10 boat rides in 10 years

It’s now 10 years that I have been doing serious traveling (on work and on pleasure) and capturing those moments on digital cameras for posterity. I recall 10 memorable boat rides in these 10 years. Some rides are quasi commuting / public transport rides, going from one place to another in the quickest way. The others are more relaxed holiday joyrides.

1. Murud Janjira, January 2006

Janjira, January 2007 These are dhows, relics of the maritime history of the Indian Ocean. Ever since civilisation grew roots in the Indian Ocean rim – from East Africa, Arabia, Persia and the Indian sub-continent and the islands that dot the ocean – there have been various versions and forms of this simple craft. The Janjira island was an impregnable realm inhabited by Habisis – Abyssinians. These Habisis would have come to India in these very boats, brought in as slave soldiers purchased by the various sultanates in the Deccan. Those who were able to secure their freedom settled here controlling the Arabian Sea and protecting their allies, the same sultanates, from pirates and later the Europeans. Today, descendents of those Habisis operate these boats ferrying tourists from the main land to the fort – doubling up as guides and showing people their lost world.

2. Hogenakkal, September 2010 On the Kaveri River, Hogenakkal, September 2010

The Cauvery turns into Tamil Nadu from Karnataka. The river breaks into multiple streams and rapids as the waters weave around the rocky terrain. The coracles operated by boatmen here takes one right into the zone. There is a loop that the boatman takes which includes a bit of rock climbing (with boat hanging over the back), jungle trekking and lots  of white water paddling.

3. Bangkok, March 2011

Wat Arun, Bangkok, March 2011 The Chao Praya river traffic is heavy as the traffic on the tar roads of the city. But with a lot of the city’s fine sights lined up on either side of the river, taking the water buses makes for a good joy ride as well as commuting option to go from one location to another.

4. Luang Prabang, Laos, March 2011

View from the boatman's seat, on the Mekong, March 2011

The mighty Mekong winds through the mountains of northern Laos and flows through Luang Prabang, former capital of French occupied Laos. All along the river, there are a number of tourist hops and these long tail boats ferry the tourists upriver and back. Early morning mist covers the mountains and the cool weather of the high altitude zone makes it a very refreshing ride.

5. Kong Lor, Laos, April 2011

On-coming boat traffic, inside Kong Lor, Laos, April 2011 This underground river Hinboun takes one deep into the dark rectum of a Kong Lor mountain. Tiny spots of lights from mobile phone torches and miner helmet lamps give glimpses of gargoyle like limestone formations on the walls. The entire boat ride – upstream and downstream – lasts a good 1 hour. There is no navigation, just follow the water. If you hit a rock, you go around and keep going. April is in the middle of the dry season and the water levels was low. This meant occasionally getting off the boat, wading in ankle deep water tugging the boat over the shoals till it became deeper.

6. Si Phan Don, Laos, April 2011

Mekong river bank, southern Laos, April 2011

On the border of Laos and Cambodia, the Mekong spreads out into an area of over 14km in breadth. In the Ganges delta, the land appears and disappears with the tides. Here in Laos, the land appears and disappears with the flooding of the river. Hence, the name Si Phan Don or 4000 Islands. Here, approximately in the middle of the river, where the depth is sufficiently immense, roam the remaining few Irrawaddy Dolphins. From Don Det, the largest of the 4000 islands, one can take a long tail boat and go down to what the locals call the Dolphin stadium. Along the way, you see these trees bent over from the force of the flooded river over the years.

7. Pichavaram, August 2014

Pichavaram, August 2014 The mangrove forests of Pichavaram have some rare species of trees as well as a range of birds, permanent and migratory. The boat weaves around stands of these trees and visits the inner nooks and corners of the estuary. There’s fish to catch and eat.

