Durga Puja

Durga Puja or Durga Utsav commenced last month with all fanfare and devotion across India and abroad. Especially in West Bengal, it is the most sought after event of the year. People  from Bengal who are settled abroad make it a point to visit their home place during Puja. Its a time to be with family and friends at this time of the year.

Fortunately I was in Kolkata to witness for the first time this grand festival.

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Pandal at Kumartuli Park

 While wondering from where to start, I remember few weeks back I went to Kumartuli, the place where these idols of Durga Ma are crafted creatively.

Street of Kumartuli
street of Kumartuli

Its a colony of workers especially devoted for the work and the work goes year round.

Worker giving final touch at Kumartuli, Kolkata
Workshop at Kumartuli

These people are highly skilled in their work and ship consignments overseas from where demand come especially for the annual Durga Puja .

Pandal at Kumartuli Park
Puja Pandal at Kumartuli Park

The Pandals (temporary structures created especially for the festival) are theme based but many pandals  are traditional every year and do not compete for new themes each year. They have preserved their heritage in being simple and consistent every year.

I went again during the Puja to Kumartuli. The Pandal at Kumartuli park was inspired from a model based on an upcoming temple at Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.

Kumartuli Park, Kolkata
Inside Puja Pandal, Kumartuli Park

This is from where I started the journey of experiencing the Puja on its second day.

Puja at Rajbari, SovaBazaar, Kolkata
Puja at Rajbari, SovaBazaar

One of the Oldest and famous Puja is at Rajbari, the palace of Nawab Kisen of Sova Bazaar family. It was a purely traditional one and the visitors here were of all age groups.

Grand mansion of the Nawab at Sova Bazaar, Kolkata
Rajbari, SovaBazaar

This Puja at Rajbari is actually a personal affair but people are allowed to visit and its a pupular place to visit during Puja.

Visitors at Rajbari, SovaBazaar
Rajbari, SovaBazaar
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Pandal at Garia

The streets at this time of the year are so crowded that you need to have high energy and stamina to negotiate the crowd and to visit the famous pandals. This time there were more than 2500 pandals in whole of Kolkata.

Pandal at Ekdalia, Kolkata
Puja Pandal at Ekdalia

The Pandal at Ekdalia was a replica of South Indian temple with all the details done very well outside and inside.

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Inside Ekdalia Puja Pandal

 

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Puja at Salt Lake
side wall of a pamdal at Salt Lake, Kolkata
Puja at Salt lake

The amazing thing is that so many types and expressions of the idols can be seen through out  and there is so much creativity in the whole thing from the theme of pandal to the posture and expression of the idols displayed in various pandals.

There is the fragnance of devotion and festivity throughout the whole festival here in Kolkata. There are official declared holidays of 10 days in whole of Bengal. Not only in the evenings but throughout the day, people visit Puja Pandals and enjoy the Puja holidays outdoors.

What I felt after attending the whole of festival in Kolkata was that if somebody wants to visit Kolkata as a Traveler, he or she must make it a point to visit during the Puja festival atleast once.

 

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Humayun Tomb, World heritage Site

A declared World Heritage Site in New Delhi. Situated centrally at Mathura Road,  Nizamuddin East near Neela Gumbad roundabout. Only a few kilometers drive from iconic Connaught Place. The  Tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun, designed by a Persian architect was built during 1569-70. It was probably the first garden tomb in whole of the Indian sub continent at that time. The tomb was declared world Heritage Site in 1993.

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First Gate after entering the Humayun Tomb premises

On entering from the main gate one can see well grown trees on the both sides of the path towards the entry gate to the main tomb.

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Humayun Tomb

Once you take the stairs and move inside the main structure, you can see the grave of Bega Begum.

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The graves and the Mesh work in windows

Its desirable to visit the monument in the evening because of the peculiar lighting during the dusk.

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The exquisite mesh work

The monument is surrounded on all side by rich gardens well maintained by the Archaeological survey of India.

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Isa Khan Niyazi’s Tomb within the Humayun tomb premises

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Another perspective

The Humayun Tomb complex is Cenrally located near the Nizamuddin railway station and across the road is the famous Dargah of patron saint of Delhi, Nizamuddin Auliya.

The Humayun Tomb complex can be reached easily by road from New Delhi Railway Station in 15-20 minutes. It is only 7-8 kms from New Delhi Railway Station and Connaught Place, the Central Business District.

Nearest metro station is J.L.N. Stadium.

It is open daily  from sunrise to sunset.

Entry fee of 30/- for Indians, and rupees 500/ for foreigners. Video filming is charges separately.

