Birds of Kanha

Sharp at 3:00 pm, as the gates at Kisali opened for the long awaited evening safari, we rushed inside the famed jungles of Kanha. We were headed to the thick Saal forests to look for none other than a tiger, but before we could move even 100 meter, our nature guide nudged us to look towards our left. Keeping our fingers tight on camera, we looked that way to notice an Indian Roller bird sitting atop a stone. It was looking towards us, perhaps as a watchdog to the jungle or may be it was welcoming us at our first foray into fantastic and huge Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Though we were expecting to sight a tiger on priority, the beauty and welcoming gesture of the bird forced us to stop and shoot, pictures. We did that in following pics.

Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Roller atop an Antler

Indian Roller atop an Antler

Though the hunt for tigers continued to dominate our quest and ears(jungle calls of sambhars and deer and langurs on sighting a tiger themselves are unmistakably audible and can shoot your adrenaline level  at once), the birds of Kanha kept on attracting us and by their sheer beauty, forced us to pause our hunt for tigers and to give them attention and  love they deserved. It was a great experience actually to see these lovely birds including our own national bird, peacock sitting atop a tree log.

Peacock

Peacock

Egrates

Egrates

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Vulture and Nest

Vulture and Nest

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Racket Tailed Black Drango

Racket Tailed Black Drango

White Crested Hawk Eagle

White Crested Hawk Eagle

Little Cormorant

Little Cormorant

We continued to enjoy these jungle beauties and though we sighted a tigress in the fourth day of our chase, these images have left me and my friends spell bound. Kanha is a truly a bird watcher’s paradise. Thanks Kanha.

Bird Asking to Follow Instruction

Bird Asking to Follow Instruction

(All the Pics are personal property/copyright of the author and can not be used without prior permission.)

Food Delights of Indore

Savoring Kesaria Peda at Savanriya Sweets, Indore

Savoring Kesaria Peda at Savanriya Sweets, Indore

Roaming around cities in India, you frequently come across some small around- the-corner food shops and stalls which offer you amazing gastronomical delights. During one such visit to Indore, I came across the ‘Savanriya Sweets’ selling only Kesariya Peda(soft dumpling of milk-khoya). The shop is in a very small corner of Bajrang Mandir of Subhash Chowk, Rajwada, Indore. The gentleman there was selling some saffron tinged small yellowish peda. I was attracted by his confidence in selling a single sweet product in this busy market. Only if one has that deep confidence in your product, one will do that.

I asked him to let me taste his product first. I popped one into my mouth and rolled my tongue over it. It was really soft and yummy. I have earlier tasted pedas of Mathura and Lucknow and relished them a lot always, but this too was really good. The saffron tinge was really making a difference. I liked it a lot and ordered a portion more. Everybody else in the group looking at our facial expression in favor of peda, tasted themselves and relished it equally if not more. I thanked the shop keeper for making and  selling this sweet delight.

After savoring the peda and satisfying our sweet tooth, I moved to try one more very popular recipe of Indore at ‘Joshi Dahi Wada Wale’. This shop right in shoppers’ paradise of Indore-Sarrafa Bazar(Jewellers Market), is doing tasty dahi wada for decades. I too reached there with my group. We entered the shop and there were few persons already eating them in big paper bowls. The size of dahi-wada too was one of the biggest, we had seen or eaten anywhere in India. We ordered too and soon were offered big paper bowl of that, with curd almost overflowing. As soon as I had the first bite of it, I realized that this was really good and one of the best I had ever. The perfect balance of hardness and softness of it was really the key thing. It was really yummy and no amount of explanation in words will suffice for the satisfaction I had by actually eating it. I was really happy at my choice.

One more interesting recipe I noticed it at shop was, ‘Bhutte-ki-Khees‘. I was enticed by the name of recipe first and decided to try it myself. It was made of grated corn and is a Malwan specialty. The taste was really good. I had never had any similar dish in any part of India. The preparation was simple and perfect. I read about  this recipe afterwards, in Tarala Dalal’s writing too and was happy to have relished it at one of the best shops in India. I had my stomach full by now and had decided to skip the lunch, more so perhaps to retain the test of the gastronomical delights, I just had in Indore.

The sacrifice of lunch was followed by one more food joint-Ice Cream. The Kamat owned ice cream brand of Mumbai, Naturals is increasingly getting popular all over India, due to its philosphy of real fruits instead of just flavours in ice cream. The brand has its outlet at Indore also and we decided therefore to relissh few fresh fruit ice creams before leaving the mini-Mumbai city of Maharashtra. The ice creams we had included, Kala Jamun, Cheeku, Tender coconut and many more. I was so bold by the taste of them that I decided to get few packed with dry ice in thermocol box to carry them back to home. I really relished them all. In fact all food delights of Indore including the old and new ones left a memorable taste in my mouth.

