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

Monday, 24 October 2016

Places to Visit in Delhi: Qutub Minar, Alai Minar and the Iron Pillar

I have been to the magnificent Qutub Minar a few times. Recently I visited Qutub Minar with a Dutch friend and a German. Actually the area is not only about the Qutub Minar but there are several monuments within the same complex like the Alai Minar, the Iron Pillar, tombs of Imam Zamin and Alauddin Khalji, a mosque (Quwwatul-Islam Masjid) and a Madrassa (School/College). Therefore one must keep at least a couple of hours for sightseeing.

Qutub Minar and Alai Minar (on the left)

When we reached the ticket counter my friends got an unpleasant surprise that my entry ticket cost only Rs 30, but for the foreigners it is Rs 500 per person, 17 times over! Nowhere else in the world is there such a discrimination.

Qutub Minar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The structures have been restored painstakingly. It is commendable that the impression of fragments and ruins is maintained. The complex has well manicured gardens and paths. There are ramps also at a few places for the physically challenged persons. The location also provides a popular backdrop for Bollywood songs, particularly when the film is based in Delhi.

Calligraphy on the Qutub Minar

The Qutub Minar, at 73 meters, is the tallest brick minaret in the World and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made of red sandstone and marble it has beautiful calligraphy on it.  As the name suggest the construction of this Minaret was started by the ruler Qutubddin Aibak in 1200 AD.

My happy friends under the arch of Quwwatul-Islam mosque & the Qutub Minar 

I remember climbing up its stairs as a kid but after a stampede in 1981 the public is not allowed to climb up the Qutub Minar.

The tomb of Imam Zamin, the Alai Darwaza and the Qutub Minar

The above photo has the Tomb of Imam Zamin in the foreground then the Alai Darwaza or the southern gateway to the Quwwatul-Islam Masjid. It has intricate carvings in red sandstone and marble. And also in the same frame is the Qutub Minar!

The Iron Pillar and the beautifully calligraphed arcged of the Quwwatul-Islam mosque

The seven meter tall Iron Pillar, a victory pillar, predates the Qutub Minar. It was erected first in Udyagiri during the Gupta period (402 AD) and established at its current location in 1233 AD. What is interesting is the non-corrosive property of the pillar that has withstood the vagaries of the Delhi weather over such a long time. I do remember people used to hug the pillar backwards for good luck earlier but now there is a small enclosure surrounding the pillar and one cannot touch the pillar anymore. The pillar has inscriptions written in Brahmi script of the Gupta period. Behind the Iron Pillar are the huge, beautifully cared arches of the Quwwatul-Islam Masjid.

The carved pillars of the  Quwwatul-Islam mosque

Quwwatul-Islam Masjid or mosque is the earliest mosque in India that is still surviving. It was constructed between 1193 and 1197 AD. The mosque was built by Qutbuddin Aibak and later enlarged by Shamsuddin Iltutmish and Alauddin Khalji. It has massive stone screen and arches. The screen is carved with inscriptions. The pillars have carvings that have human and animal figurines. This is definitely non-Islamic and it is believed that these pillars were brought from temples from elsewhere.

The Madrassa and the tomb of Alauddin Khalji

The Madrassa and the tomb of Alauddin Khalji (AD 1296-1316) have thick walls. This part of the complex is damaged to some extent as none of its buildings had a roof on it and some of the walls have also broken down.

The Alai Minar

Inspired by the grandness of Qutab Minar, Alauddin Khalji planned another minaret which would have been twice as tall as Qutub Minar called the Alai Minar. However only one storey was built and after his death the plan was shelved. Its diameter is the proof of it!

My friends were happy visiting the monuments but the humidity and heat of Delhi probably took its toll (it was Monsoon period) and it would have been nice if there was a cafeteria inside the complex to recharge our batteries. It is unfortunate that despite the expensive entry ticket, there is no place for the tourists to even enjoy a cold drink.

In the first photo of this post I was able to capture both the Qutub Minar and the Alai Minar in a single frame. The photo was taken a couple of km away from the complex.

The Qutub Minar complex is located in Mehrauli in South Delhi and can be reached by bus, auto, taxi and the metro. The Delhi metro has a station named Qutub Minar which is the nearest from this complex.

Also read:
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
Places to Visit in Delhi: Humayun Tomb

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Baru Sahib in Sirmaur, Himachal

Gurudwara Baru Sahib, Sirmaur

On the Solan to Nahan road hidden deep in the Sirmaur valley of Himachal Pradesh lies Baru Sahib. I had heard of it when I had gone to Rajgarh in 2008 but due to time constraint could not go that time. But this time I decided to go and see the place. I had not done any research on it before going and the place was a complete surprise for me.

River Giri close to Baru Sahib

From Rajgarh Baru Sahib is about 30 km and first it is all downhill till you reach the river Giri (a tributary of river Yamuna) and then uphill for a few km.

