Soaked in the royal spirit of Gwalior

“Khoob ladi mardani woh toh Jhansi wali Rani thi”

This excerpt from the poem on Rani Lakshmibai by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan truly exemplifies the zeal, courage and spirit of Gwalior!
Madhura and I were in Gwalior for three days for documenting case studies as a part of the Coffee Table Book at Lakshmibai National University for Physical Education (LNUPE). The work went off really well. On the whole, we were treated royally by the people at LNUPE (I guess there is something ‘royal’ about everything in Gwalior!)

The train journey from New Delhi to Gwalior has its share of ‘wow’ moments! One cannot miss noticing the eerie Chambal valley; the wild land which has given us the bandit queen Phoolan Devi! Anybody would get lost out there even if you had a Google Map application on your mobile phone! The Chambal River is a sight too. The bluish green water shimmers when the sun rays fall across it, which looks magical. I am sure if I stood in the river, I would feel history flowing past me – a history filled with fierce warriors and daring dacoits!

Chambal Valley

Gwalior is a city brimming with elegance and historical importance; filled with forts and palaces which are a visual and aesthetic feast to your soul. The city has been blessed by the classical music maestro Miya Tan Sen, as well as the Rani of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai. Memories of the mighty past have been preserved with great care in the grand palaces and museums.

One evening, we headed for the Gwalior Fort. One cannot take an auto rickshaw up to the fort. The drive up, by car, is very steep. The fort overlooks Gwalior and you have a magnificent view of the city all to yourself. The walls are works of art in the truest sense! They have been exquisitely painted in blue and brown, with intricate carvings representing the culture and traditions of the erstwhile royal clan! The fort surrounds one side of Gwalior, and looks over the city like a watchful protector!

Gwalior Fort

The tourism department had a very small shop selling souvenirs. We walked up to a large board which announced “SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW”, which takes place on all evenings after sunset. The show basically provides the tourist an insight into the history behind the fort; on the battles fought, on the blood shed and the victories achieved.

Within Gwalior, it is best to move about in auto rickshaws*. A cheaper mode of transport is the tempos which serve as the local bus service (sort of!). While long distance buses are plenty, the local city bus service is more or less invisible. Gwalior is a small city. The maximum distance in any direction would be 10 kilometers. Keep that in mind when the auto guys come up with the ‘Kitna door jana padta hai’ excuse!

*Disclaimer: You have to bargain! In a short visit, you are bound to be ‘taken for a ride’ (Pun Intended) by the Autowaalahs. You see, the dacoits are not only in the Chambal!

Abhishek Neelakantan

Ek bar waqt se lamha gira kahin

It’s so beautiful!!

How many times have we “Safared’ to be able to utter these words and when they come, you do not know whether they were said to take care of all those journeys that you made without having the occasion to say this, or because there was nothing else to say.

As a tourist we have paid through our pockets (and sometimes through the linked FD or yearly bonus), travelled through airports (delayed flights) missed trains, rude immigration, horrible stations, crazy taxi drivers (and don’t forget the ubiquitous pan parag spit out with the door hanging half open), yet this may remain elusive.

Our safar through the hills of Uttarakhand though was a journey like none other that I have undertaken. Company apart, it was the breathtaking beauty of the misty mountains that one reads of in the travel brochures of SOTC or Cox and Kings. The mountains rose majestically above the clouds, melting against the early morning sun. There were thousands of wild flowers lining the roadside as we moved in  the dusty rickety jeep driven by a very able and competent Subhash bhai. Subhash Bhai himself was a class apart. I think it was a well thought of intervention by the One above. How else could both of us have landed (after millions of trav(ai)ls ) with a  driver who did not eat pan parag and guess what, did not believe in playing ear shattering music??

As I greedily drank in the beauty to be stored within my heart for years to come, so that when I close my eyes, I can still see it there, I thought of Wordsworth looking at the Daffodils and said to my companion “I know what Wordsworth meant now when he wrote , “for oft when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon the inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude.. I know I cannot capture so much beauty in my camera..”
And I let my hand lie still and my heart become one with the clouds as they floated in a hurry, laden with rains that came drizzling now. Much, much lower down the Tehri jheel was sparkling green jewel  reflecting the soft light of the morning sun.

As we climbed up the hills the rains started falling and we got reports that there was  a jam on the way. (Don’t ask me how, but this system works quite well and I am sure even Phantom and Gurav would have a lot to learn from this, or maybe the Ghost who Walks is related to our very own Bholenath??)
Our fellow was quite brave and drove right up to the start of the jam.
The sight was frightening, to say the least, but at the same time, it was great to see the gang of Sardarjis, willing to help anyone who wanted to cross over.
The reason for the jam was simple.  A major part of the road had been washed away by water flowing from the top. The water was in great speed.
So much beauty and yet so hard to believe that it can cause so much destruction. Then I wondered, was it really destruction? Only because it inconvenienced mankind? What is it that Tennyson wrote?

Who trusted God was love indeed,   And love Creation’s final law- 
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw , With ravine, shriek’d against his creed- that obeyed not Natures law
Are God and Nature then at strife, That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems, So careless of the single life;

Poetry aside there was still the need to get across that work of Nature. Driver saab seemed very reluctant to cross the stream. And somewhere seeing his reluctance I knew that we would get stuck. That is just what happened. Bang in the middle, just as he should not have, he lost his nerve and braked to change gear. It was amazing to see how the stones just piled up against the tyres and the water started coming in the car.

We put up feet up and felt the car moving as the Gang of sardarjis, just came and started pushing the car. Where did they come from? Who called them?
What was this if not the very spirit of humanity that we search for? That we talk about in our trainings? That people pay thousands for us to take trainings on? What all do we talk about? Strategies to build teams? Who taught them?

The questions raced through my mind and somewhere in the background I heard them shouting instructions to or very very frightened driver. Then when they saw that this was no help, they simply lifted the car and egged him onto race it through to the other side.

Suddenly we were clear of the stream and on hard ground again.
Did I just pass through that? I wondered. The waters were very deceptive. The force with which the water was flowing was enough to wash away a car. We could have very well be one of the many statistics that fell down the hill, but who can beat the spirit of humanity. I sent up a  silent prayer to Hemkund Sahib where these travelers were bound and a call out to all our kavads to learn how to help. Bholenath!!

The bells brought me back to the present. The jeep was traveling now at what was actually the topmost peak of the mountains. And hugging the road. It was a single track, one wrong move and it was goodbye world!, but Subhash Bhai was good, very good. No hurry, no sudden brakes, a smooth ride. I could relax back and just watch the mountains, the clouds, the pines, the chinars, even the daturas looked all right here. Soon we will reach our destination, but till then there were these beautiful moments in the mountains. If you could hear me Vidya, Thank you for sending me here 
I should not be selfish, but did not want the journey to end, if only…..

Ek baar waqt se,lamha gira kahin,
Wahan daastan mili,lamha kahin nahin……
Thoda sa hasake,thoda sa rulake,

And , let me hold on to the memories  because…

Pal yeh bhi janewala hain

Varsha Chanda

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