DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A sixty years old photograph

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The photograph alongside is going to be sixty years old in a matter of days. This was taken in 1957 at Shopian in Kashmir. The family, minus one brother, had gone to Kashmir for a vacation to second brother who was posted at Srinagar on a training post.

He is at extreme left and the third brother is between the two parents. He had just done his masters. The sister was celebrating her first summer vacation after being posted as a Lecturer in the MLB College Bhopal – then a girls’ college. And I was yet to complete my masters.

The camera used was Agfa Isolette Record III with the lens power of 4.5. It was kind of a bellow type camera that could take the films of only eight frames. Available with Mahattas of Srinagar then, my brother spent his entire month’s salary of Rs 350/- to buy it leaving my father to pick up the tabs for provisions and things during our stay. The film used was Ektachrome.


Shopian was a quiet picturesque place where we had gone for an outing. It was not like what it is today – a hotbed of militancy. Incidentally, it is Shopian where the newly built Mughal Road hits Kashmir.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Destinations :: Mahabalipuram (1978)

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The Shore Temple
After a few lovely days it was time for us to move and we travelled back to Madurai to catch a train for Madras (now Chennai). Madras was our last station from where we were scheduled to get back to Nagpur.

I recall having taken a package tour of three places viz. Kanchipuram, Pakshiteertham and Mahabalipuram. Kanchipuram is again a temple town known as the “city of a thousand temples”. The huge temples that we visited were
Twin shikharas
intricately carved, with stone sculptures along the columns.. Frankly, I do not remember much about the temples we were taken to. However, what I remember is that some temple minders were preventing the Western tourists from getting close to the sanctum sanctorum. When I asked the the guide about it he simply said that if one sees the map of India he would find it narrow in the south. That, he thought, explained the whole thing.
Temple complex

We went half way up to Pakshitheertham but then turned back. It seemed there were a million steps to climb to go up the hill which looked impossible for us. A temple has been built on top of the hill (one wonders why ancient people chose only tops of hills for erecting temples) where, according to legends, two eagles land every day at 11 AM and they leave after being fed with jaggery and rice. A huge complicated belief supports the legend which
Rock art on a monolith
somehow never appealed to me. The legendary eagles travel across the subcontinent during the day to have breakfast, lunch and dinner at different places that are hundreds of miles apart

Two places included in the package were kind of wash-outs. The third one – a visit to Mahabalipuram was interesting.
Buddhist vihara-type monastery cut out from rock
Mahabalipuram or Mammalapuram is a coastal town about 35 miles from Madras which has its origins in hoary past. It was a busy sea port even during the 1st Century of the Christian era. It became a port city of the Pallava Empire in the 7th Century which used to be ruled from Kanchipuram, then the capital of the empire. Apparently, it was the centre of thriving international trade. Trading and diplomatic
Another example of sculpture on a rock
missions used to be launched from here in the times of the Pallavas.

The place has also been known from Marco Polo’s time as “Seven Pagodas” of which only one survives in the shape of the Shore Temple. Obviously there were seven such temples along the shore which were visible from the sea but time took its toll and six were lost and only one remains. The one that remains is exquisite in its shape and craft. Beautiful figures are etched on the walls of granite
Another shot of the Shore Temple
which was the building material.

As it generally happens, particularly in South India, temples are dedicated to tales from Mahabharata or Shiva and/or Vishnu. What we have in Mahabalipuram are both, rock cuts and structured temples. According to experts this shows a movement from rock-cuts to structured buildings. The Shore Temple is a beautiful tiered structure with eaves hanging out from each tier. The sculpted panels are deteriorating
The temple surrounded by a myriad "nandi" bulls
because of the salt in the air. The most interesting paneling is of several “Nandi” bulls that have been placed on the peripheral wall of the temple. Intrestingly, the 2004 tsunami uncovered a few more remains that had formed part of the temple complex. Among the finds were a few granite lions, an elephant and even a wall that seemingly led into the land.


In 1978 we had found Mahabalipuram a quiet place. On a revisit about ten years ago we found it to be a small township with crowds in a bazaar-like situation. Business in locally made artifacts was seemingly quick and domestic tourism appeared to be flourishing. What stood out was the apparent rise in disposable incomes during the intervening years fostering tourism among common people. Good for the people but, unless managed, bane for tourist sites.

