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China ThE sECrET KinGDom of shanGri-La inDia famiLy VaCaTions in ThE ouTDoors


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iSSUE 10



Trekking through Ladakh, Kilimanjaro & England + Discovering our cities on foot

April 2014 N a t I O N a L

G E O G r a p h I c

In focus


the SnOWS Of KilimAnjArO

Like in the Hemingway story, there’s a lesson to be learnt at the end of the trek up Africa’s highest mountain


frOm SeA tO Shining SeA

Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland is a reminder that England was once a colony too


t r a V E L L E r


I N d I a


Select citY WAlKS

Over the hOrizOn

Guided tours through historical districts, markets, and ethnic neighbourhoods reveal the heart of the urban jungle

Visions of Shangri-La—and tales of a vagabond grandfather—spark a quest to the eastern Himalayas and China’s Yunnan Province


the greAt White

A first-timer’s trek on the frozen Zanskar warms the heart and stills the soul


ArOund the WOrld in Seven YeArS

Paul Salopek’s incredible 33,000-kilometre journey retraces mankind’s earliest migration



frAgrAnt eArth

56 Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania


Paul SouderS/CorbiS/imagelibrary

Is it possible to capture the scent of first rain in a bottle?

l. 2 20 • VO 014 • `1 April 2

0 iSSUE 1

On The Cover




China ThE sECrET KinGDom of shanGri-La

aro & England Ladakh, Kilimanj Trekking through ring our cities on foot + Discove

inDia famiLy VaCaTions in s ThE ouTDoor

Milan Moudgill took this image on the chadar trek, on the frozen Zanskar river in Ladakh. the winter landscapes are surreal—the reason the delhi photographer and graphic design consultant keeps return­ ing to this place.

www.natgeotraveller.in www.facebook.com/ natgeotraveller.india

10 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire


16 Far Corners A sacred tree survives the tyranny of wars, borders, and interpretations 18 Real Travel Can curated resorts really give you a sense of place? 20 Guest Column When tourism actually helps preserve the past

navigate 22 Take Five These auto collections offer more than just a glimpse of your dream cars

36 26 The Icon The Eiffel Tower turns 125 28 Geo Tourism Where the turtle actually won the race 30 Taste of Travel In search of Ho Chi Minh City’s best bowl of pho 32 Quiet Places Gazing at the stars in Goa’s clear skies 34 Book Extract The Edible Atlas: Around the World in Thirty-Nine Cuisines Detour 36 Ghent’s discreet charms score over flashy Bruges 40 Srinagar’s meadow of serenity 42 Local Flavour Andhra’s paper-thin dessert is delicate and divine 44 The Landmark Kolkata’s Coffee House, a bastion of an era gone by 46 Culture The Karaga festival in Bengaluru offers a lesson in cultural syncretism


48 National Park Boat rides and emerald views at Assam’s Dehing Patkai Sanctuary

get going 118 Family Time Experience the great outdoors without roughing it out too much 122 Adventure Trapezing off the coast of Mumbai

short breaks 124 From Kolkata Jagannath Temple defines the spirit of the holy town of Puri 128 From Hyderabad When you tire of looking at Nalgonda’s temples, shop for a Pochampally sari Stay 132 Adventure and relaxation by the Ganga 133 Earthy comforts in the lap of Kanha’s wilderness

interactive 134 Photo Workshop Steve Winter on wildlife photography 136 Photo Contest The best of readers’ photos

last page 144 Dire Straits Bidar, Isfahan of the East


Juergen StumPe/looK die bildagentur der FotograFen gmbH/alamy/indiaPiCture (cIty), armin Zogbaum/tHe Food PaSSionateS/CorbiS/imagelibrary (fOOd), milan moudgill (cOVEr)

14 Tread Softly Flowers are more than pretty little things

Editor’s NotE Niloufer Venkatraman



hen I got back from a family holiday in Koh Samui last year, a colleague asked me what I had done for a week on the island. Except for a one-day snorkelling trip to nearby Koh Tao, she was surprised to hear that I had done precious little. I had not attended a beach party or taken a longtail boatride, nor gone to see the golden Buddha or the Namuang Waterfall, or even explored the famous Chaweng area. However, I did walk the length of Choeng Mon beach where I was staying. I ate freshly roasted corn on the cob and chicken satay from the beach vendors, and sampled various restaurants on the strip close by. I swam and lazed, hung out with family, and I got massages. I truly embraced the philosophy of slow travel on this trip. Slow isn’t always the way to go, and certainly isn’t the way I’ve always travelled. I had a very different approach in my previous avatar as a travel guidebook writer. When you’re researching a guidebook you are often speeding from one place to another, one accommodation option to the next, checking out sites, evaluating restaurants, sniffing out the good, the bad, the ugly.

Mostly, I would be in fast forward mode, speedily experiencing as many components of a place as was physically possible each day. It’s a habit that’s hard to let go of. Even now, I sometimes feel the need to check out every category of room in a hotel, the views from every wing, before making a decision. Attempting to eat at every restaurant on the tourist strip is an impulse that still holds sway. It isn’t always easy for me to do nothing on holiday. For years, I’ve needed to tick everything off my guidebook list when I travelled. I had to pop into every museum, market, and monument. If I hadn’t done the whole tourist circuit, I felt like I’d missed out on something essential. That was until I discovered the joys of slow travel. For me, the most prized form of slow travel is a walking holiday. By their very nature, trekking trips are a time to decelerate. Even at a decent clip, you can’t possibly walk more than a few kilometres in an hour, much less in the mountains. Those who haven’t been on a trek assume that one must walk all day, from morning to night. On the contrary most walking holidays I’ve been on have involved no more than 5-6 hours of trekking a day. And if, like I usually do, you start at dawn, you’re at your day’s destination by 10 a.m. with the whole day ahead of you to relax and soak in the landscape. Five years ago, when my daughter was two, we took her on her first Himalayan trek, albeit comfortably ensconced in a child carrier pack on my husband’s back. We were in Himachal Pradesh on the Kareri Lake trek, which is generally done over three days. Except we took a leisurely pace and spread it over six. Stopping for hours in fields teeming with ladybirds gave our tot, and us, a thrill bigger than reaching our destination or summiting a peak. Camping near a gushing stream, eating hot aloo parathas after a bout of heavy rain, watching hundreds of goats as they bleated their way up and down the mountain to graze—these are the languid moments of the trek I most remember. So how do I spend the day once I reach camp? I may read a book, play a round of cards or Scrabble, or chat with a local or another traveller. When I’m walking I carry very little stuff, and am unencumbered by gadgets and distractions. It’s the minimalist holiday I crave every so often. It gives me a chance to absorb the flavour of the place and stare into the earth’s vastness. Slowly. n ANDRé MORRIS

For me, the most prized form of slow travel is a walking holiday. By their very nature, trekking trips are a time to decelerate

10 national GeoGraphic traveller inDia | april 2014

Letters Inbox

COlOuR mE bluE


ast year, I spent Holi at the temples of Nandgaon and Barsana near Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh. I’d heard about the region’s lath maar Holi, where people chase each other with sticks. The ritual has its roots in a Krishna legend. It is believed that the blue god went to visit Radha in Barsana but was chased away by her girlfriends with sticks. He returned with his friends a few days later on the pretext of playing Holi. Modern-day festivities begin with locals from Nandgaon and Barsana singing together. Then, water and colours fill the air and around noon, the lath mari begins. The playful re-enactment has the Barsana women chase the Nandgaon men with sticks. —Abhay Nawani i was spellbound when i read tarquin hall’s “love in lodi Garden” in the February issue of National Geographic Traveller India. i bought his books soon after i read the piece. hall has captured the sights, smells, sounds, and foibles of modern india in a very intimate manner. he is so in tune with the quirks of indian culture, i found it hard to believe he wasn’t born in the country. Kudos to the Nat Geo Traveller India

team for bringing us such a fabulous story. i loved it! —Akash Pandya i have become a great fan of National Geographic Traveller India ever since i grabbed my first copy four months ago. in the February issue, i liked the article and pictures in the piece about pangolakha Sanctuary. i plan to visit the place in May. i also liked the photo essay called “Flock together” on

migratory bird populations in india, but i think you missed a few spots around chennai. vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in the Kanchipuram district and Muthukadu on the outskirts of chennai, are both hotspots for cormorants, darters, grebes, painted storks, pintails, pond herons, and several other birds. there’s also pulicat lake, a wetland rich in migratory aquatic avifauna. —Saikat Bhattacharya

Write to us, share stories of your travel experiences within India and around the world. We will publish some of them on these pages. Send your emails to letters@natgeotraveller.in

I liked the article and pictures in the piece on Pangolakha”

HOW TO CONTACT US Emails: letters@natgeotraveller.in Letters: Editor, National Geographic Traveller India, Krishna House, 3rd floor, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. Include address and telephone number. Not all letters can be published or answered; those published may be excerpted and edited. Customer Service: To subscribe or manage a subscription, email us at subscribe@natgeotraveller.in or call 022-40497417/31/35/36.

