Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dwarka - the Lost Atlantis

Atlantis of India

The western most of Adi Shankaracharya's Four Dhams

Some time ago, my mother wanted me to take her to Dwarka, the last of the Four Dhams of Adi Shankaracharya (we had already visited the other three).
The fact is she loved to travel.
I also love to travel.
And there were many other places to see around Dwarka.
So we landed in Dwarka.
The story of Atlantis flashed through my mind.

The Lost Isle of Atlantis

Plato first mentioned ‘Atlantis’ in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias writtenin 360 B.C.
For unknown reasons, Plato never completed Critias.
According to Plato, “Atlantis, lying “beyond the pillars of Heracles”, was a naval power that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9,500 B.C.
After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean “in a single day and night of misfortune”.

Scientists and researchers agree that there was no such island as Atlantis.
Atlantis was a piece of sheer imagination.

But the ancient Dwarka has far too many similarities to the imaginary Atlantis.
This cannot be pure coincidence.
Dwarka is about 4000 years old. Plato wrote about Atlantis only around 360 B.C., that is, much later.
I think the only plausible explanation for the striking similarities is that Plato heard about Dwarka and based his imaginary Atlantis on Dwarka.


The present day Dwarka is a city in Gujarat state in Western India.
The name Dwarka has come from the Sanskrit word “Dwar” meaning door.
Once upon a time, if you were coming from the West, Dwarka was the gate way to India.
Today, Hindus regard it as a gateway to Heaven.

The legendary city of Dwarka was the dwelling place of Lord Krishna.
It is believed that due to damage and destruction by the sea, Dwarka submerged under the sea six times; and the modern day Dwarka is the seventh city to be built in the area.

The Dwarkadhish Temple

Dwarkadhish (from Dwarka and Dhish) means Lord of Dwarka.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna.
The city is believed to have been built by Vishwakarma, the celestial architect.
And the ancient temple was built by Sambha, the grandson of Lord Krishna.

The present temple built around the 16th century has a five storey tower.
It is made of limestone and sand.
The structure of the temple is quite complicated.

A 24 metres (84 ft.) long, multicolored flag, decorated with the symbols of the sun and moon, is hoisted on the temple tower every day.
It majestically flitters in the air welcoming the pilgrims.

The temple has two gateways:
· Swarg Dwar (Door to Heaven), through which pilgrims enter, and
· Moksha Dwar (Door to Salvation), through which the pilgrims exit. From the temple, one can see the sangam (confluence) of Gomati River and the Arabian Sea.

Bet Dwarka

The Bet Dwarka temple is built like a palace.
It is believed that Lord Krishna had ruled from here.
An idol similar to the one in Dwarka is kept in Bet Dwarka temple also.
Bet Dwarka can be reached by a short boat ride.


Dwarka is mentioned in the Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, Skanda Purana, Vishnu Purana and other ancient scriptures.
According to mythology, Lord Krishna killed Kansa (his maternal uncle) and made Ugrasen (his maternal grandfather) the king of Mathura.
Enraged by this, Jarasandha (King of Magadha), the father-in-law of Kansa, and his friend Kalayavan, attacked Mathura 17 times.

For the safety of his people, Lord Krishna renounced war (hence Krishna is also known by the name Ranchod - meaning one who has left the battle field).
He and the Yadavas decided to shift the capital from Mathura to Dwarka.
They reclaimed land from the sea on the banks of Gomati River and built a well planned city organized into six sectors, residential and commercial zones, wide roads, plazas, palaces and many public utilities.Dwarka also had a good and prosperous harbour.

After Krishna left for his heavenly abode, the major Yadava heads fought among themselves and killed each other.
Arjuna went to Dwarka to bring Krishna’s grandsons and the Yadava women to Hastinapur. After Arjuna left, Dwarka was submerged in the sea.

This is how Arjuna has described the event in the Mahabharata:
"The sea, which had been beating against the shores, suddenly broke the boundary that was imposed on it by nature. The sea rushed into the city. It coursed through the streets of the beautiful city. The sea covered up everything in the city. I saw the beautiful buildings becoming submerged one by one. In a matter of a few moments it was all over. The sea had now become as placid as a lake. There was no trace of the city. Dwaraka was just a name; just a memory."

The incident is described in the Vishnu Purana in much the same manner:
"On the same day that Krishna departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali Age descended. The oceans rose and submerged the whole of Dwaraka."

Atlantis was also wiped out like this!

Archeological Evidence

The search for the mythological Dwarka has been going on since the 1930’s.
The Marine Archeology Unit (MAU) of the National Institute of Oceanography, Government of India started the search for Dwarka in the coastal waters of Dwarka in 1983.
Underwater explorations between 1983 and 1990 revealed the remains of a well-fortified township.
The foundation of boulders on which the city’s walls were erected proved that the land was reclaimed from the sea.
The general layout of the submerged city discovered by Marine Archeology Unit matched the description of Dwarka in the ancient texts.
Further excavations continued till 1994.

Murli Manohar Joshi, then HRD minister claimed that the ruins were 9,500 years old and would lead to a rewriting of world history, crowning a Hindu India as the cradle of civilisation over the claims of Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus valley.
The old Dwarka does not appear to be that old.
Scientists estimate the date to be around 2280 B.C.

Scientists have recently discovered a circular wooden structure under the water at a near-shore excavation site off the coast of Jamnagar.
They believe this to be a part of the remains of the lost city of ancient Dwarka.
The wooden structure is well preserved and surrounded by another structure made of stone blocks.
Wood can be more scientifically carbon dated and may help the scientists determine the exact date.

No doubt, influenced by the Tsunami of 2004, a group of ocean scientists have suggested that the ancient city of Dwarka could have been destroyed by a tsunami about 3,000 years ago.

World’s First Underwater Museum

The Marine Archeology Unit submitted an exciting proposal for setting up an underwater museum at Dwarka.
The proposal envisages an acrylic tube on the bottom of the sea through which visitors can view the ruins of the ancient Dwarka.
I have seen such tubes even in Bangkok.

