Thursday 25 June 2015

Places to visit in Delhi: The Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb

Most people have heard of the famous Humayun Tomb in Delhi but few know that within the Nizamuddin area there lies the Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb.

The Isa Khan Garden Tomb, Delhi

Though much smaller in size as compared to the Humayun Tomb it is a beautiful structure which actually predates Humayun Tomb by 20 years. It was built in 1547 AD during the lifetime of Isa Khan himself. Isa Khan was a noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri. It is probably the only surviving octagonal tomb complex. The canopied structure has beautiful glazed tiles and lattice screens (also known as Jaali) . Within this complex there is a red sandstone mosque that adds to its beauty. Like the Humayun Tomb this structure is also being maintained by the Aga Khan Trust and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Isa Khan Tomb in the foreground and the Mosque in the background

The Isa Khan Tomb complex is surrounded by beautiful gardens and high walls. In fact one can walk on these high walls which provide a much better view of the tomb and the mosque. Inside the structure I saw that like Humayun tomb this also contained not only the grave of Isa Khan but also several other graves as well. The lattice screens provide light as well as allow cool breeze inside.

The graves inside the Isa Khan complex - also observe the lattice screens

The inside of the dome has been painted by beautiful art work and also writings in Persian. Likewise the arches of the gates are also beautifully decorated.

The fresco on the inside of the dome of Isa Khan Tomb

The Isa Khan Tomb complex is a quieter and more beautiful place than its world renowned neighbour and is a worth seeing place if you are interested in gardens and Mughal and Lodhi architecture. It is part of the World Heritage Site Complex of Humayun Tomb.

Also read:
Places to Visit in Delhi: Humayun Tomb
Places to visit in Delhi: Ugrasen ki Baoli
The Changing Moods of Hauz Khas Lake

Friday 19 June 2015

Sultanpur has more than just birds

The Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary (also known as the Sultanpur National Park) is just 15 km away from the millennium city of Gurgaon near Delhi. 

The Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary

The Bird Sanctuary is a habitat for local birds as well as migratory birds that come all the way from far off places like Siberia. 

A Purple Heron in flight

But the place should not be associated with birds only. I was surprised to see that several turtles were nesting there (difference between a turtle and tortoise is that turtle live in water and tortoise on land. Also the shell of turtle is shiny black whereas the tortoise may be dull in colour). 

A turtle at the Sultanpur National Park

Initially I could see only something shining so I thought either it is a reflection of the sun against the water or some bird nesting. It was only when I used my camera zoom that I realised that on the hay mounds in the water the shiny objects are turtles. It goes without saying that there were fish also in the water body as I did see one Pond Heron picking up a fish. 

Nesting turtles at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary

Also there are several Nilgai (An Asian Antelope or Blue Bull) in the sanctuary. There was one bunch of more than ten female Nilgai (a female Nigai is brown in colour) who were very playful.

Seems I was an attraction for these Nilgais at Sultanpur!

I was able to see the Nilgai racing past me at very close quarters. 

Two racing Nilgai

The two males (males are bluish in colour and hence the name Nilgai) remained aloof and did not mix with the herd or with each other! What was surprising was that these antelopes were very comfortable in crossing the water body. Till now I had never seen them in water.

A male Nilgai. Also see a peacock in the left corner & a Heron behind the Nilgai

The best time to visit the park is in winters as that is when the migratory birds come in big numbers. Also the park is closed in summers for some time to allow the birds a safe nesting period.

Also read:
This is also Gurgaon: The Sultanpur National Park

Sunday 14 June 2015

Book Review: High Exposure by David Breashears

Those of you less initiated in rock-climbing or mountaineering may have heard of David Breashers for his cinematography as he is the recipient of four Emmy awards including the IMAX movie Everest (An IMAX movie is a 65 mm movie compared to a 35 mm movie that you usually see in a theatre – in other words it is 80 feet in length and 6 storeys high!).

High Exposure by David Breashears

He has also been part of the team making the famous movie Cliffhanger (starring Sylvester Stallone) which has substantial climbing scenes. His cinematography experience was enhanced in the company of the famous mountaineer and cinematographer Kurt Diemberger (of the award winning book The Endless Knot: a gripping narrative of the the 1986 K2 saga) on the Kangshung Face of Everest in 1981.

Like most western climbers, Breashears started rock-climbing first in his country America and then graduated to mountaineering in the Himalayas. He has been an advocate of free climbing (not using artificial tools like pitons and using rope only to save a fall) in rock-climbing though in mountaineering he has mainly used siege-style climbing compared to the alpine-style. He has been to the summit of Everest four times. The book High Exposure takes us through his journey from his troubled childhood (with an abusive father) to maiden first climbs on the rocks in Colorado. Like most famous mountaineers his married life was also not very successful as he spent more time on the rock and mountains then at home.