—Saikat Bhattacharya

Visit us at www.natgeotraveller.in


Visit us at www.facebook.com/NatGeoTraveller.India for ideas that will inspire you to plan your next holiday.

april 2014 | national GeoGraphic traveller inDia 11

ABHAy NAWANI (Woman & holi), KuLDEEP CHAuDHARy (birds)

Correction in the story titled “here comes the Sun” (February 2014 issue), the photograph carried on page 74-75 was not credited. the photograph of the night sky was shot by Sriharsha Ganjam.

NAVIGATE Geotourism

Where the Turtle Actually Won the Race The leaTherback TurTle geTs proTecTion from puerTo rico’s lawmakers By Julie Schwietert collazo


ast spring puerto rico bucked a decades-long trend by protecting 3,000 acres of pristine beaches and mangroves along the northeast ecological corridor. a new law marks an unexpectedly happy ending to a 15-year

battle fought by environmental activists to wrest this portion of the caribbean island’s coast—which includes a vital nesting area for the endangered leatherback turtle—from the construction cranes of developers. a microcosm of puerto rico,

this swathe of land encompasses all types of coastal wetlands found on the island and is home to nearly 900 other species, including ones struggling to survive such as the endangered West indian manatee. “its scale of ecosystem diversity is extremely rare in any location around the world,” says camilla Feibelman, a former field organiser for the Sierra club, which offers tours of the region. Day-trippers from San Juan, less than eight kilometres to the west, already head to eastern puerto rico for el Yunque rainforest and the bioluminescent Fajardo lagoon. Yet the corridor is even easier to access—public bus is one option—and the recent legislation promises to encourage ecotourism in this unique habitat. Soon travellers can expect expanded hiking and biking trails as well as the introduction of interpretive experiences, guided tours, and kayak rentals. n

Protective Shell

A newly hatched turtle taking to the sea on a Puerto Rican beach. 28 national GeoGraphic traveller inDia | april 2014

as India grapples with the challenges of wildlife conservation, a village on Maharashtra’s coast seems to be leading the way. a major nesting site for olive ridley turtles, Velas had witnessed a massive decline in their population over the years. In 2002, a chiplun-based nGo, Sahyadri nisarga Mitra, noticed that only one per cent of eggs laid in the area were reaching the sea because of poaching and disruption of their habitat. In 2006, the nGo started a turtle festival so locals from 36 surrounding villages could take pride and participate in reviving the olive ridley population. Former poachers were given incentives and training to monitor and protect nests. an annual festival (Mar-apr this year) attracts hundreds of visitors who want to watch hatchlings crawl into the sea. Visit snmcpn.org for details. —Tushar Abhichandani

IrInaK/ShutterStocK IrInaK/ShutterStocK

olive ridleys in Maharashtra

NAVIGATE Quiet Places

To Catch a Star To experience goa’s mosT laid-back pleasure, look To The heavens By triSha GuPta


ecember in Delhi portends fog. December in Goa is an endless expanse of clear skies. after a marvellous evening of festivities at the taleigao club, a late night drink in the open air seemed just the ticket. i followed the friends with whom i was staying up the dimly lit staircase of their home in Dona paula, stepped onto the terrace, and emerged into a glittering new universe. the midnight sky was a deep, cloudless indigo, lit up by more stars than i’d seen in a very long time. as i stood there in a happy haze, i willed the stars to arrange themselves into longforgotten constellations. My boyfriend in high school had been an astronomy fiend, and stargazing camps had been joyful pit stops in our adolescent romance. Between the boy who would go on to graduate studies in physics, and the quintessential arts student whose brain shut down at the mention of anything mathematical, the night sky was a reasonable meeting point. Unlike Madeline Bassett, the p.G.

Wodehouse character, i didn’t quite think the stars were God’s daisy chain, but the names—orion, cassiopeia, arcturus, aldebaran—held a strange magic. So long as i had some Greek myths to wrap around the stars, even i could convince myself that i was interested in black holes and red giants. all these years later, my memory didn’t serve as well as i’d have liked. i could see orion the hunter, with broad shoulders and a gleaming dagger dangling from his waist. i could see the Great Bear, though the uneven trapezium with a tail had never made its ursine qualities apparent to me. My friend vishal and i agreed on which luminous object venus was, only to then decide it was actually Jupiter. Despite our enthusiasm, none of us could identify anything more. the next evening, returning from the mela at the Feast of St. Francis Xavier we drove to panjim and stopped the car in front of a musty-looking building. “this is Junta house,” he announced, “and there’s supposed to be an observatory at the top.” it was past sunset and the offices in the area

ThE VITAls the Public astronomical observatory is open from 14 november-31 May (Junta House, 6th Floor, 18th June Road, Altinho, Panjim, Goa; afagoa@gmail.com; astrogoa. blogspot.in/p/about-us.html; daily 7-9 p.m.). Visit during fair weather only.

april 2014 | national GeoGraphic traveller inDia 29


“The Starry Night” (top) by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, has drawn multiple interpretations by art historians. Unlike the swirls of the painting, where the stars appear to be in motion, the Goa night sky is clear and perfect for studying celestial phenomena for most of the year.

had closed. i followed vishal suspiciously, past a leaking water pipe and up a not-tooclean staircase, convinced that nothing in this building could possibly be open. i was wrong. on the second-last floor was a sleepy public library, and above it the public astronomical observatory. the observatory is run by volunteers of the association of Friends of astronomy out of one sparsely furnished room that serves as office, library, and hangout. Welcomed by two young a.F.a. enthusiasts, we climbed a final narrow metal staircase to a terrace, where two large white telescopes awaited us. a young man of about 19 told us we would be seeing certain things with the naked eye as well as through the telescope. another volunteer, about 14, positioned the telescope and then invited us to climb a small ladder so that we could look through the eyepiece. our guides were young but wonderfully well-informed, providing introductions to each object they showed us, and answering questions with enthusiasm. We began with venus, and moved on to the stunning andromeda galaxy, with a hazy ring around it. We saw the Summer triangle constituted by the stars altair, Deneb, and vega, each the brightest star of a different constellation. the cluster called pleiades, or Seven Sisters, was visibly lovely to the naked eye, but through the telescope it seemed like an enchanted blue world. i was brought down to earth by a booming sound. i went to the edge of the terrace and saw the large baroque white church that defines panjim’s central square. the bells at the church of the immaculate conception were chiming eight o’clock. an hour had passed in what seemed like a flash. But a whole new universe had opened up. n


The Other Flemish City Ghent’s discreet charms score over flashy BruGes By Vikram Shah


have just finished a giant, boot-shaped glass of “Max” beer. there is a curious ritual attached to the 1.2-litre blonde ale served at the Dulle Griet pub. customers are asked to hand over their left shoe as guarantee for not making off with the glass. Undoubtedly, it would be a great souvenir to mark my five-month-stay in the Belgian city of Ghent. But i decided i’d rather have my shoe back. a basket of footwear attached to a rope drops from the ceiling, and after a few fuzzy minutes spent searching for my sneaker, i leave the bar, negotiating my way through a crowd of chatty, one-shoed regulars. often overlooked in favour of Bruges, Ghent has all the medieval, cobblestoned delights of its western neighbour, even the

network of picturesque canals lined with red brick, sloping-roofed houses. But unlike its more popular counterpart, Ghent offers a less curated tourist experience. it isn’t as varnished as Bruges. it’s got more soul. the city’s skyline is dominated by three towers: the 91-metre-high belfry, and the towers of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. the cathedral’s architecture is as memorable as its interiors. on visits, i have marvelled at the van eyck brothers’ “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, a massive 12-panel altarpiece. the lower left panel titled “Just Judges” was stolen in 1934 and still hasn’t been found. it remains one of europe’s greatest unsolved art mysteries. over the course of my stay in the city,

36 national GeoGraphic traveller inDia | april 2014

i learned of its rich past. Strolling past caravans hawking vinyl records and bronze knick-knacks at the Vrijdagmarkt square market, it’s hard to believe that laid-back Ghent was once the second largest city in europe. in the Middle ages, it was a textile centre of international significance. not only did Ghent produce the bestselling woollen Flemish wool cloth, the harbours at lys and Scheldt sent out english wool to the rest of europe. the bearded statue of Jacob van Artevelde in the square is a memento of this time, and a testament to the spirit of Ghent’s people: the 14thcentury textile baron, was killed by angry locals because he was suspected of treason. like me, history buffs will love the less visited northern part of the city. it’s where

Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Getty imaGes

Graslei, the cobblestone-paved eastern bank of the River Leie, was an important part of Ghent’s medieval harbour and its historical centre. Today, it attracts tourist boats and people looking to relax by the river and admire the traditional buildings that line it.

the Prinsenhof complex stands. this is the one-time residence of the counts of Flanders and the birthplace of emperor charles v—another historical figure with whom the city shares a complicated relationship. the ruler humiliated the inhabitants of his city by forcing them to publicly wear nooses for refusing to pay taxes. During the Ghent Fest (Gentse Feesten), the proud (and good-humoured) citizens walk around wearing nooses. the little square where his statue stands is a nice place to catch a quiet moment on sunny afternoons. Ghent has numerous establishments with interesting back stories. Trefpunt, a bar opposite Saint Jacob’s church for instance, is the spiritual home of the Ghent Fest. on a summer day in 1969, Flemish folk artist Walter de Buck and his guitar-strumming friends sat on beer crates outside trefpunt and made music all day, reviving an annual celebration that originated as a fair for city workers in 1843. today, the Ghent Fest is the third largest city festival in europe, a ten-day extravaganza of music, theatre, and comedy held in July. the waterfront of Graslei with medieval buildings in the backdrop (best viewed from Grasburg Bridge), is one of the 11 venues of the event. like the rest of Belgium, Ghent takes its waffles very seriously. one of my favourite spots to linger was Mokabon, an unpretentious café with excellent waffles and coffee. every brew comes with a spiced shortcrust biscuit called speculoos, packets of which i carried back to india, much to the delight of friends and family. i should have also brought back jenever, a traditional liquor made of juniper berries, from which gin evolved. the smooth drink is served at canal-side establishments like ’t Dreupelkot, in flavours like chocolate, pineapple, and pepper. Just around the corner from the jenever bar, at the edge of the Groentenmarkt square, a grungy alley leads to Hot Club de Gand, where jazz and blues performances are held regularly. it’s easy to miss the entrance to the alley, marked by a handpainted portrait of a cigarette-smoking, taciturn Santa claus. long night-outs were usually followed by a bite at De

The World of Kina: The Garden (top) is one half of a children’s museum. It exhibits thousands of plant species, bee colonies, and live tarantulas; The gothic Saint Bavo’s Cathedral (left) is famous for “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” (right), a significant work of new realism from the early Renaissance movement; The statue of 14th-century textile baron Jacob van Artevelde (bottom left) commemorates a time when Ghent was Europe’s second biggest city. Gouden Saté, a legendary snack stall close to St. Peter’s Abbey. the bestseller here is the julientje: a heart-stopping mix of fries topped with mayonnaise, brown sauce, fried onions, and deep-fried pork cuts. local tip: Don’t append “French” before the word “fries”. i once heard the owner, peter, ask a couple of italian students, “how would you like it if i asked for Spanish pizza?” easy to navigate, Ghent is ideal for pedestrians and cyclists. i spent several happy afternoons cycling around the city, halting at local gems like Wasbar— a drinking hole that doubles up as a laundrette—or ambling through Graffiti Street, wondering if there was method to

the artistic madness on display. Sadly, my stay did not coincide with the citywide party during the Ghent Fest. But i know that i now have a great excuse to return this summer. n

The ViTals Ghent is in the West Flanders province of belgium, 60 km/50 minutes from brussels. trains to the city are available from all major stations in brussels, (including the one at brussels airport, which takes 40 minutes), as well as from bruges (30 minutes).

april 2014 | national GeoGraphic traveller inDia 37

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX) Hemis/indiaPicture (car), eurasia Hemis/Indiapicture Eurasia Press/PHotononstoP/corbis Press/Photononstop/Corbis (cathedral), de De aGostini/Getty Agostini/Getty imaGes Images (paintings), Kevin GeorGe/aLamy/indiPicture George/Alamy/Indipicture (statue)


IN FOCUS Great Walks

74 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | April 2014



City walks There’s still a part of your city left undiscovered. Allow these guided walks through historical districts, markets, ethnic neighbourhoods—even an insect route—to show you the heart of the urban jungle






1 Stooping down to an ant’s perspective in Bengaluru’s Lalbagh Botanical Garden reveals a completely new side of the city. 2 Weaver bird nests at Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, on the outskirts of Delhi. 3 The multi-hued windows of colonial villas in Fontainhas are a photographer’s delight. 4 Intricate sculptures cover the gopuram of Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai. 5 A plethora of spices, herbs, and dry fruits are sold at Mirchi Galli in Mumbai’s Crawford Market. 6 Religious idols were kept in wall niches that are a typical feature of traditional pol architecture in Old Ahmedabad. Facing page: A mosaic wall mural at Kolkata’s Girish Park Metro Station depicts Noti Binodini, a courtesan who broke into the male-dominated world of theatre in the 1880s.

April 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 75

ajay narendra (ant), Ramit Mitra (nest), Simon Reddy/Alamy/Indiapicture (window), Dinodia (carving), Chirodeep Chaudhuri (jars), Robert Harding/Indiapicture (parrot), Facing page : Manjit Singh Hoonjan


IN FOCUS Great Walks


Vibgyor Streets The enduring charm of Black Town By Reshma Krishnan Barshikar | photographs by Manjit Singh Hoonjan


n June 1757, the Battle of Plassey was raging on the banks of the Bhagirathi River. Siraj-ud-Daula, soon to be the last independent Nawab of Bengal, was a tired man. His uncle Mir Jafar was behaving suspiciously and the forces of the British East India Company, led by Robert Clive, were nipping at his heels. Who could blame the Nawab for agreeing when a beguiling snake whispered to him, “Saab, their ammunition is wet, they will not fight tonight. Let the men rest…” By dawn, he had lost Bengal and the usurping of Hindustan had begun. It is widely believed the snake was sent by Nabkissen, later known as Raja Nabakrishna Deb. He was the Persian tutor of the young Warren Hastings (who’d served as a volunteer in Clive’s army earlier that year) and owner of the house in Kolkata’s Black Town that I am standing outside. I’m a little shamefaced as I listen to my guide Ritwick because I don’t know anything about this man who changed our nation’s history. By 1765, the East India Company was the effective ruler of Bengal and Bihar. White Town, which was exclusively for the European settlers, flourished around Fort William in Kolkata: The area later came to be known as Dalhousie Square (now B.B.D. Bagh). Black Town was the Indian settlement that stretched northward and grew organically, without planning. Today, the area comprises the neighbourhoods of Jorasanko, Sonagachi, Sovabazaar, Hatibagan, Kumortuli, Shyambazaar, Bagbazaar, and Chitpur. Unlike the Calcutta of the Raj, which exhibits the desperate beauty of a fading diva, Black Town resonates with history.

Strolling through Time My walk begins at Girish Park Metro Station on Central Avenue, where I meet Ritwick from Calcutta Walks. Our first stop is just across the avenue, at a large vibrant mosaic mural depicting the gorgeous courtesan Noti Binodini, the religious teacher Ramakrishna Paramhansa, and the father of Bengali theatre, Girish Ghosh. Many of Kolkata’s Metro stations have murals that reflect the spirit of the neighbourhood in which they are located. This artwork announces that Girish Park is the city’s theatre district. We turn off Central Avenue to W.C. Bonnerjee Street, lined by ramshackle concrete buildings and photocopy booths. A group of men and boys bathe by a broken fire hydrant. After a quick left at a fork, the cement shacks and asbestos sheets are replaced by crumbling red and ochre two-storey homes with flat roofs and worn venetian blinds. The lane narrows and becomes cleaner, lined by sprawling, stand-alone homes. These mansions, found across Black Town, were the homes of wealthy Bengalis who profited under the Company’s rule. They belong to such prominent families as the Debs of Sovabazaar, the Duttas of Kathola, and the Mitras of Kumortuli. A well preserved two-storey villa catches my eye. Built in red brick, 76 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | April 2014

it sports white Roman arches and three large white Doric columns that support an intricately carved pediment. We are still less than 200 metres from the station, and I feel like I’ve been whirled through a time machine. The red walls are vandalised by communist party posters, but it is easy to imagine that the colour was once as bright as the large bindi on the forehead of a lady heading for her morning prayers.

