A Bed and a Plough by Sandeep Silas in “Borough in the Mist”
The Bible in the Gospel of Mathew 5:13 reveals a meaningful phrase:
When I cast my eyes the first time on the Rann of Kutch I felt this come to me very powerfully. We had come to the White Rann by evening, my brother and I. We had first travelled from the Tent City by bus, then by camel cart to enter this territory that was for many years a salt wasteland without a human visitor.
Modern day travails and stressed out lives in the cities have led men to discover and reach such places to feel the grandeur of Nature and be engulfed with an awesome feeling. There is something beautiful and wondersome in Nature; it kind of overpowers the senses and tells you that all the efforts and boasts of Man are just empty whispers of the impermanent!
The Tent City is set up every year for six months when the weather is good and the salt is walkable, the slush having dried and the whiteness the best. The tents are comfortable and more than that give a feeling of adventure, a difference, which we all look for from daily routine.
The Sun was about to set and that gave us a spring in gait to walk as far ahead as possible from where there is no interference between the Sun’s glory and its colours as it dies another day, and the bewitched eyes.
The voices of onlookers created a noise that was incomprehensible to the ears. I was reminded of a play, in which we actors were to stand on stage and act as if engaging in avid conversation, while all we were to say was “gabble, gabble, gabble…” The Party in theatrics is nothing but gabble, gabble or bla, bla…
The majesty of the Sun was unparalleled. The more it went towards its imminent demise for the day, the more it glowed! Bright orange, blood red, mango yellow, and then a blob of red disappearing slowly but surely.
Its path for the day had been traversed, its duty done, it seemd to have set in our portion of the hemisphere but in fact it was rising in another. What a beautiful lesson in duty it is, to keep on shining with glory be it this part of the world or another. It also reveals that no Sun can forever shine in one part of the earth, it has to travel to another!
The White Rann, a huge expanse of raw salt, a pure offering of the retreated Arabian Sea conveys a strange indescribable feeling of awe and surrender, lying quiet in its immensity, clothed in silence, and soaked in Nature.
William Wordsworth’s “It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free…” came to my mind:
कबीर का दोहा
“लाली मेरे लाल की, जित देखूँ तित लाल |
लाली देखन मैं गई, मैं भी हो गई लाल ||”
(Text and Photographs by Sandeep Silas)
GOOD EVENING INDIA programme
15.40 minutes onwards…
Ibadat-e-Aman, peace bridge of music; February 9th 2018; Stein Auditorium; India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Poetry in English: Sandeep Silas
Dance & Drums: Chandana Dancers Guild, Sri Lanka
Inaugurated by: H.E. The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India, Mrs. Chitranganee Wagiswara
Where Nature weaves magic in the air; where the Himalayan peaks shine resplendent; where faith lives through a hole in the rocks; where you can walk listening to bird calls and breathe the freshness of mountain breeze; where Jim Corbett made his home; where the breeze sings a virgin song; this is Mukteshwar.
Nestled in the Uttarakhand hills of Nainital District this small town lives still untouched by the influences of the plains. Though barely 350 km from Delhi, it transports a visitor into a unique stillness that is unparalleled and allows peace to blossom in heart. Some hotels look at valleys, some at snow peaks, some get a temple view, some just a forest, so stay wherever because you can walk wherever in this place easily discovering different facets of Nature.
By the time we reached; my friend, a bachelor boy from Delhi, his two cousins and I, it was time for dinner. Searching a hotel was not difficult, it just fell on way. A new construction by an NRI, now settled in Delhi, alone most of the time in Mukteshwar, offered clean rooms and good linen but did not open his room heaters, perhaps because of the concession he offered us, the only people that night in his hotel.
We lit up a bonfire and talked and sang and drank.