Bhopal Notes :: 47 :: Insane Municipal Corporation

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I have had to come back again to the subject of our Upper Lake that seems like is being killed by the government and its custodian the municipal corporation. A report that appeared in an English language local newspaper talked of how the municipality’s Upper Lake-centric recreational projects are going to prove to be harmful for it.

Subhash Pande, a green activist has expressed concern about various initiatives of the Municipal Corporation in and around the lake that in no way are going to improve the quality of its waters or enhance its life. The Corporation is mostly trying to provide more means of entertainment and relaxation to attract greater numbers of visitors to the Lake side. In fact, if one looks at the plans it would seem that left to the Corporation the Lake would have a ring of places providing entertainment around it. From boating, to food parks, musical fountains and several view-points, all are being planned or are under execution. As it is the Lake has to bear the burden of thousands of visitors every day who assemble at the Boat Club to the detriment of its waters.

While the green activist has dealt with the denial of the authorities to make public the report of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad containing proposals for “wise use” of the wetland, creating again an access for a view point from the VIP road for a view point that was once given up for environmental reasons and the retaining wall that was being raised and was not demolished despite the orders of the chief minister there are other concerns that have somehow been missed.

A mention needs to be made of a news report regarding a multi-crore project of installation of musical fountains and organizing a laser show not far from the Boat Club.  An e-tender was issued for the purpose almost a year back after the laser show at Neelam Park on the Lower Lake had to be discontinued for want of audiences. It was reported that the laser show was making a loss of around six lakhs per annum - not a very big amount, but an enormous waste of financial, material and human resources for creation of the necessary infrastructure for the ill-conceived laser show had already been incurred. An auditorium was built for the purpose which is now lying unused. When the show was not attracting crowds the Corporation officials had remarked that the site for the show was not properly chosen. Had it been located somewhere on the Upper Lake it would have drawn crowds of spectators. They just didn’t realize that a heavy daily dose of shows of whether of laser or dancing fountains wouldn’t attract crowds for long on a daily basis.

That very idea is probably being taken forward and hence the e-tender. A news item today mentioned a new auditorium for 600 people is likely to be built somewhere near the Boat Club for projection of history of Bhopal on a wall of water created on the Lake with the help of a hundred-odd nozzles.

The Corporation seems to have a never-say-die attitude and all the time works on peripheral issues instead of the fundamental ones. In its efforts to please the people by making provision of such means of entertainment instead of trying to do the basic work of providing to them clean, unpolluted drinking water from the Lake. Crores of rupees have been sunk in this kind of effort but it is not concerned about sewage draining into the lake from as many as nine drains without the intervention of treatment plants.

Apparently, there is nobody to check all the ill-conceived projects and profligacy of the Municipal Corporation. Environmental authorities including the Pollution Control Board are mute witnesses to the excesses of the Corporation on the Upper Lake particularly when the Lake is not in a healthy state. And, what the Corporation is doing is to further damage an unhealthy Lake. Experts who used to come to attend workshops in EPCO around ten years ago used to say that collection of large numbers of people on the banks of the Lake was injurious to it. But the Corporation, in collaboration with the local tourism outfit, tried to do just that and that too successfully. Today the situation is so alarming that reports say that parking of vehicles is causing problems at the Boat Club. People in such large numbers come to the Boat Club which is precisely the place where such large numbers of cars are not supposed to be.

In fact, in a similar situation in a western country the authorities there would not have allowed construction of a road like the VIP road that we have or a highway along the lake. According to their environmentalists, even automobile traffic at close proximity to a body of water is harmful for its waters. Here, of course, the VIP Road was a dire need with fast-developing congestion on the conventional road from the airport and once it was built it became a fait accompli – nothing could be done about it regardless of the heavy traffic that plies on it.

Pande has rightly said that the need to address the internal condition of the Lake is urgent. Its waters continue to be polluted by sewage flowing into it despite the orders of the local bench of the National Green Tribunal. Besides the catchments of the Lake have to be taken care of to ensure that farms therein engage in organic farming and constructions there also are kept to the minimum. Likewise, the beds of its feeder streams have to be kept clear of encroachments. All these essential activities are neglected and, strangely, projects are consistently drafted for works that are harmful for the Lake.