The INC’s Illustrious Past We continue on W.C. Bonnerjee Street for about ten minutes, past homes that have long since lost their sheen, and arrive at a dilapidated grey structure with a weathered door outlined in parrot green. A marble plaque next to it reads: “Simla House—Here lived in his boyhood. An illustrious son of Bengal a Hindu Brahmin The famous Lawyer Late Mr W.C. Bonnerjee, Bar-at-Law. The first President of the Indian National Congress.” We enter through a dimly lit corridor that opens into a central courtyard, once the heart of this mansion, which was built in 1804. Vines erupt through peeling plaster and moss clings to the floor. It begins to drizzle. The place has a magical quality to it, like a secret garden. Peel back the years and this is probably where the family’s Durga idol sat during the annual puja. But this is no empty home, Ritwick reminds me. The current occupants are three families that are distant relatives of Bonnerjee. I hear a key turn and a gentleman in a white safari suit enters. He holds a black umbrella in one hand, and his pale face livens up when he learns I’m a writer. I make my first acquaintance with the Bengali bhadralok and soon B.D. Mukherjee and I are having an impassioned discussion on the common ancestry of Dravidians and Bengalis. We leave the house and make our way into the tumult of Chatu Babu-Latu Babu Bazaar. Tomatoes and vermilion carnations paint a stark contrast to ramshackle stalls that date back to 1881. We navigate through the vegetable section to the cavernous fish market where women sitting on plastic sheets hawk bhekti. The more precious silver hilsa is sold on blood-stained tables watched over by hungry cats. We exit on to Beadon Street via the bazaar’s main entrance. Across the road is the prettiest bungalow yet, the threestorey Thakurbati that belonged to the sons of Ramdulal Nibas Dey— the Chatu Babu and Latu Babu after whom the bazaar is named. Ritwick regales me with anecdotes of their profligate eccentricities. The Deys went to great lengths to advertise their status to the world. They washed their home with rose water and held lavish wedding ceremonies for their cats. While Ritwick’s tone is tinged with distaste, he cannot help but relish the characters that make his job interesting. Thakurbati is an eclectic mix of neo-classical and Hindu architectural styles. The facade is beautifully preserved and the fire engine red walls look freshly painted. The first two floors have a row of verandas


Tall pillars and a bright exterior adorn Chatu Babu-Latu Babu Thakurbati (top), one of the more lavish mansions in Black Town; The mural outside Girish Park Metro Station (bottom) reflects its character as Kolkata’s theatre district.

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IN FOCUS Great Walks





1 Chatu Babu-Latu Babu heritage mansion has become a popular wedding venue, with several functions held there in a year. 2 Visiting S.C. Roy & Co. is like going to a museum. Old, intricately carved metal pins and invitation cards with embossed family crests have been lovingly preserved. 3 All the Durga idols in Kolkata are made in Black Town’s Kumortuli neighbourhood. The sculptors have moved with the times, creating websites where buyers can book their idols in advance. 4 Chatu Babu-Latu Babu Bazaar is a lively market where locals shop for a variety of items from puja requisites to fresh fish. 5 Simla House, a run-down two-storey building, was the home of W.C. Bonnerjee, the first president of the Indian National Congress. He spent half his time in London, where he was a successful barrister.



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The street is glistening, washed clean by the rain, and a hush seems to have settled in. I revel in the silence; every glimpse here is like a sepia-toned image, every frame a scene from a Satyajit Ray film interspersed with twin Doric columns. Latticework grilles protect the outside and a layer of venetian blinds provide shade. A small doorway on the bougainvillea-framed Latu Babu Lane leads into the mansion’s large, covered courtyard. The high ceiling, from which crystal chandeliers hang, is supported by Ionic pillars. The air is pregnant with decay and the insides have none of the beauty of the exterior. Thakurbati is the grandest of the five homes on Latu Babu Lane, all owned by the same family. The door to one is ajar, and Ritwick leads me through it into a small grey room. A man sits at a table, a cup of tea by his side, engrossed in Sidney Sheldon’s A Stranger in the Mirror. He is Shyamal Deb, a descendent of the Deys. He offers me tea and we chat. As we leave, Ritwick mentions that this man’s forebears are rumoured to have lit their cigars with hundred rupee notes.

City of Amblers Leaving Latu Babu Lane, we turn left. The roads become very narrow and soon we’re in a labyrinth. The walls are so close together, I imagine neighbours leaning across for a cup of sugar or the morning’s gossip. Legend maintains that children leapt across the roofs to warn freedom fighters ahead of a crackdown. This is the core of Darjipara, an old tailor’s neighbourhood. Nabkissen and his ilk may have sold out to the Company, but they were nevertheless a cultured lot who became patrons to artisans and set up bazaars and neighbourhoods like Darjipara, Muchipara (for tanners and cobblers), the famous Kumortuli (for potters and sculptors), and Kolutola (for oil pressers). As we wander, I completely lose my sense of direction. Only the rare street sign saying Kedar Dutta Lane or Beadon Row tells me where I am. But after a while, the roads begin to widen again and the close walls are replaced by rows of modest two-storey homes. Some sport a concrete slab called a “roak” outside the door, which could become a makeshift spot for old men to hold their adda during the day, or be transformed into a bed for wayfarers during the night. The street is glistening, washed clean by the rain, and a hush seems to have settled in. I revel in the silence; every glimpse here is like a sepia-toned image, every frame a scene from a Satyajit Ray film.

Of Metal and Masters We exit the alleyways and enter Masjid Bari lane, and find ourselves at S.C. Roy & Co., perhaps the oldest metal engravers in the country. In a fish tank at the entrance I am momentarily transfixed by the fattest golden gouramis I have ever seen. The 130-year-old studio was started by Kanai Lall Roy, who began by making invitations cards for the British and wealthy Bengalis. The walls are covered with sparkling plaques, miniature badges, and a large metal engraving of Queen Victoria. Three elderly gentlemen look up, smile, and get back to work, magnifying glass in one hand and scalpel in the other. The brothers— Debabrata, Jyotiromoy, and Priyabrata—are descendents of Lall Roy and determined to carry on the family tradition. If you have an old military pin in your family, it was probably made here. I spot some beautiful metal cameos in the showcase and ask if those are for sale. Debabrata that the old moulds are lost and intricate pins like that are not in demand any more. These are his only pieces. “They

want cheap stuff these days,” he rues. When I compare the quality of the engraving on the pins in the case to those on display outside, I can see what he means. A 15-minute stroll brings us to the home of Nabkissen on Shri Aurobindo Sarani. The plaque above the heavy double doors says, “Here lived Maharaja Naba Kissen, Dewan of Lord Clive.” We walk a little further and find the entrance to Sovabazaar Rajbari, Nabkissen’s second, more lavish, residence. Once Nabkissen helped Clive win the Battle of Plassey against Siraj-ud-Daula, he became fabulously rich. He suggested that Lord Clive offer thanks by paying homage to the Durga idol at his home. This ritual grew into an annual affair, called the Company Puja, which evolved into the Durga Puja of today. Before that, Durga Puja used to be a small family affair. It is said that Sovabazaar Rajbari and its Singh Dewar (Lion Gate) were built to impress the large crowds that began to congregate each year.

To Create a Goddess No tour of Black Town is complete without a visit to Kumortuli—the only remaining artisans’ community. Many of the old neighbourhoods are nearly gone. The tailor’s descendants probably work for fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee and the oil presser’s son is perhaps studying abroad. Yet, Kumortuli endures. En route to Kumortuli, we make a pit stop at the famous Chittaranjan Sweets of Sovabazaar to try the sandesh and its many variants. We pass but don’t stop at Nobin Chandra Das’s, where the board screams out: Inventor of the Rasagulla. This is a must-visit for all those who love the sweet. Kumortuli is flanked by Rabindra Sarani in the east and the Hooghly River in the west. The alleyway is lined with grey, mostly headless, statues. It has the dank stench of decayed straw and there is clay everywhere. The open-air studios are housed in a row of sheds and lit by bulbs hanging from a wire. This lane supplies all the idols worshipped in Kolkata. According to Krishna Dutta, author of Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History, some 4,000 families live and work in its five acres. Odd sights abound: Here an arresting lion stuck midroar, there the demon Mahishasura in deep anguish. The Durga idols are yet to be painted, but if I had my way I would leave them grey and let the beautiful craft do the talking. At the end of the walk, as I head to the famous restaurant Bhojohori Manna for some delicious mustard hilsa and rice, it occurs to me that this entire neighbourhood is like those idols. Bleached of colour by time, yet so pretty in its faded hues.

the vitals It is possible to explore Black Town on your own but a knowledgeable guide can make the past come alive. Calcutta Walks runs Kumortuli and Sovabazaar walks that take about 2.5 hours each. The two can be combined on request for a complete Black Town tour (98301 84030; www.calcuttawalks.com; `1,500 per head inclusive of entry to monuments; minimum two people required).