The stars were beautiful as ever, twinkling into nursery rhymes, creating the magic tirelessly every night. The Moon, as it rose looked a little too nearer and reddish brown in its ascent. How much love must the stars give to the Earth? How much indulgence must the Moon show to humans? Existentialist questions, those never get to raise their tiny heads amidst the negativity of city life always rise up to the fore and clamour for answers. One of our friends was too involved in stoking the fire. He wanted to see the flames rise high in the cold.
The night was cold, it being January. Dawn was heavenly and the soft rays of the Sun touched everything and made it look like bathed in liquid gold.
Thereafter, I led the group to the former home of Jim Corbett.
He started as a railway Inspector of Permanent Way; went on to become a shooter of maneater tigers and ended up as a wildlife conservationist. What a trajectory his bullet like life took. The view from his bungalow; now a Tourist Rest House, is magnificent. The eye meets a king size view of Himalayan peaks which dwarf all human effort and ambition before them. From end to the other are the peaks of Nanda Kot, Nanda Ghunti, Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchachuli etc. What more can a man want after this! Days and nights; season after season one can sit here and ponder on Life, God and Truth.
A mountain pathway to the right as we exit this place took us to the cliff where surprisingly sharp rocks jut out into the sky. As usual many lovers have etched their names with designs of heart and arrow on the rocks. Some singles just left their impressions alone.
People climb up the inclining and obliging rock surface, sit and pose for a photograph while barren women engage in a daring display of faith.
There is a round hole in a rock, big enough to take in a human body across. People say that if a barren woman goes across the Chauli ki Jali on Shivratri, she is blessed with a child! Faith makes one do impossible things!
The restaurant down below gave some wise quotes and a half-cooked omelette, which we gulped down sans criticism as we were hungry by then.
One can take long forest walks in the forests at Mukteswar. One can trek from Peora to Mukteshwar or Peora to Almora as well as Binsar to Artola. If you are a camping type, this is the ideal place for you to experience the camp life, do stargazing and light bonfires.
I like going to villages and talking to the real people who brave the inclement weather and make a living out of very little. There I met Gopuli Devi. When I asked for her husband, she said he is not there. I requested her to tell him on phone that there is a visitor to meet him. “He will not be able to come”, she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because, he is gone to a place from where no one comes back”, she answered. By then I understood, that he was no more.
I apologized profusely and spoke to her about life with her children; her broken parapet, and the Plum orchard that sustains her family. She told me that someone had poisoned her husband and he died an untimely death. So, jealousy and conceited violence also dwells within an outwardly peaceful looking village society. I was taken aback and hurt as I saw her three children and her lone efforts to keep the family hearth going.
I came back with mixed emotions of man-eaters and conservationists, still lurking around in the shadows of Mukteshwar!
(Text & photographs by Sandeep Silas)
WO DUAON KA ASAR HOGA…
Sandeep Silas ‘deep’
Wo duaon ka asar hoga, to zaroor mera hoga
Khuda ke samney mera sar, yun hi jhuka hoga
Wo dil jo mera hoga, to zaroor dhadakta hoga
Khuley aasman ki tarah, wo bhi simat-ta hoga
Wo khwaab subah ka hoga, to zaroor sachh hoga
Aftaab ki mauzoodgi mein, wo chand nikla hoga
Wo kis kadr mujhey chahega, uska noor kaisa hoga
Wo anjum-sabaah, nazuk mizaaj, paak ruh hoga
Wo shabnam ki tarah hoga, to khamosh barasta hoga
Bikhar-bikhar kar rom-rom, wo zaroor khilta hoga
Wo nagma-numah hoga, to saaz ke liye jeeta hoga
Sur aur lay ka roz, dekho, khushnumaah milan hoga
Tutey huey sitaron ka phir, koi naya jahan hoga
Wo ‘deep’ gar jala hoga, ghar-mandir ka hi hoga
Copyright: Sandeep Silas ‘deep’
(Written: Delhi; November 16 & 17, 2017)
The very concept of erotic art sculpted on temple walls can raise eyebrows. Not so in Khajuraho!