8. Kochi, April 2015

Kochi Harbour, April 2015

Ports on the western coast of India have a long saga of maritime history. The ports of Kerala have seen trade ships from all parts of the globe for millennia. The various structures, water craft and random paraphernalia show evidence of all those influences in their design. The Fort Kochi – Ernakulam ferry at 4 bucks is the cheapest way to explore all that history.

9. Hue, Vietnam, November 2015

Hue District, November 2015 Just outside Hue, separated from the China Sea by large sand bars, lagoons provide fertile water plots for shrimp farming. The skyline is dotted with godowns, watch towers and restaurants (for tourists) built on stilts. Vietnam outside the cities, now that there is no war, is probably one of the most laid back and sleepy parts of the world

10. Tonle Sap, Cambodia, November 2015

Tonle Sap, November 2015

The Tonle Sap or Great Lake was the primary water source for the Angkor people back in the day. After all the upheaval that the land and its people have gone through, the lake today supports a diverse set of species living in or on it. This includes humans – refugees of all kinds. Homeless people who have lost their lands during the wars; ethnic minority communities chased out by the ruling regimes in Cambodia and Vietnam; migrants who cannot find any shelter in the already impoverished nation; and many others. The floating settlement – houses on stilts, traffic in jolly rowing boats – has taken care of itself with churches, schools, basketball courts, hospitals and their own houses, all floating in the water.

Bonus: Mumbai Harbour, all the time

Mumbai, December 2015

A boat ride in Mumbai harbour, whether for pleasure or for going across to Elephanta Island, is an experience that rivals rush hour commuting. There’s a million people out there getting into those boats. Boatmen have their safety norms and will not allow more than a certain number. So there is a fight on to take the next boat and be on one’s way. All this is of course great for the sea gulls. Kids and adults throw out pop corn, chips or biscuits for the birds to catch as they are flying. Thus this site of a plume of white seagulls rising around these harbour boats.


Ballimaran Se Dariba Talak

Tujshe milna purani Dilli mein
Chhod aaye nishaani Dilli mein
Ballimaran se Daribe talak
Teri meri kahani Dilli mein

From Ghalib’s haveli


One steps out on to the street

Delhi, April 2016

on Gali Qasim Jan

Delhi, April 2016

through the narrow dark streets of Ballimaran

Delhi, April 2016

where boatmen once lived but over the years were followed by soldiers, hakims, Ayurvedic healers, jalebi makers, kabab walas, mattress makers, plastic suppliers and other people

Delhi, April 2016

with Mughal domes jutting out in the far distance along with electric cables, air-conditioner units and modified roofs

Delhi, April 2016

And of course Lal Kila stands in the distance at the Dariba Kalan corner on Chandni Chowk

Delhi, April 2016

To round it up, in my book, based on my limited literary sense, one of the greatest Gulzar compositions ever

Exploring Mumbai – 2015

This year, like in the previous years, I continued my explorations of this Urbs Prima in Mundis.

There will soon be more people living in the city of Bombay than on the continent of Australia. Urbs Prima in Indis reads the plaque outside the Gateway of India. It is also the Urbs Prima in Mundis, at least in one area, the first test of the vitality of a city: the number of people living in it. With 14 million people, Bombay is the biggest city on the planet of a race of city dwellers. Bombay is the future of urban civilization on the planet. God help us.

(Maximum City, Suketu Mehta)

All these people in the city means that when exploring the city with the camera, it is very difficult to get a chaos-less frame. Every direction, if one tries compose a shot, is filled with millions of photobombs – hanging wires, traffic, people walking by, hawkers looking for custom, dogs, cows and the ubiquitous black & yellow taxis and BEST buses.

Below are a selection of 25 photographs out of the many I took this year of different places in Mumbai.

February 2015

Mahakali Caves Road, Mumbai, February 2014
1. Mahakali Caves Road, Andheri East

The Mahakali Caves are part of the series of Buddhist caves in and around Mumbai. The series include Kanheri, Karla and Bhaja as the big ones with Jogeshwari, Mandapeshwar and Mahakali being the smaller groups. The latter three are now buried under slums with the enclosed area used as a public shit house. This picture of a mass producing statue workshop – of Dr Ambedkar holding a copy of the Constitution and pointing to Parliament (to be imagined I am sure) – provides some element of artistic gravitas to the other wise dump that this archaeological site has become.

