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.
Latest Posts by Kaushal Mathpal
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.
Recently, after attending a friend’s sister engagement at Chandigarh, I cooked up a spontaneous plan with one of my friend to visit the “Queen of Hills- Shimla” and to be more specific “Kufri” to witness the fall of white cotton balls (snow) from the heaven. “Kufri” is a salubrious and scenic hill station which akin to many other hill stations was discovered by British in 1819. It is quite famed among snow lovers who throng the place during winters and some of them also patiently wait for days to witness snowfall.
Although my plan worked out and I was lucky to be the spectator to the tiny little flurry balls from the sky, however, there were some backdrops too. Here is the list of top 5 things to avoid during your trip to “Kufri” based on my first-hand experience:
STAY AWAY FROM TOUTS
The moment you get down at Shimla, you will be surrounded by the touts trying to woo with their hospitality and smiles. They will offer to take you to the cheapest hotels with best amenities (every tout claims so). But be warned, they tend to make your travel a bit costlier if you are on a tight budget plan.
The deal is that they get commission from the hotels and guest house for persuading customers which obviously is immaculately camouflaged in your bills. Further, in order to surge their commissions, they will also consistently try hard to paste useless combo packages for sightseeing. I took one of the packages and most of the places mentioned were only seen from distance like Green Valley, White Flower Valley etc.
It is advised to research beforehand about the tourist attraction, accommodation, transportation, read reviews etc. in order to save few bucks which could be well utilized somewhere else. You can also look forward to Club Mahindra resort in Mashobra, if you are willing to shell out for a comfortable stay.
Apart from planning for your accommodation and transport, one more thing you must check before arriving is weather forecast. The snowfall season generally spans from late December to late February. While interacting with the locals, I came to know that many people had to wait for 2-3 days for the snowfall and some even returned disheartened. So in order to accelerate your chances of witnessing snowfall, you must keep an eye on the statistical data of weather department and leave the rest to your destiny.
DON’T BE A GLADIATOR
If you are travelling in February, you might have to trek higher into the beautiful mountain ranges of “Kufri” to watch white flurry balls. The shortest destination is “Mahasu Peak” located at a distance of around 4 km from the car parking at “Kufri”.
It highly recommended taking a pony (small horse) ride to and fro to “Mahasu Peak” even if you are fittest among the masses. Due to melting of ice on the route, it gets too much muddy and slippery that you might end up with mud-covered all over you. It will spoil all the charm of watching snowfall and you might lose your health too. The normal pony rides cost you around Rs. 400/- per person for a round trip which is decent considering the route.
DON’T IRRITATE YOUR RIDE
Once you have boarded your ride, kindly don’t try to manoeuvre your ride or annoy him by touching his hairs, tail etc. as it might land you and others in some serious trouble. Although, ponies are not considered be aggressive but everyone have a threshold limit. I saw many riders touching pony’s tail, hairs and trying them move faster than the rest in spite of repeated requests and warning from their owners. Later, one of the pony ran into another, thereby, unbalancing three more and as result their riders fells into the mud and some even sustained minor injuries.
The second advice is to sit calm and follow the direction of the owners to save you from falling. The ride becomes too bumpy and a bit scary for first timers when you are coming down the hill. But believe me these ponies know their job well and will take you down safely if you follow the advice.
REMEMBER YOUR GEAR
We all love our smartphones, camera and other electronic gadgets. So it is paramount that we take good care of them during such trips. Since, the route is a bit messy, I would personally advise to keep all your gadgets, wallets and other important documents in some waterproof bags. Apart from this, it is also advised to wear the snow suit and gum boots (easily available) to avoid your clothes and shoes from getting soaked in mud and water.
Firstly, I tried to be a gladiator and then avoided the gear and ultimately slipped, got my jeans and shoes soaked in muddy surroundings and later also dropped my beloved smartphone too. You can save yourself from all this trouble by following the advice.
Ever since I began following my passion for traveling religiously, Delhi has amazed and stunned me with its diversity and vibrant outlook each time. Be it the slender lanes of Nizamuddin or the posh areas of Connaught Place, the city has its kitty bag full of surprises for wanderers like me.
