Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Art Of Traveling On Two Wheels

I am a traveller, not a rider. I met riders who went to a place, spent the night and again travelled for 400 km on their motorcycles. I am not like that. I find pleasure in staying at one place for a long time. I ride because it gives me mobility, and also undeniably there is a joy in riding.

Traveling on a motorcycle is different in a way from cars. In a car you are in an enclosed space, it always feels like a compartment, you are in a frame and passively observe things. Motorcycle is different however. If your purpose is traveling, and not riding, traveling on a motorcycle is indeed a good thing. On a two wheeler, the frame is gone. If you’re a sensitive person, you can feel you are in the scene. In my riding often I felt a strange sensation of pleasure, especially when I was riding on highways surrounded by rural landscapes.

I had planned for a long ride on my newly purchased motorcycle, just 2900 km clocked in odometer and 3 months old. I had started my journey in the middle of December, winters suits me well and the tarmac roads are cool and less harsh on tyres. From Kolkata to Delhi, roughly it’s 1600 km. My plan was deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere. When I came back home (Kolkata) after 37 days of traveling/riding, my odometer measured 8900 km, so I rode exactly 5000 km in 37 days.

I maintained a journal where I put things in a diary fashion. Those are my kind of field notes. I changed engine oil thrice, and when I returned home, I changed it once again. I had an accident once, I did one full servicing once in Delhi, and one partial after the accident.

I don’t like Highways though. It is because of the simple fact that it robs the joy of seeing things. On highways you can’t help but to run fast. State Highways are better, especially I found Rajasthan State Highways extremely good. Due to my inexperience in twisty hilly roads, I found it difficult initially to manoeuvre the machine but after some time those twist and turns turned out to be extremely enjoyable. I liked paved rural roads; slow speed was very enjoyable on those roads, and gave me an amazing sense of joy.

To me, it was somehow a feeling of liberation when I was moving slowly on a road, fresh air and lots of greenery on both sides of the road. Roads free of trucks were enjoyable, though in the daylight trucks were far better than speeding cars. Roads where trees, green fields, meadows, lawns came almost to the shoulder, where people looked at me with curious eyes, I found it very exciting. I seldom used Google Map because I found it more enjoyable to stop to ask directions or information, and the answer tended to be longer than expected.

Long distance motorcycle riding is tough, and often rough, especially in Indian Highways. There are many things you need to understand or at least study first before you go for the first time. Most important things come with experience; still I am giving here some essential facts, tips and suggestions for beginner motorcycle riders who wish to travel in Indian Highways.

Motorcycle Technical Tips

First thing is to understand your motorcycle. It is important that you go with the familiar machine, not a new one or borrowed one.

Needless to say, before riding a long tour you need to go for a full servicing. I didn’t go for it but I checked all my parts and changed my engine oil. I double checked my brakes and understood very basic motorcycle mechanism.

You should at least know the very basic of motorcycle repairing stuff. For example, how to change a flat tyre, or change your own engine oil because you can get engine oils in petrol pumps but most of them don’t change it. Also, carry basic tool box. That being said, do not overdo it. You don’t need to be an expert, and it is not possible also. You can accidently damage your machine.

No matter how strong your motorcycle is, always take rest after two hours. It is better if you run 100 km/hr constantly for an hour, take rest for 15 minutes.

For long tours, always rely on heavy engine motorcycles.

Personal and Safety Tips

DO NOT ride in the dark. No matter how good rider you are, vow not to ride in the dark. If you start in the early morning, say 6 a.m and till 6 p.m, you have enough time and distance you can cover. So, there is no need to ride in the dark. Particularly in Indian Highways or in India you find ample accommodation options, so just take a shelter.

Always tie your luggage tight. Carry extra pair of bungee cords with you. Do not carry heavy load on your back, perhaps a small backpack with not more than 2kg of load. Carry ample amount of water even it is important.

Whenever I stopped for a night, I immediately opened my laptop and started working. You don’t need to do that. The first shower after 10 hours of riding feels like heaven, so first take a proper shower, eat good food but light and hydrate yourself. It is better not to drink alcoholic beverage if you are riding back to back days.

I always wear a money belt where I put all my cards, IDs and cash. Some cash I put it in my wallet. Before turn on my ignition key, I checked my wallet, phone and money belt, and this became a habit. Carry enough cash with you. I know it’s dangerous but most of the places in India don’t accept Paytm or online transactions, even in some petrol pumps they denied me card payments.

Wear ear plugs. Trust me it is great. Or at least you can purchase a good balaclava, especially in winters when wind is cold and you ride fast, things are getting exhausting fast if you do not protect your ears.

