The Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur

The gates to the Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur are locked when I arrive just before 6 pm that December evening in 2014. Surrounded by modern-day residential houses, the centuries-old temple is deserted and looks like it is holding out against a seige.The twilight makes the temple, which is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, look lifeless as well. As I’m wondering what to do, a passerby stops to say, “Call out for the watchman. He’ll come and open the gate.”

I call out for the watchman and the driver of the auto-rickshaw I have hired also adds to my calls. Soon, I can see someone coming out of the temple and walking towards us.

‘Yes?”, he asks.

“I want to see the temple,” I say, prepared to argue it out with him if he says something about closing times or anything else.

“Okay,” he says simply, pulling out a key bunch and deflating my ready arguments immediately. “Put your camera away. No photography allowed here.”

“Why not?” I ask, getting ready to argue again.

“Rules,” is the simple and frustrating answer.

I realise I have no choice in this matter and put away my camera. Only when I put away the camera and close my bag does the watchman open the gates and allow me inside. “You can take pictures from outside the gate, if you want to.”

Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratI just shrug and follow him inside and stop when I reach the temple. And stare at the sight in front of me. Continue reading

The grand and empty Vohrawads of Sidhpur

I first heard of Sidhpur about 6 months back when I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation while commuting to work by bus. In my defence, the conversation, which was between two women from the Dawoodi Bohra community (as was evident from the colourful ridas they wore) in Gujarati and English, was really loud.

It was an animated conversation in which they spoke about their ancestral homes in Sidhpur and the holidays spent there. They spoke of chandeliers, Belgian glass windows, wooden antique furniture, fine linen, tableware, feasts, parties, and antiques among other things. There was gossip, as well as an element of ‘my-ancestral-house-is-grander-than-your-ancestral-house”, but it seemed to be in good fun.

The “conversation” on ancestral homes in Sidhpur intrigued me to look for more information on the Internet. Thanks to my good friend Google, I found in Sidhpur mansions with distinctive European style architecture, each one grander than the other. This information was enough for me to include a visit to Sidhpur when I toured North Gujarat in December 2014.

It was a little after 4 pm when I arrived at Sidhpur. While asking for directions from a local tea stall, I learnt that the Bohra houses were called Vohrawads and also that I needed to go to the Najampura area, which had the best and maximum number of such houses. A short rickshaw ride later, I was standing in front of the house that you see in the photograph below.

Sidhpur, Vohrawad, Comminity housing, Gujarat

Locally, this mansion is called the “house with 365 windows”

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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 day 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 them, and I was unable to 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 completely 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, as well as coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the stepwell, 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.

laugh and the world laughs with you, london, M&S Continue reading

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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