If you look at old maps of Calcutta, you will find much that has changed. Many roads aren’t how they used to be, buildings have vanished, ponds have been filled up, what used to be open fields have become apartment blocks. But one thing, in particular, makes me very curious – cemeteries that seem to have vanished. Either they are there in old maps, and not there in new ones, or I find graves and tombs in all kinds of odd places in the city. Either people don’t know, or they don’t notice the tombs. These are the invisible cemeteries of Calcutta, hiding in plain sight. How many such cemeteries are there? You’d be surprised to know.
Monday, 9 January 2017
Sunday, 1 January 2017
The finest examples of Bengal terracotta and most unique example of Bengal temple architecture are to be found in a non-descript village by the name of Bali-Dewangunj near Arambagh, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. In a precarious state now, due many years of neglect, the temples of Bali-Dewangunj present a fascinating opportunity to those who are interested in this unique aspect of Bengal’s history. Bengal has always lacked stone for temple construction, and thus terracotta (literally meaning cooked earth) was born out of pure necessity. But the heights to which Bengal’s artists took this humble medium can be seen only in Bali-Dewangunj. But why does a little village in the middle of nowhere have so many stunning temples?
Saturday, 17 December 2016
In our first 6 days in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, my friends Sreyashi, Ananya, Harsha, Prasenjit and I, had been to Srinagar, Drass, Alchi, Diskit, Nubra Valley, Leh and Hemis (follow the Ladakh travelogue here). The 7th and 8th days were set aside for a visit to Pangong Tso, the lake that was seen in the closing scene of Aamir Kahn’s film 3 Idiots. On screen it looked incredible – blue-green water enclosed by mountains on all sides, but would reality match silver screen fantasy?
Monday, 28 November 2016
Our trip to Ladakh had been planned and timed in such as way so that we wouldn’t miss the Hemis Festival which we had read so much about on the internet. We had started with Srinagar, then moved on to Kargil, then Leh and Nubra valley. Hemis was home to Ladakh’s richest monastery, and once a year, they had a gigantic festival where a masked dance called “Cham” was performed. Websites gushed about the festival – great photo op, unforgettable experience – you know how it is. But before I tell you about what the festival is really like, let me give you a bit of a backgrounder on the Hemis Monastery itself.
|Masks of the Cham Dance|
Monday, 24 October 2016
Durga Puja, or Pujo, as Bengalis say, is Calcutta’s biggest festival. The Hindu worship of the Goddess Durga, marks the beginning of autumn and commemorates Lord Rama’s summoning of the Goddess at this unusual time (the normal time being spring) to seek blessings for his battle against Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Here in Calcutta (Kolkata), Pujo has morphed into something quite different and much larger than a mere religious festival. Calcutta’s Durga Puja has turned into both an explosion of installation art, as well as what is now being acknowledged as the world’s largest street festival.
Monday, 3 October 2016
“Of all the valleys in Ladakh, Nubra is the most luxuriant and fertile”, writes Nirmala Bora in her book “Ladakh: Society & Economy”. I had heard both of the beauty of Nubra and the fact that the dark, clear skies at night made it possible to see the Milky Way. But our start for Nubra would be somewhat slow, thanks to the overgenerous army hospitality the previous night (I had had more whisky in one night than I have in a month! Read about it here). We took comfort in the fact that sunsets were so late in Ladakh that it would only be completely dark by 8pm.
Monday, 5 September 2016
Although Ladakh is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is culturally, linguistically and ethnically distinct from either Jammu or Kashmir. In fact, when one is in Ladakh, one does not say that one is in Jammu and Kashmir, but simply in Ladakh. This was my first venture into this part of India, and it was only on the 3rd day of our tour, that we actually entered Ladakh (follow the Ladakh travelogue here - part 1, part 2, part 4). What stood out to me immediately, were the landscape and the light. I had never seen any other place in India, which looked like this. So how did a place so distinct and different, come to be part of J&K?
Sunday, 14 August 2016
"When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For their tomorrow, we gave our today"
Epitaph at the Kohima War Cemetery, written by John Maxwell Edmonds
After our fortuitous escape from a riot-torn Srinagar (read more about that here), we crossed most of Sonmarg in the dead of the night, which was a real pity. Sonmarg is an incredibly beautiful place and I could have got some terrific photographs there. Unfortunately, the weather too took a turn for the bad. The sky was overcast, with a constant drizzle, which drove the temperature down. Srinagar had warm and humid. Our heavy jackets were in our suitcases. If it got any colder, we’d be in serious trouble. But thankfully, my windcheater was enough. We were proceeding to the town of Drass, where we would stop for breakfast, followed by a visit to the Drass War Memorial and finally Kargil, where we would stay the night.