The Municipal Corporation seems to have gone insane; there does not seem to be no other word for it.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Narmada Seva Yatra - a con job

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River Narmada flowing through Marble Rocks at Bhedaghat
Religious sentiments are frequently used by political parties in power to garner votes at the polls. This has happened more in BJP regimes than ever before. Hence one witnesses a series of religious festivals that are hyped up and celebrated with fanfare with generous inputs from the government treasury.

Narmada Seva Yatra is one such hyped up campaign supposedly to conserve the highly venerated River Narmada that flows through Madhya Pradesh for a little more than a thousand kilometers of its highly polluted course of more than 1300 kilometres – down to the Arabian Sea on the Gujarat coast. This is claimed to be the world’s biggest campaign of this nature for conservation of a river.

 After holding the Simhast Mela, which is in fact the 12-yearly Kumbh in Ujjain last year, the chief minister probably could not find an issue which he could hype up involving the general public. He seemed to have found Narmada Seva Yatra a good medium to earn encomiums. This is nothing but an attempt at a kind of alchemy of Hindu piety with river conservation.

 Surprisingly, however, the same government did not move even an inch after Anil Madhav Dave, a Member of Parliament of BJP from the state and now Central Minister for Environment, toured up and down the banks of the same river a few years ago and not only briefed the government about what all he found but also wrote a tome on his travels. Narmada – they call it Ma Narmada – is as polluted as any other river in India. It gets industrial effluents as also sewage from the cities and towns on its banks. Snatches of Dave’s report were published in newspapers.

 Time was when it was pristine – but no, such is not the case any longer. And this fact has not been hidden from the government which has been aware of the progressive pollution of the river. One recalls an important minister of the government found dharmashalas in Amarkantak, the town at the source of Narmada, discharging their sewage into the Narmada River. At that time neither this minister nor the government ever thought of saving at least the source of the venerated river from pollution. But now without any seeming provocation the government launched the Seva Yatra to build awareness about the need for its conservation. The intention was perhaps totally different; maybe, to try and remain in public eye and win public approbation for (non-existent) commitment to the Holy River. And hopefully, the approbation might eventually get converted into votes.

That this is a fraud being played out has apparently been missed by the people at large. A look at the “key facts” of the campaign would reveal the campaign’s hollowness. Among the things that are indicated to be done are:
·    
   “All the villages along the river will have Narmada Seva Samitis. These Samitis will take follow-up action on measures to be undertake for its preservation
·    
“  "Trees will be planted along the banks of Narmada. Participation of public and society will be ensured in it. It will cover more than 1900 kms. in 16 districts
·  
"   "'Districts and villages along the banks will have the facility to treat sewage water before it discharge into the river(sic)
·       
    “The yatra holds religious, social and scientific importance of the river to create awareness about its conservation” (whatever that means!).

It has also been stated that the journey of around 118 days will be monitored by a core team of 50 persons. “The yatra will comprise of (sic) workshops and public meetings.”

Various aspects of conservation of the river have been kept delightfully vague. For instance, the Narmada Seva Samitis are expected to take follow-up action on measures to be taken for the river’s “preservation”, but it has not been indicated what those measures are or would be. It has also been indicated that sewage will be discharged into the river after treatment by sewage treatment plants (STPs) but no one knows when this will be done. STPs in the villages and towns on the banks of the river are mostly conspicuous by their absence. No time frame has been indicated about having the STPs up and running. It has conveniently remained unmentioned. The journey stated to be of 118 days down the banks of the river will be monitored by a “core team” of 50 persons but the statement is blank about what the monitoring would be about and who would be included in the team which is supposed to be a “core team” but one does not know of what.  The whole thing does not make any sense, particularly when it emanates from the government.

Of all the things, the biggest omission is the total absence of any mention of sand mining in the river. Narmada is being stripped for years of its sands in a big way and this is what is destroying the river. A report recently had said that even mid-stream sand-mining is being carried out which can severely damage the river’s bed. The mining is so rampant that the courts have had occasions to opine in the matter. The government, however, is procrastinating by talking of inviting experts to come and tell it about the impact of sand mining on the river. The government has departments of water resources and environment working for it which should be aware of the effects of uncontrolled sand mining on rivers. If not that, there is a huge amount of literature available on the subject including a large number of research papers by Indians. And yet, the government has been using the ruse of inviting experts and consulting them.