I miss that in Lucknow.

Naturals at Indore

Naturals at Indore

Beauty Of Mandu

Jahaj Mahal

Jahaj Mahal

Ever since I read the love stories of Roopmati and Baaz Bahadur, I had been yearning to visit the small town of Mandu. This small fortress town, a part of Dhar at an altitude of 2000 feet is perched in Vindhya ranges of Malawa. It is believed to be fortified first by  Raja Bhoj in 10th century A.D. The town got importance and prominence during reign of Afghan governor of Malwa, Dilawar Khan and even more during the tenure of his son Hoshang Shah, who shifted the capital of Malawa from Dhar to Mandu in 15th century. The fortified wall around Mandu ran for over 37 km and had 12 gates. The famed love story of Mandu took place in Mandu in 16th century. Rani Roopmati was a not only outstandingly beautiful but was a melodious singer too. Baz Bahadur, the ruler of Mandu fell for her charm. They married and Baz Bahadur got built a Rani Roopmati pavalion from where she could watch a flowing Narmada. The love story ended unfortunately when she poisoned herself after an invading Mughal army led by Adham Khan conquered Mandu and she was told that Adham Khan was interested in her.

The town of Mandu is spread over a large area and the prominent buildings inside Mandu, include Jahaj Mahal, Jama ,Masjid, Tomb of Hoshang Shah, Asharfi temple and Shri Ram Temple. The most prominent one of these is the Jahaj Mahal. The Jahaj Mmahal was conceptualized by Ghayasuddin Khilji(1469-1500) and was so built between two lakes that it looked like floating in water. It was primarily used to house, scores of beautiful wives and concubines of Sultan. Some say there were more than a thousand ladies living in this beautiful harem. Our guide explained to us in detail the intricacies of Jahaj Mahal. The intricate pattern of water harvesting and water storage was one highlight of this 15th century building.

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Jahaj Mahal

Jahaj Mahal

View of Lake from Jahaj Mahal

View of Lake from Jahaj Mahal

The other prominent structure is Jami Masjid. It was started by Hoshang Shah but completed by Mahmud 1st. The masjid with its raised platform was also used for dispensing royal justice for some time.

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Pillars Of Jami Masjid

Pillars Of Jami Masjid

The Hoshang Shah’s tomb built entirely of white marble is also one fine architecture of 15th century and predates very well the white marbled Taj Mahal of Agra. Just besides the tomb there is a Dharamshala compound having hints of some Hindu architectural style.

Hoshang Shah Tomb

Hoshang Shah Tomb

The Tomb

The Ashrafi Mahal of Mandu is bang opposite the Jami Masjid and has a big courtyard in front. There is a staircase and the legend says that a King placed an Ashrafi each on the step, her queen could ascend. The queen could make a maximum of 160, leading to collection of 160 Asharfis or gold coins, distributed later as alms among poor, thus the name Asharfi Mahal.

Asharfi Mahal

Asharfi Mahal

Mahakaal

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Recognized as one of the most prominent Jyotirlingam in India, the temple of Mahakaal situated in India’s Greenwich, Ujjain is one of it’s kind in world. The temple devoted to Lord Shiva is known specially for sacred daily ritual of Mahabhasma Aarti. The ritual starts at 4 am daily and carries on for two hours every day.

I had heard about this special ritual from many sources and decided therefore to be part of it, in my recent trip to Ujjain. You have to pre-book the slot in online Aarati, as there is huge rush to be there. To take part in Aarati which starts at 4 am sharp, we woke up at 1:30 am. It was tough to get up at this time and specially for the kids, but determination to be a part of unique Mahabhasm Arati was a big motivator for every body. We took bath etc and wore a dhoti for the occaison. Actually its mandatory for women to wear saaree and for men to wear a dhoti to enter sanctum sanctorum or gribha griha of the temple. I was helped by my wife to wear a dhoti. It was awkward initially but once done, I realised this Indian dress is really the most comfortable one for Indian climate and yes it looks more graceful both for men and women.

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Waiting before Aarati at 3 am

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All decked up in traditional Attire

We reached the temple complex by 3 am and after security check, sat in the waiting area. Even at this early hour of the day, the area around temple was all full of activities. The shopkeepers outside were offering flowers and prasadam. The dhoti was also available for hire and for outright purchase. It is very interesting to see people helping each other at this time of the morning in tying the Dhoti of each other. Gradually a decent crowd built up around the main gate of main temple. There were more than a 1000 devotees, who had queued up to witness the Mahabhasm Arati. The whole environmemt was charged up really. The freshness of an early morning in the Brihma Mahurat was rejuvenating and very pleasing.

