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Once in a Blue Moon!


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Rare phenomenon  need to be captured through extraordinary attempts. My extraordinary was to be stationed at same place for more than two hours clicking images at regular intervals. But not a big ask when one has to capture a rare spectacle of Super Blood Blue Moon.

To me what was more exciting is the fact that there were many enthusiasts at the India Gate waiting anxiously to watch this rare astronomical event. It was also heartening to see that many had come by shedding their myths about an eclipse. There were many who had a look to the moon through my telephoto lens.

‘Space’ had also organised this event by putting up a telescope at India Gate lawns along with few scientists to give a pep talk about the event. Although clouds played a spoilsport when they almost hid the moonrise and than most part of the eclipse from touch to the complete, thus depriving viewers of the Blood Moon views. Blue moon views were still good.

Second part of the efforts started with processing of the photos and mixing multiple exposures. With a event like this, which is viewed and captured by millions across the globe, it is worth to present the images differently. For me individually, these were first attempts of this type.

You can also watch a time-lapse video of this two hour phenomenon summed up in a 25 second video on my youtube channel by clicking the link below-

Did you watch this year’s Super Blood Blue Moon on 31st January? How was your experience? Share in the comments section below.

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Onam to Bathukamma via Ladakh Festival!

It is one of those months, which have festivities right from start till end and that too almost in every corner of the country and with many shades. How wonderful to have all these occasions to supplement the usual zest for travel! And, what a diversity we have, it can be envious for any other country on the planet. Just consider this- the nine days before Vijayadashmi are celebrated as Durga Puja in Bengal, Garba in Gujarat, Ramlila in north and as Bathukamma in Telangana. All these festivals celebrated on same days of calendar have different myths, different customs, different performances, different food but same gusto. Even the ramlilas are different in different parts and so is Vijayadashami.

Festival of prosperity & joy – Onam

Festivities for the month start with Onam in Kerala. Its interesting that in spite of centuries that passed by, various rulers having ruled the land, the mythical King Mahabali enjoys a popularity that no other ruler can boast of! The greatest charm of Onam lies undoubtedly in the coming together of the Malayali folk to welcome the mythical king on his imaginary annual visit to the land. The ten-day long festival begins with atham asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam and culminates grandly on the day of Thiruvonam. The households bubbling and bustling with energy is a sight reserved during Onam days. As per mythology, King Mahabali decided to leave for the nether world, failing to keep his promise given to Lord Vishnu who came in the guise of Vaamana. As for the delicacies of Onam one would wish it to go on and on. Payasam (the traditional Kerala dessert), the show-stopper among the Onasadya (the sumptuous feast) is itself of plentiful variety. It is very interesting to watch how kids make every festival their own. Children dart in the neighbourhood in search of flowers to make floral carpets (pookkalam) that adorn their courtyards. Traditional arts and games throbs the rustic ambience of villages. The inevitable swing is a unique feature of this festivity. There are many Onam special programmes conducted across Kerala including Kerala Tourism sponsored programs all over the state. Atham asterism was on 25th August this year and  Thiruvonam will be celebrated on September 6, 2017.

 

Snake boat race at Aranmula

Onam has lot many things associated with the celebrations and among them are the traditional snake boat races of Kerala. Aranmula has got a unique place when it comes to the cultural imaginings of Kerala. The boat race held annually on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival is one the cultural hallmarks of this land. Teeming with rich tradition and rituals immersed in splendor, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered more of a ritual than a race. Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race. This year the boat race will be on 8th September 2017.

Where: Race is held in River Pamba in Aranmula, District Pathanamthitta of Kerala. If you want to be there than nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 11 km while nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 kms.

Regatta of remembrance with Payippad Boat Race

But than Aranmula is not the only boat race of Onam. Two days before the Aranmula boat race, takes place a legendary boat race at Payippad. It is also said to be perhaps the oldest boat race in Kerala. This one is in the northern part of the state though in all famous Alappuzha district. A regatta to commemorate a legend associated with water. The legend is about the installation of the idol in the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Haripad. The legend says that the villagers once had a vision, which directed them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they discovered the idol of Sree Subramanya. Held annually on the Payippad River, this boat race is noted for the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. The boat race is marked by synergy, speed and rigour. Thousands swarm to the banks of Payippad River to celebrate the event. This event runs for three days. So if you can’t make it to Aranmula, then try to be at Payippad. There is another boat race on the same day- Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat race at Kumarakom, one of the best beach resorts in Kerala. Payippad boat race event will run from 4th to 6th September 2017.