March 2015

2. Gol Deool, Null Bazaar

The area starting with Byculla all the way south to Kalbadevi has, for the last 200 years, financed the city. This centre of trade – cloth, diamond, precious metals, steel, paper, machinery and human flesh trade – has given the city many billionaires and millionaires through organised industry – legal and illegal. Today, the wealth creation has become more spread out and these old parts of the city like Null Bazaar look considerably rundown and decayed. But the stream of population remains.

3. Mumbadevi Temple, Kalbadevi

The city’s eponymous temple is hidden by shops in a crowded lane of Kalbadevi. The vimana of the temple can be seen through the gaps from a distance. But upfront, the entrance is lost amongst the cloth and jewelry shops in the street.

4. Madhavbaug, CP Tank

Mahatma Gandhi’s first few days back in India were spent in Girgaum in places like Madhavbaug where he attended many felicitation programs as well as delivered lectures and talks on his works. Behind Madhavbaug is an old animal shelter which was renovated and kept ready for the rush of old animals following the ban on cow slaughter in Maharashtra.

April 2015


5. Alfred Talkies, Maulana Shaukat Ali Road

The area around Bombay Central & Grant Road railway stations was a hub of the Bombay film industry till the 1950s. Cinema halls like Alfred Talkies were destinations for the cinema afficianados. Many like Minerva and Naaz which ran movies like Sholay for years are now demolished and are obliterated from the map. Those still standing cater to the local shopkeepers, taxi drivers and customers visiting the red light quarters on Maulana Shaukat Ali Road.

6. The Royal Opera House, Girgaum

The Royal Opera House of Mumbai is likely to reopen in 2016. Five years of painstaking restoration to its original 1911 design is heading into its last leg. Purely for its touristy value, a re-opened operational Opera House will be some achievement for a city which is losing all its heritage establishments one after another.

7. Taraporevala Aquarim, Marine Drive

The Art Deco structures of Mumbai have been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. The Taraporevala Aquarium has got itself a new look with twinkling dancing lights on its facade. The Art Deco style has been preserved but for some reason, one feels the visual appearance has a strong Govinda meets MF Hussain feel.

8. Marine Drive

Ah! Marine Drive. These days photographing across Marine Drive, a line of sight measuring 2 km, is difficult because of the pollution filled haze casting a veil on all the buildings. But Mumbai, even if it is choking in the crush of all things, finds itself magnetically drawn to Marine Drive and the seafront promenade every evening.

May 2015

9. Theosophical Society, Gamdevi

A small road bridge over the Western Railway tracks, sandwiched between the more busier bridges on Sardar Patel Road and Nana Chowk Road, is the French Bridge, named after Col PT French, one of the founders of the BBCI Railway Company (became the Western Railway after independence). The traffic is non-existent even though one end of the bridge comes out into the busy Opera House junction. At the other end is The Theosophical Society building which has a hall in it called Blavatsky Lodge. This structure hosted many personalities over the years including Mahatma Gandhi. Some significant events, declarations and meetings during the freedom struggle happened here.

10. Gamdevi

Girgaum or Gamdevi (literally, the “village goddess”) developed from the small village in the foot of the Malabar Hill. This is reflected in its name – Giri + Gaum i.e. hill village. This is feature of all parts of Mumbai which have grown from small villages like these. The local word for such villages is “gaothan” and the cross-hairs of many builders and developers are on these prime locations. The narrow zig-zag streets, small courtyards outside homes, chickens fluttering around – some of the typical “gauthi” elements still remain under the shadow of skyscrapers.

