Tuesday, September 23, 2008

THE LOST CITY OF LAKHAMANDAL!





Picture Courtesy - Pankaj Asundi

About 20 kms. out of the pristine hill station of Chakrata, from the other side diagonally opposite to the entry from Kalsi, we hit the dirt road that would take us to the very historic Lost City of Lakhamandal, situated on the banks of river Yamuna. The road, moderate in size, neither too tiny nor of urban proportions, is carved out of the side of a mountain and moves ahead in an undulating fashion along the natural curves and bends. The drive, sandwiched between the mountain side and a ravenous dip into the valley, is both hair-raising and adventurous at the same time. As is often the case, in these hilly terrain of the beauteous Uttarakhand, the drive is the most charming part, with the individual seasons of winter, autumn, monsoon and spring adding admirably to the charm quotient. The road is intermittently dotted with small huts – just one or two, not a settlement; sheds for the cattle, dried up thin trickles of water fall and shacks doling out lip-smacking fare of pakoras and paranthas made with hygiene standards of an Indian home. There’s never a dull moment as you take in the beautiful surroundings of the Uttarakhand hills, wave out in merriment at the village folk who reciprocate with equal gusto and become a piece of attraction for the mountain kids excited at the sight of urban vehicles and its strange occupants. The pit stops are something to look forward to as you refuel yourself with delectable street food fare churned with a lot of pride and attention.

While we got to Lakhamandal from Chakrata covering a distance of 66 kms., Lakhamandal is 125 kms. from Dehra Dun via Herbertpur and 111 kms. via Mussoorie. Lakhamandal is only accessible through road. Dehra Dun Railway Station is the last station and Jolly Grant Airport in the outskirts of Dehra Dun, the only airport in the vicinity. Which means that a trip to Lakhamandal, inevitably, becomes an extended vacation as you cross through at least three major tourist attractions in as many directions of this spiritual spot. Yet another tourist spot is Tiger Fall, about 52 kms. from Lakhamandal and ideal for nature lovers.

Lakhamandal instantly gives credence to the belief that India still presents a magical confluence of mythology and spirituality, just as it surges ahead to chart a new course in the technologically advanced world. It is said that whatever may be said about India, the very opposite is also true. And that is an absolute fact.

At the first glance, Lakhamandal can be dismissed as a small village tucked away in the gut of a mountain. But it is when you trudge further that the historic site unravels its mythological past and spiritual essence.

The village is charming with its stone-topped roofs and houses with exquisite wood carvings. And the people extremely warm, honest and welcoming. It is easy to befriend these simple folk, engage them in an animated conversation about the piece of history they seem to be the custodians of and saunter into their houses for a warm broth or a platter of home-style food. These people are proud of their heritage, extremely congenial, shorn of the urban prejudices and honest to the core. While walking through this quaint region, we forgot our handbags carrying our cameras, mobiles and wallet in the temple complex for a good hour or so. A shocking realization that our shoulders felt very light led to a frantic search before we reached the spot where we’d initially left our bags. It was a big relief to see them untouched while unmonitored for all this time, with all the things intact. Definitely a rare phenomenon in India’s other tourist destinations. We were of the strong belief that the influence of Mahabharata with its overriding principles of Dharma and Karma, had something to do with the inherent morality in the keepers of its tradition.

Lakhamandal figures prominently in the pages of Mahabharata – one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Mahabharata, as we all know, chronicles the story of the dynastic struggle between sibling clans of Kauravas and the Pandavas for the throne of Hastinapura. There was intense rivalry and enmity between the Kauravas and the Pandava brothers, from their youth and well into manhood.

Legend has it that the Kauravas ordered for a Lakshagriha (House of Lac) to be built in order to burn alive their cousins, the Pandavas. The Pandavas, however, escaped unscathed with the help of Lord Krishna. The Pandavas escape by digging tunnels with the help of a miner. There are a number of cave formations near Lakhamandal. It is believed that the Pandava brothers took refuge in these caves. You can still see the cave openings on the face of the hill range in front of you. If you are adventurous enough to walk through a colony of bats hanging eerily, you can explore these dingy cavities with the help of a local guide.