The Government of Gujarat and their Travel & Tourism Department have been working (sleeping would be a better term) on the proposal for over two decades.
This is a unique opportunity to create something unique.
It will attract a lot of tourists.
The work can be outsourced to an international bidder.
This will solve the problem of funding and maintenance.
When completed, it will be the world’s first under water museum.

Reaching There

The nearest airports from Dwarka are:
Jamnagar - 121 Kms.
Rajkot - 225 Kms.
Ahmedabad - 375 Kms.
There are a number of daily flights from Mumbai and other cities.


Visit the real Atlantis, in India itself.
You can also visit lions of India in Gir Forests and the Somnath Temple.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Haldi (Turmeric)

Spices of India
The oldest spice known to us

If you visit tourist places in Goa and Kerala, you can visit spice gardens.Some plantation owners have improvised their spice gardens into tourist attractions.You can see a variety of plants where different spices come from.The guide will answer your questions and clarify your doubts.Your host will serve you authentic local meals in virgin surroundings and arrange a traditional dance.


We Indians use a lot of spices in their daily food.But most of us do not know where the spices come from.Someone suggested that I should write about the spices in my blog.So here we go.

This one on Haldi (Turmeric) is another in a series on Spices of India.Haldi is the only spice which is produced almost entirely in India.Indians consume 80% and export the remaining 20%.

Origin of the Name

The English name for Haldi is Turmeric - often misspelled Tumeric.The scientific name is Curcuma longa.It is also known as Kunyit in some Asian countries.What is Haldi The Haldi plant is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family Zingiberaceae, native to tropical South Asia.

Haldi rhizomes (root) is similar in appearance to ginger root. But when it is peeled, it is bright yellow in color. The rhizomes are boiled for several hours in fresh water and then dried in the sun or in hot ovens at about 60 degrees celsius.Then they are ground into the deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice.

Cultivation and Harvesting

The Haldi plant grows in the plains of India in temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees C. with a good annual rainfall of 1500 mm or more per annum.
The plants mature between 7 and 9 months. The mature plants are gathered for their rhizomes. Some of the rhizomes are used for re-seeding in the following year.

Culinary Uses

Haldi has a bitter, peppery flavour with a mustard smell.It is extensively used in Indian cooking, in curries, in rice and vegetable preparations.
Traditionally, our grandmothers used to grind dried Haldi roots with mortar and pestle.But now, it is available and mostly used in powdered form.It is often used in place of saffron for its saffron like color.

Medicinal Uses

Haldi is antiseptic and anti inflammatory.Haldi paste is the common home remedy for cuts, bruises, burns and inflammation.
Haldi has antibacterial properties.Its active ingredient curcumin has anti-tumoral (anti-cancer) properties.It also helps cure arthritis and psoriasis.Research about its medical properties is going on in different laboratories.


Haldi is also a strong anti allergic. It is used in a large number of cosmetic creams.
Haldi paste is applied to bride and groom before marriage in several parts of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.It is believed that Haldi gives a glow to the skin and kills the harmful bacteria on the skin.


In spite of its rich colour, Haldi cannot be used as a fabric dye because its colour is not very lightfast. It fades on exposure to light. Even then, Indian women use Haldi to dye their saris. This may be because of its medicinal properties.


Haldi is also used to deter ants. We do not know how Haldi repels ants, but it works.


Haldi is probably the oldest spice known to us.Its use dates back to the Vedic period, or nearly 4000 years.Haldi is sometimes called ‘Indian saffron’ because of its brilliant yellow color. Indian Haldi is the best in the world.It may give us a cure for cancer, arthritis and psoriasis.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jagannath Puri or Puri

World Famous Ratha Yatra

Jagannath Puri, or simply Puri, is one of Adi Shankaracharya’s Char Dhams (or Four Places of Pilgrimage) located in the four corners of India.
The other three are: Badrinath in the North (Himalayas); Dwarka in the West; and Rameshwaram in the South.

Badrinath is located amidst the snowy peaks of the Himalayas.
The other three are located on the shores of the seas around India.
Jagannath Puri is world famous for its unique Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession).
Ratha Yatras, on a smaller scale, are simultaneously organised in several parts of India and even abroad.
Fairs and melas are organised during the nine day festivities.
In Kolkata (Calcutta), the fairs attract shops selling plant and pets.
When I was small, I loved to go to these fairs and purchase a few plants and pets.
As a result, I have kept such unconventional pets as lizards, scorpions, snakes, python, deer and peacocks.
And all this was possible only because my parents never objected or protested.
I don’t remember ever being reprimanded for my pets and plants.
They heroically suffered the less than normal whimsical fancies of their little son.

Origin of the Word Jagannath
The word Jagannath comes from two Sanskrit words Jagat (meaning universe) and Nath (meaning master).
Jagannath, meaning Master of the Universe, is another name for Lord Krishna.
The most famous and oldest Jagannath temple in India is in Puri, Orissa.
Because of this temple, Puri is also known as Jagannath Puri.


There are two mythological stories relating to the deity.
Lord Krishna appeared to his great devotee, King Indradyumna and ordered him to get his deity carved out of a log he would find washed out on the sea shore.
King Indradyumna duly recovered the log and found a mysterious old Brahmin carpenter willing to carve the deity.

The carpenter insisted that under no circumstance, he should be disturbed while he was carving the deity.
The king anxiously waited outside his room.
When all sound stopped, King Indradyumna could not restrain himself any longer.
He opened the door and entered the room.
He found the deity half-finished and the carpenter gone.
King Indradyumna was very upset because the deity had no arms and legs.