I left Jhansi, 176 km from Khajuraho, photographing the wildflowers enroute and the River Ken. The road could have been better considering we connect a World Heritage Site, but still had its surprises of cattle being milked by villagers, children playing in front of their homes, fresh vegetables being sold by the road, and life caught up in the effort of living.
These temples were built by the Chandela dynasty between 950 AD to 1050 AD and have survived the ravages of weather and time to still tickle the senses of visitors. Originally 85 in a 20 km area, they stand only 25 in 6 kms today. Alberuni, the traveler historian calls it as a “city of gods”. Normally, one visualizes a temple as a place of worship of a deity. Now, whether the deity is human or the mind of a human thinks a deity to be part of his personal life is a question of debate?
Mark Cartwright, traveler and author writes about the architectural highlights of Khajuraho- “Most of the temples at Khajuraho were built using sandstone but four also used granite in their construction. In the latter group is the Chaunsat Yogini (64 tantric goddesses), built c. 875-900 CE, which has 64 shrine rooms arranged around a rectangular courtyard. Next in the site’s development came the Lalguan Mahadeva, Brahma, and Matangesvara temples which are all quite plain in design and decoration compared to the later temples.
The majority of temples at Khajuraho were constructed between 950 and 1050 CE and are either Hindu (Saiva or Vaisnava) or Jain. The most famous is the Kandariya Mahadeo built in the early 11th century CE and dedicated to Shiva. The more or less contemporary Laksmana temple was built in 954 CE by King Dhanga (r. 950-999 CE) to celebrate independence from the Gurjara-Pratihara rulers and has a similar layout and exterior to the Kandariya Mahadeo. So too does the Visvanatha temple (c. 1002 CE) which was designed by Sutradhara Chhichchha. Both temples have shrines at each corner of their terrace platforms. The Laksmana was dedicated to Vishnu and its terrace is of particular note as it carries a narrative frieze running around all four sides: Elephants, warriors, hunters, and musicians form a procession watched by a ruler and his female attendants.
Other notable temples at the site include the single-towered Chaturbhuja and Vamana, the squat Matulunga, and the rectangular, more austere Parshvanatha Jain temple with its unique shrine added to the rear of the building (c. 950-970 CE). Probably the latest temple at Khajuraho is the Duladeo which was built on a star-plan.” ( https://www.ancient.eu/Khajuraho/)
The eroticism of Khajuraho overshadows the rest of the hidden meanings of art. Sex, was not a bad word in those days as we see it being celebrated openly, encouraged and glorified on temple walls. Many meanings have been ascribed to the “why” of this art. One says, the Kings needed more men as soldiers so encouraged copulation, another looks into the hidden spirituality achieved through the meditative human sexual union.
But, all these fail to explain the man to animal and the unnatural forms of sex depicted on Khajuraho walls.
Whatever it is, the fact is that Khajuraho excites a visitor at any age and allows the person freedom of thought and expression. You come home satisfied you have seen art at a physical plane; you come back pondering you have seen the hidden spirituality within art; both equally satisfying feelings.
The stunning and fabulous sculptures led the temple complex to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site monument. Whatever exists is maintained very well by the Archaeological Survey of India. The temples are categorized into three groups: Eastern, Western and Southern.
Lakshmi Sharath mentions some stories trying to explain the raison d’être of building these erotic temples- “The moon always evokes romance and it is little wonder then that the descendants of the celestial moon god would build monuments that stand for love. The story goes that a beautiful woman called Hemavathy was bathing in the dark under moonlight, when she was seduced by the moon himself. She ran into the forests for refuge and raised her son, Chandravarman alone. The moon however promised her that their son would one day rule over a kingdom. True to his word, Chandravarman grew up to establish the Chandela dynasty. It is believed that he was influenced by his mother’s story and so he built temples with sculptures depicting human passions and probably, the futility of the same.
