Journeysmatter

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Category Archives: india

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 1

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The Indian Tri color

People are excited about #Jantacurfew, a one day #lockdown initiated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister as India’s fight against the #Coronavirus.

While normal people are stocking up based on what is missing in their pantry, there are many who are stocking up based on what has never been in their pantry. A family who never brought more than a kilogram of flour was seen buying four kilograms of it. Suddenly, shopkeepers whose shelves were always flush with stock keeping units, were seeing their wares fly off the shelves. Anything, virtually anything was up for grabs.

Bhelpuri, the quintessential #Mumbai snack was not to be missed on a Sunday evening. This was our only indulgence at the grocery shop.

The cook and household help were unsure of coming over on the day of #Jantacurfew. Switching off to what will turn out to be a turning point in the history of #India.

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 2

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The Indian Tri color

Two days to the #Jantacurfew.

A final trip to the workplace which was already seeing measures like limited meal varieties, sandwiches and other snacks being removed, even buttermilk & lassi coming off the menu.

Picking up the utilitarian Thermos, found my way out of the workplace and headed home to face uncertain times. No time or opportunity to bid goodbyes.

There was an air of discontent among young associates who were being asked to come to work as they did not possess laptops. The company did not have any means/preparedness to ship desktops to their residences.

All the BCP manuals were practically rendered useless in these times. Emergency response teams were now facing a real life emergency and not a drill like it is always.

Back home, the cook and domestic help were both around but were not sure of their attendance on the #Jantacurfew. Groceries, vegetables, essentials were at hand to deal with a day of complete shutdown.

Working from home #WFH was usually reserved for unusual days – days of continuous calls, a utility service company coming over, someone taking ill, lack of transportation and of course weather.

A few days before the lockdown, had invested in a conference speakerphone to get over the always in ear phones. Tinnitus and loss of hearing was staring in the face and hence the arrangement provided much needed relief.

That set up the Home office really nice and could move around without the wires getting tangled.

Everyone at home getting used to working from within the confines of a 1000 sq ft space. The daughter getting a e-classroom schedule from school portrayed a face of gloom. The wife being a travel professional, thought nature had given her a break after a gruelling season.

Interesting times ahead!

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 0 – 3

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The Indian Tri color

We are going through stunning times. Unbelievable that one would have started the month of March planning their summer breaks and here we are, holed up within our homes trying to save our lives.

The attention shifted from #Wuhan to #Japan where the Diamond Princess was anchored to #Singapore as the virus snaked its way across to Europe. Who would have thought that the #Juventus vs #Valencia would be one of the last sporting events in some time to come. #Italy, #Spain, #Germany and many more start reporting aggressive spreads, hospitalization, and finally spiralling death counts.

Indian students, devout and stranded labourers were flown back in to India and quarantined.

19th March should go down as an important day in India’s history. The PM took a bold decision to declare a day of #Jantacurfew on the 22nd of March. This was to be a test bed for what was to come subsequently.

Decisiveness has been a hallmark of Shri. Narendra Modi ever since he took charge in 2014. There is a sense of agility in the way of functioning and it is visible with the way the government re-orients itself with every feedback and suggestion. This is a tremendous achievement for a bureaucracy which has not exactly been a forward looking one.

The preparation for #Jantacurfew and the days to follow was on everyone’s horizon.

Companies were getting their work from home and business continuity plans prepared (dusted off in some cases)

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – Ghats of Prayagraj

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This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.

Part 1 saw us driving down from Varanasi to Prayagraj. We visited Kumbh as it drew to a close but nevertheless it did give us a glimpse of what the place would have looked like at its peak. The government of the day at the centre and the state were led by the same political party and hence co-ordination and co-operation were in order. On the second day of our #Kumbh experience, post the Triveni Sangam bathing experience, we planned to explore the Ghats where the space for conducting the #Kumbh was prepared.

Ghats of Prayagraj

An estimated 250 million people (25 crores) would have participated in the Kumbh this year and that is about the entire population of #Indonesia. The entire area covering the Kumbh was estimated to be about 3,200 hectares which is equivalent to 3,200 rugby fields. The Ghats and the main Kumbh area consists of spaces provided to Akharas from across the country. Akharas (Equivalent of Satras in Assam) or a place for the teacher – disciple relationship to flourish. The disciple is usually a religious renunciate and trains on the scriptures.

