In a somewhat remote, northwestern corner of Bombay, lies the little hamlet of Manori. Inhabited for generations by the Kolis, a fishing community, Manori is equal parts Portuguese, Hindu and Christian, giving it a unique cultural identity and a distinct vibe; one that stands out in this city of millions. To the few Mumbaikars aware of its presence, it is best known for its namesake beach, one of 9 that adorn the city’s shores, and probably the most secluded.
Visiting the state after a gap of 15 years, I have mixed expectations. A lot would have changed, no doubt – some of it, hopefully, for the better. But our arrival into Dabolim is completely underwhelming. Given all the hype the state of Goa has received as a tourist destination, and the massive influx of visitors since (some of them on chartered flights even), the airport remains a complete eyesore and an all-round shit show!
The ride to our hotel is almost an hour long, but over the course of it, our disappointment with Dabolim wanes. The Ramada‘s vaulted lobby is grand in appearance and wears a festive look for the holiday season. As the light begins to change, a walk through its sea-facing, sun-kissed property is at once invigorating, banishing any residual thoughts of the D word…
My only connection with the town of Palanpur, thus far, was the last name of a fellow student in college. Evidently, he hailed from the town’s royal family! The royals have long gone, as has my friend, the Sahibzada, who is now settled in the UK! Today, Palanpur – not to be confused with it’s namesake in Himachal – is nothing more than a district headquarter bordering Rajasthan, with the locals speaking a peculiar dialect of Gujarati, with hints of Rajasthani in it!
We have arrived here on a crisp January morning on the overnight train from Bombay and have a few hours to kill before heading back west! Sounds a little counter-productive, I know, but sometimes you just have to go east in order to go west 🙂
January is the month of Makar Sankranti in western India, a festival of harvest, and one that marks the peak of winter. It is also kite-flying season, and the men and machines that maketh the colourful kites are out in full force on the streets of Palanpur!
Several alarms have been set – all of them spaced about 20 minutes apart – but it’s the first alarm that shouldn’t be ignored! It has been set for 4 AM and is a reminder to switch on the all-too-important geyser or water heater! Once that duty has been fulfilled, I return to the comfort of my quilt and snooze for some twenty minutes more, safe in the knowledge that things will, somehow, slowly fall into place.
We haven’t even cleared Delhi’s outskirts yet, but almost everyone in our group, barring a handful, has dozed off! Understandable, for this is the peak of north India’s winter, and for 22 Derawals to rouse at an unearthly hour, get ready, pack, and make it on time to board a train, is nothing short of a miracle 🙂
My NRI friends insist that 200 Rupees is peanuts for a coolie (porter). I remind them gently that the cost of a ticket for the 451 km journey is only 116! They finally concede, and the economist amongst them concludes – the railways have clearly not kept up with inflation!
It is 7:30 AM at Yesvantpur Junction, a satellite rail terminus in a namesake Bangalore suburb, and we are about to board train #6515 to Mangalore, some 10 hours away, in second class ordinary accommodation! Not long ago, I had fetched my NRI friends from the very posh Taj West End hotel, where they had stayed the night, on arrival from Egypt the previous day!
NRI = Non Resident Indians, and at the risk of inviting the wrath of many a reader, I shall desist from using that term here forth 😉
It’s taken us a whole lot longer to get here than it did 3 years ago – a combination of crater-studded roads, diversions, losing our way on multiple occasions, and if that weren’t enough, a part of our convoy being held up by the ongoing Gujjar agitation! A little over 4 hours after leaving home, we finally arrive at our destination – to a warm welcome, amidst familiar surroundings – good ‘ol Kesroli!!
My earliest memories of Bharatpur go back to a trip we made in the 80s. The Birla‘s ran a Wagon factory there and my father being in the Railways meant that we were put up at the Birla Guest House. We were well looked after by them and served some excellent vegetarian fare throughout our stay. In the mornings we would venture out to the Bird Sanctuary and spend a couple of hours in a boat gaping in awe at a variety of avians including the much coveted Siberian Crane. Our boatman and guide was not only knowledgeable in the matter but could mimic pretty much every bird he spotted!
