Thursday, 28 April 2016

Quirky Deogiri-Daulatabad


People who are breifly familiar with the history of Deccan or that of the Delhi Sultanate, would easily recall this famous name - Deogiri, a.k.a. Daulatabad. The quirky Sultan Mohammad bin-Tughlaq forcibly moved the capital here from Delhi in 1327, only to move it back to Delhi later in 1351. This quirk was dictated by a logic that Deogiri was located closer to the centre of the Sultanate and would be well insulated in case of attacks from across the Indus. However, the place lacked an important artefact - water - and that necessitated the return of the Sultan.

This quirky tale, somehow assumes significance in today's narration as most of Maharashtra faces a severe drought. One can easily inferr that scouting for water, and/or proper planning for irrigation before moving could have offered a better result for the Sultan, saving the logistics of moving the capital twice and in turn, a saving-grace for his legacy. One can also infer that adequate preparation and planning - irrigation, crop patterns, market availability - could have lessened the impact of the deficit monsoon this year. But, alas, what good is history if we could learn anything from it? Keep it to the textbooks.

Some ancient ruins

Anyway, don't want to digress here anymore. Deogiri-Daulatabad was an impromptu trip the day after we had hastily abandoned Lonar midway and came to Aurangabad. I had Tejal for company. We had earlier visited Ellora in the first half of the day, skipped Ghrishneshwar and finally arrived at Daulatabad by 3:30pm. The fort was wrapped up by sunset.


Getting In

Daulatabad is located close approximately midway between Aurangabad city and the Ellora Caves; about 15km from either place. Buses from Aurangabad to Ellora, Chalisgaon and Kannad pass through Daulatabad town. Local jeeps are also available. The fort entrance is located at about 5mins walk from the town centre.

Aurangabad can be accessed by Train or Bus from Mumbai. There's a daily Shivneri (A/C Seater) service too.

The Archeological Society Of India maintains this fort. Entry charges are Rs.5 for Indians. The fort gates close at sunset. Small eateries are present outside the fort gate. None inside the fort. Pack up enough water as this seemingly easy monument is a small trek in itself.


The Fort

The fort, when seen from a bird's-eye-view, can be separated into four sections: the outer wall, the inner wall, the andhari and the main fort.

The outer wall surrounds the fort and most of the Daulatabad town. The main highway connecting Aurangabad and Kannad passes through archways on the east and the north. Similar archways would be in place for other roads.

The highways passes through the narrow archway

The inner wall is what is today used as a point of entry for the fort. One passes three fortified gates in quick succession. Here, the ASI has showcased some of the smaller cannons and portable howitzers found on the fort. The craftsmanship deserves a closer look. The better of the cannons, Mendha (ram) and Durga, are located inside the main fort.

Oh yes ... a cowboy!

Fish-face howitzer

Inside the third gate one sees the huge Hatti Talab and Bharatmata Mosque Temple on the left. Chand Minar is located opposite to the Bharatamata Temple on the right and can be easily spotted from a distance. The only toilet on the fort is located about 50ft from the Bharatmata Temple.

The Bharatmata Temple with Chand Minar in the background

Courtyard of the Bharatmata Temple
The Chand Minar

The road winds through a narrow passage to lead to the second fortification. Here one can see a few buildings under renovation - one of which has extensive porcelain work. A bastion here houses the Mendha (ram) cannon and has a commanding view of the inner periphery of the fort.

The 'Mendha' (ram) appears innocent

After this section, one has to cross a small bridge across the 40m. deep moat. The moat was supposed to be filled with water teeming with crocodiles. The older drawbridge has now been dismantled and replaced with a permanent bridge.

The moat of the fort

The view from across the moat

We cross another door here to enter into what is perhaps the most complex security feature of this fort - the andhari (dark pass). This long, narrow, winding tunnel takes one from the lower gate to the higher gate. A person traversing the andhari was purely at the mercy of the people at the higher gate, lest hot oil, arrow spikes, stones, fire be thrown on him. A light-bulb simplifies this section a little bit. An alternate climbing route is provided today for claustrophobics.

Some ruins on the fort

After this starts the long climb to the top. First landmark is the Ganesh Temple. Then one has to reach up to the higher fortification. The palace comes next, followed by further fortification that houses the Durga cannon. This is the highest point of the fort and provides commanding views easily extending to the Aurangabad city on a moderately clear day.

The Durga cannon - do not touch

Daulatabad from the palace windows 


End Of Day's Play

We finished the fort by about 6:30pm. We took a shared jeep that dropped us at the outskirts of Aurangabad where we had more than an hour to spare before we caught our train back to Mumbai. the best time to visit this fort would be around monsoon, when the moat would have some water and the greenery would make everything about life seems that little bit nicer.

View from across the street


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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Pondicherry From The Streets


Pondicherry - or Puducherry formally - is the much hyped, former French colony on the eastern coast, surrounded by Tamil Nadu on other three sides. The French aspect of this town is now limited to a select few streets near the coast, while the rest of it would pass for any standard Tamil Nadu town.

The Francophile section of Pondicherry is what draws the people here with its grid-pattern streets, art deco walls and laid back cafes. Traveling to Pondicherry is more of an experiential thing, as against other places where you may rush to take in all the sights. The charm of this place is all about the languid and laid back character that it presents to the traveler.


Getting There & About

The best way to get in to Pondicherry is via Chennai, located at a 3 hours drive. Local buses - both AC and Non-AC - ply frequently.

Pondicherry on the map

Once in Pondicherry, you can rent a scooter or a bicycle depending on the comfort level. Scooters are practical for visits to Auroville and similar places located about 5-10 kms away from the city.