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Journeys The Essence

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Uttar Pradesh


E a rt h Is it possible to capture the scent of first rain in a bottle? By Karanjeet Kaur

Rose oil, extracted from the petals of the Rosa damascena (damask rose) variety, is one of the most popular bases for perfume and ittar. Kannauj has several rose plantations, but the best and most aromatic petals are grown near Aligarh 200 km away.

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Frederic Soltan/Corbis/Imagelibrary


constables and a wooden bench are parked in the middle of a narrow, unpaved road. Behind them is my taxi with a young, belligerent driver at the wheel, and a two-hour-long unruly tail of buses and tempos. We’re at Bangarmau, a tiny city in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, and one of the constables has just told us that we can’t go any further. Shivpal Singh Yadav, U.P.’s Public Works Department minister and Chief Minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav’s uncle, is holding a rally in the area. The entire district is hemmed in by rope boom barriers, and traffic is “not allow”. There’s no reasoning with the constables, so I plead with them to let us pass on the basis of an invalid press card and an invented, ill husband. Finally, one of them lowers his voice and urges me to follow a cloud of dust rising to my left along a dirt path. It is the minister’s convoy and if anyone stops my taxi, unmarked by Samajwadi Party stickers, I am to pretend to be a journalist covering the campaign. I’m only passing through Unnao on my way to Kannauj, a Yadav family stronghold since 1999, but my concerns are completely unpolitical. I’m headed to the city looking for mitti ittar, or petrichor perfume, intrigued by the idea that the scent of wet earth can be distilled into miniature glass vials. Several epithets—“India’s perfume capital”, “Grasse of the East”—have been applied to this nondescript town.

Journeys The Essence

According to estimates, its nearly 450 small and big ittar manufacturing units employ close to 40,000 people. The fragrance trails across the country (including to perfumers Gulabsingh Johrimal, my favourite shop in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk), the Middle East, and Europe’s perfume houses. Two years ago, the U.P. government had applied for a Geographical Indications registration for five articles manufactured in the state: The list included glassware from Ferozabad, Saharanpur’s wooden handicrafts, and perfume from Kannauj. I learnt about the city’s fragrant credentials two years ago while researching a book on an allied business in neighbouring Kanpur. I stowed it away for a future visit, until late last year when a Twitter conversation with my social anthropologist friend, Sarover Zaidi, awakened me to the idea again. Sarover had tweeted about mitti ittar; she brought me an ampoule of the liquid from a Dongri perfumer on a subsequent meeting, and I was captivated by its woody-sweet notes. Even though I’ve come looking for the earthy fragrance—and have lived away from north India for only over a year—I am unsettled by how dusty everything feels in the coarseness of early winter. I cough my way past moss-covered cattle bathing pools, colour-blocked neon mosques and temples, and a bewildering number of wall advertisements for “Raju Tents-Shankar DJ”, to arrive in Saraimeera on the outskirts of Kannauj. This corner of town is surrounded by cold storage warehouses and has one of the city’s two or three hotels. I brace myself for the musty smell of bed linen and cheap rose deodoriser that seem to infect most small-town establishments. Instead, the lobby of Hotel Rajdhani is pervaded by the same perfume I have come looking for. The manager Mr. Shukla—a man given to long, meditative 100 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | APRIL 2014

silences—is only prepared to answer queries about room rates and hotel facilities, and is completely nonplussed by my excited questions about the hotel’s choice of air freshener. But he soon warms up to my little quest. None of the people I had made an appointment to meet are answering my calls, so I take up Shuklaji’s generous offer to give me a ride on his bike to the ittar shops in the heart of town. Kannauj has been Akhilesh Yadav’s constituency for many years, and his wife, Dimple was elected unopposed to the Lok Sabha in the 2012 by-election. Posters all around the city allow neither locals nor visitors to forget that. But there is 24-hour power supply, Shuklaji tells me. That’s necessary for Kannauj’s cold storage units, several of which have been started by families involved in the ittar business. He’s convinced I am following the wrong story: The real one lies in the cold storage of potatoes from nearby Hardoi, because the city’s legacy as a perfume town has nearly faded. But I detect no evidence of that in the Safdarganj and Farsh Street areas, where the bulk of ittar shops are concentrated. The streets look like Chandni Chowk’s Dariba Kalan from 10 years ago. Despite the trails left behind by the market’s sizeable canine and bovine traffic, it’s an olfactory playground. Shuklaji introduces me to Rajeev Khatri, the proprietor of Lala Kedarnath Khatri Perfumers in Katra, who answers all my ignorant questions with patience. The Khatris established their shop in 1968 and manufacture all manner of synthetic perfumes and ittars. He tells me that the base for most ittars is expensive sandalwood oil, but several of Kannauj’s oil-producing factories have closed down in the last few years, leading to a slump in the industry. Most ittars are available either in floral


Flowers, like these jasmine buds, have to be picked by hand before sunrise. Their essence must be extracted the same day.

Uttar Pradesh

variants—rose, motia, champa, genda—or as herb-spice mixes like hina and shamama. Mitti ittar, considered the hardest to extract, is one of a kind. I am surprised to learn of its uses: as an additive to paan masala and tobacco, as treatment for nosebleeds, and as an antidote to the craving to eat mud experienced by some pregnant women. He tells me all this while daubing my wrists and forearms with different ittars, and when we are up to my elbows on both sides, he offers to show me how mitti ittar is extracted at his factory down the lane. Before we can leave, I ask Khatri what’s inside the large steel jars, labelled “Compound No 1” or “23”, perched behind a glass vitrine. He casually mentions “constituting” synthetic perfumes, since it’s no longer feasible to manufacture only ittar. “If you give me a perfume,” he says, “I can have it bottled and ready for you in three hours.” In other words, a counterfeit. I ask him if he has Cool Water. He swivels halfway in his chair and signals to one of the workers to bring me a bottle: It smells just like the real thing. I get such a kick out of the gaudy packaging, the handwritten Devanagari transliteration (“kul vaater”), the shifty nature of the enterprise, and the thrill of finding a whiff of Switzerland at home that I pick up ten 100-millilitre bottles as souvenirs for friends. I am disappointed that he is out of Hugo Boss Deep Red. The six-room Khatri factory is on the ground level of a square plot adjoining their residence. One of his six workers is sealing packets of Vaseline with twine, another is sifting through rose petals, while the supervisor is checking the four deg-and-bhapka units in which ittar is produced. Khatri explains that while the scent is no longer stored in traditional camel-skin pockets (kuppis), the process of extraction has remained unchanged for the last several centuries.

The flower petals are placed in large wood-fired copper vats (degs) that are connected by hollow bamboo pipes to smaller vats (bhapka) full of sandalwood oil. Water is poured over the petals and the vats are then sealed with clay. Most factories make about three extractions from the same base: The first extract is the strongest and the scent wanes with every subsequent flush. The three extracts are then mixed together with sandalwood oil and bottled for use. In the case of mitti ittar, the process is repeated with clay cups (kulhads). Before the cups are dunked into the cauldrons, they should not have contact with water. “If you drink tea from the cup the first time,” Khatri says, “you’ll smell the earth. But if you refill the cup, it’s gone.” We go over to Khatri’s home for tea and jacket potatoes, roasted in the embers of the deg’s woodfire. There I meet his father, who tells me about the Ain-e-Akbari legend I have heard twice since I landed in Kannauj. This is how it goes: A servant at Akbar’s palace in Agra noticed some drops of rose oil floating on the surface of Noorjehan’s bathing pool. He figured that the oil was accidentally produced when rose petals came in contact with warm water, and presumably devised the steam-and-condense process to extract it. The process soon caught on. “He was from Kannauj,” says the elder Mr. Khatri, as explanation of how the city’s ittar industry started. As I take their leave, he asks me if I have been to the Gaurishankar temple yet. I promise to go there the next day. But the following day, I haul myself to the Fragrance and Flavour Development Centre (F.F.D.C.) despite Shuklaji’s gentle entreaties (“Arre, it is very far, madam.”) I walk for a few moments outside the hotel before hailing down a tonga that drops me to a “tempo” (shared APRIL 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 101


The deg-and-bhapka process of extracting essence has remained unchanged for several centuries: Some experts pin it as far back as the Indus Valley civilisation. The petals are emptied into large vats that are connected to smaller ones to catch the extract, which is mixed with sandalwood oil.

