O C T O B E R 2 0 1 3 • ` 1 2 0 • VO L . 2
Diversity INDIA: A CULTURAL MOSAIC
KERALA FAITH AND HARMONY
MUMBAI ART DECO CENTRAL
ENGLAND ENID BLYTON’S DORSET
October 2013 N A T I O N A L
G E O G R A P H I C
MUMBAI’S ART DECO
An architectural style echoes the pluralism of the metropolis
SONGS OF THE DIVINE
Embracing diversity with the qawwalis of Inayat Khan’s dargah
DAL BHAAT AND THUKPA
A piece of Lhasa among the paddy fields of Karnataka
BETWEEN THE LINES
A Naga village straddles cultures across an international border
VOL. 2 ISSUE 4
T R A V E L L E R
DEITIES IN DIALOGUE
I N D I A
SOUTH AMERICAN SYMPHONY
Tolerance, tradition, and peaceful coexistence in Kerala
In the jungle and the city, Ecuadorians live in sync with nature
DORSET BY THE BOOK
KEEPERS OF THE LAND
The ancient environmentalism of Sikkim’s Lepcha people
Storybook beaches and a ruined castle on an Enid Blyton-themed family holiday in England
MONTAUK ON MY MIND
Nostalgia inspires a road trip along the vineyards and beach towns of eastern Long Island
BUDDHA IN BOMBAY
An extract from “City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay”
Golden Temple, Bylakuppe.
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Vo L . 2 • `120 • r 2013
On the Cover For this issue, National
La Diversity IndIa: a Cultural MosaIC
KERALA FAITH AND HARMONY
MUMBAI ART DECO CENTRAL
ENGLAND ENID BLYTON’S DORSET
Geographic Traveller India’s Art Director Diviya Mehra created a collage of images from a variety of cultural elements found in India. The mosaic includes motifs from the Taj Mahal, Mumbai art deco reliefs, and wall art from Varanasi.
www.natgeotraveller.in www.facebook.com/ natgeotraveller.india
12 Editor’s Note | 130 Inspire
VOICES 16 Tread Softly Enjoy your seafood sustainably 18 Real Travel Rain doesn’t have to ruin your travels 20 Guest Column The secrets to travelling with toddlers
26 30 Taste of Travel Haggis, Scotland’s national dish
32 Tech Travel Gadgets to take outdoors 36 Geo Tourism Work and stay at an organic farm
22 Guest Column A unique Japanese power spot
38 The Icon Michelangelo’s Vatican masterpiece
24 The Trend The volcanic vineyards of Azores
40 Dark Tourism A missile museum in France
26 Take Five The golden glow of autumn
42 The Neighbourhood Istanbul’s cool waterfront
28 Culture The home of the Kerala sari
44 48 Hours The other side of Bengaluru 50 National Park Temples and tigers in the BRT Reserve 56 Go Now The festival Pot Maya
GET GOING 112 Walking Holiday Trekking to Kashmir’s alpine lakes 115 Sport Running through the city
SHORT BREAKS 42
118 From Mumbai Wine tasting in Nashik
122 From Bengaluru On Sullivan’s trail in the Nilgiris 126 Stay Jungle lore in Uttarakhand 127 Stay Irani hospitality in Panchgani
INTERACTIVE 128 Photo Contest The best of readers’ photos
LAST PAGE 136 The Comeback Humayun’s Tomb regains its splendour
OCTOBER 2013 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 7
OASIS/FLICKR/GETTY IMAGES (WATERFALL), JOYJEET MUKHERJEE (PAINTING), JPROMETHEUS72/SHUTTERSTOCK (FOOD) DINODIA, GETTY IMAGES, SHUTTERSTOCK (COVER COLLAGE)
EDITOR’S NOTE Niloufer Venkatraman
MY CULTURAL MOSAIC
hen an American friend was in Mumbai for a short visit, we decided to grab lunch at a city restaurant near her hotel in South Mumbai. When the menu arrived, it offered a range of Punjabi, South Indian, Chinese, and Malvani dishes. She wondered why so many restaurants in Mumbai, barring the expensive ones, tried to serve four different cuisines instead of focusing on just one. I laughed and offered her no explanation, because I found such a "multicuisine" menu completely unsurprising. In my own home, eating Punjabi aloo paratha for breakfast, Parsi dhansak for lunch, and South Indian staples dosa and sambar for dinner is considered completely normal. That’s how we grew up, and increasingly I find that meals in the homes of my friends too include much mixing and match-
ing of cuisines of various cultures, from around India and the world. Contrary to what many political leaders of this country have been trying to tell us, especially since 1992, when I look around me I see much diversity. Everywhere I go in India, I see different customs, unique as well as syncretic traditions—a mosaic of cultures and attitudes. And all of it is not new. During the 1990s, I lived on a floor in a building in Versova where my three neighbours were Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim families. My aunt, a Parsi, made sure she visited the very popular temple of Sai Baba in Shirdi, Maharashtra, every year. A few years ago, in the Tsuglagkhang Temple adjoining the Dalai Lama’s residence in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, I saw a family of Bohri Muslims, the men in their distinct white caps, enter. I assumed they were tourists like me. I was surprised to find
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them fold they hands, bow their heads, and pray there for the better part of 15 minutes. Over the last decade I’ve witnessed similar scenes of people of varied faiths visiting and praying at other shrines. At Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the atmosphere is so serene and spiritual, even the most irreverent tourist leaves with a sense of inner quietude. Similarly at the tomb of Salim Chishti in Fatehpur Sikri, I’m taken aback by the faith of people from every nook, corner, and ethnic persuasion of India who make an offering, tie a thread to the jalli screens, and make a wish. When I was growing up in Mumbai, my name sometimes invited quizzical looks from teachers. I recall how a new teacher, while calling out the roll, once said to me—“I want to thank your mother and father for the name they have given you.” At the time,
