Sunday, September 4, 2016

Beautiful Bhandardara

Finally after two dry and drought laden years the monsoons have been generous again, bringing a huge respite to many areas which were almost on the brink because of the shortage of water. The joy and romance of monsoons was rekindled and no better place to experience it than the Sahyadris, one of the most picturesque sights in the country during this period. Lonavala and Khandala are the more popular getaways from Mumbai but equally beautiful are the valleys and mountains around Igatpuri, near Nasik. New highways have reduced the travel time and made it easier to reach this hill station. We decided to make trip to Bhandardara which was near Igatpuri.
The drive to Igatpuri is not long from Mumbai despite the traffic hold up you may get at Bhiwandi. Once you leave the logistics hub an all encompassing carpet of green takes over. It covers the fields next to the road and extends all the way up to the hills. Dense grey clouds above this vast spread of green, with a mist of rain, added drama to an already beautiful landscape. As we drove up the Kasara Ghat the clouds had come down and we were driving through them. Through the haze we could see green valley speckled with waterfalls, different elements of nature had come together in the most captivating manner.
Green Landscape
Typical landscape when you travel in Monsoons to the Sahyadris
Once we had navigated the “Ghats” it did not take us long to reach the Mystic Valley Resort where we would be staying for the weekend, one of the top resorts to stay in Igatpuri. The resort’s campus extended over a few acres with different blocks. One of them would have our rooms. It felt more like a guest house rather than a resort but the suites we got were value for money. As promised in the website, it did have the view of the valley and the hills with misty clouds hovering around. By the time we had settled in our rooms daylight had started dimming, our trip to Bhandardra would have to wait for another day.
Mystic Valley
Mystic Valley Resort in Igatpuri

Morning brought with itself a game of hide and seek between the sun and the clouds. Around us the hills kept changing shades, vibrant green glowing in the bright sunlight for some moments and then assuming a darker tone when the clouds came over. We set out for Bhandardra after our breakfast. As we moved further on the Nasik highway, away from Igatpuri, a left turn off the highway takes you to Bhandardra. Even at the first glimpse it was fair to say that this area was rather untouched and unadulterated with the cosmopolitan nature of modern tourism. We travelled on a narrow single lane road with paddy fields all around. Thanks to the generous monsoons the sowing for the season was well and truly done, in the backdrop were the Sahyadris.
Paddy Fields
Paddy fields with the mountains in the backdrop
Luckily for us there was no rain at that moment and we could take some photographs in the beautiful and serene country side. We navigated another “Ghat” to reach our first stop; Wilson Dam built on the Parvara River. It was built in 1910 and is the highest earthen dam in the country right now. This is one of the main tourists spots in the area and all the other travelers also stopped here. The huge earthen structure with all the greenery surrounding it was a good spot for a photo-op. If you have time then there is a pathway which takes you right beneath the structure, we had unknowingly missed it. We then entered the Bhandardra sanctuary.
Wilson Dam
Our idea of places to visit beyond the Wilson Dam was very faint so we kept going. A local mentioned to look for “Dhabdhaba” and a spot called as Wilson Point. So we kept going further in search for these two elusive points, not exactly knowing if they really existed. Only consolation was that quite a few other vehicles were going in the direction so we guessed that there might indeed be some point of attraction. Then suddenly we came across this huge waterfall on a cliff which was at some distance from the road. There was a little pathway which quite a people had climbed up to get atop a bridge built just below the fall, the stream flew below it.
The Waterfall
Speaking to a few vendors who sold some snacks and tea I realized this was the Dhabdhaba (meaning: waterfall) I was told about. It was a beautiful spot with everyone in a playful mood; some took shower in the waterfall others like us enjoyed from a little distance, dipping our feet in the little stream. After asking quite a few we could not really ascertain if there was a Wilson Point so we returned and headed for Randha Falls on the River Parvara. This is where the River Parvara falls of a cliff downstream from the Wilson Dam. We were told when the river is in full flow these falls look really magnificent, a view for which we may have to come again .
Randha Falls on River Parvara
It was late afternoon and most of us were now hungry . One of the vendors got some “Chewda” from a village nearby and made "Poha" for us which was our lunch. This rounded of our short tour around Bhandardra, a beautiful and serene countryside in Sahyadris where journey during monsoons is in itself an experience.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Kumaon Diaries: Around Nainital