  • River Ganges, boats docked and the well lit bridge
  • The well lit bridge viewed from the banks of the Ganges at Prayagraj
  • Boats and people on the banks of Ganges
  • People basking in the sun on the banks of the ganges
  • Sellers of water cans and coconuts on the banks of Ganges
  • Vendor selling vermillion, personal effects and care items

Citizen Facilitation services

India has seen cleanliness set in to its national consciousness since 2014. The National cleanliness mission has been driven on every available platform and has largely contributed to disease prevention. The drive was at the forefront of Kumbh 2019 as previous Kumbh Mela’s did not pay adequate attention to the sanitation needs of 250 million people. Apart from makeshift toilet grounds, cubicles with privacy were set up for people to change clothes and even for nursing mothers. Safety and cleanliness were reflected in the kind of arrangements that were made.

  1. 122,500 toilets
  2. 15,000 sanitation workers to support operations
  3. 1,500 volunteers spreading the message of cleanliness
  4. 20,000 waste bins with one every 50 metres
  5. 20,000 security personnel supported by over 100 police cabins
  6. 1000 cameras watching the proceedings and sending them to an integrated command center
  7. A lost and found center for re-uniting children / elderly who have lost their way
  • Toilets at the Kumbh venue
  • Change rooms
  • The lost and found center at Kumbh

Brands in Action

When 250 million people are expected, how can the brands stay away. They found their unique ways to blend in to the atmosphere of the Kumbh and engage with the millions. Nothing seemed like in your face but more became like a discovery.

  • Tea stall with ponds branding
  • Ponds brand standee
  • Banner with Kumbh logo and Fair and Lovely message
  • A water dispenser sponsored by LG
  • Kumbh mela notice featuring All india radio

Food

Beginning with a cup of tea, Fried stuff like bread pakoras and Samosas and even some sprouts to keep the energy going, visitors to the Kumbh can always find a low cost option for themselves and their families so that no one goes hungry. There were also camps which were serving free food for those who could not afford. Fruits were being sold in plenty along with tender coconut water and sugarcane juice.

  • Tea seller cart
  • A Bread pakoda vendor
  • Sprouts seller
  • A bhel thelawala

This Kumbh was one of the most successfully conducted, accident free and clean Kumbh in living memory. The Prime Minister made it a point to honor the sanitation workers who played a key role in ensuring a clean and disease free Kumbh. As it is emphasized, cleanliness is equal to godliness.

THe Prime Minister washing feet of sanitation workers as a mark of respect for their contribution.

The next Kumbh Mela is scheduled to be held in 2022 in the holy city of Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand. Any Kumbh is a once in a life time opportunity to visit and understand what India truly stands for. Come and fall in love with India

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – 1

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One of the boats on the banks of the Ganges ready to transport devotees to the Triveni Sangam

Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years. The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimages on four sacred rivers as listed below:

  • Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand
  • Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh
  • Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra
  • Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh

The twelth year of a cycle sees the Kumbh happening in Prayagraj. The last grand gathering happened in the year 2013. Six years since, Prayagraj becomes the site for an Ardh Kumbh or the mid way in the new 12 year cycle. One can read more about Kumbh 2019 and its significance here.

The 2013 Maha Kumbh and 2019 Ardh Kumbh have happened during different ruling dispensations and hence were expected to be handled differently. This two day travel experience to the Kumbh was to get a bath in the confluence and experience how the grand event was handled.

The Kumbh Tent City

  • The Tent city with a green carpet, tents and fire fighting equipment
  • A sit out to relax and grab a bit of sunshine
  • Two Beds, a Fan in the tent and a Caravan music player

Heading to the Triveni Sangam

  • Gulls warming up on water barricades as the sun comes up lighting up the Sangam
  • A simple Boat ride for Rs 1500 for an hour and half to travel to the Sangam (confluence) and return after bathing. Absolutely warm boatmen with proper safety equipment
  • This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.
  • There was adequate police presence on the waters and the invisible eye to watch over the crowds
  • Passenger traffic on the Ganges transporting devotees and workers headed towards the Ghats.