Wear full helmet, although for riders with specs full helmets are very uncomfortable. You can wear a half helmet but always careful to buy helmet that fully fits your head. Wear a decent helmet, a good riding jacket, knee guard and don’t forget to wear boots.

It’s very important to make yourself visible while riding on highways. Make your bike on the path of the road that is visible to other road users. For example, if you are following a truck or van, don’t go right behind it. Get it the side of it, looking at the rear mirror, if you can see the driver’s face, he can definitely see you.

Don’t follow other riders, and try to overtake or compete. Highway riding  is very dangerous. A little mistake and you fall, and if you fall, you will hurt.

Always take photographs on your road and send it your friends in WhatsApp. Always inform your friends where you are, where you reach even if you don’t like to do it. If you stay at a motel, send the photo of the motel with name and address.

Finally, always expect the unexpected.

Tips on Riding on Indian Highways

Indian Highways have this big advantage. You will always find dhabas (local roadside restaurants), petrol pumps after 5-10 km and people around. So, even if you unfortunately experience some problems with your bike or an accident, you will find people to help you out. That comes with riding in dark point. In the night, you won’t find around, and if anything bad happens, nobody will there to help you out.

Indian Highways there is always a risk for riders who ride fast. There is always a possibility when you see people cross the road, not just people but cows, dogs, sheep, chickens etc., so be vigilant and careful about your speed.

Even there are always petrol pumps after every 10 km or so, don’t let the fuel meter to reach the red line. Always fill up the tank before it reaches the reserve.

Create space around you. Use your indicator when you change lanes. Keeping space is often forgotten, especially when you are passing a truck or a big van. Maintain a safe distance between your motorcycle and other vehicle until the point that you can accelerate to pass.

Tips for Solo Motorcycle Touring

File a daily plan with friends and relatives is the most important thing when you ride solo. Don’t discount the concerns of others.

As I said before start early and finish early before dark. It is advisable to settle somewhere before sunset because changing light makes it difficult for other drivers to see you.

Carry a small diary where you note down all your information for example, important numbers, addresses, emergency contacts, where you have stayed, which places you ate on the road, distance covered etc.

I don’t use GPS but I am an oddball. So, carry GPS and use it often to track the road.

If you are traveling alone, it is always advisable to eat smart, hydrate yourself well and sleep early. Remember there are no one near and dear one to look after if you fall sick. So, keep your health well, at least the best you can.

Finally, in case of an accident when your motorcycle is totally damaged or partially damaged, but you are alive with perhaps a few scratches or a hairline fractures, don’t fret about your broken machine. Don’t curse yourself or mourn about your motorcycle. Thanks to God that you are alive, and learn what the lesson you have got. It is very important!

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Last legacy of Headhunters in Nagaland

nagaland village mon traditional house

One mid-monsoon afternoon, after my Deutsche examination, I went out for much anticipated journey to north-eastern part of India. My journey was principally focused to Nagaland, a land of tribes, weird foods, legends, and conception, sometimes fabled to a point that outside so called civilized people take a backseat when going to the region.

My journey to Mon, a district town bordering with Burma was a hectic one. Nothing went smooth as soon as I crossed the Tizit town. Nagaland police drilled me for almost 40 minutes, checking all my papers, even my laptop and field notes. As I moved to the district, I was again checked, and this time Army (Assam Riffles) sniffed me hard. Earlier I was in Kohima, though a cool place to live in for a while, I saw security guards watched heavily laced with advanced guns from posts.

A typical Nagaland village house
It took more than 3 hours to reach Mon from Sonari, a small town in Assam, bordering with Nagaland. Sonary is a beautiful place with lush green sweeping tea gardens and small houses. I loved all of those scenes, those thatched tin roof, greenery and people around. The winding road, the villages, small patches of tea garden, forests everything put a very different, sometimes a little uncanny feeling in my mind. 

Nagaland, as it’s been portrayed to the outside world, something a unique identity whether their lifestyle, food and culture, I saw a certain glimpses through my journey. There are more than 35 existing tribes in the state; some are also present majorly in Manipur and Burma. There are principally three tribes who are in the mainstream: Sumi or Sema (mostly dominated in Dimapur region), snake eating Angami tribes are mostly confined to Kohima villages and famous Konyak, the legendary headhunter tribe. There are other prominent tribes like Ao, Chang, Lotha, Mao, Zeme and other spread over Manipur and Burma.

An old Konyak woman selling vegetables & Herbs
I was not much aware about headhunters but during my stay in Meghalaya, I was told by a guy about Konyak tribe and last remaining lineage of this tribe living in Mon. situated on the very border between India and the tribal parts of Burma, Longwa, a small village, earlier dominated by headhunters, still reflects the old charm. This small village is no more an obscure one; tourists throng to this village and everything is so expensive. There are a few places to stay and even a homestay where you can experience the beauty of Naga people in their own way. Travelers from distant land come to visit the village as headhunting legends and stories are indeed fascinating. There are a few men, very old ones whole still wear animal horns through their ears, brass skulls and tattoos on their chest, and some rare facial tattoos. 

Morungs are still found in Mon. These are old customary schools where children are taught survival skills and hunting practices. I never saw even a bird in the whole forests of Mon. An old temple priest, who lived there for 22 years, jokingly said that Nagas ate everything, not even spared worms. Longwa, the main attraction of travelers is perched on a ridge on the Indian-Burma border. It’s around 40 km from Mon town, and shared taxis are there to take you to the village.

Before Mon, I was in Kohima, but Mon was something that put a deep impression in mind. It’s culturally fascinating place where you witness old thatched traditional houses, people with old way of living, opium smoking tribes, houses decorated with animal skulls and famed tattoos. 

History of Headhunters

Till 1930, most of the remote regions in Nagaland were totally in oblivion, even not mentioned in maps. Headhunters were the main tribes or as a local said to me, all Nagas came through headhunter lineage. They remained remotely in villages and natural barricades, forests and fast rivers protected them. They fought with their enemies who were neighboring villages. Head hunting was sort of a culture than fight. Naga women ridiculed men who didn’t have face tattoos or even chest tattoos. Chest tattoos signify a person trained in headhunting. 

konyak headhunter
An old Konyak (trained in Headhunting)
Their main occupation was farming, principally rice farming. Sometimes they invaded villages, taking lands, taking heads of people, not even spared women and children. One village was connected with another through bamboo bridges, quite fragile and easily destroyed in hostile situations.

To protect their lands from enemies, Nagas covered forests with men traps. These were bamboo spiked that pierced the feet, sometimes they attacked with poison arrows, and rare occasion they plowed large pit with pointed spikes. Till 1936, Nagaland large regions were not mapped in British map, and then British came to this place with full army and arms.

This was a significant time, a momentary change for Nagas when they first saw cars, ammunition and white people. However, they remained what they were, and headhunting still continued as a traditional heritage of Nagas, particularly Konyak tribe. 

opium smoking in Mon
Opium smoking 
Headhunting was a cultural phenomenon rather a pure conflicting subject. Hunters were trained for the skill to chop of the heads and brought to the villages and ceremonial dance performed by the hunter. Skulls were being used to decorate their houses, not just animals but men, women, and children. These skulls were then fed with rice beer. This ritual was the central focal point of village life so that spirits revisit the village, giving the strength and vitality.

The last headhunting was officially stopped in 1970 as the central government totally abandoned this ancient culture as barbaric and criminal. Unofficially headhunting was continued till 80s but it was completely obliterated when Indian Army posted they camps in different regions of Nagaland. 

Important Facts about Mon Town

Lau Pani (local beer)
Mon town has a special charm. It is a small place with a few shops and food joints. There are some vegetarian food joints where you can get snacks etc. The villages are adjacent to the town, so you can easily get into those villages and see the local life. However, it is advised to take a local guy who know things better. It is also for safety reasons.

Accommodation & Food

Hotels are expensive. There are three hotels, and all of them are almost Rs. 1000 or more. The facility is basic and food is ordinary. But you don’t have any choice but to stay in Mon. if you can reach Mon in the afternoon, you can hire a taxi and go straight into Longwa and stay there.

I had a special experience, worth mentioning here. I didn’t anticipate the bills of hotels, so I was heavily disappointed but suddenly a teenage boy from bus who was a Bengali asked me what happened. I told him it was pretty difficult to stay for me here because of the cost. We went together to a hotel named Sunrise Hotel, next the State Bank of India. The owner was a Bengali too, but he said rooms were filled. So, we went to another one, which was again Rs. 1200. I was deeply thwarted but Rajat (the teenage boy) asked me whether I was comfortable to stay in a temple. I readily agreed, and we went to the temple located inside the premise of Assam Riffles. 

The temple priest was too reluctant to take me in. I finally said whether he took me in or I would go to the forest and stayed there for a night. Then I comforted him by saying I would go to the police station and stamped all my documents. I went to the police station, stamped my documents and then came back to the temple. He unenthusiastically asked for Rs. 200 for the stay that includes my dinner. Well, I think I was purely lucky in this case.

General Warning

The town virtually standstills after 5 pm, and it is not advisable to roam around the streets or villages. There are good people but there are bad people as well, particularly the opium stuff destroys the youth and men, so many of them looking for easy money to smoke some pure opium. This is not just a scare mongering but a real fact, so don’t just show your bravery in Mon after 5 pm.