Journeys The Essence

autorickshaw) that deposits me outside the pale walls of the 25-acre property. I’ve spent all of 20 minutes on the road. At F.F.D.C., the dynamic Mr. S.V. Shukla, the centre’s director, debunks the elder Mr. Khatri’s Noorjehan story with a PowerPoint presentation. “The ittar industry has existed since the time of emperor Harsh Vardhan (7th century),” he says. He shows me a picture of a terracotta deg-and-bhapka unit in the Takshila Museum in Lahore, Pakistan, discovered during an Indus Valley excavation. He also instructs me to read the ancient tract Charaka Samhita, which includes a list of the 26 different herbaceous and aromatic materials used in the composition of the therapeutic oil, anu tail. “Fifteen of those are used in the composition of hina and shamama,” he tells me above the sound of trains passing by Kannauj city’s railway station next door. The centre is involved in a variety of activities to promote and scale up the ittar industry. They conduct workshops around the country, have set up gigantic distillation units, and several aromatic plantations—including rose, cypriol (nagarmotha), vetiver (khus), lemon, and turmeric—at the Kannauj campus. Babulal Baruah, one of the centre’s employees assigned to take me around, rattles off compound names, explaining the fine difference between 102 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | APRIL 2014

basil and tulsi, but I am terribly distracted by the smells around me. He puts me through a spot test, where I am to guess the origin of five essential oils. I am accurate about four samples, and find it unreal that I can find a specific memory with each fragrance. Fennel (sweet) reminds me of my mother’s purse, and post-lunch plunges into its depths for a carved silver box full of saunf; the refreshing orange neroli, of a college teacher who caught me snacking on a keenu orange in the middle of a lecture. Dreamy citronella is reminiscent of cool white sheets and Odomos-slathered summer nights on the terrace, during my Delhi childhood. The bitter and pungent neem smells of freezing winter mornings and being chased by my mother intent on disciplining my wild hair. I leave with several bottles of all these oils, and another exhortation to visit the Gaurishankar temple. As I go, Baruah gives me a few petals of the hybrid Damask rose to eat. I can detect their bittersweet tang on my breath long after dinner. The next morning, I take a tempo with Banarasi-brocade interiors and a loudspeaker blaring Akshay Kumar songs, down to the Gaurishankar temple. The complex, which also houses the Kshemkali temple, is administered by the Archaeological Survey of India. The shrine is clean, and isolated enough to

SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images (man), Chirodeep Chaudhuri (bottle)

Most traders say the ittar industry is no longer profitable: The harvesting of flowers is a labour-intensive processes, and the price of sandalwood oil continues to rise (top); Ittar shops also produce low-cost counterfeits of famous perfumes (bottom) that sell better than traditional fragrances.

Uttar Pradesh accord young lovers breathing space, but those are about the only things going for it. The marriage and prayer halls look like gaudy fuschia confections, painted in candy-wrapper green and yellow. Local families have erected these, and even a marble bust of emperor Harsh Vardhan, which seems to be modelled on a blurry picture from a history textbook. On the commemorative plaques, I recognise several names from the perfume market, and decide my time will be better spent trekking one last time through the market’s aromatic galis.

I am back in Mumbai two days later. As I unpack my bag, I realise my clothes are strewn with lemongrass strands from F.F.D.C.; moist rose petals have made it inside my laptop’s skin. The bottles of ittar and oils I have bought, have mercifully survived the flight, and my living room is infused with a medley of perfume notes. Some of these vials will go to the friends they are meant for, but I know that even months later, a corner of my flat will always speak of a dusty little U.P. town. n

Most ittars have a floral base, but herb-spice blends like hina and shamama are popular in Middle-Eastern countries.

The Vitals

Getting there Kanpur is the closest airport to Kannauj, but Lucknow’s Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport is better connected. There are several direct daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Lucknow, from where you can take a taxi

(`3,500 for a one-way trip) to Kannauj. The town has two railway stations, but Kanpur is the closest major railhead, and better connected with the rest of the country. The best way to get to Kannauj from Kanpur is via one of several express trains that halt at the two cities (`75 for a one-way trip); taxi services connecting the two are scant. Seasons Uttar Pradesh experiences a long, dry, hot summer (Apr-Oct) when temperatures hover around 35°C; May temperatures can go over 40°C. Winter (Nov-Mar) is

comfortable, with an average daytime temperature of 22°C. July and August are the rainy months, but not uncomfortable. Explore Kannauj’s ittar and perfume shops are concentrated around the Safdarganj, Subzi Mandi Road, and Farsh Street areas, located in the heart of the city. It’s best to take a tempo (shared autorickshaw) to one end of Subzi Mandi Road, and walk your way past the perfumers. The city also has a number of ASI-administered monuments and temples, including the

Gaurishankar and Kshemkali Devi temple complex, Annapurna Devi temple, and the Bala Pir Dargah, but these are not well maintained. Stay Accommodation options in Kannauj are severely limited; it’s a good idea to camp at Kanpur and drive to the city. Otherwise, Hotel Rajdhani has basic, clean rooms and linen. The in-house restaurant has poor lighting, but serves simple, vegetarian north Indian food (G.T. Road, Saraimeera; 05694234215; hotel-rajdhani.com; doubles from `1,800).

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Orientation Kannauj is a city in western Uttar Pradesh, located on the banks of the River Ganga, about 372 km/ 6 hours southeast of Delhi. It is located 160 km/3 hours west of the state capital Lucknow, on SH38, and 85 km/2 hrs north of Kanpur on NH91.

GET GOING Family Time


Staying in a tent doesn’t have to involve crawling into it on all fours, or eating stone-cold food out of a can while huddled in a sleeping bag. Modern camping and tented outfits are equipped with many amenities and include a range of activities from adventure sports to wildlife safaris. Here are some options from across India that will let you experience the great outdoors this summer without necessarily roughing it out By Tushar Abhichandani

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photo courtesy: Himalayan River Runner’s Tons River Base Camp



Outdoor Highs Escape to the hills for a dose of adrenaline Camp Potter’s Hill Shimla, Himachal Pradesh There is a great mix of leisure and adventure on offer at Camp Potter’s Hill. Guests can picnic in apple orchards, take tours to nearby villages, or participate in a treasure hunt organised by the camp. Adventure enthusiasts can spend their days rock climbing, rappelling, crossing a Burma bridge, commandobridge walking, and going on night hikes (94180 65001; www.camppottershill.co.in; doubles from `2,700).

Camp Wildex Kanatal, Uttarakhand Camp Wildex is set in the heart of a pine forest surrounding Kanatal town and offers a clear, 180-degree view of the Himalayas. When not busy admiring the stunning vistas, participate in activities like obstacle courses, valley crossing, rappelling, and rock climbing. Treks to the nearby Kaudia forest and Surkanda Devi Temple

are also arranged by the camp on request (99104 41244; campwildex.com; doubles at `2,000, children between 6-11 years `1,000, 5 years or under free).

Camp Bodhisatva Rajgarh, Himachal Pradesh Nestled in the forests around Rajgarh town, Camp Bodhisatva is designed to provide an authentic, but not too taxing, camping experience. Accommodation is in comfortable tents, some with attached bathrooms. Young ones can be entertained with board games, a makeshift badminton court, and rope swings. Adventure pursuits for adults include hikes, rappelling, rock climbing, and river crossing. An interesting way to explore the surrounding area is to sign up for night hikes (011-4102 3461; www.campbodhisatva.com; 1-night/2-day package `2,500 per head; children between 6-12 years `1,250).

Paradise Camping Resort Sonmarg, Jammu and Kashmir Paradise Camping Resort is among Sonmarg region’s most popular camps. Set on the bank of the Sindh River, Paradise has a range of activities on its roster. Hikes on some of Kashmir’s beautiful trails and white-water

rafting will interest the active traveller. Less energetic but more patient guests can try their hand at trout fishing. Simply lazing around the camp and taking in the scenery is par for course, considering the tents are located in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains (95967 77712; paradisecampingresorts.com; doubles from `4,000).

Room with a view Wake up to stunning landscapes Banjara Camps & Retreats Sangla, Himachal Pradesh Set in an apple orchard on the bank of the Baspa River, Banjara Camp & Retreats, Sangla, is geared to serve the laidback tra­veller. Guests can venture out of the pic­ turesque camp for leisurely walks by the river or hike to a pahadi village. Further afield are excursions to Chitkul village, on the Indo-Tibetan border, and hikes to a glacier (98168 81936; www.banjaracamps.com; doubles from `7,000).

West Ladakh Camp Ulleytokpo Village, Jammu and Kashmir West Ladakh Camp is an ideal stopover on a hectic Ladakh trip. Located on the bank of the Indus River at an altitude of almost 3,700 metres, the camp has comfortable tents with basic hotel amenities. The camp is enclosed in an apricot orchard and each tent is naturally separated from the other by trees and boulders. Such idyllic surroundings are great for introspection and to recharge the body and mind. Make a leisurely tour of Lamayuru, Alchi, and Rizdong monasteries a part of your agenda (011-4058 0334; campsofladakh.com/westladakh.html; doubles from `3,500).