Ultimately, Narada Muni appeared and explained that the carpenter was Vishvakarma, the heavenly sculptor of the Gods; and the form of Lord Krishna, the king saw, was one of the forms of Lord Krishna.
According to the second story, the gopis (maids) were talking about the pranks of Krishna, and about their love for him.
The gopis had instructed Subhadra (Krishna’s sister) to keep watch and warn them if Krishna came.
But after some time, Subhadra became completely engrossed in the conversation.She did not notice Krishna and his brother Balaram approaching.
The two brothers listened to the gopis’ talk.
Their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in joy.
That is why Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra look the way they do.

The Temple of Lord Jagannath

There is some disagreement amongst experts about the exact period of construction of the present temple.
Construction of the present temple was started in the 12th century A.D. by King Ananta Burman Chodaganga Deva, founder of the Ganga dynasty in Orissa.
But he could not complete it during his lifetime.
The construction was completed by his successor Ananga Bhima Deva III.

The temple is built in the Kalinga style of architecture.
It consists of a tall shikhara (dome) housing the sanctum sanctorum (garba griha) where the deity is placed.
A pillar of fossilized wood is used for placing lamps as offering.
Singhadwara (lion gate), guarded by two guardian deities, Jaya and Vijayais, is the main gate to the temple.
A memorial column, brought here by the Raja of Khurda from the Sun Temple of Konarak, known as Aruna Stambha, faces the main gate.
The three deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balaram) and Subhadra are worshipped inside the temple.
Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.
Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter the temple.
More recently, a Thai princess was not allowed to enter the temple.

But once a year, during the rainy season, usually in June or July, the deities are brought out in one of the most clourful processions any where in the world.
Ratha Yatra
This festival is known as Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession).
The three deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out on three separate richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, through the streets of Puri so that everyone can see them.
The largest chariot is that of Jagannath - 45 feet high and 35 feet square.
It is supported on 16 wheels with a diameter of 7 feet.
New chariots are built every year.
The Rathas (Chariots) are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who come to attend the festivities.
It is considered a privilege to pull the Ratha.
The King of Puri takes part in the procession.
He sweeps the path in front of Jagannath’s chariot.
The Ratha Yatra commemorates Lord Krishna’s return to his home in Vrindavan after killing Kansa.
Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balaram) and Subhadra are taken to their aunt’s temple (Gundicha Mandir) - a distance of 2 km from the temple.
The deity remain on their chariots for the night.
In the morning, they are installed in the Gundicha Mandir.
They remain there for seven days.
On the ninth day, they are placed back on their chariots and return to their temple.
By this time, most of the pilgrims would have gone back.
Labourers have to be hired to pull the Rathas.

What to see

Puri is an important town of Orissa.
It is famous for the Jagannath temple.
Its sprawling wide beaches, fishing farms and the superb resorts make Puri a major holiday destination of Eastern India.

Visit the exotic sea beaches.
Swim in the sea.
Watch the fishermen catch their fish.
Puri belongs to the Golden Triangle Circuit of Orissa covering Bhubaneswar, Konarak and Gopalpur-on-Sea.
You can visit these places as well.
Incidentally, the English word ‘juggernaut’ owes its origin to these huge chariots.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hing (asafetida)

Spices of India

If you visit tourist places in Goa and Kerala, you can visit spice gardens.

Some plantation owners have improvised their spice gardens into tourist attractions.
You can see a variety of plants where different spices come from.
The guide will answer your questions and clarify your doubts.
Your host will serve you authentic local meals in virgin surroundings and arrange a traditional dance.


Indians use a lot of spices in their daily food.
But most do not know where the spices come from.

While writing this blog, I had a visitor.
She asked me what I was doing.
I told her I was working on an article on ‘Hing’.
She said it was used for cooking and how I could write an article on cooking.
I asked her what was Hing.
She said it was a stone.
I told her I was writing the article for misinformed persons like her.

Actually, someone suggested that I should write about the spices in my blog.
So here we go.
This is the first of a series…..on Hing or Asafoetida.

Origin of the Name

The English and scientific name for Hing is Asafoetida.
This name is derived from the Persian ‘aza’ (for resin), and the Latin ‘foetidus’ (for stinking).

Its pungent odour has earned it a lot of bad names.
It has been equated with Devil’s Dung or Shit.
It is called Teufelsdreck (literally meaning Devil’s Dung) in German.
In French, it is Merde du Diable (Devil’s Shit).
In Swedish, it is Dyvelsträck,
In Dutch, Duivelsdrek.
In Afrikaans, Duiwelsdrek.
In Finnish, Pirunpaska or Pirunpihka.
In Turkish, it is known as Şeytantersi, Şeytan bökösu or Şeytanotu (the Devil's Herb).

In North India, it is called Hing or Heeng.
The following list gives its name in different languages of India:
Hindi: Hing
Bengali: Hing
Gujarati: Hing
Kannada: Hinger
Kashmiri: Yang, Sap
Malayalam: Kaayam
Marathi: Hing
Oriya: Hengu
Punjabi: Hing
Sanskrit: Badhika, Agudagandhu
Tamil: Perungayam
Telugu: Inguva, Ingumo Urdu: Hing

What is Hing

Asafoetida is a species of Ferula plant which is native to Iran.
Hing is the resin like gum which comes from the dried sap extracted from the lower stem and roots of the plant.
The resin is grayish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. The resin is difficult to grate.

It is traditionally ground between stones or in mechanical grinders.

It is rarely used in its pure form.
What is generally used is compounded or 'bandhani' asafetida - a powder containing 30% asafetida resin, rice flour (or some other form of starch) and gum arabic.

Cultivation and Harvest

The plant is grown in Iran (the country of its origin), Afghanistan and in Kashmir in India.
It is a herbaceous perennial plant of the carrot family and grows to a height of 3.6 metres.
The plant has stout, hollow, somewhat succulent stems, 5 - 8 cms. in diameter at the base of the plant.
The leaves are 30 - 40 cms. long, tripinnate or even more finely divided, with a stout basal sheath clasping the stem.
The flowers are yellow, produced in large compound umbels.

The resin can be extracted after the plant is about four years old.
The older the plant, the more resin it produces.
The time to start harvesting the resin from the succulent stem and the root is just before flowering, in the months of March / April.

