Amber Touch by Sandeep Silas (Borough in the Mist, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.; 2007)
Travellers must move on towards the destination, the source of life. There are always halts filled with magic en route, but the journey of the ‘seeker’ makes him plod on and on. While traveling to Gangotri I have taken a night halt at Bhairon Ghati, 9 kms short. Next morn, I leave the Bhairon temple in the care of its tree cluster, the GMVN Tourist Rest House happy in its hollow, and the rigid crags that tower above the place to their permanent positions. They have enacted the role of a protective godfather all through, as if shielding the hamlet from some danger. They have also successfully hidden the pleasures of the journey beyond as if they are a grave finality.
The thought of river Bhagirathi, like a mystical light shining in the distance, led me ahead till Gangotri was reached. Gangotri is a temple town, a holy place for most Indians. It is also the end of pilgrimage for some and the beginning of pilgrimage for others. The height above sea-level is 3140 m and you can feel the sharpness of the wind. Cars and jeeps line the thin metallic road and cops have a tough time organising orderly parking.
The religious significance of the place is immense. It is believed that river Bhagirathi owes its origin to the foot of Lord Vishnu, wherefrom it started flowing first, and was captured by the jatas (hair-locks) of Lord Shiva. That was a tale of heavens above. On earth, King Bhagirath, unable to bear the suffering of his people due to water scarcity worshipped Lord Shiva at Gangotri. His devotion so pleased Lord Shiva that he asked him for a boon. Bhagirath prayed that Ganga be released from Lord Shiva’s hair locks for the benefit of his people. So was granted Ganga to the earth. It is named after Bhagirath as river Bhagirathi from the point of its descent at Gaumukh up to Dev Prayag. At Dev Prayag, the river Alaknanda merges with Bhagirathi and thence onwards it is called Ganga.
An arched gate, gifted by the Border Police to the town, greets the eye. Everyone has to pass through it, the destination being Gangotri, temple, the bathing ghats or the steps leading to the trek route of 18 kilometers to Gaumukh. Gangotri temple is small. It is erected on the sacred stone where as per tradition Bhagirath worshipped Lord Shiva. The building is non-ornamental, rather ordinary in appearance. There are no statues on the exterior and its height is also about 12 feet. E.T. Atkinson wrote of it in the 19th century- “it is quite plain, coloured white with red mouldings, and surmounted with the usual melon-shaped ornament commonly known as Turk’s cap.” The temple is quite the same save that the colour combination is now white walls and silver top.
The serious trekkers take to the steps, which connect the Gangotri ghats and the trek route. Buy a walking stick— you might need three legs on the way ahead. The river Bhagirathi is a pleasant companion all through right up to Gaumukh. Sometimes the mountain rocks to your side echo the forceful holler of rushing waves. Yes the river makes them sing. The snow peaks enveloped forever in a clouded embrace of the Meghdoot (cloud messenger) sit happily above their unsteady glaciers. It is a treat to lift the eyes from a rivulet meeting the river bed; slowly caress first the green cover, then the black, rough and prominent crags; then allow the vision to melt in the snow at upper reaches.
The trekking route is tough, full of uneven stones, even dusty at times. It is a real test for the muscles of the legs. You really get to know more about your own legs than you believed. Tree trunks have been used to bridge rivulets and one has to balance steps lest the boulders in the water have the last laugh. The trek is a story of ascents and descents. You rise again as the path decides to lift itself from the riverbed. It is good to feel the heights. You tend to pause before every new face of a snow peak, which is revealed to you. The edges of the black crags are to be admired. The eyes can feel their razor thin sharpness and also their blunt prominence.
Shacks en route provide plastic comfort to weary travellers. They offer biscuits, potato chips, simple roti-dal (bread and pulses), paranthas (oil-fried bread), and bottled water. Mattresses to recline on are luxury! There are slogans displayed on banners about the ill effects of plastic and non-biodegradable waste. The glacial river must not be polluted with polythene or plastic wrappers. Thanks to these gentle reminders erected by environmentalists, the route is remarkably free of poly-pack litter. Travellers were seen actually heeding the advice and using dustbins.