Old temples of Shiva, the Pandavas and Parsuram are aplenty in this area. There is a historic cave here and an eighth century temple with a number of carved stone figures and two big Shivalingas, all of which are of considerable archaeological importance. The temple has gigantic statues of Gods, royal guards and musical instruments cut from large blocks of shining grey and granite like stone. The temple structure itself boasts a fine architecture, decorated as it is with carved figures of gods and goddesses. The figures in a myriad poses seem to be telling the story of the great epic of yore. Just as you enter the temple complex, you are greeted by the priest who performs the traditional puja for you. There are giant drums atop a loft from where the temple drummer spreads the news of your arrival to the entire region. Sometimes the village kids, tiny in size and dwarfed by the drums but robust in spirit, merrily beat away on the drums in a surprisingly mellifluous rhythm. A local assumes the role of a guide as he walks you through the complex spanning from the main temple to the area dedicated to the large Shivaling at the far end.

The area falls under Jaunsaar-Bhabur, a tribal land where people practice polygamy and polyandry, in keeping with the customs of the times of the Pandavas (the five Pandava brothers were married to a single woman, Draupadi). The Jaunsaaris are known for their sharp features, big eyes, rosy cheeks and a flawless peaches and cream complexion. Their language is certainly different. And coupled with decidedly different mannerisms of the denizens, this exotic region transports you to a foreign land of the folklores in an entirely different era.

There is a saying in Sanskrit - atithi devay bhava (a guest is God). And the people here seem to live this dictum. There are enough invitations that spring up from our new found friends of breaking bread with them and spending a night under their modest yet beautifully wood-carved roofs. The people are extremely hospitable.

It is quite interesting to watch the villagers go about their daily chores – a young tyke herds his tribe of goats, an elderly man puffs away on his chillum as another sips from an earthen cup, a young girl beats the grain from the husks in a giant mortar and pestle, a group of traditionally clad women huddle away perhaps to share the gossip of the day – but all beam at the sight of the visitors, atithis (guests) for them and pose away for some happy memories.

If you happen to visit the historic St. Mary’s City in Maryland, USA, you will see that they have created a premier outdoor living history museum and archeological park, located on the site of the state's first capital and the fourth permanent British settlement in the New World. Within the 835-acre site, visitors may step on board a tall ship, explore a Woodland Indian Hamlet, help Godiah Spray in his tobacco field, tour the 1676 State House and watch the ongoing reconstruction of the original brick chapel. The site also has a visitor’s center, a museum shop and hiking trails. This is a reenactment of 17th century America. Now think about the period of the Mahabharata. The scientific calculations date the Mahabharata war to around circa 3130-3140 BC. Imagine the ancient setting, the mythological legend, the naturally beautiful environs, the mystical caves and the time-warped living of its people, and you immediately see possibilities for turning a visit to Lakhamandal into an exquisite and alluring trip.

While a quick Google search reveals that there is a Tourist Rest House at Barkot, about 27 kms. from here and a Forest Rest house at Kawa, 6 kms. away, our local guide promises that there is a very habitable ‘hotel’ within the village that would not disappoint us. So the word of advice is to go with minimum expectation in order to enjoy the unpretentious yet clean hospitality.

The places around Lakhamandal are as pleasing, making the region a nature lover’s delight. You could drive to Bernigaad and continue the journey to Nowgaon, a small town about 12km from Bernigaad that offers the best view of the Bandarpoonch Peak (6315m). Or move onto the Purola / Jarmola regions through one of the most beautiful pine forests in Asia, with spectacular views of the Purola valley and the Kedarkanta Peak (3813m). 16km downhill through the pine forests and apple orchards is the village Mori, the gateway of Tons valley, purportedly the legendary realm of Duryodhana, in north-western Garhwal.

BLACK OR WHITE!!!
































Pictures courtesy - www.deviantart.com

Black and White. Right and Wrong. Day and Night. Yes or No. True or False. Good and Bad.

There are always two sides. Two distinct sides. No shades of gray. No ambiguity.

Either there is or there isn't. It is or it is not.
Either you can or you cannot. You do or you don't. You will or you won't.
Either you could or you could not. You did or you did not.

There is this road you can take or that. There is no middle path.
Either you get onto this boat or the other. You cannot sail in two boats.

Either you swim with the current, or against it.
Move up stream or move down. Race ahead or cease your pace. Soar above or nose dive.

It is either heads or tail. Up or down. Top or bottom. Right or Left. If there is a beginning then there is an end. Either you come up trumps or you are down in the dumps.