what she said was confusing and provided unnecessary attention I did not want, so I ignored it. Yesterday, as I was going through my daughter’s school yearbook, I saw lots of names that implied cultural collaborations. That’s when I suddenly remembered and recognised that the teacher’s remark about my name was an acknowledgement of cultural difference, and a rejection of the statements that politicians make about the homogenous nature of Hindu or Muslim or Indian society. It’s clear to anyone who travels around India that despite all the insular habits we witness and bigoted voices we hear, there are plenty of examples of cultural borrowing, of porous customs, of a vibrant mosaic that the rest of us can be part of and enjoy. n
CHRISTER FREDRIKSSON/LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
She wondered why so many restaurants in Mumbai, barring the expensive ones, tried to serve four different cuisines instead of focusing on just one
In the Arms of Heaven TRAVELLING WITH TODDLERS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE HELL
here is a place beyond Zen that I’ve learnt to find when I travel with my children. We live in England and travel to India at least once a year. We also have itchy feet and sometimes find ourselves traversing great distances to get to places we don’t need to go to. Most of the time travel without our five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter simply isn’t an option. It took a couple of trips of poor packing (forgot the biscuits, forgot the water bottles!), inept inflight infantsoothing, and a frazzled touchdown at every destination, before we got it together. We haven’t just learnt survival strategies, we’ve made them ours. Because as every parent knows, no child can be mollified with sops designed for another. Now when all hell breaks loose, I reach into the core of my being to rummage for all the inner peace I can gather. In my mind’s eye, I am in a shady hammock in a blossoming garden. I’m soothed by the bubbling of running water from the miniature pagoda and the tall cool Mojito beside me. Clutching this gossamer thread, I return to the real world of long-haul journeys and the toddler-tornado that’s turning ours topsy-turvy. When the
children spot that glint of inner peace in my eye, the carnage stops. They’re also calmed by the hypnotic near-croon that I’ve mastered, precisely for these situations. Despite that, there will be instances when I may have temporarily taken my eye off the ball (two extremely bouncy ones, in our case). Neither my Confucian calm nor my child-whispering abilities can save me then. Not so long ago, for instance, exhausted from child- and bag-lugging at the airport, we firmly (or so we thought) strapped our two young ’uns to their flight seats, then sat back to catch our breath, letting our eyelids droop a little, allowing the tension to seep out of our bodies. But a sudden bleat of pain from the aisle shook me out of my semi-somnolent state. A man, holding his toe, was looking daggers at us. I was bewildered by the ill will till I took in the kids’ empty seats, and realised that they had escaped.
A time will come when cuddles will no longer cure all ills, but for now this does the job. No, it does more
Our baby girl hadn’t gone far and was wreaking havoc in the walkway (tripping up not just Glaring Man but several others). Scooping her up quickly, we spotted our son at the far end negotiating with a stewardess for Oreos. Though they couldn’t have got lost or off the plane, we learnt our lesson. Now, if we ever feel like shutting our eyes for a split second, we take carefully orchestrated turns or make sure there’s a movie on their screens to glue them to the spot. Hawk-eyed surveillance and attaching the Seasoned Parents’ Bag of Tricks to your side like a fifth limb will circumvent most emergencies. When your ten-monthold is struck down on take-off by the earache from hell, a half-forgotten pack of crumbling biscuits could be the answer to your prayers. Where painkiller, earplugs and other blandishments had failed, chewing on the forgotten snack had once eased the ache, leaving a relaxed tot and his immensely relieved parents. Yet once in a while, along comes a situation that needs the oldest cure in the book. Deciding to spend the kids’ entire summer vacation in Kolkata this year meant doing the long haul without their father for the first time, as he couldn’t have begged, borrowed or stolen six consecutive weeks if he tried. So when we set off, my usually robust and well-behaved toddlers had not only got themselves sorry cases of the sniffles but also severe manifestations of Missing-Daddy-itis. Since the Bag of Tricks holds no antidotes for ailments of the heart, I had to do what came naturally. I drew them to me to comfort them (but also in the hope that a tight, warm hug might lull them to sleep). Kisses, cuddles and murmured endearments later, they were fast asleep with their tousled heads and mildly hot cheeks against me. A time will come when cuddles will no longer cure all ills, but for now this does the job. No, it does more. Flying to my childhood home with my beloved babies peacefully snoozing in my arms, puffs of toddler-sweet breath against my neck, and two pairs of little arms tightly wrapped around each of mine, I am inches from heaven. n Shreya Sen-Handley is a former journalist and television producer who now writes and illustrates for British and Indian media, when she’s not tending to two toddlers, a husband and a home in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham.