Bite into something at Chirbasa, 9 kilometer deep, from the origin of the trek at Gangotri. Have some tea with a dash of salt, it will pep you up. The hamlet of Chirbasa is a cluster of pines rushing from the heights in a straight descent to the riverbed. Shacks are perched on space created between boulders on the ridge. This ridge you cross. Do not halt too long lest the legs refuse to lift again. Bhojbasa, 5 kilometres ahead, has to be reached for a night halt. And of course, sunset must be enjoyed at Bhojbasa before you hit the bed.
The flora along the trek route is different and interesting. Ganga Tulsi, a shrub with a heady scent, used as an accompaniment during Hindu worship, and White Jungle Rose, each flower with only four petals, almost line the route.
Yellow wildflowers too have a word to say! Some concerned environmentalist groups are trying level best to not only generate public awareness but also give a green cover to the Himalayas where it is most needed. So we see plantations of Spruce, Silver Fir, Blue Pine and Himalayan Cedar along the way. A little ahead of Chirbasa, some educationists nurse a Bhojpatra nursery. This effort at preserving a threatened specie is laudable. The Bhojpatra Utilis has a distinct white bark and round green leaves. Its botanical name is Betula Utilis. The bark of this tree served as paper for recording ancient Hindu religions texts. I peel some. It is actually as thin as finest quality paper. I keep it as a memento, but it is not enough to write a song!
There are no wild animals to sight save herds of mountain goat and deer. We see one. A goat blessed with a pair of curved horns is perhaps the leader of this herd and his posturing on a rock proudly proclaims it. The coat of the goats blends with the rocks. The black mountains have yellowish-brown traces. So does the goatskin. There are no trees on these hard infertile rocks and shrubs are sparse. How beautifully God has provided them protection by making them look like rocks! You are left wondering?
The sun plays hide and seek on a June afternoon. Clouds drift at will. Sometimes you see a snow mountain half-concealed by clouds and half-visible to the eyes. It is like watching a Venus, thinly clad, sensuous in demeanour, and amorous in the eye, whom you would like to only see and not touch!
The Bhagirathi river continues to sing its song as we continue upstream. It is past 4 p.m. in the evening. Our guide warns of falling stones in a patch ahead. A warning signboard and we smell trouble. True enough it rains stones on the route ahead. We do not carry hard hats. I hide behind a huge boulder clutching the hand of my 10-year old son. Stones keep rolling down. They can break bones or even throw a person deep down towards the riverbed by sheer impact. One has to exercise caution. This phenomenon in the evening is due to harsh winds blowing across. The mountains in this patch are loose stones embedded in mud. So the peculiar rain. It is strange coincidence that this is the 13th kilometer from Gangotri, I observe! We run across carefully finding our steps when the fury if the mountain is spent.
The last leg to trek for the day to Bhojbasa is tougher still. A stream has to be crossed sans a log bridge. You have to place your feet in the bed on firm stones so as to save your shoes from getting wet. My son exclaims aloud—“Tough route, tottering wooden bridges, falling stones, icy wind, quite deadly.” Still he makes the 14 km trek in good seven hours.
Alas my desire of watching the sunset at Bhojbasa is not fulfilled. The clouds just whisked away the sun in a swift move! I have to wait yet another day braving the biting wind on the Bhojbasa ridge. There is a GMVN Tourist Rest House, an Ashram and several shacks, which serve as night shelter. You come back in life to just hoping for basics; a toilet is a luxury.
The Bhojbasa valley is panoramic. It is really huge. Gaumukh is seen as a cluster of rocks from this ridge. It is the source of the river Bhagrathi or Ganga, regarded by Indians over the centuries as mystical, spiritual and holy. Three peaks of Mount Bhagirathi tower above Gaumukh. It is an unbelievable sight—one, which you deserve in a lifetime. The three summits, Bhagirathi I, II & III perhaps symbolise the trinity of beauty, truth and peace, which I presumed was exposed earlier to me on the trek. How wonderful!
The morning was proclaimed in a loud exclamation. The moon had not left its rightful reign of the night sky and the sun was raising expectations of travellers as it continued in its upward stride. Pure magic was being played all around Bhojbasa Valley by the Great God. Straight above Gaumukh, the cloud curtain was gradually being lifted from over the three Bhagirathi peaks. They were being revealed like sacred verses are spoken to listeners. If you lose them in that pure moment they are gone, sucked in by that force, which transforms the present into the past—the churning wheel of time.
Sure enough an overpowering cloud fall barred the snow peaks from sight in the next few minutes. So were gone two beautiful virginal peaks to our left, one, which was bravely trying to cradle the moon in its last sojourn! The sheer transience of the scene was mesmerising, just like elemental man-woman associations, which charm you as long as they last.
