About Kaushal Mathpal
Kaushal Mathpal is an Advocate practicing in Delhi Courts in India but also has a flair for travelling. When he's not in a courtroom, he enjoys exploring various parts of India and the surrounding region. He also writes on his blog http://rediscoveryourdreams.wordpress.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter @KaushalMathpal.
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Constitutionally, I hail from a secular country but I am not ashamed to admit that my views were not entirely secular till recently. For me, the term “secularism” was only a method to mint votes during elections and nothing else. However, 6 months back when I took my appetite for travelling and interacting with people seriously, I was compelled to change my perceptions about the most intrinsic community of our country i.e. the Muslim Community which obviously was based on the long communal history of the country.
On my quest, I decided to explore the corners of Delhi, which are the strong base of the Muslim community. I often felt jittery and apprehensive initially but things improved as the interactions became frequent and gradually I started enjoying the whole journey of knowing the community. I will unfold my journey in a series of two encounters which enabled me to comprehend the high values of this religion and gifted me with a new outlook to see things based on real experiences.
1st Encounter- The Saint of Earthen Pot
Gripped with a mixed feeling of apprehension and inquisitiveness echoing in my head, I made myself ready for my first encounter with the community at the mausoleum famously known as “Matka Peer” or The Saint of Earthen Pot at Delhi. The first thing that one notices in this mausoleum is the numerous clay pots placed over the branches of trees, the boundary wall of the buildings and everywhere your eyes could go. These omnipresent clay pots have already puzzled my ‘dome’ by now and I was eager to know the story.
In curiosity to know more, I took a flight of steps up to small porch area of the mausoleum. Since I was a stranger to the notions and beliefs of the community, I was little timid and more vigilant of my every action and move. I washed my hands and entered the mausoleum departing from all my religious beliefs with pure heart to get introduced to an entirely new culture and religion and embrace it unbiased. I ambled in the porch area aimlessly gazing at the clay pots hung from the trees. I was feeling a bit numb at this moment as I didn’t know the way prayers were offered at mausoleum unlike temples. I didn’t desire any actions that might hurt anybody’s sentiments and spoil my first encounter. I tried to watch for other devotees so that I could follow them but unfortunately there were none at that time in the mausoleum.
While I was walking aimlessly looking out for next course of action, I was called by the priest of the mausoleum, Baba Raees, who I guess had sensed and fathomed my numbness and confusion. Baba Raees dressed in peculiar Muslim attire of Kurta-Pyzama with beautiful embroidery on the edges.
He courteously invited me inside the mausoleum for taking the blessing. He was an aged man who been serving at the mausoleum for the last 38 years, a legacy which he inherited from his ancestors continuing uninterrupted for more than 300 years now. The white beard and the curved wrinkles on his face were the indicator of his age and experience. He graciously asked my name and blessed by tapping my head and shoulders with a small bunch of peacock feathers.
Dargah of Hazrat Sheikh Abu Bakr Tusi Haidri Kalandari
On being queried about the custom of offering earthen pots at the mausoleum, he grinned a bit and gladly elaborated an interesting tale behind the tradition to calm my inquisitiveness. I could sense great pride and honour in his voice while he narrated the tale.
He also explained the lifestyle of Sufis (Muslim Saints) and how they helped the masses which somewhat resembled to life of Saints and their noble deeds in Hindu religion with which I was familiar. Albeit, Baba Raees intended to continue on the subject as he was pleased to see the curiosity coming from somebody hailing from a different religion (especially Hindu, considering communal history of country) but was obstructed by a family who had come for attaining the blessing at the mausoleum. Soon, as the number of devotees augmented at the mausoleum, he was joined by a young face, probably his son to help and take their family legacy ahead.
The interaction with Baba Raees made me little comfortable and supressed by numbness which I described earlier. It gave genesis to a new radical thought process inside me based on real experiences and encouraged me to explore it deeper.
2nd Encounter- Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya
The edifying visit to Matka Peer (The Saint of Earthen Pot) stimulated me to amend my earlier perceptions of the community. It made me weave new ideas and opinions about this second most followed religion in the world after Christianity.