We were lucky then to have been guests of the Birlas for the only other boarding option at the time was the horrid ITDC Ashok, which had ‘government undertaking’ written all over it!
More than two decades have passed and a lot has changed in Bharatpur. The lake levels have all but dried up, the Siberian Cranes don’t come there anymore and the boatmen have all left. Meanwhile, like every other Government enterprise worth its salt, the Bird Sanctuary has managed to secure a World Heritage listing! The Birla factory closed in the early 90’s, only to reopen recently, and with the passage of time, the town has grown in leaps and bounds. But most importantly, Bharatpur today has plenty of nice places to stay, including The Bagh..
For the uninitiated, ‘Derawals’ refer to a community of people who originated from the Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan region of present day Pakistan. During partition in ’47, the Hindu and Sikh Derawals migrated to India while the Muslim Derawals stayed on in Pakistan. Derawals speak a dialect of Seraiki called Derawali, which comes loaded with a healthy complement of choice cuss words. Other than their unique language, they are also revered for their exceptionally good taste in food, their exotic recipes (which are rarely shared with others) and easily the best ‘achaars’ (pickles) anywhere in the world. More than anything else, they know how to have a good time, especially when in large groups – like the one we found ourselves in, at the end of December last year.
Welcome to our 3rd annual Derawal family reunion!!
The Shekhawati region of northeast Rajasthan derives its name from the 15th century Rajput chieftain, Rao Shekha. Today, it comprises the districts of Sikar and the melodious sounding Jhunjhunu. Within Jhunjhunu sits the town of Surajgarh, which was originally the ‘Thikana’ (estate) of Thakur Bhojraj Ji. The Thikana was established in the late 18th century and a fortified palace was built for the good Thakur’s use.
Surajgarh literally means ‘castle of the sun’ and with the Thakur long gone, that very castle has since been transformed into a heritage hotel, where we stayed!
Come 2010 and the Metro system in Delhi will have a stop practically opposite my house! I haven’t yet figured what points south the Metro will take me but I do know that it would get me to many points north and that to in the quickest of time. Can’t wait..
One of those places is New Delhi Railway Station but since the Metro is still a couple of years away, I was forced to sit it out in the most horrendous traffic possible and watch as the minutes ticked away. The evening of Friday, the 26th of September ’08 – at a little past 7 pm the Vaishali Express would pull out of New Delhi station and it was a fight to the finish for me.
Make it, I did! And that would be the only unpleasant part of a perfectly enjoyable ‘rail trip’ to explore some of the last vestiges of the Metre Gauge system in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India.
For those who have been patient enough to follow my blog since its inception, you would probably know what I am referring to. For the rest, wondering where part 1 is – although it was never ascribed that status, ‘Morning at the Masjid’ probably fits the description best! For those hapless souls who’ve never come across the much abused term NRI, it expands to Non Resident Indian. Someone whose fondness for all things ‘Indian’ increases proportionately with the distance away from home! And yes, I have worn that tag on occasion – like I did on the morning of the 6th day of this year.
It never hurts to plan big – a half day outing to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, a walk amongst the ruins of Tughlakabad, a visit to the monuments at Mehrauli, a walk along Lodhi Road and such. But with 2 weeks in India packed with travel and family commitments, that little bit of time out seemed an extravagance. So with each passing day, itineraries were quickly eliminated from the list and with 2 days left on my trip, the last one curtailed. The plan had been to start at Humayun‘s Tomb, walk down Lodhi Rd, through Lodhi Gardens finally ending at Safdarjung‘s Tomb with the possibility of breakfast thrown in at some point. Breakfast was acceded to but the walk and Lodhi Gardens got the axe!