Rishikesh

It was the perfect season to visit Rishikesh in November as the weather was very pleasant, not too hot, not too cold. It was cool sunny morning, after spending two days at Haridwar, I left for Rishikesh by Road. Its an hours drive from Haridwar, jungles and farms on both sides of the road making your drive more satisfying and less stressful. As you enter Rishikesh town, it feels a bit crowded and haphazard but the moment the holy Ganges is visible by the side of the road after crossing the main town on Badrinath Road, the overall psyche changes. There is the feeling of calmness and immense peace on watching the river flow.

The river at Rishikesh is clear clean and wide.For crossing the river are two bridges at different places. The Ram Jhula and the laxman Jhula. One also have the option of taking a shared boat to cross the beautiful river.

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Graffiti near Laxman Jhula
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Graffiti near Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh

Inspite of accomodations available on the hill side, I preferred to stay by the river side across Laxman Jhula. As far as backpackers are concerned, even domestic tourists prefer this side of Rishikesh for its peace and its distance from the comparatively crowded  Ram Jhula area.

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Ram Jhula at Rishikesh

One can easily walk down in the evening to Parmarth Ashram to attend the evening Aarti (the Evening Prayer) which is worth visiting if you happen to be in Rishikesh.

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Evening prayer at Parmarth Ashram

After attending evening Aarti at parmarth Ashram Ghat, the next morning I had a typical Indian breakfast at Geeta Bhawan and headed for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram for which I was curious about.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was among the pioneers who introduced yoga to the western world. The ashram though abandoned now, was visited by famous personalities from east as well as west during the good old days. The most prominent of the disciples were The Beatles, who came in late sixties to learn Transcendental Meditation. Interestingly it was the most productive period for the band as they have confessed many times in media.

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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram at Rishikesh

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The hall where the Beatles composed their famous tracks

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The Ashram is walking distance from the Ram Jhula and any shopkeeper can tel the way to the ashram.

Though Rishikesh can be visited throughout the year, the month of May – June are quite hot and December- January too cold.

The holy town of Rishikesh is also famous world over for the International Yoga Festival held annually at Parmarth Ashram, jointly organised by various other government agencies.

Rishikesh is easily accessible  from Delhi by road as well as by Train in about 6-8 hours.

The Holy Ganga at Haridwar

I was not at all expecting what I felt at the end of my trip to Haridwar , the ancient city in the district of Uttarakhand. It was my first experience to stay at Haridwar, although I visited the place twice before, on the way to some other places in the Himalayas.

Haridwar is important in the course of the Holy Ganga because this the first town where the Ganga touches the plains after meandering through the Himalayas. According to the religious beliefs, Haridwar is one of the holiest places in India and by ritualistic bathing in Ganga, one can get rid of the sins to attain Moksha. 

The Kumbh Mela (the largest holy congregation in India)  is held here every twelve years.

Reaching Haridwar by road in approximately 6 hours from Delhi, I checked in one of the many Ashrams there. These Ashrams have their own vibrations, the daily rituals, the prayers, the temple bells which rings time and again and their daily routines of life which is followed here makes them stand apart from ordinary places to stay. Basic clean rooms and at a very reasonable costs. The food served is very simple and most importantly pure vegetarian. In real sense it is actually not food but Prasadam.  That is the reason that it is prepared with love and purity. Offered to the Deity first and then to the devotees.

I was staying near The Bharat Mata Temple and the holy Ganga was flowing just behind my Ashram. So, in the evening, I went to visit the Ghat which was unexpectedly very clean. At the first sight only, I was mesmerized to see the gentle flow of the Ganges. Took a dip in the not so chilling water.It was shallow and the water was too clear to see the pebbles below.

The sun was just setting in and the ghat was being prepared for the evening Aarti (The Prayer). Such a peace and bliss I was experiencing in the cool evening breeze at the ghat and the smell of incense from the distance with the soothing sound of the temple bells.

The Ghat was not at all crowded because it is not the most popular ghat as “Har ki Pauri” few kilometers away from this place in the main town of Haridwar. With this setting, participating in the Ganga Aarti by the side of the holy river, the whole feeling cannot be conveyed in words.

But if you are a first timer to Haridwar you can attend the main Arti at Har Ki Pauri to feel the difference. The Har Ki Pauri is actually considered as the holiest place in that area. But I feel that the real bliss is to stay away from the crowd and still experience the riverside. My experience was that of a personalized ghat where there was less of distraction and more of peace.

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Har Ki Pauri, ghat in Haridwar

Next morning, I left early for Har Ki Pauri. Few minutes rickshaw ride and a bit of walking was very refreshing.

