Originally posted on The Indian Tourist:

I am very happy today. Saw a beautiful dream last night, that Gaya has been declared as the “UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape”.  This is fantastic and more so, because of the reasons of selection. If I can remember my dream correctly, here are some of the reasons stated.

01. Gaya, an ancient town in Bihar, is a city “frozen” in time. There is an age old ritual at Gaya, of offering “Pind Daan” has been practiced since thousands of years. This ritual in its core connects the current generation with its old generation or its ancestors.

Image

 02. The “Andar Gaya” (the old city core) was a medieval town, made in 1663. It was fortified, with moats around and had four entrance gates. As the folklore goes, all the pandas (the Gayawal priest community) came together to stay in this fortified area. Unlike to the contemporary medieval towns like Shahjhanabad, Hyderabad…

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Originally posted on The Indian Tourist:

It was raining at Ahmedabad in 2005. And surely, it was a lovely rain, as if the rain god had decided to quench the thirst of all its beings. We, a group of young ignited minds, were sitting in a room, engrossed in some ideology discussions of Urban Design at our CEPT boys hostel. Some were bored, some smoked, while some watched the rain outside the window. “Hey guys” a voice came, “Anyone interested for a walk in the rain?” Within a minute the room was empty. That voice was of Anurag Anthony.


Honestly, I had never walked in rain before. I am sure many of those young minds, had watched the rain only from their balcony and windows. Never had any one (even my parents) encouraged me, to get wet by these droplets in open, except for the shower in the bathroom. All of us needed Anurag to help us with this magical experience, as he is…

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Originally posted on The Indian Tourist:

It might sound strange, but does it? I feel Indian Tourism can pick some learning’s from its food. The secret formula is there. The formula of how should the Indian tourism experience, be offered to the world.

Food served in major part of the world is so monotonous, where the first bite and the last bite taste the same (except for the temperature may be). But the Indian Food, it’s different! 

ImageImage

 Let’s observe the images above of a Gujarati Thali and a South Indian Thali, taken for reference. What do we notice? There is rice, roti, different green vegetables, fresh fruits, dal, curd, ghee, pickles, chutney, salt, salad, green chili, lemon, papad, sweet dishes and many more. Some are cooked in steam, while some are fried in oil. I have at times wondered, that why should an Indian meal consist of such a big palette of tastes. Moreover, irrespective…

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Everybody needs a Anurag Anthony !


It was raining at Ahmedabad in 2005. And surely, it was a lovely rain, as if the rain god had decided to quench the thirst of all its beings. We, a group of young ignited minds, were sitting in a room, engrossed in some ideology discussions of Urban Design at our CEPT boys hostel. Some were bored, some smoked, while some watched the rain outside the window. “Hey guys” a voice came, “Anyone interested for a walk in the rain?” Within a minute the room was empty. That voice was of Anurag Anthony.


Honestly, I had never walked in rain before. I am sure many of those young minds, had watched the rain only from their balcony and windows. Never had any one (even my parents) encouraged me, to get wet by these droplets in open, except for the shower in the bathroom. All of us needed Anurag to help us with this magical experience, as he is the one who will always propose an adventure. That gush of air, those cold water droplets was my first interaction with the nature’s shower. Bliss it was !


To explain his identity and qualities better, I wish to quote another incidence. One day I moved into his hostel room, after my siesta. He was sitting in a corner, near the window, engrossed in some paper. “Cigarette hai?” I asked. He pointed to a table, without even caring to raise his head. Allowing him some privacy, I lit a Classic Milds and settled on the bed. Thoughts of how divine are a noon-sleep crept it, and with it came some laziness. I closed my eyes, for that extra rest.  The burn of the cigarette end woke me up. I was amazed to see that Anurag was still engrossed in his paper. My curiosity increased when I realized that he was having a look at a map of roads in India! “Kya hua?” I could not stop asking, “Itne deer se kya dekh raha hai?” He said, “Yaar, sooch raha ho, how much time will it take to travel across all major Indian cities by road? Chalega?” Honestly, was hit by a surprise. But yes, the wheels did roll after some time.


Anurag Anthony is a character, an attitude, who is an instigator, a traveler in core,and a tourist by heart. He is the one who moves the people around him, encouraging them to shed their Laziness and hit the roads. I owe him some of my finest experiences of travelling to lesser known tourist locations. Impetuous one may call, but some tours are better unplanned. Don’t we need such people in our lives, more often?

More so, I believe that India has much more than anyone can formally present. To witness its best, you have to catch it by surprise, under the cover. I remember photographing different colours and styles of men turban, during one such adventurous travel with him. I realised it often that there was so much to see, but alas my Laziness !

