For more pictures of Devrai Art Village, go to Journey in Pictures
For more pictures of Muzhappilangad, go to Journey in Pictures.
Also visit Journey in Pictures for more amazing sights in and around Cherrapunji captured by Dilip.
Before the long weekend took throngs of travellers to popular getaways around Mumbai, it was imperative to find some quietness. The easiest option would have been to stay at home, but the travelling shoes were calling out and the heart was desirous of some old colonial style pampering. This trip was also to show off to a cousin, about the delights of the multiple holiday destinations outside the city that never sleeps. So there wasn’t much to deliberate. Matheran was what we agreed upon in an instant, based upon my friend Shohini’s recommendation in her blog here.
The morning of the journey, we pushed off to Neral, which is accessible by the local trains from any point in Mumbai. At Neral, queues of shared cabs wait outside the railway station to take people to Dasturi, the outer limits of Matheran, beyond which automobiles are not allowed. Yes. Matheran is Asia’s only automobile-free hill station. This simple rule has preserved Matheran beautifully and has prevented crass commercial invasions that would have snatched away the simple charm of this eco-sensitive region recognised by the Government of India.
Barely 600 meters from Dasturi car park is the Aman Lodge railway station, which has scheduled toy trains running on metre-gauge tracks all the way up to the main town, some twenty-five minutes away. There are errant monkeys at Aman Lodge, hoping to flick away a fruit or a packet of potato wafers from the passengers waiting for the train to move. It is so unfortunate that these animals which generally mind their own business have been driven to performing mischief because of the way tourists feed them anything and everything. Used to being fed, they have almost forgotten how to procure food suiting their own diet, and have begun playfully tormenting humans.
At a vintage looking railway station with only one platform, people milled out of the train, into the main street and scattered about to their predetermined destinations. As for us, we sought the general direction of the place we had booked and we began our chatter-filled trek along the upward slope. Barely thirty minutes later, after following the signage and having left the main town far behind, we arrived at what I can only describe as a beautiful colonial bungalow cocooned in greenery. It is so nicely hidden away it feels like you’ve accidentally chanced upon wonderland.
The 150-year old Barr Cottage, built by Colonel Barr, was the only second dwelling place on the Western Ghats. Now acquired by Neemarana Hotels, it hosts tourists and treats them to an experience, nothing less. The place is now known as Verandah in the Forest, quite clearly because of the beautiful wide Verandah along the length of its front overlooking the valley. All day long guests sit at the Verandah to eat their meals, read, chat or just gaze at the surrounding beauty. The rooms are full of artifacts and furniture that belonged to the era this bungalow was built in, if not to the original owner. The hospitality staff is friendly and polite but accords you enough privacy to not feel awkward. They stand discreetly around the corners of the Verandah with slingshots to scare the monkeys away.
Worthy of mention is the grand dining experience, where all the guests sit together at a long table and enjoy a four-course Continental meal in candlelight. This bit is nothing short of affluent English luxury. The common den area has lots of board games, magazines and books, and a wide variety of music DVDs to feel engaged with. It is a boon that one does not receive mobile phone signal here or that the property has no TV to stay glued to. The front yard has hammocks, swings and chairs for reading. There is a small cabin atop a tree too It is truly a place to be enjoyed minus technology that has so successfully disrupted our everyday life.
We came back the next day because the long weekend was about to begin and we wanted to avoid the crowd. We took the toy train all the way back to Neral this time and the two hours in it were full of beautiful sights. The heart longs to go back and we can only console ourselves by planning a trip there again during the monsoons when the Ghats will be bathed in greenery and the rains will have freshened everything up.
P.S. – To see more pictures of the Matheran and Verandah in the Forest, go to Journey in Pictures
A young prince, Birjabhar, leaves his palace and family to join the Nath Sampradaya as a wandering monk following in the footsteps of Guru Gorakshnath. Many years later, Birjabhar appears at the doorstep of his old palace, having forgotten his old life and begging for alms and food grains. His encounter with the servant, his mother and finally his wife are part of legend in Bihar. The test in his spiritual journey is for him to be able to address his wife as “mother” as reluctant and vague recollections of his family life begin to come back to tempt him.
The Sorathee (सोरठी) singing tradition of Bihar, recounting the tales of Birjabhar, is brought alive by a wandering monk of the Sampradaya in these videos.
This folk art was incorporated into the traditional dance-drama storytelling format known as Naach, along with other Bhojpuri traditions to give holistic entertainment to people. These performances generally last four to five hours nowadays, but earlier they would be performed for an audience through the night, or sometimes, even over three days at a time.
The king, the queen and the head eunuch of the king’s harem (laundi/joker) became the central characters in these naach programmes, which remain a medium for entertaining and critiquing society.
It was extremely sad for us hear of Padmashri Sakar Khan’s demise from respiratory ailments on August 10. The grief is magnified by the fact that we had spent such an enlightening time at his home in Hamira, learning from him all sorts of things about his world and the world that his profound talent had taken him around. His humility and grace in letting complete strangers be comfortable at his home, taking care of every small need of ours and engaging with us whenever time allowed him to were the biggest lessons one can learn about hospitality and modesty.
