India Travel Diary

Indian cuisine, Indian culture and even the Indian language can change every 50 miles you travel. Having been to various places in India (UP, Bihar, MP, Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra, Jharkand, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) and had some incredible experiences, I created this Travel Diary (or rather traveller's diary) so that I could share with you some of those extraordinary sights and sounds I witnessed while travelling in India.

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Baadshahon ke Samrajya Mein

Notes From The National Capital

Monday, 5th February 2007

5:30 A.M: Well first and foremost, sorry for disturbing you so early in the morning. As you can see, I’m getting off the bus. And if you’re wondering why I’ve got this haggard look, its simply because I haven’t slept all night. Let me give you a useful piece of advice folks: unless you’re plain desperate, don’t even think of an overnight journey on these U.P State Transport Undertaking ‘luxury’ buses; the only luxury you have in these buses is the air-conditioning.

The journey was highly forgettable. Unfortunately, worse memories linger longer. The bus stopped at every possible village along the way, at least, so it appeared. Every time it stopped (which was about once every 20 minutes), the lights came on. if that wasn’t bad enough, the leg room was woefully inadequate for a tall person like me. Needless to say, I slept not a wink along the way. And that’s quite apart from the fact that I had no dinner. I’m certainly not feeling weak, but sleepy I sure feel. Missing the odd meal or the odd bit of sleep is one of the unavoidable hazards of travelling and I’m accustomed to it now.

Incidentally, I have to go to a place called Badarpur. I have no idea where that place is. I'm coming to this city for the first time and if I were to make an honest confession, I'm beginning to feel that it was a somewhat dumb idea setting off to a completely unknown city, without the least idea which part of it that place is and how I'm going to get there. Someone told me that Badarpur is very far away and advised me to take a bus from the nearby bus stand. And if you're wondering where that bus stand is, let me tell you that so am I. Its so dark here that I can hardly see across the road. But I think I'm heading in the right direction. Here's a driver! Let me ask. Just a minure please!

A moment later: What the driver told me, is that we are headed in the wrong direction! Well, we have to turn back and cross the road. And another useful piece of information: the bus we need is number 473. So, we're finally on track! And you're perhaps wondering why I didn't call my friend. Well I would have, but not at this hour! You don't want me to be disturbing someone else so early, do you? And talking of the hour, I see that its getting brighter. In fact, I'm able to see the other end of the road clearly.

A few minutes later: Here we are, standing on the platform, awaiting bus no. 473. I find the system here quite similar to that in Bangalore. The platforms, buses docking up on the designated platforms according to their route number... this could easily be Majestic or Shivaji Nagar, with the obvious difference that all the signboards are in Hindi. I guess there exists a similar system in most Indian cities. And in case you're wondering, I lived in Bangalore for close to a year not too long ago. And having commented on the system, let me also tell you that the chaos here would match Bangalore. Almost every second guy here has already asked me if the bus stopping on this platform goes to Badarpur Warder (or is it Border? Not sure!).

6:00 A.M: I’m standing on the platform, awaiting bus no. 473 to start off. And I use the word start off, because the bus is already standing but I see no sign of the driver. Let me narrate what’s been happening over the last fifteen minutes or so that I’ve been here.

I had taken a seat in the bus about ten minutes ago. Let me tell you this, Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses are ghastly, at least, as compared to the BEST buses I’m used to back home. The floor was dirty, the seats are really worn out and overall, I got the impression that these buses are well equipped for riots; they couldn’t get any worse even if they were to be burnt in riots! I was flabbergasted to see a guy smoking in the bus- unheard of back home. And if you're wondering why I've stopped to describe it, you'll understand in a moment.

Now getting back to the story, as we were sitting in the bus, along came another bus. The guy shouted ‘Badarpur Border’ (or was it Worder? I’m still not sure!). Everyone seated took to his heels and took a place in that bus. Strangely, I followed suit- a rare instance where I succumbed to the herd mentality. Having got into the other bus, I instantly decided to change my decision. The reason? That one was even worse than this one. The seats were much narrower, lesser legroom and then that one was much dirtier... can't help wondering if that one's already been riot hit. In any case, the mystery is, how that thing is still running.

The gentleman standing next to me says that the other bus belongs to a private operator. Now, how buses operated by private operators got into a state undertaking bus depot, I haven’t the foggiest. For starters, I still haven’t been able to get over the surprise of a private bus worse than a government undertaking bus. And what surprises me even more is that both buses are still standing right here. My guess is that the private operator is waiting to pack his bus until its bursting at the seams. Anyway, my mind is made up- I’ll go by the DTC bus, even if it means waiting a little longer. Believe me, having seen that bus, this one looks like a luxury bus to me. Never mind that the legroom in this one is also woefully inadequate- though being over six feet, I must confess that I need more of it than the average Indian.

6:30 A.M: Here come driver and conductor. Finally, we’re on the way. And here’s another comic scene to complete the ‘comedy of the bus’ if I may call it that. With the DTC bus about to leave, all the guys who had jumped off this bus to board the other one are now rushing to catch this bus. To be sure, there’s nothing new in all this. If anything, the disorder pretty much symbolises India. With one of the biggest economies in the world and growing bigger, we also have ridiculous things like this happening folks. Anyway, we’re on the way.

7:00 A.M: We’re still on the way and the conductor tells me that we still have a long way to go. To relieve myself of the boredom, I’ll tell you something about this city- and since you know quite a bit about Delhi already, I’ll stick purely to the history of this city.

Delhi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (a description that would fit several Indian cities by the way). Apparently, archeological evidences have established that this city has been in existence since at least the second millennium B.C. It is believed to be the site of Indraprasth, the capital of the empire of the Pandavs of the Mahabharat. In fact, a village called Indraprasth did exist in Delhi until the turn of the 20th century, before it was demolished by the British (we’ll come to that presently).

How the name Delhi came into existence is not known, though one possible origin is from the word Dehli, which is Hindi for threshold, denoting this city as the gateway to the Indo-Gangetic plain. Remember, the Hindi pronunciation of Delhi is Dilli, which could easily be a corruption of Dehli. I have myself seen several people pronounce the name as Dehli.

The earliest identifiable dynasty to have ruled in these parts was the Mauryan dynasty. It is believed that settlements started growing in the parts during the age of the Mauryas, around 300 B.C. This city (or village as it probably was then) was of course, not the capital of the Mauryas, who were based at Patliputra- present day Patna. Apparently, archeological remains of 7 different cities have been found here, which includes:

  1. Qila Rai Pithori (built by Prithviraj Chauhan between 1180-1192

  2. Siri built by Alauddin Khilji around 1303

  3. Tughlaqabad, built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq sometime in the 1320s

  4. Jahanpanah, built by Muhammed Bin Tughlaq sometime between 1325 and 1350

  5. Kotla Firoz Shah, bult by Firoz Shah Tughluq in the second half of the 14th century

  6. Purana Qila, built by Sher Shah Suri in the first half of the 16th century

  7. Shahjahanabad, built by Shah Jahan in the first half of the 17th century, which became the capital of the Mughals and is known today as Purani Dilli (Old Delhi).

Apparently, this place was once dominated by the Tomara dynasty (of Rajputs), who built a city called Lal Kot sometime in the 8th century A.D. Lal Kot then fell to another Rajput dynasty- this time, the Chauhans around 1180 A.D or so. The new rulers renamed Lal Kot as Qila Rai Pithora. The city, now called Qila Rai Pithora fell to the Afghan Mohammed Ghauri in 1192 A.D when he destroyed the armies of Prithviraj Chauhan.

But Ghauri died in 1206 without an heir. The vaccum of power led to a power struggle, at the end of which, Qutb ud-din Aybak (who commanded the armies of Ghauri and the administration of his Indian empire) grabbed power. It was he who built the now famous Qutab Minar in Delhi and the Quwwat-al-Islam mosque- the oldest surviving mosque in India. Qutb died accidentally in 1210, precipitating another power struggle, at the end of which the Turkish ex-slave Iltutmish emerged as sultan. All (but one) of the subsequent rulers of what’s referred to as the Slave dynasty were descendants of Iltutmish. This dynasty ruled till late 13th century, when they were overthrown by the Khiljis. There now followed a long period when Delhi was tuled by a succession of Turkish or Asiatic rulers: The Khiljis from 1290-1320, the Tuglaqs from 1321 to early 15th century, The Sayyids (who claimed to be direct descendants of the Prophet) from 1414 to 1451 and finally, the Lodhis who ruled from 1451 to 1526.

The last of the Lodhi kings was defeated by Zahiruddin Babar in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. Babar, who belonged to Samarkhand in modern day Uzbekistan and claimed Timur and Ghengiz Khan among his forebears, established the Mughal empire (the word Mughal is actually Persian for Mongol), which dominated Delhi from 1526, all the way upto the uprising of 1857, barring a short hiatus of 5 years under Sher Shah Suri. The Mughal Empire was the only one which controlled almost the whole of India before the British, who came to assume control over Delhi (and the whole of India) after the 1857 uprising.

The capital of the British Empire in India was moved to Calcutta post 1857. However, in the aftermath of the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the bloody struggle that followed, the British decided to move the capital away from Calcutta, if only to break the growing political power of the Bengalis, whom they came to view as a disloyal people. King George V announced the shifting of capital to Delhi during his visit to India in 1911. it was then that the British decided to build a new city, designed by Edwin Lutyens, which is known today as Nai Dilli (New Delhi) which remains to this day the seat of the Government of India. It was during the construction of the new city that the ancient village of Indraprasth was demolished.

And I fear I’ve been boring you, `cuz looking at my watch, I can see that its nearly half past 7. tell you what, I just called my friend, and she told me that I have to get off somewhere near Haldiram Chowk- which just went by. They’re put up at the NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) guest house; apparently, the bridegroom’s dad works for that company.

7:30 A.M: What good luck! As you can see, I’m getting off the bus and the gates of the NTPC complex at Badarpur are right in front of me. We’re on the Old Mathura Road by the way.

And even as I talk, I can see Swagat, the NTPC guest hourse (Swagat, of course, means welcome in Hindi). So here I am folks, home and dry. Well, its time to brush up, have a shower, coffee and breakfast. I'll have to let you go for the time being folks. Bye for now.

8:30 A.M: Here I am, refreshed after brushing my teeth and a quick shower. The arrangements here aren't all that great and worst of all, there isn't even a towel! I had to borrow one. But then, I'm so accustomed to travelling that having to manage with a borrowed (and already used) towel is hardly an issue. I'm going down to have breakfast and I fear, I'll have to leave you for now. My friends are coming soon and I'd obviously like to have a few moments off with them... if you don't mind of course!

10:00 P.M: Welcome back! Sorry for leaving you out in the cold for so long and then recalling you back so late in the night and that too for so short a while. But I was impelled to share a few quick words about my impressions of the evening. Let me tell you before I start off, that this was the first North Indian wedding I've ever seen or more accurately, engagement. And it would be worth saying at the outset, that I might not be too popular for some of the comments I'm about to make... but someone has to be honest, isn't it? Right, off we go!