The Bath at Triveni Sangam OR Confluence of Three rivers

  • The Kumbh Sangam or confluence
  • Boats parked at the confluence/sangam
  • Faithfuls smeared with vermillion paste by priests who conduct prayers at the sangam
  • Man sleeping on the boat on the lap of his wife

Getting to Prayagraj

Prayagraj is about 120 kms from Varanasi, the closest international airport. Prayagraj airport too has now been brought on India’s aviation map with services getting launched from May 2019. All of India’s major airlines like Air India, Indigo, Vistara and SpiceJet have excellent connectivity to Prayagraj and Varanasi. If one enters and exits via Varanasi, the added benefit of experiencing the oldest city in the universe can be realized.

  • A Dhaba and seating space
  • Two vegetable curries - One of Cauliflower with Peas and another with potatoes and spinach. Accompanying it is sumptuous dhal / pulses, salad and chapatis with Rice
  • A Tea shop iwth tea being served in disposable mud cups. Tea is prepared on a coal stove

We will explore the Ghats of Prayagraj in our next blog piece

Majuli Island #Assam – Visit it before it disappears

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Twilight over the Brahmaputra as we leave Majuli Island to Nemati Ghat

Majuli (Land between two rivers) is a river island on the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam. While getting in and out requires a lot of effort, not going there is not an option. With closer observation, it is infact the cultural capital of Assam. The island is now a District and covers a total of 441 square kilometers and has over 144 villages, schools, colleges and all the amenities required to lead a decent life.

To reach Majuli, travel around 300 kms from Guwahati, reach Jorhat from where you land up at Nemati Ghat which is on the banks of the Brahmaputra. There are about 7 ferry services at various times of the day plying between Nemati Ghat and Majuli with the last service around 330 PM from either sides. We spent 5 hours which was more like an orientation session to Majuli. That was however good to get us back in the future. Savor some of the main sights of this picturesque island

Auniati Satra

Entrance of the Auniati Satra
The entrance of the Auniati Satra. Satras are the Assamese Vaishnavite monasteries for religious practices. These great Vaishnava monasteries were founded at the initiative of the Ahom Kings of Assam in the middle of the 17th century.
Jaya and Vijaya Guarding the entrance to the shrine of Krishna at the Auniati Satra
Jaya and Vijaya Guarding the entrance to the shrine of Krishna at the Auniati Satra. They are places where the Vaishnavs dedicate themselves to serve God and also preach the followers for devotion towards God. They are also the centre of art and culture in Assam.
The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra
The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra. The Ceremonial drum at the Auniati Satra. They make use of various ritual and devotional performances to help people understand and practice the doctrine of the Vaishnavism and realize belief in one God and the means of the ultimate eternal peace. Raas Leela is a powerful and a beautiful way of conveying the essence of vaishnavism

Samaguri Satra

Entrance board to Samaguri Satra
The Samaguri Satra – Mask making is a special craft not just of Majuli, but also of the entire state of Assam. Srimanta Sankardeva first used them in the enactment of his Bhaonas. He created this craft to capture expressions which otherwise was not possible to enact in a regular face. The Samaguri Satra preserves this tradition (Notes Credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Guru Hemchandra Goswami at work on a wooden scultpture
Shri Hemchandra Goswami, the Guru at Samaguri Satra trains 10 – 12 boys in the craft every year (Notes Credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Master Hemchandra Goswami at work in his Samaguri Satra
Artist of the Samaguri Satra
Ahom king Chakradhwaj Singha built this Satra in 1663 A.D, and since then it has showed immense deftness in this craft and for generations trained young artisans to pass on the heritage and give it a momentum vis-à-vis the present. Two other Satras— Bor Elangi Satra (which moved from Salmora Mouza in Majuli to Titabar in Jorhat district) and Khatpaar Satra in Sivasagar, are notable practitioners of this craft and they have kept the tradition moving. (Notes credit – https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)
Masks at Samaguri Satra
The earlier masks were restricted to portraying just a single expression where the eyes and the lips were not shown. Now the masks are built in a manner so as to facilitate the movement of the eyes and the lips. Again in some other characters artifices are employed, making the removal of the head or the nose during the play seem real. This adds a dramatic character to the story, enhancing it in the process and also lending an aesthetic appeal to it. The atmosphere thus becomes more animated and energetic. Materials used for the masks include bamboo, cane, cow dung, jute, potter’s clay, and muslin cloth (https://www.discovernortheast.in/hemchandra-goswami/)