We were allowed to go inside, a little before 4 am. I went in along with my family to offer water to Lord Shiva. It was a very auspicious occasion for my entire family. I prayed for my family and vasudhaiv kutumbkam. After that we came out to take our position in Nandi Hall to witness the Mahabhasma Aarati. I sat besides the Nandi idol to have a clear view of entire Mahabhasma Aarati.

During Aarati an elaborate sequence is followed to please Lord Shiva. The Jyotirlingam is first bathed with holy waters of Narmada. It is followed by bathing with milk and offering curd, honey and other pious materials to lingam. It is followed by decoration, by making paintings over lingam with removable materials.  Various forms and shapes of Lordshiva are drawn over Jyotirlingam every day. The most unique procedure however is bathing the lingam with bhasma. It is said that the ashes from the fresh burning pyres are procured every morning from specified Hindu crematoriums. In no other Jyotirlingam this ritual is done in India. The entire process continued for for than 2 hours. We were really feeling elated and charged up. Finally the ceremony came to end and we were ushered out to the courtyard outside.

After Aarati

After Aarati

The morning light had broken in when we came out. A gentle breeze was also blowing there and we all were very hapy. We purchased the prasadam of Mahaakal and distributed among ourselves and saved for our families back home.

The Lord Shiva's favorite flower(madar) garland

The Lord Shiva’s favorite flower(madar) garland

Ahilya Bai Ghats of Maheshwar

Ahilyabai Ghats

Ahilyabai Ghats

The ancient town of Maheshwar is situated on the banks of river Narmada. This present day small town(part of district Khargon in Madhya Pradeah) was once the capital city of Maratha Holkar Kings till 1818. The town was known as Mahishmati in ancient times and was capital city of Southern Avanti. King Sahashrarjun or king with 1000 arms, is said to have ruled from here in ancient times. Great Maratha Queen Ahilyabai Holkar also ruled from Maheshwar for 30 years. The town presently is also famous for it’s Maheshawari Sarees.

View of Ghats from Fort

View of Ghats from Fort

I got a chance to visit the city on my recent trip to Madhya Pradesh with my friend and his family. As we reached Maheshwar in the evening, we decided first to visit the famed Ahilyabai ghats of Maheshwar. The path to ghats goes via many temples like Rajrajeshwar. We took steps downwards from there and reached the ghats soon. The ghats here are quite wide and you can relax by sitting on the ghats. The gentle breeze that blows towards ghats in the evening is really so soothing and de stressing that you will feel rejuvenated just by sitting there.DSC_5540

We decided to take a boat ride to glance closely towards the ghats in the lights of late evening. The sun had just gone down the horizon and the electric lights were just then put on. While I was looking at Ghats from boats, I found the ghats so enchanting and illuminating that I got hold of my camera and clicked few pictures to preserve those moments for ever. It was a bliss actually to be at Ahilyabai Ghats that evening.FullSizeRender_2 (5) DSC_5568

Thandai Of Ujjain

The city of Ujjain is famous worldwide for the temple of Mahakaal. The temple located in the city is believed to be since time immemorial and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Just a stone throw away from this temple, there is more than half a century old shop selling Bhang(Cannabis) and thandai. The old person manning this shop is doing it for 54 years and has attained a sort of perfection in his job. I think he is enjoying his job to extreme. I chanced upon to meet this gentleman recently and also a chance to savor one of the best thandai ever.

With the Master

With the Master

It’s a small shop only but the way old man does his job, is so rhythmic and so enchanting that you can not be, but impressed by his perfection and devotion to what he does. The Bhang is said to be favorite of  Lord Shiva and his devotees not only offer its leaves to Lord, but also consume the paste of its leaves on regular basis. The Cannabis leaves and buds of female plant are intoxicating in nature and not everybody can handle them. I therefore asked him to prepare thandai without mixing cannabis. I have drunk thandai in old Lucknow many a times and also drunk the ready made thandai syrup mixed with chilled milk too. I was keenly watching however, the way he prepared his signature thandai.

The man at the helm of affairs was a devotee of Lord Shiva and had put elaborate tilak on his forehead. On our request of 2 glasses only (other group members were hesitant), he spread the white cloth attached to a bucket and softly folded it a bit. then he mixed a white paste of almonds and cashews, fresh butter cream and curd. Then he rubbed it with his hands and mixed some curd and sugar powder and few other ingredients. He meshed it again with his hands inside the cloth. The mixture thus was getting filtered through the cloth into another deep pan placed just below the cloth. Some ice was added too. He then got a slice of mango to add to the mixture and added the milk along with. All the ingredients were rubbed inside the cloth  once again. All the ingredients finally got filtered down to the deep pan. Now the yellowish white milk liquid was poured into glasses and the top of them was laced with drops of kevda (Pandanas Syrup) and saffron. It was now ready to drink.

