The temple and the forest

A long, long time ago a temple was built in a forest.

The temple was on the banks of a perennial stream and at the foot of a hilly portion deep inside the forest. The man who built it was the administrator of the region, and a minister in the court of the king who ruled the land. The temple was not big or grand in size, but was rich in detail. The main deity in the temple was the man’s ishta devta, Shiva or Mahadeva in the form of a lingam.

For some reason, the temple remained known only to the man, his soldiers and the people who lived in the forest. This turned out to be a good thing for when the invaders came to the area intent on destroying places of worship, the temple was spared as they weren’t aware of it. The man and his soldiers had to flee the region, never to return again and with this, the temple entered a into a state neglect and disrepair as there was no one to maintain it.

Centuries passed. The forest claimed the temple as its own and a thick undergrowth added to the temple remaining hidden, ensuring that nobody knew what lay within save snakes and other animals that had made the area their home. Subsequent invaders to the region did not even enter the forest.

And then one day, in the not too distant past, something happened. A bold or maybe a lucky explorer or perhaps just someone who lost his way in the forest came upon the temple or rather its ruins. He informed the authorities concerned who immediately set out to uncover it. It wasn’t an easy task, but once the trees and undergrowth were cleared it was to reveal a temple like no other in the Goa.

The Mahadev Temple of Tambdi Surla turned out to be quite a discovery and studies dated it at 12th/13th century making it the oldest temple in the state. A visit to the temple last November underscored everything that I have described this temple to be.

Mahadev temple, Tambdi Surla, Goa, Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary Continue reading

Old Goa: Of churches, a ruin, a museum and Google Maps

Old Goa, Se Cathedral, Goa, Travel, Velha Goa, UNESCO World Heritage SiteIt is nearly 5 pm when we (my friend and I) decide to call it a day at Old Goa or Velha Goa. We have spent a wonderful day in this culturally and historically significant part of Goa by exploring some of its monuments and also a museum.

As we walk out of the last of the monuments we have visited, I switch on my cell phone to call DJ, the driver of the car we have hired for the day to come and pick us up. (I had switched it off earlier in the day when we were dropped outside the first of the monuments we were to visit that day). My phone pings notifications furiously and to my surprise, I see notifications for 16 missed calls and 12 text messages — all from DJ.

When I call him up, DJ almost faints with relief. “Oh Madam, I thought something had happened to you.”

“What made you think so?” I ask him, surprised. “I did say that we would call you once we were done for the day.”

When DJ picks us up, he repeats how relieved he was to see us and asks if we saw all the monuments in Old Goa.

“Of course not ! It’s impossible to see all of them. We visited 6 monuments and 1 museum.”

DJ actually stops the car and turns around to stare at us. ‘You spent 8 hours and saw only 6? I have brought people here who have done all the monuments in less than 2 hours and then headed to the beach.”

I just shrug. As we drive off, I can sense DJ’s puzzled gaze at us. A gaze that seems to ask just what we did we do the whole day in Old Goa?

Are you also curious about my day in Old Goa and what I did there? Well then, read on… :)

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The cemetery at Colva

It is around midnight when we pass Colva Cemetery.

I had arrived in Goa earlier that November evening and after settling into the service apartment I was staying in, head to Colva Beach for dinner with my friend. A delicious dinner of Italian food later, it is time for a leisurely stroll back to the apartment under a moonlit sky and a gentle sea breeze accompanying us.

We pass restaurants that are still serving dinner, tourists walking back to their hotels, sleepy dogs, shops shut tight… And then quite suddenly, a large angel looms out of the semi darkness, startling me for a second. That’s when I realise that we are passing a graveyard, the Colva Cemetery, and the “angel’ was part of a tomb.

We stop to look over the low walls of the graveyard. Of course, we can’t see much in the darkness except for ghostly outlines of tombstones and tomb sculptures. Also visible is a rather sinister and spooky-looking barn like structure with no doors or gates. Since the moonlight doesn’t penetrate inside, it is shrouded in darkness.

“What’s that?” I ask. “It can’t be the church, can it?”