Monday, 8 August 2016
"Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast."
(If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)
- Mirza Nur-ud-din Beig Mohammad Khan Salim, aka Mughal Emperor Jahangir
Perhaps a somewhat predictable way to begin an article on Jammu and Kashmir, but I could think of no better way than Emperor Jahangir’s famous Persian couplet, about a place that even we Bengalis call “Bhu-shorgo” – paradise on earth. My trip to Kashmir and Ladakh began with a conversation of an entirely different nature though. “There’s a lot of pressure on me to get married. Before that happens, I want to do this. I want to travel down NH1 to Ladakh”. With that startling revelation from my friend Prasenjit, our planning for the trip began. A group of five, Prasenjit, his friends Ananya and Harsha, my friend Sreyashi and I, would take the trip down India’s National Highway 1, to the northernmost region of our country, which is both one of the most inhospitable and one of the most beautiful. But our trip would begin with Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
Monday, 27 June 2016
Located some 70 km to the North of Calcutta (Kolkata), in the town of Tribeni, the Zafar Khan Ghazi Masjid is not just the oldest mosque of Bengal, it is the oldest standing Islamic structure of any kind. The complex consists of a mosque and a dargah, with several tombs and it remains an active religious site. However, the identity of the man, i.e., Zafar Khan Ghazi, remains something of a mystery and colourful tales about him continue to circulate. So just who was this man and why does the mosque that he built, look so strange?
|The Zafar Khan Ghazi Masjid|
Monday, 20 June 2016
From the fort of Daulatabad National Highway 211, aka the Solapur-Dhule Road, takes you North West, towards the town of Khuldabad. Around 10 km down the road, a dirt track leads off the highway towards a place called Sulibhanjan. Here, next to a small hill, is Pariyon Ka Talab, the Lake of the Fairies. A minor tourist attraction, Pariyon Ka Talab is associated with a Muslim saint who could grant fertility and is an active religious site even today.
|Pariyon Ka Talab: view from Shah Jalal-ud-din's Dargah|
Monday, 13 June 2016
Located in the Malda district, in the North of the Indian state of West Bengal, Pandua is also known as Hazrat Pandua or Boro-Pendo (larger Pendo). The prefix “Hazrat” is thanks to several prominent Muslim saints and preachers who made the city their home. Chief among them are Jalaluddin Tabrizi and Nur Qutb Alam, whose tombs have made Pandua a Muslim pilgrimage site. Boro-Pendo is to distinguish Malda’s Pandua from the town in the Hooghly district which bears the same name and is consequently called Chhoto-Pendo, meaning smaller or lesser Pandua. From the mid-fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, Pandua served as the capital of Bengal under the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty and would continue to serve as a mint town until the time of Sher Shah, aka Sher Shah Suri. Pandua today, apart from being a centre of pilgrimage, is a tourist attraction thanks to the many ruins from Bengal’s Sultanate period.
|Adina Masjid - view from the East|
Monday, 6 June 2016
In search of some obscure terracotta temples, I ended up in the village of Gurap in the Hooghly district, 70 km to the Northwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), on a Sunday in April, 2016. Accompanying me were Amitabha Gupta, well-known blogger and travel writer, and my mother. Narendranath Bhattacharya’s book on the antiquities of Hooghly district (published by the State Archaeology Department) pointed to the presence of several temples with terracotta ornamentation in the village. But the book was more than 20 years old. How much of what the author had documented still remained, we wondered?
|Sri Sri Nandadulal Jew Mandir of Gurap|
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
Gauda (also spelt Gaur or Gour), located in the Malda district in the North of the Indian state of West Bengal, is a ruined city that served as the capital of Bengal between the 12th and 16th centuries. Over a period of four centuries, Gauda has seen more than a dozen ruling dynasties come and go and today is home to some spectacular ruins mostly from Bengal’s Islamic period. Historically and architecturally there is much in Gauda that is of interest, especially its spectacular mosques.