Charged with a new outlook and craving for more insights, I prepared myself for the yet another jaunt to one of the holiest places among the Muslims in world – Mausoleum of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. I was accompanied by a local Muslim boy, who was the volunteer of “The Hope Project” which runs some informational tours in the area aimed at unwrapping its hidden treasures for ignorant masses like me.
A beautiful pic of the mausoleum
He took me through the twist and turns of narrow lanes of Nizamuddin Basti and showed me the enriching traditions and cultures of the Islamic community thriving in those lanes and enlightened me on various concepts of Islam which were novel to me. During the interaction, the volunteer used many typical Urdu terminologies which completely went above my “dome”, however, he was kind enough to explain them in detail.
Our nurturing walk ended at the sacrosanct mausoleum of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The holy mausoleum gladly embraces devotees irrespective of their religion. The meticulous marble structure topped by beautiful dome gleamed with numerous decorative lights and flower garlands. It was flooding with devotees from all religions and some of traditions at the mausoleum looked familiar to what I have been seeing all my life.
I saw devotees tying wishing threads like in many Hindu temples for fulfilment of their wishes. The beggars were given food like any other religious place in India. Then there was the evening prayer and everyone bowed before the almighty like in any other devotional place. At last, there were a series of Qawallis (a musical way to remember god) in the honour of almighty similar to bhajans (a term for devotional songs) in Hindu temples.
All these time, I tried to find the some substantial difference among both the Hindu and Muslim from a layman point; however, I failed to find any. All the practice though may be different in nomenclature and the manner they are performed but the ultimate purpose was absolutely same. It helped me to understand the religion and shattered most of my delusion about the religion.
By the time we finished the tour, I was taking an entirely fresh image of the community in my heart contradictory to what is portrayed in the communal history.
It was March 2011; my five year law course was coming to an epic end. My buddies had become more emotional of each other now as soon we all would take off in our lives. The overflowing emotions paved the way for one last trip to a destination which was for long in everybody’s mind – Goa and this time there were minimal obstacles.
For me, this trip was the first encounter with the deep blue sea which occupies 70% of earth. My memories were filled with films featuring the stunning sunset poses at the beaches and now it was my time to experience all of it in reality. I waited anxiously for the entire day and reached Vagator beach (one of the perfect sunset spot in Goa) well in time to feed my anxiety. As I reached closer to the beach, the swirling sound of the wind and mighty ocean continued breach my ear dreams and it accelerated the heartbeat.
Finally, the moment arrived – there was nothing between me and the blue sea. The blue sea appeared much superior to my virtual memories and expectations. The frothy sea water kissed my naked feet and went back the next moment. It simply felt awesome to be there at that moment.
Soon, the sky gloomed with the tender orange colour signalling the departure of sun for the day. The entire sky transformed into an orange canvas with sun in the middle. The descending sun’s image was paralleled on the rippling oceanic waves. Almost every soul (including me) on the beach rested themselves on the grainy sand and gazed endlessly at the horizon to capture the moment in their heart forever. Slowly and gradually, the sun sinks behind the perpetual ocean only to rise again the next day leaving the once orange sky dark glittering with stars.
There is a famous saying “Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder”. But some places or things does not require the eyes of the beholder to look beautiful. They are universally accepted as ‘beautiful’ irrespective of the ‘beholder’ and in some cases they tend to define the term ‘beautiful’ in their category.
Recently on one of the journeys, I confronted one such beauty that defines the term ‘beautiful’ for historical monuments. The beauty is also known as the symbol of love and passion and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site attracting tourists from every nationality. I’m pretty sure many must have guessed it by now and for those who didn’t I’ll do the honours. It is the elegant, beautiful, ravishing display of architectural bravura- The Taj Mahal in Agra.