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Morning activities at Har Ki Pauri

After visiting the ghat, the breakfast at the corner shop made my day. Hot kachori with potato veggie was delicious and not to forget the sweet Jalebis. This is actually typical north Indian breakfast.

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Snacks shop at Har Ki Pauri
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Market at Har Ki Pauri

Haridwar is also easily accessible by train from Delhi and can be reached in 4 hours only. One can spend weeks here if planned in advance and can take part in Ashram Life, the daily rituals, the Yoga and meditation sessions and even music classes at various places in Haridwar.

Darjeeling

Finally after a long gap, got a chance to visit Darjeeling, situated around 630 kms from the Kolkata city in West Bengal. Purchased tickets a day before and boarded the overnight train from Sealdah station, Kolkata.

The preceding morning when I woke up,all I could see from my window were beautiful water inundated paddy fields. A layer of fog few feet above the horizon and the birds flipping above and below that foggy layer. It was 5:30 in the morning and from my window this was rural Bengal, which is not unusual from the rest of the rural India as far as scene from the window of the train is concerned. Otherwise there is much more diversity in language, culture as you travel across from east to west or from north to south and vice-versa.

The train was about to reach New Jalpaiguri Station where I have to get down to catch taxi for Darjeeling.

Darjeeling can be reached by taxi in about three hours from Jalpaiguri Railway Station as well as Bagdogra Airport. I took a shared taxi from New Jalpaiguri Station ,which is much cheaper (Rs. 200/ only) and more convenient for a solo traveller. Reached Darjeeling by noon.

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Chaurasta (The Mall), Darjeeling

Darjeeling is world famous for the presence of narrow gauge railway system and the Steam engine Toy Train for which it has been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1999 for being ” an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transport system on social and economic development of multicultural region”, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world, becoming only second railway in the world to have such honour.

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Steam Engine running by the side of the main road.

About a kilometer from the Darjeeling station is Chaurasta or The Mall where all the hotels and eating places are located.

The two important economic activities in Darjeeling are Tourism and Tea Industry. The Darjeeling tea is famous world over for its distinct liquor.

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Tea Garden, Darjeeling

I inquired form the local shopkeeper and came to know that one of the tea garden is at a walking distance of about 20 minutes, so I went there in curiosity. Interestingly, that tea garden in Darjeeling conducts tours inside their estate (on a nominal fee of Rupees 100/) and one can actually see the whole process of tea processing right from plucking of tea leaves up to final packaging of the product inside the factory. They also give chance to taste different types of tea they are producing in their premises. It was a nice experience if someone is visiting the tea estate for the first time. I also came to know that there are tea estates which provide home-stay facility on a reasonable price. One has the option of spending night  at a tea estate by staying there overnight.

Next day in the morning  after breakfast at one of the eating joints at The Mall, I started walking towards The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.

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Church on my way to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

Later I came to know that the Museum and the zoo are in the same campus of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute . After about half an hour of pleasant walk I reached the spot. I purchased the ticket from the gate and entered the campus. On both side of the road inside the campus were animal enclosures and most of the animals were resting lazily in the mild sunlight of the hills.

At the end of the road was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.

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Wall at the Mountaineering Institute

Established in 1954 in the leadership of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and the interest created by the first ascent of the Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953. The Museum of the institute was worth visiting due to its historical importance.

The Zoo in the same campus in addition to all the regular animal species also inhabited the Red Panda.

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The Red Panda

The next day I decided to visit the much hyped Tiger Hill. I gad to wake up and be ready at 4:00 in the morning. On reaching the Tiger Hill which was 40 kms from Darjeeling mall, the sunrise point was too much crowded but people told me that the view is worth visit if the weather is fine and not clouded.

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Sunrise, Tiger Hill, Darjeeling

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The Himalayan Range visible from Darjeeling

It was worth visiting Tiger Hill for the sunrise although it was overcrowded and there were clouds too. Returning from Tiger Hill in a shared taxi, the driver stopped at a monastery and gave us half an hour to explore the spot.

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Drum at the Monastery

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Memorial at Batasia Loop, Darjeeling Railways

The most memorable was a joy ride on the Toy Train (Rupees 1100/ for a return trip of two hours including a visit to railway museum at Ghum station). The train was passing through all the road side markets and the main road was criss-crossed many times before reaching the Ghum station.

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Steam Engine, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Best time to visit Darjeeling is from October to March.

 

Ugrasen ki Baoli,Delhi

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Baolis or simply Step wells were ancient water tanks constructed in the olden days to harness water. This was an ancient technique of water harvesting so as use the stored water in the times of drought and dry seasons. These were mainly developed in India to cope with fluctuations in the monsoons.