Either your heart beats and you are alive. Or the heart does not beat and you are dead.

Either the mind thinks and you exist, being in a state of action. Or the mind goes numb and you are lifeless, dead as wood.

Either your eyes open to the world, and resting in between, stay open till you live.
Or your eyes close for eternity, waiting for your body to be consumed and cremated.

There are only two choices. The choices are in black or white. Either you take it or you don't!!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

FLOGGING THE FLOGOS?


Summer of 2001 is finely etched in my memory as one of the finest. I was selected for a cultural-ambassadorial fellowship to the US of A by the Rotary Foundation under the aegis of Rotary International. This meant that I, along with four others were sent to Washington DC and the State of Maryland on a red carpet for a really VIP trip. The agenda was to familiarise the decision makers and opinion leaders of these two geographical locations with the culture, the heritage as well as the charm of contemporary India. As a quid pro quo, we were allowed to be keen and close observers of the quintessential American culture and lifestyle. This was a five week programme, but I decided to extend it to a four month stay travelling from the east to the west coast and spending sizeable time in places like Florida, LA, San Francisco and New York in addition to the two mentioned above. With invaluable help from my boss at the time and the one more recently so, I managed to turn it into a busman's holiday as I not only experienced the American way of life at close hand but also got to meet important hoteliers and stay at some of the nicest hotels......... Ritz Carlton, Pasadena; The Campton Place and Fairmont, San Francisco and The Pierre, New York.

But back to the American culture. It was in Frisco that I was hugely entertained and amused. For something to click, it is always about being in the right place at the right time. And I happened to be in this lively city at the time of the Gay Pride Parade. Having heard enough about it and not wanting to miss it for the world, I coaxed my husband's cousin on the said morning and off we trotted to the area where all the action was to happen. Once there, my Asian sensibilities were teased by the occidental forthrightness. I saw handsome men baring their well rounded bottoms, revealed cannily in strategically snipped leather pants. The toned bottoms were then used to talk about the gay-issue-of-the-day. A few steps on to the Union Square, and I was greeted by the frontal view of a lesbian beauty in the nude (covered tantalisingly with the bare minimum of faux fur), who had used her bountifulness for yet another bold, in-the-face, in-the-eye message on the strong take on her personal preferences.I was quite taken in by America's ingenuity in this exercise of branding & marketing.

On another trip, this time a pure vacation, my husband and I found ourselves slaking our thirst at the famous and naughty Hooter's Bar in Interlaaken. The sprightly, gym-toned waitresses are known, not only to satiate the thirst and hunger of the guests, but also titillate their other senses as they go about flitting in body hugging cropped tees and hot pants. Their well-endowed bosoms are used to full effect to advertise the famous Hooter's Bar logo, thereby leaving an indelible impression on the consumer. Playboy bunnies have been better known to use their twin assets to advertise the company they represent.

Come World Soccer time and we see the choicely shaved heads becoming billboards for advertising the various teams as passionate fans campaign for their faves. The act is so sacred that die-hard fans cut, colour and create mind-boggling hair styles as they sacrifice their hair at the altar of idol worship.

Even in the subcontinent, just as in every other part of the world, the female fans too trade their much-coveted make-up routine for face art as they go about getting their country flags painted on this very visible medium.

So that's back, front, face, head of the human anatomy ingenuously used by the advertising and marketing world.

Very recently I read reports of the latest bastion conquered by advertising. It is called Pitvertising and it uses the arm pit as the possible backdrop for advertising for deodorants. Simply brilliant and mind blowing, I think.

Man's reach in advertising has known no bounds - under water, giant air balloons set soaring in the sky, food packaging, kiosks, bill boards, airwaves, the tele medium, camouflaged as news, insides of public toilets, poly wraps that magazines get couriered in, air ticket jackets, birthday coupons, landscaping done creatively to convey a message, steps to or the wall by a holy shrine, tea stall shed, back of a car, front of a cart, train sides, plane sides, cycle carriers, scooter stepneys (spare tyre at the back), pouches of new products stuck messily inside popular magazines, book jackets publicising other books, patches of pitch on sporting grounds sacrificed to the might and the moolah of advertising............

The accent and onslaught of advertising is everywhere. Everywhere where the eye can see, the ear can hear, the nose can smell, the hand can touch, the mind can feel, the tongue can taste..............

