Yesterday, being a Saturday, a few friends of mine decided to go for a drive outside Gurgaon. The big Q was where? So while having breakfast at Old Rao Hotel in Dharuhera we decided to hit Neemrana Baoli (steep well).
For those of you not familiar with the term, it is a well or a pond in which the water is reached by descending a set of steps. Usually all old step wells are covered and protected and often are of architectural significance. All step wells in India are perfect examples of the types of storage and irrigation tanks developed to cope up with seasonal fluctuations in water availability.
Most of the surviving step wells also served a leisure purpose as they provided relief from daytime heat. They usually consist of two parts, a vertical shaft or a well from which water is drawn and the surrounding passageways, chambers and steps which provide access to the well. The galleries and chambers surrounding these wells were often carved with elaborate details.
In Rajasthan, a region where water is scare, the step wells are perfect examples of this type of architecture. Neemrana’s step well is a 18th century, 9 storied, though dilapidated but is one of the best such examples. On each of the 9 floors there is a “ala’ (window) from where water flowed into the step well. It is about 110 kms from Gurgaon and was developed as a famine-relief project. Through a secret passage under the ground, the baoli is connected to the Fort to allow unhindered access to the Queen, however that passage has been blocked now.
Neemrana fort as viewed from the baoli
steps leading to the baoli
Rewari Steam Loco Museum, Rewari.
From Neemrana we headed back to Gurgaon but enroute stopped at another landmark, The Rewari Steam Loco Museum.
Rewari lies admist the hilly terrain and sandy dunes of Aravali and is about 60kms from Gurgaon. It was in 1873, when Rewari was first connected by rail with Delhi by the meter gauge which was later converted to broad gauge.
Rewari Heritage Steam Locomotive Museum, the only surviving steam loco shed in India was first established in 1893 and was the largest meter gauge loco shed. In 2001 it was converted to a heritage shed and in December 2002 it was converted into a museum. It houses some of India’s last surviving steam locomotives including the “Fairy Queen”, a Guinness Book Record holder as the oldest running steam engine. Most of the engines are in working order and have been part of movies such as Gandhi my father and Bhag Milkha bhag.
I also found some very interesting antique stuff in the museum such as a radio, a calling bell, a gramophone, an old telephone and a coach called Edward VIII.
Among various unique festivals in India, Phoolwaalon Ki Sair, an annual procession after the rainy season, is a perfect example of Hindu Muslim communal harmony and national integration.
It is 3 day festival celebrated in Mehrauli and is currently being managed by Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan Trust. It is also known as Sair-e-Gul Faroshan.
The procession is led by shehnai players and dancers and the festivities begins by offering a floral pankha at the ancient Yogmaya temple on the 1st day followed by a similar offering at Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaaki’s dargah, a 13th century Sufi saint on the 2nd day. Yogmaya temple.
Yogmaya temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Krishna’s sister, daughter of Nand who was switched at birth with Krishna, in the prison, to avoid him being killed by his Mama, Kans.
Later when Kans tried to kill her by smashing her head against the prison walls, she escaped from his hands and turned into lightening.
During their exile, the Pandavas found the exact spot where the lightning struck and built a temple to commemorate the event. It is believed to be one of the five surviving temples from the Mahabharata period in Delhi.
The present temple was however built in early 19th century and is now the starting point of Phoolwaalon Ki Sair.
The origin of this festival is also very interesting.
Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II, in 1812 nominated his younger son Mirza Jahangir as his heir apparent as he was not happy with his eldest son Siraj Uddin “Zafar” (Bahadur Shah Zafar II).
The British resident, Sir Archibald Seton however, did not like Mirza Jahangir as once he had insulted Seton during an open court. Mirza had also fired upon Seton during his visit to the Red Fort, in which he escaped but his orderly was killed.
The British Resident exiled Mirza Jahangir to Allahabad. Mirza’s mother, Mumtaz Mahal Begum, then took a vow that if her son was released from Allahabad she would offer a pankha at the dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar ‘Kaki’ at Mehrauli.
So finally when Mirza Jahangir was released Mumtaz Mahal Begum went to redeem her vow and offer a pankha at the shrine. A similar pankha was also offered at the Yogmaya’s temple.
This gesture by the royalty was greatly appreciated by the people and generated a lot of enthusiasm. Seeing people’s enthusiasm, this it was decided that the festival would be an annual event.
This event continued annually till the Quit India movement when the British stopped it under their “Divide and Rule” policy. After the independence Jawaharlal Nehru revived it in 1961 with the assistance of Yogeshwar Dayal a scion of one of the prominent families of Delhi but the festival grew in stature later during Indira Gandhi’s tenure.
