Treasure [Witch] hunt at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple

The great hunt is on and each day crores of value worth antiques are unraveled from the hidden chests and dark chambers of the great Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Its really mesmerizing to read all about the treasure and its hidden coffers in such an ancient monument and engineering marvel.

South Indian temples really fascinate me, its grandiose structure and innate work and fine grained artistry really entices me. These temple just shows the passion of people who conceived this structures and passion of people who worked for them to make it as they are – a resilient structures which can withstand 1000 years of time and tide.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is relatively a young temple compared to great Chola or Pallava monuments in Tamil Nadu. The great temples in Tanjore, Chidambaram, Gangai Konda Cholavaram, Kumbakonam really bowl me over when I stand before them like a kid with eyes and mouth wide open.

Its really no surprise that so much of treasure is hidden beneath the stone structure of Padmanabha Swamy temple. In fact each and every ancient temple in South India surely would have had such secret treasure troves, but alas now everything is lost because either being looted by British or invading Muslim Kings and if they have survived those stooges our own people might have siphoned off them. The crux is we Indians don’t take pride in such structures nor do we care about these marvels. Many people loathe going to temple for various reason – being an atheist or aversion to crowd or laziness to travel and many other silly reasons. No wonder in Chidambaram you see lot foreigners with cameras than Indians with camera. They are fascinated by them than us.

Coming to this unraveling story of treasures in Padmanabha Swamy Temple – what will happen to them? Now that secret is out in the open vested interests in different quarters may be frothing in their mouth to take control of temple or to seize a nickel out of it and keep it in their showcase or worse siphon it off for money. Remember the price being derived is just based on current market rates, if you add the antique value of these pieces it may run into more crores in value. But it would also be insane to argue that these whole thing is proprietary of one family now. These treasures are not earned by them, they might have been got as gifts to the state, as tax and wealth of the state. So today a family cannot come and claim them because of a lineage. Its like our Prime Minister claiming rights on India’s economy. I feel it belongs to the people of Kerala and its upto the people be proud about it, be passionate about it and care about it and preserve it for generations.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is one of those finest temples out there where a visit can really calm your soul and soothe you. Its ranks high in the way its maintained and run. A big kudos to the Royal family and the trust which does it – after all they never got tempted to loot the treasures till now. Alas that today we have denigrated to such a passé that arbid ego clashes and petty interests have lead to this skull drudgery of a situation and we have no one to blame but ourselves [read Hindus] for such an impasse. From here if an ordinance is promulgated and secular Congress party decides to put a secular person [like Mr. George Joseph or Mr. Mohammed Haji] in the trust running the temple we just have to live with it.

Now the question is next what? What to do with the treasure – should we use it for eradicating poverty or negating some of our fiscal deficit or implement NREGA with that? Anything can happen in this country. I am sure some insane voices would opine that now that people know about the treasures they are not safe where they are and should be put in bank vaults. Nothing can be disastrous than that. We have smart people in this country who even though cannot be creative can easily be creative enough to make fakes and swap the real ones. Hope we won’t tread that path. I personally would like them to maintained where they are and status quo maintained on it. Or even if they can make some great fool-proof arrangement to exhibit them and open the chambers for public that would also be good (something like public viewing every year say, for 2 weeks and then they are back to the chambers). I personally would like to see them and more than the treasure I would be excited in seeing the secret chamber and its security plugs.

Its not clear as to what will happen to the temple or the treasures – a handful of cronies and their ego will decide its fate. But thank god they can’t take the Lord away or take the shrine itself away. Those two are enough for mere mortals like me to be happy about.

A walk in the alleys of this sacred temple is enough to transpire you to another realm, to mesmerize you about our rich history and culture and hope a day will not come when they won’t even allow to do that!

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The revanche of the Methodist – 5 things I got right in 2009

Well, the last day of the year, time for resolutions for many. But let me just retrospect what went right for me in the bygone 365 days.