Accommodation in Longwa

You can go to Longwa but there is nothing out there. The main attraction is Angh (king) house that is half in India and half in Burma. There are no headhunters left; at least I haven’t found any. However, you can see the village with skulls and other decorative stuff. Also, you can find some nice souvenirs. You can stay in Longwa, but the stay is expensive. 

If you plan to visit Longwa, it is better to note down the timing of bus and shared taxis. There is one bus going to the place in the morning and come back in the evening. There are two shared taxis, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon (2pm). You can obviously hire own taxis readily available in Mon but these are expensive. They charge you anything between Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 for to and fro from Mon to Longwa.

Insurgency in Mon

There are some problems in this part of Nagaland. Although things are now peaceful, insurgency is still there. Apparently there is a pressure for villagers to join the insurgents, else there will be reprisals against that village. The insurgents are dominated by ENPO (Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation). They have raised the demand of separate Eastern Nagaland or Frontier Nagaland. The eastern region, basically Konyak region is considered the most backward place in Nagaland so they demand their own independence.

Young Konyak woman eating breakfast (beef & rice)
It is safe and quite calm but it is advisable to take a local while roaming around those villages. There are army posted everywhere in this region but things are still lukewarm, and people are not happy with lack of business, jobs and taxes levied on them by the government.

For Intrepid Travelers

Houses decorated with animal skulls
A female Christian named Yahoi who has a developed a strange cult in this region. The women has been making many prophecies, encouraging followers to practice naked worship in Church. The village that you may interest is Wangti, but it’s quite far from Mon, so if you are really interested in visiting this place, you can find it out.

Important Contacts

You can contact Longsha, a Konyak Naga who knows fairly good amount of the culture and traditions. He is a local guy there and professional guide to foreign tourists. He speaks good English and has a car. He is a busy man, so contact him in advance. 

+91 9436433504 / 8974390751 or

You can contact another person, a local who I befriended during my journey and he took me to the nearby village. I had a great experience with some people there. If you contact him, tell him my name (Shubhajit), he might recognize me.

Mr. Chahland, 9862841861.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

First impression of Cambodia, and tips in and around Siem Reap

angor wat temple

"Tuk - Tuk! Tuk - Tuk!" "Massage Sir!" "Sir food, good food!" Tonal voices of Khmer, asking you for taking their services in a desperate manner first created an annoying feeling. Constant bugging you for services that you didn’t need or at least very apparent that you were not at all interested, created an impression that was not joyful after all. However, when I lived there for a few days and observed the life of people, I understood how poor they were! It’s a compulsion to earn their living by this constant bugging, there’s no alternative for them.

Life in Seam Reap was far different from my anticipation. Every tourist seemed to be like a dollar making machine. They saw one and jump on it. In spite of everything, people were gentle, and accept their lives joyfully. I was very surprised to see how in Cambodian border, in front of government officials, thugs tried to cheat tourists. Surprisingly, the building where some unknown Khmer guides you to take your visa on arrival, was the fake one. When some people would finally arrive at the real building, you had to pay another $30 for their visas. I was warned by my friend about this scam, so I had already secured e-visa beforehand, albeit paid extra $7 for processing charge.

Beer at Pub Street

Siem Reap is quintessential backpackers’ destination. After spending much time in Khao San Road in Thailand, I was not desiring the same thing in Cambodia, but my first impression of Siem Reap was astounding. There were hotels, restaurants with catchy taglines, hostels, bars and everything reflected a feeling of alienation, especially when I had an entirely different mindset while traveling to Cambodia. There were ubiquitous pubs, restaurants, lots of hotels, a few hostels, and of course those annoying massage parlors.

There was an alley called ‘Pub Street’, pretty much literal by its name. While walking along the street, I was frequently approached by street peddlers for different stuff, starting from postcards, souvenirs, tourist guidebooks and even drugs. And there were girls who approached me and "guaranteed" “happy ending”. I was very surprised to see a 14-15 year old boy working as a waiter in a restaurant with fantastic English and etiquette.

What you can do in Siem Reap

Angor Temples

Ta Phrom Angor Temples
Ta Phrom
The main, and probably for most of tourists, only attraction in Siem Reap is Angor Temples. Even if you aren’t really a heritage person, the temples will mesmerize you with their dumbfounding architecture and fantastic ambiance. The temples and surroundings are peaceful, ideal for any shutter happy individual and if you really want to see more, you can take a guided tour that will ensure you don’t miss the hidden charm. I particularly amazed by the trees in and around the temples.

ta phrom in angor wat temples

I and my two companions, 50 something Canadian couple, hired a Tuk Tuk and went for the temple tour. We started in the late morning as we had planned to see the sunset but unfortunately cloudy weather and sudden rain disappointed us. You can also hire a bicycle but it will take lots of effort, especially in the summers to ride the whole temple complex. Another way is to hire a bicycle ($1) and also hire a tuk tuk and hop in with your bike and start your temple tour journey from the ticket counter.