Route of the walk
1st stop – Yogmaya’s temple.
2nd stop – Adam Khan’s tomb. Adam Khan was the milk-brother of Akbar, who was thrown twice from the Agra Fort by Akbar. Later he had a change of heart and built his tomb in the Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki’s dargah.
3rd stop – Gandak ki baoli, a step well which smells of sulphur.
4th stop – Dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar ‘Kaki’. It is well known that Qutb ul Aqtab Hazrat Khwaja Sayyid Muhammad Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki (1173-1235) was a renowned Muslim Sufi mystic and scholar of the Chishti Order from Delhi. He was a disciple Moinuddin Chishti, the head of the Chishti order. His dargah lies next to Zafar Mahal and is the oldest Dargah in Delhi, famous for the annual Urs festivities which follow the sair.
(The dargah and the Qawaals singing devotional songs)
Next stop was Jafar Mahal. It is the last structure built by the Mughals and is named after the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar . It was built by his son, Akbar Shah II.
It was built as a summer place and was manned by female security guards, bought from different countries. It also contains the graves of Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam II and Akbar Shah II.
Tragically Bahadur Shah Zafar had kept a place for his own grave but alas that was not destined. During his exile he wrote : “Kitna badnaseeb hai Zafar dafn ke liye, do gaz zameen bhi mil na saki kuye yaar mein” (how unlucky is Zafar! for burial, that he could not get two yards of land in his beloved country).
(Grave of Bahadur Shah still awaits his remains)
Next was Jahaz Mahal. It was named Jahaz mahal due to it’s reflection in the adjoining Shamsi talab. Most probably this place was constructed before Mughals and was used as a serai for travellers and also as a cultural centre where citizens and royalty would have cracker contests (atasbazi).
(The Hauz-i-Shamsi is behind the grill. Sorry it was too dirty to go and take a close-up shot)
Last stop was the Jharna, which was an artificial water fall created out of the overflow from Hauz-i-Shamsi.
Hauz-i-Shamsi was built in 1230 AD by Sultan Shamshudin Iltumish. According to a legend, Iltumish had a dream in which Prophet Muhammad told him to build a reservoir at a place marked by the hoof print of the Buraq (the legendary winged horse which Muhammad rode to the heavens).
Iltumish soon found the hoof prints he saw in his dream and got a water tank built arround it. Over the years the pond has shrunk in size and now the site of the hoof prints is in one corner of the pond.
While returning from Billing, on the way we stopped at Palpung Sherabling Monastery.
It was founded in 1975 and is the seat of 12th Kenting Tai Situpa’s disciples from Derge and Nangchen region who live in Bir.
The monastery viewed from a distance
There is a provision for 250 monks’ quarters (but over 500 monks live here). There is a very big Buddha’s statue and a school for monks.
The main hall. Walls of the monastery.
A student needs to stay for at least 7 years committing 15 hours a day to study, debate, and learn wholeheartedly to join the Shedra. Only one day of the week, Thursday is allowed as an off. Students join this monastery as early as 5 years of age.
A young student having a good time running.
A bit of a history of the place –
Palpung Monastery (“glorious union of study and practice”) is a congregation of monasteries and centers of the Tai Situpa lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the name of the Tai Situ’s monastic seat in Derge, Kham.
It originated in the 12th century and wielded considerable religious and political influence over the centuries. In 1727, King Denba Tsering founded the current monastery. It represents the seat of four lines of lamas like Tai Situpa, Jamgon Kongtrul and the Second Beru Khyentse.
It is a beautiful monastery and it offers the traditional Kagyu three-year retreat for both monks and nuns on the compound.
It is an absolute must visit to see students learning Buddhism and various martial arts including dance moves.
Bir & Billing are two small villages in Baijnath tehsil, of Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. They are 14 kms apart and are now considered as one of the finest aero sports sites in the world. Billing is at 2400 m above sea level and is the take-off site.
Bir is famous for ecotourism, spiritual studies and meditation. It is also home to Tibetan refugees and several Buddhist monasteries and a large stupa.
The Tibetan Colony was set up in 1966 by the third Neten Chokling (1928-1973), an incarnate lama of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He brought his family & a small entourage and established a Tibetan settlement, where now over 300 families reside.
Over the years, the HP Govt has worked very hard and set up world class infrastructure at Bir and Billing. The site has two standby helicopters for rescue and retrieving of flyers during an emergency. It meets the required international standards and after India successfully hosted the pre-World Cup in 2013, it was decided by Para-gliding World Cup Association, that Bir Biiling was to hold the 2015 World Cup.