I get the impression that people in these parts are quite aggressive. I'll tell you what I saw today: the engagement was at Pragati Maidan- quite a massive complex. I'd gone to wash my hands after dinner and there, the manager was apparently unhappy with the cleaner's work. Being unhappy with a subordinate's work is of course a common thing. But what shocked me was the manner in which he shouted at the cleaner. Believe me, I've never seen anyone shout at another man like that. I've myself been shouted at and not once, but many a time, but this was not just shouting, but revealed a deeper social issue.

As you know, I've travelled extensively in U.P and a wee bit in Bihar as well. One thing you'll find in common in those parts, is that people of lower status i.e. below you in social or organisational hierarchy are nothing. It is generally accepted that people below you are lower beings who deserve no respect and can be treated any which way. And so people bully everyone below them and fawn on those above. Believe me, servility runs high. Since those parts are not so far from here, I daresay what I just saw was a relection of that: the cleaner being a few grades lower on the organisational and social hierarchy could just not be conceived of as another human being equal to him by the manager. The manner in which he shouted indicated that the manager thought no better of that poor chap than a dog, whom he was putting in his place. No one would dare to speak like that even to a beggar back in my part of the country.

And then, the engagement itself. Everything there was showy and superficial in a manner I could scarcely describe. Coming from a part of the country where ostentation is virtually unknown outside of high (as in extremely rich) society, I was aghast at the kind of ostantation I saw there. As far as I know, none of the parties concered were particularly rich and yet, some of the things I saw there would be the kind of stuff you would normally see in a wedding between very rich families.

What astonished me most, was the practice of giving 21 gifts to the boys side, apart from rings for everyone in the boy's family. I have no problems appreciating other cultures, but I really couldn't help asking myself what all that was in aid of. I'm no communist, but I think 21 gifts is not just unnecessary but also downright frivolous. I can understand rich people indulging in all that, but why should middle class people with limited means engage in such frivolity? And I honestly don't see any reason why the boy's people have to be entitled to such privileges. In an age where women rubbing shoulders with men in every sphere and are competing with us, I honestly fail to see why the bridegroom's side should receive any privileges simply being from the boy's side. And before people start branding me as a feminist, let me shrug it off. I'm assuredly no feminist.

And I might also add, that the traffic in this city is nowhere near as orderly as Delhites would have us believe. I've seen a lot of dilliwallahs comment about the lack of road discipline in Bombay (a great deal of which is indeed true), but what I saw out there certainly gives the lie to their tall claims about the discipline in Delhi. Its pretty much free for all here- as it is in every Indian city I've been to so far by the way.

Incidentally, the roads in Delhi are far far better than those in Bombay. None of the pot-holed, uneven surfaces that are so commonplace in Bombay in this city. From the little that I saw, Delhi also gives the feeling of openness- unlike the claustrophobic feeling you frequently get back in my part of the country. But more than anything else, what strikes me about this city is the historical feel of this place. It could be a whim, but it appears to me that one can still feel the presence of the mughals in this city. This historical character is something which, I confess, I immediately fell in love with. That something my own city so acutely lacks- eventhough its the place where several defining m0ments of Indian history came to pass.

And those, my friends, are some of my impressions of what I saw today. But come with me tomorrow, we're going (my friends and I that is) around Delhi. Hopefully that'll be a wonderful experience. Good night, see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, 6th February 2007

9:00 A.M: As you can see, we're preparing to leave. When we'll get going, I haven't the foggiest. We've just about woken up and there are four of us waiting to use the same bathroom. You can now imagine the kind of collective inertia that's now going to set in!

11:00 A.M: Finally, we're about to go! After all that fussying, harrying, etc. The swearing did not materialise, if only because there are women around! And before we set off, let me share an interesting experience with you. I was using a heating rod (as opposed to a water heater) for the first time and let me tell you this: in cooler places, the rod is of little value. The water runs cold by the time you get down to bathing!

We're now off to the nearest Metro Station. Where it is, I haven't the foggiest. But my friend Sridhar has been to this city many a time and he'll show us the way. What it means, is that we're now playing follow the leader.

11:45 A.M: Here we are, at Central Secretriat- that's the name of the metro station. We're going by metro rail! I confess that I've never seen metro rail and I'm really eager to see how it is. The ticket system is superb: your ticket is in the form of a token, which you have to insert into an electronic token box (don't know what its called) for the barrier to open and allow you entry to the platform. Its so similar to the metro stations in foreign countries I've seen on T.V. Assuredly, this kind of a thing was inconceivable for Indians even a generation ago.

For the benefit of those who haven't been here, there are three lines on the Delhi Metro:

  1. Shahdara Rithala (Red Line)

  2. Vishwa Vidyalay- Central Secretriat (Yellow Line)

  3. Indraprasth-Barakhamba Road-Dwarka (BlueLine)

We are, of course, on the Yellow Line. Apparently the plan is to take a train upto Rajiv Chowk, which is where this line and the Blue Line converge. There we get off and go on to Connaught Place. Rajeev Chowk is incidentally is below the road where you have Connaught Circle. In fact I'm told that Rajeev Chowk is the official name of that area.

You know this ride is exciting. I've never been in a metro rail train and this is one experience I'm certainly not going to forget in a hurry. The good thing is that you get an announcement before every halt, of the name of the station and the side on which the automatic doors will open. The speed at which this train moves is terrific. Now, if only we had something like that in Bombay! Of course, the Bombay project is on, but one wonders when it'll actually materialise.

12:00 A.M: Here we are, in Connaught place. Its a lovely place, I promise you. It needs no genius to say that this area is a purely commercial area. But this area has a character quite different from that of any commercial area I've been to in Bombay. Unlike the characterless concrete jungles you have in the name of commercial areas in Bombay, what you see here in Connaught Place is a far cry. But I'm told that with the proliferation of incredibly long one ways, its become quite difficult to locate individual shops here. Fortunately, We're just come here to have a bit of fun! My friend Sridhar is off to meet someone, coming back in an hour or two, after which we'll be having lunch together.

I believe Connaught Place was made by the British in the bad old days of the Raj. Apparently, this place was designed by Robert Tor Russell, Chief Architect to the Government back then, in 1932. The design is based on that of the Royal Crescent in Bath, England (at least, so I'm told. Never been out of India myself). I must say that there are a plethora of shops here, trading in (I guess) just about any item you can name. Its quite a massive area, with Connaught Circle at the centre and roads branching out in every direction with the circle as its radius.

3:00 P.M: Well you must be wondering what I'm doing out here so late. Let me say this: you were fortunate not to be stuck with me here. As it happens, my friend Sridhar has not yet turned up. I knew of course that his ek ghanta (one hour) was unlikely to be less than two; we know each other since nearly a decade now. Unfortunately, the others (who know him just as well) failed to see it in the same light. He told us that he's on the way... though his "On the way" is a pretty dicey thing- it could mean anything! I must say that I've learnt a thing or two from him about handling people and must also say that I'm going to be in trouble when he reads all this!

3:30 P.M: Here he is, his abhi aaya (in a moment) finally arrived at long last! There's of course, that same old cheeky smile. You know, there's just something about this guy tha can calm down (I imagine) even a raging bull. No matter how annoyed you are with him, you find yourself quite unable to be angry with him once you see him. Anyway, we're off to have lunch and what's more, we're off to Sarvana Bhavan! I can't tell yo u how relieved I am to be having some good old South Indian food! Not that I'm particularly crazy about it, even though I'm a southerner myself. Its just that I've had so much of the typical North Indian cuisine over the last month or so (read hotel food) that any change would feel like a godsend!

And I fear I'll have to leave you here for now. See you after the lunch break.

4:30 P.M: Lunch over, and I can't tell you in words how glad I was for the change. You know, the amazing thing about India is that in spite of the incredible culinary variety you find in this country, most restaurants across the country have exactly the same food. Its only the quantity of oil and/or masala that differs, everything else is exactly the same! I actually love North Indian cuisine- the genuine thing that is. But right now, the very sight of that Navratan Kurma, Paneer Bhurji, Paneer Mattar, etc, etc is enough to drive me round the bend! Anyone who's had outside food for too long a period would surely understand what I'm saying!

And coming back to the present, we're off to India Gate! We're of course taking an auto there and while we're making our way there, let me tell you something about the famous India Gate. It was built by Edwin Lutyens between 1921-31, the foundation stone being laid by Lord Connaught in 1921. I believe it was originally called the All India War Memorial.

5:00 P.M: Here we are, standing in front of India gate. You know folks, I've seen it countless times on T.V, but believe me, seeing it in front of you is an altogether different experience. Its hard to describe the pride that I feel standing here: the pride of belonging to a country that fought so bravely, with such forebearance for its freedom. Anyway, instead of sentimental babble, let me read out for you what's written up there:

"To the dead of the Indian armies who fell honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the near and the far-east and in sacred memory also of those whose names are recorded and who fell in India or the north-west frontier and during the Third Afghan war."

Its an awesome structure and a reminder of not so happy days when our soldiers were fighting for the interests of a foreign country. The references, apart from the NWF and the Afghan War, are all to theatres of the first world war, where several thousand Indian troops laid down their lives- a fact which the British have attempted desperately hard not to acknowledge. The Afghan wars were, by the way, cold bloodedly provoked by the British, in furtherance of their imperial designs on Afghanistan. The manpower and the entire cost of the Afghan wars were furnished by India, I may add. As far as I'm concerned, this monument is a reminder of the rivers of blood, sweat and tears our people shed in obtaining freedom.

Interestingly, the ground around here have seats on them. I guess any member of the public on a weekend can come here and take a seat. Perhaps they have regular open air performances here, or these are remenants of Republic Day parade just over a week ago that have not yet been taken away. Whatever it is, there's something of a holiday feel here. What realy astonishes me is the amount of open space here. This kind of open space is unimaginable back home in Bombay!

Interestingly, we passed through Janpath on the way here. You of course know who stays in 10 Janpath. Interestingly, the BJP office on Ashok Road is barely a stone's throw from Janpath. Now, if only our politics could be managed with the same proximity of thought!

5:45: Well its getting late folks! We have a wedding to attend today, time to get going! Its getting pretty dark here and as you know, it gets dark by six or so in these parts. Its twilight already and everywhere around me, I can see the darkness enveloping us. We have a long journey to make by the way. I understand that Badarpur is the other end of town... time to get going.

