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Monday, February 19, 2018

Great Rann of Kutch:

Usually, when we think of a desert the picture of huge sand dunes comes to our mind. We must have seen in several movies too. Unlike those sandy deserts, the Rann of Kutch (Rann means desert) is a salt marsh, forming part of Thar Desert in Kutch region. It is one of the famous salt deserts. We had collected a handful of raw salt from the Rann as a memoir.
A roadside restaurant with all amenities


On the way to Bhuj
In Great Rann, on the first day at Bhuj we saw Bhuj Museum, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal and Bhartiya Sanskriti Darshan Exhibition and Cenatophs of Royal Family.
In front of Bhuj Museum

In front of Bhuj Museium
Aina Mahal is an 18th Century palace, built by Rao Lakhpat ji in 1761. Its wall are of white marble covered with mirrors separated by gilded ornaments with shades of venetian glass.  A part of the palace was damaged during the earthquake of 2001. Other portions had since been restored.

Prag Mahal is adjacent to Aina Mahal and named after Rao Pragmal ji, who had commissioned the project in 1865. The palace is designed in Italian Gothic style. It was completed in 1879 during the time of Khengar ji, Pragmalji’s son, costing 3.2 million Indian rupees. We had taken a number of pictures in Prag Mahal and also climbed the tall bell tower through very narrow staircase and steps. The view from above the palace is magnificent.
Inside Pragmahal


The dilapidated part of Pragmahal


Some collections inside Pragmahal


From the Bell Tower


From the Bell Tower, Pragmahal
Some handicraft items outside Pragmahal for sale



Bhartiya Sanskriti Darshan Exhibition is a museum, housing the personal collections of heritage articles of paintings, textiles, arts, and crafts by Late Shri Ramsinh ji K. Rathod, who was also an author of several books.

Swami Narain Mandir, Bhuj


Friday, February 16, 2018

15.02.18 Our Gujarat Tour Report

Though our initial ideas about a Gujarat Tour were confined to only the temples of Nageshwar (one of the 12 Jyotirlingas), Panch Dwarka, and Somnath, later we expanded the scope of our tour to include a few historically important places, the deserts of Kutch and the beaches of Diu.

Some comments on tourism in India in general

India, its diversity, and ancient history offer tremendous scope for development of tourism. Unlike many other countries, different places in India offer differing tastes to the tourists. There is a great amount of variety here in India, which is very unique. Nature tourism, Eco tourism, Religious tourism, Spiritual tourism, Leisure tourism, name anything, it is all here in India.
Only, we don’t seem to have made sufficient efforts to give a boost to tourism. We haven’t fully realized the potential of tourism as a great catalyst to economic growth. So, in the past, we hadn’t focused sufficiently on infrastructure development like roads, electricity, water connection, communication, hotels, and other facilities to encourage tourists to visit thousands of small places that offer excellent scope for tourists to go.

To cite only a small example, there is a place called Thiruppudaimaruthur in Tirunelveli district, close to Cheranmahadevi. Here is a magnificent temple for Lord Siva, with a partially complete temple tower in the front, five circumambulating corridors around the Garbhagriha, right on the banks of the river Gadana (a tributary of the river Tamirabarani), a clean bathing ghat, and to cap it all, eye capturing scenes of flocks and flocks of birds foraging for their food and pecking for water during particular seasons. Not many are aware of this place.









Brahmadesam near Ambasamudram is another example. And there are several places in and around Tirunelveli alone.






In developed countries, they make a hill out of a small mole. Volumes of printed brochures, information, visual aids, and promotional materials are created for many places there that are nothing more than a damp squib.

Why, I write this? Because, I found that in Gujarat they have made a conscious effort to promote tourism of every sort. They had rightly identified that deserts can be beautiful like the forests, and scary too. In fact, they are. And people go there in numbers.