At Camp Wildex in Kanatal, visitors can take part in various team-building exercises and obstacle courses in the surrounding forests. Facing page: Guests at the Tons River Base Camp in Uttarakhand take a dip or practise yoga by the beach after a strenuous day of rafting.

Located on the bank of Pangong Lake— Bollywood’s go-to location for films set in Ladakh—Camp Whispering Waves offers as much comfort as is possible for a camp located 4,000 metres above sea level. There aren’t too many things to do around the camp, but what it lacks in activities, it makes up for in location. The surrounding landscape and ever-changing colours of Pangong Lake are meditative and captivating at any time of

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photo courtesy: Camp Wildex

Camp Whispering Waves Pangong Lake, Jammu and Kashmir

GET GOING Family Time

day or night (011-4058 0334; campsof ladakh.com/whisperingwaves.html; doubles from `4,050).

Hot and Happening Beat the heat by a lake or under the trees Camp Lakeside Nilshi, Maharashtra The rugged Sahyadri landscape is soothed by breezes blowing in from Andhra Lake, a vast expanse of water visible on three sides of YMCA’s Camp Lakeside. This 40-acre campsite, 65 km from the hill station of Lonavla, has cabins as well as tents. Lots of shady trees provide restful spaces under which to spend the warmest part of the day. Night temperatures are comfortable, and you’re constantly serenaded by the buzz of the forests’ gazillion cicadas. Early morning walks on paths near the lake are soothing, or families can get their thrills with a guided rock-climbing session on the campsite’s artificial rock wall. There are plenty of open spaces conducive to playing a variety of games, including basketball, for which there is an open-air court (84518 71803 www.ymcacamplake side.org; `1,500 for accommodation of groups

of four, meals at `600 from Monday-Thursday, `800 from Friday-Sunday. The campsite is usually unavailable through most of May as YMCA runs its own camps then, but book ahead for the rest of the summer).

camp baji santeville Panchgani, Maharashtra This camp is guided by the philosophy of mixing nature and adventure. It was started by a group of travel enthusiasts, looking to move away from their corporate existence. Located on a hill that offers a panoramic view of the Sahyadris, the camp strives to promote an outdoorsy culture. Guests can take part in activities like rock climbing, rappelling, commando-bridge crossing, and obstacle courses. Hikes on nearby trails are organised on request, as are customised activities for groups (98330 26348; www.natventureholidays.com; `1,800 per person if vegetarian; `2,200 per person if non-vegetarian).

Camp Namaloha Kodi Bengre, Karnataka Set in a coconut grove between a beach and a backwater stream, Camp Namaloha might seem like the kind of place that attracts people looking to spend their days idling away by the water. But the kind of people who end

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up coming to Namaloha are the exact opposite—adrenaline junkies seeking the rush of riding the waves. Located near Manipal in the village of Kodi Bengre, the camp has trained experts who offer surf lessons in the mornings and afternoons. Apart from surfing, guests can also relax at the big parachute tent that has board games and space for activities. Evenings are generally spent barbecuing and sitting by a bonfire (99302 60748; www.whitecollarhippie.com; 2-night surfing package `7,000 per person, including three lessons and meals; 1-night packages available on request).

Big Red Tent Panvel, Maharashtra An hour away from Mumbai, the Big Red Tent Camp at Karnala is a basic but convenient getaway from the chaos of the city. A short drive away from Karnala Bird Sanctuary, the camp is located on a lawn, surrounded by palm trees. Guests unwind and spend their days idling away at campfires, with barbecues and board games. They are also encouraged to occasionally abandon their hammocks and go on (guided and unguided) hikes to the sanctuary, the nearby Karnala Fort, and night treks around the camp (99305 82878; www.bigredtent.in; `1,350 per person; `850 for children below 8 years).

photo courtesy: Banjara camps (river crossing), Camp Whispering Waves (tents)

The rush of river crossing (left) over the Baspa River provides a great contrast to the otherwise leisurely setting of Banjara Camps & Retreats in Sangla; An unhindered view of the stunning Pangong Lake and relative comfort at high altitude are the highlights of Camp Whispering Waves (right).


into the wild Lion Safari Camp Gir National Park, Gujarat Located inside the only surviving natural habitat of the Asiatic lion, Lion Safari Camp gives wildlife enthusiasts a chance to experience nature without roughing it out. It has air-conditioned tents made from eco-friendly materials. The camp arranges big cat safaris each day. Though it is hot in summer, this is the best time to spot the park’s wildlife (079-40077333; www.campsofindia.com; 2-night/3-day packages for doubles `12,000).

Nameri Eco Camp Near Tezpur, Assam Opened in 1994 by the Assam Angling and Conservation Association, Nameri Eco Camp is the perfect spot to experience the ecology of the Nameri Tiger Reserve. The area has an elusive population of tigers that are rarely spotted. Eco Camp arranges wildlife excursions on foot and via rafts. At the Pygmy Hog Conservation Centre visitors can see the endangered animals at close range (98540 19932; www.ontrip.in/nameri-eco-camp; doubles from `1,978).

Hurtling down rapids Increase your heart rate Mercury Himalayan Expeditions Shivpuri Beach Camp Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Tons River Base Camp Taluka, Uttarakhand

Located on a prime beach in the whitewater rafting capital of India, the MHE Shivpuri Beach Camp is among the most popular in the area. Its 35 tents have basic amenities. Guests have the option of going on one or more rafting trips daily on rapids that can go as high as Grade 3+. For a break from rafting, walk in the hills nearby, kayak, go birding, or invigorate the system with a dip in the cool waters of the Ganga (011-2334 0033; www.himalayanadventure.com; 1-night/1-day package `3,200 per person).

Hornbill Camp Thattekkad, Kerala Every aspect of Hornbill Camp is inspired by the philosophy of going local. The camp was built with materials sourced from the region by workers from the community, and it continues to be a significant source of income for them. Set on the bank of the Periyar

Although it’s not as popular as rafting –on the Ganga, the Tons River has some of India’s most difficult rapids, which go as high as Grade 4. Packages range in duration from two days to a week. This camp is also the starting point for treks to Buran Pass and Ruinsara Tal. There are many ways to enjoy the serene surroundings, like taking a yoga session. Guests can also go swimming in forest pools, and try their hand at trout fishing, rappelling, and rock climbing (011-2685 2602; www.hrrindia. com; 2-day/2-night packages `5,900 per person including rafting trip).

River, Hornbill Camp skirts the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (also known as Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary; now closed to tourists) and offers daily birdwatching tours in the area. Kayaking down the river, cycling, and visits to a nearby elephant rescue centre are also popular with many of the camp’s visitors (0484-2092280; www.thehornbillcampcom; doubles from `5,500). n

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photo courtesy: Himalayan River Runner’s Tons River Base Camp

Explore the wilderness in comfort

Short breaks From Kolkata

Juggernaut Journey



Puri’s coastline lends itself well to festivals, such as the annual Puri Beach Festival, which has been running for 20 years, and the India Surf Festival that concluded in February.


t is early in the morning and the sun seems to have missed its date with the world. I wake up gingerly, surprised that it is still dark, because dawn usually visits Puri, Odisha, very early. It is hazy as we drive past the empty boulevard along the beach. Every inch of the road is lined with sea-facing hotels, and they are all wrapped in a cloak of silence. The city slowly stirs to life as the sun strides up the sky, its rays glancing off the 200-foot tower of the Jagannath Temple, its centre of gravity. The holy city of Puri is the last stop on the char dham pilgrimage that Hindu devotees undertake—the other sites are Dwarka in Gujarat, Badrinath in Uttarakhand, and

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Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. I enter the temple and find that it is bustling. An entire city seems to be inside the complex: tourists, locals, priests or pandas, all vying to get a darshan of the lord. We weave through the crowd and manage to find a little corner to silently commune with the troika of deities. Mesmerised by the sight of these larger-thanlife, brightly clad wooden idols of Jagannath (Vishnu, or his avatar Krishna), Balabhadra (Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother), and Subhadra (Krishna’s sister), I nearly forget the jostling and elbowing. When we step out of the shrine into the vast courtyard, I realise I have 4,00,000 square feet of the complex to explore.

Chirodeep Chaudhuri (beach), dinodia (idol)

The Jagannath Temple defines the spirit of the holy town of Puri | By Lakshmi Sharath


In the early decades of the 19th century, local rulers took away stone panels from the majestic Konark Sun Temple (left) to use in their own temples; Jagannath figures (right) are available outside the temple and across Puri. The original deities in the temple were carved from a single log of neem wood, unlike most Hindu idols that are made from stone.