OCTOBER 2013 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 17
PASCAL CAMPION/IKON IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
VOICES Guest Column
NAVIGATE Taste of Travel
The traditional Scottish meal of haggis (still in the sheep skin here) is served with mashed turnips and potatoes, and the single most-favoured accompaniment, “a wee dram”, Scottish Gaelic for “a small glass” of whisky.
Comfort Food from Afar THE SCOTTISH HAGGIS IS NOT JUST FOR THE BRAVE-HEARTED
ffal has always made me cringe. Until I visited Scotland, where the national dish is a concoction called haggis, made with offal, oatmeal, and herbs. Traditionally haggis was cooked by women in the highlands for their menfolk who spent long days driving their cattle to the market. The enterprising wives would add turnips and potatoes to leftover bits of meat to make them a hearty meal. Haggis is about entrails—namely lamb heart, liver, and lung. These are ground together before being mixed with unassuming toasted oatmeal. Finely diced onions, suet (animal fat), and plenty of seasoning, like dried coriander, mace, nutmeg, and pepper go in next, to mask the smell. The ingredients are stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, and then simmered in water for an hour and a half.
Meeting haggis lovers made me wonder what it is about offal that unnerves, even offends, many otherwise dedicated meateaters? For many, offal is considered waste. In India, you won’t easily find offal on a five-star menu, unless it is goose liver pâté. Haggis, on the other hand, has made its way up from humble beginnings into haute cuisine, defying its origin as a practical food item. In spite of my curiosity, and the warm hospitality of the Scottish people, I did not have the courage to try it. It was only after I’d left Scotland that I felt the urge to sample this much-loved, much-maligned dish. It was to be six months before I returned and by then tasting haggis topped my bucket-list. On my first evening I planned dinner at the fancy Arcade Bar, Haggis & Whiskey
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House, on Cockburn Street in Old Town, the oldest part of Edinburgh. At just under £10, the haggis I was about to sample wasn’t exactly fuss-free food. Instead, it resembled moist carrot cake without the icing. There were three layers: mashed potatoes or “tatties” at the bottom, turnip or “neeps” in the middle, and as the crowning glory, rich brown, with bits of burnt orange—the haggis itself. The haggis I ate had a grainy texture and yet, it melted in my mouth. The dish’s wholesome goodness made it feel like soul food. Though alien to me, it was comforting. It seemed to mirror the personality of the country it represented. For me it served to redeem all offal. With a glass of Scotch in one hand and a forkful of haggis in the other, I felt the warmth of my Scottish hosts even stronger. n
BETHUNE CARMICHAEL/ LONELY PLANET IMAGES/ GETTY IMAGES
By RANJABATI DAS
NAVIGATE Geo Tourism
Cultivated Taste WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU MIX AN INTEREST IN ORGANIC FARMING WITH TRAVEL? By TUSHAR ABHICHANDANI
irst things first: wwoofing has nothing to do with dogs. It involves signing up to stay and work on an organic farm for a short while. The activity derives its name from the acronym by which the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is known: WWOOF, a network of loosely affiliated national associations that helps people find work on organic farms across the world. Wwoofers don’t receive a salary, but hosts take care of their food and accommodation. They’re generally expected to work for between four and six hours a day. Wwoofing provides an opportunity for volunteers to learn organic farming skills and gives them a taste of sustainable living. Darshak Gala, who recently developed an interest in organic farming, went wwoofing to Narayangaon, about 185 km from Mumbai, in August. “It was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed every bit of it,” said the 24-year-old volunteer. “I got to do farm activities like feeding animals, cutting wild grass, loosening the soil, planting fruit trees, fixing the tarp for grape plantation,
and harvesting fruits and vegetables. I even got a chance to sell some of the produce at the wholesale market.” Apart from the skills wwoofers acquire, they get the opportunity to explore rural cultures and traditions. “The peaceful nature of the countryside, the fresh air, the nice people and the simple way of life was something that really added to my experience,” says Gala. For farm owners who sign up as hosts, wwoofing offers a regular supply of labour, an opportunity to engage with people with varied skills, and a chance to pass on their knowledge of farming. Wwoofing has been growing in popularity across India. WWOOF India was launched in 2007 with 14 member farms. It now boasts a membership of 180 farms and communities across the country. In fact, wwoofing has become so popular that WWOOF India plans to set up four WWOOF Global Villages to serve as meeting points for travellers and act as models for organic farming in India. The first village is being developed near
HOW TO GO WWOOFING
•WWOOF does not have an international
membership system. Travellers must sign up with the WWOOF associations of their destination country. Membership to a country’s WWOOF generally ranges from `1,500 to `4,000. (WWOOF India membership rates. Indians: single `1,250, couple `1,750. Foreigners: single $25, couple $40) After signing up with WWOOF, members get access to a list of host organic farms and communities. This list includes details on their location, their farming practices, the accommodation they provide and their work requirements. Members must contact farms directly and sign up for work. Wwoofers generally receive free food and accommodation in exchange for work, but in some cases hosts may charge a nominal fee. Confirm all details before signing up. Working assignments range from a few days to a few months, depending on each farm’s needs.