An incision is made in the upper part of the root / lower part of the stem and the exuding gum / latex is collected.
Several incisions can be made in the root / stem till there is no more oozing of gum.
This process can continue up to three months.
A single plant can yield up to 1 kilogram of resin.

Medicinal Uses

Hing helps digestion and reduces flatulence.
A pinch of Hing gulped down with buttermilk or lukewarm water gives immediate relief from gas.
It is therefore added in dals and vegetables to redce flatulence.
Taken in excess, it can cause loose motions.

It helps in asthma and bronchitis.
A concoction of Hing in alcohol applied to a child’s neck can cure colds.
The same concoction applied on a child’s stomach is believed to help digestion.
Hing taken with butter milk enhances and improves the voice.
It is also a strong preservative.

Culinary uses

The odor of Hing is so strong that it must be stored in airtight containers, otherwise its aroma will penetrate and contaminate the aroma of all other spices stored nearby.
Its odour and flavor become much milder and more pleasant on heating in oil or ghee and acquire those of sautéed onion and garlic.
For this reason, vegetarian Hindus and Jains, who do not eat onions and garlic use Hing.

Hing is added to lentil (dal) and vegetable preparations.
It is also used in food as a condiment and in pickles, relishes/chutneys and papads.


I am sure Hing must be an integral part of your food.
This article will tell you more about this spice.

Gone are the days when Kabuliwalas used to bring Hing from Afganisthan and other places.
Now Indian manufacturers import the resin, make it into the compounded form also known as ‘bandhani hing’ and export it.

The wonderful thing about Hing is that a pinch is sufficient for a food preparation for four persons.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kaziranga National Park

Home of the Indian, or Great
One horned, Rhinoceros
(Rhinoceros unicornis)

It was midsummer time.
The grass was sparse.
We were travelling in a jeep because all the elephants were already booked.
We sighted the first Rhinoceros.
It was a magnificent male.
He looked more like an armoured tank, or a fossil age left over, rather than a living mammal of the present era.
He looked up at us and smiled (but honestly speaking, I am not too sure), as we passed him and continued munching grass.
We were inside the fabulous Kaziranga National Park - a national park in Assam, India.
Kaziranga National Park has two-thirds of the world’s One horned Rhinoceros.
It’s also a World Heritage Site.
It has also been recognised as an Important Bird Area by the Birdlife International for conservation of avifaunal species.

Lady Curzon and the Rhinoceros
And then I suddenly remembered the beautiful Lady Curzon.
You may wonder how Lady Curzon can possibly be associated with Rhinoceros.

She is the fairy God Mother of the rhinoceros of Kaziranga.
In fact, she is the fairy God Mother of Kaziranga National Park itself.
In 1904, Lady Mary Victoria Curzon, wife of Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, heard about the rhinoceros in Kaziranga from her British tea planter friends in Assam.
She visited the area.
But all she could see were some foot prints of the three toed animals.
She persuaded Lord Curzon to do something to protect them.

On June 1, 1905, the Government issued a preliminary notification announcing its intention to declare certain areas of Kaziranga a reserved forest.
On January 3, 1908, the Government declared 232 sq. kms. (90 sq. miles) a reserved forest, and officially closed it for shooting.

Over the next three years, the area was extended by 152 sq. kms. (59 sq. miles) upto the banks of the Brahmaputra River.
On January 28, 1913, the area of the reserved forest was expanded by another 13,506 acres.
In 1916, it was converted into a game sanctuary - The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary.

In 1950, P.D. Stracey, senior conservator of forests, changed the term ‘Game Sanctuary’ to ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’ because the word ‘game’ connotes animals for hunting.

On February 11, 1974, the Government of India declared the 430 sq. kms. (166 sq. miles) Wildlife Sanctuary a National Park, and changed its name to Kaziranga National Park.

Kaziranga National Park celebrated its centenary in June 2005.
The Government invited some of the descendants of Curzon on the occasion.
A fitting tribute to Lady Curzon!
Different Species of Rhinos

There are five species of Rhinoceros in the world.
Two of these are native to Africa and three to southern Asia.
All the three species found in Asia - Javan, Sumatran and the Indian, or Great One horned Rhinoceros are critically endangered.
The rhinoceros family is characterised by its large size (one of the few remaining megafauna alive today).
All the species reach one ton or more in weight.
They are herbivorous.
They have protective skin, 1.5 - 5 cm thick, formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure.
The skin has been used to cover shields.
But they have relatively small brains.

Rhinoceros also have acute sense of hearing and smell, but poor eyesight.
Most live to about 60 years or more.
They appear to be slow.
But they can charge at speeds exceeding 40 miles per hour (the speed of a race horse).

The two African species and the Sumatran species have two horns, while the Indian and Javan species have a single horn.

Indian Rhinoceros
A few centuries ago, the Indian, or Great One horned, Rhinoceros were found across the north Indian plains in the wetlands of Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers.
The Mughal Emperors even hunted them.

Today, they are found only in small areas of the north eastern state of Assam and in neighbouring Nepal.
In Assam, their habitat is limited to two national parks - Kaziranga and Manas.
They are considered endangered, with less than 2500 individuals remaining in the wild.
The Horn - is it an aphrodiasac ?

The rhino’s horn is considered to be an aphrodiasac.
The price of a rhino horn in India is anything between Rs. 4 to 7 lakhs.
In the International market, the value is at least three times this amount.
This leads to poaching.
But from the medical point of view, the horns of a rhinoceros are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes hair and fingernails, and have no medicinal or aphrodiasic value.

Other animals
Kaziranga has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006.
Kaziranga also has large breeding populations of elephants, water buffalo and swamp deer.
There are plenty of other animals, like Indian bison, swamp deer, sambhar, hog deer, sloth bear, leopard, pig, leopard cat, jungle cat, hog badger, capped langur, gibbon, jackal and porcupine.