Where: Race will be at Payippad backwaters in Payippad, District Alappuzha. To reach there nearest railway station is Haripad, about 5 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Pulikali, the tiger dance

There is still something more associated with Onam in Kerala. Come Onam and the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district becomes a hunting ground teeming with prowling tigers and wily hunters. Each tiger has its ferocity writ large on their faces as well as on their bellies. Yes, bellies, for these are not the four-legged tigers you would come across in the wild. Rather, they are all men with their bodies painted as that of tigers with life like vividness. Pulikali (the play of the tigers) is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lions on the bodies of the performers. The finesse with which the makeup is done with paints is awe inspiring. With the performance being centred on playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun, the event is exciting and fun for both the performers and the onlookers. To say the least, it is a riot of fiery colours that is a feast to the eyes. This year Pulakili will be celebrated on 8th September 2017.

Where: Swaraj Round, Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Thrissur, about a kilometre while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 58 km from Thrissur.

Spectacular Neelamperoor Patayani

Onam ends but festivities don’t in Kerala. ‘Neelamperoor Patayani’ is a spectacular event that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (usually August / September). Visiting Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple during the time of annual patayani festival is a colourful treat to the eyes. The patayani (also called as padayani) celebration at this temple is said to have a history of around 1700 years. The word patayani literally means rows of army. Though patayani is performed in a number of other temples in Kerala, the one held at Neelamperoor is unique. Kettukazhcha (display of deftly decorated effigies) is what makes this festival stand out. A grand procession of huge effigies of swans and other legendary and mythical characters are brought in. The making of the effigies of swans is locally known as annam kettu. At night the ambience is set by a colourful procession carrying the effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Ravana, and Yakshi, which is a spectacular sight. This year it will be celebrated on 19th September 2017.

Where: To witness this get to Palli Bhagavathi Temple at Neelamperoor in Alappuzha

Glory of Ramnagar Ramlila

Back to mainstream in one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world.  Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story.  The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town.  Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat.  This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat.  People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery. This year Ramnagar Ramlila will be organised from 5th September to 5th October 2017.

Dussehras of different hues 

Dussehra in Almora, Uttarakhand

A festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya.  Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani. This year Dussehra or Vijayadashami is on 30th September.

Cultural renascence through Bathukamma festival

Bathukamma at Lal badhur Stadium in Hyderabad.Photo/P Anil kumar

Bathukamma is one of the many undiscovered facets of Telangana which are now getting popularity with formation of separate state. The nine day Bathukamma festival is a celebration of womanhood and is an ode to the various emotions that woman feel. Bathukamma, a prominent festival prior to Dussehra is a historic festival embedded with the lives of woman in Telangana. Bathukamma represents the cultural spirit of Telangana and signifies the Goddess Maha Gauri, the patron goddess of womanhood. The Telangana government has declared ‘Bathukamma’ as a state festival. There are number of legends that surround this 1000 year old festival. Festival is most renowned for its large flower pyramids or ‘bathukammas’. Larger the better. Women spend hours building their bathukammas all through two week long celebrations. Once done, they offer it to the deities. The celebration is combined with traditional dance and folk songs. This year festival will be celebrated from 20th to 28th September.

Its all bright at Abhaneri Festival

This is comparatively a new entrant to Rajasthan’s festival calendar. ’Abhaneri festival’ is named after the village Abhaneri in the Dausa district which is around 90 km from Jaipur on the Agra road. This two-day festival has gained immense popularity amongst the tourists around the globe. This year, it will commence from 21st to 22nd September with various Rajasthani & local folk performances like Kachhi Ghori, Kalbeliya, Ghoomar, and Bhawai. Festival was initiated by Rajasthan Tourism in 2008, it is of great significance for Rajasthan. The village of Abhaneri was originally named Abha Nagri, meaning “city of brightness”. The place is popular for the Chand Baori-step well, one of the largest step wells built over a thousand years ago. Be a part of the celebrations at Abhaneri and dip into the rustic charm of traditional Rajasthani music.