Now, let me tell you briefly about the few places we were fortunate to visit:

Little Rann of Kutch:

This is a salt marsh, lying near the Great Rann of Kutch. We stayed in a place called Patdi. This place is famous for its rare wild ass sanctuary. Besides, it is also a destination for a variety of migratory birds like pelican, flamingo, crane, ducks, Indian bustard etc. The farm house where we stayed took us for the open jeep safari around the marshy land. We also saw the beautiful sunset in the evening. The scary thing about this open jeep safari is that there are no route directions or paved roads to roam around in the 100 and odd kilometers-deep desert. One will be lost in the wilderness if you have no guide. Also, although the marshy soil is mostly dry, at some places it is still wet. There are shallow lakes due to collection of rain water. In fact, when our jeep driver-cum guide was a little distracted for a second, our jeep plunged into a wet marshy soil, and we could extricate the sunken vehicle from the soil only after some tense struggle. Thank God, we were safe.












In the evening, we were at the Swami Narain temple, a fabulous structure of white marble, glittering under lights of different colors and shades. The evening Aarti was a memorable and exciting experience, with the Aarti song playing in the background over the speakers and immediately after Aarti, one of the pundits dancing in front of the Lord for another song. 





To be continued...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

My current thoughts

I had the unique opportunity to work in Dubai for 9 years. During the years I worked there, I had marveled at U. A. E’s wealth, riches, broad-mindedness, simplicity, and great vision for the future. Thanks to the oil wealth, not only the U.A.E, but the entire Gulf region became highly prosperous. Thanks also due to many visionary rulers, they had spent their wealth on productive and futuristic assets. They attracted the best talents from all over the world, benefitting mainly the under-developed and developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, and several African nations. They had converted a desert into an oasis.

Some of these Arab nations, especially those like Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, had been sitting on tons of oil wealth. Not able to find lucrative, yet, safe investments, a substantial portion of this wealth found their way into investments in highly developed nations like the USA, U.K etc., and substantially, in real estates too. Of course, a lot of money was getting wasted too.

During my stay there, I had always wondered why our India was unable to exploit our traditional bonding with the United Arab Emirates and their wealth for our productive developments. I had dreamed about a possible change in our country-to-country relationship. I had vocalized my feelings during casual conversation with many.

Remember, until a couple of decades back, our country and our banking system had always suffered from shortage of financial resources. Other than receiving substantial help by way of remittances from expat Indians in the U. A. E there was hardly any noticeable government-to-government bonding between India and the U. A. E. We could have constructively exploited our historical connections with them for infrastructure development in India during the eighties and nineties. India is known for honoring financial commitments and have never defaulted on our international commitments.

U. A. E prospered because of physical and intellectual labor of Indians for a substantial part. Our engineers, accountants, finance professionals, salesmen, and manual labor had helped Gulf countries, including U. A. E build their nations. We had enjoyed trade relations with them for thousands of years. We had never tried to rub these Arabic nations on the wrong side, so much so that, we were scared of even uttering the word ‘Israel’ in public. Indians are a much respected lot among the Arabs for their sincerity, loyalty and dependability. Many Arabs spoke freely Hindi and even, Malayalam. Everything was just ripe in our favor.

Probably, India missed some golden opportunities in the past.

I believe, the same story goes about our association with Israel too. We had failed in the past to use Israel’s superior knowledge, strategy, and technology for our benefit.

I now see an honest, strategic effort to rectify the past mistakes and build a fruitful relationship with U. A. E and Israel, not-withstanding our past ambivalent approach to Arab-Israel bilateral issues and conflicts. At least, a delayed realization and effort. We should only pray that the new approach brings positive results for India.

My dream about India – U.A.E relationship never found its way into a story, sadly though.   


There is one more issue I must write about. That is about the North Eastern India. That might have to wait for a couple of days more….