This time I meandered through the old lanes of Old Delhi, famously known as Chandni Chowk (Moonlit Square).
Originally, Chandni Chowk refers to the straight road which connects Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid along with numerous shops and other famous structures such as Shishganj Gurudwara, Town Hall etc. on its sides.
The nomenclature is believed to derive from the fountain pool on the roads during medieval times which glistened during full moon lights and lately the whole area of old Delhi has been customarily referred with the name Chandni Chowk. Although, there are myriads activities and places to see around Chandni Chowk, but below are the few places one should never miss from its itinerary.
Start the voyage through the bygone lanes of Chandni Chowk with the blessing of almighty at Jama Masjid, the largest mosque of Delhi. Built during the reign of Mughal emperor Shahjahan in 1650 A.D, this elegant structure can accommodate around 25000 devotees at a time.One has to go through a flight of steps built from red stone to reach its façade which leads to its giant courtyard.
As I entered the courtyard, my eyes were mesmerized by the aesthetic combination of red sandstone and white marble used by Mughals to build the mosque. The interior walls and arch of the mosque are decorated with artistic designs which were prevalent during those times.
The best part is yet to come, by paying a meagre amount of Rs. 30 each, one can engross himself/herself in magnificent panoramic view of entire old Delhi and Red Fort from one of minarets of the mosque.
Once you have taken the blessings at the mosque, go and shop a bit from the renowned Meena Bazaar situated right in front of the eastern entrance of Jama Masjid.
The congested alleys of Meena Bazaar is a minefield for shopoholics and one can spot everything in this market like clothes, electronic items, old coins, crockery, posters, dry fruits, utensils, carpets and the an unending list of miscellaneous items at dirt-cheap price.
Apart from shopping stuffs, you can find the herbal cure to most common health ailments such as gastronomic problems, joint & muscle pains and numerous others which are still famous among the locals.
The Meena Bazaar turns the clock back in past when such markets were common and offers beguiling experience to city dwellers and the tourists who are habitual to present day mall/shopping complex environment.
KHARI BAOLI (SPICE MARKET)
The market is one of the many gems of the Chandni Chowk or old Delhi. Khari Baoli refers to an ancient step well built in around 1550’s, however, surprisingly nothing remains of this ancient step well presently nor is this place famous for the same.
Khari Baoli is famous all across the globe for its wholesale grocery market and is credited to be the largest spice market in Asia. The first sight as you enter this market would be the contrasting coloured spices ranging from red chillies, turmeric roots, cinnamon, black pepper etc. that too with multiple varieties of them displayed immaculately in gunny bags with prices.
There is no dearth of varieties in this market and it will never leave you disappointed if you are looking for something (as long it pertains to spice and grocery items).
Almost all the retailers, restaurants, hotels (even the big ones) etc. across New Delhi and in the northern region buy their stock from these centuries old shops of Khari Baoli.
PARANTHE WALI GALI
When you have rambled and discovered the magical charms of Chandni Chowk, Paranthe Wali Gali is the perfect destination to feast upon and have a delicious end to the sumptuous jaunt.It is the famous gourmet lane of old Delhi which have a special place in the heart of the locals and the foodies. However, most of shops which existed at the time of its inception have now closed but three have survived through the time and presently being run by seventh generation of the same family.
The shops here have an eclectic range of Parathas (sort of stuffed bread) with exotic fillings such as Kaju, badam, rabri, khoya, mattar, gobhi etc. served with a spicy potato curry, mint and tamarind chutney, pickle and sweetened mashed pumpkin.Many of the great personalities such as Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Jayaprakash Narayan have been regular admirers of the Parathas from these shops in the past.
Photo Credits: “Chhatrapal Singh fotography II
Recently, I went for a weekend trip with my friends to the city which proudly proclaims to be the “City of Birds” i.e. Bharatpur. Bharatpur is a typical Indian small town which is still at bay from the mall culture akin to the metros. Since, I was travelling after a long time in Roadways bus, the ride was little uncomfortable and a bumpy one for me. The heat continuously lashed my face from the shattered window of the bus and it reminded me of my college days when I traveled in roadways bus to save money.