The last 4 kilometers to Gaumukh are tougher. Especially the very last! The trek reduces to nothing but trapeze walk over accumulated boulders. Only faith and will power can take you ahead. Finally Gaumukh, 4000 m above sea-level, is reached. I find a perch on a rock before the cave, the source, and settle down to my thoughts. As I look at Gaumukh, I feel the sensuousness and abundance of love. That love, which knows no bounds. That love, that gives and gives always and forever.
Gaumukh is a cave surrounded by glacial bottle-green ice. Water, the source and preserver of all life on earth, keeps gushing out in good measure. The spectacle is akin to a mother giving birth to a child. The half-moon cave is the source, the water life at birth. And you son of man, a part of this beautiful creation!
People bathe, pray here. By doing so they believe that they have purged all sins. I feel the icy water and look at the slab of ice bobbling beside the rock I sit upon. I look again at Gaumukh or the cow’s mouth, the name given to the glacier cavern. Next moment, I am in the water, my hands clutching a rock and my lungs holding my breath. I have done it! Yes how many get the opportunity to worship the mother source of a holy river at its hideout deep into the Himalayas. The sun is benevolent. It lights up eyes and many lives. The ice sparkles. Sometimes chunks of ice fall down from the top of the glacier cave to meet the water below. Huge blocks of ice and the current of water play a game with each other. The stream cuts into the blocks and pushes it mid-stream. The block tries hard to stay put on its temporary throne and breaks the current into two. The game continues here in a hitherto unusual unseen mirth of ice and water; both same and yet so different!
Above Gaumukh is Tapovan. All saffron clad barefoot or slipper-sporting sadhus (holy men) are headed for that territory. It is place across the Bhagirathi glacier where Rishis and Munis did penance and meditated. Today there is some alarming news from Tapovan. One traveller slipped and fell some distance below to hurt his head on a rock. He was evacuated on a makeshift stretcher by locals and some foreign trekkers. It will be almost ten hours before he reaches Gangotri, where first-aid is available. Bhojbasa, I think, demands a doctor, a medical unit and telephone connectivity for evacuation by helicopter in dire emergencies.
The Himalayan glaciers have long fascinated the British explorers who arduously mapped and recorded their uniqueness. Colonel Gordon (Roof of the World, 17) writes—“the glaciers of the Western Himalayas are twice as extensive as those of the Alps, and are probably the largest in the world or at all events larger than any others out of the polar regions.” How do you recognise a glacier and the river it has given birth, must be understood. I am tempted to quote Lieutenant R. Strachey on the appearance of a glacier—“It seems to be a vast rounded mass of rocks and ground utterly devoid of any sign of vegetation, standing up out of a grassy valley. From the foot of its nearer extremity the river, even here infordable, rushes in a turbid torrent out of a sort of cave; the top of which is but a few feet above the surface of the water. Behind this, the glacier rises less steeply like a bare gravel hill, to its full height, which is probably 500 feet above the water of the river when it leaves the cave.”
After a tete a tete with Bhagirathi glacier and river source one must return to Bhojbasa or if possible Chirbasa for a night halt. Walking early morn on return is pure satisfaction to the visual and olfactory senses. Start about 6–6.30 a.m. The clouds are still lazing in the valley. Their effortless glide up the mountains is inspiring. The atmosphere is filled with the fragrance of plants and shrubs, especially Ganga Tulsi. You become part of generous nature. Many prayers come to lips in such circumstance—God make me a mountain stream so that I can quench the thirst of earth, plants, and men; God make me a wildflower, so that I can enliven a jungle path; God make me a birdsong so that I fill the woods with music; God make me a cloud so that I roam anywhere at free will; God make me a mountain summit so that I tower above everything else; God make me the wind so that I can give life to the world; God make me a star in the sky so that I fill the eyes of your children with dreams. Any one of these prayers could be yours. The prayer of humility, of freedom, of power, or dreams; it just depends how you feel. I, for one, would like to end up as a birdsong in a forest!
All good things these days end up in a mix of concrete, machine and artificiality. Should you come here once, you would be happy that for some days you were only a child of benevolent Nature.