Peak of season at Ladakh Festival 

So if you are done with all religious festivals than move north to Ladakh for yearly Ladakh festival. The main aim of organising this Ladakh festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual Instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like Traditional Folk dance and songs of different parts of Ladakh. The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year.Ladakh festival is celebrated from 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its villages. The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh Market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival is for 6 days with regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.

 

EAT, DRINK, MERRY! at Ziro

Ziro Festival of Music is probably one of the most happening fun outdoor music festival in the country. It also showcases the India’s independent music scene. This year the festival will be held from 28th September to 1st October 2017. So far ZFM has featured stellar acts from around the world including Lee Ranaldo & Steve Shelley (SONIC YOUTH -USA), Lou Majaw, menwhopause, Shaa’ir n Func, Whirling Kalapas, Sky Rabbit, Peter cat recording Co, Guru Rewben Mashangva among others. This edition will be over four days and will feature 40 performances from across the globe as well as the best folk musicians from the North East on two stages. More than 6000 people are expected to attend the festival. Lineup for this year includes Reggae Rajahs, Damo Suzuki, The Kathmandu Killers, Alaska Snack Time, Alobo Naga & The Band, Bint El Funk, Rizal Abdulhadi, Jambili, Thaalavattam, Dhruv Visvanath and Sofia Ashraf among others. Ziro is primarily home to the Apatanis – simple, friendly and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. Apatanis cultivate permanent wet land cultivations instead of dry land cultivations which involves burning forests. Ziro valley is lush with paddy farms and is known for its unique paddy cum fi sh cultivation where using traditional irrigation methods, farmers rear fish in the knee-deep water. Keeping them company are the adorable, shy, and harmless Indian Bisons. All visitors – Indian and foreigners – to Arunachal Pradesh need special permits to enter the state. Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) and foreigners require a Protected Area Permit.

Getting there: Ziro is the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and is situated 167km from the capital, Itanagar. It is one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh in a valley at a height of over 5500 feet above sea level surrounded by misty mountains. The nearest airport is Tezpur. However, flights to Tezpur are often cancelled without reason. The best option is to fly to Guwahati and do the road journey. Guwahati is 450 kilometres from Ziro. It takes around 12 hours on road but lot also depends on weather. The nearest railhead is North Lakhimpur by Arunachal Express from New Bongaigaon. Direct buses are available from Guwahati, Itanagar and North Lakhimpur. You can also reach Naharlagun station by train which is 3 hours from Ziro. Naharlagun has overnight trains from Guwahati.

 

October is all devotion & music!

India’s festive season officially underway and will continue for more than a couple of months. This is time for one big festival which is celebrated in various parts of India in various ways- from Bengal to Gujarat and Kullu to Mysore. Time for some devotional travel. Actually this also brings to start season of India’ some well-known music festivals. Let’s have a look at some of the top events for travel in this month.

Ramlila of Ramnagar at Varanasi

Ramlila of RamnagarThis is one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world. Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story.  The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town.  Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat.  This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat.  People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery.

When: 15th September-16th October 2016

Where: Ramnagar, Varanasi

Music under the full moon

RIFF at JodhpurJodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries.  Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort. The Jodhpur RIFF is a joint initiative of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Gaj Singh of Marwar-Jodhpur is the Chief Patron of Jodhpur RIFF, while Mick Jagger, front man of the rock band The Rolling Stones is International Patron of Jodhpur RIFF. The festival has been endorsed by UNESCO as a “Peoples’ Platform for Creativity and Sustainable Development.”

When: 13rd-17th October 2016

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.

The Marwar extravaganza

Marwar FestivalAnother musical extravaganza at Jodhpur. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.

When: 15th-16th October 2016

Where: Various places, Jodhpur

Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.

Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival

Soorya Dance and Music festivalThis is 40th year of an astonishing music festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Already started with the performance of ‘Ganesham’ this festival will also see performance of legendary singer Yesudas who has performed in each of editions of the festivals since its inception. Incredible!

When: 21st September 2016-11th January 2017

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Getting there: Thiruvananthapuram is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of India. It is also an international airport.

Durga Puja at Barisha, the oldest

barisha_pujaBarisha is renowned for the Durga pujas. It is a residential locality of Kolkata. Historically, it is one of the oldest boroughs in Kolkata. It was the abode of the great Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. Barisha is known today for being the home of the Indian Cricket idol Sourav Ganguly. The six Durga Pujas of the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family are world famous. The Aatchala Bari hosts the oldest Durga puja of Kolkata which dates back to 1610, when the first Jaigirdar of the Sabarna Family Lksmikanta Roy Choudhury started the family puja at Barisha, which was a prosperous village of his donimion. The other pujas of the Sabarna family at Barisha are those of Baro Bari, Mejobari, Kalikingkar Bhawan, Benaki Bari, and Majher Bari. The family also established other pujas like Chandi puja, Jagatdhatri puja etc. and also founded a large number of temples like the Annapurna Temple, Radhakanto temple, Dwadash Shiva Temples etc. The Barisha Rathayatra Utsav started in 1719 is one of the oldest in the city and is quite famous. There is also a Lord Jagannath Temple (at least 150 years old) at Sakherbazar. So this puja, go and worship the goddess at one of the oldest Durga pujas in Bengal.

When: 5th-11th October 2016

Where: Barisha, Kolkata

Getting there: Barisha is situated in the southwest of Kolkata about 10 kilometres from the city centre Esplanade. Although originally a separate village, it is now under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation The area starts from Vivekananda Women’s College in the north and is spread to Thakurpukur in the south. The Diamond Harbour Road and the James Long Sarani runs through the heart of Barisha.

Garba at Navratri in Gujarat

garba-navratri-celebrationGarba is a folk dance in Gujarat and Navratris (nine nights for the goddess) had been the platform to perform the dance. Garba has been a traditional dance form to please the goddess Durga (or Kali) in Gujarat and many adjoining areas. There had been many folk songs in which devotees are requesting the bird to fly to Kali’s temple and ask her to come as they are performing garbas. But off late with advent of mass media garba has become more of a popular dance and now you can’t imagine navratris in Gujarat without garbas. Young ones take special classes for these events to polish their garba dance skills. For those nine-ten days whole Gujarat seems to be doing grabs in the evenings. It has also become a huge travel event. Get there to actually feel the pulse.

When: 1st-10th October 2016

Where: Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and many more places in Gujarat

Pleasing the snake gods at Mannarasala Ayilyam

mannarasala-ayilyamMannarassala Ayilyam is one of the major festivals in the Mannarassala Sree Nagaraja Temple, a unique temple dedicated to serpent Gods with over 30,000 images of snakes along the paths and even among trees. The major festival in this serpent shrine is the Ayilyam festival that falls on the Ayilyam asterism in the Malayalam month of Thulam, which roughly corresponds to the months of October / November. The festival which sees thousands of devotees visiting the temple from far and wide is celebrated with much grandeur. One of the major highlights of the festival is the ceremonial procession in which all the serpent idols in the temple and the sacred grove are taken to the illam (the Brahmin ancestral home) that manages the temple. Unlike other temples, here the head priest is a woman. The chief priestess will carry the idol of Nagaraja, which is the presiding deity of the temple. Special prayers and offerings are performed at the illam.

When: 24th October 2016

Where: Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple, Harippad, Alappuzha. Harippad railway station is just 3 kms from the temple while Cochin International Airport is about 115 km away.

Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra

deskit_gompaDeskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil.

When: 28th-29th October 2016

Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.