  1. Stickler for fitness – Yes! this was the greatest achievement of 2009. I have mentally and physically coniditioned my body that I feel welter of guilt if I compromise on my fitness anymore. A One hour exercise regime is very much ingrained into my daily routine now. And I can feel the goodness of it all day long. On the flip side of it is the kerfuffle I make when I am made to eat delicious and luscious sweets and snacks at home 🙂 Those days weren’t far back when the most my body can physically exert was to run for 40-seconds in a stretch. With small baby steps I have improved on it that now I can do a 30mts/3.5km run without a break.
  2. Early Riser – Well, I am composing this post at 5.30AM in the morning, need I say more! The arrant energy you feel when you are up early from bed feels so good now. I was very much rambunctious early 2009, morning started at 8AM on weekdays and 9AM on holidays. Now no matter which day it is I would be in very much disquietude if I am in bed after 6-6.30AM. And this step is the enabler for my previous achievement (1)
  3. Work Ethics – Working in an MNC has it’s share of self induced woes emanating from the arrant luxury and flexbility it offers, one being the timing. Starting the day at 11AM and winding it at 9PM, with no general discipline was plaguing me for long, now I am reaching office early enough at 9AM, well before others trickle in and probably that is the most productive time of the day before office gets filled up. Also, my daily schedule I track with GMail Tasks and try to stick to it. I still need to work on more discipline, and try to get out home by 6PM daily and not to waste time in twitter in office hours. And I have been inspired much by Passionate Programmer by Chad Fowler in this front (thanks to @protoiyer for gifting it)
  4. Writing Unit Tests – Maintaining Legacy code is my job. Till now it’s been the grind of edit and pray mode of working, where you change one part and just hope and pray it doesn’t break some other feature.  Things have started changing after I learnt JUnit and DBUnit this year. For every new feature I add, I am trying to write Test Cases. It’s still very nascent stages and I am still learning the trade and still long before I reach the stage where I write failing Unit Test first before I add production code. But whatever little Test Cases I did, it’s being quite effective and helping me expedite bugs before it reaches production.
  5. Starting a Blog – Blogs are dying! Long live Blogs! This year I have decided to start yet another blog, just to document historic temples of India. Every year I visit many of them, set aside the religious aspect of it I am just fascinated by their sheer beauty, tranquility and history sorrounding those structures. I just want to document all those visits and spread word about them to others. It’s our heritage and I am proud of it. So here it goes “Incredible Temples of India”.

So those are the fine and copacetic moments of 2009,  hoping for a better 2010.

Wish you a Happy New Year!

    Nostalgic trip and The tale of two festivals

    Last week saw us leaving to our home town – Gods Own Country – Trivandrum, Kerala. The idea behind the trip was two fold, it was the festival time in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple near my home and it was also festival time in Thamarkulam Devi Temple which was near my wife’s home. I had missed the Shiveli (procession) in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple for last 6 odd years and was yearning to see one, also wanted my son to have a feel of the spectacle. And my wife was more than interested in going to her home and added to that the festival in their temple. So lapping up the festive spirit we set out for Kerala.

    The festival in Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple is special time for all of us living around the temple precincts. For 20 odd years I had witnessed the spectacle year after year (occurring twice a year). And at different stages of life it meant different things. In early stage at age of 4-5 the attraction around it was the elephant. I still vividly remember those days when my grand father would hand hold me and take me near the elephant. The other major attraction then was to run in front of the elephant. The run was fun with lots of kids around moving in razzle-dazzle. In the last day of the festival after Aratu its race among the deities (of Lord Padmanabha, Lord Narasimha and Lord Krishna) in the Shiveli night, so the elephant which heralds the deities with drumming has to keep up the pace and it also runs. It was easily the most fun part running ahead of a speeding elephant. As time progressed, shivelis were spent with the accompaniment of friends and what beckoned were the pristine white sands all around the temple. It was the vast play ground for us, to play police and thief, make mountains and houses in wet sand(if it rained). During those days it was a gala time of games and fun. Then as years passed, it was more of meeting with friends in a favorite corner in temple just sit and chat and debate about all the topics in the world. It was 10 days of fun and merriment, exam or no exam, homework or no homework, come what ever may we reach temple by 8.15pm and make sure we stay there till the end around 9.30pm. This trip I could not witness all the 10 days, all I could make it up was for 2 days. But still it was mesmerizing and nostalgic. More importantly, I could make my son have a hang of it, though he is just too small for assimilating it. But he was enthralled by elephant, the sounds and lights. And of course kids love sand ain’t they? He just loved running around in the sand all alone. It’s really sad this generation kids living in metros just miss out on this small fun’s of life.