In case you are not fascinated with the story behind the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho, here is another belief that says the carvings of mithunas are symbols of “good luck” along with several sculptures that showcase mythical creatures. Another interpretation says they served as a form of sex education, by rekindling passions in the ascetic minds of people, who were probably influenced by Buddhism.
It is a depiction of the Hindu philosophy of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. Perhaps you can attain nirvana, once you are done with all your wordly pleasures.”(https://lakshmisharath.com/stories-erotic-sculptures-of-khajuraho/)
There is so much to see in Khajuraho and remember wondering about the apsaras, the nymphs engaged in activities like looking at the mirror; pulling out a thorn from the foot; fondling their breasts; tickling the private parts of their partners; holding a child; undressing; dancing; painting; or just being beauteous by themselves. There are warriors; horse & camel riders; there are the drummers going ahead of an army; there are mythical animals and attendants. In between the human endeavour the Gods and Goddesses are there too, placed under arched enclosures, as if blessing the whole exercise of recreation and human evolution. Here, the natural and the unnatural merge in the human consciousness that is governed by the law of love and nothing else.
I came when the sun was brightest and by the time I finished my art appreciation the sky was overcast. I started hurrying to the far end of the temples to catch the last of the bright rays falling on statues before they were eaten up by the black clouds threatening rain. The mood of the sky changed suddenly as that of a human and it burst open sending rain-showers upon the beautiful damsels who live and dance on the walls of Khajuraho temples.
Dusk fell upon the warriors, lovers and damsels who are in an immortal frieze at Khajuraho. The cover of darkness was perhaps an encouragement to them to leave their stone forms and assume a human life in the night, before the next day’s dawn!
Khajuraho is too complex to be understood by the ordinary senses. One has to delve deep into the mysteries of art & sculpture, and see with the discerning eye what all is hidden beneath the visible!
The Kalka-Shimla Railway
Like smoke wafting lazily from a candle, blown by a kiss of the wind, chugs the Kalka-Shimla train. The mist, held by the hills and the pines, lowers itself in a welcome to the traveller. Its freshness brings alive the sensations hitherto forgotten and buried under the pace of life.
If you look down history lane with a telescope, you find the gallant and fearsome Grouches of Nepal walking into Sikkim in 1814. The ruler of Sikkim, helpless, appeals to the East India company and the Company Bahadur extends security. At the close of the war in 1816, under the Nepalese Peace Treaty the British `mandarins retained a huge tract of land, which also included the ridge on which Shimla was later built.
One Major Kennedy, built for himself a house at Shimla in 1822. The Governor General’s were quick to realise that the environs of Shimla offered them an England in India. Lord Amherst spent the summer in 1827, followed by his successor Lord William Bentick. However, the journey was not particularly comfortable for the Gora Sahib. Ponies, or jampans – sedan chair fitted with curtains, slung on poles borne by bearers, over a 43 mile mountain track made mule of a man.
It was only for a correspondent, to conceive the idea of a railway line, that time waited for, till Nov. 1847. A passionate plea in the Delhi Gazette by this gentleman advocated the sketching of a railway line to Shimla – “We may then see these cool regions become the permanent seat of a Government, daily invigorated by a temperature adapted to refresh a European constitution, and keep the mental power in a state of health, beneficial both to rulers and the ruled”. The earliest field surveys were conducted between 1884-95. While the railway surveys were on, The Hindostan and Tibet Road, 58 miles, was opened during 1850-56.
The signing of a contract between Secretary of State and the Delhi Umbala Railway Company in 1898 signalled the beginnings of the line. The journey to a cooler paradise became a reality in Lord Curzons’ time.
The bosom of the highly erratic Shivalik hills was parted by a 96 km. railway line on Nov. 9th, 1903. Three years of labour by dedicated engineers and labourers in limestone and shale rocks saw through an astounding feat.
