Aurangabad: Rock-cut caves, Bibi ka Maqbara, Panchakki

“Do you want to go left first or right?” the auto-rickshaw driver asks me as we approach a T-junction.

“I don’t know. Whichever takes me to Aurangabad Caves“, I reply, a little confused by the question.

“Both turns will take you to the Caves. Part of the Caves is on the left and part is on the right. I asked since you have to begin somewhere.”

“Umm… in that case, take the left.”

About 10 minutes later, I’m at the foot of a flight of steps that will lead me to the Westernmost part of the Aurangabad Caves.

Aurangabad Caves, Aurangabad, Buddhist Rock Cut Caves

I have very carefully stowed the entry ticket away in my backpack as I will need it to visit the other, Eastern, set of Aurangabad Caves, which is over a kilometre away according to the ticket clerk. There aren’t too many visitors around on that pleasantly warm December afternoon of 2013. The few who are there are Buddhist devotees dressed in white and carrying offerings of white flowers. The climb is an easy one and I reach the entrance to the first of the Caves in no time. Continue reading

The ‘mysterious’ step-well at Lonar

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. ~ Lawrence Block

I first saw the step-well on my way to the hotel from Lonar bus stand from the auto rickshaw.

A sunken structure in black basalt, I think I was lucky to notice it in the first place as the step-well is not on the road itself, but a little inside. I also think I noticed it because of the sudden break between the rather drab looking houses on the road and because it was so different from everything around it. From the quick look that I had in a passing rickshaw, I guessed it to be a water body of some sort. Maybe a step-well or at least an old  water tank?

I immediately asked the driver of the auto rickshaw I was travelling in. “What’s that place we passed just now?”

“What place?”

“The place with the black coloured stone and the one that looks really old.” (Yeah, I know, a very clever and lucid description indeed :-P).

“That thing? It’s a water tank. Nobody uses it or goes there.” These words were uttered with such a tone of finality that I didn’t dare ask him anything more.

Later that evening, after a day spent exploring Lonar, I told the guide about the step-well  / water tank that I had seen earlier that day. The guide was equally dismissive saying that it was a broken down structure, and not really interesting and why should I want to see something as boring as that?

That did it. The word “boring”. I decided that I wouldn’t leave Lonar till I had paid a visit to the step-well / water tank. So next morning, before I left for Aurangabad (my next destination), that’s what I did.

And the first thing I realised when I saw it is that it was not a water tank, but a step-well. Not an elaborate one, but a step-well nevertheless.

Lonar, Maharashtra, Stepwell, water tank, Ancient, Limbi Barav Continue reading

Lonar: Geology, mythology, history and today

I eye the steep and stony descent with some trepidation. The trail, or what passes off as one, appears to be made for goats, not humans.

“It’s okay. The path is perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to you,” says Rajesh, my guide.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I tell him, as I place my camera in its protective case and put it in my backpack. As an afterthought, I put my cellphone in as well, not willing to take any chances with it while climbing down..

“Are you sure this trail is safe?” I ask.

“Not only is it safe, it is also the quickest way to descend.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” I mutter to myself, as I look around to see the vista spread out before me. Beyond the goat trail that is.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake

The orange flags of the Kamalja Mata Temple can be seen as a speck

An almost circular lake, tranquil and pretty as a picture, is stretches out below me ringed with a thick green cover and dotted with temples around its periphery. This is the Lonar Crater Lake, which was created when a high-speed meteorite slammed into the basaltic lava flows about 52,000 years ago. The meteorite is believed to be buried deep within the lake.

Though the Lonar Crater was ‘discovered’ in 1823 by a British military officer, C.G. Alexander, it wasn’t until 1973 that it was found that the Lonar Crater was a one-of-its-kind. It remains the only meteorite impact crater in basalt in the world.

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The Bassein Fort at Vasai

There is an uneasy calm at the break of dawn on 17th February 1739 at Baçaim, an island off the west coast of India. In the fortified part of Baçaim, the Portuguese Commandant, Sylveira de Menezes, who has been tossing and turning the entire night, finally gives up on trying to sleep and prepares to carry out his first inspection of the day.

As Menezes is leaving his quarters, he gets a message from the Captain of the night watch requesting him to make haste to the easternmost rampart of the fort. Menezes rushes to the spot to find the Captain and a sombre group of soldiers waiting for him. Without saying anything, the Captain leads Menezes to a spot from where he can look over the ramparts.

The early morning light reveals a military commandant’s worst nightmare — the Baçaim Fort is surrounded by enemy soldiers, the Marathas, who have managed to reach the outer fort walls under the cover of darkness. This is the beginning of the siege of Baçaim Fort. Initial attempts of the Marathas to secure a breach and enter the Fort are unsuccessful. When they finally do enter the Fort and hold on to their advantage, 3 months have passed and lives of 12,000 Marathas and 800 Portuguese, including that of Menezes, have been lost.

The Portuguese are forced to surrender and the treaty of surrender and capitulation is signed on 16th May 1739. The Portuguese leave Baçaim a week later never to return again.

Vasya, Baxai, Bacaim, Baijpura, Bassein, Vasai Fort, Bassein Fort, Portuguese, Fort of Mumbai Continue reading

The tulsi vrindavans of Goa

As per Hindu tradition, a house without a tulsi or sacred basil plant is considered to be incomplete. Tulsi is one of India’s sacred plants with rich mythological and religious associations. The tulsi is usually planted near the entrance to the house in specially made planters known as tulsi vrindavans.

Tulsi Brindavan, Hindu Cultural icon, Hindusism, tulsi Vivaah

A tulsi vrindavan outside a Hindu home in a hamlet located in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa

Cities, highrises and tulsi vrindavans have an uneasy relationship and cannot really coexist well together. As a result, it’s rare to see tulsi vrindavans in cities like Mumbai; in smaller towns and rural India, however its a different story and I’ve seen them in my various travels in India.

When I arrived in Goa this time, last year the thing I did not expect to see were tulsi vrindavans. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As it happened I saw quite a lot of them !

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Qila-i-Akbari: The red fort of Agra

October 2011
It is almost noon when I arrive at Agra Fort tired, dehydrated, sunburned and with the beginnings of a headache.

It has been a long day that began before sunrise by queuing up with what seemed like the rest of world to see the Taj Mahal. Then it was onwards to Sikandra through terrible traffic and road rage incidents to see Akbar’s Mausoleum, and finally back to Agra to visit the I’timad-ud-Daulah.

It is hot and dry and the Fort is quite crowded. I’m exhausted and unable to concentrate on what the guide is saying. After about 15 minutes like this, I give up and decide to leave, with the hope that I’ll get a chance to visit Agra again and walk through the Fort gates once more.

Agra Fort, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Travel, Red Fort of Agra, Akbari Darwaza

That chance comes almost 3 years later. :-)

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