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Enigmatic India

This blog captures the life experiences of the Enigmatic India team in the beautiful and enigmatic country of India.We capture our experiences through our writings, photos and products that depict the very essence and fabric of India.Through this platform, we invite you to join us in our journey as we explore.





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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Birding along Tungabhadra high level canal, Hampi

We had been to Hampi once and the apart from the UNESCO sight, what made us visit this place once more a year later was the drive along the Tungabhadra high level canal. You must be wondering what's the big deal - driving along a canal. Exactly this was thought when the staff at Hampi Wilderness Camp wanted us to join them for this drive. The only motivation was that we were into bird watching and an early morning and late evening drive provided some chance for birding.

view of the canal
Early morning the Sun looked resplendent and glistened on surface of the water. We saw people in couple of tractor collecting sand in the bed of the canal - being a non-monsoon time there was less water quipped our driver. He went on to add that this was the high level canal and there was the low level canal or Tungabhadra right canal.

As we moved along, we spotted a white-throated kingfisher, quite obvious near a water body.
white throated kingfisher
A lot of other resident birds were seen- paddy field pipit, pied myna, collared and laughing doves, Red wattled lapwing and a Long tailed Shrike.
Long tailed Shrike
Deep Gorge

The first time around, we had gone in a Bolero  it was quite noisy, however during the second visit, Jungle lodges had upgraded this to an open jeep designed for wildlife safari. As we drove along the banks, our driver kept looking at the deep gorge walls formed by the water. Over the years the water had probably eaten into the concrete walls and formed the deep gorges. The wall were lined with rocks jutting out and tree & shrubs overhanging the walls. As we were wondering, our driver explained that this is the right terrain for two kinds of Owl - the Indian Eagle Owl and the Brown fishing Owl. While we had seen the Brown Fishing Owl, the earlier one was a first time for us. So, our anxiety grew and suddenly the vehicle stopped and the drive said look.

Indian Eagle Owl
Lo and behold on the other side of the bank there was a huge bird with beautiful orange eyes the Indian Eagle Owl - It was spell binding. During our two visit we saw a lot of them - some with their chicks and juveniles.

Our guide and driver encouraged us to do the evening trip and said something more was in store. Well the morning was a blessing and hence the evening trip was on. The sun was about to set, and our driver went about looking for something. 

He stopped near a spot and asked us to pick up the camera. Struggling to find the bird, he asked us to look at the ground and in front of us was a beautiful bird - the Painted Sandgrouse - golden in colour while black, brown and white plumage.

painted sandgrouse

Indian nightjar

The surprise continued and within a few minutes we saw an Indian Nightjar settled amongst a few rocks - fully camouflaged. As we moved on the green paddy fields below was beautiful to watch.

paddy fields

As we continued we saw a few Indian Silverbill, Grey Francolin, Red Adavat, Thrush, Yellow Wattled Lapwing and Indian bush lark.Our driver said there are chances of the Brown Fishing owl and soon he managed to spot one on the walls of the canal. Beautiful piercing yellow eyes.
Brown fishing Owl
The four trips along the banks of the canal was fulfilling and next time when I am there it definitely warrants another experience. If you are in Hampi, just visit this place - its a stone throw distance from Jungle Lodges and Evolve Back.

(Contributed by Sandip Mishra)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dansborg Fort, Tharangambadi : Piece of Danish Settlement in India

Vinod my friend called many months back and told me that we should visit Tharangambadi or Tranquebar, when we were in Chennai next. This stuck with me for quite sometime and when we planned a trip to Puducherry, visiting Tranquebar was definitely in the offing.

Fort Dansborg
The drive from Puducherry was only ~120 Kms and with a break at Chidambaram, Thillai Nataraja temple the journey didn't seem difficult at all. As we were approaching this place, my mind was racing - when did the Danish rule India. Had heard and read about other European settlers like the French, Portuguese, Dutch and the English but never about the Danish rulers. Maybe my knowledge of history was in sufficient - so a quick search on Google threw up this map. Crazy enough- there were three Danish settlements in India - Tranquebar, Serampore(Bengal) and Nicobar - governed through the Danish East India company set-up for trading purposes(mostly spices).

European Settlements in India : Source Wikipedia.
As we approached , I was expecting to see a huge fort, structure like the Rajasthan Forts but it turned out to be a small orange-pink garrison(large outpost) kind of thing. Fort Dansborg apparently is the second largest fort built by the Danes after Fort Kronborg. As the history goes it was build by Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde in 1620 after entering into an agreement with the Thanjavur King, Raghunath Nayak.