Preparing Thandai

Preparing Thandai

The whole process of its preparation was so tempting and mouth watering that I could not resist for even seconds to gulp it down. It’s taste was simply mind blowing  and unlike any other thandai, I ever had. The whole process of its preparation and the rhythmic way, it was done had made it really a great coolant drink with a perfect flavour. The other members of the group watching the whole process curiously were too overwhelmed in the meantime and asked for them. The master started yet again, with the same commitment and with the same perfection. I did not think twice before ordering one more for me……..

Bisons of Kanha National Park

Author at Kanha

Author at Kanha

Clut. Clut. Clut. The sound was too close. What it was? From where it was? I felt lazy to interrupt my afternoon nap and to step outside to check out the issue on that April 13′ afternoon. Having arrived at Kanha from Jabalpur and after some delicious forest rest house cooked lunch, I was a having a lovely ‘afternoon siesta’ at the FRH(forest rest house) Kanha National park. Kanha National Park, set up in 1955 is spread over 940 sq kms of district Mandala and Balaghat and is the biggest one in central India. It habitats a rich variety of fauna including Royal Bengal Tiger.

It was our first day there and we had just napped, post lunch. We wanted to be recharged quickly before the start of the evening jungle safari. But the sound was getting clearer and perhaps closer to us. It appeared  as few sticks or poles were being banged against each other. I came outside to have a look myself. The FRH Kanha built  towards the end of British Raj, is a beautiful building with a vast and expansive court yard in front. Interestingly, there was no boundary wall or even a fence to separate or distinguish the FRH courtyard or lawn from the vast natural forest, just outside. It was like being in the jungle itself with no barrier between man and the beast. It may be arguable though, the beast was on which side!  The forest in front, with a huge grass land called as chaur was slightly pale yellow as the grass had dried up substantially. There were very few trees to interrupt the view. As the grass was not so high I could see a good distance. There was certainly  nothing  just outside the room. Then I  realized that at some distance two huge shining black animals were in locked horns and pushing each other to extreme. I looked at them more carefully and asked the forest guard what that was? He told me that they were the wild bisons called as Gaur locally, the largest extant bovine animal on planet and that they were  aplenty at Kanha.

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The Raging Bisons

The battle between them was clearly visible and watchable. I called out my kids and wife too, to join me. It continued unabated and perhaps these animals did not care a damn about our presence from the so called safety of the rest house. The weight of each of them was no less than 800 to 1000 kg. The length of the animal was also impressive at more than 3 meters. The horns of them were also substantially large and chiseled. It was a thrill therefore to watch these two heavy male bisons challenging each other with full ferocity in this early summer afternoon. The basics were clear here. One had to lose and that too badly!. Then  the loser had to surrender and literally beg for its life. No middle path or no mercy in the animal kingdom. Only victory or only defeat. But who had to lose and who not, had to be decided by the battle on the ground only. They had chosen the venue though to much of our dismay. The heavier one who could create more momentum of brute force was in the advantage. Now gradually as the fight continued, the theater of action was shifting closer to the guest house. We were initially enjoying, but now we had some fear factor too due to proximity to the ring!. The locking of the horns and subsequent pushing of other was throwing some dust upwards too. The vision was though clear.

The Lloser  Bison!

The Loser Bison!

The moment of decision came soon. The one bison who had dug his heels properly and whose skin was shining and glistening black charged one last time with all force he could gather. The other one though not an easy thing to push, surrendered to the biology of youth and the physics of huge brute momentum force, thus generated. The impact of the last push was visible clearly in form of an injury visible to my camera at a good distance. The blood leaked from it and the poor bison decided to suffer a quick retreat. Now, interestingly the winner decided to chase the vanquished one. He chased it with ferocity and  the poor bison ran for its life. It vanished with in no time in deep forest. Now the victorious one bereft of a target to be mauled, found out a termite hill near by and with all ferocity pierced its horns in it. He wanted to show that he meant business. It offered no resistance. I Clicked from a safe distance. To the bison, it was a satisfactory achievement and the crumbling earth of the termite hill perhaps would have polished his horns a bit more!

Destroying the Termite Hill

Destroying the Termite Hill

What a scene it was and so close to us on very first day of arrival. We were thrilled and though the evening safari gave us the views of the tiger too, this was one great live encounter to watch.  We just then recalled the catch line of MP tourism ad, “M P Gazab Hai!”. True.