    The other end of the spectrum distant from my home, I also witnessed another festival for the first time in my life at my wife’s place. If Padmanabha Swamy Temple was a spectacle organized by the temple, with we being just mute spectators thronging around and enjoying every bit of it, the festival I witnessed in a small rustic Devi temple was just the opposite of it. It was a festival of the community, by the community, and for the community. Every minute aspect of the festival was done by the people living around. It was a 5 day affair and rituals steeped in traditions like Thottam Pattu. During the course of 5 days traditional singers render these songs depicting the life of the goddess. Late nights were leisure hours with various entertainment programs like Kathakali, Drama and music lined up each day. This was the first time I saw a live Kathakali performance. The performance went up from 11pm to 6am and I witnessed two plays – Keechaka Vadham and Daksha Yagam. I must say it was an experience of life time for me. I really rue now that I missed up understanding and watching Kathakali during my days in Kerala. In Sri Padmanabha Temple during the 10 day festival, everyday night Kathakali is performed from 10pm. My son also caught up with Kathakali very well and its vivid tapestry, colors and sounds enamored him. He is now daily asking can we see Kathakali?  At one end I always wondered why in Temple festivals they include drama, music etc. What correlation does it have with religious traditions or anything to relate with bhakti. I was dead against this kind of madness that happens around temple all over Kerala. But now I feel, its just a time for the community to get together spend some time and enjoy. And if Kathakali and drama add to that fun and give happiness to people then why not? Again in festivals like this which organized by families living around the temple, I felt it was ok, as long as people are enjoying it and everything is within the limit. And after all these festivals are the only fillip to dying art forms like Kathakali and dramas. The last day of the festival, the goddess was heralded in caparisoned elephant and taken around the by lanes near by for para edupu and festival culminated in a shiveli around the shrine.

    So it was a gala time of 7 days in Kerala this time, barring the sultry and vexatious weather. I surely look forward to travel around the same time next year.

    PS:- It was mango season all the mango trees which I saw in tvm were ripe with raw mangoes, I had yummy time everyday afternoon eating raw mangoes spruced up with salt. Oh! my mouth is watery as I type this 🙂

    Kanha Travelogue Day 3

    We made an early start at 5.30AM, to enter the park first ahead of the throngs of other visitors. Luckily being Monday it was not that crowded like the previous day. The idea was to cover as much area as possible in the first few hours of the morning. So we decided for no stopping on spotting spotted deers, no stopping for Langurs, no stopping for parakeets, herons, cormorants, lapwings, kingfishers, ducks. This summed up our mood in this cold morning – a desideratum for seeing the tiger in prowl.

    We took a new track for this tourney; it was different from what we had seen the previous day. It was very thick forest on both sides and very big trees lining the sides. At one point we came across a huge tree, which the localities claim to be the oldest in Kanha more than 300 years old. It was a very cold morning compared to the previous day and without protection of the gloves our hands were all numb and fingers were buttery while clicking the camera. After almost 3hrs drive the utmost close we came to the tiger was seeing some pugmarks.