I reached Bharatpur Bus Terminal at around 3 pm and wandered in the city till I found a residence decent enough to not blow my pocket. The next day early morning, we visited some old temples and forts which are often missed by other travelers and later on feasted ourselves on delicious kachooris served with tangy curry. In the evening, we set out on nature trail in the famous World Heritage Site-“Keolado National Park” which was earlier called Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. The park which now attracts scores of photographers, tourists and ornithologist from all across the globe was once a hunting ground for the kings and other royal people.
We reached the entrance of the national park which proudly displayed its new name along with the map of the park. One of my friends asked some of travelers for their feedback and there was mixed reviews. But irrespective of the reviews, we preceded with our plans to explore the park and have some fun moments. Now came the transportation part- I wanted an option which was cheap and at the same time does not bind us in some time bound restrictions.
While, I looked the tariff board for appropriate option, I saw some travelers hopping down from the bicycle. I looked at my friends and all of us agreed to this option. We hired the bicycles and were all set for the trail into nature’s lap with our pity smart phones cameras (compared to the big DSLR with heavy lens).
I knew we will not be able to great pictures of vivid varieties of species in the park, but, I guess nobody among us cared for those perfect shots. For us, it was a small reunion of some old friends and the only thing we desired at that moment was each other company.
All of us hopped on our “Hero Jet Bicycles” and posed for group click. Since, it was long time riding bicycle, all of us took time to adjust as our bodies were not as flexible like old times, but soon it was all smooth. As I strolled deeper into the park, the calm and soothing atmosphere relaxed my soul. I was away from hustle bustle for city after a long time and I quite enjoyed this retreat. Riding on the road, we were presented with beautiful view of unending road accompanied by dense trees.
The sunrays struggled to reach us through the thick cover of trees and air was cool. The road and surrounding area was dressed in pale yellow colours of dry leaves with some peacocks here and there. We stopped our bicycles for some time and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere.
After some time, we continued our trail and soon wetlands began to appear. The wetland stretched as far as our eyes could see. While everyone else was busy in their own chores, I spotted some amazing vivid coloured species of birds on small land pieces between the wetlands. I definitely didn’t recognize them by their names, but it was truly a beautiful sight. Some of birds seem to take holy dip into the water time and again for their prey while some sat quietly in groups giving an impression of being on a vacation.
The sanctuary which hosts nearly 250 species of birds includes some seasonal foreigners too like Siberian crane. I didn’t bothered or wasted time to remember their names (after all I was not on botany field trip) and simply observed and admired their natural beauty.
Apart from the birds, we saw plenty of nilgais and some small water snakes too. While enjoying the flora and fauna of the park, we gradually without even realizing went deeper into the park on our rides. Soon we started realizing that it was only four of us and we could not see any other soul either in front or behind us. But nobody wanted to turn their backs and preceded further in search of some more adventure.
As we moved further, the view of the marshland began to appear clearer and we spotted more species of birds. I could now clearly see the green moss floating rhythmically over the water. The deeper we went into the park; there was pin drop silence in the air.
The only voice I heard at that point of time was from our bicycles and some uncanny sounds of the animals. Later, we had to stop as there was a nilgai standing in the middle of the path constantly gazing at us. We made sounds, threw some stones (just to make sounds) and did everything to make him move (from a good distance) but it was not ready to move side. At this point, I was of the opinion that we should move back from here now, but everyone overheard my suggestion. In the meantime, the nilgai also paved way for us.
We moved further but it was not much fun now, I could see bones of dead animals on the path which somewhat freaked me out a bit. By now, everybody had started feeling thirsty and there seemed no source of drinkable water in mid of the jungle. I peddled faster so that I could get out of here. After some time, we found some more boys and were relieved that we were on the right path. Our faces by now had become pale with tiredness, thirstiness and dust.
Soon, we were at the same point from where we had started. We were glad that we finished the trail and when I saw the map, I realized that we almost covered 18-20 kilometres. Although, I had some eerie moments in between but at last it was all fun experience and apart from the beautiful surrounding, flora and fauna what made it fun was the company of the friends.
