Sunday, 10 June 2012

Charkhari- Kashmir of Bundelkhand

Mangal Garh Fort atop the Mulia Hill. 
The forgotten township of Charkhari suddenly acquired prominence when a political heavyweight decided to contest Assembly elections from this constituency. Otherwise, despite the beauty and the rich history of this pearl of Bundelkhand, little has changed for the residents of this erstwhile Princely State over the past century.

While most places in Bundelkhand reel under severe drought conditions even before the onset of summers, the brimming lakes of the town seem to suggest an entirely different story. It is a rare engineering feat indeed to conserve water by building seven interconnected lakes which supply water to the township even in the driest summer months. But for the roads and the lack of the tourism facilities, the place could have rivaled Orchha and perhaps Jaipur too.

 The Imperial Gazzetteer of India provides insight into the long history of the princely State. 

An old palace in Charkhari

The bylanes of the town are dotted with such magnificent structures

The town had a population of 1,43,000 in the year 1881 but today only 25,000 of its original inhabitants remain. Poor accessibility and lack of any employment opportunities meant that the newer generations had little option in deciding to migrate. 

One Anna, black
The Royal Coat of Arms
During the heyday of its rule, the Princely State of  Charkhari had its own jail, coinage, legal system and police. Some of the stamps belonging to the era are today some of the rarest pieces of India's postal history.

Rani Mahal on the lake
While the current residential palace of the royal family is an ITC hotel, little else has been done to showcase the immense potential of the place to the outside world. The proximity to Khajuraho and Orchha could perhaps someday contribute to the development of the town as an idyllic destination for the curious travelers.

Friday, 8 June 2012

There was something in the air in the city of Taj..

There was something in the air in the city of Taj..  From the very beginning, or perhaps because this was the first independent assignment, it felt DIFFERENT. The familiarity of Delhi, the smugness of Saharanpur and the mellowness of Mussoorie all seemed to be present and yet hidden in the narrow bylanes and winding streets. And yes there was Taj in all its grandiosity to overawe and stun..
The view of the city from across the river, near Chini ka Rauza

Red Taj, the tomb of Col. John William Hessing. His epitaph reads: ”When Colonel John William Hessing departed from this world, he left hundreds of scars of separation. By person he belonged to Holland and was born in that country. He gained fame in India, by the Grace of God.”
Nothing could match the first whiff of Chambal air and the labyrinthine ravines. No words could describe the peace and positivity as Yamuna takes a hairpin turn around Bateshwar temple complex..
A tranquil sunset on the Ghats of Bateshwar, Bah

During the rains it seemed as if the city had acquired a fresh lease of life.. The brimming waters of the river, the moonlit Taj, the Arti performed by the residents of Kailash Colony to abate the floods, the numerous highways which run through the city like veins and nerves performing essential life functions, the privilege of sitting in a 100 yr old tehsil, the musty smell of the countless files in the record room, the taste of agra-chaat in the Sadar Bazaar- all these precious memories seem perfectly fossilized in some safe corner of my mind.

The facade of the 100 year old Tehsil Sadar, Agra
My first house, the lovely neighbourhood, my first experiments with the DSLR, fiddling with the micro-wave and naive attempts at cooking. It was a charmed life. Had little yet everything. My heart still leaps up with joy when the thoughts of those days come to the mind. The little garden in the front could produce everything for my needs and so much more. Have never been able to get over with the taste of fresh and free home grown vegetables. Those lovely poppies to cheer one's heart in the warm summer sunshine and compelled one to feel the same as Wordsworth for Daffodils..

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth 

It was an exposure unlike anything one could experience in life. My brief stay of a year and half seemed to have acquainted me with the myriad mysteries of the place and yet it feels so much has been left unfinished and unexplored.. Many a afternoon could be spent in admiring the bear and gazelles at Keetham and the innumerable birds who flock to Keetham in winters. Few would perhaps know that Keetham incidentally is also the largest Bear Rescue Facility in Asia.

The Foundation stone of the John's Mill in Agra
 Next time, I get the opportunity to be in Agra for long, it may be a changed place. The looming citadel of John's Mill is fast paving way for the malls and apartments. Yet my fascination for "the chimneys" of the Mill remains strong as ever and can't help fantasizing about the times when Yamuna was navigable from Allahabad to Agra and 'the chimneys' must have been the first sign of civilization to greet the travelers on their visit to the city. The elaborate planning of an entire spinning township remains inimitable and impressive even to this day.

Medical College, Agra
The superb structure of the Medical College remains pretty much unchanged to this day and on a day with little traffic, could easily give the feeling of being in a colonial township, that Agra once was.

And so is the charm of Old City Station which must have formed the heart of the city once. The underground tunnel and the french windows beckon travelers from far and wide and tell the story of an era long gone by.

Agra City Station

Various travelers to Agra could interpret the story woven by the history and milieu of Agra in their own ways but to me, it continues to amaze and surprise on each visit and yet there seems to be an never-ending  relationship with this place beckons people from unknown lands since times immemorial. Not much seems to have passed since the visit of John Mildenhall in year 1603, whose tombstone mentions his meeting with Emperor Akbar during the heyday of the Mughal Empire.

The railroad track is miles away, 
And the day is loud with voices speaking, 
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day 
    But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by, 
    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 
But I see its cinders red on the sky, 
    And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make, 
    And better friends I'll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take, 
    No matter where it's going.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay