lots of oil/ghee is put on it.

However, one joint that I have now visited thrice serves real authentic Amritsari Kulche. Unlike the normal kulcha the Amristsari Kulcha is made of wheat flour and is stuffed. It was just a matter of chance that I discovered the place called Breakfast Point in Prashant Vihar of Rohini in Delhi. I was passing by and noticed the board and since I was hungry I decided to give it a try. The Amristsari Kulcha is served with delicious chole (Chick peas) and tamarind chutney sprinkled with chopped onions. One can order either a single Kulcha (Rs 60) or a full plate having two kulcha (Rs 100).

The food is so yummy that despite the fact that there is hardly a place to sit (only two tables – eight pax - for sitting) but people stand and eat at the standing tables placed outside the shop. Lot many customers also order on phone as it has a free delivery service as well. If you are to go on weekends then be prepared to wait for sometime to be served due to the rush. I even saw few persons being served in their parked cars.

For eating this is the only thing on the menu. If you want something to drink then there is either sweet or the salted lassi (buttermilk). In fact I think such joints which have a fixed small menu are more successful as they served more authentic food then the ones putting several items on their menu but not able to make any one of them properly.

Though the Breakfast Point would get either no points or maximum a single star for their ambiance but for quality and taste they are finger licking good.

Also read:
Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe Wala Restaurant

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Places to visit in Delhi: Safdarjung Tomb

Safdarjung Tomb viewed from the arch of  the entrance gate

The Safdarjung Tomb could be considered as the ‘last flicker of the lamp of Mughal architecture’ in Delhi. Though on a smaller scale, compared to the grandeur of the Humayun’s Tomb, it is still no less beautiful.

The entrance gate of the Safdarjung Tomb

There is an ornamental gate at the entrance. Also there is a three domed mosque on the right side of the entrance though it is not being maintained properly.

The three domed mosque at the Safdarjung Tomb Complex

Safdarjung Tomb was built in 1753-54 by Nawab Shujau’d-Daulah in memory of his father Mirza Muqim Abdul Mansur Khan or Safdarjung who was the Governor of Awadh under Muhammad Shah. 

Tomb of Safdarjung

Red and buff color sandstone has been used for construction of the tomb. Marble has been used for the flooring, inlay work and the dome.

Floral pattern on the domes of the Safdarjung Tomb

The domes have interesting floral patterns. The tomb is encircled with beautiful and well maintained garden which is in the shape of Charbagh or quadrilateral garden.

The gardens, water channels and the pavallions at the Safdarjung Tomb Complex

The gardens are then surrounded by pavallions which were used as resting places. The Southern pavallion is called Badshah Pasand or the King's Choice, Northern one is Moti Mahal or the Pearl Palace and the Western side as Jangli Mahal or the Palace in the Woods.

The Safdarjung Tomb, Delhi

The Safdarjung Tomb is not very crowded compared to the Humayun Tomb so one can really enjoy the place at leisure. Since the ticket is not very exorbitant, I noticed lot of young couples sitting in the gardens who had no romance for the the monument but for each other only! Safdarjung Tomb is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Side view of the Safdarjung Tomb

I wonder why the ASI or other relevant authorities do not have some decent tea, coffee and snacks kiosks as people come from far off and would like to rest and spend some time at the monument. Also I did not see any ramps for the disabled to use wheel chairs.

Situated right next to the Safdarjung Airport (not a functional commercial airport) and very close to the Lodhi Gardens, Safdarjung Tomb is a must see place if one is interested in history and architecture. If you plan to go by the metro then the Jorbagh Metro station is the closest to the monument.

Also read:
Places to Visit in Delhi: Humayun Tomb
Places to Visit in Delhi: Qutub Minar, Alai Minar and the Iron Pillar
Places to visit in Delhi: Mirza Ghalib ki Haveli
Places to visit in Delhi: The Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb
Places to visit in Delhi: Ugrasen ki Baoli