Travelling on the dusty road once you leave the Bikaner Highway towards Gajner Palace, meeting simple villagers, finding broken bullock carts, watching hand painted sign boards, you really don’t believe that you are actually on way to some oasis palace amidst the Thar Desert. The road is unassuming, till you come to see a bright red gate leading you inside to an impressive monumental building. This is the Gajner Palace, now a Hotel.
What was private is now public, what was hidden is now open, what was unapproachable is now yours for the taking!
Gajner Palace was built by the then Maharajah of Bikaner Ganga Singh as a personal hunting lodge. Those were the days when Maharajahs could afford such luxuries at the cost of the royal exchequer. He ruled Bikaner from 1887 to 1943 and it was during his reign that Gajner palace hunting lodge was built to be later converted in 1976 into a Hotel.
6000 acres of the once called Jangladesh is now a beautiful Palace ground and palace structure on the banks of Lake Gajner. The Britishers were known to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at the cost of the then Maharajahs, eventually passing on the cost to the subjects of these numerous Kingdoms. So, it was but natural that these Kings who had accepted the suzerainty of the British play gracious host to the Viceroys, Generals and other Officers of the Crown! It attracted several British dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales in 1905, Governor General Lord Elgin, Lord Erwin in 1927 and Lord Mountbatten when he was Viceroy of India.
After alighting at the steps I heard a peacock call and that reminded me that peacocks are a plenty in Bikaner and the call added immediate pleasantness to the environment. The reception was welcoming and displayed photographs of the Maharajahs and Maharanis of Bikaner, who have now passed into history and only rule from their adobe in framed photographs hung on the walls.
One black & white photograph of a Princess was particularly appealing.
Stepping inside was a treat for a fan of architecture and a student of history. The centre courtyard had ornamental buildings to its three sides, the one in front being the Dungar Niwas. You can inhale the mystifying fragrance of tiny, white flowers of the maulsari trees (mimusopse elongii), which stand at the four corners of the courtyard. The tree flowers in the night!
It was here, at Dungar Niwas, that the British rulers stayed, occupying the 13-suites overlooking the Lake Gajner, enjoying the rise of the Sun and its setting, though they believed that the Sun never sets in the British Empire!
The originality of the suites bears the stamp of royalty and of an era that is lost into oblivion. Not to worry, you won’t have to pee and poo the jungle style because all rooms are absolutely modern and air-conditioned.
The other wings of the Palace are Mandir Chowk to the right of the Courtyard where a temple is built on the banks of the Lake, Gulab Niwas and Champa Niwas.
The trunk of the Banyan tree at the Mandir Chowk is so huge that one wonders about the age of the tree. It is clear it existed much before the palace structure was even conceived. It is said that the 32 deluxe rooms in Gulab Niwas were used by the glamorous railway officers of times bygone as a railway line was connected to the Palace in 1922.
Champa Niwas is a new section, recently built with a beautiful garden courtyard surrounded by rooms.
The Imperial Sand Grouse shoot at Gajner Palace during the Christmas season was the most sought after invitation in the Indian social calendar.
(The two Sand Grouse photographs from the Internet)
The Maharajahs and the British colonists knew how to enjoy life and not waste their time into unnecessary things, save those that suited their interests.
You can peep into the life of those times, as you look at the photographs of the British lifestyle, displayed in the corridors and staircases of Gajner!
The food place is the Mirage restaurant serving all cuisines, but when in Rajasthan eat like a Rajasthani! In front of the Mirage restaurant is the Imperial Terrace, which serves as a open air cushioned arena for many a cultural concert, with drinks and snacks.
You can also request for food to be served in Rajasthani Thalis at the Imperial Terrace and eat watching the colours of the sky and the lake waters!