There are plenty of snakes including the python, king cobra, and a variety of lizards.
It is a bird watcher’s paradise with birds like the pelican, duck, geese, hornbill, ibis, cormorant, egret, heron, black necked stork, lesser adjutants, ring-tailed fishing eagles, etc.

There are fresh water dolphins in the rivers around.


Kaziranga has vast expanses of tall elephant grass, marshland and dense tropical forests crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and numerous small bodies of shallow water.
Reaching there

The nearest airports are Guwahati 239 kms. and Jorhat 97 kms.
From these places, you can travel by car, taxi or public transport.

Success at Kaziranga and the dangers

Kaziranga is considered the flag bearer of all the wildlife conservation efforts across the globe.
But there are a number of dangers.
Poaching is the biggest threat.
At least 27 rhinos were killed in 2007.

Floods caused by over flowing of the Brahmaputra River during the rainy season have often proved disastrous.

The Government is trying to relocate more rhinoceros and elephants to Manas National Park.
You can visit the rhinoceros any time during the year except during the rainy season.
It’s a thrilling experience to watch from close range the armoured tank like creatures who have the strength to attack and overturn a vehicle.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bandhavgarh National Park

Land of the White Tiger

Have you ever wondered where white tigers come from?

Almost all of them, the world over, owe their origin to the forests around Bandhavgarh.
And they are the progeny of a single male white tiger - Mohan who was captured there in 1951.

Bandhavgarh Forests and National Park

The forests around Bandhavgarh (in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in central India) were the Shikargah, or private game preserve, of the Maharajahs of Rewa.
Only the Maharajahs and their guests could hunt there.
Poachers were severely punished.

The forests contained unbelievably large number of animals.
Just to visualize the enormity - it was considered auspicious for a Maharajah to shoot at least 109 Tigers.
His Highness Maharajah Venkat Raman Singh shot 111 tigers by 1914.

After independence and abolition of the Maharaja’s rule, there was too much uncontrolled poaching in the forest.
In 1968, the Maharaja of Rewa handed over the forest to the Government of India for creation of the Bhandavgarh National Park.
In 1968, Bandhavgarh was declared a National Park.
Originally, it had an area of only 105.40 sq. kms. with 25 tigers.
In, 1986, the area was increased to 437 sq. kms.
Bandhavgarh was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1993.

White tigers

White tigers have been found in the old state of Rewa (and other parts of India) from time to time.
These white tigers are not albinos.
They are ordinary tigers (Panthera tigris) with a genetic condition that eliminates most of the pigment in the normally orange fur - although the tigers still retain the dark stripes.
Compared to the normal orange tigers, white tigers are larger in size, both at birth and when they become adults.


Mohan is the father of the progeny of white tigers of Rewa.
(Another breed of white tigers has originated in Orissa.
A few other white tigers have been born in some other places of India.)

Mohan was captured as a cub in 1951 by Maharaja Shri Martand Singh of Rewa, whose hunting party found a tigress in Bandhavgarh with four 9 month old cubs, one of which was white.
They shot all the tigers, except the white cub.
After shooting a white tiger in 1948, Maharaja Martand Singh had resolved to capture a live one, as his father had done in 1915, at the next opportunity.
The previous Maharaja had kept the white tiger, an unusually large male, in captivity from 1915 to 1920.
After its death in 1920, the Maharaja had it mounted and presented it to King George V.
The mounted white tiger is now on display in the British Museum.

Maharaja Martand Singh named the white cub Mohan (meaning enchanter), one of the many names of the Hindu God Krishna.
Successive selective breeding produced a progeny of white tigers.White tigers are considered a celebrity and Prime Ministers have often christened them.
Mohan is dead.
His stuffed body is on display in the palace of the Maharajah of Rewa.

Animals in the Sanctuary

Bandhavgarh National Park is like a bowl surrounded by the Vindhya Mountains.
A series of ridges run through it.
Its plains have a number of grass and reed covered wetlands where you can see plenty of resident and migratory birds.

The Park has 32 picturesque, wooded hills, where you can see plenty of animals.
The principal animal is the majestic tiger.
The chances of sighting one are quite good because the density of the tiger population here is the highest in India.

There are more than 25 species of other animals, including leopard, gaur, sambar, chausingha, nilgai, chinkara, spotted deer, sloth bear, wild pig, striped hyena, jackal, fox, dhole, ratel, small Indian civet, jungle cat, palm squirrel, grey mongoose, lesser bandicoot rat, langurs and rhesus macaque.

Jungle Safaris

There are two ways of travelling inside the park - in a motor vehicle or on elephant back. Although most of the animals are accustomed to both - while inside the forest, speak softly and do not make rapid, jerky, movements.

Jeep safaris should be taken either in the morning from dawn to about 10 am or from about 4 pm till dusk, because the animals are most active during these periods.
A forest Department guide will always accompany you to direct you towards wildlife.

Elephants belonging to the Forest Department take visitors every morning for tiger tracking.If a tiger is sighted, the elephant will take you directly to the tiger.

Birds and Reptiles

There are more than 250 species of birds including little grebe, egret, lesser adjutant, sarus crane, black ibis, lesser whistling teal, white-eyed buzzard, black kite, crested serpent eagle, black vulture, Egyptian vulture, common peafowl, red jungle fowl, dove, parakeet, kingfishers and Indian roller.

There are a variety of snakes - cobra, krait, viper, rat snake and python, There are also a number of species of lizards and turtles.


The vegetation consists of Sal forests and Bamboo.
Stretches of grasslands stretch to the north.
Mixed forests are found in the higher slopes of the hills.
There are patches of wet lands, too.

Places to see

Bandhavgarh Fort

The historic Bandhavgarh Fort commands a bird’s eye view of the entire National Park.
There are no authentic records to show when it was built.
There are references to it in ancient texts, like the Siva Puran.