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COURTESY SADHANA FOREST
Volunteers at the Sadhana Forest organic farm in Auroville help plant indigenous trees, dig trenches for water conservation, and learn first-hand about sustainable living.
Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. Wwoofing started in 1971, when Sue Coppard, a secretary from London, decided it would be a good way to support the organic farming movement as well as get more people to experience the English countryside. While wwoofing has been around for four decades, it has become especially popular after 2008, as recessionhit travellers decided that wwoofing was a good way to get a break from their jobs. It provided them with a cheaper way to holiday, while they also acquired a skill they could use back home. Many wwoofers tend to farm hop, visiting one farm after another in different countries. This allows them to experience different farming practices and cultures while travelling around the world on a small budget. Wwoofing is great for anyone who enjoys adventure, loves working outdoors, has an interest in the environment, and doesn’t mind physical work. n
IN FOCUS Land of Diversity
SONGS OF THE
QAWWALI SESSIONS AT THE DARGAH OF INAYAT KHAN TRANSCEND THE BOUNDARIES OF RELIGION BY HARINI NARAYANAN PHOTOGRAPHS BY SANJAY AUSTA
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unset prayers at the mosque in Delhi’s Nizamuddin village have just ended. Through a half-open wooden doorway, I see a tantalising glimpse of the dargah (a shrine built around a tomb) of Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan. He was a remarkable man, instrumental in popularising Hindustani music and spreading the word of what he called “Universal Sufism” in Europe and the U.S. in the early 20th century. The building is set around a the mazaar (tomb) on raised tranquil little garden that floats ground at the time,” remembers like a mirage beyond the intense, Saqlain, a son and co-singer of almost insane energy of the Ustad Meraj. “As kids, we used crowded urban village outside to sweep the ground around the the stone walls. Suddenly, the tomb and roll out dhurries, so sounds of a harmonium and of that people could sit down and a frail, yet compelling voice float listen to the music.” down on the breeze. The Friday In the late 1980s, a building qawwali programme has started. was erected around the tomb, As I enter the dargah, the and a decade later, the complex 89-year-old lead qawwal, Ustad was expanded to include spaces Meraj Ahmed Nizami, smiles for seminar and meditation halls, welcomingly. There are just a a little library with an eclectic sefew people in the fair-sized, airy lection of books on mystic tradiroom, but they reflect the costions from various faiths, and a mopolitanism that the dargah Hindustani music academy that welcomes: three or four devout, keeps the Delhi gharana alive, middle-aged local men whom with the support of Ustads Iqbal I have just seen walking back Ahmed Khan and Anis Ahmed from the mosque, a group of Khan. There are also a set of reenthralled students of Sufism treat rooms around the back of from abroad, and a few others the building. Though modern, who, like me, are here just to the design of the complex echoes listen to the music and soak in the architectural traditions of the aura of the place. Towards the older buildings around it. one end of the room, beyond Every February, around Hazthe tomb, is a raised platform rat Inayat Khan’s death annibuilt around a thorn tree that versary, which falls on the 5th of disappears through a gap in the February, the place comes alive dome above. with multi-faith symposiums This modern dargah is at the and performances of music and far end of the village from the dance by famous professionals Qawwali music creates a harmonious blend that resonates through famous shrine of Hazrat Nizaas well as by the children of the the serene setting of the Inayat Khan dargah (above). Facing page: True to the message of Sufism, people of all religions and muddin Auliya, the medieval basti. All these activities, as well denominations come to pray and ask for wishes to be fulfilled at the Sufi saint of the Chishti order as the dargah’s outreach work Dargah Nizamuddin Hazrat in Delhi. after whom the basti (village) is among the community’s women named. Inayat Khan, who is buried here, was born in Vadodara in 1882 and children, are supervised by the dynamic director, Dr. Farida Ali. and trained as a Hindustani musician even as he underwent an initiaAs the music washes around me and the world outside recedes, the tion into the mystic Chishti Sufi order. After winning recognition at the doorway is suddenly darkened and everyone, including the musicians, court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, he travelled abroad in 1910. He marlooks up. There is a group of tourists standing there with hefty guide ried an American and spent most of the rest of his life away from India. books, clearly seeking to tick the location off their Delhi checklist After Inayat Khan died in 1927, Khwaja Hasan Nizami, a renowned before moving on. Ustad Meraj ushers them in with a smile and Sufi and descendant of Nizamuddin Auliya’s, provided the land for the nod. They enter the room with visible reluctance and perch untomb. This became the site for his dargah. “There was little more than comfortably along the edges of the platform around the thorn tree. OCTOBER 2013 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 63
IN FOCUS Land of Diversity
Children come to Sufi sites like the Dargah Nizamuddin Hazrat to learn, among other things, that a common thread runs through all faiths.