I believe, “Laziness” is one of the biggest bottlenecks of tourism and we Indians are among the top in that chart. But we are big followers too ! In the Indian society (may be true for a larger world), I think Anurag would be less than 5% of the population. But they are able to influence at least on an average of 5 people per trip, and 5 trips a year. Now that’s a number ! Why don’t the Travel & tour companies, State tourism boards etc identify these unique target consumer? In my opinion, with Anurag Anthony lies the future of Indian Tourism. 

Therefore, we all need a Anurag Anthony to help us. Lets go and search one, in the crowd for ourselves.

We will be a better tourist, for sure. And the rains/monsoons would have been, never so pleasant !

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Photos from: http://o3.indiatimes.com/, http://www.xbhp.com/ , http://www.iloveindia.com/

Can Lucknow be Paris?


It was an early winter morning in 1858. A British soldier, engrossed in his thoughts, was taking a third lap of his morning walk at Alambagh (outside the city of Lucknow). “Can Lucknow be Paris?” he thought.  He was Robert Napier, the chief of the staff at Lucknow. He had to draw an outline for Lucknow, which would change the city forever !

Somewhere in his mind, maybe he had an influence of an engineer, who had rebuilt Paris – Baron Haussmann. Paris was not always a beautiful city. It was congested and unhygienic. Haussmann was commissioned by Napoleon III, in 1853 to instigate a program of planning reforms in Paris. Sweeping changes were made and the wide “boulevards” were created.

Haussmann’s work destroyed much of the medieval city of Paris. It is estimated that he transformed 60% of Paris’s buildings At one time, one-third of Paris was torn down. His restructuring of Paris gave the city its present form; its long, straight, wide boulevards with café and shops, which determined a new type of urban scenario and had a profound influence on the lives of its people.

One thing lay common in the project brief to both the engineers: Haussmann (Paris, 1853) and Napier (Lucknow, 1858). Both were instructed to make the city more effective for military policing. Under this intend, the wide thoroughfares were to be constructed to facilitate troop movements and prevent easy blocking of streets with barricades. The straightness allowed artillery to fire on rioting crowds and their barricades.

Robert Napier, apart from being a successful soldier, had a big reputation for developing the Ambala Cantonment. The Ambala Cantonment was established in 1843 after the British abandoned its cantonment at Saphera(Patiala), following the malaria epidemic of 1841–42. Napier had been on the vacation to England in the autumn of 1856, and possibly had heard of the Haussmann’s work in Paris, back in England.

 When he arrived at Calcutta in 1857, every British was talking about the mutiny and more so, about the experiences of Lucknow. Napier was sent to Lucknow along with James Outram, the chief commissioner of Oudh, to command the force for the relief of Lucknow. Napier was successful in the siege of the city and had now been assigned to make a “controllable” Lucknow.

The Nawabi city of Lucknow formed the administrative and cultural core of vast, rich hinterland and the centre of its voluminous grain trade. Workshops of artisans, craftsmen, jewellers, bankers and tradesmen sprang up around the court to supply its needs and Lucknow had become the locus for the largest complex of luxury industries in northern India. This city had then narrow lanes and was very populated (about 1,50,000 population). In terms of economy, it was only next to the three port towns of India.

The Nawab of Lucknow had constructed large palace-garden complexes, the major mosques and gateways, the imambaras, the chowk and major markets to form the core of the royal quarter of the city.

 Engrossed in his thoughts, Robert Napier went straight to the drawing board and laid the city map of Lucknow on his table. Was Paris on his mind? Nevertheless, what he did thereafter was similar to what had been done to Paris, five years ago.

Some of the key actions of Napier, which were to change the social and physical fabric of Lucknow forever, were:-  

  • Important buildings were identified and the area around was ruthlessly cleared and the building demolished.
  • The narrow streets of Lucknow made way for 50 meter wide roads. The diagonal streets in the picture above, were drawn on the city map. These broad roads cut through the dense city, razing all construction that came into the way.
  • The main diagonal axis of Lucknow city, from the imambara to the Karbala, was changed. The Karbala was shifted and so was the entire city orientation .
  • The cantonment which was earlier north of river Gomti (3 miles away) was brought closer to the town, in its South Eastern part .

The limelight of Lucknow was shifted to Kanpur, when the British shifted their regional headquarters. To add upon, the new rail line connecting Delhi and Calcutta purposely ignored Lucknow. When it finally came in 1875, it divided the city into an old town and the new town. The new markets around Hajratgunj, were to become the new city center.

While a lot was added in Paris post Hausmann, to become one of the most popular cities in the world, Lucknow lost its grandeur.

The evenings of Lucknow, were never to be the same again !

Source of the Maps and Data:

1. The Making of Colonial Lucknow, 1856-1877 Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press by Veena Talwar Oldenburg .

2. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Napier,_Robert_Cornelis_(DNB00)  

3. Photo: Lucknow IMAMBARA by maneesh_agni (http://www.trekearth.com/)

Revival of our heritage: Lets dream cities !


