Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Bards of Bundelkhand

The stories of the victorious Rajput generals can still be heard in Orchha. Just that the folklores have been pushed to one of the corners of an open air terrace restaurant. It takes you some while to understand what a group of villagers are doing in your restaurant terrace. And it takes you a lot more time to understand their importance in history.

After ordering an Old Monk with warm water Me & Sambit decided to sit in the open to finish our drinks. We were the only people in the terrace that evening and lucky enough to get the sole attention of our entertainers.

That was
Sarju – the teacher, Sarju a man who is still trying to pass on the tradition of singing to the next generation. The skills and stories which had trickled down generations (or simply guru-shishya parampara).
Moolchand – the follower, Moolchand a man in his 50’s or maybe 60’s who is still trying to learn as much as possible from Sarju.

Moolchand knows the fact that the bardic tradition in Bundelkhand is on its verge of extinction. Still his defenses are strong and he’s trying to inherit every bit of the stories and tunes from his teacher. Sitting in a corner of a restaurant Moolchand tries hard to sing and impress his audience. The audience who’s clueless about the tradition, isn’t bothered about much beyond his glass of beer or whisky. The only thing that interests the audience is the cross-dresser sitting in the middle of the singers. And once in a while he gets up and does a little dance number for amusement. Atleast that keeps the audience intrigued in the show.

Moolchand had been keeping the fort by singing one song after the other. The audience who had been exposed to Bollywood songs and can’t find a meaning to this evening. But surely he’s happy that he can go home and boost about the traditional songs and music he had appreciated in Bundelkhand.

Alla and Udal the Rajput generals had been alive over the last few centuries in the songs of the Bards of Bundelkhand.
The Bards may have been minimised to the bar of a small hotel, or an evening gathering at local politicians lawn, but the Bards bring in fire to the stories of Alla and Udal by dancing and singing in this December night. When Sarju sings in Bundelkhandi Moolchand does a quick translation in Hindi telling us about the valour of Alla and Udal.

Soon the cross-dressed dancer leaves the stage maybe there’s some more important things to do. Some more dances to perform. Who cares.

Some more uninterested audience enter the theatre. Moolchand at this age showing his agility by performing what he must have learnt as boy from Sarju. Sarju is still singing what he had learnt maybe half a century ago from his guru. When one of the audience gets up to ask more about there trade, there is a joy of success in theIR camp. And with this Moolchand does his last number as Sarju sings at the top of his voice. And Bundelkhand rocks to the sound of victory.

Sarju and Moolchand are no less brave in defending the dying tradition of Allakhand and along with it the Bards of Bundelkhand than the Generals themselves.

One day when you visit Bundelkhand make sure you give them another chance of victory and come back home with the stories of Alla and Udal.

-the audience

Monday, December 3, 2007

Anandpur Sahib

Seldom do I remember waking up in such peace as I did today. Specially when traveling I’m in a hyperactive mode. While traveling I always wake up with an ever hungry restlessness to see more of the place I traveling to. Somehow things went wrong this time. Woke up early in the morning, and was sure a morning can’t be anymore relaxing. That’s the way every morning begins in Anandpur Sahib.

The entire town is submerged in the soft and peaceful verses of gurbaani. The sounds are so relaxing and yet so powerful that I prefer staying back in the bed and keep listening to it as long I can. After an hour or so the sun broke the silence of the sound as the fog lifted, so did the dream like effect.

A small town in Punjab. Not on the mountains yet not on the plains. On the foothills of the shivalik range lies the second most holiest place for the Sikhs “Anandpur Sahib”.

Not often do we see places so welcoming as this. The entire town is as welcoming as the gurudwaras they house. The place reflects nothing but brotherhood and friendliness. Though the history of the place has enough bloodshed and wars.

Over three hundred years ago the teachings of the sikh gurus and the tortures of the mughals gave birth to the KHALSA. The warrior saints took the initiative to fight against the mughals empire. In today’s situation it may be hard to understand how the saints took such a drastic step to fight the wars. Not just fight, but they were one of the strongest force against the mughals. At the same time they strongly followed the philosophy of brotherhood, community welfare and equality (which makes them stand so strong till date).

As the religion can be seen having a soft core and a hard outer shell, so does the gurudwaras of Anandpur Sahib like no other gurudwaras (atleast as much as I have seen). Over here the gurudwaras are inside forts. The place of worship is strong enough a defence for its people in the times of battle.

The moment you see the fort-gurudwaras you’ll understand the reason why the saints had to lead the army.

Well those are the realities of the past. Times have changed so have Punjab, not one of the most progressive states.

Anandpur Sahib is back to a state peace and harmony. The way the gurus would have wanted it to be in the first place.

A small town, which gives a clean white image when seen from a hilltop. White and clean like the marble floors of the gurudwaras.

Every gurudwara over here has its own history. Regardless of the size of the gurudwara its history is none the less important. Few of them I visited where Anandgarh Sahib, Fatehgarh Sahib, Kesgarh Sahib, Shishganj Sahib.

It’s a great feeling to sit in the courtyard of one of these gurudwara’s in the early winter mornings with a handful of hot prashad.

A guest in Anandpur will never go hungry as there is huge hall near Kesgarh Sahib which keeps serving “langar” whole day long. Mostly it’s a vegetarian town, still you can manage to get non-veg at the dhaba’s near the bus-stop. I tried some good mutton curry at the Pahalwan Dhaaba near the chowk across the bridge. Parathas, lassis, mithais are to be found in abundance.

Did some souvenir shopping on the street near Kesgarh Sahib. Here one can find all sorts of knives, small khukri’s to large swords, simple India traditional knives to modern Rambo knives. You name and you get it in this small market. Lots of CD’s and books related to Sikhism can be bought from these shops. Pendants, bracelets and other knickknacks are also available here.

Staying in Anandpur is not a problem Gurudwaras provide comfortable lodging. Or else there are some decent yet cheap hotel options. For just five hundred rupees I found a good place called the "Kisan Haveli", the room was large attached with a large loo, fixed with a geyser and 24hrs water supply, room service was okay, good veg food and a beautiful view of the city from the attached balcony.

Mine was a real short stay as I had no plans as where to go when I left home a day before. All I wanted was to drive and spend a weekend somewhere. But surely next time I want to wakeup without restlessness in my mind, there is Anandpur Sahib for me.

honeymoon lodge

often we keep looking for a place away from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy our honeymoon. well its been the same through centuries. the only difference is the place which would have been away from the city in the yesteryears is actually one of the most bustling place of today.
yesterday i came a across one such place, we can call it a honeymooners paradise. in the middle of wilderness, a lodge at a walking distance from a boat house. from the river jamuna the honeymooners would have cruised in a boat uptill the boathouse from there taken a short walk past Quli Khan's tomb and reached the Gateway Guest House. built during the lodi's and renovated as a guest house by Charles Metcalf during his stay in Delhi residency.

even today one can see the fireplace in the living room to keep the guests warm in a cold winter night (must have been really romantic). a terrace with a beautiful view of the Qutab Minar. a large room inside probably the bedroom. on the backyard a large hamam/ bath, a bath as big as a swimming pool. one can walk down it's steps even today just that it lies dry nowadays. what else could one have dreamt of as a better way to spend the honeymoon.

hard to believe it's at a distance of a few minutes walk from the mehrauli-gurgaon road inside the mehrauli archaeological park.

if you are that side of the town must visit "Gateway Guest House" the luxury of the past, surely it will inspire to go for second honeymoon.

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