Grandeur of Ramlilas of Delhi

Vijayadashami in DelhiNow to the heart of the country. Delhi has a blend of Ramlila and Durga Puja. There are almost 1000 Ramlila and 250 puja pandals events are held in the city. Durga puja has been organised in the capital city before independence and the prominent ones are the pujas at Kashmiri Gate, Chittranjan Park and the New Delhi Kalibari. Delhi has been having Dussehra celebrations historically. Ramlila ground definitely has the largest congregation in the city, as the place gets its name exactly because of its Ramlila and Dussehra celebrations. Besides that, Subhash Maidan, opposite to Red Fort has another big Ramlila and Dussehra celebration. USP of Delhi’s Dussehra celebrations has been that, being national capital it gets maximum exposure. Both the biggest Ramlilas, one at Subhash Maidan and other one at Ramlila maidan get the high presence of celebrities, political bigwigs. Likes of Prime Minister and top political brass make it a point to be there at these two places on Dussehra and fire the customary arrow towards effigy of Ravana. Besides, these ramlilas are also known for presence of glitterati and who’s who of Bollywood. Actually, many of these ramlilas had been used earlier for promoting various films. Hence these stars provide an added attraction. There is also a marked difference between ramlilas of likes of Ramnagar and those in Delhi. While Ramnagar ramlila still holds its original style and presentation, those in Delhi are marked for their use of modern technology and innovations blending them very beautifully with ramlila performances. This is something liked a lot by the younger audiences, as it is always a challenge to attract new audiences for ramlilas especially in bigger metros.  Nevertheless, ramlilas in Delhi are a big draw among locals and visitors alike and are considered a must-see among top Dussehra celebrations of India.

When: 1st -11th October 2016

Where: Ramlila Maidan, Delhi

Dussehras of different hues 

Dasara in MysoreA festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya.  Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani.

When: 11th October 2016

Where: Mysore, Bastar, Kullu, Kota and Almora

 

A Chand Raat stroll at Jama Masjid on this Eid

This is the happier time after month of sorrowful fasting of Ramadan. Chand Raat brings joyful people to the market for shopping. It is also one of our favourite times to visit the Jama Masjid market to soak ourselves in the feeling of joy and compassion. A collection of images from this year’s visit to the Jama Masjid market, though it was not so crowded when we reached, but numbers had started ballooning by the time we packed-off.

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Meena Bazar makes a beautiful view!
What will suit me better!
What will suit me better!
Which head are they going to fit!
Which head are they going to fit!
Time to relax!
Time to relax!

केदार नाथ अग्रवाल आधुनिक हिंदी कविता के सिरमौर कवियों में से एक हैं। ईद पर उनकी एक प्यारी कविता।
ईद मुबारक

हमको,
तुमको,
एक-दूसरे की बाहों में
बँध जाने की
ईद मुबारक।

बँधे-बँधे,
रह एक वृंत पर,
खोल-खोल कर प्रिय पंखुरियाँ
कमल-कमल-सा
खिल जाने की,
रूप-रंग से मुसकाने की
हमको,
तुमको
ईद मुबारक।

और
जगत के
इस जीवन के
खारे पानी के सागर में
खिले कमल की नाव चलाने,
हँसी-खुशी से
तर जाने की,
हमको,
तुमको
ईद मुबारक।

और
समर के
उन शूरों को
अनुबुझ ज्वाला की आशीषें,
बाहर बिजली की आशीषें
और हमारे दिल से निकली-
सूरज, चाँद,
सितारों वाली
हमदर्दी की प्यारी प्यारी
ईद मुबारक।

हमको,
तुमको
सब को अपनी
मीठी-मीठी
ईद-मुबारक।

This is the only place in the market for these and the volume seems to be astonishing-

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Who cares for cholesterol when it is time of festivities-

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For us it was Al-Jawahar this time, a change from usual Karim's
For us it was Al-Jawahar this time, a change from usual Karim’s
But the real test would be the taste of the sewaii on Eid
But the real test would be the taste of the sevaiyan on Eid

Till the Eid prayers in Eidgah and the special Eid Namaz at Jama Masjid, it was all fun in the market

Why Delhi’s failed BRT is a hit in Jakarta!

When erstwhile Congress government in Delhi was planning a BRT corridor to decongest traffic in the Indian capital city, it said that its officials had studied many such projects around the world and learned from them, presumably they even visited those countries. I don’t know whether Jakarta was one of those cities or not. But after spending just over a day in the Indonesian capital, it was not at all tough for me to notice the glaring dissimilarities between the two. I could easily conclude why BRT was such a glorious failure in Indian capital and why it is gloriously successful in Indonesian capital.