The very mention of name of Taj Mahal displays a picture of white monument with four minarets in everybody’s mind. Being an Indian, I have heard, read and seen many pictures of the white monument in our history books in school. But seeing it live in front of my eyes was all together a different experience. When I entered through the giant royal entrance of the Taj Complex and laid my eyes upon this entrancing monument, my eyes widened to full in excitement. It perfectly fitted all the clichés out there in market.
I slowly walked towards the monument and its magnitude increased astronomically. Finally after taking few turns and jostling up with the overwhelming tourists of all nationalities, I was snaked my way to its façade. The arched opening of the Taj Mahal’s façade flanked by Quran verses, calligraphy, designs etc. enhances its beauty to infinity. The latticed opening on all side lights up interior of the mausoleum which is as beautiful as the exterior. The immaculate floral designs bordered by multi-colour inscription and drawings on the lower walls of the Taj Mahal catches every tourist attention.
The accuracy and detailing with which these designs are made without the help any modern technological tools displays the skill, expertise and knowledge of the artisans of medieval times. There is not even a minute flaw in designs, engravings, inscriptions carried out on the Taj Mahal and it is also identical on all four sides of Taj Mahal. I looked and adored the Taj Mahal in respect for all those who worked on this masterpiece and made it stand out in time.
I spent some more time in its vicinity admiring its everlasting elegance before final goodbye to this great white monument.
Once an “inspirational place” is defined, it’s time to pull off the veil from the “Well of Solitude”. It’s a place is located in the heart of Delhi amid the city’s busiest lanes yet offering serenity to its visitors. This inspiring destination is known as Agrasen Ki Baoli (“baoli” means step well) often referred to as “Well of Solitude” by few due to scanty number of visitors. It’s an ancient step well built in 14th century to save the populous from the scorching Indian summers.
It’s a wisely carved out 60 m wide and 15 m deep piece of architecture with three levels and around 100 steps running deep down into its medieval soul. However, massive construction around the area has left it dehydrated but it still proffers solitude and solace to people like me. I came across it while hunting for some offbeat destinations during the initial days of my blog and found it to be a perfect retreat from the hustle-bustle of the capital city of India.
When I first entered the baoli, I was a traveller searching for unplumbed places to explore but when I left I was a lover, admirer, follower, addict and much more. I had seen several pictures before the first encounter but it appeared more riveting and ravishing in reality. It was the love at first sight akin to the romantic novels and I clearly knew in my heart that this is just a start to many more such frequent future encounters with the place. I was completely absorbed by its simplicity, elegance, architecture, stillness and quietude.
The step well does not expect much crowd as it’s identity has faded with depleting water levels; therefore, it appeared to be a coal mine of peace and tranquility to me. I sat on one of the steps gazing my newly discovered love and slowly thoughts pertaining to my nascent dream of being a traveller began to pour in.
The quietude in the zone promoted some rationale thought process and aided me to focus and strive hard for my dream. The flapping sound made by the pigeons who has nestled themselves in small cavities of walls of the baoli added more charm and further enhanced the surrounding. I saw many squabs learning to fly in the precincts of the baoli, they fall, try, fall, again try, and the process continue until they finally master the art. It made me realize life does not come with candies, one has to struggle and make real, genuine and consistent efforts to soar high with their dreams.
It made me introspect and question myself- Have I sweated enough to achieve and bring my dreams to reality? The question left me stumped as deep down, my heart whispered in negative. It was the day for self-realization and reckoning for me. Every human is aware of the universal truth that he/she has to battle hard to reach epitome of success, but, sometimes we require extra push which could come in any form. I discovered mine in the solitude of this ancient step well and squabs in its precincts’.
I spent around 3 hours at the baoli and really had no idea how time flew away. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into hours. Ever since my first encounter with the baoli, I am a regular and frequent visitor to my love. I often come here to celebrate “no responses” and sweet rejections from the editors whom I submit my travelogues for publication. It makes me realize that the efforts were not right enough to accomplish the goals which I have weaved for myself. Here I feel like a squab learning to master the art and the place motivates and encourages me to unfold my wings to try once more until I succeed.