For a person full of warmth and affection, who spread music and brought fame to his tradition, may his soul rest in peace.
These final video recordings from our time at Hamira are about Shri Ghevar Khan playing the Khamancha casually while an infant of the family, and later other children, are exploring the instrument. Shri Ghevar Khan doesn’t show any irritation at being disturbed. Rather, he welcomes the children’s natural inquisitiveness, letting them feel the instrument and begin to identify with it so as to grow and carry on the Manganiyar tradition into posterity.
Here comes another piece of khamancha magic where Shri Ghevar Khan and Shri Darre Khan are involved in a jugalbandi. The elderly gentleman seated between them and looking on at the performances is Padmashri Sakar Khan.
This friendly little contest-performance happened while I was in Kalakaar Colony in Jaisalmer with the family waiting for a recording to happen. The recording did not happen because of logistical issues, but I got my treat for the ears. And like I had promised in my post “Hamira: a hamlet, some chicken and plenty of music – II“, I am sharing the video with you. I hope you enjoy it and share it with people who you know will enjoy it too.
And finally we have been able to deliver on our promise. This is the first video that we recorded in Hamira while staying at Padmashri Sakar Khan’s house. The video shows his son Shri Ghevar Khan playing a Rajasthani folk tune on the khamancha. Listen up till the percussion on the dholak begins. We hope you enjoy this piece of Manganiyar tradition.
It has been a while since we actually hit the highways and the dirt tracks. Certain items on our agenda have pushed past our desire to travel and seek stories, and have occupied the higher spots up there on our list of priorities. Committments to our families that require us to be present with them, the situation in Uttarakhand where we were supposed to be when Mother Nature let loose her pent up fury, and finances that are drying up have led us to take a longish pit stop, take stock of the current scenario and chart out our future course of action. We intend to be back on the road soon. But ‘how soon’ and ‘when’ are questions that even we are grappling with right now.
It is unfortunate that we could not keep you updated — mostly because of the hectic nature of our engagements, and because of the way we had to stop. It was a little sudden for even us to know what we would be doing next. It will be a short while before there is clarity on our future plans. Till then, please consider this our note explaining our “leave of absence” from the trip.
In the meantime, we have been attending to our personal goals and we feel delight in telling you that things are going well in those spheres. We hope to find support from you there too as we have so far on our journey as the Potliwalas.
This is not to say we are going to stop blogging and bringing stories to you from the hinterland and the cities alike. They may be few and far in between, but we will still have things to say, and hopefully, you will listen and engage with us like always.
I know little about anthropology, but over the last few months my travels have brought me closer to some of the tribes that are forming and emerging in the melting cultural pot of India. It may be a little premature to speak of this since there still is a lot of the country to see and people to meet, but my enthusiasm has taken hold of my pen. I began this journey in Cochin, and Ladakh is my current abode. Having travelled thus, I have come across communities — groups that are traditional (the Lakshadweep Malayali Muslims and the Rajasthani Manganiyars) and the modern (like the group of friends I met in Kerala and here, in Leh). What I find interesting and surprisingly common is while the tribes of yesterday are continuing with a certain belief system, the new social groups are coming together on the basis of an acquired belief system (arrived at based on their understanding of the world they have seen and experienced).
That there is a belief system binding them is the common factor but how it is arrived at is a totally different mechanism. In the traditional tribes, our beliefs are handed down and no questions are raised about the validity of these (some of these keep getting changed from outside influence but the change is more gradual and takes time to impact), whereas in the modern groups the formation is based on what works for an individual and when such like-minded individuals come together to draw support from each others’ energies. They come together on grounds of similar musical tastes, outlook towards life, rock climbing, adventure sports as a trend (there is a strong current of this in Leh City), the need to discuss similar political/religious/spiritual ideas, the want to just while away time doing everything and nothing in particular, and so on.
The biggest, and arguably, strongest such congregation happens among people who are inclined towards the non-mainstream. Meeting the rock climbing ilk in Leh City and a group of friends who get together almost every evening to climb the artificial indoor wall, learn new techniques of freestyle sparring and play some music on some of the most unconventional musical instruments I have seen. (a rectangular box, a PVC pipe, a chair and practically everything around). The Managaniyars have their music, but this group is discovering new musical sounds like never before; their biggest passion being rock climbing. Meeting the bunch of school friends who have been together despite having pursued higher education in different places, I found a group/tribe which is looking for happiness, simplicity, peace, and do not have big city dreams that they wish to chase.
They come together, chat, sing songs that connected with them as children, songs that they grew up with and who virtually resemble a tribe in their processes of including a few new members in the clan. They grow restless with each day about their current pressures to make big in the world and their inner need to remain small and lie idly next to the river bend, smoking a cigarette. They find this to be the joy that they seek. The Lakshadweep Melacheri has been handed this down and so they always come back to their island. This tribe, on the other hand, is discovering this for themselves and struggling hard to keep this dream alive.
I felt welcome at every step in these places and feel simple gratitude for having been involved in their evenings.
This article will grow further with experiences. This is just a first impression.