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

15.02.18 - My thoughts, aspirations, and my writings

A few years back, I wrote a book under the title: WHAT IF OUR DREAMS COME TRUE! AN UNCOMMON MEETING WITH LORD SIVA. I worked hard for nearly two years to write this book. One of my readers had commented that she wondered whether several portions of this book were works of fiction or history. I poured out all my personal aspirations and dreams for our country in this book. To mention a few:
·         Building check dams, instead of mammoth water dams, across several rivers. I had read a number of reports about the great advantages of check dams and the negative impacts of large water reservoirs.
·         Eradicating begging, especially, child begging
·         Developing Sports as a Movement in India. With a little more than 125 crores of people our record of producing able sportspersons is abysmal. With very poor nourishment in what we eat and with a lack of sufficient physical activities and exercising, no wonder, our people become susceptible to all kinds of viruses and diseases.
·         Preventing the wealth of our ancient temples being swindled by recklessly selfish people, recovering the usurped properties, and restoring their self-management.
·         Restoring the true autonomy of grass-root administration at the village panchayats. A true Swarajya as envisaged by Gandhi ji.
·         Development of our waterways and our coasts as national highways for economical transport of goods.
·         A true integration of all communities into the mainstream, with only one identity as an Indian.
·         Above all, leading a truly conscious life. I believe, most people including me, lead a life of automatic and preconditioned responses to our life circumstances rather than leading a proactive, conscious life. Leading a conscious life is a pre-requisite to peace, happiness, and prosperity. In order for all the above aspirations to fructify we need to lead a conscious life.

These aspirations and dreams found their expressions in my above novel. I believe it is a great novel written with noble intentions. The book is available on www.pothi.com. (https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-t-n-neelakantan-what-if-our-dreams-come-true)


Let me continue my thoughts tomorrow too…

Sunday, February 04, 2018

05.02.18: Our 11N/12D-sightseeing tour to Gujarat



Introduction
To visit Gujarat had been a topic of acrimonious discussions in my house during the last couple of years; it wasn’t a fight over whether a visit was needed or not, but over the length of the visit.

Initially, we were only interested in a religious, pilgrimage type visit to Panch Dwarka and Somnath. Unless we flew by air, the trip would still have lasted at least 7/8 days. I was against a hurried air travel, spending a lot of money.

Also, a small passion to visit several places in India, subsequent to compiling my book: I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT … INDIA, ITS STATES, AND IMPORTANT CITIES, that lay dormant surfaced again and forced me not to ignore the great deserts of Gujarat (Rann of Kutch), a few historical and ancient places (Junagadh, Jamnagar, Mandvi, Lothal, Dolavira etc.), and the beautiful beaches of Diu.

Besides, several reports in media during the last several years on Gujarat about the developments that had taken place during the time of Mr. Modi as its Chief Minister had kindled a curiosity in me to see, after all, what those developments were.

After some hectic negotiation with my wife I, finally, settled for an 11N/12D trip to Gujarat. We identified the name of a decent travel agent from the Gujarat Tourism website. We made a few changes to their standard published itinerary and decided on the following tour plan. The cost of the tour included travel by an air-conditioned car and accommodation in hotels/resorts at places of stay:

Day 1: Little Rann of Kutch (Patdi)
Day 2, 3, 4: At Bhuj and Great Rann of Kutch
Day 5: Mandvi
Day 6: Jamnagar
Day 7: Dwarka
Day 8: Porbandar and Somnath
Day 9: Diu
Day 10 Junagadh
Day 11: Bhavnagar
Day 12: Return to Ahmedabad

The stay arrangements were at some of the finest cottages in resorts and hotels. Though the trip turned out to be a little costlier than what I would have spent if I had planned it on my own, we had the opportunity to spend time in some of the finest places during the trip and visited some of the rare places people usually go. We also enjoyed excellent food in all the places. We left out some of the important commercial centers like Vadodara, Surat etc.

It was a fantastic tour.


The following are my impressions on Gujarat. Please remember, they are my personal impressions only and not based on any factual data. So, don’t jump guns on me if they do not meet yours.

... Await for my impression in my next report tomorrow

Sunday, January 14, 2018

12.01.18 Our Madhya Pradesh Tour Report – 4th and Final Part


On the first day of our stay at Bhopal, we decided to see the important places within Bhopal and use the last day to visit Bhimbedka and other sites outside Bhopal.

Our first stop was at Taj-aul-masjid, one of the three largest masjids in the world, the construction of which started in 1887 during the time of Nawab Shah Jahan Begum. 
Taj-aul masjid

Taj-aul masjid
From there, we went to Hanuman Tekre, a small hillock on top of which a beautiful Jain temple had been built. One could either drive the car all the way to the top of the hill or use the rope car. We used the latter. 