As someone invites them to settle down on the mattresses laid alongside the walls, Meraj pauses briefly to say, softly, “It’s alright. Perhaps they have trouble sitting on the floor.” The tourists, apparently oblivious to the disruption they have caused, sit stony-faced, and then leave in a few minutes. The music continues without them, the serenity of the place undisturbed by the kerfuffle. Ustad Meraj and his family have been singing here for over 40 years: little can disturb the essence of inclusive Sufism that pervades the place. Ustad Meraj traces his lineage back 750 years—all the way back to one of the 12 original “quwwal bacche”—the 12 children who were chosen for training by Amir Khusrau, who is believed to have evolved the qawwali form. He is also an expert at blending verses from varied faiths and traditions into one seamless song. For instance, in the song he is currently singing, a fragment of a Meera bhajan is followed by another one that substitutes Meera’s Hindu references with Islamic ones: “I know neither about offering aarti/ Nor the rituals of puja/ My mad love/ Is an ignorant, crazy craving for your sight… I know neither about namaaz/ Nor about the ritual cleansing before namaaz/ I just prostrate myself/ When you come before me”. The dargah’s website defines a Sufi as simply someone who has “knowledge” of both the “outer and inner life”. The word “Sufi” is possibly related to the Greek word for wisdom—Sophia. Inayat Khan pursued this idea in his teachings, and explicitly focused on the underlying commonalities between all faiths. A simple prayer composed by him is carved onto a green stone panel on the wall behind the tomb: “…Allow us to recognise thee in all/ Thy holy names and forms:/ As Rama, as Krishna,/ As Shiva, as Buddha;/ Let us know thee as Abraham,/ As Solomon, as Zarathustra,/ As Moses, as Jesus, as Muhammad,/ And in many other names/ And forms,/ Known and unknown/ To the world...” As I read these words, the qawwali performance is coming to an end. Meraj’s little grandson, who has started singing along with the other men of his family, has a request: may he sing the Bollywood Sufiana piece “Kun faya kun”? The dargah is usually particular about maintaining a classical qawwali tradition, but Dr. Ali makes an exception, and the evening ends on a rousing note. n
THE GUIDE Hazrat Inayat Khan dargah near the Lodhi Road end of Nizamuddin village in Delhi, hosts qawwali sessions every Friday evening. Music begins at dusk and lasts over an hour. Dargah Nizamuddin Hazrat is very popular among qawwal enthusiasts. It is situated near Humayun’s tomb in the eponymously named basti, a 700-year-old locality with numerous medieval tombs, shrines, and monuments. The dargah is an important religious site, but its music performances make it culturally significant too. Qawwalis can be heard almost every evening, but special sessions are held on Thur and Fri from 6 to 7.30 p.m. and 9-10.30 p.m., though exact timings vary. Haji Ali Dargah sits on a little island in the midst of the Arabian Sea, 450 m off the coast of Mumbai. It contains the tomb of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and is a popular tourist attraction. Qawwalis are
sung daily from 4 to 7.30 p.m. The crowds are larger and more cosmopolitan on Thurs and Fri. Mumbai also hosts Ruhaniyat, a mystic music festival in December each year, set in the beautiful hanging gardens of South Mumbai. Dargah Sharif in Ajmer, Rajasthan, is the shrine of Moinuddin Chishti. It hosts daily qawwali performances from 4 to 10 a.m, except during winter when it is from 5 to 9 a.m. The state also hosts the World Sufi Spirit Festival, in February every year. Held in the majestic Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur (17-19) and the Ahhichatragarh Fort in Nagaur (21-23), the festival has in previous years featured the best Sufi musicians in India.
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Tomb of Salim Chishti in Fatehpur Sikri is said to be among the most beautiful gems of Mughal architecture. The sufi saint was revered by Emperor Akbar who even named his first son Jahangir after him. Weekly qawwali sessions are held here on Friday evenings, around dusk.
Qawwali sessions at the Inayat Khan dargah (top) attract listeners from around the world because of their inclusive tradition; Ustad Meraj Ahmed Nizami’s sons perform to a rapt audience in the courtyard of the Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi (bottom).
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SHORT BREAKS From Maharashtra Mahableshwar
SATARA DISTRICT Koyna Lake
Panchgani’s oldest hotel stands the test of time | Text & photographs by AZEEM BANATWALLA members of the family who are warm and welcoming, and treat visitors like friends rather than guests. A games room has table tennis, foosball, a pool table, and carrom boards. Panchgani’s sightseeing spots get overcrowded during the high season, but it’s still worth making the trip to nearby Sydney Point (2 km) and the Table Land (2 km) for views of the Sahyadris, or Sherbaug (2 km), a nature theme park which is fun for kids. I feel lucky to have seen Panchgani in its prime, before the growing populations of Mumbai and Pune took a toll. While most of the hill station is filled with honking cars and tourists these days, Prospect Hotel, from its lofty vantage point, has managed to freeze itself in time, retaining its rustic feel and fantastic food, capturing the simple of joys of summer vacations in the 90s.