Well I fear that'll be the end of our travels in Delhi folks. I'd loved to have taken you to the Red Fort, Rajghat, etc, if only time had permitted. Some other day maybe! Anyway, we're off to Kanpur tomorrow and from there, we'll be going to Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna. Hopefully, there'll be more adventure there. And I fear I must leave you here- you wouldn't want me to be making any more nasty remarks, do you? See you tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, 7th February 2007

9:00 A.M: Here we go again! Its time to go back to Kanpur. And if you're wondering how, so am I! You know, for the second time in two days, I'm reminded of the sheer dumbness of having come to a totally unknown without the least idea how I'm going to return. It was one thing coming here, but with my friends now gone, I'm really wondering how I'm going to go back. The most logical thing would be to go by train of course, but one wonders if it'll be possible to get a ticket! And I assure you, I certainly don't have the stomach for another bus journey; there's unlikely to be an air conditioned bus to a city like Kanpur at this time of the day and I promise you, a person accustomed to the clean buses in Maharashtra would find it really difficult to make a bus journey by a janta bus in these parts.

I believe trains to Kanpur start at New Delhi railway station. So tither I go! And wish me best of luck to get a ticket folks! I promise you, you wouldn't want to get anywhere near an unreserved compartment in these parts- people pack themselves in like cattle over long journey. You know, I've heard of people travelling in unreserved compartments (as crowded as a second class compartment of a virar local) all the way from Allahabad to Bombay! Don't ask me how they manage it. What I can tell you, is that you either have to be insane or plain desperate to do something like that!

11:00 A.M: Here we are, in the waiting room of New Delhi railway station. Its assuredly a far cry (for the better) from the one at Satna. I finally managed to get a ticket to Kanpur. How I managed it, is quite another story... I'll tell you that some other day. The train leaves here in a few hours; I'm going by the Guwahati Rajdhani. Now why its called that, I haven't the foggiest, since the last stop of that train is actually Dibrugarh!

And I fear its time to say à bientôt folks. Its sad to be leaving you and happily, we'll be rejoining at Kanpur tonight. See you tonight!

And of course, its time so say Goodbye Delhi!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Nawab Se Samraat Tak

Lucknow to Delhi
Sunday, 4th February 2007

10:00 A.M: Good morning folks. Here we are, in the lobby of hotel Ganga Maiya, checking out. We’re back on the road. Kanpur beckons and of course, we (you and I that is) are off to Delhi tonight. Waiting for us in the vehicle outside is Mr. Rajiv Pandey- remember Mr. Rajiv, who was with us when we went to Patna last June? Aye, `tis the same person. He’s now been transferred to Lucknow. He’ll be dropping us: first Arvind at the railway station, from where he takes his train to Allahabad (where we’ll be going later this month) and then Satish and yours truly at the bus stand.

And even as I speak, our check-out formalities are over. Time to go folks!

10:30 A.M: We’re sitting in our Sumo, outside the railway station. Our friend Arvind is getting off now… and here rings the mobile. Excuse me, just a moment…

A moment later: That was my friend Santosh, whom we’ll be meeting in Delhi tomorrow. He’d called up to say that we (our firm that is) have won the ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) Trophy- in cricket of course. The best part was that we smashed three multinational firms along the way. God willing, we as a people will also be able to do that in business some day. And now that Arvind has left, its time for us to make a move as well.

11:00 A.M: We’re at the bus stand folks, still in the car with heavy luggage to lug around. The bus to Kanpur is leaving- its already started. Moral of the story: we have to run for it!

11:15 A.M: We’re finally settling down. You know, the U.P government’s road transport undertaking has some lovely air-conditioned buses- like the one in which we’re sitting right now. To be sure, they’re no comparison to the Volvo buses you see in our part of the country, but they’re good all the same. And talking of buses, time for another snippet: buses belonging to the U.P government undertaking are not uniform in appearance- unlike what we’re used to in our part of the country. Strangely enough, they also requisition buses belonging to private operators occasionally. No idea why they do that- once again, I’m indebted to Arvind for this piece of trivia.

And even as I talk, they’re playing some really atrocious music folks. I have no choice, but you do- so I’ll spare you the frustration. See you soon in Kanpur.

2:00 P.M: Here we are folks, we’ve finally reached Kanpur. After so many stops and stoppages along the way, its home and dry at last. We’ve reached a historic city- a city that has had as much share in Indian history as most others. But I’ll come to that later when the opportunity affords itself. As you can see, we’re haggling with rickshawwallahs over the fare right now. I must say that Satish is better at that than me.

Anyone familiar with bus travel in this country would know that you get swamped by rickshawwallahs the moment you get off your bus and you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re looking to overcharge you. Bargaining is a quintessentially Indian passion and that’s the reason why they always quote higher than they actually intend to charge. And so if the rickshawwallah wants to charge say x, he’ll quote x plus 50% or even 2x. Then as expected, you bargain and bring it down somewhere close to x. both of us are aware of the real game and yet go through the bargaining process.

And Satish has managed to strike a bargain with a cycle rickshawwallah. Here we go.

Some Moments Later: This is by far the most extraordinary city I’ve seen to date. Looking around me, I feel as though I’m watching a period movie; this part of town (and we’re in the old city now) has hardly, if at all, changed since the British left.

And I must say that I’ve never seen such a narrow thoroughfare. You’re dead even if one vehicle were to fail here. and even as I speak, I see a vehicle that can never fail; it’s a single horsepower vehicle or more accurately, a single horse powered vehicle, which is called a tanga in these parts. Coming from a place where even cycle rickshaws do not exist, a tanga looks scarcely credible, especially in a major city like this. Our rickshawwallah is surprised at my astonishment; he tells me that horse carts are a very common mode of transport here. To be sure, on narrow roads like this, all vehicles would be reduced to the same speed.

We’re now passing by the police headquarters- the Kotwali as its called. You’re not going to believe this, but it still bears the old spelling “Cawnpore” as Kanpur was spelled in colonial days (the spelling was changed in 1948); hazarding a conjecture, I daresay this building has not been repaired since our former rulers left us alone. Actually this road itself presents a strange spectacle: its incredibly narrow and dirty with buildings on both sides in a crazy state of disrepair. Looking upward, you can see a maze of wires. The electricity and telephone wires form an incredibly complex (not to mention ugly) tangle; both, electricity and telephone wires are above ground- a common feature in these parts. Simply put, its as big a mess overhead as it is on the ground below. And yes, I forgot to mention that the residents of this place have found an unusual method of overcoming the lack of a road-divider: you have a long line of vehicles parked exactly at the centre of the road. I’ll say this folks: you actually have to come and see this to believe that places like this also exist. Sadly, I’m unable to show you a photo and you know the reason for that.

It’s hard to imagine a more stark contrast between Lucknow and Kanpur. Whereas the former is truly nawabon ka shehar, this is genuinely a third-world city. If you’ll believe it, the two are barely 80 kilometres apart. But then, drastic change like this is commonplace in these parts- so well described in the saying that goes around here:

Ek kos mein paani,
Dus kos mein vaani

Which would roughly translate as:

The water (changes) in a mile
The dialect (changes) in ten

2:30 P.M: Finally we’re in our hotel room; home and famished. Actually there was a somewhat comical bit of confusion. There are two hotels here: The Meera and Meera Inn. Apparently, the original booking was in The Meera. But later on, in an inspired moment of miscommunication (or should it be non-communication?) booked a room for us in Meera Inn as well. Fortunately, Mr. Khare (the chief accountant here) asked us to take up our room at The Meera since its more luxurious. And so, after that quintessentially Indian piece of confusion, we’re finally unpacking. But we’re famished and need to take a shower. Please give us a moment to find our bearings.

3:15 P.M: Finally, lunch has arrived! But, I have to wait for Satish to arrive; he’s just gone for his shower. And so as usual, I’ll tell you something about this city as I wait.

Kanpur is an important centre for the leather industry. It is known basically as an industrial city, once known for its textile mills- so much so, that it was once known as the “Manchester of India”. The textile mills have mostly vanished, as have most manufacturing units, due to problems related to power supply in this city. Mr. Pandey (who belongs to Kanpur by the way) told me that this city is rapidly decaying right now, notwithstanding the fact that it has an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). I may also mention that the holy Ganges flows through this city. I remember reading about the beauty of the Ganges as it flows through this city, or rather, as it once flowed through this city. Today, I’m told, the river is incredibly toxic and polluted.

But whatever the present, Kanpur has a proud past and a significant place in the history of India. There are two theories as to how Kanpur came to have its name: One goes that the name is derived from ‘Karnapur’, as it was called in the age of the Mahabharat, after this region was gifted to Karn by Duryodhan. The name Karnapur somehow contracted to Kanpur over the centuries. Another theory is that the name is derived from “Kanhaiyapur” (city of Lord Krishna), which was later shortened to Kanhapur (Kanha also being one of Lord Krishna’s several names), which in turn was truncated to Kanpur.

Whatever the actual genesis of the name, both theories indicate that the origins of this city go back to a few thousand years. Strangely enough, little is known about the progress of this city from those times to the thirteenth century or so is lost in the mists of time. But Kanpur makes a reappearance in the early 13th century, when Raja Kanti Dev of Prayag established a village called Kohna along the banks of the Ganges. By 1579, by which time it was under the control of Sher Shah Suri, the village was called Kanpur- the first known use of the name. But Kanpur remained a village until sometime in the late 18th of early 19th century, when British industries started making their appearance. It became (and remains) one of the major military stations in India sometime in the first half of the 19th century.

And of course, Kanpur was one of the several areas of disturbances during the uprising of 1857. This city was besieged by the mutinous troops, led by Nanasaheb Peshwa in 1857. After a 3-week siege, the British were promised a safe passage. What happened afterwards is subject of some controversy, suffice it to say that the native sepoys massacred the retreating British in mid-water. Historians seem to have little unanimity in this matter and given their genius for spin doctoring, I’m impelled to take most of what British historians claim with a pinch of salt; the massacres they perpetrated in these parts would have done the Nazis proud.

Kanpur today is home to several industries, especially the leather industry. Pollution levels in this city have apparently reached appallingly high levels. Most of the industries that abounded as recently as the late 70s or early 80s have apparently shifted to Noida or Gaziabad in the NCR (National Capital Region).

And even as I speak, Satish has come out and readied himself. Well excuse me folks, its lunchtime now. But don't go too far, remember, we also have to go to Delhi tonight. So see you soon...

5:00 P.M: We’ve had our lunch and as you can see, I’ve finished my packing for the trip to Delhi, more accurately, unpacking and packing since I’ve jettisoned all that was inessential and only taken whatever is indispensable for a 2-day trip. As I’ve told you, I’m off to a very close friend’s wedding, which will be spread over two days. Needless to say, I’m taking you with me so that you can witness it yourself. Personally, its going to be my first experience of a Punjabi wedding. Incidentally, Mr. Bhat, the accountant here, called up just a few moments ago that he’d be coming to pick me up; he’ll help me get on a bus to Delhi… so much the better since I had no idea how I was going to get there. I only hope there’s an air-conditioned bus. Believe me, you just can’t travel by an ordinary bus in these parts- just perish the thought!