Uttar Kamalabari Satra

The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is an influential religious and cultural monastery of Majuli established in the year 1673.
The Uttar Kamalabari Satra is an influential religious and cultural monastery of Majuli established in the year 1673.
A residence of one of the students of the Satra. This Satra is famous for performing art like Gayan bayan, Sutra Naas, Ankia Bhaona (dramas of Sankardev and Madhabdev).
A residence of one of the students of the Satra. This Satra is famous for performing art like Gayan bayan, Sutra Naas, Ankia Bhaona (dramas of Sankardev and Madhabdev).
The residential quarters of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. In this Satra both the Satradhikar and the Bhakats (disciples) spend their life in celibacy. The Bhagavad Gita is the central deity to whom prayers are held everyday.
The residential quarters of the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. In this Satra both the Satradhikar and the Bhakats (disciples) spend their life in celibacy. The Bhagavad Gita is the central deity to whom prayers are held everyday.

Handicrafts from the Mising Tribe

  • Rengam Cooperative
  • Weaving centre
  • The Cooperative has been helping the Mising tribe further its skill.

The Majuli Brand Mustard Oil Project

Majuli Brand Mustard Oil Project is a contineous project being run- by IMPACT-NE since 2005. It is a kind of project for socio-economic development of Majuli through agricultural processing and rural industrialization. The main objective of the project is to ensure benefit to the farming community by providing them direct market linkage to sale their mustard seeds at actual market rate. As mustard is the major agricultural products of Majuli so it requires a competitive market for the benefit of the farmers.

  • The Majuli Mustard Project. An avenue to provide employment locally.
  • Mustard placed out for Drying. Mustard is the largest agricultural product of Majuli in terms of output
  • Oil tins for Mustard ready to be pumped in to Oil extraction machine. A log has been used to serve as a makeshift handle
  • The Mustard is poured in from the top and the extracted oil filters down while the cake is thrown out. The residue is added back in to the machine to ensure that the oil is fully extracted before being discarded as fodder.
  • Lord Vishwakarma is the resident deity of the Mustard Oil Mill
The Majuli Island Mustard Oil Project

A Simple Lunch before Departure

The Ferry Service

Heading to Majuli Island

All major airlines fly in to Guwahati from where one can either take a train or drive about 315 kms (7 hours) to reach Nemati Ghat from where one can board a Ferry to Majuli. Majuli does not have any chain hotels but provides a number of home stays. For more questions write – response@narmadaholidays.com.

#Amritsar Memories : Attari – #Wagah border and FarmStay #vacations

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The Indian Tri color

Part 1 of my blog on a rejuvenated Amritsar focused on the newest attraction in town, The Partition Museum, dedicated to the pain and suffering endured by millions during one of the largest and most brutal mass migration in history. The museum has since officially opened for viewing and more sections are being opened in a phased manner.

Part 2 focused on the serene Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple), Akhal Takht, Sarovar and its surroundings. I spent a whole afternoon exploring the nooks and corners of the Darbar sahib complex, learning about the contributions made by the Sikh Gurus, ordinary folk, Armed forces, Agricultural community and the role of Punjab in shaping the history of this great country.

In the 3rd part, i share my experiences and feelings about the newly minted precincts of The Heritage street, another tragic memorial from the freedom struggle – The Jallianwala Bagh and finally the humble Guru ka Langar.

In the Fourth part, I wrote about various dishes on offer and also introduced readers to other Vloggers who have been covering the Amrtisar food scene with so much of passion

The final part of the Amritsar experience is rounded off by a visit to the Attari (Indian Side village) – Wagah (Pakistan side village) border and a visit to a Farm Stay, a concept that seems to be catching up and should a huge boost to the tourism sector and thereby incomes in the state.

My visit to the India – Pakistan border which falls between #Attari village on the Indian side and #Wagah border on the Pakistan side was planned a saturday. All previous traveller accounts including those of my wife and in-laws spoke of an exciting spectacle comprising of dances, singing and finally the Beating of the retreat finally culminating in the lowering of flags and slam closing of the gates. I was eagerly looking forward to this experience. The ceremony has almost gone on uninterrupted since 1959 except during periods of confrontation on other parts of the border. While the Border Security Force leads from the Indian side, the Pakistan side is led by the Pakistan Rangers.

The drive from the centre of #Amritsar takes about 45 minutes to an hour. With the ceremony expected to start by 5 PM, we assumed that reaching with an hour to spare would help me get an entry and a seat at the stadium.  We were wrong! From the parking area to the entry point it is a mile and to my surprise i found that the crowds that were pouring in far outnumbered the capacity of the stadium. Since entry was on a first come first served basis, the crowds i was given to understand were pouring in from noon and had occupied the stadium unmindful of the scorching pre-summer sun.