The full tuk tuk temple tour will charge you around $15 but if you want it to leave it at the ticket counter, it will be around $5. There are total five main temples, but many small relics as well. Don’t miss Angor Wat (the biggest one), Bayon and Ta Prohm. If you find time and wish to spend $20 more, you can take another day for Angkor Thom and other temples.

Hire a tuk tuk tour

tuk tuk in siem reap cambodia
Ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk
If you are not very comfortable in riding bikes, hire tuk-tuk for the whole day and see some popular places like Floating Village, Tonle Sap Lake, Banteay Srey and other places. I was quite shocked to see the mechanics of tuk-tuk; it is a 100 CC scooter, which is attached with a bogey, acting like a local taxi in the city. There is no public transport except tuk tuk so there is no option left for you. The good thing is there are plenty of them, so you can bargain hard to get a good price for hire. I had learnt one thing that is whatever they quoted I said exactly half of it, and then they came down to a good rate.

Indulge in fish massage

fish massage siem reap cambodia

If you don’t want to splurge in spa, there is a good alternative for your feet. There are dozens of shops lined around Pub Street, offering fish massage. If you are wondering what is that, let me tell you it’s not a great thing but it claims that tiny fishes actually nibble your dead skin from your toes and give relaxation. Well, I haven’t tried it, you can obviously.

Try Khmer cuisines

I liked Cambodian foods than Thailand but many people don’t agree with me. You can try a traditional cooking class where your chef guides you through ingredients, cooking style and serving. The most famous is Amok (fish and chicken), also you try green mango salad and spring rolls. Remember if you are not comfortable in eating raw vegetables, order fried spring rolls.

Take a bike tour to nearby villages

I did it and I enjoyed it. I hired a bike for $1 and went straight to Siem Reap War Memorial. From there I traveled to nearby villages and lost somewhere. Then I discovered a hidden resort in the middle of village with superb ambiance and free wifi. Cambodian villages are same like Indian North Eastern villages, same landscape, same vegetation, and same smell of earth. That was my best experience in Siem Reap apart from 4 hours dip in swimming pool.

Tro u -  Cambodian string instrument
Tro u -  Cambodian string instrument
Buy souvenirs

I know buying souvenirs is not exactly in the list of a traveler, but the tempting things in old market with such cheap prices compelled me to buy something for my home. You can go to Old Market (Phsar Chas) where you can get lots of things such as paintings, shawls, local made vessels, Buddha statues, bamboo craft, and numerous other things. I had bought one slingshot, one Cambodian violin, chopsticks, a coconut handbag and some silk scarfs for my neighbors.

Tips to travel in and around Siem Reap

First and foremost tips if you are coming through Poipet, don’t ever listen to any locals. Follow backpackers and team up with other travelers and find the actual visa center. It is just a 10 minute walk passing a few desolate casinos.

In the bus station, do not change your dollar. In Siem Reap there is no need to exchange money because everybody accepts dollars.

bar pubs in pub street siem reap
Bar @ Pub Street
Wait for some time in the bus station, or if you are alone, team up with 3-4 travelers and hire a taxi. It will take $10- $12 (in 2015) for one passenger. A bus will charge you less but then it will take lots of hours to reach the city.

The taxi will take leave you at a place where you will find a smiling tuk-tuk driver saying he will take you free to your hostel/hotel. Don’t fall prey to it, because it is an exchange for next day Angor Temple tour, which he will charge anything around $20-$25. If you don’t have much luggage, you can walk for 15 minutes and reach the Pub Street Area (Sok San road) where you will find hordes of hotels, restaurants, cheap hostels everything.

Pub Street restaurants are expensive; you can get the same food in a cheaper price in Sok San Restaurants.

Bayon Temple
Always bargain hard while buying souvenirs.

Don’t fall prey for prostitutes. In the night, there are lots of locals talk about ‘Boom Boom’,, ‘Happy Ending’, weed etc.

Beer is cheaper than coke or juice. Should I need to give a tip on that?!?!

Siem Reap is relatively safe, still book hostel that has personal locker facility.

There is no public transportation, so you either hire tuk-tuk or rent a bike and explore. If the weather condition is fine, you can also take a walking tour.