5:30 P.M: A knock on the door; it is Mr. Bhat indeed. Time to make a move folks. Chalo Delhi

6:00 P.M: We’ve been really lucky folks! as you can see, I’m sitting inside an air-conditioned bus, identical to the one in which we came to Kanpur in the morning. You know, we got here in the nick of time; there’s only one air-conditioned bus to Delhi in the evening and we got here to the bus stand just as it was about to leave. 5 minutes late and… I have no idea what I would have done!

So folks, ab delhi door nahin (no use translating, since the words have a historic connotation). See you in our capital tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Glimpses of Uttar Pradesh

In the Land of the Nawabs
Saturday, 3rd February 2007

9:30 A.M: We are now fast approaching Lucknow, the capital of U.P. As you can see, I didn’t disturb you early this time and I’ve already brushed my teeth and freshened up, unlike the other day. We’re still pretty much at the outskirts of Lucknow- some more time to go; the timing was quite intentional of course, so that I could tell you something about this city before we set foot there.

Lucknow is an ancient city, said to be part of the Kosala Kingdom (modern day Ayodhya) in the days of the Suryavanshi dynasty. It was the seat of the Nawab of Avadh (anglicised as Oudh), after the Mughal empire exploded into splinters in the 18th century. While I don’t know much about the Nawabs of Avadh, its fairly obvious that they were patrons of arts. The Nawabs came under the trap of the Subsidiary Alliance System, eventually surrendering their fiefdom to the British, who grabbed it in 1856 under the plea of misadministration. The last years of the Nawabs of Avadh saw Delhi usurp the role of the cultural capital of Hindustan (which of course, did not include regions south of the Vindhyas in those days).

Needless to say, Lucknow was pretty much in the eye of the storm when the uprising broke out in 1857; the diposition of the Nawab of Avadh was one of the main grievances of the mutinous soldiers, many of whom belonged to this region. The famous siege of Lucknow was relieved at first by the Company armies under Sir Henry Havelock and Sir James Outram, before Sir Colin Campbell’s forces dealt the coup de grace. Here’s a photograph of Lucknow in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

Lucknow was included in the territories of the “United Provinces of Agra and Oudh” in 1902 and became the provincial capital in 1920, when the capital was moved from Allahabad. After independence, it became the capital of the present day Uttar Pradesh… and tell you what, we’ve arrived! Time to make a move folks… I’ll tell you the rest of it later, as and when time permits.

10:30 A.M: Here we are, sitting in Room No. 107 of Hotel Ganga Maiya (yup the name’s genuine). Why this hotel is called by this name, I’m not sure, since they have their own river here- which I’ll come to in a moment. As far as the hotel is concerned, you can guess the quality thereof by the name; I’ll say no more. Incidentally, Satish has gone in for a shower, which means I can tell you the rest of it while we wait for him to come out.

I’ve already told you about Lucknow’s past. Lucknow today is well known for its “Tehzeebwaali Urdu” (cultured Urdu) and it’s kotis, made famous by Rekha in Umrao Jaan, and much else besides. Of the lot, the Urdu survives to this day, but the Kothis have long since vanished- except in Hindi movies. Talking of movies, Lucknow has also produced legends like Talat Mahmood and Naushad Ali. It is also famous for its handicrafts- time permitting, I’ll also get myself a Lucknowi kurta… though I doubt if we’re going to have the luxury of time.

Lucknow is situated about 500 kilometres south-east of New Delhi (where I’m going tomorrow). This city enjoys, if that’s the word, extreme weather, with summer temperatures in the high 40s (a singularly ghastly prospect, I promise you) and winter temperatures in single digits- sometimes close to freezing point. It was estimated to have a population of about 25 lakhs in 2006. As I was mentioning earlier, Lucknow even has a river, the Gomti, flowing through it. The Gomti is a tributary of Ganga, meeting the Ganges somewhere in Gazipur district.

Apart from being nawabon ka shehar, Lucknow is also the constituency of India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who I believe, is considered unassailable here. to be sure, U.P is currently governed by the Samajwadi Party (SP), which would roughly translate as the “People’s Party”. From what I know (and I’ve been here last June as well), the party has pretty much come to power and sustained itself on brute power. A lot of people told me last time round (and still say by the way) that the party has instituted pretty much a Gundaraj (rule of gangsters) here, unlike what’s being claimed in an ad featuring a legendary actor that

UP mein dum hai (U.P is on the go),
kyonki yahaan jurm kam hai (because crime here is low).

And even as I speak, my mobile phone is ringing. Tell you what, I think I’ve troubled you enough for now. I’ll come back to you as soon as we make a move.

12:00 P.M: Finally, we’re about to make a move. If you wonder why it took so long, its on account of the ‘collective inertia’ that sets in when you’re in a group. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced it, but things tend to get really delayed when you have to move in a group- more accurately, when more than one person has to move. I really wonder how huge armies are mobilised. I remember reading sometime that as late as the second world war, 10-15 miles a day was considered excellent progress; I now have some idea why it was so.

We’ve got into an auto by the way. We’ve managed to strike a deal with him, to take us to the office of our clients located at Gomti Nagar for fifty rupees. You know, the system of charging fares by the metre is virtually non-existent in India. I’ve seen it only in 3 or 4 cities so far and I’ve visited nearly 20 different cities across India.

And even as I talk to you, I can see to my right a huge equestrian statue of Prithviraj Chauhan, seated on his legendary horse, Chetak. Satish is incidentally, from Chitod district in Rajasthan. I won’t trouble you about him… too long a story, his.

We’re now going over a bridge… in fact our rickshawwallah tells me that this is not really a bridge, merely a road that’s at an elevation. You too would be fooled into mistaking this for a bridge, since there are railings on both sides and treetops beyond them. I must say that this road is surprisingly broad and clean and is in excellent condition. Assuredly, this road is much better than most roads in Bombay where I live.

We’re now passing through a remarkably wide road, extraordinarily wide for this part of the country. The road is superb and I can see state of the art shopping malls and multiplexes on both sides. Geez, its hard to believe that places like this also exist in U.P. You know, people in Allahabad claim that their city should be the capital of U.P- since the high court and the famous university are located there. Having been there and having also seen this city, I’m convinced that Lucknow is indeed the capital of U.P and deserves that position. This folks, is a real city, not an apology of a town, unlike the places we've seen so far on this trip!

And even as I speak, I can see a magnificant building. Its an amazing building, presumably constructed by the British. Our rickshawwallah tells me that’s its Vidhan Sabha- the seat of the state legislature. Sadly, I exhausted all the reels in the camera at Jabalpur and consequently, am unable to show you a picture. If only...

12:30 P.M: Here we are, finally at the office of _ Cement Ltd. Time for work folks… sorry to do this to you, but I have to leave you for the time being. Catch you in the evening.

8:00 P.M: Geez, its really late…finally got done with the days work. Fortunately, Arvind had done an excellent job- I only had to take care of the presentation and discuss the report with the marketing manager here. anyway, there’s isn’t an awful lot of time now. We have to have dinner and go to watch the 9 ‘o clock show of Mani Ratnam’s Guru… time to hurry folks!

8:30 P.M: We’re having dinner in a shopping mall in Saharagunj. As the name itself suggests, this area has been developed by the Sahara group- best known as the sponsors of the Indian cricket team. Believe me folks, this area is truly breath taking. It could easily compare with the best areas in Bombay or Delhi and this mall is every bit as good as any mall in Bombay that I’ve seen. What’s just as remarkable, is that this city also has an FM radio station; I’m hearing FM for the first time since we left Bombay on the 9th of last month.

Anyway, I fear I don’t have time to talk to you- we’re getting late. Got to finish dinner and rush to the cinema…

12:00 A.M: Whew, what a movie that was! Truly breathtaking! Wonderful potrayal of the life of Dirubhai Ambani and a supreme performance by Abhishek Bachchan. Guru is a wonderful throwback to the bad old days of the license raj when you needed the Government’s permission to do anything. Thank God we did away with those draconian rules… and the cold, nippy air blowing against my ears suddenly brought me back to reality. Its surprisingly cool here and its also a bit foggy right now. The weather is simply breathtaking, I promise you. You never get weather like this in my part of the country- though I’ll gladly trade that weather for the summer in these parts.

And even as I speak, we’re passing through the Vidhan Sabha. Its well lit and believe me folks, this building is simply incredible. I’d be guilty of no exaggeration if I were to say that it looks like a nayi-naveli dulhan (can’t satisfactorily translate it into English). For those familiar with Bombay: the splendour of this building would easily compare with that of the clock tower at the University or of Victoria Terminus. Granted that I’ve seen very little of this city and perhaps the best parts too, I must say that if you ever visit this part of the country, you really ought to look up Lucknow. Having seen this place, I’m convinced it is indeed nawabon ka shehar.

You know, I can see a massive convoy of vehicles- all in blue lights. Time for another snippet: a car with blue lights (neeli batthi as its called in these parts) is a pretty common sight. You have two varieties: Blue lights for people who’re in the civil services and Red lights (lal batthi) for people who’re in police service. I’m told that such a long convoy can only be of the chief minister and that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the current chief minister, is seated in one of them. Interestingly (I’m told) there’s no fixed rule as to which car he could be in. he could be in the first today, the third tomorrow, tenth the day after… nothing is sure.

Arvind tells me that people in these parts hanker for the civil services. For one, there is precious little industry in these parts and so Government service is the most sought after profession. And of course, the neeli batthi holds out tremendous attraction to the youth, who get to see little else besides. You know, I’m really indebted to him for all his inputs on U.P. He’s given me priceless inputs on the mentality of people here, the culture of these parts and much else besides.

12:20 A.M: We’ve stopped by the road-side, not far from our hotel. The reason? Our good friend Arvind (whom you’re already familiar with) says that there’s a guy here who makes excellent tea and some snack made of bread- something he’s never had before. Apparently he operates only by night. I can see a surprisingly big crowd here- I never suspected that there would be so many people outdoors at this time of the day (or rather night)- its already the third pehar of the night. For the uninitiated: in Indian tradition, the day is divided into 8 pehars of 3 hours each- 4 pehars of the day from 6 A.M to 6 P.M and 4 pehars of the night from 6 P.M to 6 A.M.

12:30 A.M: Just finished my tea `n bread. The tea was superb, I promise you. Its by far the best tea I’ve tasted since I left Maharashtra; I scarcely expected to find such lovely tea outside my native state. As for the bread, it is exactly the same as bun-maska (literally bun and butter)- you can get it in any of the Irani restaurants in Bombay.

But I fear I’m getting a bit sleepy. Its time to get back to our hotel… Arvind’s off to his homeland Allahabad tomorrow morning while I and Satish are off to Kanpur. I’m of course, going to Delhi as well- to attend the wedding of a very close friend… I fear its really late and we have to leave early tomorrow.