The deluge is devastating. Eating into the mind scape, relentlessly. You laud some efforts and then you loathe some, but you cannot remain impervious to any.

Most you have come to terms with and accepted as a way of life, as it were.

But you need to raise an alarm when some things sacrosanct enough begin to get threatened. Like the sky above that has come to mean so many different things to us at different times of our life - sun-kissed sky, a cloudy sky, a rain-soaked sky, a clear blue sky etc. etc. A muse for poets and writers, a source of inspiration for others, a sign of faith for the believer and just a matter of fact for the agnostic.

But now, we have flogos coming up. Short for floating clouds, flogos are meant to be logos of companies shot out like clouds in the sky for everybody to see and hence to maximise the eyeball capture. "Flogos are a revolutionary new way to market your event or business," proudly state companies who deal in this line of business.

"Its not a bird. Its not a plane. Its Flogos," state some others. Brainchild of designers behind companies characteristically named as Snow Masters and Foam Masters, FLOGOS, according to me are a bright idea gone bad. A spot of brilliance turned devious in this big bad world of commercial success.

Companies are bound to lap it up, given their incredible reach. But it touches a raw nerve. It hits on to a space that has been held sacred by all, almost universally. With children getting robbed of their innocence in today's texted, short messaging world, here's another pitfall that takes away from traditional lore and the romanticism of the bygone era.

When we were young, we went to play in the outdoors, picnics were a fun activity, we had real time friends, we wrote letters, we went to the parks and museums, we had excursions as part of our botany classes, chasing butterflies in the daffodils or mustard fields was playful activity with cousins during vacations, zoos were places for a Sunday visit with parents, we squealed at the sight of the rainbow across the sky and shot up a silent wish.

Now we send SMSes, we have play stations, Second Lives, virtual friends, Facebook / MySpace / Orkut relationships, virtual pet Societies. We give Endangered Hugs virtually, develop our own and friends' green patches on our personal computers without having to pick up a shovel and get our hands dirty.

Given the disassociation and dispassion of the new world, it is a miracle that we still can talk of a sunny day, a rain-soaked morning spent indoors, a clear sky with wisps of white cotton wool clouds or a cloudy one garbed by the dark nimbus.

But not for long. With flogos looming large over the heretofore pristine sky, we can all look forward to telling our kids what the real clouds looked like when their sight was unmitigated by the ugliness of these fake ones that assume the shape of companies that pay for their genesis.

Let the debate begin. Clear sky vs the one fed with flogos? Let the good man win, in this tussle between the ethics and everything-goes.

Lets flog the flogos before they fester or else be flooded by this fascinatingly fiendish new medium.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Which is that item that has very high `COLLECTIBLE VALUE'


Picture courtesy - www.deviantart.com

MEMORIES!!!

A plethora of them get tucked away in every corner of your brain.

Depending on how you use them they end up becoming either stumbling stones or building blocks!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MY FATHER AND MOTHER!


Picture courtesy - www.deviantart.com
By – L. Aruna Dhir
Penned on 7th September 2008


My Father lived and died a man,
while I whimper and whine in vain;

My father stood up to challenges
and squared up his shoulders in courage,
While I beat up the dark and the negative
and flare up in rage;

My Father lived a life of responsibility
with arms spread like a giant umbrella,
While I cringe and corners cut
a shame ’am not a patch on the good gone fella;

My Mother spent her life alone
but never was she lonely,
I set out to live amongst a crowd
but remain isolated amidst many;

My Mother took on burdens with glee
and thrived on a sense of duty, merrily,
I trudge along and crush under the weight of goodness
wearing righteousness like a bloody harness;

My Mother abstained from little indulges
and lived a life of divinity,
I crave heights of love and attention
and hark untiringly about faith and conviction;

My Mother preached ’bout the virtues of frugality
while giving thought and lucre to the needy,
I subdue myself to the everyday pleasures
and rein in my mind as with temptations it staggers;

My Mother shunned religion
while giving into spirituality,
I chant mantras a couple of hundred times
and become subservient to idolatry;

My Father and Mother were two of a kind
they lived a life exemplary,
I enslave myself to the emotions of this world
while aspiring to live in the pages of history;

My Father and Mother, now angels in heaven
send blessings and watch over me,
While I live in conflict with the worldly beings
and count the trees as the forest I forget to see.

***********