Julie Elaine Hughes, a researcher has done a wonderful dissertation, presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin, about the animal shoots in Princely India— Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; 2009. She writes (quote):
“Ganga Singh greatly admired his state’s wildfowl and, because his status as a sportsman was linked to the perceived quality of his primary game, he wanted outsiders to do so as well. According to the maharaja, the imperial sandgrouse was a superior game bird capable of giving “capital shots and sport.”12 He insisted that a great deal of skill and steady aim were required to down the birds because sportsmen had to shoot them precisely in the head or breast.13 In addition, the flight of the imperial sandgrouse was vigorous and “much faster” than it appeared.14 Apparently enamored of aeronautical references, Britain’s Secretary of State for Air in the 1920s likened the speed of Bikaner’s sandgrouse to “torpedo-carrying bombers.”15 Even Lord Curzon opined that their movement was “quite unlike that of any other bird, and…not in the least [like] that of a grouse.”16 Some of Bikaner’s other wildfowl were similarly challenging. Like imperial sandgrouse, Ganga Singh described demoiselle crane (kūñj) as strong, fast, and hard to bring down.17
(Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; Julie Elaine Hughes 2009; pg 126)
Further, Julie mentions an anecdote about Maharajah Ganga Singh’s shooting style, as described by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow:
“Such vehicular sport gratified British VIPs who shot in Bikaner by giving them a flattering story to relate about their personal triumphs in the field. The experience often left them impressed with their host’s prowess too. Describing the blackbuck hunting that he enjoyed in 1937 along with Ganga Singh in the prince’s “high-powered car,” the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow wrote that [w]hen a blackbuck appears [the maharaja] stamps on the accelerator, takes both hands off the steering wheel and opens fire at the animal with his rifle. It is interesting to speculate as to whether or not he will resume control of the vehicle before it disappears into a thorn thicket at 40 m.p.h. [miles per hour].45 Even as Lord Linlithgow expressed admiration for the sport, he framed the interludes he experienced as comic amusements.46
(Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; Julie Elaine Hughes 2009; Page 133)
I would like to quote from Mahesh Rangarajan’s book, which mentions about the shooting skills of one of the Maharajah’s of Bikaner:
“THE Big Game Diary of Sadul Singh, Maharajkumar of Bikaner, privately printed in 1936, catalogued his bags over a quarter of a century. In this time, he had ranged far beyond the confines of his desert kingdom in western Rajasthan to shoot tigers in the forested hills of central India, lions in the dry teak jungle of Saurashtra, leopards in Bharatpur and wild buffalo in the Nepal tarai. The rarer a creature, the greater the sense of exultation of the big game hunter.
Thus it was that on a March morning in 1920, Sadul Singh’s father grew taut with excitement when trackers brought news of a male wild buffalo that they had seen mingling with a tame herd. The party of hunters had travelled all the way to Babia-Bankuwala in Nepal to get a fine head of the great arna, a creature already so rare across north India that the British had restricted its killing for sport. As they waited in a macchan, a platform on a tree at the edge of a plain, Sadul Singh recalled how, “Father got very excited as it was his first experience of this kind, even though he is an experienced sportsman. He said his heart was thumping as in his early sporting days.” Five years later, the same hunters gave the coup de grace to a group of three cheetahs in Rewa, a princely kingdom in central India. The cheetahs, shot from a motor vehicle, were so rare that their shooting was described as “a great piece of luck”.
The Diary is a priceless document because it totals all that Sadul Singh shot over a quarter century. Nearly 50,000 head of animals and a further 46,000 game birds fell to his gun. Among these were 33 tigers, 30 Great Indian Bustards, over 21,000 sand grouse and a lone Asiatic lion. To cap it all, over a thousand of the game animals had been bagged outside India. The Cape buffalo and the black rhino were among the 33 varieties of herbivores of the savannah and jungle of Africa that ended up as trophies in the Bikaner palace”.
(India’s Wildlife History: An Introduction, Mahesh Rangarajan, Permanent Black, p.160.)
Sounding a little weird but, nevertheless to mention is a recipe from Rajasthan, of the Kings of those days. I quote:
“Take a whole camel, put a goat inside it and inside the goat, a peacock, inside which put a chicken. Inside the chicken put a sand grouse, inside the sand grouse put a quail and finally, a sparrow. Then put the camel in a hole in the ground and steam it…”
This is all what was done by the Maharajahs! The question arises what you can do now? Well, well, you can take Nature walks, do yoga in the morning by the Lake, watch enamouring sunrise and sunsets, go for camel safari, walk hand in hand with your loved one in the palace grounds, kiss her at the Billiards Table, host a lavish Rajasthani dinner along with a cultural performance at the Imperial Terrace, in front of the Mirage restaurant.
And if you are not married as yet, why don’t you decide to tie the nuptial knot at the Gajner Palace, truly Rajasthani royal style and discover each other under the shadow of history in the splendor of Gajner.
Gajner not only surprised me, giving me a royal dip in its past, but also a lesson that past times can still beautify the present times!