The fact, however, appears to be the involvement of political biggies in sand mining in Narmada. For a long time a rumour has been floating around in the state about the involvement of chief minister and his family in Narmada sand mining. Recently the Indian National Congress has made a direct allegation against the chief minister about the matter with photographic evidence. It seems his close relatives are indulging in sand mining and probably, hence, the procrastinations. Sand is big money and clamping down on sand mining would hurt his family and others. It would hit the builders’ lobby as well which also distributes big money to politicians and bureaucrats.

Besides, how can one expect this government to conserve Narmada when it has not been able to properly conserve the relatively much smaller sheet of water, viz. Upper Lake in the state capital that serves drinking water to 40% of the city’s populace? Experts of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad who were asked by the government to suggest ways to conserve the Lake submitted their report in 2013 but the same has not seen the light of day so far. When the government and its allied agencies have not shown any interest in conserving the two rivers that feed the lake and a bunch of others that once used to flow through the capital how can it be expected to save Narmada? For want of functioning STPs raw sewage is still flowing into the lake through as many as eight drains. Constructing STPs for all discharges from the towns and villages on the Narmada banks is, therefore, just tall talk signifying nothing.

The Narmada Seva Yatra is, therefore, is not for serving the interests of the Holy River; it is only to hood wink the people. One wonders how Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar have commended it.  It is, to repeat, a fraud that is being played out on the people.

*Photo by Bandana Bagchi

9th February 2017


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Destinations :: Madurai & Kodai Kanal

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Madurai 

Meenakshi temple, Madurai
After taking in the three seas to our heart’s content we were off for Madurai on way to Kodaikanal. About four hours’ bus trip brought us to Madurai, the city of the famed Minakshi temple. On the way we passed Nagarcoil, a town which is practically enclosed in the folds of the Western Ghats – very green and picturesque. Madurai too is a temple town. In the South there are famous temples like in Thanjavur or Trinchinapally or Kanchipuram but along with them there are also numerous other temples revered if not as much as the ones that are famous but are given their due attention and devotion. Apparently, the southern part of the country has Hinduism thriving even today with a large number of ancient temples with living deities, extraordinary temple architecture and beautiful temple sculptures.

Madurai is also a temple-town but Meenakshi Temple is the one that dominates the town. It is also the most ancient, built around a couple of thousand years ago dedicated to Parvati, also known as Meenakshi – the fish-eyed consort of Lord Shiva. The temple is the heart of the city and life in Madurai revolves round it. It is a massive and a very imposing temple and several other religious spaces are widely dispersed in its
Another view of Menakshi temple
complex. The top of the main temple over the sanctum attains the height of more than 160 ft. The temple has as many as 14 what are known as gopurams which, in fact are towered gateways. The one in the South is reported to be the tallest – around 170 ft, taller than even the one on the main temple by a few feet. The exterior walls are heavily worked on with sculpted human figures, which I found rather garishly painted. These occupy the walls on all sides and are reckoned to be 33000 or so in number. They have not left on inch of vacant plain wall.

Kodai Kanal lake
Somewhere around the temple or inside it I remember to have seen the Hall of Thousand Pillars, each pillar having beautifully sculpted sculptures. Instead of a thousand there are in fact 985 pillars. If one were to stand near any one of them one would find some in line with it and others in orderly rows

The temple must have had a lot of gold as it attracted the Muslim raiders from up North. It was sacked in the 14th Century by Malik Kafur an eunuch and also a general with Allauddin Khiljee. The temple was thereafter rebuilt in the 16th Century. Subsequent years and centuries seem to have passed off peacefully as no further damage apparently was done either to the town or to the temple.

Both of us at Kodai Kanal
While coming away from the temple I found my pocket had been picked. I didn’t even get a whiff of it until I looked for my wallet in my hip pocket. It was a strange irony that in a holy place such instances of thievery could take place. People must be chanting holy mantras all through the 24 hours and yet indulge in such evil activities. I eventually took it as a minor aberration. I didn’t have too much of money in it, anyway. So we moved on without bothering to get involved in a police case.