Baru Sahib, Sirmaur

I thought by the name that Baru Sahib will have a Gurudwara and maybe a township or village but when I reached there I saw that besides the Gurudwara there was no village or town but almost an exclusive educational township managed by the Kalgidhar Trust under which there is an Akal Academy, an IB School and a private University. Basically it is a venture of NRI Sikhs, mainly from Canada. The Trust runs Eternal University here and the Akal University in Damdama Sahib in Punjab. Most students seem to be from Himachal or Punjab. Some NRI students are also present. The main focus of the studies in Baru Sahib is theology but there are the usual professional courses as well. The undergraduate programmes specially are only for the women. There are several hostel blocks and all seemed full. The place had its own vibrancy.

Baru Sahib Gurudwara & the education township

The place is also called land of meditation or Tapobhumi. Baru Sahib valley is also known as 'Valley of Divine Peace' (and probably that is why the name of the University as Eternal). Baru Sahib was ‘discovered’ by Sant Teja Singh, a disciple of Sant Attar Singh, with the help of Bhai Iqbal Singh in 1956. It is said that Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, had also visited the holy site of Baru Sahib.

Darbar Sahib of Baru Sahib is huge

When I entered the Gurudwara I was amazed to see the size of the hall. It is the biggest that I have seen till now but otherwise very simple and not gaudy. The work on the outside is yet to be finished.

Girls singing hymns at Baru Sahib
Another big change was that there were girls who were doing the recitation from the Guru Granth Sahib. In another room I saw several girls taking lessons in the recitation of the sacred texts. There is a huge music drum (nagara) to accompany the prayers. There is a non-stop Langar in the basement which I also partook. The Darbar Sahib building is 6-7 storey high and has various rooms for various activities of the Gurudwara. The place has made special efforts to tap the solar energy and I could see several solar panels on the hills nearby.

Nagara (drum) used during prayers

The way from Rajgarh to Baru Sahin and back was laden with wild flowers and there were plenty of birds to see.

Wild flowers on way to Baru Sahib, Sirmaur

Also read:
Hidden Himachal: Rajgarh
Rajgarh: Pretty as a Peach?
Around Rajgarh in Himachal Pradesh
Wild Flowers of Rajgarh
Wildlife in Rajgarh

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Hidden Himachal: Rajgarh

There are so many places in Himachal that the mainstream tourists do not visit or are not aware of.

Sheeps & Goats grazing in the fog covered forests near Rajgarh

One such place is Rajgarh, a small town located at an altitude of 1555 metres in the Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The town in itself has nothing to boast about but it is the surrounding areas that are bountiful in their nature and beauty. 

A fruit laden tree near Rajgarh in Sirmaur

Economically the area grows lots of peaches and in fact is also sometimes called the Peach country. 

Resin being extracted from the pine trees

There are wood and wood products like the resin and turpentine oil extracted from the pine trees. See the cone shaped receptacles attached to the trees in the above picture. Cuts are made on the bark of the tree and the resin that flows from it is collected in these receptacles.

A farmer carrying a tomatoes laden basket from the field

Also some commercial vegetables are grown in plenty like the tomatoes. 

A misty path near Bhuira village beckons you to its secrets

One can make Rajgarh a base for some beautiful treks including the Churdhar Wildlife Sanctuary. If you are with family and do not have the skills or options for a longer trek then you can do small day treks for which the area has plenty of options like going to the Bhuira area (Yes the famous Himachal jam maker Bhuira is from this region) or the Bhat-ka-Saina with beautiful meadows all around. 

A fairy tale picture? This is Rajgarh in Sirmaur

As the altitude is such that the pines are in plenty but the deodars have also started (though not big ones) the effect in the mist is beautiful.

A beautiful meadow near Rajgarh, Sirmaur

I went to Rajgarh close to Monsoon, 1st July. It was drizzling mildly and thus it was perfect weather. The other advantage was that we got Off-Season discount in the HPTDC hotel. 

A plant with multi-coloured stem

One could see all kinds of vegetation growing in the wild like the multi-coloured stem of this plant trying to camouflage itself in the surrounding area. The area was full of wild flowers. 

Wild Blue Berries near Rajgarh

I also saw several berries including the blue and black berries. Sometimes I felt as if I was walking in the clouds and at other times as if I was walking above the clouds. 

Wild flowering plant with water droplets 

The fog and the mist added to the surreal beauty of the place. The water droplets on the leaves after the rains were shimmering like diamonds. 

A fairy tale house?

However, in terms of food joints Rajgarh is not the right place. There are few eateries in town. The town has practically nothing interesting to offer. The Tourist Inn run by Himachal Tourism is located at a height. It has decent rooms with view of the nearby hills. It serves decent food. On the positive side, its rates are much less than the more popular tourist destinations in Himachal.

How to reach Rajgarh: Rajgarh is about 340 kms from Delhi, 100 kms from Chandigarh and 39 kms from Solan. One has to leave the Chandigarh - Shimla national highway 22 at Solan and take a State Highway road for Rajgarh via Ochhghat and Giripul.

Also read:
Rajgarh: Pretty as a Peach?
Around Rajgarh in Himachal Pradesh
Wild Flowers of Rajgarh
Wildlife in Rajgarh