On our first morning in Mukteshwar we rose to a breathtaking view. There were hues of orange which had started appearing in the sky, gradually announcing the onset of another day. The colours kept changing, different shades with every passing moment and then came the first rays of the rising sun , somewhere from beyond the mountains. Silence which had prevailed during the night was now being broken by morning melodies .This surreal day break made for an amazing start for the day. We went out for a stroll, a refreshing one, no dust, no noise, no pollution . It was  early in the morning and the day's routine had just begun. There were other resorts  as well nearby. With the number of vehicles parked outside, it was fair to assume that there were quite a few others who had taken time out to  stay in the rustic environs of Sargakhet.
Hues of Kumaon
Sunrise in Mukteshwar
After a nice breakfast courtesy Panditji we were raring to go, having planned to spend the day in Nainital, the epicenter of tourism in Kumaon. The challenge however was in reaching there, our driver obviously did not know the way and neither did we. We took some directions from Panditji, but his typical local accent meant that I could only follow it partially. We set out assuming that we would figure out the route somehow, but only a few kilometers through in our journey we took a wrong turn. We checked and rechecked but it seemed all the roads went to Nainital, so I resorted to Google Maps again to get back on track. As we drove on following Google's navigation there came a stretch from where we got a clear view of the snow capped peaks, one of them was Nanda Devi. The compelling view of the mighty Himalayan peaks made us stop for a while, it was a clear day with no haze and peaks on the horizon were clearly visible. It was like looking at the Empire State building from the roof of the tallest building in Mumbai, perfect spot of a profile picture.
The Nanda Devi
Majestic peaks of the Himalayas:The one on the right is Nanda Devi
After finishing our photo-op we started again, and then came what turned out to be the interesting part of the journey. I remembered Panditji mentioning Ramgarh when he gave us directions to Nainital, so when Google maps asked us to take a right turn which coincided with a board showing Talla Ramgarh we followed. A few kilometers and a left turn later the alarm bells started ringing again,  especially when we came across locals playing  cricket on the road we were on, surely that was not a good sign. So I had to resort to the manual compass again. Luckily the road we were on did go to Nainital, albeit it was under construction. We were supposed to reach Kaichi where we would join the normal traffic but it  was a risk. The upside was the stunning beauty of this route, it was aloof, pure and untouched. With all the prayers going on in our mind we thankfully reached Kaichi( later going through one of the guide books on Kumaon I got to know that it is place of religious importance and is really revered in the region). Nonetheless we were happy to be on a busy and running road again and reached Nainital in about half an hour from there.
The Mall Road at Nainital
Mall road at Nainital which runs parallel to the lake
It was almost noon by the time we reached Nainital. Beautiful emerald green waters of the lake surrounded by hills was a wonderful sight. Parallel to one of the banks of the lake ran the Mall Road of Nainital, a busy thoroughfare, it had already started swelling up with people. Hordes of tourists, beaming with energy and enthusiasm walked up and down the road. There has the beautiful lake on one side and an array of souvenir shops, local crafts, restaurants, cafes and food stalls on one side. Quite obviously many queued up for a boat ride in the lake, others like us strolled along , soaking in the vibrant ambiance.
Faces in the Crowd
One of the many  stalls on the Mall Raod , this one was selling head gear for winters
You are bound to be approached by guides in a place like Nainital and one of them came up to us offering packaged tours to some touristy spots around. There were two options to choose from. Considering the paucity of time and the fact we still had to figure out the way back when we returned to Mukteshwar we chose the shorter package which covered some 6-7 points. A rickety Omni van came within a few minutes. We started our tour and immediately we were scaling a very steep gradient , on our way to the point of Himalaya Darshan. The small van was at full load, you could hear its small jittery engine giving its all to move up and ahead. The place was crowded, a long queue of cars who were also on duty were parked outside a watch tower A narrow spiraling staircase went up to the viewing balcony from where the tall snow clad peaks of Himalayas were visible. I took the service of a guy with a telescope, at a rate of Rs.50 he showed me the Nandadevi and Trishul two of the major peaks visible from there.
Himalaya Darshan: Catching a view Trishul
Once our Himalyan Darshan was over we were offloaded on to a Alto and drove off to  the next "point". It stood right above the lake on  one of the hills above Talli Tal. From there you could see a lovely panoramic view the Naini Lake below, shaped like a mango. It was a lovely panoramic view of the lake below.
The Mango Lake
Naini Lake
In the next half an hour we covered Khurpatal, a small lake amidst the settlements around Nainital, stopped at the twin attractions of Lover's Point and Suicide Point , the latter was a few feet below the other, irony or convenience I could not figure out.
Lover's Point
Lover's Point , a few steps below was the other one
On the other side of the road started the trail to Tiffin Top or Dorothy's Edge. The only way to reach there was through a horse ride, several man sat there ready to offer you one. We parked this for a trip we will make in future, perhaps when our daughter grew old enough to ride a horse.
Mountain Men
These  men would take you to the Dorothy's Edge , helping you with the horse ride.
So we were back on the Mall Road within two hours, our short and sweet tour had given us a glimpse of the scenic beauty which is present around this beautiful lake. After this quick tour The Mountain Cafe was just the perfect place to unwind for a while with its awesome pastries and coffee.
Sakley's Mountain Cafe is a perfect place to hang out with its delicious menu