My apologies friends, but that’s all I could show you of Lucknow… some other time I hope. For now, I have to make a move but stay with me and I’ll take you around to Kanpur, Delhi, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna over the coming weeks. But for now, good night- or rather, good day.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Glimpses of Madhya Pradesh (Continued)

A Tourist in Jabalpur
Monday, 29th January 2007

5:30 A.M: Drat this alarm! Oops! Sorry for that. But it’s so annoying having to wake up so early. Well, please excuse me for a while. I need to collect my wits…

5:45 A.M: here I am, having brushed my teeth and had a quick wash. If you’re wondering why I’m so excited- it’s because we’re leaving the plant and we’re leaving Satna. We’re off to Jabalpur. Geez, I can’t describe in words how relieved I am to be pushing off from this place. If you’ll believe it folks, this dormitory is as good as jail, `cuz you have nowhere to go. You’re 20 odd kilometres from the city and the recreation club they have here is best not spoken of. You can’t go out for a walk here- cement everywhere! Moral of the story: all you can do here is work, eat and sleep.

And you’ll have to excuse me for a moment here… you don’t want to see me changing, do you?

6:00 A.M: Here I am all ready to quit. But hold on a moment, I’m calling up the operator. Why, you may ask. The reason is, our train (Mahakoshal Express) is notorious for being late. Although the scheduled departure from Satna is at 7, we’ve been advised to have our breakfast and leave at leisure. What astonishes me most is that everyone here seems to know the reputation of our train- everyone without exception!

5 minutes later: And guess what? Our train doesn’t arrive before 8- subject to possible further delay by the way. Moral of the story: our night’s sleep has been ruined. What to do now? Watch T.V, what else?

7:00 A.M: I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but its incredibly exasperating to be all set to leave, all prepared for a journey, only to find yourself waiting for it to begin. Here I am, fully dressed- right down to my shoes, to leave. But goodness known when I’m going to be out of here… can’t describe how keen I am to get out of here. And yes, add to the list of exasperating things, the sound of the T.V early in the morning. Yup- you guessed it right- the T.V in my room is off.

And talking about having the T.V on, I think I ought to share this with you: one irritating habit I find common with guys is this penchant for keeping the television on until an unearthly hour. And I say ‘keeping it on’ because they do not view any particular channel- just switch from one channel to another meaninglessly. Having shared rooms with so many colleagues, I find it a common habit among males- don’t know whether its common among females. Don’t ask me why men have this annoying habit- I’m a lucky (if at times unhappy) exception.

And before you kick me for boring you, I’ll leave you alone…

7:45 A.M: Well excuse me for disturbing you again, but its hard to describe how bored I am; I have to talk to SOMEONE! Fortunately its time for breakfast- an opportunity to relax a bit. And yes, I forgot to mention that the expected arrival of our train is 10 A.M. that means its going to be another hour and a half of dragging heels here.

Incidentally, this trip to Jabalpur was not there in the original itinerary. As it happened, we discovered that this company’s business has grown dramatically in the that region in recent years. I asked my boss if we ought to cover Jabalpur and you know the rest. And yet, in spite of all that, this trip almost did not happen. The reason? There were riots in Jabalpur a few days back and apparently, some parts of that city are under cerfew. In fact, we have been assessing the situation there twice a day- my boss even asked me to play safe. but then, I wasn’t going to let slip this opportunity of seeing another place, was I? Though under the current circumstances, I can’t help wondering when, if ever, this trip is going is going to happen.

9:00 A.M: No more updates on the train, but I’ve asked the operator to send a vehicle to pick us up anyway. I’m sure you’ve guessed the reason for that; I’ll gladly wait on the railway platform than sit here in the dormitory with nothing to do and no sign of movement. If you’ll believe it, I’m so excited about getting out of this house arrest that I’ve already kept all my baggage outside the door… all set to leave this dormitory- if not get out of Satna.

10:00 A.M: here we are at last, in the station, at the heart of a…town! At least, there’s some movement, some sign of activity here… which should make the wait better; the train isn’t expected before 11. So here we are, sitting on the platform. I fear, its going to be a replay of the morning of 3rd july last year, when Arvind and I waited seven hours for our train in the dressing room in this very platform. There’s that sickening feeling of déjà vu.

10:30 A.M: Here we are, still waiting on platform No.1 of the Satna railway station. Latest update: all trains on this route are running 4-5 hours late. Under the circumstances, you can safely assume that our train is not going to get here before twelve.

Incidentally, such delays are a routine affair in this part of the country- in respect of trains coming from U.P that is. You see, Satna is barely hundred kilometres from U.P. The first station in U.P, when you cross over from M.P to that state is Manikpur and you have only a single line starting from Manikpur- which means of course, that trains arriving from U.P or beyond always arrive late and similarly, all trains heading in that direction tend to fall behind their scheduled time, once in U.P.

Let me also tell you another interesting fact which railway officials have told me (and I’ve met quite a few of them in the course of my travels): once your train falls behind schedule, it’ll only get worse. That’s because those in charge of the signalling will have to assign priorities for giving clearances to a plethora of trains, since there’s only a single track; trains which are on time or only marginally behind schedule get first priority. The others are delayed even further. So if you’re ever travelling by rail in these parts and your train is delayed, your travails have only just begun.

12:30 P.M: My friend Satish and I have been rotting here (I’m unable to think of a better expression) since two hours and more. So many trains have come and gone between then and now! I promise you, its incredibly exasperating to see so much movement around you while you alone are sentenced to such an excruciating wait. They’ve already announced that our train is arriving on platform No.1. This announcement has been on since fifteen minutes or so… but hey, I can see a train on the horizon… it is our train indeed! Finally, finally we’re on the way. Jabalpur ahoy!

4:00 P.M: its been a pleasant journey so far- the countryside is excellent in these parts. Surprisingly, its been raining outside; rains at this time of the year, if you’ll believe it. My window (and I’m in the second a/c compartment, insulated from the rains by the way) is still spattered with raindrops.

And as you’ve already figured out, I’m still in the train. Assuredly, talking about the pleasantness needed a bit of sang froid, since we’re now stuck at the outskirts of Jabalpur (‘outer’ as the locals call it). More delay; are we ever going to get there? And as if to rub it in, they’ve switched off the air conditioning. Fortunately, there are only 4 of us in this compartment- which makes it just a little bit better than it would otherwise be. My colleague Satish has really lost it; I’m in the process too. Anyway, instead of ranting about it, let me tell you something about this city to pass our time.

Jabalpur is the headquarters of a district of the same name and is one of the bigger cities of M.P. The city has a population of about 11 lakhs. The origin of the name Jabalpur is not certain, but it’s believed that it’s derived from Jabali Pattanam- a saint who is said to have lived in these parts in the Ramayan era. Apparently, there are references to this region even in the Mahabharat. It was known as Tripuri in the ninth and tenth centuries during the era of the Tripuri rulers. It was part of the Mauryan empire between the Mahabharat and the Tripuri eras. The Mughals too attempted to overrun this place from time to time before it finally fell to the Marathas in 1789- while revolution was breaking out in France. It was taken over by the British in 1817, when they beat the army of the Bhonsle of Nagpur (the Maratha Empire was dissolved in 1818). It was here that the historic Tripuri session of the Congress was held, in which Subhas Chandra Bose presided for the first and last time, and which ended in the exit of Bose from the Congress.

Today this city is well known for the Ordnance Factory and the military cantonments. Jabalpur is a city largely dominated by the military. It may be mentioned in the passing, that Jabalpur is also home to Tilwaraghat- the spot where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed in the Narmada…

4:30 P.M: … and even as I talk, I can see the platform. Finally we’re here! After so many uncertainties and endless delays, we’re finally in Jabalpur. If you’ll believe it, what should have been a 3-hour journey has taken 4 hours, apart from the 6 hours or so, lost in waiting- which just shows how much further India still needs to go.

4:35 P.M: And hey, here’s our pick up; I can see the poster of _ Cement Ltd. pasted on the rear window of a Sumo. Thank goodness for that- I might have just about been impelled to take an auto. If you’re wondering why, its because of the number of rickshaw-wallahs urging me to take a ride with them. I counted a dozen of them in the short space of 2 minutes from the platform to here. Its pretty commonplace for auto drivers to pile on to passengers at railway stations in this country, but the rickshaw-wallahs at Jabalpur are a lot more aggressive than any I’ve seen so far. They’re swarming like flies here; all to take you for a ride- literally and otherwise.

4:45 P.M: The guy who’s come to pick us up is a chap called Pappu (most people call him Pappu Bhaiya). His actual name is Rajiv Singh and he’s original from Banaras. As you must have guessed by the name, he’s a thakur. Although I’m no expert in this matter, I think Thakurs are basically a land-owning class next only to Brahmins in the social scale and are the ones who more than anyone else, enforce the caste system. Perhaps I would not even have thought along those lines back home, but when you come to these parts of the country, you realise how deep the caste system is embedded in the minds of the people here.

We’re still on the way to our hotel. Although its one of the biggest cities in Madhya Pradesh (behind only the capital Bhopal and Indore I guess), Jabalpur is a peaceful and dreamy little place. At least, that’s what a person accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan city like Bombay feels. Unlike most Indian cities, this city is not too congested and gives you feeling of openness- although Pappu tells us that living space is constrained here; you would hardly believe it. My guess is that instead of spreading out, people must have crowded up in a few areas in a quintessentially Indian manner, leaving the rest of the place largely untouched. And if you think that those areas have been deliberately left untouched for future development, perish the thought; we Indians just don’t have the foresight to think beyond this very moment, leave alone today.

Well I seem to be talking a lot! `cuz even as I speak, our hotel has arrived. We’ve been put up at The Samdariya, which is apparently one of the best hotels in Jabalpur. I’m told that the area around this hotel is one of the most active in this city. For the benefit of those who know this city, our hotel is close to Russell Chowk (as I can see on my mobile phone). I’m told that its one of the main shopping centres in this city.

5:00 P.M: Finally, we’ve got the keys and now we’re in room no. 203; time to have a wash and freshen up a bit.

And now comes the most difficult part folks- leaving you. After all the day’s activity (and inactivity), I’m too wary to continue. Time to say à demain folks.

Tuesday, 30th January 2007

8:30 P.M: Sheesh, `tis really been a pretty long day. I had to get a haircut and buy some essentials to start off and then we had a really busy day. And if you’re wondering why I’ve suddenly disturbed you at the end of the day, and that too at this hour, its because we’re off to see a movie. Which movie you wonder? Its Salaam-e-Ishq, a multi-starrer and more importantly, a Salman Khan starrer; my colleague Satish is a major Salman Khan fan. We’re going to a theatre called Jyoti, which locals tell me is the best theatre in this city… lets see.

12:00 A.M: Movie over, we’re walking back to our hotel room. Of all the movies I’ve ever seen, few movies have left more questions… it could have been a wonderful movie if he had put in a fewer characters and concentrated on them. What could have been a pretty good movie ended up a highly forgettable one (and that’s putting it pretty mildly).

But I must say that the theatre was even worse than the movie. I find it hard to believe that THIS theatre could be the best in Jabalpur and if indeed, it is the best, I shudder to think what the others theatres in this city must be like. It is dirty to say the least. The paint is peeling off at many places and the seating is primitive. It reminds me of theatres in Bombay in the 80s and 90s when I grew up. Its fairly obvious that malls and multiplexes are unheard of in this part of the country.