I recently caught up with a friend in at New Delhi’s Connaught Place which was as always, boiling with people from every age. Connaught Place is one of the largest financial, commercial and business centers in New Delhi, India. It is often abbreviated as CP and houses the headquarters of several Indian firms and was previously the headquarters for the British.
In the center, the tactfully rolled out books on corridors, tiny halt for cigarettes, the cheap aviator glares, bizarre grey market with pirated versions of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Puma merchandise– all were same as earlier but it felt good to be there after long time. The only thing that has changed is the weather leaving me completely drenched this time.
Hmmm…wait a minute….!!!… I think I missed something… there is one more change…. well it’s not a change; it’s an addition to the existing beauty of Connaught Place- The National Flag. Its raging tricolour is put broad smiles through everybody’s face and currently it’s the most photogenic thing in the area.
We wandered around a lot in the market and later decided to finally rest ourselves at the famous central park. The moment we entered the park we could see the giant pole holding our national flag up in the skies so that it is visible from far off. As the wind was low, there was not much movement of the flag in the air.We stopped for a while near the pole where boards spreading some glorious history related to the national flag are displayed and then moved inside the park to find ourselves some green base to rest upon.
The best thing about the park is that there is always love floating in the air – and obviously in some corners, behind the bushes, trees, on the stairs near the fountain- everywhere and as far as your eyes could see. Some people might term it as ‘obscene’ but still its love or more scientifically termed as PDA (Public Display of Affection). Although these PDA have the potential to distract especially if you’re alone or not with your loved one, but still I managed to partially restrain myself.
We sat on the green meadow having elegant views of colonnaded architecture of Connaught Place market and chatted about old school times, our beautiful crushes, the college life, the couples engrossed in love in the park and much more. In between, we could see hawkers with their school type bags filled with water bottles, chips, soft drinks, tea, coffee and other eateries which they refilled with another shipment from the market outside park once it’s sold out.
The gossiping was still on when the sun slid between the clouds and the winds took the leap. The blowing winds gracefully lofted the flag to its full stretch with unending ripples across it. The waiving flag swiftly ran a feeling of pride and patriotism in everybody’s heart and even the one who were intensively engrossed with their loved ones broke apart to see the flag. Almost everyone pointed their cameras towards the flag adjusting themselves in the frame and within seconds there were countless clicks.
Since my friend hailed from the armed forces, it was the perfect sight Delhi could offer him in his short visit. Soon it was dark, the halogen lights graced the beauty of the flag and the tricolour appeared more vibrant and prettier than the day time. Although, it was time for us to bid goodbye but we knew that this beautiful addition shall be omnipresent in the market to enhance its elegance forever.
This past February, valentine days arrived a bit earlier for me this year. I am not talking about the flattery proposals, expensive gifts, and heavy words of promises of everlasting love. To be honest, I never had such sort of celebrations on my valentine days. My valentine days has more or less like normal ones and in some perspectives boring one as all my friends would muddle around with their partners celebrating the whole week snubbing me.
However, this year was bit different. I spent the first week of the valentine month wandering in the countryside of Punjab for Rural Olympics watching some spectacular events, cherished some precious time with old school and college friends and finally culminating the epic trip in the lap of Himalayas with the Queen of Hills i.e. Shimla with one of my friend.
While our ride was still in the outskirts of the town, I peeped out of the window and was completely dazzled to see the countless lights gleaming from the city. I hurriedly took out my phone to capture the moment, but the bumpy ride made it impossible to get a good image. Soon, we reached the town, booked a room and went to a sound sleep.
The next day we went to Kufri and witnessed the tiny flurry balls dropping from the sky, wrapping the whole area with the white blanket of snow (for more details read). After enjoying the unexpected snowfall, we moved back to Shimla to watch the charm of the talk of the town- the famous Mall Road.