In the meantime Mall Road had really got crowded, sunset was close and it grew colder. We figured out that the way to reach Mukteshwar was via Bhowali- Ramgarh and were shortly on our way back.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Kumaon Diaries: Reaching Mukteshwar

The turn of the year this time presented everyone with an extended weekend at the very outset, an invitation enticing enough to lure even the hardened couch potatoes out. We added a couple of days and planned a trip to Mukteshwar, a little village in the hills of Kumaon, to usher in the new year in calm and serene environs of Himalayas. It was also going to be our first experience of putting up in a home stay booked through Airbnb named which added a hint of curiosity to the excitement we already had about our vacation.

Quite uncharacteristic and almost sudden was the way winter chill eased out just before the day we were to travel. The weather therefore, in the early hours of the day we started, was  quite pleasant. We had managed to leave just before the sun rise, quite a feat as our 10 month old daughter was also travelling with us, with all her amenities and supplies. With no sign of a fog, we drove through our national capital, there were contrasting pictures as usual. The posh and beautiful lanes of the "Lutyen's" and areas of East Delhi bordering UP are like chalk and cheese, as distinct as possible and a glaring evidence of the disparity which needs to be resolved. Nonetheless, one advantage of being out there at such an early hour is that you exit the city without  being caught up in the chaotic peak hour traffic. In about an hour, we were cruising on NH 24. That is when we also had an interesting revelation. Our driver "Bhaisaahab" boasted of going to Nainital only "once upon a time", that too from Agra , which explained why he was not able to suggest us a place to stop for tea. So the feeling was like "Jai Mata Di is baar paar kara dena" (can't really translate the feeling in English but it was like a prayer to good lord to get us through the journey). We spotted a "dhaba" near Hapur and stopped their for some tea and perspective. It had become chilly again, we were getting closer to the mountains.
We reached Rampur in around 4 hours that is where we left NH 24 and took a left turn on to NH 87 which takes you to Haldwani via Bilaspur and Rudrapur. Of course we had missed the turn at first and gone further towards Bareilly, luckily sanity prevailed and we cross checked with a local who sent us back. I asked my wife if she had enough battery back-up ,it was time for Google Baba to come to our rescue, our driver was demonstrating that he had been to our destination only "once upon a time". By now the hunger pangs were also getting stronger and we needed to refuel ourselves. A few kilometers after passing through Rampur we spotted the "Amritsariyan Da Shere Punjab Tourist Dhaba" and stopped. The rustic setting was a welcome break, gave us time to relax and soak in the freshness. At a time when the life in the city would have already become noisy and frenetic, it was easy, calm and peaceful here, like a tonic. The hot and generously stuffed Parathas and freshly brewed tea was like an icing on the cake and set the tone for the day ahead.