You really don't need additional SIM for Internet. Every restaurant, hotel, hostels has free WiFi.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Ghost Hunting In Bhangarh – Rajasthan Hamlet Churns Out Ghost Tourism

bhangarh fort rajasthan

From thousands of years, memories have had been engraved over myriad kinds of ghost stories. Those memories transcend generation after generation through restless spirits, eerie voices and strange sounds. Ghosts are always terrible, may be because humans can never accept the “unreal” and become terrified. I’m not here talking about ghosts, demons and other supernatural phenomenon, but telling a story about a real fort in Rajasthan located in the ruin city of Bhangarh that is counted among one of the top rated ghost-hunters' paradise. 

Bhangarh town was built by Raja Bhagwat Das (16th century), the then ruler of Amber and later on it was made capital of Madho Singh. He was Diwan in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). The town was a huge one, consisting of fort walls, gateways, markets, havelis, temples, royal palaces, chhatris, tomb etc.  Seeing plenty of temples within the town complex, it seems Madhav Singh was a deep religious man; there are ruins of several temples inside the town fortification. Temples of Gopinath, Someshwara, Keshav Rai and Mangla Devi, all are Nagara style of temple architecture. The Royal Palace is said to have seven storeys but now only four storeys remain. The whole township was protected by three successive fortifications. The outermost fortification is provided with five gateways; from north to south Ajmeri, Lahori, Hanuman, Phool Bari and Delhi Gate.

bhangarh temple architecture fort rajasthan ghost

Bhangarh Legends Go On…

The history of Bhangarh is ambiguous because of its medieval origin and fabrication of ghost stories. Historians say the city was established in the year 1573 by Raja Bhagwati Das for his second son Madho Singh. Madho Singh later on built the town of Bhangarh with the sanction of some sadhu named Baba Balanath. Baba Balanath was used to meditate there, so he warned Madho Singh “look my son, you build your fort, very good. But if the shadow of your fort touches me, the city shall be no more!” 

Madho Singh and his son Chatri Singh obeyed with the sanction. However, his grandson Ajab Singh ignored the warning and raised the palace to a greater height so that the shadow fell upon the prohibited place. Strangely within a few years the whole city turned into ruins. 

bhangarh fort rajasthan ghost town

The next legend is somehow colorful and juicy. The gorgeous queen of Bhangarh Ratnavati was mastered in tantric practices (witchcraft) but another sorcerer who was wicked. Adding to insult to injury, he fell in love with queen’s beauty. He tried several times to trap her by his power of wizardry but the queen herself was a fine sorcerer. So, things couldn’t fall in the way the wicked one tried to be, but like any other formative lover boy he continued to disturb her. One day when things went out of hand, the queen lost her temper and changed a glass bottle into a massive rock and hurled it towards the hill-top. The massive rock started rolling over the wicked tantric. Sensing his looming death, he cursed, “I die, but you too Ratnavati shall not live!” The next day without any formal notice Ajabgarh attacked Bhangarh, and the whole city destroyed along with Ratnavati.

Archaeological Significance of Bhangarh

During a recent excavation of the town, various tools used by ancient men have been found from this prehistoric site. The old town of Bhangarh is surrounded on three sides by elevated hills. The undergrowth near the ruins is believed to a place of natural springs and waterfalls. 

bhangarh temples rajasthan

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) put a warning notice near the Bhangarh fort stated “Entering the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset is strictly prohibited.”  As we all know ghosts are infamous for attracting people, so tourists keep visiting this place for some taste of paranormal phenomenon. Some said the ambiance had a queer sensation made them restless and anxious. Some even claimed to experience some sort of paranormal activities. 

Bhangar Driving Direction for Ghost Hunters

Don't miss Ajabgarh Fort
From Delhi, the most appropriate route is speeding on smooth NH8 via Gurgaon->Dharuhera->Bahror->Shahpura->Bhangarh (270km)

If you want to cover some wild beasts along with royal spirit, you can take the other route via Sariska National Park.

Follow NH8 till Bahror then Alwar->Sariska National Reserve->Bhangarh (275km) 

  Road Map to Ghost City

Road map to Bhangarh

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Park Street Cemetery: No longer welcomes the dead, but attracts the living

“Sacred to the memory of Henry Davies who departed this life on the 8th December 1823. Aged 32.”

“This life”, the phrase transfixed my attention to a great extent when I first saw the epitaph. Bible opposes reincarnation. I am not going into details but ‘this life’ phrase implies there would be another life. This was the first shocker in a Christian burial ground, but during the meandering walkabout in the cemetery, I found many other surprises. One thing that surprised me a lot was the age of people who buried there. There may be more, but I found only two people who crossed 60 and not even crossed 70, otherwise most of them died at a very early stages of their lives. It was also noticeable that women generally died young; I saw teenage girls epitaphs, women in their 20s, 30s and a few 40s buried in the cemetery. I thought for a while, but couldn’t find a possible explanation except that probably women and children couldn’t tolerate the hardship and disease laden in Indian tropics.