n the winding roads leading to Panchgani, flanked by mountains freshly green from the monsoon rain, I was restless with anticipation. It had been seven years since my last visit to my family’s favourite holiday hideout for two decades. With most hamlets in the world succumbing to unavoidable tourist hordes, a part of me dreaded that my childhood paradise would no longer be the same. I carried with me an age-stained photograph taken there 15 years ago—a memory of happy times that I treasure to this day. My only abiding summer vacation memories are of Panchgani’s Prospect Hotel—whiling away hours reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels on the creaky white swings; ridiculing my sister’s searches for four-leaved clovers, but joining the hunt all the same; ending each day watching the sun set over the hills from the small but perfectly manicured gardens. I arrived at Prospect as an adult for the first time to find it was exactly the way I remembered it. Run by generations of the Javanmardi family, The ladies of the house still run the kitchens with age-old recipes, a few of which are from Iran. Prospect started out as a rustic colonial rowhouse in 1912 with just a
few rooms and a dining hall. They’ve lived in the exact same rooms and dined at the same table for decades. Over the years, the property has been expanded to include new cottages, and a swimming pool surrounded by cabanas with verandas, cane swings, and deck chairs. The property’s charm, however, remains completely intact. The dining hall is central to the Prospect experience—a large, airy space with around 15 tables and a fireplace at the head. Its brick-toned walls are decorated with black-and-white photographs from the 60s. The reception has antiques ranging from gramophones to a grand piano whose origins stretch well beyond 70 years. Meals are a four-course ritual, served at each table by smartly-dressed waiters. Fixed daily menus start with a soup, followed by appetisers like grilled fish and Russian cutlets, a main course with chicken or mutton gravies, dal and rice, and a dessert. Prospect’s chocolate soufflé still ranks among the best I’ve ever had. While the rooms are equipped with all the requisite amenities, from Wi-Fi to large flat screen TVs, the charm of Prospect lies in lazing about on the lawns, enjoying a book or a conversation amidst gusts of cool winds, or spending time with
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ACCOMMODATION Prospect Hotel has 22 rooms, spread across various cottages and rowhouses. Most open up onto pretty lawns, while others surround the swimming pool. All the rooms are spotlessly clean, and fitted with modern amenities including flat-panel TVs and showers with hot water round the clock. The standard tariff per person, regardless of the room is `3,500 during high season (October-May), which includes all meals and high tea. The food is a mixture of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare that spans Indian, continental, and occasional Iranian dishes. Vegetarians, however, are likely to miss out on the Russian chicken cutlets and a few other signature dishes. n THE VITALS
Panchgani is a hill station in the Satara district of Maharashtra. It is a 250 km/5-hour drive from Mumbai, via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and NH4, taking the exit for Wai. Prospect Hotel is off Ring Road, just outside the main town, and first-time visitors would do well to look out for the board and the road leading uphill to the hotel (02168240263/763; www.prospect-hotel.com).
Journeys Family Time
Enid Blyton and Thomas Hardy make perfect travel companions for tots and parents b y
h r e y a
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Journeys Family Time
s a five-year-old in Kolkata, I scrutinised one picture every day. Tucked away in a motley but magical collection of Enid Blyton stories, it showed a couple of running children, their rosy faces alight with excitement. Their dog scampers alongside them, scuffing up the pristine sand as it goes. A picnic hamper lies open and depleted, every last crumb of buttered scone and drop of ginger beer gone. A radiant sun watches over them. I spent as many hours reading about splendid seaside trips, enchanted wishing chairs, and the exciting adventures of a Gypsy caravan stowaway as I did poring over the pictures in those books. Together, the words and images stoked my already-crackling imagination. I conjured up a world where the sun always shone (never scorched), picnics happened every day, wishes came true, and everyone had a bosom buddy. I liked this world. I wanted more of it. One tale particularly caught my fancy, a mystery surrounding a crumbling hill-top castle— Kirrin—silhouetted against a bright new moon as four children and a dog scramble towards it. I carried this image with me into adulthood just as surely as I retained a small stash of much-loved books, saving them from the wilting heat, termite hordes, and monsoon floods of my Kolkata years for my children of tomorrow. When my son turned five this year (and my wise-beyond-heryears daughter, three), it was time to hand over my hoard of magical getaways to the new dreamers. As the days grew warmer in the spring, we sat in our foxglove-smothered garden in Nottingham, lost in these wondrous other-worlds till tea time. Imagine our delight when one day, we discovered that Kirrin Castle not only existed, it was just four hours away. A soaring 11th-century ruin in the coastal village of Corfe in Dorset, in southern England, was the basis for Blyton’s castle. Dorset beaches, we also learned, had the silvery sands of the treasured sketches of my first book. As if storybook beaches and a ruined castle weren’t enough, a tiny shop of Enid Blyton curios in Corfe boasted of the last of the politically-incorrect gollywogs, banished from the rest of England.
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The Swanage Railway is a 9.7 km-long heritage line that opened in 1885. Trains operate every 40 minutes in peak season; Corfe Castle Station is located in the shadow of perhaps the most famous castle ruins (previous page) in southern England. The old fashioned station at Corfe is a step back in time with its antique counter, ticket stubs, and vintage posters.