And having said that, I may add that the crowd was pretty much what a theatre like this deserves. Perhaps the better (more accurately, cultured) elements of society do not attend the late-night show. Whatever the reason, the viewing public were remarkably badly behaved. Never before have I seen so many groups talking so loudly while a movie is in progress, nor have I seen so many people talking so loudly on a mobile phone with such frequency while a movie is on. If the movie wasn’t bad enough, it was made worse by the fact that I missed several dialogues because of the unruly mob here. While its true that we Indians in general lack the most basic public etiquette, based on this experience, I must confess that the cinemagoers in Jabalpur are obnoxious even by Indian standards.

And tell you what: Satish and yours truly have lost their way. I fear we’ll have to retrace our steps. Surprisingly, there still are signs of activity here… which makes it a little less scary. Anyway, I don’t want to be disturbing you anymore at this hour. So bye for now folks and good night (or should it be good morning)…

Wednesday, 31st January 2007

10:00 A.M: We’re waiting in the hotel lobby, waiting for Pappu Bhaiya to arrive. We’re off to Bheda Ghat now. Bheda Ghat is the most famous tourism spot in Jabalpur. It’s the place where the river Narmada (the main river in this part of the country- referred to by the locals as ‘Narmadaji’) is at its strongest. There even is a waterfall there I believe. We’ll soon know.

10:30 A.M: We’re here. Pappu asked us if we wanted to drive down there or walk it down- there’s a long walk up the ghat. We opted to enjoy the walk. Personally, I prefer taking the longer route, because it gives you the opportunity to feel the atmosphere, to soak it in, to feel the place.

And finally I can see Narmadaji. The current is pretty strong I promise you- you certainly don’t want to be swimming or boating here. I can see railings here… and lo! Here’s the waterfall. Geez, its simply awesome… I just can’t describe it in words. So I’ll eschew with words and let you form your own judgement.

That’s the best view I can give you and I promise you, it’s breathtaking- this picture does little justice to the magnificence of the waterfall. I’m told that the depth of the fall is sixty feet or so. The haze you can see in the background is the foam created by the flowing river. If you’ll believe it, I can feel the spray standing at this distance.

Pappu tells me that a lot of people have committed suicide here over the years. There’s a spot here where you can jump- pretty close to the falls. Unfortunately, I can’t show you a picture of that spot; the sun’s coming right on the camera lens. I promise you, even the very thought of being sucked into this falls is ghastly. Pappu says that one or two bodies were found several kilometres downstream; I’m not surprised at all- if anything, it’s a miracle that the bodies were even found. Since I’ve never gone to sea (eventhough I live barely 10 kilometres from the sea), I’ve never seen such a strong water current.

And we’re moving further down to the place where rocks end, towards the hills upstream- you can see those rocks in the background of the picture, towards the left. One thing I can’t help commenting on, is the weather here. It’s surprisingly warm for this time of the year. It almost feels like summer! In fact, there’s a huge difference in weather between Satna and here. satna was really cool and I confess that I loved the weather there. Just about 200 kilometres from there, I feel as though I’ve walked away from winterland to summerland!

We’ve taken off our shoes and socks and have both our feet immersed in water. Its incredibly refreshing, I promise you. Sadly, I can’t share the feeling with you, but I can share the photo! So here goes.

for all the talk about the heat here just a moment ago, I’m feeling cool now. Pappu Bhaiya tells me that having your feet immersed in cool water helps you beat the heat. So if you ever feel oppressed by the heat, here’s one formula to cool down: get yourself a bucket of cool/cold water and immerse you feet in it… simply awesome!

12:00 P.M: Oops! I never realised it was so late… just one of the things which happen when you get involved in a conversation. We discussed several topics over the last hour and a half. Most of it, I would scarcely dare to put up here. Too much bachelor’s stuff or politically incorrect discussion- you don’t want me to get myself into trouble do you?

Pappu bhaiya suggests that we go boating. Everyone tells us that boating is mandatory, should you ever come to these parts. Apparently, there are limestone rocks of several colours here. anyway, we’ll soon know.

12:30 P.M: We’re cruising down the Narmada admiring the rocks and listening to the wisecracks of our boatman. His brilliant utterances would give Navjot Siddhu a run for his money. Needless to say, his wisecrack-a-sentence stuff is well rehearsed; I wonder how many times he’s used these same old lines. In fact Satish suggests that we could think of going again, just to see if he’s got any variety up his sleeve.

To gave you a sample of his wisecracks (translated for your benefit of course): “…photography is prohibited. Only those who have a camera are allowed to take photos.”

And talking of photos, let me show you a couple of them.

As you can, there are blackish and yellowish rocks in the background. Assuredly, the difference in colour is not on account of the camera. Sadly, the cloth roof overhead and Pappu’s inefficiency in using the camera does little justice to the magnificent view here. there are enough colours to make a rainbow- greenish, reddish, yellowish, golden, sand, blackish... I could go on.

And believe me, until a couple of hours back, I could have never imagined that places like this exist in India. One wonders why these places are not developed better and promoted internationally. Everyone in the world knows about the Grand Canyon or the Niagra Falls or mount Rushmore, but most Indians (leave alone foreigners) are unlikely to know about such amazing places as this. Believe me folks, you really ought to look up Bheda Ghat, should you ever visit these parts- even if it means visiting Khajuraho (and this coming from a bachelor).

1:30 P.M: boat ride’s over and it was a thoroughly memorable hour. I promise you, along with Raneh Falls, Beda Ghat is the most awesome thing I’ve seen on this trip- which just goes to show that mother nature is a far greater artist than man.

And well, we’re really late! Sorry to leave you so abruptly folks, but we really have to rush. We still need to have lunch and then rush to work… this promises to be a loooong day folks.

Thursday, 1st February 2007

10:30 A.M: Good morning folks. Here we are, back to take you around Jabalpur. Pappu Bhaiya asked us to be ready by half past ten at the very most. But then, his concept of punctuality is quintessentially Indian; needless to say, there’s no sign of him yet.

While we wait for him, let me tell you something about this hotel. The Samdariya is apparently the best hotel in Jabalpur. Its owned by a jeweller famous in these parts- the jewellery shop Samdariya Abhushan is in Russell Chowk. I must say that this hotel would hardly compare with the hotels I’ve seen even in cities like Allahabad. This hotel would just about compare with some of the more ordinary air-conditioned hotels in Bombay or Pune- which would perhaps charge the same room rent as this one. Considering the significance of this city, I must say that this hotel is unjustifiably expensive. The general impression I have of Jabalpur, having seen a bit of it over the last couple of days, is that developments that have swept the bigger cities seem to have bypassed this one. Jabalpur is like an average provincial city in the 90s- no malls or multiplexes here and as far as I know, no discotheques as well.

And Pappu Bhaiya has already arrived. My friend Satish is pestering me to get a move on. I couldn’t just leave you so abruptly, could I?

11:00 A.M: We’re heading towards Bargi Dam. This dam took 16 years to complete, finally being finished in 1990. apparently, as is the case with all damn development projects in India, this one too had a considerably adverse effect on the life of the villagers who were affected by it. I’m told that over 150 villages had to be evacuated- they were all submerged by this dam. Pappu Bhaiya tells me that this dam has 8 gates (or did he say 4… I wasn’t listening carefully!) and that if more than 2 on this side were to be opened, Jabalpur would be submerged.

Anyway, on a more positive note, I must say that this place is absolutely magnificent. The dam is spread over 260 odd square kilometres and I can see a part of it from my window. The amazing thing is that the air here is really cool; even a blind man would know by the coolness in the air that there’s a water body in the vicinity. And assuredly, there’s no breeze blowing here- its just the effect of the water.

11:15 A.M: Here we are, in the administrative premises. You have the option of taking a motorboat or go pedal boating. The motorboat will cover a limited area within 5 minutes. You can, for a lesser fee, go pedal boating. The guy at the counter recommended the motor boat. I put my foot down: good things in life take time; what’s the hurry anyway?

11:45 A.M: here we are, pedalling away to glory. I and Satish have been pedalling for about 15 minutes now and as you can see from our expressions, we’re both tiring now.

Let me tell you this folks, if you ever go pedal boating, don’t overexert yourself in a hurry. Half an hour may not sound much, but it seems an eternity when you’re pedalling really hard. The worst part is, we’ve come so far from the jetty that we’ll have to push that much harder to get back home! Geez, why was I in such a hurry to get on with it?

11:55 A.M: You know, it’s a bit hot out here in the mid-day sun and I’m sweating a wee bit and panting a lot more. Satish has reached the end of his tether- which means I have to do all the pedalling to take us to the shore.

12:00 P.M: Puff…gasp… geez I’m outta breath…please wait a moment.

Whew, that was something! I’ve still not completely recovered my breath. You know, half an hour of pedal boating is really exhausting- at least, for a person who’s unaccustomed to it. Off comes the life-jacket. You know, it was singularly uncomfortable with it on; its so stiff that your movements become quite badly restricted… wonder whether I should have struggled with that thing on, since I’m a decent swimmer anyway. I promise you, I certainly wouldn’t fancy myself swimming with that thing on.

And even as I speak, Pappu suggests that we take a photo of the jetty so here goes.

The reason why I put up this picture is to show you this cruise boat in the background. The capacity of this boat is some thirty odd… not sure. I wonder why this thing was introduced, because they have to wait for thirty something people to turn up before starting it off; just not viable otherwise. When you consider that its about the number of people likely to turn up in a day, you can’t help wondering if it wasn’t a particularly harebrained idea. Pappu tells me that this cruise boat isn’t proving profitable and there’s talk of doing away with it… so my hunch was correct!

And looking at the watch, I fear its getting really late! Whole day’s work ahead folks; so its time to say à bientôt. Catch you as soon as time permits…

Friday, 2nd February 2007

8:00 P.M: Well well, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve bothered you so late in the day and why I’m panting like this… sorry, but there’s isn’t too much time for explanations. Suffice it to say that we’re rushing to nawabon ka shehar (which would roughly translate as City of Kings)- Lucknow. We’re leaving by Chitrakoot Express. And so after 23 days here in M.P, we’re headed to the capital of U.P- the erstwhile United Provinces, now called Uttar Pradesh (once again a tranalsation of the old name, as in the case of M.P). our colleague Arvind, whom I sent to take care of the work at Lucknow awaits us. And I fear, our train's about to leave and that means I'll have to leave you now. See you tomorrow morning at Lucknow.

U.P ahoy!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Glimpses of Madhya Pradesh

Memoirs of a Traveller
Wednesday, 10th January 2007

I’m on my way to Satna, MP with three colleagues. We’re auditing a cement company and this assignment starts off with an audit of the cement plant, followed by audits of all the marketing offices of the company. I’ll be covering Satna, Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna, Varanasi and Allahabad in this visit and needless to say, I’ll share with you whatever is worth sharing. Incidentally, I’ve got my camera with me this time round- there’ll be pictures to share with you.