The Fort is believed to be over 2000 years old.
Various dynasties have ruled from the fort.
For example, the Mauryans ruled from 3rd century B.C., Vakataka rulers from 3rd to 5th century, the Sengars from 5th century and the Kalachuris from the 10th century.
In the 13th century, the Baghels took over, ruling from Bandhavgarh until 1617, when Maharaja Vikramditya Singh moved his capital to Rewa. T
he last inhabitants of the Fort left it in1935.

The Caves

There are 39 caves in the Bandhavgarh Fort and in the surrounding hillocks in a radius of about 5 kms.
The oldest cave dates back to about 1st century.
Several caves carry inscriptions in Brahmi script.
Badi Gufa, the largest cave, has a broad entrance, nine small rooms and several pillars.
It has been dated back to the 10th century.
The cave appears to be primitive, lacking the usual elaborate statues and carvings seen in other Buddhist caves of the period.
Its purpose remains a mystery.

You could also visit Khajurao, Agra and Varanasi.

Fact File


The nearest airport is Jabalpur 164 kms.
Another convenient airport is Khajurao 230 kms.
From both these places, you can go by car or public transport.

Railway Stations

The nearest railway station is:
Umaria - 32 kms.
Other stations are:
Jabalpur - 164 kms.
Katni - 102 kms.
Satna - 120 kms.


Khajuraho (via Satna) 230 kms.
Varanasi (via Rewa) 340 kms.
Katni 75 kms.
Rewa 115 kms.
Umaria 30 kms.
Kanha 250 kms.

Public transport is available from all these places.


Bhandavgarh National Park park is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream.
There are excellent accommodation and internal transport facilities to suit all budgets.

Best time to Visit

The climate at Bandhavgarh varies from 0 to 20 degree centigrade in winter and hots up to 46 degrees centigrade in summer.
The monsoon (rainy) season mostly begins mid June till October.

The best time to visit Bhandavgarh National Park is between December and February.
But the months of April to June, when the vegetation is sparse, are really the best for tiger sighting.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Pink City
Prince amongst the cities of India

Jaipur, or the Pink City, is the undisputed prince amongst the cities of India.
Status of Royalty in India - Pathetic
Someone wrote to me enquiring about the present status of the Royalty in India.
There were 547 kings and rulers in India before 1947.
After India attained independence, all these kingdoms seamlessly merged into India.
But the rulers were given privy purse, annual sums of money, as compensation.
They were also allowed to keep their palaces, jewelley, etc. and certain other privileges.

In 1969, Indira Gandhi abolished the privy purse - indirectly snatching away all their rights and privileges.
Overnight, the kings became commoners.
So now they are treated just like common men.

A few ex-rulers like Karan Singh and late Madhav Rao Scindia entered politics.
Many converted their palaces into five star or heritage hotels to maintain themselves.
A few rulers are still respected by the people.

Glamorous Maharani Gayatri Devi
Maharani (Queen) Gayatri Devi of Jaipur (Born 23 May, 1919) is one of the world’s most glamorous ladies.
Foreign magazines rated her amongst the most beautiful ladies of the world.
She had her education in Shantiniketan (West Bengal) and abroad.
At the young age of 17, she fell in love with, and married Man Singh, then the heir to the Maharajah of Jaipur.
Gayatri’s parents, the Maharajah and Maharani of Cooch Behar, were against the marriage, because Man Singh already had two wives - daughters of the Maharajah of Jodhpur, but Gayatri Devi had her way.
She contested the Indian Parliamentary Election in 1962 and won - creating a Guinness record for the record number of votes polled.
She won the elections again in 1967 and 1971.
She spends the summers in England.
You can see more of her and her photographs at the following site:

Privy Purse

Most of us are not aware that the word ‘privy purse’ refers to the British Sovereign’s private income, mostly from the Duchy of Lancaster.
What is astounding is that that after deduction of the amounts spent for official purposes, the remaining income is fully taxed.
I have visited Jaipur earlier too.
Recently, we had a couple of German guests.
We decided to take them to Jaipur.


The City of Jaipur in Rajasthan, India was founded in 1727 A.D by the Kachhawa ruler Sawai (meaning one and a quarter) Jai Singh II (1700 - 1747 A.D.) - one of the greatest Indian rulers.
Jaipur is surrounded by the Aravali hills on three sides.
It glitters like a jewel amidst the sandy deserts of Rajasthan and is surrounded by historical forts, majestic palaces, mansions and gardens of great architectural beauty.

Jaipur is remarkable for its fabulous architecture and town planning.
It is the only city in the world which is divided into nine rectangular sectors representing the nine divisions of the universe.
It is also the first planned city designed built in accordance with Vaastu Shilpa Shastra - the ancient mystic science of Hindu architecture.

Jaipur is popularly known as the ‘Pink City’, because in 1883 A.D., the Maharajah of Jaipur ordered the entire city to be white washed in pink to welcome Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria of England.
Ever since, all the buildings in Jaipur are pink washed.

Jaipur is a unique synthesis of modern and traditional culture.
The people here are lively.
Even today, you will meet weather beaten faces under huge colourful turbans, with unbelievably fierce moustaches and lips that are ever ready to erupt into the most charming smile.
You will meet ladies in traditional colourful Rajasthani attire.
They too will give you the million dollar smile.

Places to See

City palace
The City Palace Complex is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture.
Most of the buildings were built by Sawai Jai Singh II.
The present Maharajah - Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh - still lives in a portion of the palace. The glamorous Gayatri Devi lives in a separate palace in Jaipur.
But she spends the Indian summers in London - a practice she has followed for over forty years.
You can see a vast collection of royal costumes in the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum: Exclusive and precious Pashmina (Kashmiri) shawls, Benarasi silk saris, Sanganeri prints and folk embroidery.
You can also see the voluminous clothes worn by the voluminous Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I (rule 1750-1768 A.D.).