    Kanha is the only forest in India, where the probability of spotting tiger is high. Part of the reason is relatively healthy tiger population in the park (around 90 tigers are roaming around) and second major reason is the “Tiger Show”. Yes the Tiger SHOW. The forest department in Kanha has a stable of 30 elephants. The peculiarity of those elephants are that they are partly tamed and partly wild. Partly wild in the sense that they have to fend themselves for food and water. Every day after the morning safaris the elephants are left open in the wild and they start grazing the forest and the next day morning the mahouts go and track them in the forest and bring them back. Coming back to the “Tiger Show”, every day morning a group of 2 or 3 elephants start prowling the forests along with their mahouts from two main points in the forest – Kanha and Kisli. The mahouts scan the potential hideouts of the tiger and if they find one, they stay there and inform the central point about the catch through a walkie-talkie. Now other elephant’s sheperd the tourists on their back to the spot for the “Tiger Show”. Mostly what happens is that the elephants that spot the tiger try to lock the tiger in the spot by surrounding it and preventing it to run away. And quickly tourist flock the spot and witness the “Tiger Show”. Some day’s even mahouts fail to find the tiger and in those days there is no Tiger Show. It was really an absurd way of seeing the tiger, which we were averse and we had decided before arriving Kanha itself that we won’t take the “Tiger Show” (yes literally it was just theatrics).

    Towards the fag end of safari we were left with thoughts if not in Kanha, where else are we going to see the tiger? Should we try for the Tiger Show? That were the questions weighing our minds? Suddenly we found something – a prized catch, well it’s not the tiger but a deer. Yes a deer – the Barasingha or the Swamp Deer. Well, The Barasingha of Kanha cannot be dismissed as just another deer with beady eyes and phlegmatic looks; it’s a unique pride of Kanha. The Barasingha of the Kanha have 12 horns in their antler and in the whole world such a breed is found only in Kanha. They were pulled off from the brink of extinction and now there are just 350 of them left in forests of Kanha. And as luck would have it we saw a solitary male with full-grown antlers and we could clearly mark the 12 branches the antlers took. Through its eyes I could read it saying, “I am Kanha, Kanha is mine”.

    May be what’s left for us
    is some Barasingha on a hillside
    we can look at day after day
    and the perverse affection of a habit
    that like us so much it never let go

    So with the jubilation of spotting the Barasingha, we prepared for the final drive, one last chance to spot the tiger and suddenly on the way a pack of wild dogs (Dhole) jumped in front of our vehicle. They were three of them. The wild dog resembles the pictures of fox, which we see in the nursery books. The three wild dogs really posed well for our cameras and were with us running in front of us for at least 10 minutes. I’m sure all of us have the maximum number of shots of these dogs than anything else of Kanha. May be the langurs near the canteen would give a competition to the dogs in terms on number of shots.

    As we were making our retreat we came to know that the elephants, which had started from the Kisli point, have spotted some tiger and the show was on. But luckily this was not a trapped tiger, the tiger was just there resting beneath the foliage and we can go on elephant tops to the spot and see the resting tiger. Sounded exciting and we bought tickets for elephant safari and took the gypsy to the spot. As always we were the last to reach the spot and already around 10-20 people were eagerly awaiting their turn on the elephant. We patiently waited for our turn and hoped that tiger won’t run away and then the moment arrived. Off we went up the ladder and took our positions in elephant top. To reach the spot we needed to cross a narrow stream and do a steep ascend. The elephant slowly junketed in the path amidst thick growth of wild grass and shrubs and tooks us to the spot. It was the climax, the show down and the moment of truth. What we first saw a tigress sleeping lying down deep inside the bushes. The bushes itself had grown very thick and appeared in the shape of a den. We were standing in the mouth of the den and the tigress was sleeping barely 2-3 metres from the mouth of the den. It was unperturbed by the sound of the elephants. It was in a deep slumber and it had chosen this sweet spot under the thick cover to escape the soporific afternoon heat. Wait is there anyone else also in? Well yes there he is – a cute bubbly little cub. He was at his playful best, hopping around his mother, suckling milk from his mother then running deep inside the shrubs hiding away from us. Then again he runs out watches the elephant and the commotion outside with his twinkling eyes and then drinks some more milk and then start jumping around. What a wonderful sighting it was? In zoo we see tigers so lethargic and archaic fully covered with mud and dirt, and here in nature its just the other way, both the tigers were spotless, pristine golden yellow color with soft white in their underneath. The cub through its tawny eyes gave an innocuous and inquisitive flickering gaze that reminded me the gaze of the poet

    Some mute animal
    raising its calm eyes
    and seeing through us
    and through us
    This is destiny….