Other places nearby can also be covered - Gingee, Mahabalipuran, Thiruvannamalai, Pichavaraam, Chidambaram, Thanjavur. For longer distances, it is recommended to hire a cab.


Strolling Through The Streets

The Cathedral Of Immaculate Concepcion 
The promenade ...
Pondicherry has an active antiques scene ...
On display was a first-copy Raja Ravi Varma painting
A reclining Ganesha ... also for sale
A nunnery in Pondicherry
Remember to tip ...
Some street art
A timely reminder?
 The Bay of Bengal waves by ...

Napoleon looks on proudly
A memorial at Bharathi Park
 The memorial for the First World War

Empty Goubert Avenue by the promenade
 The promenade by midnight
The hour crosses one on the clock tower

Almost time to wind up ... Bussy Street



A quick word about Auroville - the place is superb, but again, like Pondicherry, it has to be experienced, than just seen. Go there with an intent of staying for a few days, participate and contribute.

Maitri Mandir of Auroville
 I just saw the place, so cannot say much other than ... surely next time.


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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

A Boatman's Monologue

A Boatman's Monologue

I could have survived without the bridge. Like my fathers did for all those years. A man, after all, does not need bridges to survive. A man has to be self-sufficient. One does not need to go to the other side of the river for it. What new do they have there? The men there are the same. The villages are the same. It's the same country everywhere, is it not?!

And if anyone did want to cross over, they could use a boat. Like we friends had done when we were young. There was no bridge then. My father slapped me when I returned. He gave me no dinner too.

"Young boys have no business crossing the river; going to the other side. No business at all to leave their mothers worried.", he had scolded.

But then, that was no good reason to build a bridge, was it? Some people high up in those city offices wanted it built. They said that bridges connected people, brought in prosperity and growth. How? No one told us how.

These people are thieves, I tell you. Stealing a part of our livelihood this way! This fishing business does not earn a lot. Sure, it fills our stomach -  you should stop fishing if you can't catch that much and start begging - but what about the rest?! We have our house to mend, our women need their new clothes and stuff, our children have to go to school ... I too have a life now, don't I?

A truck from fisheries comes here every Tuesday and Saturday. Yes, from over the other side. We save a bit of it. But then I've got this sorry excuse of a boat. Needs mending every season.

Back in the days before the bridge, any person worthy of being called a man in these parts could make a decent living ferrying people across. Simple money for simple people. And fresh fish to go with it. Nothing much of it these days.

Don't be mistaken. I don't say anything bad of the river. She's been good to us. She's like my mother you know! Taken care of me and my people. Took care of my fathers too. But she's grown old now. Streaks of black and foam show up sometimes in the summers. Found some dead fish too. God knows what they do to her up in the city.

And she gets angry too. She flooded over two rains ago. Her water entered our houses and fields. Bad year it was. Lost two kids in the village. The third was saved by the hospital people. He was in bad shape by the time we got there. It was in the next village. Over the bridge, you know. The bridge saved him. You cant cross a flooded river, now can you?!

It's a tough life you know in these parts. Up in the river all day looking for fish. I don't even come home for lunch these days. I have it in the boat. Fix it to one of the bridge pillars under the shadow, eat, take a quick nap and then back to work.

Do stay here tonight if you boys have no rush. I will take you tomorrow on the other side on my boat. Just like the old days. I'll take you boys for free! Won't charge a paisa ... Promise!


This story is inspired from this photo taken by Vinit Dalvi at Gaonkhadi creek near Purnagad in Ratnagiri during a weekend trip in June.2014

PC: Vinit Dalvi


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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Mangrooving In Pichavaram


Pichavaram is a tiny coastal hamlet located in the Uppanaru river delta on the Tamil Nadu coastline. Its claim-to-fame is the adjoining mangrove forests. These forests are a protected sanctuary - second largest of its kind in Asia - and house a unique ecosystem that thrives in the low-lying marshlands.

Pichavaram on the map

We did Pichavaram as a part of our Pondicherry trip around the Replublic Day weekend in 2016.


About Pichavaram

A major calling card of Pichavaram is of course, the mangroves themselves - and the narrow winding channels (waterways) that pass through them. The forest is also rich in avian life that thrives on the marine fauna found aplenty. It is a common sight to see local fisher-folk waddle around in waist-deep water looking for their catch.


Getting There

Pichavaram is located about 15km north of Chidambaram city, 5km off the coastal highway from Cuddalore to Chidambaram. From Pondicherry this distance is about 45km. We covered this on a rented 2-wheeler.

Images from the highway

Kille is the closest railway station. Local transport is easily available from here to connect to the sanctuary. We also saw a few private buses plying to Pichavaram. Not sure abut the timings or schedule.

The local buses run packed though

Accommodation options are also available at Pichavaram run by the Tamil Nadu state tourism office.


The Safari

Safaris are booked at a counter next to the entry gate. Different types of safari options are available, ranging from small row-boats to 8-man motor-boats and short 1km rides to longer 4km rides. The longer rides also cover the beach - which was not much to write about.

Apparently, the larger boats cannot access the smaller channels (where it is the most fun). This restriction can be easily bypassed when the boat-man "suggests" that he would take us "for a ride". Bargain hard!

Enough said - time for pics:

Our boatman

The only avian I could snap

Local fisher-folk for company 

Men at work - ensuring timely selfies for the future

Underneath the mangrove canopy

A pathway through the mangroves

Claustrophobia, anyone?

A little too dense for comfort

The beach is close at hand


Parting Shot

This region presents itself as a unique eco-tourism destinations portraying an ecosystem far distant from what we can imagine to be. Similar ecosystems can be found in other areas too - even around Mumbai. But a lack of awareness has lead to rampant destruction (read reclamation) to the point of it being endangered in urban and semi-urban areas.


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