Over 150 flyers took part in the event which was well attended by both international and domestic tourists. There were free flyers too and 4 acrobatic flyers were specially invited by HP government from France.
Right now, the site has capacity is to accommodate the take off of 30 to 40 gliders but plans are to soon increase this number to 100.
Although the landing site Bir lacks hotels but it was made up by setting up a tent village for athletes and home stay for others.
In our home, on the next day of Diwali, Anna koot subzi is prepared as prasad. Traditionally you have it with pooris but over the years we have had this with roti.
One of the reasons on why it is cooked could be to finish off all the remaining vegetables after days of celebrations and festivities and two after consuming a lot of sweets this also helps in cleansing the palate.
Nevertheless with the onset of winters new veggies such as green peas, cauliflower, carrots etc are easily available and being seasonal taste divine. What I find most interesting about this subzi is that it tastes different each time it is prepared because of the combination of vegetables.
Now let us talk about what goes in, potatoes (new), cauliflower, chopped Sem (broad beans), sangri (radish beans) (this is by far the most important ingredient), carrots, radish, peas, french beans, cabbage and capsicum.
For flavour of spices you add ginger, green chillies, green fenugreek, asafetida, red chilies powder, salt to taste, and green coriander (finely chopped).
How to prepare? Wash all of these vegetables, peel potatoes, floret cauliflower, remove thread from both the sides of the sem, remove stalk from both ends of the sangri, peel the carrots, radish and cut the capsicum into smaller pieces after removing the seeds. Wash and grate ginger. Wash green coriander and chop it finely and chillies too.
Pre heat oil in a wok (remember we do not use mustard oil for this veggie, although all dry subzis are cooked in mustard only), add asafoetida and ginger. After that you add green chilies and gently fry the spices.
Add all the chopped vegetables, add salt and red chilly powder then mix all the vegetables. Sprinkle some water, cover the pan and cook vegetables on a medium high flame till it is done.
In Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, 16 kms from Palampur lies Baijnath, a small town famous for its 13th century temple dedicated to Siva also known as Vaidyanath, ‘the Lord of physicians’.
The present day temple was constructed by two local merchants named Ahuka and Manyuka over an existing Shiva temple built earlier by the Kumaon Katyuri king in around 1150 A.D.
According to mythology Shiva and Parvati were married at the confluence of River Gomati and Garur Ganga and the King Katyuri built a temple complex with the idols of Shiva, Ganesh, Parvati, Chandika, Kuber, Surya and Brahma. Parvati’s idol in black stone is in the main temple.
In 1905, there was a major earthquake in Kangra region which also damaged this temple. After the repairs were carried out the temple became a protected monument under the ASI. Since then worship and rituals continue and the hereditary priests continues to get a share of the offerings.
An absolutely worth visiting site if you are in this area.
Recently while driving to Bir Billing, we got a chance to stay in Nadaun. What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. We had already driven over 400 kms from New Delhi when in the late evening we stopped at Nadaun, a small town in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh.
It lies on the banks of river Beas at the foothills of Shivalik range. Formerly it was one of the princely state of Kangra and was basically a trading town. People would come from nearby towns by boats, climb the stairs and camp in what is now know as the Ramlila Maidan, right at the top of stairs. Next morning they would shop in the bazaar and head back home.
Such was the aura of this town that Bulleh Shah in his famous poem “Bulla ki janna mein kaun” says “na mein rehnda vich nadaun’ and after that the saying gained prominence “Aaye Nadaun Jaaye Kaun”.
Steps leading to the docks on the river Beas.
View from the Ramlia maidan of the river.
The market in Nadaun is laid out lengthwise and you can practically find anything here from vegetables & fruits to clothes and jewellery. While we were there it was 2 days to Karvachauth, so the market was unusually busy.
Inside the market there is a shop which sells Kulcha Chana and Aloo tikki, which are also served with the chanas. The chanas are unbelievably good. I have tried chana in Old Delhi too but this was way above all that.
Had to grab this moment to click this shot.
Kucha chana (left) Aloo tikki (right) and the legendary chanas which are cooked overnight on a slow fire. The man behind these chanas.
Though by the time we hit the market on our return journey it was way past lunch time and the chanawallah had to literally scrap his bartan to give us chana. He however, made fresh tikkis for us.
While in the market, I came across some very interesting characters, one of them plays Ravan in the local Ramlila, and was kind of a local celebrity ( in a check shirt).
“Chana jor garam” don’t miss the kadahai on the thela.
The town also boasts of many sweet shops but we found this is the best.
We also visited a very old Shiv temple and left the town wishing for more. What an heavenly experience it was visiting this town and meeting incredible people during our stay.