The Lord’s Tour: A visit to the home of cricket

If you had been anywhere near the Lord’s Cricket Ground on 4th September 2009, at around 9.50 am, you might have seen a woman running around trying to find a way into the grounds. It is also possible that you might have heard some loud cursing in at least 3 languages from her. That woman was me.

In case you thought that I was trying to break in to see some cricketer, perish the thought. I was running (and cursing) as I was late for a pre-booked 10.00 am Lord’s Tour, which meant that if I didn’t find the correct gate in the next 5 minutes or so, I was going to miss the start of the Tour. And my experience of guided tours in England was that They. Started. On. Time. Period.

Now I am not a cricket fan. Never was, and never will be. If India is on a winning spree, I might just listen to the talk around me, but that’s about it. So then why was I going to Lord’s then? It was because of my sports fanatic brother’s parting words at Mumbai airport before I boarded my flight for London in September 2008.

Don’t come back to India without having watched a cricket match at the Lords.

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The golden city of Bath

Bath is a rather funny name for a city, isn’t it? I first came across the city of Bath in Charles DickensThe Pickwick Papers, and later in Jane Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Over the years I “visited Bath” through other stories, essays, films, paintings and photographs, and discovered a deliciously decadent life of leisure and luxury, fashion, intrigue, matchmaking, music, dance, poetry… I further discovered Bath’s history of healing and curing through its mineral rich, hot water springs. In fact, archaeological evidence exists of the waters of Bath being used for healing purposes since pre-Roman times. In 1987, Bath was declared a UNESCO Word Heritage Site.

When I spent a year in London in 2008-2009, Bath was on my list of “must see places before return to India”. And on one beautiful July day in 2009, I set off for a day trip to Bath, organised by London Walks. It was a day that the English, rather mistakenly, call an Indian summer’s day—pleasantly sunny with a cool breeze and intermittent light showers. A lovely day to travel and have a bath in walk around Bath. :-)

Located in the green and gold Somerset countryside of England, my first impression of Bath, or Bath Spa as the city is called now, was that it did not look or feel like England at all—it had a very European air about the place. The River Avon flows through Bath and it is the first thing that you see when you come out of the station.

The River Avon at Bath

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The Elephanta Caves

“I couldn’t tear myself away from the image of the Maheshmurti. It was so beautiful. So mesmerising. Elephanta was so nice,” gushed Iskra, an exchange student from Bulgaria. I listened to Iskra’s description of her visit to Elephanta Caves with part fascination and part envy. The reason? In spite of having lived in Mumbai for nearly 23 years, I had never been to the Elephanta Caves. Listening to Iskra, and that too a foreigner, rave about them needled me into resolving to visit the caves at the earliest opportunity.

And would you believe it? The opportunity presented itself to me the very next day, almost as if it was just waiting for me to make up my mind. My Facebook wall announced that Girls on the Go (GOTG), a women’s only travel club, was conducting a guided day trip to the Elephanta Caves on 13 March 2011. Would I be interested? Not one to let go of an opportunity like this, I signed up for the trip within seconds of seeing the intimation. :-D

Gateway of India

So, on D-Day, I was at the Gateway of India much before the reporting time of  7.45 am. While waiting for Piya Bose, the founder of GOTG, and the rest of the group to assemble, I tried to recall what I knew about the Caves. They were … um… really old rock-cut caves, were located in Elephanta Island some distance away from Mumbai, could be accessed only by boat, and was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In short, I knew nothing about the Caves. Of course, by the time the tour got over I was a little wiser thanks to Lakshmi Kishore, our guide, and a booklet on the Elephanta Caves that I purchased from the ticket office.

Elephanta Island has traces of habitation from 2nd century BC in the form of remains of a Buddhist stupa, reportedly built by Emperor Ashoka himself. But what the Island is really famous for are 7 rock-cut caves, whose age is not well established due to absence of written records. Various theories exist as to the age of the caves as well as to who built them, and according to the ASI’s (Archaeological Society of India) booklet, the caves were excavated during the middle of the 6th century, during the rule of the Konkan Mauryas.

Locally, Elephanta Island is known as Gharpuri and is located about 11 km from Mumbai. It was called Elephanta by the Portuguese, who found a stone statue of an elephant at one of the entry points to the Island. Though they tried their best to destroy the statue, they only succeeded in severely damaging it and today the restored elephant is installed at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.

Aquatint of the Stone Elephant by Thomas Daniell and William Daniell, 1786. Photo Courtesy: Elephanta by George Michell

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Hampi: Where mythology, history and today coexist

Vali and Sugreeva. Relief at the Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi

Where do I begin writing about Hampi—its many stories and histories, its kings and legends, its glorious past and ultimate ruin, its temples and other monuments, and its present day avatar. At the beginning, of course !

By Hampi (which is situated on the banks of the river Tungabhadra), I not only mean present day Hampi, but also the region around it.

Many millennia ago, the area was called Kishkinda or Kishkindanagari. This was the kingdom of the vanar Vali and later his brother Sugreeva, and home to the vanars who formed the bulk of Rama’s army in his battle against Ravana in the RamayanaAnegundi, the birthplace of Hanuman, is also located in this area. Anegundi was the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, before it was shifted to Hampi. One can still see the remains of old stone bridge connecting the old and new capitals.

Remains of the bridge across the Tungabhadra connecting the old capital, Anegundi, and the new capital, Hampi, of Vijayanagara

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The Pattadakal Temples: Where kings were crowned and villagers dwelled

The Ganges or the River Ganga is considered to be holy to Hindus. And in Varanasi or Benares, the Ganga is considered to be at its holiest. Do you know why? It is because the Ganga’s flow is uttarabhimukhi or from South to North there, as against the usual West to East, or the less common East to West. I learnt about this piece of trivia when I visited Pattadakal.

Pattadakal is a small village in North Karnataka, situated on the banks of the river Malaprabha. It is a rather unremarkable looking, dusty village, made remarkable for one thing—the Malaprabha is also uttarabhimukhi here. This unique feature was considered an auspicious sign by the rulers of the Chalukya dynasty, thereby singling it out for royal attention.

The North-flowing Malaprabha River at Pattadakal

And what an attention Pattadakal got ! The Chalukya Kings chose Pattadakal as the site for their coronation ceremonies. Being lovers of art and culture, they also chose Pattadakal as the site for building a unique temple complex that would blend the architectural and artistic traits of the northern and southern styles of temple-building that was in vogue in the 8th century. Eight temples were built on one site as a group, while two other temples were built some distance away in Pattadakal. This group of monuments at Pattadakal are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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An enchanted evening at the Agastya Teertha & Bhootnatha Temple

The two Bhootnatha Temples of Badami are located in one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in my travels. In the photograph below, the Agastya Teertha or lake is spread out with the Bhootnatha Temple on the eastern bank visible somewhere near the centre of the photograph. Though I had seen pictures of the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple in a similar setting, the feeling of “Wow” is quite different when you see it yourself, than the “Wow” you feel when you see a photograph.

The Agsatya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple on its eastern bank

The Bhootnatha Temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva—Shiva in the form of the God of souls, spirits and ghosts. Built out of red sandstone probably sourced from the surrounding hills, the two temples are placed opposite one another at the eastern and western banks of the Agastya Teertha. The approach to the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temples from Badami Caves is via a narrow and winding path that passes through a village.

It was around 5 pm when we arrived at the banks of the Agastya Teertha. From there we could see both the Bhootnatha Temples. The sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds and us the whole afternoon, came out for a brief while. Almost on cue, the strains of a shehnai began, probably played from western Bhootnatha temple. The strains soon grew louder and discernible as Raga Sarang.

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