The cemetery is located at Mother Teresa Sarani amidst cacophony and traffic, but inside, the place reminds me of archetypal eerie cemetery type environment. It was unusually silent, and those crumbling colonnades, mossy mausoleums, obelisks, stone cupolas and sarcophagi created an idiosyncratic image of the cemetery. I saw lots of youngsters in that place, the credit goes to Satyajit Ray and his son filmmaker Sandip Ray who created a movie based on father’s famous book ‘Gourasthaney Sabdhan (Beware in the Graveyard). The story features famous household sleuth Prodosh Mitter aka Feluda solves a mystery that involves Park Street Cemetery. Also, there are a few horror stories revolved around this graveyard that attract college goers to the graveyard, which is otherwise a heritage place.

History of Park Street Cemetery

The history of this cemetery is also very interesting along with the architecture. The cemetery began in the year 1767 and initially closed, but then again reopened. It continued for a while and the burial board was formed in 1881 to look after about 7 public cemeteries. All of them were active cemeteries except the South Park Street Cemetery, which was closed before 1881. The cemetery represents cross section of human civilization of a period spanning of 3500 years of colonial cemetery culture. The cemetery architecture is a cauldron of all kinds of tombs, obelisks, cupolas, sarcophagi, gothic structures including one Hindu temple. It is one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world. It is very special in that sense.

This was the colonial cemetery in the sense that at the point of time when British ruled most parts of the world, they wanted to perhaps build the cemetery, which would reflect the colonial sentiment and colonial architecture across the board of 3500 years of various civilization Egypt, Greece, Rome, Turkey and others. So, this colonial sentimental aspect had been kept in mind while constructing each of these tombs, so you can witness very much heterogeneous structures, not homogeneous like in church cemeteries.

Architecture of South Park Street Cemetery 

Colonel Charles "Hindoo" Stuart Tomb
The most remarkable feature I noticed in the cemetery was the culmination of diverse architectural presentations through tombs. These tombs are essentially a collection of various ancient and medieval Gothic and Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Even there is a temple tomb of Colonel Charles “Hindoo” Stuart who was famous for his love for this religion. He was considered by many as an eccentric when he had constructed a temple and married a Hindu woman. His bizarreness went berserk when he urged the military to start wearing Indian attire. In his article, he had urged upper class white women to leave heavy corset and embrace the sari. His tomb is constructed in the form of a Hindu temple and the lotus motifs seem odd among overwhelming Gothic cemetery.

These tombs are unique in a sense these were built in the ‘Panchyatana’ manner with a central dome flanked by miniature replicas of Orissan ‘rekha deul’ on four sides.

The loneliness of this cemetery was somehow inescapable. Those tall tombs, big trees, birds chirping and fading light, all of these elements created a peculiar sense of vacuum in heart, which was not sadness but a sense of comforting feeling – with all great deeds, intensity, luxury – in the end, it doesn’t matter.

“From earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rediscover India in 2017 with new passion and reasons to rekindle love

India, the mystic land where wisdom put her first step before it went to other lands. Here, the land whose soil is sanctified with so many great sages of all time. Here, in this land foreigners keep coming from time immemorial for various tangible and intangible wealth. The land stands firm like rock and tall like Himalayas aftershocks of so many invasions. It is the same land where a culture continues to linger after thousands of years. Who will see such a country where cultural colors, heritage and traditions challenge the tightest of logical buffoonery? The aura of India bears witness about her eternal nature, neither a beginning nor end.

India travel overwhelms you for the first time, and it is nearly impossible to travel the whole nation in one go. Many travelers come again and again to rediscover and to understand the essence of it. Sometimes people fall in love in such an intense way they simply can’t leave the country. There are many probable reasons to visit the country, so let’s us find some new ways to rediscover the land.

1. Experience village life to experience unity in diversity

Diversity overwhelms travelers, especially who are absolutely strangers to this land. India is accumulation of myriad ideas, beliefs, social norms, symbols, values and material objects. Culture is the total culmination of all these aspects, so it ought to be complex, and it’s hard to define in a simple way. You have to experience it to understand it. Sometimes, it is enjoyable; many times it is sort of cultural shock.

Although India is the one of the fastest developing nations with massive growth in technology, digitalisation and changing the social habits, the fabrication of this country is essentially spiritual and philosophy, which may seems lost, but it is the foundation of Indian morality. To understand country’s cultural diversity, you need to go deep into the fabrics of Indian life.