I first arrived in the capital city after graduating. The very sensation of graduating from a small town to a metro city, where there was much more freedom made me feel great.
I strongly felt the desire to change my attire to fit into the metro culture, however the scanty pocket money of mine prevented me from looking towards glittering mall’s showrooms. At last, I was compelled to search out for other avenues which would not dig a bigger hole in my pocket and also simultaneously give me maximum returns at lowest cost.
The moment my shopping spree deviated from glittering showrooms, the first destination that came to my mind which would please my pocket was famous (or infamous) Palika Bazaar, New Delhi. The market which proudly boasts to be the only underground Air Conditioned market in Asia is quite renowned for being the underground haven of smuggled and pirated goods and excessive bargaining.
As I walked down through the stairs, the voices of shopkeepers clamoring to woo customers began to take over the air. The alleys were jammed with buyers and tourists who throng the place for shopping some dirt cheap goods. As planned, I started wandering in the overcrowded alleys towards the garments stores.
The moment I reach outside any garment store, the shopkeepers would circle me and sometimes even try to drag and cajole me to their shops. The shops also showcased a wide range of T-Shirts, Jeans and other accessories with deceptive brand names akin to popular ones (Reebok for Reehok, Pepe for Peppe etc.).
I halted at one of shops to look out for T-Shirts and within no time the shopkeeper started throwing out number of T-Shirts from the shelves to match my taste. Some of apparels also displayed handwritten plaques of 50%, 70% and even 90% discounts but surprisingly none of the garment had a price tag. I finally selected one and asked for the price. The shopkeeper gave a squint look at me and replied “900 Rupees”. I was astonished but didn’t show up on my face and recalled the first rule of bargaining which my parents often applied- “Start from half the price of what has been quoted.”
But since I was aware of the reputation of market, I went a bit ahead and confidently replied- Rs. 75. Now the expression of astonishment shifted to the shopkeeper’s face. He gave a disgusted look and said “We are already offering 50% discount on the apparel, what else you want..?” His statement made no change in my bid although I was feeling a bit ashamed to have quoted a price of Rs. 75 against Rs. 900.
A few moments passed in silence and he grudgingly replied “Ok for you only… further discount to Rs. 500 and that final, take it or leave it.” If I had been shopping in some other market, I would not have dared to reject this offer, but since it was the renowned “Palika”, I raised the offer to Rs. 100 and started going back. As I started ambling towards other shops, the shopkeeper shouted several times and each time the price dropped like dwindling Sensex.
Finally, a deal was cracked at Rs. 120 and I had learnt the lesson on bargaining in Palika Bazaar. Later on I realized the quality of the stuff was not even worth what I spent. Not too happy with my choices, I was attracted to some electronic shops selling DVD’s, CD’s and other electronic items. I moved towards them in hope of buying some computer games DVD’s. I entered a shop and asked for the latest version of FIFA and he presented me with a rack full of CD’s and asked me to look on my own. I felt a bit strange because that not how you welcome a customer.
While I was searching desperately in the rack, one of salesman moved closer to me and showed some cards appearing to be some sort of coupons with 100, 200 and 500 written on it. He didn’t bother whether I paid attention or not and started to explain me the benefits of those ugly coupons. He claimed that I can get discounts on every electronic store in Palika Bazaar by showing those coupons and offered to sell me three Rs. 200 coupons for Rs. 100. I was tempted but also a bit sceptical considering the reputation of the market. Later on I overheard some noises in one end of market and on closer look it revealed that those coupons were fake. I sighed out in relief to be saved from temptation of coupons.
I did not find my FIFA CD and looked towards other store in search of them. I was chased and literally dragged by salesman offering to buy pen drives, Hollywood, Bollywood and software CD and when all of it didn’t worked out, they offered to sell latest porn CDs. But by now, I had put all my temptation to rest.
I entered another shop and again asked for the same CD. The whole sequence of last shop was repeated and I finally found what I looked for. I negotiated the price and a deal was arrived. By now the shopkeeper had become a bit friendly with me but soon I realized his ulterior motives. He presented me with a unique concept of “cash back”. I had heard about the concept earlier but could not correlate with the type of market I was standing in. But for all his nice talking and behaviour, I allowed him to explain. He told me that I would get “cash back” of 10% of my total purchases if I get one more customer for them in future and he also gave a his visiting card with my name written on its back side. Even though this sort of marketing of “cash back” was pretty novel and I doubted it but I kept the card as I didn’t had to pay extra.