Distances from major cities:
Jaipur 331 km; New Delhi 448 km; Jodhpur 251 km; Mumbai 1255 km
From Bikaner city it is 30 minutes by car
Airport: Currently Jaipur, but small planes are likly to commence flying to Bikaner in the coming months.
Bikaner, had been successful in evoking may images in the past in my mind; the temple where rats run like devotees, the grandeur of the Junagadh Fort Palace; Lalgarh palace splendor; Gajner palace and the serenity of its lake; the sharp shooter Karni Singh, erstwhile royal of Bikaner, and a somewhat blurred image of gold work on camel leather.
I enquired and set off to search for this Usta Kaam, name I learned later, and stopped by at some small dusty, clumsy shops, where creativity was at its best in humble surroundings. The flawlessness of the work stood out in sharp contrast to the scratches on multi-purpose work cum display tables.
Behind the counter stood a thin young man carrying the burden of legacy despite its odds. He was born in the community of Usta’s, who were originally from Multan, now in Pakistan, and had migrated to Mughal Court. The then Raja of Bikaner, Rai Singh invited them to Bikaner to work on the Junagadh Fort and Anup Mahal walls and ceilings. Naqqashi, is also known as gesso painting and what the craftsmen did to the Raja’s Fort and Palace is nothing short of being miraculous. Delicate floral and animal forms in resplendent gold have left the palace still looking like a decorated bride about to be wed.
Later on, the Usta’s shifted their work to be executed on camel leather as in declining kingdoms and later Independent India there were no royal courts to patronize their work and provide sustenance. The process though appearing simple is very painstaking. First the camel hide is softened and stretched and then placed on clay moulds. To remind you of the strength of camel hide, it was used to make saddles for horseback warriors and shields in war! The mould is removed after drying it for two days in the sun. Then the craftsman draws lines of the design he is going to make on the piece. The items can be in different shapes, like wine flasks, with long or short stem as the case might be; goblets; vases; perfume containers; water-bottles; jewellery boxes, lamp shades, picture-frames; wall hangings; and mirror-frames!
Akbara, is the technique of the design process, wherein a paste of powdered bricks, animal fat, jaggery and fenugreek seeds is embossed on the surface. The coloured portions are first painted and then outlined with fine black lines. Then the glamorous green and red colours are applied on the item and finally a coat of chandras, local varnish seals the fate of the beauty!
Kamladevi Chattopadhyay elaborates the process thus, “The portion to be ornamented is raised by repeatedly applying a special preparation of shell powder, mixed with glue and a kind of wood apple. Alternatively, sand from a ground earthen pot is mixed with glue and jaggery to create the required paste. The embossed surface is then painted upon. Usually a colour called paveri is applied first. Then a colour made from sindur and rogan is applied. Rogan is prepared by mixing chandras and linseed oil. Bat is applied to area where gold is to be patched.
Mohammad Haneef Usta distinguishes between different kinds of Naqqashi:
He further clarifies on motifs:
The most popular patterns are called Tarabandi; star-studded sky and, Naqqashi; floral and animal patterns!
Before the families practicing and nourishing this art are forced to abandon it for want of poor network and appreciation in international markets, the society or a start-up should think of ingenious ways to reach this rare art to markets and museums of the world! It is a gift of God!
Unable to curb my urge to possess one such piece I requested Javed, an artisan to make me a wall hanging with the profile of a famous Rajasthani princess in the centre portion…like she is sitting in a chhatri and waiting for her lover with longing in her mystic eyes!
Note: All photographs have been shot in the natural environment of an artist’s workshop !
I photographed the #Oriental #White-eye in my garden today. It hardly settles down for a fraction of a second. Here, in some photographs the bird can be seen drinking droplets of water from jasmine leaves. Sharing the beauty !
“The Oriental white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), is a species of white-eye in the Zosteropidae family. It is a resident breeder in open woodland in tropical Asia, east from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia. They forage in small groups, feeding on nectar and small insects. They are easily identified by the distinctive white eye-ring and overall yellowish upper-parts. Several populations of this widespread species are named subspecies and some have distinctive variations in the extent and shades of yellows in their plumage.This bird is small (about 8–9 cm long) with yellowish olive upper parts, a white eye ring, yellow throat and vent. The belly is whitish grey but may have yellow in some subspecies”. (http://animals.wikia.com/wiki/Oriental_White-eye)
To be with Nature is to be in Nature!