I wouldn’t recommend to blindly landing on any village and try to experience it, but with some research, you can find villages in India, which are hospitable and fun to experience it. It is an extraordinary journey to explore the villages in India with natural beauty, culture and tradition to amuse anyone. First ground rule is to understand the unwritten rules of the place, especially villages. Being careful and find a local friend who understands the intricacies of the place. 

As for my experience, villages in mountains are always safe. Also, villages in southern most states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala are quite good to get first-hand experience.

2. Revisit Himalayan wilderness

munshiyari uttarakhand, kumaon india
Munshiyari in Uttarakhand
Himalayas were the first thing that triggered my fascination with traveling. India is extremely fortunate to be guarded with these mighty peaks, but apart from mightiness, these mountains preserve myriad of mysteries that intrigue many intrepid travelers. Whether the stories of faceless, nameless yogis live in the caves of Himalayas, or mysterious skeletal lakes of Roopkund or extremely rare flora and fauna in Himalayas, all of them make it extremely fascinating to visit these mountains at least once. There are many treks, most of them start from April or early May, but if you really want to visit the place in a complete seclusion, you must visit it during winters.

One best part of India is you can get accommodation even in the remotest area of a terrain. And from my own personal experiences, I know for sure, mountain areas, especially North India; places are safe like anything else. I don’t find a single police station or any patrolling guard for miles, but I never faced any difficulty in mountains.

Kashmir is on the other side is a different story altogether. You need to be careful, vigilant and need lots of permission to visit certain places.

For more info on Kashmir read

Ladakh & Kashmir Travel in Monsoon 

3. Volunteering in India

Organic Farming volunteering in Solitude (Auroville)
If you want to pack your philanthropic ideas along with your flip flops, then you should consider volunteer work in India. Helping others, especially in culturally diversified country like India is not just fulfilling, they are also a spectacular way of getting know the country closely.

It is important to accept the culture, however different from your own, plays a pivotal role in doing a volunteer job. You may not experience luxury or things that you are conditioned to enjoy, but there are some magical aspects of it that a true backpacker or traveller can’t just ignore. It is wonderful for self-esteem and confidence; nevertheless, volunteering is not and shouldn’t be a part of escape from your personal suffering.

There are hundreds of option and it’s not easy to pick the right project for your. You should have a cause or thing you are passionate about. For example, animal conservation, rural education, children education, organic farming or community based action project.

4. Experience yoga in Indian retreats

Mayavati Advaita Ashram, Lohaghat (India)
You don’t have to be flexible as a piece of rubber to experience the joy of yoga. Yoga, from Indian context doesn’t need a prequalification but a way of life. It however demands commitment and a penchant for lateral thinking. Yoga in West is popular for its health benefits, a series of exercise that primarily aim to cure physical problems. Although physical aspect of yoga is undoubtedly important, it is just a tiny part of this whole process.

There are many courses, holidays and retreats around the world to choose from but if it’s your first introduction to yoga or you don’t practise much, then a beginner’s getaway would be ideal. You need to decide what you want from the holiday before you start looking; some retreats are quite serious and you are expected to participate in practice at least twice a day, eat vegetarian food and not drink, whereas some specialist tour operators have designed sun and sand holidays with yoga thrown in.

5. Traveling in comfort in India

Laksman Sagar in Rajasthan
When planning a luxury or comfort tour in India, it is difficult where to begin because the country offers some of the best luxury hotels, trains, resorts and restaurants. Whether you want to spend some days in tranquil luxury backwaters in Kerala, or chugging along luxury Palace on Wheels, you can surely travel in comfort and luxury in India. There are many hotels in India that offer some of the best luxury experiences in the world.

Many hotels give you authentic taste in their restaurants, while some also offer attractive packages. If you come for meeting or events, staying in comfort and experience the royal treatment is something that one can look for.

6. Visit the Taj once again

You can truly appreciate the work of genius when you see by yourself. It is not just once, but this iconic monument, a wonder of the world, must deserve multiple visits. From a distance it doesn’t really look real. When you see it closely, you can imagine the work and what a fantastic masterpiece it is! The Persian-inspired garden teems with tourists, but you never find it overcrowded because it is so large.

7. Beautiful forts and palaces of Rajasthan

Ajab Garh in Rajasthan
Rajasthan, a city of royal and a cauldron heritage, is a popular in tourist circuits. There are enough reasons for that popularity. Unless you visit some of these imperial palaces and massive forts, your journey to India is never complete. The state is full of these exotic palaces and forts, some are very popular, some are less, nevertheless not small to be ignored. The biggest sand dunes are in the Western Rajasthan states of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. 

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