Kodaikanal

We had heard of Kodaikanal as one of the finest hill stations of the country. We had already been to Ooty which was, indeed, very beautiful with hills and meadows as also a lake. However, on a subsequent visit to it with a friend in 2003 we were devastated to find it ruined with crowds, buses and dieselized vehicles emitting pungent smoke from their exhausts. My wife and I could not bear to spend even five minutes on once-beautiful Charing Cross as we were racked by fits of coughing. We instantly decided to turn back to Coimbatore.

Somewhere near Bryant Park
It was around a four hour’s bus journey to Kodaikanal. On the way there was that post office which had got the award of being the best in the country sometime in the 1970s. It was located in Shenbaganur, up on the hills where the post master used to be a English priest from the local church. If I recall it was located at a turn from where the climb on to Western Ghats for Kodaikanal became very steep.

Kodaikanal turned out to be more than 6000 ft. in elevation. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats in the District of Dindigul and has what is known as the sub tropical highland climate. The temperature seldom climbs above 20 degrees during the day or dips below 8 degrees Centigrade at night. It has, therefore a very agreeable climate. Its very name suggests that the place is a “gift of the forests” and probably therefore has exquisite flora in the shape of forest cover with various exotic species and a range of flowering and fruiting trees. The pears grown here are supposed to be of finest variety. Likewise the huge dahlias in Bryant’s Park are a sight to be
Another part of the Lake
seen.

Established in the middle of the 19th Century, Kodaikanal was, again, a discovery by the British who colonized it to get away from the hot and sweaty climate down below in the then Madras Presidency which was mostly infested with mosquitoes. It has lovely walks all around. What is more, there is a lake which, again, is man-made and is a charming place to hang around – quiet and serene as it was. And so was the small township.

 But now, I understand, it is one of the most visited places in Tamil Nadu. The crowds during the tourist season are so thick that the local
Once again, the Kodai Kanal Lake
administration has to call for additional strength of policemen to control traffic and orderly parking. It seems all the good and decent places are being ruined by overload of tourists. This has also happened with the hill stations up North and it is now happening in the South. Tourism of all kinds seems to be proving to be bane for the tourist sites.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Destinations :: Trivandrum & Kanya Kumari (1978)

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Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)

Sree Padmanabh Temple (photo from internet)
Having spent few lovely days in salubrious Ooty we descended down to the Arabian Sea coast. We were not aware that travelling to Trivandrum via Coimbatore would have been easier and cheaper. We had bookings in a train from Bangalore. So we had to come all the way back to Bangalore and lost a day in the process. More than an overnight’s journey later we were in Trivandrum, later renamed Thiruvananthapuram.

A gold chain that is 18 ft. long (Photo from internet)
 The name signifies that the city is the seat of its deity Sri Padmanabhaswamy for whom there is an ancient temple. Thiruvanantpuram means City of Lord Ananta. In fact the capital of the erstwhile Travancore State was Padmanabpuram which is now in the state of Tamil Nadu. The capital was shifted to Thiruvananthpuram in1795 and Padmanabpuram got integrated into Tamil Nadu curiously in 1957 – the same digits as those of 1795.

Kerala landscape as seen from a railway train
The temple seems to be timeless as no information is available about its origin. It has found mention in puranas; its origins are lost in mists of time. It has, however, had the reputation down the ages that it is the richest place of worship anywhere in the world. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu who is shown in the posture of eternal sleep. The fa├žade is golden which has come in for criticism from some Westerners who found it “decadent”. It may be
In one of the Kovalam gazenos
so for modern times but it wasn’t ever considered vile or contemptible by the locals. And that is what matters. Its riches have always been a matter of general discourse.

 The controversy regarding the temple gold occurred much later and from all appearances it still remains unresolved. What, however, is a fact is that the treasure in several vaults of the temple
At Kovalam beach
date back to thousands of years. No one seems to know the value of the treasure as most of them have remained unopened. The vaults that were opened under orders of the Supreme Court yielded enormous amount of gold and jewellery as also hundreds of thousands of gold coins from Roman Empire and elsewhere – all estimated to be worth a trillion dollars. The vaults that are supposed to be holding most of the wealth are yet to be opened and if ever these are opened it
Marvellous sunset at Kanya Kumari
could amount to the biggest recovery of ancient treasures in the world.