I am very happy today. Saw a beautiful dream last night, that Gaya has been declared as the “UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape”.  This is fantastic and more so, because of the reasons of selection. If I can remember my dream correctly, here are some of the reasons stated.

01. Gaya, an ancient town in Bihar, is a city “frozen” in time. There is an age old ritual at Gaya, of offering “Pind Daan” has been practiced since thousands of years. This ritual in its core connects the current generation with its old generation or its ancestors.

Image

 02. The “Andar Gaya” (the old city core) was a medieval town, made in 1663. It was fortified, with moats around and had four entrance gates. As the folklore goes, all the pandas (the Gayawal priest community) came together to stay in this fortified area. Unlike to the contemporary medieval towns like Shahjhanabad, Hyderabad, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Jaipur etc, Gaya is a Hindu and non- trade based town.

 

03. Most importantly, all the houses in Andar Gaya have a unique housing typology. They all have three floors. The ground floor for ‘Jajman’, the first floor for ‘Mehman’, the second floor for ‘Pakwan’ and the top floor had a toilet (it could have been a later addition). Interestingly, more than 70% percent of the Built fabric and the structures still remain. Every courtyard, every pillar is the same, in this ancient town.

04. Moreover, it may be it is the earliest example of neighborhood planning (in 1663). Entire Andar Gaya has 14 mohallas (neighbourhoods) and 14 baithaks. These baitaks have a rich legacy of Art & Culture. This is a great example of the sociological heritage of the Gayawal panda Community.

05. The ritual is performed on the Vedies, which could be river, trees, streams, rocks etc. Ancient documentation shows there were more than 300 vedies where pind daan was performed. Today only about 15 are known.

Possibly, some day Gaya is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape. Till then, Lets keep dreaming.

May the dream come true, Amen!

Assets of Indian Tourism: The Trees of HOPE !


“Soch raha houn, ghar angan me, ek lagaoo Aam ka ped, Khatta Khatta, Mettha Mettha, yaani…. tere naam ka pedh”

(Have been thinking, that in the courtyard of my house, I plant a mango tree, that sweet and sour taste, would symbolize ‘you’)

I heard the lines above, some years back, and somehow it just registered in my mind. What is very interesting is that one is trying to correlate his human relationship, with a Tree! When I turn to the Indian philosophy, I find this relationship with Trees is even more intense and is very spiritual?

The Christmas tree is decorated with fruits, nuts, gifts, ornaments and lights around the world. I could not understand its symbolical value and have some questions. Why does the humanity find HOPE and JOY, in a tree? Is it a way to thank the nature for giving us so much, or is there some deeper meaning in this gesture?

I looked around in my courtyard and found some of the Indian HOPE trees, which are surely the assets of Indian Tourism!

a. The Buddhist tree:The first on the list is the Mahabodhi tree, at Bodhgaya.

 This is the tree where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Now, the Tree gets an all together a new supreme dimension. Lord Buddha had many births/ lives in his search of truth of life and amazingly, he could understand ‘enlightenment’ under this Tree. To understand Enlightenment, it’s important to know the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism. The truths are:

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering
  3. The truth of the end of suffering
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering

I am in no capacity, able to address the truths above. But I intend to understand the correlation with the Tree. The very fact, that such a relationship may exist, between enlightenment and the Tree, makes it so important.  

b. The Sufi Tree: One more special tree, I came across is the tree at Matka Pir in New Delhi, near Pragati Maidan.  

Well, Matka pir was a Sufi saint and is today a very popular shrine in Delhi. This  is dedicated to a holy man who answered the prayers of a man and his wife. Now, what should be understand when we see these earthen pots (matkas), filled with dal and jaggery, hung to this Tree of hope? Are these matkas, anything else but Indian hopes and beliefs?

 c. The Hindu trees: Hinduism if I may say, does not tell its meaning directly. Instead, it would make a story around it first. We are expected to search for the moral of the story. There are many close associations with the tree and the Hindu religion. But I would like to choose one ritual of Vat- Savitri puja to understand the relationship. The Hindu women pray to the tree, for the well-being and a longer life of their husbands. One may tie threads or may put some bells, in HOPE, on these trees. This is amazing!

 

 d: The Sikh tree:  Another example of tree representing a larger moral, is the sacred tree in Gurudwara Ber Sahib, Sultanpur Lodhi . It is believed that appreciating the fruit bearing qualities of the tree, Guru Nanak planted the twig near the site of meditation which blossomed into a grand tree and bears fruit even today. It is believed that Guru Nanak Dev gave the message of unity of God, who is beyond the religious divides created by humankind.

What a range of Hope- from enlightenment, to have a baby, to the longer life of one’s husband? I think, these are the Trees of HOPE and BELIEF of Indian culture! Lets take care of them, as they are so symbolic and very very important.