11. August Kranti Maidan, Gamdevi

Bombay has been a significant centre for political events which were part of the freedom struggle. The Quit India movement which was launched here by Aruna Asaf Ali who led the Congress session since everyone including Mahatma Gandhi were arrested or detained by the British. The maidan is just five minutes walk from Mani Bhuvan, Gandhi’s residence in Mumbai for many years.

12. Kalbadevi Road

Kalbadevi is a fascinating place to explore – trading, old bookshops, art deco cinema halls, communes called wadis, shady bars, restaurants and a variety of small temples, mosques, agiaries and churches sprinkled all over. Each of these establishments have their own history and associated legends. If you can brave the teeming crowds, there are many a Saturdays which you can spend walking here.

July 2015

13. Oval Maidan, Fort

I do my city explorations on Saturday afternoons. I get out of office early, pick a neighbourhood to explore and catch a bus or train going there. The Fort area on Saturday afternoons goes into a limbo state – there are half-day workers are rushing to Churchgate or CST to catch their trains home and there are some hardworking delivery people who settle down for a siesta in the edges of the maidans watching whatever game of cricket is going on – even kids doing net practice.

14. Mumbai University, Fort Campus

The Fort campus of Mumbai University always makes one pause and look up when passing by.

15. Kalaghoda

Kalaghoda lost two major addresses this year – Samovar and Rhythm House. What will come in their place?

September 2015

16. Eastern Freeway Tunnel, Chembur exit

My house is less than a kilometre from the Chembur exit of the Eastern Freeway. It has made Cafe Mondegar in Colaba my “will be right there” place. And in the monsoon, the tunnels have a touch of the Western Ghats aesthetic.

17. Horniman Circle, Fort

I have been to Horniman Circle so many times but till recently, I never noticed these Grecian faces on the columns of the buildings. One of the buildings is called Hermes House. So, in the absence of any expert reference, let’s assume these are Hermes busts. This year, there were not too many open air events in Horniman Circle.

18. St Thomas Cathedral, Fort

One of the first churches in Western India and Mumbai, Constructed in the 17th century, the St Thomas Cathedral was the first Anglican Church in Mumbai and served the British community in the original Fort. There are memorials and tombstones of British officers, their wives and their children since 1718. One can see the number of young Britishers perishing to tropical diseases before they reached the age of 25. There’s also a number of memorials for various crews of ships lost at sea off the coast.

19. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

With the UNESCO World Heritage Site status secured, whoever is in charge decided it would be a good idea to bathe the iconic structure with disco lights. Not many citizens are impressed by it. The simple sodium vapour lights were far more elegant.

20. Lower Parel Skyline

Lower Parel was known as “Girangaon” – the village of spinning mills. The skyline was made up of tall chimneys. The chimneys have been replaced by residential and commercial blocks. Ever since they relaxed the maximum height of buildings, all the major construction companies were out there creating a race to the sky. Looking out of the 17th floor of one such building, one can still see a few pixels of ground. In another five years, I am not sure that the will be visible.

October 2015

21. Bandra Railway Station

Apart from CST, some of the suburban railway stations have some very eye catching designs. The beautiful Bandra railway station is one. Though, with all the cables and skywalks and autorickshaws jammed on the roads, I am not sure how many people stop to appreciate the structure.

22. Sachin Tendulkar Dedication, Carter Road, Bandra

There is this random bat installed on Carter Road. It’s a dedication to the greatest batsman in cricket ever. I found it quite clunky and ugly.

November 2015

23. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya

Visiting the CSMVS (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), one notices that the disco lights bug has hit them as well.

December 2015

24. The Taj Mahal Hotel, Colaba

December was a busy month and the only bit of exploration one could do was to take a day trip to the Elephanta Caves. A photograph of the Taj Mahal hotel peeping out of the trees came by habit as did the next one – the three headed sculpture of Shiva.

25. The Three-Headed Maheshamurti in Elephanta

2016 beckons in a few hours and there should be some new places in Mumbai that I hope to explore soon.