You can also see well preserved ancient Rajput weapons in the adjoining Maharani’s Palace (the Queen’s Palace) - some date back to the 15th century.
They have been preserved extremely well.
You can see protective chain armour, small canons, guns, pistols, gun powder pouches, jewel embedded ivory handled swords, belt swords, poison tipped blades, and the remarkable scissor-action dagger.

Amber Fort
Amber (pronounced Amer), situated about 11 kilometres from Jaipur, was the capital of the Kachhawa rulers (ancestors of the present Maharajas) before they shifted their capital to Jaipur.

The Amber Fort, set atop picturesque hills, is a blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture.
It was constructed by Raja Man Singh I in 1592 and completed by Sawai Jai Singh I.
The Fort is made of red sand stone and white marble.
The rugged exterior hides the luxurious interior which is virtually a paradise.
The Maota Lake in front gives the fort a breathtaking view.

Jaigarh Fort

During the Mughal era, Jaipur region was a major weapon producing centre for the Mughal and Rajput rulers, several of which are on display in the fort’s museum.

The Jaigarh Fort is the most spectacular of the three hilltop forts that overlook Jaipur.
It is one of the few military structures of medieval India preserved almost intact, containing palaces, a granary, a well-planned canon foundry, several temples and a tall tower.Jaigarh Fort is also known as the Fort of Victory.

On display are a collection of canons, many of which are exquisitely decorated and were used by Raja Man Singh in his campaigns against the Mughals.
You can also see the Jai Ban (Jaivan), the largest mounted canon in the world.
Jaigarh Fort was once responsible for the security of both Jaipur and Amber.

Nahargarh Fort
Nahargarh Fort located on the rugged ridge of Aravali Hills was built by Jai Singh in 1734 and extended in 1868.
Nahargarh, which means abode of the tigers, was built to add to the defense of Amber.
The Madhavendra Bhawan, built by Sawai Ram Singh II, has a cluster of 12 identical suits for queens.
At the head is the king’s suit.
The rooms are linked by corridors and retain some delicate frescoes as well as toilets and kitchen hearths.
This is the most photographed landmark of Jaipur.
The five-storey Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) built by the Poet king Sawai Pratap Singh is really only a facade.

It consists of 953 honeycombed sandstone windows known as ‘jharokhas’ (windows) and was originally built for ladies of the royal household to watch everyday life and processions in the city from their veiled comfort.

You can climb to the top for a wonderful view from the latticed windows.

Jantar Mantar

Sawai Jai Singh II was literally immersed in astronomy and numerology.
He constructed Jantar Mantars (observatories) in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi and Ujjain.
The one in Jaipur has 14 instruments and is the largest.The primitive stone instruments made by him are still functional to an astounding degree of accuracy.The sun dials give accurate time.
Ram Niwas Garden and Albert Hall.
Just outside the walled city is the sprawling Ram Niwas Garden, a place for royal recreation since the reign of Sawai Ram Singh.

The exquisitely designed garden has pools and fountains, sprawling lawns and beautiful flower beds all around.

In the middle of the garden is Albert Hall designed by Sir Swinton Jacob, a British architect who designed many palaces in Rajasthan.
You can see a rich collection of artefacts like paintings, carpets, ivory, stone and metal sculptures and colourful crystal works, etc.

Opposite the Albert Hall is one of the oldest Zoos in the country.

Chokhi Dhani (18 kilometres from Jaipur)
Chokhi Dhani which literally meaning “Fine Hamlet” is a 5 star ethenic resort - the only one of its kind in India.
There are authentic looking mud and thatch cottages, suites and conferences halls, multi-cuisine restaurant, and also traditional Rajasthani food mixed with Rajasthani welcome.
The Resort is more like a traditional village with all modern amenities rather than an hotel.It is an experience.

See Tigers in the Wild

You can take a trip to Ranthambhore National Park or Sariska Tiger Reserve.
You could see the majestic tigers, deer and other animals in the wild.

Fairs and Festivals

The Rajasthanis celebrate festivals with great enthusiasm and fervour.
Some of the more festival festivals are: Elephant Festival, Gangaur Festival, Teej and Kite Festival.

Fact File

Summer - light tropical or cotton
Winter - woollens
Best Season to visit - October to March.

Reaching there

Jaipur is well connected with all the major cities of India.

Well connected with the major cities of India.

Jaipur has a very good road network.

Distances from Jaipur

Agra 236 km
Ajmer 131 km
Bharatpur 176 km
Bikaner 321 km
Bombay 1202 km
Delhi 258 km
Jaisalmer 638 km
Jodhpur 316 km
Udaipur 405 km


Jaipur, Agra and Delhi comprise the Golden Triangle for tourists. Jaipur is a bustling capital city and a business centre with all the trapping of a modern metropolis yet possessing an age old charm linked to kings, palaces and forts.

It is also a place you could use as a centre to see a number of surrounding places.


Gol Gumbaj - 2nd largest dome in the world

Bijapur is famous for two things:
· Its acoustic wonder Gol Gumbaj - with its 2nd largest dome in the world, and the
· Malik-e-Maidan (Monarch of the Fields) - one of the largest bell metal guns in the world.

A single visit to Bijapur was not enough.
I had to visit Bijapur a second time to really soak in the sights and sounds of Bijapur.

Moreover, about two hours drive from Bijapur are the fabulous rock cut temples of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami representing the best of Chalukyan architecture.


Bijapur is about a thousand years old.
The foundations of Bijapur were laid during the reign of the Chalukya dynasty between the tenth and eleventh centuries.
It was then called Vijayapura or the “City of Victory” which over the years has become distorted to the present Bijapur.

Bijapur came under Muslim rule, first under Allaudin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, towards the end of the 13th century, and then under the Bahamani Kings of Bidar in 1347.

Bahamani power declined. In 1489, Yusuf Adil Khan, the Bahamani Governor of Bijapur declared Bijapur independent and founded the Adil Shahi dynasty which survived till the kingdom was annexed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1686.

Bijapur reached its zenith under the Adil Shahi dynasty.
During this period, more than 50 mosques, more than 20 tombs and a large number of palaces were built.