And even as I speak, my friends are getting up. We’re approaching our first destination: Satna.

10:00 P.M: Here we are, finally at Satna! Thank goodness, our train isn’t too late. We’ve been on the train since midnight yesterday… been all of 22 hours, but here we are at last.

Before we get off the train, let me quickly give you a background of Satna. This city is in the state of Madhya Pradesh, popularly M.P (a literal translation of the old name Central Provinces, which also gives you a description of the state’s geographical location in India). It is the headquarters of the Satna district which comprises a wide area measuring 7502 square kilometres. The name Satna is derived from the Satna River which flows through the district. It is situated in north-eastern Madhya Pradesh, barely 100 kilometres from the state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P). In fact, the dialect of Hindi spoken here is closer to that spoken in U.P rather than the ones you’re likely to hear in M.P.

Satna is a vital railway junction from which distribution of agricultural and fabric products are carried out (handloom weaving is one of the key industries here). But the main industry in Satna is cement manufacturing. This district is rich is limestone deposits and as you know, limestone is the most vital component of cement. You have several cement plants in the Satna-Rewa belt (Rewa is another town very close by); including the company we are here to audit (no names of course).

And coming back to the present, we’re standing on the railway platform. It’s pretty dark here… no signs of a pickup. I guess we’ll have to get out into the parking lot. Incidentally, it’s not as cold as we were led to believe. I’d worn a leather jacket expecting that it would be cold; I’m taking it off now. It would also be worth mentioning that if you ever go traveling, I’d advice you to travel light. I’m lugging up two pieces of luggage up the over bridge and I promise you, it’s not fun.

Anyway, we’re in the parking lot now and I can see a vehicle with the name _ Cement Ltd. Pasted on the read window. Thank God, we’re in safe hands.

11:00 P.M: After an excellent dinner, we’re on our way to the dormitory, which is situated right in the plant. The restaurant where we had dinner, called Savera, is pretty expensive, given the size of this city. If you'll believe it, the prices are pretty much at par with similar joints in Bombay.

The cement plant where we're headed is about 25 kilometres from the city and I assure you, the road to the plant is a pretty lonely one. It passes right through the middle of a forest. There are no streetlights and I can’t see a vehicle anywhere in sight. It’s fine as long as you’re inside the vehicle. I promise you, I wouldn’t set out here on foot, or for that matter, a two-wheeler even if someone paid me a million dollars! My colleague Satish tells me that he’s traveled through many a road like this before… but he’s from a village in Rajasthan, where lonely roads like this are not necessarily unknown. This road is scary for a person like me, born and brought up in the hustle and bustle of Bombay.

11:30 P.M: We’re on the last leg of our journey to the plant. And the path on which we’re now driving (I refuse to call this a road) is terrible. We’re going along at 10 kilometres an hour and our vehicle is shaking about like a boat. It was just as bad when I came here last June; `guess things don’t change so fast in these parts.

12:00 A.M: Finally, after that rough road journey, we’re in the dormitory of _. The room’s reasonably comfortable; perhaps as good as it can get in the dormitory of a cement plant. To be honest, I’m too tired to really make out most of what’s happening around me. I promise you, I still feel as though my body were rocking back and forth in a train.

So goodnight everyone. Catch you as soon as I have something to write about.

Thursday, 18th January 2007

While there isn’t an awful lot to tell you as of now, there are some snippets worth sharing all the same.

I had mentioned earlier that it’s not nearly as cold as we’d been led to believe; I know the reason for it now. Apparently, there were hardly any rains in these parts last monsoon. In fact the Tamas River (not 100% sure if this is Tamas indeed) which is on the way between the city and this plant is completely dry. Apparently, they’re expecting a drought this year. You’d hardly think so unless someone told you- the fields in the vicinity are plush green, but that’s apparently due to ground water.

Secondly, I’d been to Chitrakoot last weekend… I fear the place was a bit of a disappointment. The only real highlight was a place called ‘Gupt Godavari’, where there exists a second source of the river Godavari. You have to walk through a couple of pretty narrow caves to see the place where the water comes gushing out… though not the source. No one has been able to locate the source yet- which explains the name (Gupt in Hindi means secret). It’s an amazing cave, though there are some spots where the rocks underneath your feet are sharp and as you can imagine, incredibly uncomfortable to walk on.

I'd been through one of the villages in the vicinity of the plant. If ever you wanted a study of contrasts, here you are. The village is unbelievably backward- far more backward than any of the villages I've ever seen on T.V. There is no electricity. The village school is an incredibly small, one-room structure. The road passing through the middle of the village is... well not a road! There's just a rough path with stones strewn all over. You can't get any quicker than 10 KMPH on that road. The houses are crudely built, with thatched hay roofs. Should you ever see the place, you'd be forgiven if you thought that you had somehow gone two or three centuries back in time- and all that within two kilometres from a state of the art cement plant. I remember someone once telling me that India is a land of contrasts. He hit the nail right on the head.

For the people living in these villages, the cement plant came as a Godsend. Most of these people work in the plant- which gives them the benefit of a fixed monthly income, apart from the fact that most of them have already made quite a bit of money by selling their land to the company for mining. I'm told that these people were living in utter poverty until a generation back; but with this plant now, all of them are at least able to make ends meet. Hopefully, they'll be able to take a step further- which will need education. Fortunately, the company has set up an excellent school here.

So my friends, if you ever wondered what the solution for India's massive poverty is, one of them is industrialisation. Its no coincidence that U.P, Bihar and West Bengal, the three states where poverty is the highest, are all states with relatively low levels of industrialisation. It is also no coincidence that even in the states where poverty is lower, the worst poverty affected areas are the non-industrialised areas.

But my colleague and roommate Arvind (with me on this trip too) is getting impatient to switch off the lights… it’s about 11 in the night. But before I go, I ought to share another interesting piece of information. If you ever happen to visit Chitrakoot, make sure you get out of here before half past four or five at the very most: the jungles around Chitrakoot are very unsafe- lot of dacoits thereabouts (people describe it as mini-Chambal). Whatever you do, make sure you’re not on the road once it gets dark: return early if you can, or stay back but venture not here in the darkness.

Lights off folks… good night!

Sunday, 21st January 2007

Finally, we’re off for some action today. Six of us today: the four of us on this audit and a couple of employees of our clients joining us. What’s more, all six of us are bachelors... do I need say anymore?

8:30 A.M: Our vehicle has arrived. We’re all set to leave for Khajuraho among other places (and I’m not yet sure what places we’re going to visit). We’re off to ‘the den’ first. In case you’re under the impression that we’re into wildlife photography or something like that, it would be worth clarifying that the den is the name of the living quarters where the bachelor employees of the company stay… but wait a minute, I’ve forgotten my camera! Well well, the old habit still lingers. We’re getting late. I’m rushing to get the camera.

Jeez, the air beating against your face is certainly discomfiting! It’s not cold, but it’s certainly uncomfortable. Anyway, here we are, in the vehicle, with the camera. Off we go!

9:30 A.M: We’re now outside Satna city limits. Let me clarify that when I use the word ‘city’ as a generic term. I know you’re wondering what I mean. Well it’s like this: Satna is just a district headquarters and no more, and I’d be hard pressed to describe it as anything more than a town (and a pretty small one at that). Satna is terribly underdeveloped. You’ll be hard pressed to find any structures more than one storey high. As for the city itself, I won’t bother to spend time in a description… just not worth it! In fact, there are no good colleges in Satna and this place does not even have a university!

But coming back to the present, we’re ascending a hilly area. I must say that hills in these parts are not steep- at least, not even nearly as steep as the hills in my part of the country. Of course, the hills in the west coast, where I stay, are fold mountains; these are not. And even as I speak, our vehicle has come to a halt; the reason? There’s a small temple here by the roadside. Just why we stopped here, I’m not sure…

…it took just a moment to pray and return. We’re across the road; time for a snap. Now I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re taking snaps of a place like this, with nothing extraordinary. The reason is this: just behind us (I say 'us' even though I’m not in this picture) is the Panna tiger reserve.

I’m standing with them now, barely a yard from the wall and I assure you, I have not the slightest intention of getting closer. On the other side of this wall is a sheer drop into the tiger reserve. In fact, there’s a board here warning riders not to stop here for too long. We heed the advice. Photo clicked; time to move on.

11:30 A.M: We have arrived at Panna, one of the oldest living cities, referred to in ancient texts like the Ramayana. Archeological excavations have established that primitive man also inhabited this city in pre-historic times. This place was apparently known as Padmavati Puri in ancient times. The word panna in Hindi means a gem. This city is of course, known for its diamond industry and was, until 1866 or so, the largest source of diamonds anywhere in the world. Now whether the city derived its name from the precious stones you find here or vice versa, I haven’t the foggiest.

We’re here to visit the Jugal Kishore temple here. I’m told the temple is an incredibly old one, constructed sometime in 1760s or so. It would be worth mentioning, that there are scores of narrow by-lanes in this city, reminiscent of Banaras (or Varanasi, where I’ll be going shortly). We’ve stopped our vehicle outside one such by lane which is so narrow that the car can’t get in.

And guess what? The temple doesn’t open till 12:00! that means we have a bit of time to kill. Someone is suggesting that we might as well visit the Prannathji temple while we’re about it. Suggestion taken; we’re on the way.

It would be worth mentioning that there’s a tendency to add ‘ji’ to the name of every God or Goddess in these parts. It’s a suffix that denotes respect- a very respectful form of address, which has not equivalent in English or any other foreign language I can think of (and for the record, I speak French and Russian fluently). It's also pretty common to add the suffix ji when addressing strangers, professional acquaintances or someone senior to you as a mark of respect.

12:30 P.M: Here we are, inside the Jugal Kishore temple. It’s magnificent, I promise you. There are temples which are also there and temple which are there and this one falls into the later category, I promise you. I’m no fanatic, and mystic I’m surely not. But this temple has incredible atmosphere. Should you ever visit these parts, you really must visit this temple.

As for the idol itself, it’s quite dark in there and so I could hardly venture to give an accurate description. But what strikes any casual visitor is that shining diamond on the lord’s crown. The Prannathji temple was incredible, but this one’s even better I promise you. Do check out the temples of Panna if you ever come visiting these parts.

And having seen the leelaein of Vishnuji (Jugal Kishore and Prannath are both Lord Krishna), we’re off to see the leelaein of Kamdevji- at Khajuraho (and with due apologies to the non-Hindi reader, I’m unable to find a satisfactory equivalent for the word ‘leela’ in English).

1:30 P.M: We’re here at Khajuraho, after a long drive. We stopped to have lunch somewhere, only to be told that we’d have to wait half an hour after placing the order; net result: we’ve not yet had lunch.