Bay of Bengal - view from Fort - Rusted Canon is also visible
It faces the Bay of Bengal and there is a beautiful beach with a lot of boats adorning the white sands. The structure is built in Danish style(as stated in the museum - I don't know a bit about architecture and rely on acquired information) with large halls, column structures, projecting drapery. Apparently it had the governors residency, kitchen, soldiers quarters, armoury, store rooms and strong walls in a trapezoidal shape. One can take a walk along the fort walls and enjoy taking photos. I enjoyed watching the sea from the Fort and the cool sea breeze was soothing. Imagined how the governor would have enjoyed his evenings and early mornings back in the 17th Century. If you are the inquisitive kind, there is a museum inside and though not much is there, some piece of history can definitely be seen.

Artefact in the musuem
As you come out of the Fort, you can visit the Zion Church, Jerusalem Church, Town Gateway, Masilamaninathar Temple and other buildings from that period. Couple of bungalows have been converted to hotels by the Neemrana group and one can stay there. Overall the walls around the citadel were not meant to weather military attack, rather protect from cavalry raids. Well if you are hungry there are a few ice-cream & bhelpuri/masala puri vendors just outside the Fort gate. The place is both child and elderly friendly and a tourist hot spot.

View of the Fort  facing the sea
This visit to Fort Dansborg was quit enriching and filled an unknown void about my knowledge of European Settlements in India. If you are in Puducherry take time off and visit this place.

(Contributed by Sandip Mishra)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Along the Narmada, Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

Long ago, Narmada river was a name(along with others) we used a lot during the "Map pointing" sessions of the Geography class. After as we graduated to senior school and college, the name again cropped up as "Narmada Bachao Andolan", which was on and off in the news.
boats in Narmada

Well that's all I had about Narmada river till a recent trip to Maheshwar & Omkareshwar in Madhya
Pradesh, which forms the life line of these places. Maheshwar or Mahishmati located in the banks of the river Narmada was the capital of King Kartivarjun. It assumed importance during the Holkar period when queen Ahilyabai of Indore revived this.

As you start exploring Maheshwar, one of the few places to go is the Rajgaddi and the Ghats (mostly the Ahilya Ghat, apart from Peshwar and Fanase Ghats). Early afternoon and the place was teeming with people and we decided to take a boat ride(one hr) on the serene waters of the Narmada river.
Ahilya Ghat with the Rajgaddi in background.
 We boarded an exclusive boat, and started our journey with the sun slowly starting to set .

view from our boat.
 Like us there were many tourists enjoying the boating.
Tourists in another boat.
Suddenly we say a temple in the middle of nowhere inside the river. Our boatman, informed that this was the Baneshwar Mahadev Temple. It is believed that a heavenly line from the North Star passes through this temple to the Earth's centre.(Not sure about this though). It looked majestic along the backdrop of the water and river bank.
Baneshwar Mahadev Temple
 As we moved on, we saw small settlements  along the banks of the river. Women with cleaning their brass pots and villagers herding their cattle and some fishing for their livelihoods.
washing utensils

Herding goats
 As we moved on the serene waters slowly looked rough and that's when our boatman said, here is the "Sahastradhara".We alighted on the bank of the river and walked along watching the white rapids and the beautiful sound of the gushing water. What a sight - suddenly the Narmada looked mighty and evoked awe.

Having spent sometime, we started our journey back we saw some birds including the Grey heron waiting patiently for its prey, the cormorant and river tern gliding across the water.
Grey heron
The beautiful Pandharinath Mandir(Lord Vishnu) was resplendent against the setting sun.
Pandharinath Temple.
 Holy men were seen sitting in meditating or getting ready to offer puja for the evening.
holy men & others offering puja
 As we reached the Ahilya Ghat, the Sun was already setting and the view was majestic.We thought we had to bid goodbye to Narmada for the day.
setting Sun.
What we didn't realise that there was more to experience. We made a short visit to a workshop to see how Maheshwar Sarees were woven. The craftsmanship was impeccable and it left us wanting to get more of it. however our driver insisted that we go back to the Narmada bank to witness the evening Arati(Puja).
Evening Arati
 When we landed only a few(maybe 50-60) of us were there and already many of them were feeding the fish at the bank of the ghat. Well then we saw the panditji preparing the Arati and then all of them started the puja and it went for 5-7 minutes.
Arati by the Narmada
The arati ended, the prasad was distributed to us and some were fed to the fishes. The evening was quite snappy and even though we wanted to go back to our hotel, we somehow continued to be glued to this river.

What a day it was...the Narmada has a story to tell about the Forts, Temples, People, Sadhus, Birds etc over the years and centuries.

For me from just being a line in a map to a news items, Narmada transformed in my mind to something that is reverend, life giving and beautiful.

(Contributed by Sandip Mishra)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trip to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

We finally set off in the month of May to the oldest city ever-Varanasi. Umm, Banaras? No, Kashi! What’s in a name anyways!