    Yes, this was the destiny for us in Kanha, the destiny of the seeing the tiger in its wild best. On the return were told that the above tigress had 4 cubs. With that our stint in Kanha came to a close and we packed our bags and bid adieu to this beautiful jungle in Central India. But its not over yet, jungle never fails to surprise you. As we were departing and were about to exit the gates of Kanha to Nagpur in our Indica, off from nowhere a huge Indian Gaur (wrongly refered as Bison) jumped in front of our car. It stared at us for a second and then made path for our exit. It was a huge beast easily 5 feet tall, this was the first time I was seeing such a huge Gaur. Maybe it was there to say us “Good Bye & Safe Journey”. And then started the long drive back and barely few minutes on course I was overcome by sleep and was napping sitting in the front seat. May be 2 more minutes had waded by then I heard a sudden squeak of the brakes and others behind started shouting snake, snake! By the time I woke up and peered out it had gone, seems like a cobra was there on the road. After that the whole journey sleep never evaded me, even though I tried hard for it and the rest of the drive was spent in reliving the moments spent in Kanha in my mind.

    The next day we reached Hyderabad and departed with a resolve to be at Ranthambore next year. Lets see who all are game for it?

    PS:- The two poems in this post are inspired from German poet Rainer Maria Rilke whose work  I read in the book “The Hungry Tide” – Amitav Ghosh.
    The poem on Night in first post is also Rilke’s work which I found in Internet
    And poem on Meadows is out my own wild imagination

    Kanha Travelouge – Day 2

    A long day awaited us – and it began at 6AM. It was pretty dark and the moon cascading back in the western sky bathed the milieu in its dim white light. I was really surprised to see the hive of activities as soon as I got off the dorm. Almost 30-40 gypsy’s had congregated in the front awaiting the access to the thickets of the forest. It was a huge crowd, but Kanha is no small jungle spreading over 1000 sq.km., once inside the park this crowd petered out soon in different directions. So in that way you never feel that the place is stuffed with too many people.

    The first sightings in the forest were the mist- yes like white cotton rolls, mists muffled the entire jungle. From any point of vision, you see a layer of white mist floating 10feet above the ground and we were as if sliding below the umbrella of the white bodies. It was easily the best landscape that nature can offer.

    In jungle its always like this – long hours of exploration in stoic silence with no activity and suddenly there is a burst of activity which lasts for a few seconds or may be a minute then the cycle turns back to long hours of inactivity. The key is to have patience, eyes wide open and ears too wide open. It’s not just the destiny; the journey itself is so thrilling and has lots to offer. So the first few hours of safari were just for assimilating the beauty of kanha, the mysteriously snaking game trials, the tall sal trees, golden grass and small creeks and rivulets. Amidst this drive at the background of our mind is the thought lurking out, will there be a tiger when we take the next turn? So in a sense its like a novel, where at the end of page is a suspense to be broken only in the next page, similar is the experience while driving through the winding paths of Kanha, where each turn of the track held us in suspense and anxiety as to what comes next?

    As time waded by morning sun billowed in the eastern horizon, and rays of sun streaked through the branches of sal trees forming tunnels of sun rays piercing the trees and striking the ground. The scene was reminiscent of Robert Frosts Poem “Stopping By Woods”

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    Safari is not just about Tiger spotting; there are many other things out there too beautiful, too artistic in nature to be missed out. Those lovely birds in chimerical colors whose morning ragas dazzle the settings. Be it Redwater Lapwing, Plum Headed Parakeet, Kingfisher, Black Headed Orieol, Herons, Whistling Ducks, Indian Roller we never allowed it let go. Every minute sound was explored and we made our guide stop the vehicle and ask which bird is that? Luckily the guides in Kanha are masters of their trade, even the faintest call made them aware of the birds.