When I was in college, my friends (including me) spent hours imagining and discussing about the beautiful girls of this hill town and visiting Mall Road was on the top wish list of the guys. Some of them who had visited the place would exaggerate the stuff too much to tempt and make other feel jealous. With all these amusing memories, I and my friend walked through the slender market lanes of this town to reach our destination. Mall Road is located at height from the main highway of the town, so one has to take an inclined walk through the narrow pathways and stairs for about 15-20 minutes to reach the road.
We took a slightly longer time as my friend’s extra kilos that he gained during the last 2 years made him halt number of times to catch his breath and walk further. The walk to the mall road was quite an interesting one. The shops tucked along the sides of the congested trails had a large variety in spite of their small area. Then there were some tunnels which connected the markets with each other. I was completely lost in this labyrinth of these streets and often took help from the locals for direction.
Finally braving all these minute obtrusion, we finally reached the much awaited road of our dreams. My eyes widened to have a glimpse of the beauties of which we talked during the college days. But, I realized that the girls of the town are beautiful but not to the extent we had exaggerated. However, the beauty of the ladies is still debatable but there are no second thoughts to the beauty of the mall road – It’s simply awesome….!!!
There is no traffic allowed on the mall road but still I spotted one traffic constable under a canopy at the scandal point which left me perplexed. I did not bother myself with the question and just moved further to experience the magical charm of the place. The no traffic zone on the road allows people to stroll freely and dozens of people flood the road during evenings.
The mall road is cosmopolitan market place with branded showrooms, food joints, bakeries etc. on its sides. All the major government offices are also located on the road itself. But one thing that catches everybody’s attention and also a famous landmark is the building of Municipal Corporation, Shimla often referred to as Town Hall.
It’s the central attraction of the town depicting the glorious example of imperial planning of the city and a saga of British architectural bravura. The grey coloured stones, sloping roof with small chimney towers and the old fashioned doors and windows revive the reminiscences of the colonial period. The building also houses the library and the renowned Gaiety Theatre of the town.
My friend surrendered to walking and sat on one of benches wheezing while I decided to ramble to the ends of the road. I walked further from the scandal point and spotted a red building with a maze of thick black wires snaking in and out to many places.
A few more steps, my eyes went on BSNL board on the building and I knew it was Telegraph Office (also called CTO building). It was initially a wooden structure but later was demolished to erect the present structure. I walked back from the Telegraph Office towards the other end.
While strolling to the other end, I saw many couples, teenage groups, young college student and even some beautiful ladies too enjoying the atmosphere while some sat on benches like my friend adoring the beguiling view and observing the passing world.
As I moved closer to the other, my eyes were captivated by the neo gothic style architecture with a clock tower. Later, I came to know that this was first proper church in Shimla known as Christ Church. It was a spectacular piece of architecture with small pointed turrets and elongated windows like the ones in castles. I went inside the church and found pin drop silence.
There were fancy lighting dangling from the roofs, long benches with foot rest in front of them and a narrow aisle between the benches covered with red carpet right up the Jesus. The walls were covered with tabloids hung by the families of British who probably once served in India. It was my first experience in a church and really loved the quietude of the place.
After spending some time in the church, I spent some time sitting on the bench and standing on the ridges watching some amazing views of town. Although, I wanted to stay but all good things come to an end, we walked down through the same maze of market, picked up our bags and walked back to our city dwellings ending the valentine week.
“Baoli” means step wells which were constructed mainly to cope up with the blistering Indian summers and fluctuating water availability. The concept of creating Baoli dates back in time to 600 A.D, however, it flourished during the medieval times in India. The meticulous architectural concept and detailing with which these ancient water reservoirs are constructed even beats the present day technology. “Baoli” were much more than just a water reservoir in its golden days; it was candid retreat for the locals from blazing summers and a gathering place of evening gossips. Delhi alone is believed to have more than 100 small and big Baoli, but most of them are ruined to such an extent that it cannot be recognized and nearby residents have transformed them into natural garbage bins.
Below are the few remaining “Baolis” of Delhi which are still recognizable as step wells but have lost its importance and prominence in time.