Banavasi – capital of the Kadambas

This extremely small town (or large village) with a population of less than 5000 people has this one large Shiva temple built in the 9th century CE. Most vacationing people will simply ignore this and instead carry on towards Jog Falls. Which is fine. But for those who like to explore history on their travels, a short detour to this village is worth it.

As George Moraes in his Ph.D thesis work called The Kadamba Kula writes

“The History of the Kadambas is the history of one of the most neglected, though in its own days one of the most influential, of the dynasties that held sway over the Dekkan (sic).”

The news of the city had reached Ptolemy as well and we can find the town “Banauasi” in his Geographic works. During the third Buddhist Council hosted by Emperor Ashoka, a Buddhist monk Rakkhita was deputed to this town. Obviously, as George Moraes says, it must have been an important centre for someone to be specially sent for spreading the word. And about 900 years later, in the 7th century CE, Huien Tsang mentions visiting this place (called Konkanapulo) and finding over 100 monasteries (or sanghramas) with over 10,000 priests. It is believed that with Banavasi as the base, Buddhism spread to the Konkan and other parts of Karnataka.

The Aihole inscription describes Banavasi as a city “whose wealth rivaled the gods” and then proceeds to explain how Pulakesin II of the Badami Chalukyas vanquished the Kadambas of Banavasi.

Banavasi is located in north-western Karnataka, about 120 kilometres south-west from Hubli. To its west lies the Shravati Wildlife Sanctuary up in the Western Ghats which also is the home of the highest waterfall in India, Jog Falls. The town lies on the banks of the Varada river. Like most cities across the world, this city was also established on the banks of a river. In this case, it is the Varada river which is a rain fed river rising in the Western Ghats and flowing down the slope eastwards. The Aihole Inscription mentions that the river encircled a fortress and there were birds in the river which were trained to alert the soldiers in the fortress in case they were attacked. Pulakesin II of the Chalukyas was still able to defeat them and the Aihole Inscription carries on about his greatness. Being rain fed and with a number of hydro-electric dams built along its course, there is not much water left in the river, especially in November.

The Madhukeshwara temple is dated to the 9th century CE when the Western Chalukyas of Kalyani held sway over the land. But this temple may have been built over earlier structures as some of the inscriptions tell. Also there are various sculptures that depict different styles, namely the Kadamba, the Chalukya and later the Vijayanagara style.

Each of these styles are unique and the uniqueness is usually palpable. The main areas to focus when looking for uniqueness are a) the shikhara / vimana b) the general plan and c) the lesser number of sculptures. The Kadamba shikhara is typically a pyramid with stepped layers rising and tapering to the peak (see the picture above). You will also find Kadamba architecture in Belgaum, Belur, Halsi and Goa and other surrounding areas.

Exquisite stone work is on display like most other places in peninsular India. However, unlike the artwork in Hampi or Kanchipuram or Ellora or Pattadakal, the sculptures are extremely measured. There are sculptures of Nandi, elephants, warriors, gods and goddesses but each piece of sculpture has a lot of breathing space around it and often there are walls with nothing on it providing some relief.

I visited this town in 2013 in November. I took a state transport bus from Hubli to Sirsi, a 100km ride which took about 2 hours and a bit. From Sirsi, I took another state transport bus, but a very well decked tourist oriented bus to Banavasi, a 23 kilometre ride which took another 30 minutes. I started in from Hubli at 10:15am and I was in Bnavasi by 1.15, waiting time included. I spent 1 hour there walking around, exploring the temple and the village houses all around. By the time I finished, the next bus had arrived from Sirsi and I could take the same bus back and be on my way to Gokarna which was my main destination.

The whole village can be covered in a nice slow 30-minute walk. One passes through small institutes of art and culture including a Yakshagana theatre group. Today, there is a certain charm to this town. The old temple continues to conduct its daily rituals and hosts various festivals as per schedule. There are families coming over, one or two on a normal day, a few more on the weekend and a little more on religious holidays. But, it is a quite unassuming place. There is a resort there as well, on the banks of the river, and it advertises trips to the Jog Falls and the neighbouring forests.