From Hanuman Tekre, we took a public bus to People’s Mall, probably one of the latest entertainment centres in Bhopal. For a small entry fee of Rs.50 one could spend the whole day here. We were quite impressed about the mall, with its exquisite entrance hall, multiplex theatres, various miniature replica of several important structures from all over the world – Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Eiffel Tower, British Parliament, Statue of Liberty, and so on. The accompanying pictures will speak it all, no need to describe them.









It looked as though the entire mall is constantly under development. Please remember, it is not a mall for shopping.

From People’s Mall, we took another bus to the famous Birla Mandir. On the way, we were caught in a terrible traffic jam which lasted for more than 2 hours around the areas closer to the railway station, Hamidia Road, Nadra Bus Stand. And these areas form the border of the old and new Bhopal. Eventually, we learnt that traffic jam was a regular feature in Bhopal in these areas. Hardly any police was there to solve the problem. There was complete chaos and ‘free for all’ traffic. I also noticed that in such a sensitive place with several side roads, junctions, markets and shops on either side there were very few traffic signals to regulate the traffic. The behavior of the public, driving cars and two wheelers compounded the problems, for the most part.

As it got very late after visiting the Lakshmi Narain Temple we were mentally tired and so returned back to the hotel hoping that we would be visiting the two important ‘talab’s (lakes) the next day, which, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

On the last day of our trip to Madhya Pradesh, we had arranged for a taxi to take us from Bhopal to Sanchi, Udaigiri Caves, Bhojpur Shiva Temple, and Bhimbedka Rock Shelters. All these places were stunningly beautiful in their own way.
Sanchi Stupa belongs to the 3rd century, commissioned by the Emperor Asoka.





Udaigiri rock caves represent some of the oldest surviving rock caves, belonging the Gupta period of 5th century CE.


In Bhojpur, the Bhojeswar Temple dedicated to Lord Siva belongs to 11th century. The temple commissioned by the King Bhoja is incomplete and houses the 18 feet tall Shivling. The temple, its location in a vast expanse of open area, and Shivling were very impressive. A lot of tourists and devotees were seen in and around the temple. 

At a short distance from the Bhojeswar Temple there is another historic Jain temple.

One can see the 18-feet tall statue of Lord Shantinath, with two other smaller statues of Lord Parshvanath and Lord Suparshvanath. There is evidence to show that the main Lord Shantinath’s statue was commissioned by the King Bhoja. As we went there after the lunch time, the temple was closed. We could only view the Jain statue through the grilled gates.

As we were in a hurry to reach Bhibedka before it got dark we didn’t visit the Parvathy cave and remains of Bhoja’s royal palace.

When we reached Bhimbedka, it was past 4 pm. In fact, the urge in me to visit Bhimbedka rock shelters only culminated in our visit to Madhya Pradesh. I had read on the internet that these rock shelters belong to the ‘paleolithic’, ‘mesolithic’ and ‘historic’ periods. They exhibit the earliest traces of human habitation in the Indian Subcontinent. Containing more than 750 rock shelters spread over 10 kilometers there are evidences that they were home to the ‘homo erectus’ some 100000 years ago. On some of these rock shelters there are cave paintings which are at least 30000 years old. These paintings represent themes like animals, early hunting, and dancing.

As you enter the area you will find yourselves in the ‘auditorium’ cave, a significant structure, and the largest one. We walked through quickly some 12 rock shelters of different shapes and sizes.












It was really getting dark and the park was to be closed soon. Probably, one needs the entire day to visit all the rock shelters. They have properly paved the path at least to those we had visited. We have no idea about the other hundreds of shelters. Visiting Bhimbedka rock shelters, incidentally, became the most memorable experience of our MP tour. Of course, baring aside the visit to Bheda Ghat Marble Rocks at Jabalpur.

I felt that probably we should have come to Bhimbedka Rock Shelters first and reversed our route - Bhopal to Bhimbedka to Bhojpur to Udaigiri to Sanchi and then back to Bhopal.

We boarded a late night train – Hazrat Nizamudeen to Chennai Duranto - which came a full 4 hours late due to delayed start from Nizamudeen on account of fog in Delhi. We whiled away our time in the Upper Class Waiting Room in the railway station in the meanwhile.

Await my concluding remarks tomorrow.