I turned up again after few days along with my friend. He bought a 32 GB pen drive (officially such pen drive never existed at that time in market) and paid the agreed amount. I even selected some CD’s in order to claim my “cash back” but the shopkeeper blatantly refused to recognize me and his handwriting on the card. My face turned blue but there was nothing I could do except for walking away and the worst part- the pen drive also didn’t worked or it was never meant to work.
I write this post amid the disconsolate news of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with numerous speculations floating in the region; however, I still hope and pray that every passenger on board returns out safe. Such incidents often make us uncomfortable but it cannot take away the curiosity and enthusiasm of a traveler and I write this post upon getting infected with the same curiosity and enthusiasm.
Malaysia, often termed as Asian paradise, truly justifies the title endowed upon it by the travellers. A country bubbling with mixture and fusion of various religious cultures and geographical terrains offers something to every league of traveller. The country is thronged with tourist round the year and every month the country celebrates one or two international festival.
But for people like who often prefers offbeat and adventure travel, the country has an unending list to offer. Here are the five “not to miss” things from my itinerary for Malaysia:
Gunung Mulu National Park
I am pretty confident that most of us must have seen pictures of sharp spikes of rocks that ascend hundreds of feet of above ground amid the thick dense forest–one can see them in reality here.
Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site also encompasses some astonishing caves around the world. For people like who have never been on such caves exploration, this National Park is perfect place to kick off. One of the prominent is the Deer Cave which has the largest cave passage in the world and big enough to accommodate 40 Boeing 747 planes side by side. The journey to the caves and pinnacles through the thick rain forest and local villages works as a catalyst to enrich your thrill and joy factor.
Majority of the wanderers often skip Taiping from their travelling itineraries which make it one of the best offbeat destinations of Malaysia.Malaysia’s first and the oldest museum Perak State Museum is the best place in the town to kick off highlighting the colonial history of the country. The other unique feature of the town is it zoo which is among the three zoos in the word offering night safari, an experience no one can afford to miss.
In addition to the above, the town offers a wide range of options to the travellers such lake gardens, jungle trekking trails, hill resort, waterfalls, flora and fauna to satisfy their travel senses.
A Climb to Mount Kinabalu
For an adventure junkie like me who loves trekking, a climb to the Malaysia’s highest peak Mount Kinabalu is a must to do. It’s an elegant naked mountain range contrary to the snow-capped hills of India, thus offering altogether a different adventuring experience.
Although, the 23 km trek throws out some moderately tough trekking conditions but what welcomes at the end is worth taking all the pains. The trek is the test of both your physical and mental endurance. The trek will test your lungs on the steep, slippery and uneven rugged path but every step you take closer to your destination will bring cheers to your face in the end.
A city dweller like me who seldom gets a chance to see a sunset or sunrise among hustle bustle of urban life, a serene and spectacular view of the orange fire ball rising from behind the mountains could be lifetime achievement.
Once you have exhausted yourselves in the mountain and caves of Malaysia, the pristine beaches of Perhentian Islands is perfect getaway to relax and rejuvenate yourselves with beach side cafes, delicious meals and beer pints.If you are seeking some underwater company, you can find many in the form of green turtles, sharks (yes you heard it right), beautiful multi coloured species of fish and there is no end to it. You have to just put your snorkelling masks on.
Malaysian Home Cooking Classes
The last thing I want to do in Malaysia is to take some lessons in the authentic traditional home cooking lessons in Malaysian cuisine. A best way to experience a country and its people is through their cuisine. The Malaysian cuisine is a potpourri of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Nyona cuisine.It is would be a great experience to learn the Malaysian cuisine from locals at their home, even though my preferences are strictly vegetarian.