Personally, the 1 hour I spent there was enough for me. It gave me what I wanted, a glimpse of what prosperity was in the first millennium and also a living proof of how a place goes into decline and fall once the political powers disappear. of course, I could tick off another important historical location in Peninsular India from my personal travel list

New Places Visited in 2014

As the year comes to an end and there is not much travel (work or leisure) planned for the rest of the five weeks left in the year, a summary of some of the new places visited this year.


I was in this town for just a couple of hours on work. As one drove in, through sugarcane fields, the first things one sees are the billboards of cricket bat manufacturers. Meerut has over 50 of the top sports goods brands, brands which many would have seen on the bats of cricketers or the sticks of hockey players or would have purchased for their kids from the local toy or sports shops. Then you enter the old town where the traffic has not moved since the 1857 War of Independence. Meerut was one of those many towns which fell to the Indian sepoys and there are a number of memorials to the martyrs all over the place with a bulk of them in the Meerut Cantonment area. There is a special park for Mangal Pandey as well.

It was late winter when I went there and the weather was just right for chai under the trees.

Meerut, February 2014

Lucknow – Kanpur

Another work trip, so there wasn’t much time to spend looking around the city. But the early mornings, a walk along Hazratganj offered some opportunities for photography. Dinner was, obviously, devoted to kababs and more kababs.

Hazratganj, Lucknow, April 2014

Hazratganj, Lucknow, April 2014Kanchipuram

Kanchipuram was a half-day work trip but there was just enough time to indulge in some history stuff. The Pallava era structures of Kailashnatha and Ekambareshwar were visited. Another former imperial capital city in India was ticked off from the must-visit list. And sumptuous non vegetarian meals were had at Rama’s Mess.

Kanchipuram, February 2014

Kailasanathar, Kanchipuram, February 2014


Ranchi, the town of the second most important and powerful person in India, is a lovely small town with a small lake which the local cab driver proudly says is as big as the sea and a single long road which winds through the city linking the older parts of the town with the modern industrial areas. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see a prominent city square in an Indian city named after an Indian Army soldier, specifically a PVC.

Ranchi, March 2014

Ajanta and Ellora

I had Ajanta and Ellora on my list for a long time. I decided to just take one weekend off and go and do it. And it was worth it. It was in the middle of the monsoon and the intermittent rain along with the lower temperatures made cave exploration much more bearable and fun.

Ellora, July 2014

Ajanta Caves, July 2014

While Ajanta and Ellora were the main targets of the trip, one also managed to have a look at Khultabad and Aurangabad. The walled city of Aurangabad is an interesting subject in itself, for those interested in the evolution of cities.

Southern Tamil Nadu

I spent two weeks roaming around southern Tamil Nadu – Chidambaram, Thanjavur, Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari, Madurai and places around them – and there is a whole list of new places there. A lot of stuff has been blogged about and one can read them here.

There hasn’t been much traveling since then. I suppose it’s now over to 2015 to see what is in store for me.

The Tamil Nadu Diaries

Since my 15 day trip in the southern state, I have been posting in various places random bits, mostly photographs, from the trip. Here is a full compendium of material from the trip.


The Trip in Brief

I have charted my itinerary on Google My Maps and it will give you an idea of the route I took.  I traveled by state transport bus – the Ultra Deluxe and Deluxe variety run by SETC and TNSTC. Just two of the journeys were by train – Thanjavur to Tirunelveli, an overnighter on the Trichendur Express and Kanyakumari to Rameshwaram, another overnighter which turned out to be 4 hours late in arrival. I stayed in hotels near the bus stands with hotel rates varying from Rs. 400 to Rs 1800. I did opt for A/C rooms at a few places given the intense heat in August but found reasonably priced hotels in the range of Rs 1000 – Rs 1200 for a single occupancy A/C room.