HAZRAT NIZAMUDDIN BAOLI
The “Baoli” is located exactly at the rear side of the world renowned shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. It was given a facelift in 2009, when it was cleaned for the first time in 800 years (built in 14th century). During the process of facelift, it was discovered that water from seven underground streams feeds this reservoir. However, in spite of its holy character and enjoying a protected monument status under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the nearby residents often throw garbage into the Baoli precincts.
Apart from having a sacrosanct and holy status, it is famous among the locals for an interesting anecdote associated to it. It is said that when Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya commenced the construction of the Baoli, then Emperor Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was building his fort at Tughlaqabad and he required workers.
The workers instead chose to side with the Sufi Saint in construction of Baoli. The annoyed king threatened to punish Nizamuddin on his return from Bengal. However, king could never reach Delhi and died at Afghanpur, a one day march from Delhi. The renowned Hindi phrase “Dilli abhi dur hai” also has its origin from this story.
BAJON KI BAOLI
Built in 1516 by Daulat Khan, the governor of Punjab during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, the Rajon Ki baoli is the one of jewels of Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It owes its name to mason who used the same for some time.
The Lodhi’s are accredited to be immaculate architectures and the fact stands proved. A distinct feature of the baoli, is one cannot see the flight of steps which narrows down as you go deeper into the well until he/she stands just above the first step.
The beautiful symmetrical colonnaded arch opening on both side of the baoli add more elegance to its beauty. The water in the baoli has almost dried up and lump of garbage, leafs and wrappers could be seen in it. It also has a mosque adjacent to it. It is believed that in its glorious time, it was favourite halt for the travellers, businessman etc. who could enjoy, relax and pray in its vicinity. Although, its glory has long gone, but it still manages to attract passerby and some wanderers like old times.
GANDHAK KI BAOLI
Also known as the “Diving Well”, the baoli is the second jewel of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Built during the reign of Iltumish, the step well is located at a walking distance from the first tree tower of Islam in India i.e. Qutub Minar. The name Gandhak (Sulphur)is attributed to the mild odour of sulphur in the water of the baoli which is also believed to have healing properties.
It is a simple yet well-designed five storied structure and one can easily sense the drop in mercury as he/she moves down into the well. The architecture does not have arched opening on the sides as seen in other baolis. Both the ledges on the sides of baoli culminate at a cylindrical well at the end which has niches in the walls for lighting torches in night. The monument lies in dilapidated state with crumbled walls and broken steps which make it little difficult to access but still locals enjoy its ambience in summers.
FEROZSHAH KOTLA FORT BAOLI
The Tughlaq Dynasty is often credited for building of number baolis in and around Delhi. Among the distorted ruins of Ferozshah Kotla fort, also known as “City of Djinns”, the circular baoli located near the Jami Mosque needs no recognition.
It is the only circular shaped baoli existing in present times in Delhi. The architecture of the baoli is bit different from the other baolis in Delhi. Made out of red stone, it does not have any steps but circular porch around the main reservoir. The circular porch is circumscribed by the symmetrical arches. It also has first floor exactly on the same pattern.
The water is used by the authorities for the nourishing the park and it has a number of plump fishes flourishing as no one bothers to toast them. The access to baoli was recently closed for general public as local boy fell from the first floor and sustained major injuries.
RED FORT BAOLI
The baoli which we today see in a clean and pristine form served as garbage dump by the local army personnel ever since Independence. Few years back, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took it from the Army and restored it. It has a distinct structure with stairs from two sides at 90 degree capping at the circular water pit bounded by the rectangular ledges. The stairs of the baoli are slightly elongated as compared to other making it easier and comfortable to access.
It is widely mistaken to be built by the Mughals, but was actually constructed by Tughlaqs. The question is extensively baffling as both Tughlaqs and Mughals ruled in different centuries. But it is an accepted fact that Red Fort was built on the ruins of earlier city, hence, there are many chances of its existence prior of construction of Red Fort. It was also used as prison by the British for members of Indian National Army (INA). Names of INA soldiers were found while restoration by the ASI.