Yesterday I explored yet another part and heritage of Delhi. The location of Ugrasen ki Baoli is very surprising. If you happen to be at Connaught Place area which is the Central Business District in Delhi, you cannot actually expect an ancient structure in the middle of a modern city.

Connaught Place was developed in the 1920 to cater to the needs of the growing city of New Delhi. Since then its a  very prominent area visited by everyone who visits Delhi.

Walking distance from Connaught Place outer circle and behind the Statesman Building, Barakhamba Road, is Ugrasen Ki Baoli…

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Ugrasen ki Baoli,Delhi

Baolis or simply Step wells were ancient water tanks constructed in the olden days to harness water. This was an ancient technique of water harvesting so as use the stored water in the times of drought and dry seasons. These were mainly developed in India to cope with fluctuations in the monsoons.

Yesterday I explored yet another part and heritage of Delhi. The location of Ugrasen ki Baoli is very surprising. If you happen to be at Connaught Place area which is the Central Business District in Delhi, you cannot actually expect an ancient structure in the middle of a modern city.

Connaught Place was developed in the 1920 to cater to the needs of the growing city of New Delhi. Since then its a  very prominent area visited by everyone who visits Delhi.

Walking distance from Connaught Place outer circle and behind the Statesman Building, Barakhamba Road, is Ugrasen Ki Baoli on Hailey Road, K.G.Marg, New Delhi. It is a designated protected monument by Archeological Survey of India.

As I moved from Hailey Road into the bylanes I came across large grafetti on the walls of a residential building.

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Just opposite to this grafetti is an old gate of the ancient Baoli.

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The Monument is surrounded by all sides by residential area very close to it. As I entered from the entry gate, on left hand side were endless stairs going deep down into the step well and on both the sides of these stairs are thick walls to support the structure and to enable the structure to hold water deep inside. The well can be accessed step by step deep into the main structure when the water level is not enormous.

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Believed to be built by King Agrasen or Ugrasen and rebuilt in 14th Century, the structure is one of its kind in Delhi.

Today this ancient structure is visited by tourists and enthusiasts to look into the simple yet highly specialized structure of water harvesting developed  hundreds of years back. These kind of Baolis can be seen only in the western part of India especially in Rajasthan.

Truly a place worth visiting. The place is connected by Metro Rail, the nearest station being Barakhamba Road. The Place is also very close to Mandi House, the Art and Cultural Hub of Delhi.

Flurys, Kolkata

The Legendary Tea Room at Park Street, Kolkata founded in 1927 by a Swiss couple Mr and Mrs. J Flurys.

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It was European traditional confectionery from the early days and was very popular with the Europeans as well as Sahibs of that period.

Flurys is famous with all age groups and people from all walks of life. From youngsters to old couples and business people, artists, writers, housewives etc.

With wide variety of cakes and pastries, puddings and chocolates, the menu clearly mentions its heritage items by ‘H’ at the end in bold letter.

The food is quite reasonably priced and the ambiance of the place is appreciably good. The presentation is equally good.  Everything mentioned above adds to the taste of the food.

Its location on the Park Street is very prominent and is accessible by Metro Train, the station is at a walking distance.

St. John Church, Kolkata

As I walked passed the grand Raj Bhawan of West Bengal, at the intersection of Kiran Shankar Roy street and Council House Street just few minutes walk from the Raj Bhawan, Kolkata is situated St. John Church.

It is perhaps the city’s oldest surviving church. Lieutenant James Ogg designed the church on the model of St. martin-in-the- fields in London’s Trafalgar square, was consecrated in 1787 in the presence of Lord Cornwallis.

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Charnock, , an administrator of the English East India Company during its early days is said to have been buried here in St. John Church premises.

Lord Curzon’s memorial also lies here. The Church premises also houses the  Black Hole memorial and Lady Canning’s memorial.

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It is a very quite place specially on a Sunday evening and the gardens and lawns are well maintained.

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The building was erected by the East India Company when Kolkata (Calcutta at that time) became the capital of the British India. Modeled on the lines of St. Martin-in-the-fields of London.

Not far off from this historic church is St. Andrew’s Church Kolkata near the historic Writers building in BBD Bagh area, also called Dalhousie Square.

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St. Andrew’s Church, Dalhousie Square
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Writer’s Building, Kolkata
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Dalhousie square with General Post office building in the backdrop.

From Dalhousie Square, one can easily catch a tram towards the Esplanade but I preferred to walk down towards the Millennium Park,  Hoogly River front to have a glimpse of the sunset by the river.

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Walking back to Dalhousie Square  and then to Esplanade after the sundown, I ended the day trip with typical bengali food at Bhojohori Manna, a famous Bengali restaurant at Esplanade.

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