    Two hours of criss-crossing the tracks of Kanha, took us to the meadows. Meadows the easily the most beautiful part of Kanha Park.

    O! the meadows the beautiful meadows
    Natures filigree at its best
    Revealing a platter of colors
    Bathed by golden sunlight
    Crimson, Gold, Yellow, Green
    All had its shade in the steppes.
    The deers grazing at a distance
    Bringing a brownish tinge
    The groups of peacock

    Adding a bluish hue

    O! the meadows the beautiful meadows

    It was in the meadows that we spotted a family of Jackals, warming itself in the first rays of sun. Kanha Meadows – the astonishing landscape of nature, the drive through it was easily the best part of morning safari. We rounded up the morning safari around 11.30pm, without seeing our stripped friends, but our spirits high after seeing the nature’s beauty and ofcourse all those colorful birds and deers – and at the end the first stint in forest was aptly named the “Morning of the Jackals”.

    After a quick bite (rather heavy ;-)) we were off again, on a trek through a walk-trial. We set out with idea of a 2km walk, so avoided taking any guides with us.  But the walk really prolonged and we just started exploring farther and farther. On the labyrinth paths the first sighting was bone of some animals, perhaps killed by the predator. Unperturbed we further walked down the track chattering idly. This was when we first encountered signs of a big cat. The pugmarks of a leopard is what we chanced upon first. But pugmarks weren’t quite fresh so we just casually analyzed it and further went on and found a set of relatively fresh tiger pugmarks imprinted on the sand laden track. An intent dissection of the pugmarks made us realize it was a male tiger on prowl. In a herd, somehow we get a sense of false confidence, which again made us go in further. Further down the line again we saw more pugmarks, this time there were two tigers one male and a female. It was marked all around the place. Were they mating? Mating tigers can be dangerous if we cross their path and antagonize them. This was the time when fear congealed in our minds. Frankly for me it was not a stomach churning experience. After reading enough of Jim Corbett and Keneth Anderson, I believed that tigers and leopards never attack humans unless they are man-eaters. Also tigers and leopards never walk around that much in the daytime and their hunting hours is well after the sunset, even for maneaters. The only animal I really feared was the sloth bear, a stupid creature that attacks anyone whom it comes across. But again bears are nightriders and it was very rare to spot a bear in the heat of the sun. But you cannot be complacent in the jungle; the written rules and norms, which you may have read from the experts, can never be vouched as 100% true. For instance my friend Kunal seems to have spotted Sloth Bears in the heat of afternoon sun in Srisailam. I was really puzzled to hear that tale. At the moment we had two choices either to turn back or just take a chance and complete the rest of the trek as fast as we can. We decided for the latter (yes, we are in the herd) and walked further. There we came across two people repairing the track. We asked them about our findings and they said there was a tiger in that area and the pugmarks, which we saw were from the morning-walk of the tiger. So quickly we asked him for a shortest path to get out and he guided us on a path to take us out.