AGRASEN KI BAOLI
I saved the best one for the last. Tucked amid the busiest commercial arena of Delhi i.e. Connaught Place, the baoli still remains mysterious among the locals. This is an intelligently carved 60 meters deep and 15 meter wide piece of architecture built from rubble and dressed stones. The stairs (103 stairs to be accurate) endlessly goes deep down into the well to its base and leaves everybody stumped when looked up from the base. All the three levels of the baoli are accompanied by arched corridors and chambers on both the sides.
Till late 70’s the baoli was filled up to all three levels and local boys used to dive in to beat the summers but extensive construction around area has dried it up and its almost forgotten by Delhites. The historians are sceptical about its creator but when it comes to attractiveness, it’s a unanimous winner. The fluttering of pigeons who have nestled themselves in the cavities of the wall of baoli further enhances its elegance.
Well many of you must been wondering I might not have been in my senses to include this one in the list. The mere name of it recalls the strong aroma of spices which might sneeze out many. But back in time, the area had a baoli in its precincts. Nothing of the baoli remains on date but its name is derived from two Hindi words meaning a step well with saline water. This one was just for the knowledge!
The baolis today attract only handful admirers which often bump in here for some solace from the hustle-bustle of the city or just simply spend some time with friends. But people/tourists who are looking for some unplumbed and offbeat places to explore in Delhi, it will turn out to be heaven for them.
The notion of ‘solo travel’ has been an upcoming vogue in the travel industry. More and more people are subscribing to this idea nowadays for myriad reasons. The answer lies in the question itself as I ventured out with my ‘wandering shoes’ on my first ‘solo travel’ to the land of uncountable gods – Rishikesh and my experience compels me to advocate this nascent trend.
I boarded the Uttarakhand Roadways Bus heading to Haridwar for my first solo travel. Although journey through tattered roads could not be termed as ‘comfortable’ but the transition in the surrounding was vivid and enjoyable.
The scene outside the bus window changed significantly with every kilometre and appeared to be an assortment of many different things — there were posters of political struggle, AAP workers procession, lush green fields undulating with crops, apartment culture creeping into small cities, ladies with ‘ghoonghat’, hawkers clamouring for selling water bottles & other stuffs and the unending list goes on.
This wonderful assortment of people and things were in existence even during my earlier journeys but I kept snubbing at them as I only cared about reaching the destination. But the the concept of ‘solo travel’ aided me to focus on the journey which leads to the ultimate destination making my travel more exciting.
Market near Ghat
Finally braving all the odds pelted upon by the craggy roads, I arrived at the Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. Since it was evening hours, the ghat was overwhelming with devotees, youngster, kids, saints—all gathered for their own reasons before the sacred Ganga.
The very sight of the perpetual flowing water of the Ganga and the devotees taking holy bath resurrected the religious part of mine. I bent on the stairs caressed by the azure Ganga and showered a ‘holy splash’ on my face. The ‘holy splash’ took away all the tiredness of the journey along with it and completely refreshed me to my core.
I spent the next 20 minutes simply watching the constant drifting of the river. My mind was devoid of any thoughts during those soothing 20 minutes and it helped me enjoy the moments with all my senses.
There were people all around busy in their chores but I could sense an idiosyncratic peace and calmness transpiring throughout me. All other noises went in background and an enjoyable quietude invaded my mind.
Soon, it was time for the evening aarti. The sadhus, the ladies, the men, the children, the priest– all assembled on the ghat facing the river for offering the daily prayers. I saw the priest circling the lamp with numerous small fires in clockwise directions and devotional songs were sung in chorus. While the aarti continued, I gazed at some elderly ladies floating flowers and small diyas in the river as offering to the goddess Ganga.
The evening aarti is a normal routine across all the major ghats in Haridwar and Rishikesh. Although, the aarti at Harkipauri ghat in Haridwar is termed the most outstanding one; but somebody who cares for some peace; Rishikesh is the ideal one.
After the aarti was over, the priests moved around with the lamp among the devotees to enable them to take the blessings. Being a Hindu, the ritual of aarti is not new to me but the ambiance and essence of the place catalyzed the experience making it more charismatic and amazing this time.