One remarkable change the rulers of the Adil Shahi dynasty made was that they employed large numbers of Indian craftsmen whereas the earlier Muslim rulers employed Persian craftsmen and architects.

In 1724, the Nizam of Hyderabad became the ruler of Bijapur.
In 1760, the Marathas defeated the Nizam.
The Marathas in turn were defeated by the British in 1818.

The City

The city consists of three distinct portions:
· the citadel,
· the fort, and
· the remains of the city.

The citadel, which is one mile in circumference, was built by Yusuf Adil Shah.
It is very strong and well built with massive materials.

It is encompassed by a 100 yards wide ditch, which was originally filled with water, but now nearly filled up with rubbish.
Within the citadel are the remains of old Hindu temples which prove that Bijapur was an important Hindu town in pre Islam times.

The fort, which was completed by Au Adil Shah in 1566, is surrounded by a wall 6 m. in circumference.

Its wall is between 30 to 50 ft. high, reinforced with ninety six massive bastions of different designs.
In addition, there are ten others at the various gateways.
The width is about 25 ft.
A battlemented curtained wall about 10 ft. high runs from bastion to bastion.
The whole is surrounded by a deep moat 30 to 40 ft. wide.
Outside the walls are the remains of a vast city, now mostly in ruins.

But the remains of the innumerable tombs, mosques, caravan serais and other edifices, offer clear evidence of the ancient splendour of the place.

What to see

Gol Gumbaz

The most important monument in Bijapur is the world famous Gol Gumbaz with its unique dome.

The Gol Gumbaz is actually the tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah (1627-56), the 7th ruler of the Adil Shahi dynasty.
It was completed in 20 years and is visible for miles around.

The Gol Gumbaz was built on a 200 yards square platform.
The diameter of the dome is 124 feet.
The external height of the dome is 198 ft.
Its internal height is 175 ft.
There are no supporting pillars within the dome.
There are 4 minarets or towers 8 storeys high, 12 ft broad.
You can climb up the minarets by winding staircases.

Its dome, measuring 38 meters in diameter, is the second largest in the world - second only to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The central chamber of Gol Gumbaz is unique because every sound echoes seven times.

The Whispering Gallery is even more unique.
You can clearly hear the ticking of a watch, or the rustle of paper, 37 metres away.

From the gallery around the dome, you can have a bird’s eye view of the entire town.

The Gol Gumbaz complex includes a mosque, a Naqqar Khana (hall for the trumpeteers) (Now it is used as museum) and ruins of guest houses.

A cenotaph slab in the floor in the basement marks the site of the grave.
This is the only instance of this practice in Adil Shahi architecture.

Ibrahim Roza

Roza literally means a garden.

The Ibrahim Roza is a square enclosure encompassing 2 buildings - one building houses the tombs of Ibrahim Adil Shah II and his family.
The tomb was constructed under the orders of Ibrahim Adil Shah (1580-1627).

The other is a mosque.

The doors are

It has striking symmetry of proportion, exquisite minarets cupolas, parapets & cornices and is believed to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal at Agra.

The entire structure has been built on a single slab of bed-rock with the mausoleum on the left and the prayer hall to the right.
The gardens are beautifully sculpted and enclosed within an imposing wall and have some superb gateways.

Two stone chains (each carved from a single rock) hang from the sides of the prayer hall.
Each door (made in teak wood and re-enforced in metal) in this complex is unique.

The arches in the hallway surrounding the inner perimeter of the mausoleum are superbly crafted.
The facades of the building provide some stunning art-work in stone, including a map to the basement, which lies under the mausoleum.


Malik-e-Maidan (meaning Monarch of the Plains) is one of the largest bell metal guns in the world.

It was built under the orders of Burham Nizam Shah I for his son-in-law Adil Shah.

It measures 4.45 m in length, is 1.5 m in diameter and weighs 55 tons.
It is installed on the walls of the city on one of the bastions of the fort (called the Buruz or Lion Tower).

I marveled at the unique cannon.
I touched it in the blistering sun.
It was surprisingly cool.
It is made of some alloy which keep it always cool - even under the blazing sun.
When tapped gently, it tinkles softly like a bell.

The muzzle of the gun is shaped like the head of a lion with open jaws.
Depicted between the carved fangs of the lion is an elephant being crushed to death.

Jumma Masjid

This is the largest and first constructed mosque in Bijapur.
The total area of the mosque is 10,810 sq m.It was built between 1557 -1686, most of it during Ali Adil Shah reign, who acquired the land after defeating the rich Ramaraja of Vijayanagar.

The main part of the mosque stands to the west and has nine huge arches on their facade that deepen into five arches and form 45 compartments.
The majestic tomb rises above the roof in a semicircle resembling the bud of a flower.

This imposing mosque (the rectangle is 170m x 70 m) is incomplete, lacking in 2 minarets.

The original gateway is on the northern side.
Aurangzeb extended the mosque in the east, the south and the north verandah and built the eastern gate.

The interior of the mosque shows restraint, except for some decorative motifs on the apexes of the arches.
The heavy curtain hangs over the "Mehrab", which has domes, minarets, niches with books, flower vases & Persian writings inscribed on it.

Gol-Gumbaz Archaeological Museum

This museum is located in the building just in front of the Gol-Gumbaz.
It contains art from the Chalukya as well as Adil Shahi periods.

Getting there


The nearest airport is Belgaum(205 kms), which is well connected to Mumbai and Bangalore.


Bijapur is well connected to Bangalore, Mumbai (via Solapur) ; Hyderabad (via Solapur or Hotgi Jn); Hospet (via Gadag) ; Vasco da Gama (via Hubli and Londa).


Bijapur is well connected to many cities in south and west India.

Around Bijapur

110 kms, 134 kms and 120 kms away from Bijapur are the fabulous rock cut temples of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami representing the best of Chalukyan architecture.
These are places which you cannot possibly afford to miss.