“No. The church is behind us, and across the road. Maybe a chapel?” my friend suggests.

“Maybe. But why is it so dark?” I shiver involuntarily.

“Let’s come back tomorrow morning and find out, shall we?”

We come back in the morning and see one of the most beautiful graveyards that I have come across.

Colva Cemetery, Graveyard, Colva, Goa, Travel

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Dear Goa

It took me 27 years and four trips to come close to understanding what people say about you.

It is said that you are not just a destination or a place, but a state of mind. Rarely a day goes by without coming across a write-up about you in a newspaper or a magazine or a blog. Many of these write-ups are so gushy that it is almost embarrassing to read them. But it does reveal one thing: it was love at first visit and an almost instant attainment of that “Goa” state of mind for those who wrote the articles.

Goa, Colva Beach, TravelNot for me though. I visited you four times between 1986 and 2013, and you have always been a destination for me, and memorable for all the wrong reasons (for the first 3 trips, at least). I wasn’t impressed with you after the first trip or the second or the third trip… As for the fourth trip, we’ll come to that a little later. Let me tell you a little bit about the first three trips.

The first trip was organised by my school in December 1986. It was a road trip and I was one of the 90-odd students who travelled in 2 MSRTC buses from Pune to Goa. My recollections of that trip are largely of motion sick co-travellers and vomit all over the bus; smell of fish, wherever we went in Goa (yeah, I’m a vegetarian); a blur of church and beach visits, each one indistinguishable from the other; diarrhoea and the hunt for public toilets with water… It was a poorly organised trip and I know that you were not entirely to blame, but… I didn’t take to you at all.

The second trip happened four years later in December 1990, a mandatory field trip in my third year of college as part fulfillment for a BSc in Geology. This time I travelled by train with 20-odd classmates and 3 teachers.

Goa, Field trip

Somewhere in Goa at the start of our field trip in December 1990

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Ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi…

My trip to Himachal in September last year was a trip of many firsts — the first time I saw the mighty Himalayas, the first time my under-graduate and post-graduate classes on Himalayan Geology came alive, the first time I saw apples on trees, the first time I tasted a yellow plum, the first time I saw the confluence of two rivers … and so much more.

It was also a trip where an old interest in the plant life around me got rekindled. It started of slowly enough with the magnificent trees in the region grabbing my attention: the pines, the deodars, the fruit trees. Then it was the flowering shrubs that my attention shifted to, especially the wild rose plant that I thought was a pomegranate plant ! Go ahead and laugh. You have my permission :-P

Wild Rose, Himachal Pradesh, Fagu, Travel, Himalayan PlantsSoon words like bryophytes, pteridophytes, angiosperms, gymnosperms, mycota… were floating around my head, dredged up from some corner of my brain, courtesy college-level Botany. And slowly, with each passing day, other plants came into focus, especially the non-flowering variety of ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi. (Strictly speaking fungi are not plants, but since they were considered to be part of the Plant Kingdom in the recent past, I have included them here.)

And before I knew it, I was traversing the fascinating world of ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi… and then some more.

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Charming Chail Palace

Chail (pronounced as Chaa-il) was the last destination of my Himachal trip. Our group stayed at the Chail Palace, the former residence of Bhupinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Patiala, and now part of the HPTDC group of hotels. The Chail Palace has an interesting history. It was built in 1891 after Maharaja Bhupinder Singh got expelled from Shimla. The brief story goes something like this:

Apparently the Maharaja was having a good thing going with a top ranking British official’s daughter/wife. (the accounts differ whether it was the daughter or the wife). As a result of this indiscretion, the Maharaja was expelled from Shimla. Furious, the Maharaja decided to ‘cock a snook’ at the British and build a grand palace at a location that would be visible from and higher in altitude than Shimla.

That location was Chail, a tiny village in the Shivalik Hills and across the valley from Shimla. How this particular location was picked is another interesting story and that was narrated to us by Jagat, a waiter at the hotel.

Chail, Chail Palace, Himachal Pradesh, Travel Continue reading