The line passes over 864 bridges and under 102 tunnels. Two-thirds of the formation is laid on sharp curves– sharper than a damsels !
The British chose the narrow gauge dimensions of 2′-6″ as the hills tolerated no more than a whisper to rise the arduous 1519 m between the plain and the hill. The treachery of the hill formation was bound by a silver thread, reassuringly. Lofty stone bridges, arched in their effort of holding the rail, at times three-tiered too, arrest the sight of a traveller.
The dark tunnels aplenty on the ascent, bring more than an opportunity to a honeymooning couple. Excited whistles and natural cries rent the air when you travel. A curious mix of chill and warmth permeates the atmosphere.
The journey from Kalka to Shimla is absolutely out of the world. Immediately on arrival at Kalka one sheds off his inhibitions like snake-skin. The toy train provides a breath-taking view of the Kushalya river, the moment it enters the foothills. The serpentine splash of mercury keeps disappearing and reappearing with each bend for some time. Passage through the Koti tunnel makes you hunt for a coat and the air jabs you, the moment you hit Jabli, 1240 m above sea-level.
Three picturesque loops near Taksal, Gumman and Dharampur provide photo-opportunity to an enthusiast. But wait, more is to follow. The ascent is steady. The train huffs and puffs its way across green meadows, capsicum fields, red-roofed chalets and half timbered houses. Each coach has chuckle under its wheels. Through aged in service, it does not sigh, for it carries a pleasant burden. About seven coaches form a train, to accommodate about 200 passengers per trip. The extremities of weather do not dislodge the determination of the 700 horse power B-B type diesel engines. They run to the call of duty in temperature ranging from 0-45 Celsius and in snow which averages 2 feet during winters. What to talk of the annual rainfall of 200-250 cm received by the hills! The average speed of 25-30 kmph ensures that “hurry” is removed from the psyche and replaced by a naturalness of demeanour.
If you want to taste the beauty of nature in exclusivity, travel in the Rail Motor Car. There are four of them and three date to 1927, while the last dates to 1930. A group of 18 can be housed in this vintage experience. You will be surprised to learn that the original White & Pope petrol engines fitted by Drewery Car Company Ltd., London, were replaced during the second World War as petrol was scarce. Americans supplied the diesel engines to the car, from General Motors, U.S.A.
Surprises escape the visage as nature unrolls its bounty. Gurgling brooks flowing down mountains, passing under the stone bridges, present a pleasing sight. Clouds of mist decide to tumble down and gingerly touch you, enlivening your senses. The train meanders through Kumarhatti, then enters the Barog tunnel which is more than a kilometre long, precisely 1144 mts. This tunnel crosses the Panchmunda ridge, about 900 feet below the road. At Barog, it is mealtime, on the morning trip.
Through the English firm of “Spencers” which built the restaurant at Barog is no longer there, but the English hospitality continues to live.
From Barog to Kandagthat the train runs downhill, past beautiful and quaint retreats of Solan and Saloghra. The final climb begins at Kandaghat. Gradually, solemn forests of deodars and pines replace the meadows. The abundant green fills the soul. At Shogi, a heartwarming view of the Chail valley brings numerous anecdotes associated with a Prince to the fore. It is said that this Punjab Prince, pinched the bottom of an English class on the Shimla ridge, and was thence banished from English society at Shimla. Undeterred, he built for himself a palace at Chail, a nearby resort.
Past Taradevi, the railways take you under Prospect hill to Jutogh, winding its way like a naughty current of air teasing you, tickling you, till it pauses at Summer Hill.
The prospects of a fullsome holiday brighten up the spirits of each traveller. Finally, like the last birth pang it burrows under the Inverarm Hill, to emerge and deliver a happy child at Shimla.
The transformation of a traveller from an adult to a child is complete.
As little as a train journey brings out the child in the man, to chuckle, laugh and indulge in childlike pranks around the invigorating forest paths of Shimla.