Rani ni Vav: The queen of stepwells

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, PatanIt is around 10.30 in the morning when I enter the Rani ni Vav (or the Queen’s Stepwell) complex at Patan. It’s a sunny with bright blue and cloudless skies.

I take this as an auspicious sign for I have been rather unlucky when it comes to viewing stepwells. Be it at Hampi, Champaner or Lonar, the wells were full of water when I visited these places and I could not see the step-like feature of the wells. So keenly aware I am of my ‘luck’ with stepwells that I cannot help asking the person selling entry tickets to the monument, if there is water in the stepwell. I get the reassuring reply that the water supply dried up a long time back and the step well is dry.

So it is with a spring in my steps and a smile on my face that I enter the complex. Manicured lawns and well laid out pathways welcome me, and I pass a photo shoot and coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the Rani ni Vav, which is a short walk from the entrance.

Soon the stepwell is visible or rather a fenced off rise and depression is visible and it is only when I am almost upon it that I see steps descending into the stepwell. I have picked up a booklet from the ticket office on the Rani ni Vav and settle down on the topmost step to read and familiarise myself with the history of the stepwell.

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, Patan Continue reading

Travel Shot: Cow in the box

The cow looked up coyly at me through her false eyelashes. Her golden horns glinted with the light of Surya on her forehead. The various gods and sages on her flanks looked stonily at me — Brahma, Hanuman, Saraswati, Agni, Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi… Only the sage Narada had a cheerful smile for me.

The fact that she was boxed in a transparent cage and leg deep in money did not seem to affect the cow at all.  And as for me, I stared at the cow with a touch of disbelief. You would have done the same if you saw a cow like this.

Cow in the box, donation box, Govind Gopal Goshala, Rajasthan

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Travel Shot: Laugh and the world laughs with you

May 20, 2009. Oxford Street London.

It is the opening day of special sales at the Marks and Spencer store on the occasion of their 125th Anniversary and there’s a long line of people waiting for the store to open. As opening time nears, the crowd swells and so does the restlessness. That’s when a group of entertainers come out to interact with the crowd keep them occupied till its time for the store doors to open.

One of the entertainers is a magician who moves down the line chatting a bit to each person and sharing a magic trick or two. It’s a smooth, practiced routine and quite predictable, not to mention boring. And then something happens…

One of the people waiting in the line says something and the magician bursts out laughing and continues laughing.

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Photostory: The crow and the dung cake

Have you seen a crow with its food?

The way it looks at the food and then examines it before eating — be it leftover food thrown away in a dustbin or rotting meat or even fresh rice that many Hindus serve as offerings to ancestors.

Their behaviour is more or less the same… A sudden flapping of wings as they land near the food, then an examination of what the food is, then a quick look around, a tiny sampling, and then gobbling it all up. And sometimes, just sometimes, a caw and then some more of appreciation. :)

Last year, during a visit to the Hatu Mata Temple at Himachal Pradesh, I came across a crow and its intense deliberation of a dried up pile of dung. I was photographing flowers when I heard a caw and looked up to see and then photograph an entire sequence with the crow.

I had kind of forgotten about these set of photographs and found them while I backing up the photographs. And voila, an entire narrative emerged. In the crow’s words of course. ;)

Well… what do we have here?
Crow, Bird. dung

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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.

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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 — ringed with a thick green cover and dotted with temples around its periphery — stretches out below me. 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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