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Journeys Family Time
mommy. Holidays can start slow but ours began with the best!” Syon loves castles of all sorts, but crumbling remains are “tops” because they can be mentally refashioned to his satisfaction, with dreadful dragons in deep wells and battle-ready longbow men bristling on the ramparts. My castle-combing children had got busy the minute we arrived. They marvelled at the dizzyingly high towers and turrets. They weaved in and out of the rubble and, ran up steep stone steps (to my consternation). Corfe, the signs told us, was built by the mighty Norman William the Conqueror. When razed in the English Civil War, a forgotten Saxon stronghold was discovered underneath. When we visited, the castle was celebrating its antiquity with a Saxon fair that appeared to have emerged from the mists of time. Packs of people in period-costumes thronged pottery and trinket stalls. At a dressing-up booth for children, Syon snapped up the chance to be a knight but his fastidious sister turned her nose up at the finery on offer. The high point of the day for our little boy was the mock battle on the castle green, with its stirring swordplay and martial stunts. At the campfire, Ayana rolls her eyes at her brother’s tale of derring-do, “Castles are fine for boys but there’s nothing quite like the smell of the sea,” she enunciates precisely. Our next stop had been the seaside. The sun was blazing, the sea the brightest blue and the sand shimmered with sea-tossed treasure: crabs, clams, clusters of seaweed, and seashells of every shade. The beach teemed with sun-worshippers, sand-sculpting children, and their shaggy dogs. Sandcastle-building is a competitive sport for English kids so mine got to work straight away. Our
Portland Bill Lighthouse is at the southern tip of the Isle of Portland, often regarded as one of the greatest navigational hazards in the English Channel. Thomas Hardy called Portland the Isle of Slingers in his novels, making it the main setting of The Well-Beloved. 100 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | OCTOBER 2013
ANDREW DOREY/E+/GETTY IMAGES
There was another compelling reason to visit Dorset. Thomas Hardy, a favourite author from my college years, had written his searing tales of love and loss in this corner of England. Our minds were made up. Alongside our Enid Blyton adventure, we would go hunting for Hardy’s world of never-ending fields under big sky and mellow sun, of thatched cottages, and the primeval men and women he immortalised in prose and poetry. But the most exciting aspect of our trip was kept a secret from the children. Our drive down to Dorset on a sunny Saturday was the usual mix of goofy games, unplanned stops for chocolate cravings, and my-head-feels-wobbly moments. At journey’s end was a patch of green in which stood, to the amazement of our toddlers, a gleaming motor home, a modern take on the brightly painted gypsy caravans they so adored. With whoops of joy, they ran in to explore. In the space of nine metres, there was everything you could want on holiday: kitchenette, bathroom, four beds that were sofas by day, and even a dining table. The rain-proof awning would allow us al fresco meals, whatever the weather. That was a week ago. Tonight, we are celebrating the close of our gloriously literary holiday with one more storybook standard, a campfire dinner. While Daddy heats the chilli-spiked baked beans, I skewer sausages for the kids to cook over the fire. There are buttered French loaves and cuts of ham. The pièce de résistance is a tub of gooey-sweet marshmallows for toasting under the stars, with a swap-a-story session to wrap up the holiday. Our little boy pipes up first, “I’m glad we went to Corfe Castle first,
GET GOING Walking Holiday
THE GREAT LAKES ESCAPE The crackle of camaraderie makes a trek to Kashmir’s alpine lakes really special Text & photographs by RISHAD SAAM MEHTA
Pack animals make their way up to the Gadsar Pass with Krishansar Lake in the background. The region’s spectacular landscapes seen along the trek more than compensate for the tough ascents.
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GET GOING Walking Holiday
Many streams and rivers along the way must be forded. Most have improvised tree trunk bridges and stepping stones, but some just have to be waded across braving the cold water.
ompared to the five-course meals that most Himalayan journeys tend to be, trekking around Kashmir’s alpine lakes is a fastfood savoury. The closest airport, Srinagar, is well connected with the rest of the country, the drive to the trek head Sonamarg is a mere two hours, and the return drive from the end-point at Naranag just an hour. Yet, I’ve been assured that it’s probably the tastiest meal I’ll ever have. Around every twist in the trail, over the crest of a highaltitude pass, and beyond every glacial lake, I was told, postcard-perfect scenes will play out continuously over the next six days. There’s just one problem: I’m travelling with 22 other people, and I only know one of them. I have no idea what to expect. But over the next few days I realise that my worries are unfounded. The first person I hit it off with is Amit Kamat, a pharmacist from Goa. Even though he swears by Canon cameras and I am a Nikon loyalist, we find much in common. We frequently stop at scenic locations on the pretext of a water break and go on a clicking spree. The first day’s walk is a gradual ascent past shepherds’ settlements and through pretty silver-birch forests to end at a campsite
(11,500 ft) below the Nichnai Pass. At camp, the blisters have started to sprout, as have the high-altitude headaches, and camaraderie grows as Band-Aids and painkillers are exchanged. Trek leader Rakesh Pant, who is qualified in wilderness first-aid, checks everyone’s pulses and encourages us to stay hydrated. A few people consider turning back, but Pankaj from Delhi, who’s doing this trek for the second time, urges them to soldier on through the first two days. He says from experience that while walking over varied terrain and sleeping on uneven ground, our bodies will acclimatise, and then the beauty of the surroundings will make the effort seem worthwhile. The discomfort will fade, but the regret of turning back will linger even longer. Pankaj is right. The second day starts with the ascent over the Nichnai Pass (13,500 ft) and though it’s steep, it is not as tiring as yesterday’s lesser slopes. On the other side of the pass, there are meadows filled with wild flowers. Nidhi, an interior designer from Bengaluru, goes into a frenzy with her macro lens. No surprise really, this is the place where many of the photos in Adam Stainton’s definitive Flowers of the Himalaya were shot.