A genuine piece of art (any art form) is “priceless” – considering the quantum of sheer efforts and the time dedicated by the artist to transform a mere thought into reality. Even though it may be a “priceless” piece of work but still there is a price tag attached to it. Had only the appreciation and love shown by the audience have satisfied the paramount necessities of the life of an artist, I am pretty confident that he would have parted with his art on a mere appreciation by its admirer.
In India, many of the traditional art forms are gradually moving towards a phase of “silent death” in absence of right opportunities and perks. Raghurajpur, a small village in vicinity of the renowned temple town of Puri, where every dwelling is an artist’s studio is probably on the slow path of the same fate as many other traditional art forms provided something is done to change its course. It takes days and in some cases even a month for these talented “heritage artists” to complete their work and often the efforts of every member of the family goes into completing a masterpiece.
An Unknown artist of Ragurajpur
But what they get in return for these masterpieces is not even pennies considering the labour put in by them. They are excessively underpaid by the middleman or brokers for their labour while they make exorbitant profits out of them. If the trend continues, there will be a time when the younger generation of these artists lineage will desert their centuries old “heritage art” and look towards other avenues of better life and opportunities, thus leading to a “silent death” of this traditional art form. It’s similar to your boss digging a hole into your incentives and making his incentives propel on your hard work. How does it feel?? I know there are no words to describe….
A masterpiece in process
Although, you might not take out your boss out of your way… but you can help these “heritage artists” of Raghurajpur to remove the middlemen by lending a little contribution which will go in developing a website enabling them to directly connect to their admirers and get appropriate worth for their otherwise “priceless” artwork. The TATA CAPITAL have commenced a DO RIGHT campaign to complete the HALF STORY (For more information on HALF STORIES read here) of these artist of Raghurajpur to change their lives by removing the middleman and preventing this traditional art form from leading to “silent death” .
Please visit the page to make a contribution for a change.
For the last couple of days, I gave a little rest to my “wandering shoes” and indulged myself into a lethargic lifestyle of late night movies, lazy mornings, skipping breakfast and snoring or gazing the “idiot box” all day. But soon the “travel bug” sneaked into my torpid comforts and stimulated my core to stand up for my love for travelling.
Infused with a sense of motivation, I geared up once again with my “wandering shoes” for yet another jaunt to explore the mysteries of the Old Fort or famously known as Purana Qila with Delhi Karavan. Although, I was running a bit late on schedule, yet the group members were patient enough to welcome late comers like me. With a small introduction of each participant, the group ambled on the slightly steep passage towards the giant doors of the fort.
The giant doors accompanied by tough walls which once were highly guarded with royal soldiers seemed embracing each of its visitors with doors wide open. The entrance also known as “Bada Darwaza” (Giant Door) is a beautiful yet robust piece architecture aimed at both welcoming its visitors and protecting the population against the attack during the medieval time. The elegant Jharokas (cantilevered enclosed openings) with extended pavilions further enhanced the beauty of this medieval entrance.
Ambling along the walls of the Fort
The group entered the fort and we walked along with the walls before finally resting our base on lush green grasses in precincts of the fort. The only person standing was Asif, the founder of Delhi Karavan elaborating the medieval history of the site. He coupled his sessions of history with exciting anecdotes which made it more interesting. I felt like sitting in school for a lesson on medieval history, the only difference being that during those time I eagerly waited for the bell to do its job.
Audience listening to history lessons of Asif and Vikram Sir
The Old Fort (known as Dinpanah during medieval times) was constructed by Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1533 but soon it was captured by Sher Shah Suri who made several additions to the existing structures. Although, the fort saw the reign of two great rulers but still it is termed as “unlucky”. The reason being both the rulers who ruled through the Old Fort died soon after they captured this fort. But its fateful history does not hinder the joy of the visitors who throng the place.
As soon as Asif completed the medieval history session, the group was joined by yet another history lover and founder of “Youth for Heritage” Vikramjt Singh Rooprai who enunciated the history of the place from another perspectives. He took us into the era of Mahabharata and Pandavas and Kaurvas. The site where the remains of Old Fort stand today has a perennial history of habitation linking to the ancient city of Indraprastha. The detailed document of administration of Emperor Akbar i.e. Ain-E-Akbari also makes a reference to the existence of fort of Pandavas and Kaurvas prior to Old Fort. The previous excavations have revealed the remains different cultures much before the Mughals. In an on-going excavation in the area, an ancient Vishnu sculpture, pottery, coins etc. have surfaced hailing to the period of Guptas.