Since, the aarti was over and it was already dark, I started my hunt for a suitable dwelling for the night. I urged for a cheap accommodation from where I could see the perennial drift of Ganga waters.
My urge took me to area near the famous Ram Jhula. As I walked down a steep road from the Ram Jhula parking, the melodious jangling of the bell and thumping of drums from nearby Prachin Hanuman Mandir (Ancient Lord Hanuman Temple) conquered my ‘dome’. The sounds emanating from the temple became more prominent and significant as I moved nearer. When I reached in front of the temple, I saw some bald head teenagers dressed in white dhoti similar to the priest. Those were the face behind that mellow jangling.
Their uniformly shaven heads with a small tuft of hairs on back (shikha or sikha in Sanskrit) were a symbol of them being the students who would probably become temple priest in future.
It was quite interesting to see that in the time where parents wish and push their child to become doctors, engineers and spent exorbitantly on their plush English education, these children parent’s chose to send them to Sanskrit Mahavidyalayas (Sanskrit University) to make them priests. I can only see it as the part of diversity of our country.
I strolled further and the impressive iron suspension bridge- Ram Jhula began to appear from the cobbled lanes. The suspension bridge (also known as Shivananda Jhula) constructed in 1986 connects the other end of river where most of the ashrams and temples are situated. I could literally feel the suspension while marching on the bridge. I reached the other side and was glad to find a room with the panoramic view of the swirling Ganga at Bharat Sadhu Samaj Asharam at a very nominal price (Rs. 200). I feasted at one of local restaurant and went for a sound sleep.
Next morning, I woke up early to give a treat of fresh breeze to my lungs. I walked down to the ghat to have a closer feel of the morning waft. The wind was blowing at much higher speed than I thought. I saw many orange clad sadhus who had nestled themselves in some corners on the open ghat last night performing their daily chores. Some were taking baths in frosty Ganga water while some were enchanting some mantras and simultaneously cleaning the ghat.
I went down on the steps till the water kissed my feet. I parked myself on one of the steps with my feet in water for some time but it was so chill that I had to take them out after few seconds. I spent some time silently adoring the quietude of the surroundings and incessantly travelling river. I looked around for the giant Lord Shiva statue in middle of the river but soon the memories of last year catastrophe which wiped away the many towns and the statue too grabbed my muse. But I guess people have moved on and the place was returning to its pre-catastrophe charm again.
I continued to sit and adore on the step of the ghat till the orange rays appeared in the sky. I was now mentally prepared to take the holy dip into the sacred waters. I brought my clothes from my room, placed them on one the steps and gradually descended into the divine river with the help of metal chain attached to the pole. The first step into the river- I could feel the cold sensation throughout my body- second step- It was getting little comfortable – third step- I dipped my head into the river. I dipped three-four times hurriedly and later it became more of fun. While I was in the river, I could feel the massive power of the river and if it had not been the chains, I might have gone with the drift.
A few more dips and it was time to get dressed. When I was taking the bath, a sadhu was sitting on the steps murmuring the Sanskrit verses in the praise of Ganga. I sat with him and soon an interaction clicked between us. On being inquired, he proudly narrated how he turned into a sadhu 12 years back and how his life has been since then. His story was really captivating insights into the life of these nomadic sadhus. His immense faith on the Goddess Ganga was visible on his face and words. I offered him to join me for tea to which he readily agreed and shared some more stories and moral driven theories.
After the short tea sessions, I turned back for heading back to Delhi. During my recourse, I analysed how nature has balanced everything and treats everybody equal. It does not discriminate between the societal barriers created by us. The river embraces and offers the same water to everybody irrespective from where he hails. I think we all need to imbibe the virtues of nature in ourselves and act accordingly apart from just worshiping them.
In the end, I can confidently tell that ‘solo travel’ is not boring at all and there is large possibility of discovering a new side of yourself. It has helped me, so it can help you too.