    After coming out of the walk sound and safe, it was time for the evening safari. A long journey criss-crossing the tracts of Kanha amidst the hubbub of the birds and deadpanned looks of Cheetals at various junctures. Our friend – the King was still elusive. Then came something which really lifted the spirits and set the mood for a showdown. A passing jeep from Forest Department told us that they had seen a tiger 1km further down. It was just crossing the road when they spotted it. Off we went, at a blaze. I nearly made up my mind the moment has arrived and thought we would be the first to reach the spot, but on reaching the location a pall of gloom set in instantly. There were about 15 jeeps already crowding the spot. Seeing the sight of so many people I was shuddered, I knew the hoodoo of missing the big cat is going to continue. There were a group of people who were really there shouting on top of their voice and cheering to see the tiger. The tiger it seems was hiding in some near by bushes. I knew it would never come out and try to avoid this mad crowd. Stupid people don’t they know that the first rule in Jungle is to maintain absolute silence? I was really perversed by the sight I lost all hope of seeing it. Then there was a sudden excitement in the air and crowd started giving wild exclamations. I couldn’t see anything, all I was watching was the big Indian Ghost Tree which stood there blocking my view to the spot where tiger was supposedly be. It seemed tiger had moved away from the bushes and went deeper inside. My friends Alosh and Mohan saw a silhouette moving, which they were sure to be that of the tiger. I said may be it was just the wind moving the grasses ;-). Then there was sudden commotion in the air caused by incessant barkings. It was the wild dogs barking, I guessed may be the wild dogs came in vicinity of the tiger and started barking panickly and tiger might have left seeing the dogs. Again I didn’t see the wild dog either, Mini (4th member of team) saw 2 of them running around. In jungle the only animal capable of attacking a tiger is the Wild Dog. They come in packs and their team work is their strength. That was the end of the tiger show, we returned still with our eyes wide open to see the same tiger on the way back. But that was not be and by 6pm it was pitch dark and we retired to our dorm.

    Day 2 pictures from here to here.

    Kanha Travelouge – Day 1

    As my friend Proto said today “I’m Lucky to explore wildlife”. Yes “I’m Lucky” to have a wonderful bunch of friends and great family support to venture out in the wild year after year for the last 5yrs. Yes it all started in 2004 with Corbett, followed up with Gir, Sunderbans, Melghat and finally this time the dice was cast on Kanha for 2008.

    Life is lived in Transformations. Yes Transformations ephemeral or eternal. I always believe spending time in the wild is a transformation – an ephemeral one A total shutdown from the materialistic urban life a climb down from coziness and comforts of modern life. Time well spent in rustic forest shut out from electricity, mobiles, phones, tv, news paper and other paraphernelia of modern living. With this transformation binge in mind we set out to explore the wild in percincts of Kanha.

    The journey to Kanha was an ordeal in itself, a 250km drive from Nagpur. A back breaking drive, where highways were literally mud tracks strewn with stones, where each passing vehicle would bolster up a stand storm hitting you hard remniscent of the satellite landing in earth in Wall-E movie. But this is what is the soft underbelly of India, where we harp on making foray into the innards in Moon, at the same time we fail to make a decent road line for numerous people living in our villages. Luckily we had a great driver who manevoured the torturous tracks with much panache and pious and made the ride bearable and took us to the destination safely, inspite of the hiccups on the way.

    The stay had been arranged in Tourist Hostel run by MP Tourism. It was coming at a paltry rate of 490/= per head for a night, including all food. We were given beds in a dormitory, the dorm itself comprised of a room with 8 beds. For the rate and ownership the service was just amazing, the rooms and bathrooms were spic and span, food was mouth watering yet simple. This is the only property inside the forest; rest all private resorts (read costly) were located in the peripheries of the park well outside the wild. The Hostel itself was set in a picturesques locale, overlooking it was a vast meadow and a distant small pond where birds were frequenting for quenching their thirsts. The building itself looked like an old bungloid from outside. On reaching there itself we were given strict instructions not to venture out around the building and the only path thrown open was a brief walkway to the canteen.

    Late evening we checked in and freshned up. Later in the evening the moon rose and the waxing bright light from the moon bathed the milieu. It was just after the full moon day and finding the moon amidst tall sal trees bathing the forest with its white light was a mesmerizing sight. Known as we are the Shutter bugs, we lost no time in capturing the moon amidst the trees and in a jungle setting. The night sky in jungle is pristine devoid of the pollution, presented a good time to graze the stars and shooting stars and ofcourse the moon. The setting reminded the poets words

    Night, full of newly created stars that leave
    trails of fire streaming from their seams
    as they soar in inaudible adventure
    through interstellar space:

    How, overshadowed by your all-embracing vastness,
    I appear minute!
    Yet, being one with the ever more darkening earth,
    I dare to be in you.