From the famous mountaineer George Mallory onward the question remains: Why Climb? For Breashears it is not about the high risk of dangers but about pursuit of excellence and self-knowledge. Danger comes when reason is blinded with ambition.

David Breashears IMAX team was there on the fateful May 10, 1996 when several mountaineers perished on the mountain above camp IV due to various factors like overcrowding, inexperience and client-based commercial climbing. Last three chapters of the book take us through that time and space. Now this is the third book after Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Anatoli Boukareev’s The Climb that I have read where the May 10 disaster has been discussed in detail. Jon Krakauer and David Breashears have, I think, wrongly blamed Anatoli Boukareev being too ambitious for climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen. In fact Boukareev was the hero in rescuing several climbers when he himself was extremely tired and so high on the mountain you are not supposed to be hand-holding others for the summit bid. In today’s commercial world even novices are being taken and guaranteed the summit by companies without considering the perils of the mountain.

A must read book for all rock-climbers, mountaineers, adventure lovers and film buffs.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Punting on the River Cherwell, Oxford

I had a unique experience of punting once when a friend of mine in Oxford invited me to do punting on the Cherwell River in Oxford. I had never done this before.

Trying my hand at punting on the Cherwell River, Oxford

A punt is a flat bottomed boat with a square bow and punting is boating in a punt by use of a long pole to push against the river bed to push the boat. 

Now Cherwell is an ideal river for punting, rowing and canoeing as the water current is slow and there are no power boats. River Cherwell is a tributary of Thames and meets Thames at Oxford.

Getting stuck due to inexperience!

It may seem easy to punt but in reality it is very difficult to steer and keep it in the right direction if you are not experienced and may very well take your punt into very shallow area or the bushes. Also though going downstream is easy but taking the punt upstream needs lot of strength.

Victoria Arms, a pub on the Cherwell is popular halting point

About 30 minutes upstream of the Cherwell boat House is the Victoria Arms, a pub where punters stop by to relax and have a beer or other refreshments. Oxford being a student-centric town punting is a fun activity for the students and I saw several punts in which people were having fun and taking alcoholic beverages.

Punting and having a good time!

The Cherwell Boathouse has over 70 handcrafted punts that were made here itself. Rowing boats and canoes are also an option. One can hire a punt for about 12 to 14 pounds per hour. Each punt can accommodate a maximum of six persons.

The Punts at the Cherwell Boarthouse, Oxford

It was a real good experience of punting in the picturesque locale of Oxford as on both sides of the river you see green stretches and there are ducks floating on the river!

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Hathnikund Barrage in Haryana

Hathnikund Barrage is at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Yamunanagar district of Haryana. It is about 40 km from the Yamunanagar town on the road to Paonta Saheb, a famous Sikh shrine 23 km ahead and Dehradun.

Scenic Hathnikund Barrage with the Hiamalaya foothills in the background 

The road is very good except the last part where you have to leave the National Highway and take the Major District Road (MDR). In fact it is hardly a road and it is not even a levelled kutcha (non-metalled) road.

Poor road conditions leading to & fro from Hathnikund

The Barrage works as a boundary between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP). The MDR on the Haryana side is just 500 meters or so but if someone wants to come from the Uttar Pradesh after leaving the Yamunotri Highway then one has to cover about 12 kms of rough roads.

The Hathnikund Barrage

Neither Haryana nor Uttar Pradesh have made any efforts to develop the site as a tourist attraction despite its tremendous potential. There are no shops catering to the tourists. I could see only couple of sugarcane juice vendors. While talking to a local I was told that the hills have provided everything to the powers that be as well as the general population sitting in Delhi like water, electricity, wood (a major wood industry thrives in Yamunanagar) etc but the area providing everything remains poor and neglected.

Yamuna is just a trickle after the Hanthikund Barrage as water is channeled into the two canals

The Hathnikund Barrage has been built on the river Yamuna and from here the water is diverted into the Eastern and Western Yamuna canals. After the barrage the free flowing water of the Yamuna is just a trickle. The barrage forms a wetland which attracts migratory birds in the winters and some rafting activities from Paonta Saheb till here.

One of the canals after the Hathnikund Narrage

On the Uttar Pradesh side the road that I covered I saw several mango orchards but the economic condition of the villagers is still not good.

At a mango orchard producing the famous Dassahri

The Hathnikund Barrage was completed in 1999 and got operational in 2002 replacing the Tajewala Barrage three km downstream which was built in 1873.

This is a clarion call to the state governments’ of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to encourage tourism here by providing basic infrastructure.