Traveling around the state was a very pleasant experience but for the heat and the lack of non-Tamil signage in the bus stands.


Highlights (blogged on my Tumblr photo blog)

Sunset in the paddy fields – returning from Pichavaram to Chidambaram town, as the bus halts to pick up passengers, the paddy fields go through the motions of yet another sunset.

The Sisyphus-like task of maintaining heritage – at the Thanjavur palace, a thunderstorm led to the collapse of one wing of the Mahal. Conservation is still a work in progress.

A window framed by the ambient light – at the Gandhi Mandapam in Rameshwaram

Howdy from the Howdah – the window seat of the Maharajah of Travancore at Padmanabhapuram Palace

A contrast in aesthetic quality of structures, separated by the width of a river and a few hundred years – at the Thiruparappu weir / waterfall on the Kerala – TN border

Unknown memorials to the sea – a rudimentary structure of stones or concrete blocks with a small piece of metal on top, resembling a Christmas tree, a tombstone and / or a church steeple found in Dhanushkodi.

Anti-vandalism movement in Madurai – an effort by the archaeology department that, unintentionally, vandalised more than it reduced.


Historical Analysis

In this trip I have ticked off all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South India, at least the structural types. There is still the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to take as is some of the deeper reaches of the Western Ghats. The last of the structural kind to be ticked off the list were the Great Living Chola Temples. Watching the three monumental structures, I penned together some amateur historian field notes here, mostly about how the relationship between ego and the colossal size of the structures.


Photo Albums

Chidambaram: A town as old as time – when you read more legends about a town than there are people living there, you just simply forget about figuring out its history.

Chidambaram, August 2014


Thanjavur: A historic city, significant in its influence in the area of art and till today the centre of many exquisite forms of artisanal craft.

Thanjavur, August 2014


The Great Living Chola Temples: The big temple of Thanjavur overlords the other two but each one of them pwns most structures in India including some of the Mughal ones.

Big Temple, Thanjavur, August 2014


Kanyakumari – I didn’t like Kanyakumari one bit, apart from view of the bay, the sea and the ocean merging together and the general feeling of awe when standing at the southernmost point of India

Kanyakumari, August 2014


Padmanabhapuram: When Marthanda Varma consolidated his territory and formed the state of Travancore, he located his capital in this town of Padmanabhapuram, named after the ruling deity of the family. A palace built of wood remains to the day but the town has now become a village serving the occasional tourists

Padmanabhapuram. August 2014


Thiruparappu: Thiruparappu is an ancient town on the river Kothayar, about 20km north west of Padmanabhapuram. It is nestled in the southernmost of the Western Ghats along the TN-Kerala border. On one side of the river is an ancient Shiva temple with stone gateways leading to the river. Towards the north is a weir controlling the waterflow and directing it to a fairly decent and powerful waterfall.

Thiruparappu, August 2014


Dhanushkodi and Rameshwaram: The two, just 20 kilometres apart, represent two opposite ends of the survival index. Dhanushkodi is a ghost town, destroyed by the cyclone in 1967. Rameshwaram smaller than a Mumbai suburb is bustling with fishing activity along with the regular surge of pilgrims to the temple.

Rameshwaram, August 2014
Dhanushkodi, August 2014


Madurai: A historic town, the heart centre of Tamil Nadu, Madurai is both a modern city with its cafes, neon lit stores, stylish people and so on as well as a culturally orthodox city with its temples, body stained religious devotees and the smell of burnt ghee from the sacrificial fires all over the town.

Madurai, August 2014


Tranquebar: Tranquebar, the former Danish colony, is called Tharangambadi, the land of musical waves and is preserved as a heritage town. The whitewashed buildings, mostly churches and schools still in use, make it quite attractive to look at. It is a very small town and in 20 minutes, you would have walked round it almost twice.

Tranquebar, August 2014

Got any questions? Do ask.

