Monday, January 29, 2007

A Trip to Bhopal - Day 3 - Bhojpur and Bhimbetka

We left for Bhimbetka early morning on the 3rd day of our Bhopal trip. Like the previous day, the road was a treat - and I missed driving my Opel Corsa Sail on it. We soon reached Bhojpur, the site of an old, incomplete Shiva temple. Only the sanctum sanctorum of the temple got completed, and the ramp that was used to carry the heavy stones to the top of this tall monument still stands.

The scale of the existing structure boggles the mind. The Shiva linga stands over 7 feet tall, and over 10 feet in circumference. This is fixed atop a 15 feet tall square pedestal, each side of which is about 10 feet. 4 huge columns tower around the Shiva linga, ending in a dome, easily a hundred feet above the ground level. I don't know the reason why the temple was never completed, and one can only imagine the full grandeur the temple would have exuded if it had got complete.

Around the temple are carvings engraved into the black stone, but never chiselled out.

We then proceeded southwards to Bhimbetka. This is the site of the second oldest cave paintings in the World - and another World Heritage Site. The location is beautiful, along the Satpura range of mountains. The area around the caves is forested, which adds to the natural beauty.

The cave paintings themselves are easily worth the travel. The highlight is the cave nicknamed "The Zoo", for its collection of wild animals, in white and red. These are the two predominant colours used in the series of cave paintings, with only a few paintings in some caves in yellow and green. The whole complex is neatly maintained, but you will need a guide to point out some of the paintings not at eye level. Most of the people I spoke with after we got back from our trip had not heard of the place. I don't know who is to blame for this - us folks for not taking the interest in knowing more about our wonderful country? The government for not doing enough, or the popular media, who publish article upon article on some small Swiss village, but don't deem such places of world importance as worthy of being written about?

The feeling was compounded when we ran into a couple of Israeli tourists the next day at Hotel Ashoka in Bhopal. Both were middle-aged, and one of them has made over 15 trips to India, spending many weeks during each visit. He has been to more places than most Indians will ever make to, staying here. And one could sense the feeling in his voice when he said about how beautiful our country is. Domestic tourism can do wonders for the economy of the country, and it is up to each of us to make this happen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Trip to Bhopal - Day 2 - Sanchi, Vidisha and Udaigiri

We hired a car and left Bhopal for Sanchi early on the second day, headed for Sanchi. We took the route via Raisen, and had good views of the fort atop a hill overlooking Raisen fort. However, the stretch from Raisen to near Sanchi was one of the worst I have ever experienced anywhere! There was just no road! Just a stretch of red gravel and dust, which continued for some 10 kms.

We were fortunate to reach Sanchi before the crowds, and could appreciate the splendour of the monuments in relative peace. The stupa, and other structures, are situated on top of a wooded hill, giving great views out over the countryside. The weather was just perfect with the fresh air and the warmth of the sun, to walk around and appreciate the intricate carvings over 2,000 years old. The museum at Sanchi has some nice sculptures recovered from around the area. A good exhibit is a photograph colllection which traces the 'discovery' of Sanchi.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we proceeded to Udaigiri, to view some caves containing carvings. After viewing the cave sculptures in Maharashtra (Ellora, Aurangabad, Kanheri, Karla), this came as a big disappointment. The only notable sculpture being one of Vishnu in the Varaha avataar.

Our last halt was at Vidisha. Some time back I had read in a book ont Indian architecture about a pillar erected at Vidisha bu Heliodoros - a Greek. It somehow fascinated me, and I had always wanted to view this. Not surprisingly, the place was not known to our driver, and neither was it to the travel agent who arranged for the car. It is locally known as "Khambha Baba", and is prayed to by some of the local folk. Vidisha is not a big town, so we managed to locate the place without any hassle. The pillar is not very big, but, standing as it does, on a square pedestal in a clearing amidst leafy trees, has its own charm.

We still had time on our hands, and a friendly driver, so we decided to check out a few more sights of Bhopal city. Our first halt was at a cave temple in Lalghati, situated mid-way up a hill on the north of the Upper Lake. Nothing spectacular. We then proceeded to Taj-Ul-Masjid, reportedly the largest stone mosque in South Asia. The mosque exuded an incredible air of peace, helped by the fact that there were only about half a dozen people when we visited. The large pink structure, flanked by towering minarets, in the warm evening light, made for a wonderful experience. We reluctantly pulled ourselves out of the mosque, and made for Arera colony, where we were staying.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A trip to Bhopal Part 1 - Bhopal City

As my wife was traveling to Bhopal with her family last Thursday, I decided to take the chance to join them. I had been to Bhopal last year on work for a day, and I had liked what little I saw then to make me decide to visit the place on leisure.

We left by the weekly Habibganj express from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on Thursday evening, reaching Habibganj (a suburb of Bhopal) on time at 5:30 AM. Our adventure started when we could not alight from the train on time, and got carried to the yard of Bhopal station. We had to jump down to the tracks, cross another stationary train, to reach the platform. We had the misfortune of getting into an auto with a drunken driver as well!

After lunch, we started our tour of the city. The first place we visited was the Charles Correa designed "Bharat Bhavan". This is a centre for the arts, where regular art exhibitions and musical events are held. There were no major performances when we went, but the place, overlooking the Upper Lake, is very peaceful. After tea at the canteen, we left for Van Vihar, the open air zoo. But it was closed, being a Friday, so we ended up boating on the Upper Lake. The weather was extremely pleasant, and we got great close up views of Gulls (Black Headed?) on the lake.

We then visited Gohar Mahal, situated on the northern bank of the Upper Lake. The place hardly sees any tourists nowadays, except during the days when there are 'haats' within the palace. This must be quite a sight, and we would have loved to be there when one of them was on.

Our last destination for the day was the 'Laxminarayan' temple, also called 'Birla Mandir'. It is not as grand in appearance as other Birla temples, but had a good setting on a hill, overlooking the Lower Lake and the city around.