Temple Town The 11th-century Jagannath Temple, built by King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, is believed to have been designed by Vishwakarma, the divine architect. More than 120 smaller shrines dot the temple complex, girded in by a 20-foot-high wall. The main shrine has an imposing tower, crowned by Vishnu’s sacred instrument (the srichakra). The temple is divided into four sections. Besides the main sanctum where the deities are placed on a throne of pearls (ratnabedi), there is a dancing hall (natamandapa), the offerings hall (bhogamandapa), and the front porch (mukhashala). But it is the kitchen where the bulk of the activity is concentrated. One of the largest in the world, more than 50 types of offerings are prepared for the deities in earthen pots, with water drawn from the two wells in the complex. Goddess Lakshmi is supposed to supervise every morsel prepared here. Legends about the temple abound. The most fascinating one is about the discovery of the deities. A priest tells me that King Indradyumna, who ruled over the Malwa region in central India, commissioned a carpenter to carve the idols from a radiant log of neem wood floating in the sea. The carpenter’s only condition was that he be left undisturbed inside a locked room until he finished the idols. When the artisan failed to come out for two

weeks, Indradyumna’s queen presumed him to be dead and asked for the door to be opened. The carpenter turned out to be Vishnu, who abandoned the idols unfinished: As a result, none of the idols have hands. Jagannath and his siblings make their presence felt in several aspects of Odisha’s culture, especially as motifs in pattachitra scroll paintings and the many types of handloom saris woven here. Several of Puri’s festivals, including the Rath Yatra, are focused on the temple. During the Snana Yatra, the

deities are brought out in a ritual procession for their annual bath. After the ceremony, they are taken for a fortnight to a secret place, as they are believed to be recovering from a fever (daily 5 a.m. to noon, 4-8 p.m., except during the Snana Yatra).

Beach Bums Puri’s identity is defined by the Jagannath temple, but in recent years, it has begun to offer more secular pleasures. Fast emerging as the Goa of the east, Puri is a convenient beach getaway for tourists


Dolphin spotting Nothing beats a sunset cruise. I leave Puri late in the afternoon and head towards Satpada, a small town along the banks of Chilika Lake, one of the largest brackish-water lagoons in the world. The 50-km journey to the jetty at Satpada (which means “cluster of seven fishing hamlets”) takes about two hours. We have a boat to ourselves and we go cruising along the vast expanse of the lake, looking for the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins. We stop by to see some locals, who show us cultured pearls from oyster shells, trying to con us into believing they were obtained through deep-sea diving. We nearly fall for it. Our boatman takes us to Rajhans

Island, where we can see the lagoon on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. We stop for a while, continuing to hope for a glimpse of the dolphins. An hour later, we are greeted by the sight of a couple diving into the water. Their friends swim close by, fins peeping above the water’s surface. Although this stretch of Chilika is not the haunt of migratory birds, we also see flocks of ducks in the distance.

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Chirodeep Chaudhuri (couple & idols), niladri adhikari (boat)


Short breaks From Kolkata chalk and gum. Another layer of cotton is added to it, which is rubbed with stones to achieve a glossy finish. The artists usually prepare their own natural colours and use very fine brushes. Their subjects are stories from Indian mythology, but an artist tells me that it is Jagannath who inspires them. During the deities’ annual fortnight off, devotees worship a pattachitra of the trinity. I pause in front of a temple to pay my respects, when a group of artists invites me into their home. On the colourful walls there is an eclectic mix of various art forms. Aside from the narrative patas, there are palm-leaf engravings with divine portraits, and tussar paintings featuring tribal motifs. Trees, flowers, and birds border the paintings, while the portraits are characterised by fine brushstrokes. I see various masks and wooden toys, even some made of cow dung. I could spend the whole day in Raghurajpur watching the artisans work, but it is time to leave.

from neighbouring states. I take a walk around the coast in the evening to find it bursting with colour and people. Kites and balloons vie for aerial space, while camels dominate the scene on the ground. A local sand festival has just concluded. In Puri and Konark, the shores are usually full of sand art sculptures: Most artists try to carve socially relevant messages into their designs. The best time to see sand art by artists from all over the world is during Puri’s annual beach festival in November-December. Several local fairs coincide with the Rath Yatra and the run-up to New Year’s Eve, but the beach festival remains the most popular.

Crafts Ville A mere 20-minute drive from Puri takes me to a world of beauty, paint and colour. I’m at the crafts village of Raghurajpur, a hamlet outside Puri (15 km north). Raghurajpur is home to over 100 craftsmen who preserve the 900-year-old art form of pattachitra. Their homes, clustered together, have fascinating wall murals; the verandas serve as studios. I stop by to watch a chitrakaar at work, painting Krishna with his gopikas. Before the artist can put his brush to the pata (cloth), an elaborate ritual is followed to prepare it. The cloth is soaked in water with tamarind seeds, and coated with a paste of

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STAY Puri is full of resorts, and almost all the hotels are located on the road leading up to the beach. I stayed at the Sterling Golden Sands, where the Bhargavi River joins the sea. The beach is very clean. The rooms are large and comfortable and guests can choose between single and double rooms, or studio apartments (255/2 and 255/3, Sipasarubali Village, Baliapanda; 06752-254093; www. sterlingholidays.com/our-resorts/sterlingdestination-network/puri; doubles from `3,000).

Dinodia (artists), Deepika Sorabjee (dancers)

At the crafts village of Raghurajpur, a few minutes outside Puri, artist families produce pattachitra scroll paintings, palm-leaf engravings, shadow puppets, and other traditional crafts (top); The village is also a training hub for young Odissi—and its precursor, Gotipua—dancers (bottom). All these lively traditions are on display during the annual spring festival, Basant Utsav.

Under the Sun The 13th-century Konark Sun Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its erotic carvings, is about 35 km east of Puri. The magnificent granite temple, now almost in ruins, is designed like a chariot drawn by seven horses with 24 massive wheels with intricate carvings on them. Built by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty, it was called the Black Pagoda by the British. The sun’s rays strike the erotic sculptures as my guide nonchalantly points out every sign of passion on the walls. The temple faces east, so it is best to visit it at sunrise to capture photographs of the first rays falling on the sculptures. The Konark Dance Festival is held against this dramatic backdrop every February. Tourists visiting Konark also head to the mouth of the Chandrabhaga River (3 km east of the temple), which once ran by the shrine, but has now changed course.


Singhadwara, or lion gate (left) is the main entrance to the Jagannath Temple. It faces a monolithic pillar called the Aruna Stambha, which was originally located at Konark; The temple (right) also has a connection with Sikh history. Maharaja Ranjit Singh is believed to have given massive donations and willed it the koh-i-noor diamond. However, the gem never reached the temple, as Punjab was annexed by the British soon after his death. Toshali Sands is a luxury beach resort, located on the Konark Marine Road just outside Puri. Its private villas and cottages allow you to steer clear of the noise and clutter of the city (Ethnic Village Resort, Konark Marine Drive; 99370 03223; www. toshalisands.com). If you are on a small budget, stay at Hotel Gandhara, which offers clean rooms, Wi-Fi,

and a swimming pool (Chakratirtha Road; 06752-224117; hotelgandhara.com; doubles from `1,565).

EAT Puri draws tourists around the year from across the country, so it isn’t hard to find a

cuisine of your choice, whether Bengali, or continental or Chinese. For a taste of Bengali food, visit the trusted Bhojohori Manna; for seafood, head to Peace Restaurant. A Chinese couple from Kolkata has started Chung Wah. Several cafés serve continental breakfasts and snacks like pasta and pizza. Try Wild Grass or Honey Bee Bakery and Pizzeria for fast food. n


Getting around

Puri is a coastal city located in the Puri district of Odisha state, about 60 km south of its capital Bhubaneswar, and 500 km southwest of Kolkata.

Cycle rickshaws ply around Puri, as do several private taxi operators. You can take a bus to Satpada or Konark. Most hotels can arrange transport within the city. Several operators also offer bus tours that take you to the various temples (approx. fare `500 inclusive of snacks).

Getting there Air The closest airport is Bhubaneswar, which is connected to most major Indian metros. Taxis charge about `2,000 for a oneway journey to Puri. Rail Puri is a major railhead, which is connected to Delhi, Kolkata, and Varanasi as well as other towns. Road There are several luxury buses between Kolkata and Puri. The journey takes a minimum of 10.5 hours and fares begin at `600. A one-way journey by taxi will set you back `10,000.

Chirodeep Chaudhuri (lion), Kay Maeritz/Dinodia (temple), samia singh (map)


Seasons The best time to visit Puri is during the winter (Oct-Feb), when temperatures hover between 10-18°C. However, the sun sets by 5 p.m. and it becomes pitch dark within the hour. Summer (Mar-June) temperatures can soar to 45°C. The monsoon (July-Sept) is moderately heavy. Puri is prone to cyclones, so always check weather warnings in advance.

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