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That evening we camp a short distance from Vishansar Lake (12,000 ft). The sight banishes any residual headaches and the mess tent is a bright and happy place. A cell phone placed in a large, empty cooking vat becomes an improvised boom box and Mayura, Urvi, Shreyas, Vaishnavi and Neha—the girl gang from Goa—start swinging to the music, blistered toes and cramping calves notwithstanding. Soon we all join in. Vishansar Lake is even more captivating the next morning, its motionless surface reflecting the glaciers above. As I take a photograph, I hear a splash. Haroon, who has a reputation for spending more time in his swimming trunks than in his trekking pants, has jumped into the cold water. Starting the day with a refreshing dip is a good idea since a two-hour ascent to the Gadsar Pass (13,800 ft) follows. As usual, the pack mules and kitchen staff overtake us within 90 minutes. As I stop to prudently give the mules a wide berth, I’m overwhelmed by the scene below. Krishansar, the next lake, located 500 feet above Vishansar, has come into view and from my vantage point I can see both
Kashmir 22 fantastic people I travelled with who made this an absolute cracker of a trip. Each evening, our Frisbee games would get rough and rowdy, even after a day of hard walking. And then an hour later, we’d come together in the mess tent for an evening of song and dance. I learnt to dance the stomping polka from two Slovenian girls, stumbled through the flamenco with Mariano, and applauded as the camp’s staff joined in with Kashmiri folk dances with a Bollywood twist. Our cross-cultural sing-alongs were one of my favourite memories of the trip. n
The lakes are truly the most wonderful part of this trek. While Vishansar Lake (above) is a photographer’s delight, the Gadsar Lake thrills the imagination as well, with tales of a giant octopus said to live in its depths.
nestling together like robin’s eggs in a glacial nest. Beyond Gadsar Pass there’s a series of three small lakes, which are ideal for a swim. Since most of the group, including the girls, is still some way behind, Mariano, the energetic Spaniard, decides to go skinny dipping. He coyly stays neck deep in the cold water when the other trekkers walk by. But the sun is bright, and quite a few others follow him into the water. The walk to that day’s campsite winds past another lake, the dramatic Gadsar Lake (11,800 ft) with huge glaciers hanging above it. There’s also an army post en route where every trekker’s name is recorded and identity cards inspected. Since the group has many stragglers, each taking their own time, the commandant (a jolly Sardarji) and a few soldiers visit our camp in the evening to take down details. They expect to find a quiet scene, since the day’s walk has been a long and hard 12 km (the average is 8 km), but there’s an energetic game of Frisbee on. When the commandant asks the girls to pose together for a photograph as required for the records, they give him a leggy pose with such spontaneous synchronicity that he almost drops the camera in surprise. The day starts with a river crossing. Some of us take off our shoes and toss them to the far bank before wading across through the
thigh-deep water. Others get on the pack animals and are ferried across, resulting in some very miffed mules. After a couple of trips the animals refuse to budge. Wild flowers abound on the walk to the spectacular campsite of Megandob (11,850 ft), a meadow with a bird’s-eye view down the Sindh valley to the upper reaches of the Vale of Kashmir. The last considerable climb of the trek is to Gaj Pass (13,400 ft), which justifies the hard work with spectacular views of the Gaganbal (11,500 ft) and Nundkol Lakes. By now, though we climb at varied speeds, no one pants or wheezes like we did on the first day. The evening’s camp is by the bank of Gaganbal Lake where I go for a swim. The sacred peak of Harimukh rises above the lake, making it a divine experience. It is said that pilgrimages to the base of Harimukh and Gaganbal long preceded the Amarnath Yatra. Everybody in the group seems to feel the spirituality of the place.
Duration: 6 days/6 nights Distance: 60 km Maximum altitude: 13,800 feet. Costs: Depends on group size and arrangements. I travelled with Trek The Himalayas (www.trekthehimalayas. com; 94563 62345, 73515 23841), which has fixed departures. The group has 23 people, and the trip costs `10,800 per head. Additional costs include travel expenses from Srinagar to Sonamarg and Naranag to Srinagar (`1,000) and the cost of portage on mules (`1,500 per person). Arrangements: Trek organisers usually provide sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping mats. On my trek, three people shared a four-man tent but it was still a bit of a squeeze. The food was largely vegetarian, though there were eggs for breakfast on some days. It’s always good to carry along energyproviding munchies like chocolate, dry fruits, or granola bars. Drinking water is refilled from streams and springs along the way, and is generally safe. Carry water-purification tablets if you’re very particular. Toilet tents are erected a discrete distance from camp but they’re nothing more than holes in the ground so come prepared. At the end of the trek, you’ll have to spend a night in Srinagar, so remember to book a room in advance.
The final day is one of knackered knees and tortured toes as we rapidly descend 3,000 feet over rocky ground. By 1 p.m., we are at Naranag where jeeps whisk us away to creature comforts like a hot shower and a soft bed, just an hour away. Throughout the trek, the views were as spectacular as promised. But it was the
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