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Delhi’s BRT was very unceremoniously dismantled just recently, its few relics are still standing on the roads. But story for Jakarta was totally different. As I mentioned in my previous post on Indonesian Capital, TransJakarta has the world’s longest bus rapid transit routes. As we can see in the image below, there are all types of buses- normal, low-floor, vestibule buses, et.al.

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Well, as I said, TransJakarta has the longest BRT route in the world of 172 km in length and has more than 669 buses in operation. But it is not a very old network and its first line opened in January 2004 and now it has fifteen corridors. Jakarta BRT was itself modelled on Bogota’s TransMilenio, which even Delhi’s transport authorities tried to follow but in a very poor manner. So, we can see that how a same Bogota model was implemented in two cities at almost same time in different manner and obviously with just opposite results.

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I may not be in position to say anything about the Bogota model, but certainly about Jakarta one through my observations and experience. Delhi and Jakarta, both have similar right-hand driving systems. BRT was designed in both the cities on the central verge. But, while in Delhi we didn’t put a thought on the fact that how the people will access the BRT on central verge, Jakarta has a very clear-cut plan for it. Each and every bus stop on the BRT corridor in Jakarta is made accessible through a foot-over bridge from both sides of the road. These foot-over bridges are also disabled-friendly and are designed so beautiful, that you feel like going over them.

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These foot=over bridges have ensured three things- firstly, traffic on the road moves unhindered at smooth speed. Second, people don’t have to walk long to go to the other side of the road, every bus stop there is also a foot-over bridge. And lastly, all passengers of the BRT have easy, comfortable and safe access to the bus stops. Remember! We in Delhi tried to use zebra crossings and traffic lights for the passengers to wade through the traffic and go to bus stops. That was the biggest obstacle in way to success for Delhi BRT.

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Very interestingly, in Jakarta there is no barrier between the BRT corridor and the normal road, though it is separately marked with a very low brick lining. Still you won’t find any vehicle jumping in to the BRT corridor during rush hours or traffic jams. Hence, BRT functions smoothly.

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The bus stops on the BRT corridor in Jakarta have been designed very thoughtfully. Most of the doors have glass shields which open only when a bus comes to the stop and halts. Height of these doors are exactly in sync with the doors of the buses, so as there is no problem for passengers to move into the bus.

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Buses stop exactly at the designated place. (Something we miss so dearly in Delhi)

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Even at stops where there are no glass shields (like the one below), passengers will be waiting in a very disciplined manner at the stop for bus to come and make a complete halt.

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We often site our huge traffic volume for our problems. But it is also the issue of vision and planning as well as implementation. Jakarta has its own traffic issues. Actually, our guide kept asking us every other minute to be patient with Jakarta’s bad traffic and jams. Still, we found the traffic to be very disciplined at most of the occasions. Jakarta has almost 10 million vehicles in daily use in the metropolitan area. Jakarta City has a population of almost 1 crore (10 million) and the metropolitan area of almost 3 crores (30 million). Not too less by any means!! It has ninth largest urban population density in the world. Many lessons to be learnt.

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Milking a lake and killing it too!

Its the story of the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’. Quite similar to my earlier post on Hills: Don’t we need them anymore. But irony is, while the earlier story was about a place some distance from Delhi, this one is right from the heart of the capital. This too is about something equally crucial or perhaps more in the immediate future. This also had a bit more of emotional connect as it relates to the place which I visit almost daily. Another fact that it is also the place, where I had some of my very memorable photographs. So this was the scene yesterday (image below), that saddened me and prompted me to write about it. And honestly, I had thought about writing on this a number of times earlier as well, but couldn’t muster the will.

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As could be made out, this image and the images below are of a lake. We can see, how the water has been covered completely by the weeds and the algae. This is Sanjay Lake in east Delhi and it is among the biggest waterbodies in the national capital besides the river Yamuna itself.

