Friday, April 28, 2006

Bihu : A celebration of spring

14th of April is an important day in Assam. It is the New Year for the Assamese people. It is the first day of Baisakh (Bohag in Assamese) and is actually celebrated as the New Year day in various forms across many states in India. People across India celebrate the day in their own ways. In Assam, we celebrate the day as Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu. Traditionally the festivities and celebration continues for 7 days. In the recent past, this is the first time I have missed a bihu celebration. Delhi continued to be hot and dry in contrast to the refreshing spring we were used to.

Rongali bihu is the celebration of spring. Rains, freshly sprouted grass, fresh verdant green all around, blooming flowers and the cacophony of birds, specially the cuckoo --- all heralds’ arrival of spring. This coupled with the pleasant weather that prevails during this time of the year makes working and moving around very comfortable. Bihu unites all the people cutting across the threads of cast, creed, tribes and religion. Rongali means joy and fun. The Bihu dance symbolizes this spirit of celebration. When one think of Assam, two things comes to the mind –one is the Bihu dance and the second is the one horned rhinoceros. They symbolize Assam. I am putting up a photo of Bihu dance performance, which incidentally is quite old. The dance is often performed in groups where there are both male and female participate. The performance traditionally starts with drum (called dhols) performers (called dhulia) and then the female dancers enters the scene. The performance ends with a majestic drum performance. Try to visit Assam during the Rongali Bihu celebrations. That is between second and third week of April. You can combine this with a visit to Kaziranga. The locals there say that the week prior to bihu in April is the best time to visit the park. The fresh grasses bring out more animals to the open grazing lands. The park closes for tourists around 3rd week of April as rains gets harder.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Metro Joyride

Ever since I had shifted to Delhi, I wanted to experience the Delhi Metro, the newest jewel in Delhi’s crown. A high tech system with high tech trains, it has changed the way one travels in Delhi. This is one project where probably everything is being achieved before target date of completion. Quite an achievement in India where bureacracy, politicians and corruption works overtime to ensure that nothing is finished on time. Last Saturday, I could finally find some time to have a metro ride. It was a small ride from Barakahmba to Karol Bagh spanning over 4 stations. We bought tickets, rather tokens for the ride that costs us Rs.9/- per head. We were given individual tokens which are roughly the same size as that of a carom board dice. These high tech dices have chips inside that hold your journey details like initiating and destination station and time of issue. Currently these tokens are of imported variety and there is talk about introducing desi tokens. The token ticket is the first visible difference with that of Kolkata Metro, the only other metro in India as of now. In Kolkata Metro you actually buy paper tickets. If you are buying tickets for 3, then you are issued one paper ticket that allows entry for 3 through the gate. At the gate, you need to insert the ticket at the designated slot and get it collected at the other end. In the high-tech Delhi Metro, you need to touch the small card size panel with your token for the gate to open. This means everyone should carry his token himself.

We waited at the Barakhamba for a train to arrive. This is the originating station for the Barakhamba – Dwarka line. The train arrived almost full as most passengers got into the train at the previous station, i.e., CP station, in order to manage a seat. There is probably no check on how you travel to your destination. All you need to ensure is that you embark and disembark at stations as per your token and complete the journey within a specified duration of time. Therefore, despite starting our journey at the originating station, we had to travel standing.

Shortly after leaving the CP station, the train moved out of the underground tunnel and got onto the elevated track. Beyond this point, the metro runs on elevated tracks. The only totally underground section of Delhi metro is the line from Vishwavidyalaya (North Campus of DU) – Central Secretariat. We disembarked at Karol Bagh. To get out, the token is to be inserted at the slots at the gate. Do not hurry; wait for the message in the panel to turn ‘Insert your token’. Else you may leave stranded. Kolkata Metro is a vintage system, but is still the best for the crowd you get to travel with. Not so in Delhi. You will get a few of the lampoon elements who have become synonymous with the word Dilliwala in the metro as well.

The no. of passengers was quite good even though it was a weekend day. This was a good indication of how much it has changed the lives of many Delhites. What a welcome relief the metro has been for many regular travelers who hitherto had to travel by those notorious city buses. The CNG and the metro have reduced the pollution level significantly. People were seen traveling with small luggage. This means people are using metro for traveling to and from the New Delhi station and ISBT. One can change lines for New Delhi railway station and the Kashmere Gate ISBT at the CP station. The metro station at New Delhi station is on the Ajmeri Gate side and is within the railway station itself. Similarly, the metro station at Kashmere Gate ISBT is on the side opposite to the ring road. Small luggage is not a problem though you will be frisked and luggage thoroughly checked at the entry gates. But it is still better then get cheated by the cunning autowalahs.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Akshardham Temple in Delhi: a blend of ancient architecture and modern craftmanship

The sprawling 23 acre mega complex housing the Akshardham temple is one of the latest additions to Delhi’s landscape. Built at a cost of Rs.200 crores, it is a perfect blend of modern technology and ancient Indian architecture. The monument stands out on the banks of Yamuna by the NH-24. Last weekend I got an opportunity to explore this monument.

Being a holiday, crowd presence was very high. Hundreds of cars were parked in the mini stadium sized parking. Parking fee is only Rs.10/- and the attendants were handling the continuous flow of traffic well. Entry to the monument complex is free. But the security checking and frisking was too much to the point of irritation. For the first time I felt being a victim of Islamic terrorism. We all remember the islamic terrorist attack in the Gandhinagar Akshardham temple few years ago. I bet that you are not frisked that much even at airports. Gents are asked to carry a tray where you need to take off your belts, purse, keys and anything else with you except your pants and shirt. They did not check much, but at least two guys picked the purse and almost counted the notes. The CISF personnel at airports are gentle enough while checking your purse. But the ones here looked like idiots and seemed more interested in your purse than anything else. Honestly speaking I found this frisking too much. Mobiles, cameras and ladies handbags are not allowed, so you better leave them in your car. There also is cloak room for keeping these items.