Busloads of tourists were alighting, civilian defence personnel were getting in to the stadium with valid ID papers, mounted #BSF horsemen were keeping a strict vigil and were respectfully requesting tourists to maintain order and of course ice cream vendors were busy attending to tired visitors. When it was finally clear that it was impossible to make it in, the left out visitors had to contend with watching the ceremony on a huge but very unclear LCD screen.

Attari border crowds waiting to enter the stadium to watch the beating of the retreat

Tourists and visitors who were unable to get in to the stadium to watch the beating of the retreat mill around the premises and try to get as close as possible to the gate and the LCD screen

Lesson learnt – On weekdays during the tourist season (Oct – March), it is advisable to head to the border atleast 3 – 4 hours ahead of the start. On weekends, one should head there atleast 5 – 6 hours in advance. Am assuming that such a punishing wait is not required during off season and summer months. Carry water, a hat along with optional sun screen. Entrance to the border ceremony is free and if anyone pretends to sell tickets you will know that you are with a tout.

The excitement however is palpable and hearbeats rise as the BSF guards start marching in to the narrow strip leading to the border. On the other side of the border one can see the 400 feet high pole on which the Pakistan flag is flown and a large portrait of Quaid e Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. Once the ceremonies begin, all the music, foot stamping are drowned out by the raucous crowds on either sides of the border. The LCD screen is blur and does not give a nice viewing experience. I tried to jostle my way up to the barricades amongst young, elderly, children perched on parents’ shoulders but gave up after while. I eagerly look forward to the day when the whole experience could be webcasted on 4K video.

Attari Wagah border images

THe Indian flag flies high. Unlucky visitors milling around the gate waiting for the ceremony to begin. A glimpse of the narrow strip leading to the border. The Pakistan gate is visible along with the portrait of MA Jinnah

On the last day before taking my return flight back to base, i had an opportunity to do a familiarization trip to a farm stay. The farm, owned by a tour operator is located in his native village a 30 minute drive from Amritsar. Within 15 minutes of leaving the city precincts, one is welcomed by lush green wheat fields, swathes of mustard fields identified by the golden yellow flowers, farmers transporting produce on their tractor trailers and local gurudwaras where people congregate. The Farm Stay consisted of a ground level where the guest rooms were located, about 4 of them to be precise, a well laid out dining area offering breakfast and optional lunch and dinner. The owner resided upstairs and the care takers were housed in the staff quarters. Fresh vegetables and milk are from the farm and meat is brought from outside for preparation.

Farm fresh vegetables and villa entrance

Farm stay. Fields with Pea, Radish, Cabbage, Beetroots and just harvested and dried potatoes and peas

It was calming to see the cows lazing around their fodder house.

Cows on the property and the fodder preparation and feeding area

Cows on the property and the fodder preparation and feeding area

Agriculture is Punjab’s mainstay with Wheat and Mustard fields dotting the landscape in and around the farm stay. With the likes of AirBnB allowing holidayers to plan in a jiffy without having to go through the rigmarole of hotels, the concept of Farm stays, if backed up with a clear government policy, could provide tourists with a wonderful option.

Wheat, Mustard fields and a tractor

Wheat, Mustard fields and a tractor

Other attractions in Amritsar include the Gobindagarh Fort built in 1760. It was earlier occupied by the Army but is now home to a museum showcasing Punjab and its glorious history. Be notified of any private events in the fort which may prevent visitors from entering. On the lines of Chokhi Dani in Jaipur, Amritsar now boasts of Sadda Pind, a village themed resort. One could plan a visit to these places based on the interest levels of the touring party. Amritsar is a fabulous Winter destination. An extension to Amritsar is a trip to Chandigarh (5 hours) and further to Dalhousie and Dharamshala. Amritsar on its own is perfect for 3 nights / 4 days.

Getting to Amritsar – Airlines Indigo, vistara and Spicejet fly direct from Mumbai. They also fly direct from New Delhi along with Air India and Jet Airways.

Trains – There are a total of 27 trains between New Delhi and Amritsar. The Journey takes a little over 6.5 hours and one has a choice between day and night time trains. Advance reservation can be done on the Indian railways booking portal.

Go ahead, pack your wollens and head to this fabulous urban destination.