Temples like Shri Padmanabhaswami with its golden facade must have been the reasons for circulation of rumours about riches of India. This must have been reason for foreigners to cast evil eyes on the country. No wonder marauders from the West repeatedly attacked the country and sacked temples like Somnath and others. Even now several temples are bursting at their seams with gems, jewellery, gold and currency.
Thiruvanthapuram is supposed to be the largest city in deep south and is a very well laid out place. Having been the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Tranvancore it looks every bit of it. Princely India has left behind its stamp on the towns which happened to be the bases from
where the princes ruled over their respective territories. That is true of Thiruvananthpuram as well though the place is visited more for the Shree Padmanaswami temple and the famed Kovalam beach than for anything else. Ages ago it used to have trading links with the Middle East as also the Roman Empire but signs of them are left more in the vaults of the Shree Padmanaswami temple in the shape of Roman and
Both of us at Kanya Kumari beach
Grecian gold coins. The spice trade that brought wealth to the local maharaja seems to have now shifted to Cochin where there is a more organized spices market.

The other place I remember visiting was the Kovalam beach. What we did was to go to the Kovalam Beach Resort Hotel and sit out in the open for some time and then in a gazebo and enjoyed the breeze and the sea spread out in front. Sitting there we also enjoyed a lot fried prawns which were just delicious.

Cape Comorin or Kanya Kumari

We travelled about a hundred kilometers mostly along the coast to come to Kanya Kumari formerly known as Cape Comorin, the southern tip of the Indian land mass. It was supposed to be a fabled place where the three seas/oceans met. Named after the Devi Kanya Kumari (Parvati) temple, it is a small place but the eateries here dish out fantastic dosas. The nearest town is Nagarcoil which is the district
A wave races down and hits a rock
headquarters – the district having been named after Kanya Kumari.

One has to visit the place only for its sunrises and sunsets. They are just out of this world; the play of early morning light or that of the evening on the waves is fascinating. Cape Comorin has had ancient connections with the Greeks and was at one time a centre that traded with them, Ptolemy is said to have described the place in his treatises identifying it with Gulf of Mannar.

All this apart, Swami Vivekanada visited Kanya Kumari in 1892 and meditated here on a rock far out on the sea for as many as three days. He is stated to have swum to it against the advice of the local fishermen
On the beach
and survived on the rock without any food and water for three days. The place is now immortalized as Vivekanand Memorial and has become a tourist spot.


During our stay we were suddenly overtaken by a storm. From our Kerala House room we could see fishermen far out looking for a catch bobbing
One more seascape
up and down on the turbulent sea in strong winds. They, apparently, are a courageous and tough lot as none seemed to be heading back for the coast. Making a living for them is virtually an everyday struggle.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Destinations :: Mysore & Ooty (1978)

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Mysore

Brindavan Gardens
After spending two pleasant days we moved on to Mysore – now Mysuru. One needs to mention a specialty of the area around Mysore. One sees lots of coconut plantations as one heads for Mysore. At one particular plantation around half way to Mysore the bus came to a halt and the conductor asked us to try the water of the green coconuts of the place. The water was just exquisite indeed – cool, sweet and the quantity of it was enormous. I had till then never tasted such sweet coconut water and in such huge quantities from a single nut. I think I had a somewhat similar green coconut at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur later in 1981. As it was a refrigerated one its water was very cold and also very sweet.

Mysore was nice and green and, unlike Hyderabad and Bangalore, with
In a Mysore garden
no crowd of shoppers. In Mysore the biggest attraction was the gigantic palace of Wadiyars built over several years and occupied in 1912. Though the place is known as the city of palaces yet this is the one that is the centre of attraction. 

Unfortunately, as it was being decked up for Dussehra the place was teeming with workers who were out cleaning the structure. But we did
Mysore Palace (Photo from Internet)
have the opportunity to see the elevated throne of the Maharaja which, we were told, was of solid gold. The steps to the throne with their railings – all were in gold. The sides were richly decorated with engravings with motifs of various flora and fauna. The Wadiyars of Mysore had ruled from 14th Century down to the 20th barring a few decades when the real power slipped out of their hand into those of their commander in-chief Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan.

We took three excursions out of the city – one was to the Chamundi Hills
Nandi Bull on way to Chamundi Hills (Photo from internet)
that overlooks the town. Chamundi Hills has the temple of Chamundeshwary – another name for Durga – the deity seated there has been revered by generations of Maharajas of Mysore. One can get to the Hills by public transport or trudge up the steps that are in hundreds and at places quite steep. On the way one comes across a massive statue of Nandi bull, the vehicle of Lord Shiva that is made of a single piece of black granite. It has embellishments around its neck in the shapes of flowers and what looked like beads.