And I’m sure you’re wondering why we didn’t bother to wait, it was just half an hour after all. Well, that’s a cultural thing. Basically, we Indians in general and the people in these parts in particular have this dangerous tendency to understate things. When someone talks about half an hour, you can safely assume that it’ll at least take an hour. Remember; don’t take everything that people say in these parts on face value: people here have a problem in saying no. perhaps foreigners are right when they say that we Indians are a very ‘soft’ people.

We’ve decided to have a drink before we look up the place- lunch to be taken afterwards. In fact, we’re sitting on the roof of a small joint. We’ve asked for vodka. The intention was to have one of our colleagues enjoy the experience- he’s never experienced anything like it. As I feared, he’s chickened out of it. Anyway, that’s his choice- we’re going to taste vodka, which I’ve never tasted. while we wait for the Vodka to arrive, I’ll quickly tell you something about Khajuraho.

Legend has it that the name ‘Khajuraho’ was derived from the two golden date palm trees that once decorated the gates to this city (Khajur is of course, Hindi for date palms). In all probability, the name was really derived from the date palms growing abundantly in the vicinity of the city.

Anyway, name apart, this place is well known for its erotic sculptures; the temples are built on the sculptural scheme, that is to say, the sculptures form a part of the design and are not superimposed decorations. Apparently, there were 85 temples during the heydays of this city, out of which only 22 survive today. As for the rest, they’ve either been destroyed or perhaps still to be excavated- I haven’t the foggiest.

The temples of Khajuraho were built somewhere between 950 and 1050 A.D. I do not know when they went out of use, but the fact is that these temples completely vanished out of all memory until they were re-discovered sometime in the 20th century.

2:30 P.M: But coming back to the present, we’ve finished our vodka. Luckily, I diluted my vodka heavily with Sprite and am much the better for it. I can hardly recollect anything more bitter. And it appears I didn’t have too much of it, seeing as I’m still feeling normal- at least I think I am. No point asking the others of course- all of them (barring one) has had it!

Incidentally, the 22 temples I mentioned have been enclosed in the same compound, fenced from all sides. Fortunately, there are no restrictions on taking a camera with you inside the place. That means, of course, that I can show you some pictures.

2:45 P.M: We’re walking up the stairs of the Vishwanath Temple. By the way, these temples are not temples in the normal sense of the word. True you’re required to take off your footwear outside, but there are no ceremonies conducted here, or prayers read. I have no idea when these structures were last used as temples.

There’s a huge Shivling in here. Unfortunately, it’s so dark, that I can’t show you a photo- this would surely be beyond the weak flashlight of my camera. But here’s a view of the temple from the outside.

There’s a temple of Nandi the bull bang opposite this one. Apart from the exterior, which I’ll come to in a minute, what surprises me is that there are no bats in here, unlike in my native Maharashtra, where you’re certain to find bats inside most ancient places. Apparently, the MP Government is a little more active in preserving its tourism locations (Khajuraho is a world heritage site by the way).

And talking about the erotic sculptures on the outside (and incidentally, also on the outside portion of the inner walls- some temples have two layers of walls), not all the sculptures are erotic. A majority of the sculptures depict day to day activities… and even as I speak, I can hear a guide talking to a group of Japanese tourists (or Chinese, I’m not sure!). One of them seems to know English and he’s translating the guide’s just about manageable English into his language.

Interestingly, I hear the foreigner (I’m not guessing his nationality) repeatedly alluding to ‘surya’. As you know, Surya is Hindi for the sun and I did hear the guide refer to the sun. Apparently, their language has a few words in common with Sanskrit… makes you think.

The erotic carvings, which form about 10-20% of the total carvings, are incredible. It’s hard to believe that someone could have sculpted anything like this in a prudish society like ours; perhaps there was an age when we were a lot more open on these matters. Interestingly, none of the erotic sculptures are of deities. Intentional or not, even our ancient people appear to have been politically correct. Some of these sculptures are… well have a look and decide for yourselves.

3:00 P.M: We’re actually seeing the Western group of temples- there are two groups. We are currently just ouside the Kandariya Mahadev temple, the biggest in this group. It’s a huge temple- over 100 feet high… incredible for its period. No doubting the artistic merit of it, but I won’t trouble you with a description; all the temples here look exactly the same. If there’s a difference, I fear it escaped me (and all the others with me as well). Sadly, I’m unable to show you a pic- the temple is way too big to fit into the frame of my camera. Unfortunately, we're unable to step into this temple; they are doing so restorative work.

3:30 P.M: Just seen the Matangeshwara temple. This one’s built slightly different from the rest- at least, so it appeared to a layperson like me. This temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is still a place of worship. Lovely temple this- the triangular steeple and a Shivling that’s about 10 feet high are both spectacular, given the technology available about 1000 years ago when this temple was constructed.

One simple piece of advice: do see this temple if you come to Khajuraho. As for the other temples, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all. To a layperson, they all look exactly the same from the outside. The carvings are truly unbelievable and it’s amazing that someone could have managed to make all of them by hand; which goes to show that there were far better artists among our ancestors than in our generation, unless they had some form of technology which was lost in the mists of time.

We’ve decided to go around the gardens and then proceed to have lunch… no point going for the Eastern group of temples. Jitu (first from Right in the pic below), who has been here before, says that the temples there are also more or less the same.

4:00 P.M: We’re standing in the middle of the huge lawns in the environs of the temples. I thought it would be worth showing you these huge cacti.

I confess that I have never seen such huge cactus plants. I have seen some on T.V, but never suspected that plants such as this also exist in India. The stems are filled with water- if you happen to shake the stem, you’ll get pretty much the same sound that you’ll get if you shake a narrow bottle. Poor Sachin (second from right, in the black T-Shirt), who wanted to demonstrate it got a thorn in his flesh- more accurately, in the index finger of his right hand.

I can’t help standing here and admiring these huge cacti… but its really late; the others are getting impatient… and hungry. We haven’t had lunch yet!

5:00 P.M: finally, lunch over! Jeez, the service in these parts is excruciatingly slow. For people like me, accustomed to the instant service you usually get in Bombay restaurants, the service is, well, terrible (for want of a better word).

We’re in the parking lot and there are a whole lot of guys selling books on Khajuraho and a whole lot of wares, the likes of which you certainly wouldn’t like people of home to see! I guess, most of it is intended for the foreigners who, I daresay, outnumber the Indians here. In fact one guy looked to con me with an overpriced book. I couldn't help but tell him yaar videshiyon ko toh thagthe ho, Hindustaniyon ko toh chodo (for the benefit of non-Hindi speakers: "you anyway con the foreigners, at least spare Indians").

One thing you’ll find is that these hawkers (or whatever you’d like to call them) are after foreigners to con a quick buck. A simple piece of advice (should you ever happen to go there), you can safely assume that whatever price he quotes, you can easily get it for half that price (if not lower) and yes, don’t be taken in by the price mentioned in print- that too is negotiable! Apply 50% discounting.

But I fear I talk too much! It’s getting dark and we still have to see Raneh falls, which is about 20 kilometres or so from Khajuraho, and it’s getting very late. Remember, its winter and it becomes dark by about 6:00 P.M in these parts.

5:30 P.M: we’ve finally reached Raneh falls. This place, unlike what the name suggests, is not just a waterfall. Actually, there’s a huge canyon here, through which flows the Ken River. The canyon ranges from 50 to 100 feet in depth. Here’s a picture of the canyon for you.

We’re throwing stones into the water right now and the sound of the stone hitting water is spectacular. I can’t see where the stone landed; only hear the sound. Let me show you a picture of the fall .

It’s quite a steep fall as you can see. Luckily, you’re in no risk of falling over. There is, God bless, a fence here for safety’s sake. As you can see, there isn’t an awful lot of water below. That’s on account of the scanty rains last monsoon and the fact that the flow of the Ken River is now tamed by the Gangau dam.

The canyon, incidentally, was not created by the flow of the river. Our guide tells us that it was created by a volcanic eruption here some 500 million years ago or so, which explains the variety of rocks you see here. The colours of the rocks range from pinkish to black. I can even see reddish and grey rocks here. Let me give you another view of it.

Sadly I don’t have a video camera- for this entire place is worth showing. Believe me, this place defies description. Surprising as this may sound, I think this place is far more beautiful than anything I saw at Khajuraho. Until I came here, I never knew that you had rocks of so many different colours in the same place. Hard to understand why this place is not so well known- I hadn’t even heard of it until a few hours back.

We asked our guide the shortest route from here to Satna. A couple of guys, who were with our guide, are suggesting an alternative route. Incidentally, the dialect they speak here is very different from the one they speak at Satna- you only have to hear the Hindi here to realize that you’re now in M.P. our guide tells us that there’s a considerable variety of wildlife in these parts; I daresay, none of us have the stomach for all that now: its nearly six- the light is fading rapidly even as I speak and there's no shortage of felines in the jungles that abound here, through which we'll have to pass on the way back… time to make a move.

7:00 P.M: Its pitch dark now. The road is completely deserted, barring the odd vehicle that zips by; there are no street lights as well. If you’re a person accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a big city and you want to test your courage, just step out of your vehicle here in the dark and walk down until the vehicle goes out of sight… which I have no intention of doing by the way!

We’ve been having quite a bit of fun here by the way. Sadly, most of it is bachelor’s stuff- can’t reproduce them here. As is usually the case, one of us is the butt of a whole lot of jokes. Fortunately, its not me!

And even as I speak, I can see a deer on the road! Would you believe this: A full size, grown up deer in the middle of the road? Belonging as I do, to a city where one only gets to see people, plople and more people every square inch, the sight of a deer in the middle of the road seems surreal. Unfortunately, we’ve already passed by, and we moved too fast for me to click a photo.

7:30 P.M: We’re still some distance away from Satna… time for a break. We’ve stopped by a roadside tapri (with apologies to non-Hindi speakers, I can’t translate this word into English) to have tea. Don’t know if there is electricity in this place at all; if there is, the supply is currently off now. The place is lit up using lanterns.

There’s a wide shed with an asbestos roof and there are a whole lot of cots (the wood and choir cots you see in the countryside) laid out here. What’s interesting is the number of posters on the wall- all of film actresses… the atmosphere here isn’t particularly bad, for a bachelor at least!

And as I sip tea, Sachin tells me that there are some villages nearby (I couldn’t get the name) where the poverty is so crushing that all the females are into prostitution. And if you’ll believe it, their fathers and brothers themselves act as pimps!

I might not have believed this a year ago, but having seen glimpses of the poverty in these parts, I can definitely believe it. If you ever believed all this talk of India being or becoming a superpower, I trust this would have been a reality check. THIS, my friends, is the harsh reality. For all the progress we’ve made as a country, facts like these remain equally true.

8:15 P.M: On the way back… but it’s too noisy here to concentrate and I promise you, I’m really tired.

We’re nearly back in Satna. No more adventure for the day folks. This is the most difficult part guys, but its time now to say adieu. And thank you from spending time with me. Come back with more experiences when the opportunity afford itself.