Vikram Sir gave some contrasting facts which challenges the some well-known historical information perceived by general public which leave a scope for further research open .
Some ruined parts of Forts
Finally, the history lessons came to an end and the real wandering started. I started moving with the group along with the wall and soon reached to another entrance of the fort known as “Talaki Gate” often called “forbidden gate” as Sher Shah Suri is believed to have left for the battle from this gate and never returned back. The gate is similar to the “Bada Darwaza” and its features are reminiscent of Rajasthan Forts. Apart from this, there is one more entrance to the Old Fort known as “Humayun Gate” probably named as his tomb was visible from there.
The group further meandered to some other old remains of the Old Fort’s walls and then through the meadows disturbing some love birds who had comforted themselves in seclusion of the place until we finally reached “Qila-E-Kuhna” which literally means “the mosque of the old fort”.
Built in 1541 by Sher Shah, the mosque is masterpiece among the medieval structures in the old fort. We approached the mosque from rear side and I didn’t realize it was a mosque until I reached in frontage. The rear side of the mosque built with yellow and red sandstone with two extended pavilions from the walls really mesmerized me with its magical charm. The most appealing feature of the rear side was the octagonal turret with two stories made from red sandstone and the top one from yellow sandstone. It had arch openings with beautiful designs which totally engrossed me.
Rear Wall of the Mosque
Beautiful turret on the rear side of mosque wall
When I reached the front side, it was almost similar to “Jamali Kamali” mosque of Mehrauli Archaeological Park yet it colours looked more vibrant to me. The front façade has remarkable design carved on red sandstone, white marbles and tiles. The boundary of arch was decorated by lotus buds design which was also seen on the prayer walls.
Front facade of mosque
Prayer Wall of Mosque
The interior of mosque is also as beautiful as its facade with carved spandrels and small opening along the dome which allowed sunlight to enter the mosque. The main chamber of mosque showcased a star symbol inside a circle with either lotus buds or tulip which the participants confused with “Star of David”. However, the doubt was soon cleared by Vikram Sir who explained that it was cosmos sign used in Hindu religion extensively. It is believed since the workers who built the structure also included Hindus, therefore, some features of their architecture might have crept in. I have personally seen them in many historical sites across Delhi. It is symbol of religious tolerance among the medieval masses contrary to present times.
Inside of Qile-E-Kuhna mosque
Apart from clearing the doubts, Vikram Sir also revealed that our ancestors used rice paste, jaggery, black lentils, lime and similar other edible ingredients for patching/holding stones (similar to present day cement) which left me astonished as it was a complete “out of the blue” and unbelievable fact for me. Such facts and remarkable ancient structures compels me to salute their depth of knowledge and often raises a question in my mind “Are we really technologically advanced than our ancestor or there is a missing link”?
After posing for a group photograph at the mosque, all of us moved further and found some excavation going around the site. The newly discovered ancient relics were nicely kept separated on ground probably on the basis of the period to which they belonged to. I was told it was just the first layer which has been excavated and no one knows how many more stories are buried down there.
Current Excavation at Purana Qila
A little more wandering and we were in front of another monument “Sher Mandal”. The two storeyed octagonal structure built from red sandstone and decoration of white marble was believed to be pleasure retreat of Sher Shah which was later converted into a library by Humayun. However, it is more famous among the historians for the tragic death of Humayun who is believed to have died after falling from the stairs.
Just opposite to the Sher Mandal are the remains of the ancient bath house known as “Hamaam” which means a place for better health. It is more like the modern day spa with a series of rejuvenating treatments available for better health and it is said most important decision of the administration were taken here.
The mere mention of the word spa commenced the gossiping among the ladies and they got so involved in their spa memoirs that they even ignored the explanation being given by Asif and Vikam Sir. At last, ladies had to be requested to surrender their spa gossips for the time being.
Lush green lawns in the precincts of Fort