The scorching heat, which was a little over 42C, didn’t actually seem to dampen our spirit, although a lot of people had cautioned us against it.

Well, the moment arrived, and there we were! Heading towards Ganapati Guest House, where we would be spending our next three memorable days. A little about why we chose this guest house and not any other. Its right on the bank of the river, alongside all the Ghats. There’s a balcony with a view of the Ganges which gives the guest house a breathtaking ambience. It is just a couple of minutes away from the main temple Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, although a little away from the main road. This meant that we would get dropped at a spot that was a15-minute walk away from the place of stay. It was worth it all, because the uniqueness of Banaras is its streets. The Ghats, the steep stairs and of course the legend of our Ganga maiyya and Shivji deciding to stay here for good!!

  At probably seven in the evening, the moment we checked into the hotel and stepped into the balcony, I looked onto my right, only to see the famous Dhashwamedh Ghat with the Ganga Aarti ongoing, and a large fleet of boats on the river, with loads of yellow lamps-dreams floating. An inexplicable visual, one must watch it to feel it!
We quickly hit the road to pay our respects to Shivji before beginning our journey. It was amazing to see the 4 feet narrow roads that led to the temple. Scooters, Gau Mata, people, everything fit so beautifully well into the small streets!

Behold! My dream came true as I stepped into the Kashi Vishwanath temple, that I had been yearning to visit (and I have no reason why) for a long, long time now.

The next morning, we set off for the boat ride, again an experience of a view into the life on the Ghats. If one Ghat had life in abundance, there were two others- “Harishchandra Ghat” and “Manikarnika Ghat”-  that were buzzling with the silence beyond life. While there were some who had just gotten out of the river after a holy dip, there were some others, whose bodies were put on the funeral pyre. There were also 
some bodies that were waiting, for their turn, to receive Moksha in the holiest place on this planet. Once, we saw 16 pyres at a time! They say, this is one place where the cremation happens on all 365 days of a year.
Amidst the sunrise, people, the floating shops for memoirs, the swim of the kids, the intense prayers, and the hustle and bustle, there I was, witnessing it all, with no words to explain how I felt.

Foooooooooood! Kachori, kulhad chai and jalebi. That was in our mind, as we set off towards the main road...yumm…we were already thinking about our next food destination! :’)

After a leisurely freshening up, we set off to the main temple again, and many prayers later, we realized the heat was picking up, and were advised against heading anywhere until evening.So, we decided to hit the main road in the hot sun, to find good food. Not that Ganpati Guest house doesn’t provide food, we were just too ambitious. And yes, we did find a restaurant, but there was nothing banarasi about the food they served. On our way back to the guest house, I couldn’t stop ogling at the stores that had the banarasi sarees on display. At 40C, after a heavy-not so banarasi-meal, there went my foot on a hole-y road, and cracked me up with a bad ligament tear. I quickly wrapped my ankle up with a bandage and set off again! This hole-y incident somehow decided the course of our next two days and how!

When walking is the only choice you have as there are no vehicles (that fit into the 4ft narrow lanes and not hit the Gau Mata at the same time), I never even fancied a thought that I could push myself so much. We kept walking.

A good rest later, we moved towards the evening boat ride, followed by the world-famous Ganga Aarti- a ritual par excellence.  And then we headed to the Kashi Chaat Bhandar, a small shop at the main road, which offers lightning fast service in spite of the great rush they have to handle, and serves great food! Favorite in the menu? Has to be the tangy tamatar chaat! Don’t even try forgetting to order it.

We set off to Sarnath-where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, the next day, in a vehicle booked by the
guest house, and on our way, visited the Sankat Mochan, and the Durga temples. It’s amazing to see the beauty of Sarnath, the teachings of Buddha, and the museum, all of which were calm and peaceful- offering a sharp contrast to what happened in Varanasi. 

We went to an outlet nearby to check out some Banaras memoirs, and once we were done, we returned back to the hotel and relaxed.

Khaikepaanbanraswala every day ;) you are not supposed to chew the paan. Atleast that’s what the vendor advised us to do.  It just melts in your mouth and gives you a chill feeling!

Day three, we were all set to return, and lo! How could we miss out on the KalBhairav temple!! We rushed to his abode, prayed and then came back for a leisurely lunch at Ganpati Guest house, as we started packing for our trip back home. *sobs*. I know I am going back again. This time in a colder season.
Banaras is in the Ghats. You have to feel it, you have to live it. With friendly people around, who are always willing to help, the ancient city of Varanasi still retains its fervor. Isn’t it surprising to see a city that hasn’t let modernization change its core even a bit? That’s Varanasi for you in a nutshell. A beautiful experience that makes you stretch beyond your limitations.:’)

(Contributed by Gayatri Kuppa, photo/images rights with Gayatri & Nikhil Kuppa)

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