Brindavan Gardens
Brindavan Gardens was another must-see sight. It was created by the state’s irrigation department alongside a dam on Kaveri River. Sprawled over 75 acres, it is a beautiful place with lrge number of fountains, well laid out flower beds and manicured lawns. At night with the coloured lights playing on the fountains it indeed looked like a dream land. Now it has musical fountains and the arrangements of fountains spewing water accompanied by music must truly be spellbinding. There are two or three more gardens around Brindavan Gardens and they too are pretty extensive but did not seem to have
Brindavan Gardens
fountains.

No report on Mysore can be complete without the mention of Srirangpatna – a town that is only around 20 kilometres away but falls in the neighbouring district of Mandya. Named after Sriranganathaswami temple that dominates the town, it has numerous other temples. The town is, in fact, an island surrounded by River Kaveri and that makes it all the more sacred as Kaveri, like many other rivers in India, is a sacred river. It is an ancient temple town and perhaps the most important Shaivite centre in South India. With
In a Mysore garden
numerous temples one can see their shikharas from afar.

 It was, however, also famous for the reason that Tipu Sultan made it the capital where he lived, ruled, waged war from for expansion of the kingdom, fought his last battle and fell (in 1799). His palace Dariya Daulat Bagh built in 1784 has marvelously painted interiors that depict the wars that he fought. Photography here was not allowed. The Palace today is a museum




Ooty or Ootacamund

We climbed on to an inter-state bus for Ooty that was only 70-odd
Ooty lake
kilometers away on the Nilgiri Hills which are, in fact, a part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range running from south of the Tapti River in Gujarat for around 1600 kilometres down to its junction with the Eastern Ghats. The Nilgiri Hills do look blue from a distance – as probably every hill does. But it is not that because of which these Hills are called “Nil” meaning blue hills. Here a particular plant native to these Hills blooms once in twelve years. The flower is called Kurunji and is light blue in colour. When it blooms the entire range gets that hue and looks blue from a distance.

At the Botanical Garden
As the road climbed the Western Ghats I could see huge tracts under eucalyptus plantations. Obviously the natural forests had been clear-felled to convert the area into plantations. The road passes through the Bandipur National Park and naturally we were asked to watch out for game.  Sharpening our attention on the road we did not have to wait for too long. The bus came to a halt and ahead in front of it was a lone tusker right on the middle of the road. There was no alternative but to wait for it to decide to move away which it did after a few minutes.

Ooty or Ootacamund or the new name Udhagamangalam is the
Greenery all around
headquarters of the eponymously named district. It has been a famous hill station one doesn’t know for how long. In the process of development of the place its natives, the Todas got displaced. Ooty enjoys a beautiful salubrious climate where the temperature seldom crosses 25 degrees centigrade and minimum could touch zero at some places. The British apparently loved the place and they have left their legacy in the shape of the narrow gauge Nilgiris Mountain Railway - a World Heritage now - that connects the place with Metupallayam in the
In the Botanical Garden
south, the Ooty club - the birthplace of snooker - and an extensive and beautifully landscaped Botanical Garden.

As we moved around we came across other legacies like Charing Cross, the name having been transplanted directly from London. lovely wayside tea houses where tables and chairs were spread out on the pavements with only Nilgiri teas being served. Sitting there sipping delectable Nilgiri tea and watching the passing humanity was a surreal experience. The nearby Botanical Garden was not only a place of beauty with its green background of
Wayside bench to rest the feet
steep hills, it has collected within its fold numerous precious species of flora. Its extensive green lawns with magically bent branches of huge ancient trees made one wonder at natural mechanics. The garden was indeed spellbinding. Likewise, there was the exceptionally charming cricket ground. Though small in dimensions it was remarkably beautiful, closely surrounded by green hills as it was.


As every hill station tries to nurture a lake. If Nature has not been gracious enough to provide one, humans try their best to create one artificially. Ooty too has a lake well within the limits of the town and it is an artificial one, created by damming the mountain streams. It is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon in the midst of natural splendor with a decent spread of water.