    8.30pm time for dinner, pangs of hunger had conquered us and it was excaberated by the day long starving (on way to Kanha you don’t get any food apart from samosas in Tea Stalls) after consuming just morsels of Samosas. It was time to commit the sin of Gluttony, a sin, which left the Canteen staff awed and dismayed, and what not? A 4-member team eating 40-45 chapathis and quantities of rice spiced with dals and curries that too without paying anything? Adding to the assault was demanding sweet in the end. At the end of the eating binge, the only feeling we had was probably this was the last time they were going to offer this plan of 490/= rupees with unlimited food.

    As time waded by the cool breeze of the forest wasped by our faces and it was becoming colder by the hour. With nothing much left to do it was time to doze off the night and jumpstart early the next day in the expedition to venture out in the woods.

    The Mango Tree

    Mang

    Mango Tree tall and big evokes a strong sense of nostalgia in me, for much of my life in childhood was spent under the precincts of big mango trees. We were fortunate to have neighbors who had 5 big mango trees with lithe branches in their garden providing much succor and shade to near by roads and houses.

    Mango Trees

    Kids of Chottupura (our locality) virtually grew up under the shades of mango trees. Our evenings were spent under these giant trees. The galli cricket or table tennis or just chit chat the avenue always was facilitated in the shades of mango tree. Come summer the mango trees provided an anodyne milieu for starting our game in sultry heat at 2pm. The Mango Trees have witnessed it all, the thrilling cricket matches played with much verve and passion, the little skirmishes off the field and who can forget the Chottupura slapgate? The Bully Proto slapped the innocuous Natraj under the mango tree. The slapgate of Chottupura snow-balled to a big controversy and was settled out again under the Mango Tree. I vividly remember the outrageous parents and neighbors of Natraj protesting and walking to Proto’s house to tame the bully. Unfortunately the bully never had compunction of his deeds. Stalemate prevailed and no action took place on the field for next couple of days, Proto was unofficially banned. But then things cooled down and back were the boys for action and fun under the mango tree. Summer was also the time of mangoes raw and ripe. Miscreants attacked the mango trees with stones and aimed high at the perching mangoes. Passer by had torrid time evading stones falling on their head or mangoes falling on their heads. We bore the brunt as an old house with tiled roofs the tiles broke when the stone fell on them. But it was all taken in stride because having mango trees burgeoning over the roof outweighed these small hardships.

    I was really lucky to have access to mangoes high on the branches by just a grasp of hands from my terrace. Have a look at this picture.

    Mangoes at a hand reach

    Raw mangoes cut into slices peppered with salt – a real mouth watery stuff. Later part of my year during graduation and post graduation mango tree played a major part in my studies providing a bevy of convenience and a comfortable study arena. During study holidays early mornings and much of the evenings were spent in the terrace under the shade of mango tree reading and working on the subjects. It was as if the Mango Trees providing a cornucopia of energy and inspiration to slog out long hours.

    Ok, why these entire mango talk now? Is it just that summer is bringing in the mango memories, well No! When I moved to my apartment in Hyderabad, we had a mango sapling at one of the corners of our compound; it was reminiscent of the giant mango trees which I was used to, infact like a stripling of those grand daddies. I was ecstatic; I was dreaming of the days when it would bloom out and become tall and strong providing the shade and comfort. I was waiting for the day in which raw mangoes would be borne out of it and I can pluck those to revisit the good old days of eating raw mango peppered with salt. Till yesterday it was there on the corner growing more than 12ft high and daily I would check its progress. Alas! today its no more, the lust and greed of human mind has cut its life short. With a stroke of axe it has fallen and rooted out and I have given it a poignant farewell. All this for building a shed for drivers, oh! Man you just could have sat on the shades of Mango Tree rather than under an abestos sheet. But in today’s world there is hardly any sense prevailing…..for such magnificent trees to survive.

    Hopefully someday I too will own a piece of land and plant a mango tree!