The Walled City Gates – Transit from one age to another

The walled city in India can be found across the country. Their age varies from the ancient (Harappan age) to the modern (British age). But the physical walled city disappears in no time. As populations rise, people spill over to live outside the city. Walls are demolished and the city area expanded to cover the new colonies. And every now and them, some superior power comes in and conquers the city and in the process of leaving one’s mark, the conqueror will create a new walled city and the old one will either be subsumed into the new one or be simply abandoned. Delhi has had its share of walled cities and one can easily remember the dynasties that ruled Delhi by looking at the listing of all those sites.

In post-independence India, the crush of ever increasing population, both through higher birthrates and even higher migrations has made these walls and gates an impediment to urban expansion and renewal. Bombay lost its walls in the 19th century itself when the British increased their holdings there. In the soot and grime of the city, these old walls look no different from the decay and dilapidation of urban housing, the only difference being that the more modern urban structures, one can say, can collapse on their own, given the quality of civil engineering and materials used these days. The old walls, however, still remain and will continue to remain till someone takes a stick of dynamite and blows them up. Remember, these walls were meant to withstand the blows of battering rams and cannon fire.

The city of Aurangabad came to being in the 17th century with Malik Ambar (a most fascinating gentleman who easily fits into any rags-to-riches story template – I am gathering various literatures about him and will do a post on him and the different places associated with him) and kept evolving with interventions by Emperor Aurangzeb, the various Nizams of Hyderabad and more recently by the local city and state governments. Over this period of evolution, Aurangabad has had over 52 gates. It was not just one large walled city but a network of walled suburbs and mohallas linked to each other through these gates and bridges (puls).

Aurangabad, July 2014

Off the 52 gates, there are four which are on the cardinal points. The gate facing North is obviously called Delhi Gate. In the same manner, the gate facing west (in the picture above) is called Makai or Mecca Gate. There’s a cannon fitted on top of the gate. The biggest threat to the city came from the west, the Marathas. A photographic census of some of the surviving gates of the city are available in this blogpost by Neha Kulkarni (which I found through a Google search).

As a traveler, the fun of visiting old walled cities is to see the shifting age. There is a clear change – in the language, the manners of the shopkeepers, the signboards, the people and of course, the physical cityscape that one gets to see. It is not necessarily cleaner, rather, in most places, it is filthier, more crowded and full of noise. One of the best places to experience this transition is to go look at the markets in the walled cities. The old signboards promising products of days gone by, their descendents doing trade in almost the same products, displayed on their shelves, each item an antique, a relic in itself.

Kalaghoda, February 2014

In Bombay itself (above picture), new age designer boutiques occupy the 19th century structures which have been given a nice coat of paint. Sharing a street with a synagogue which is a regular stop on the popular Kalaghoda Heritage Walk, these designer boutiques try to blend in with retro interiors, shop lighting and their display signs, all of which designed with excruciating detail. Had they been located in the more modern malls, they would obviously have taken a different approach to their shops.

In the Deccan Peninsula, my favourite historical haunt, there are a number of walled cities which live two lives – Bijapur (I wrote about Bijapur’s twin identities last year), Bassein / Vasai, Hyderabad, Belgaum, Pune, Ahmadnagar and so on.

Bijapur, March 2013

I really enjoyed exploring the old parts of Bijapur, especially streets like these – a typical gate at the end of the street and extremely quaint houses lined on both sides. While the gate in the distance is from the 16th century, the houses themselves are more recent – early 20th century – a very clear example of the continuous evolution of a city.

Back in Aurangabad, while walking, I came across this junction (picture below) where Dr BR Ambedkar stands tall and points the way to the university which is named after him. And on the entrance is a gate. This gate serves as a different transition point, I suppose. It takes you from the big bad world into the dreamy world of students and their lives.

Aurangabad, July 2014

The 52 gates of Aurangabad does not include this gate though. But it should. There is nothing which says modern day structures cannot be considered as part of the history.