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I have been regular to this place for 16 years now. Lake and the adjoining forest area cover almost 170 acres and is often mentioned as biggest lake park in Delhi. Area is constantly shrinking and so is the natural habitat in the region. In this one and half decade, I have seen worse conditions of the lake and I often feel that there is nobody in the government establishment which actually feels about preserving it for the nature’s sake. Everybody wants to milk it for benefits.

Till some years ago the whole are seen above was good enough for paddle boating. People used to enjoy that. That boating system was managed by Delhi tourism. But later on due to poor management of the whole system and poor maintenance of the lake and the boats made the boating inoperative because of perhaps huge losses. Boat and the jetty turned into junk (see this image).

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Nobody cared for years altogether, besides uselessly demolishing the old park boundaries and constructing the new ones in most unprofessional way.

Sometime ago DTTDC (Delhi Tourism) and DDA cut off another area of the lake park and developed it as an adventure park (e-o-d) separately, by putting up an entry fees. In just three months of the opening of this ambitious project, it too seems to be going the same way as before.

That was the condition of the water puddle of the adventure park just a few days back (image below). Probably that made the officials sit up and do something to clean it.

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Now (as seen yesterday in the image below) the operators at the adventure park after cleaning a bit of their water have created a partition in the water to let not the algae and the weeds spread in their part of water (who cares for others!).

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Delhi Development Authority (DDA) created this lake in 1970. It is mostly a rainwater lake but now lot of sewage water flows into it.

Well thats, not the only part of the story. Sometime last year, DDA leased out the major part of the lake to a private operator for fish farming. Locals say that it used to happen long ago. But it was later stopped. So, after more than twenty years this lake has been leased out for fish farming. and it is a long-term lease. The big part of the lake leased out for the fish farming is the one beyond the puddle used by adventure park for paddle boating, till the end at Khichripur. So that part of the lake is now practically left to the mercy of the private fish farming operator.

The operator has been allowed to pitch tents inside the park for its employees (see image below)

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What these people do? They take care of the water in their purview, we can say fishes. This lake naturally breeds fish in huge number. Since this lake has been haven for migratory birds since many years, naturally these birds feed upon fish in the water. Now the operator who has the lease of the lake for fishing will obviously not like to have these birds come here and feed upon fishes which he plans to sell in the market for profit!

Hence, he has hired people who will roam around the lake in the boat and let not the birds come and rest at the lake (see the image below).

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So, who cares for the migratory birds and their natural habitat here! Effectively, now this lake has been divided into three parts- first one the smaller main area which is surrounded by the main parks where most of the visitors, morning walkers and joggers come. This is under the DDA and is in worst state despite of huge staff of DDA employed for the park itself. Second, smallest one is with adventure park, they occasionally clean it, but who knows till then they will be motivated. Largest one at the far end is with fish farming lease operator whose only motivation is its business.

This lake and forest has been natural habitat of some very exciting migratory birds, domestic birds, owls, reptiles, butterflies, flowers, etc. I have been capturing them in my camera for years. I have written many posts on them such as these ones recently on painted storks or this one on mallard ducks.

See some images of the natural life around here-

Last year there was a big event at the lake sponsored by big names such as The Times of India and the Hero group. There was a huge plantation drive and the Lieutenant Governor of the Delhi was himself there. It was a huge plantation drive, a big brand event. Being from media, I can understand the truth behind such brand events. Nobody, who attended that event, actually cared about the lake. None of the plants are there any more from that drive. None of the organisers ever turned back to the lake to see that what happened to all their efforts. For all of us this lake is one milking cow.

This lake already has its share of destruction because of so-called development. The site of this new metro station (image below) has been usually a shelter place in winters for migratory great egrets.

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But their number have dwindled since the construction began and they have switched to a smaller place (see the image below).

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With this huge apathy towards nature in the system, tough to say that how long will they keep coming here and how long will we be able to see the sights as beautiful as this one.

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Eyes firmly upon you!

With you under watch every time, everywhere; your all actions under scrutiny, questionable; its interesting to see that how these little birds react under constant gaze of the camera. Birds at a neighbourhood lake in east Delhi, a few of them migratory, few rare…