Just back from a 3 week road trip across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, exploring lesser known pockets of our own country that are largely off the package tourist radar.
I knew we were in the right track when most locals and rickshaw drivers who took us around told us that they had no inkling that the historical places we wanted to see even existed, although they have been driving around those areas for many years.
It has been a long journey with a myriad of incredible experiences, so I am going to first share my 10 most memorable highlights of this trip:
1.Discovered the tomb of Razia Sultana tucked away in the dingy lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi surrounded by pipes and buildings. Also, discovered a whole new world in the ruins of Tughlaqabad overlooking a fog clad Delhi, just a metro ride away.
The tomb of Razia Sultana lies ignored, between water tanks and high rises of Chandni Chowk.
Panoramic shot of Tughlaquabad, founded by Ghiyas ud din Tughlaq, that now lies in colossal ruins overlooking Delhi’s cityscape.
2. Was introduced to a whole area in a bylane of Lajpat Nagar, Delhi inhabted by Arab settlers. Feasted at a restaurant serving authentic Arab cuisine with plenty of Afghans for company and pictures from Afghanistan on the walls. This was a rare find in the buzzing Metropolis of Delhi.
Posing as brand ambassador to the awesome Afghan Darbar restaurant, a gem of a find, all thanks to Sravasti Talukdar, my friend in Delhi
A street scene from Afghanistan adorns the wall of the restaurant and adds the touch of authenticity
3. Drove through the ravines of Chambal in the night listening to our driver telling us tales about notorious dacoits and live encounters that he has seen. Ending the night around a bonfire with locals and eating the most amazing cashew nut curry.
4. Watched the Total Lunar Eclipse in Sonagiri with a nomad who gave us more details about the eclipse than probably even Google can deliver.
5. Visited the tomb of a Dutch man Colonel Hessing built in Mughal style. The tomb is nicknamed the ‘Red Taj Mahal’.
6. Took a serene boat trip down Chambal River, one of the most non polluted rivers of India thanks to its non holy status. Saw several ghariyals, crocodiles, tortoises and a range of migratory birds. Highlight was definitely seeing the rare and elusive Gangetic Dolphin doing an Olympic jump before us.
7. The lovely Chousath Yogini temple in Padavali, Madhya Pradesh. It is said that the Indian Parliamet is largely modelled on this temple.
8. A monkey thief pinching my spectacles right off my nose while I was on a moving cycle rickshaw in Vrindavan. His partner in crime, a strapping young lad walks up to me and offers to help get my glasses back. He throws up a packet of chickpeas and the ape throws down my glasses after having nibbled the edge off, in classic Bollywood style. The young lad then demands a remuneration of Rs.100/- for having ‘helped’ get my glasses back. By that time I realised it was a racket and refused to fall prey to this. But, sure this will go down memory lane a long way!
9. Chasing out a frog every night from my bathroom in Chambal and thereby managing to embed a one inch long Babool thorn in my shoes and foot during one such nightly outdoor ‘shoo – out’ session.
10. Visiting a Hanuman temple in a remote part of Chambal. I was told that the Hanuman looks different by morning, afternoon and night. The statute actually has deep bluish nerve like etchings and they become lighter to darker as the day progreses, signifying childhood, youth and old age.
Statue of Lord Hanuman in an ancient temple, Chambal, Madhya Pradesh
Close up of the bluish vein like etchings on the legs.
This is just a snapshot of my wanderings. Watch this space for more tales from lands less visited.