May 18th 2017
In a country of 1.311 billion, 1401 prisons with 4,19,623 prisoners, divided into convicts and under-trials, only one officer has had the courage and sensitivity to recognize that prisoners too are fellow human beings.
True, some Court has sat in Judgment upon them for committing some crime or the other, but do we ever come to know of their real life stories, the actual circumstance, which compelled their impulse to do an act, which was adjudged as crime under a code of law. True, crime needs punishment and the latter is necessary to maintain a discipline in a civil society, but reform is also a possibility.
This opportunity has been realized by a distinguished Police officer posted in Shimla, (Himachal Pradesh) as Director-General (Prisons), Mr. Somesh Goyal, who incidentally is also a dear friend and a batchmate.
One officer Pankaj Raj conceived the idea of a Book Café, and Somesh Goyal executed it to be located at Takka Bench, just above the famous Ridge of Shimla, which is being run by prisoners, all serving a life sentence. Here, they serve pizzas, burgers, biscuits, tea, coffee and the usual stuff inside a Café, which has wall cabinets all around stuffed with books.
Montaigne says, “Ordinate conduct, moderation, constancy apart, I believe that anything at all can be done, even by a man who, taken overall, is lacking and deficient. That is why the wise men say that to judge a man properly we must principally look at his routine activities and surprise him in his everyday dress”.
The atmosphere created is of a library café, where one can sit head down immersed deep in the world being unveiled by the book and occasionally look up through the windows far into valleys and beyond, into the realms of the mind…
The Book Café was inaugurated this April 11th by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, who also must be given credit for approving such a pioneering venture as a first in any State of India. The Café seats 40, and has free Wi-Fi. I liked the indoor décor of deodar wood, which gives a warm feeling in a hill city. A lot of books, available to a reader, narrate the history of the evolution of Shimla, which became the capital of the British Raj, with evocative photo prints. Apart from that you have historical philosophies, detective thrillers and travel & tourism books.
I saw many young couples and the recently married ones come to the café and for want of space inside sit in conversation upon the seating area around the majestic tree outside. Having completed my walk of 7.5 km for the day, I thought I could afford a pizza and had one. The courtesy with which I was served is worth mentioning.
Look into the faces and eyes of Yograj and Jai Chand and you will wonder why life made them captives of a criminal impulse and why their life is not like other men. Just for a second of indiscretion they got punished with a life sentence, live in jail as condemned persons, devoid of fresh air, freedom to go anywhere or to eat their heart’s desire. I don’t know the facilities inside the jails in Himachal, but from what I have seen they will be definitely sub-human. I do not have those X-ray eyes, which spiritual Masters possess, blessed with the ability to look deep into your soul, but, definitely I have a feeling heart and a thinking mind. So I don’t know for sure what thoughts a prisoner of fate like Yograj has as he serves the public here, but I saw he was thoughtful.
“I disclaim those incidental reformations based on pain. ‘God must touch our hearts’. I Samuel 10:26. Our conscience must emend itself by itself, by the strengthening of our reason not by the enfeebling of our appetites. 
I think that if other States of India could adopt this reformatory idea as ‘sharing of best practices’ a window of reform shall open quietly, inside hearts and our society.
Prison Statistics, India
Courtesy: World Prison Brief; http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/india
 Michel De Montaigne; The Complete Essays; On virtue; page 799; Penguin.
 Michel De Montaigne; The Complete Essays; On repenting; page 920; Penguin.
(Khushboo by Sandeep Silas ‘deep in Saada Khayal; Vani Prakashan 2009)
Once again a gust of wind brings your fragrance to me
The same world of your poise, the same happy-go-lucky attitude
Your scattered tresses, your melting down in my presence
Before me, the blossoming of your body, like a bud
Shining stars visible in those wistful eyes
Nobody ever saw, such scenes of heady intoxication
Where do I hide the sparks, those fill my pores
My madness is visible in all directions
Let somebody, touch and feel me like a butterfly
He too shall fall like a drunkard inebriated with your odour
Time kept on shrinking, become drops of feelings
Neither I came to know, nor saw, sat I with closed eyes
Now, every breath brings to me your aroma
Let all my life pass in the shadow of this moment
The halting of hesitant conversations on my lips
The winds changing suddenly with the season
I could not understand you my beloved, though I knew you
But, the scent of your body I inhale with every gust of the air
(Translated by Sandeep Silas)