The temple buildings and the campus were really splendid. I have been to the original Akshardham temple at Gandhinagar twice. This campus is equally magnificent or even better than the original one. The 141 feet tall, 316 feet wide and 356 feet long main temple is built of pink sand stones and marbles without using any steel. It has 234 intricately carved pillars decorated with sculpted figures, 9 magnificent domes and 20 pinnacles. The total no. of sculpted figure is more than 20,000. The interiors of the monument and the walls reminded me of the Dilwara temple in Mount Abu. We were left spellbound by the craftsmanship. We all knew that such beautiful temples and monuments were constructed in ancient India during the days of Rajahs and Maharajahs. But even modern day sculptors can emulate their feat and create such beautiful monuments.

The temple is a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781 – 1830) who lived in the Gujarat region and preached his form of Hinduism. He is considered an incarnation of the lord by his followers who are mainly Gujaratis. When I visited the Gandhinagar complex with a Gujarati friend, I was told that the followers of this sect are very rich and that complex was built out of donations from the members of this sect. In fifteen years the organization has also grown as the wealth of its sect has grown in a resurgent India so much so that Rs.200 crore is spent in building a single temple complex. The main temple houses a giant 11 feet gold plated statue of Swaminarayan. Almost a similar size gold plated statue is installed in the Gandhinagar complex as well.

For your entertainment and augmenting knowledge there are few shows, called exhibitions, conducted inside the complex. One can enjoy the three indoor shows of about 2 hours duration in total. The cost per person is Rs.150/- for adults and Rs.50/- children. It is a bit high for an average Indian if you go with family. However, I think it will be worth if you are willing to spend. I had attended the show at the Gandhinagar complex almost 12 years back. Some scenes from that show are still vivid in my memory. One of the shows here is a film shown in an IMAX theatre. Also there is a 15 minute boat ride along a river to showcase the development of Indian civilization and culture over a period of 10000 years.

The Musical Fountain, is the other spectacle in the complex, that comes at a much cheaper entry fee of Rs.20/- per adult and Rs.10/- per child. The location is the Yagnapurush Kund, built in the shape of a Yagna Kund (alter to perform yagna ritual). The show lasts about 15 minutes. It is certainly one of the finest musical fountains in India. I counted the no. of jets used and to my estimate it is not more than 5. But the orchestration made it look more. Anyway, 99% of people would not bother the no. of jets. They were all left mesmerized by the spectacle of colour and water particles. The timings of the fountain show keeps changing with season.

The temple complex looked majestic in lights. It remains open till about 10 pm. But entry is closed after 7 pm. In fact there is no point getting in after 6:30 pm as you will not be able cover the entire complex. The complex opens at 9 am but one should prefer to go their in the late afternoon. Till now, Delhi had a Birla Temple and a Lotus Temple to boost of. But, take my words, this one stands world apart. One should not miss this while in Delhi. Take an evening off your itinerary to visit this.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Patanjali Yogpeeth : a new begining for Yoga

The inauguration of the Patanjali Yogpeeth, an ashram promoting healing through yoga and ayurveda, set up by Swami Ramdev near Haridwar was one of the top news today. Swami Ramdev is a household name in India today. Thanks to the media boom, specially cable television. Every morning you will find more than one channel beaming his yoga lesions. Yoga in India has found a new vigor. Thanks to Swami Ramdev. His pioneering effort in promoting Yoga as an important tool for healthy and sound living is bearing fruit. His aim to achive a disease free society sans alopathic medicines. And to him it is possible through Yoga and Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India

What Ramdevji is doing is being practices by hundreds others in various ashrams around Rishikesh and Haridwar . But he combined yoga with ayurveda, to heal people from common ailments like diabetes, high BP, Cholesterol, etc. People from all over India were using his ayurvedic medicines sold through the Divya Yog Pharmacy. Some comes to his ashrams themselves and other manages to get it through others living around Haridwar. Some of my friends from Dehradun regularly goes there and send the medicines back home. His ayurvedic medicines were target of CPM activist Vrinda Karat not so long back. But the detractors had to beat a retreat as there are more people supporting his medicines than oppose them.

Swami Ramdev’s yoga sessions are not that cheap. There was a camp in Dehradun two months back. Donation (entry) passes started from Rs.250/- onwards upto Rs.2000/-. But anyway, it is a small price for a noble cause. The amount spent is always better spent then spending on buying Coke or Pepsi or such junk things. The donations collected were used to set up the Patanjali Yogpeeth. Ramdevji also had to face allegations of setting up a five star ashram in the name of promoting yoga. From the television footage, it indeed looks a splendid campus. But, if we have to believe Ramdevji, it will cater to the need of the poor and the rich alike. Its motto is to serve the humaninity. It has a hospital that can house 5000 patients. It will treat patients with combination of yoga and auyrveda. It will also be a research centre for ayurveda. Let’s hope this will bring more fame to yoga and India. In case you may be interested, I am appending the address of Swami Ramdev' ashram near Haridwar ---
Divya Yog Mandir (Trust),
Kripalu Bagh Ashram,
Kankhal, Hardwar-249 408
Phone Nos. : 01334- 244107, 246737, 240008,
9897405550, 9897407770, 9897409990 9897070123
Fax : 01334-244805
e-mail :
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Visit his website for useful information and health tips.