The Amritsariyan Da Shere Punjab Dhaba....Perfect Stop.
The drive further to Haldwani took us around hour and a half, travel time was extended due to a lengthy halt at the border to pay entry tax to the Government of Uttarakhand. Google helped us navigate through the town of Haldwani, one of the gateways to the hills of Kumaon. As we came out of the town on the other side, the foothills of Kumaon were there in front of us. We went past the Kathgodham railway station, the last frontier of the "Bhartiya Rail" in the region, crossed a narrow bridge over the river Gaula  and our ascent up the hills began. Our Airbnb host Rajat Shetty had advised us to come via Bhimtal which is where we were headed to. The climb up the hill was steep, in a matter of 30 kms we were going from 1300 feet to 4500 feet. The turns were sharp and steep, each one giving you goose bumps. Suddenly after one of the turns you get to see Bhimtal, one of the lesser known gems of Kumaon, a serene body of calm blue water trapped in the laps of the towering mountains all around. We drove to the other side of the lake and got off for a short vigil. This calm blue lake with a mountain in the backdrop should make even a stone cold man fall in love with nature. We took a stroll along the road which flanked the lake. There were only a few boats out there in the lake at the time,majority of them rested near one of the banks. Although the place was not really bursting at seams with people but it still had a buoyant feel with small restaurants and stalls where people huddled together, enjoying, making the most of the time here. As we reached back to our cab more tourists arrived in buses, ticking off this beautiful lake in their itinerary.


While a few boated , most of the boats were anchored.

Boating in Bhimtal

The short pit stop at Bhimtal left us enchanted and refreshed and we moved on to the last leg of our journey to Mukteshwar. We were banking on Google maps and we took a route via Dhanuchali. A call was also made to Pandit Ji, our caretaker at the home stay we were heading to, informing him about our arrival. I realized that the number of vehicles on the road was gradually reducing and the condition of the road was also worsening. I felt a little eerie, the sun set was close, not the time to lose directions in mountains. So we reverted to our very own Indian navigation system, stopping at every junction taking directions to reach Mukteshwar. We did manage to reach our home stay called the "Irish Cottage" before dark .Later in the trip we would realise that Google "baba" made us take the shortest but not the popular route. The best way to reach Mukteshwar from Bhimtal  is via Bhowali and Ramgarh, preferred route as of now, no wonder we found no traffic on our way to Mukteshwar.

Irish cottage was actually in Sargakhet, about 5 kilometers before Mukteshwar. A little below the road , a narrow and steep staircase was the way to reach it. While I was handling the luggage my wife had already checked it out. I asked her the obvious question and she answered "Just as we imagined". Situated on cliff this cottage gave you a fantastic view of the valley. Inside the love and care which the owners had put in to furnish the house was clearly evident. It was a duplex with the bedroom downstairs and the living room upstairs .Vibrant choice of colors, artistic furniture, great coffee table books and neatly crafted spaces for lounging made it a perfect choice for a holiday in Himalayas. Soon the sun set ,another day in the mountains was getting over and a soothing stillness was all that was around.

We settled down and asked Panditji if some tea could be served ? " Yes" , he replied.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Snapshots from Delhi: A trek to the lakes of Asola

The old forts, buildings and monuments of Delhi, an epitome of its textured past, come to mind when you talk about places to visit around the city. Rich narratives of how the city transformed as power went from one dynasty to the other, often with a lot of bloodshed, dominate the storytelling here. However despite this overpowering flavor of history, with its weathered forts and their ramparts which mutely stand amidst the modern and mostly indifferent surroundings, our national capital territory does offer much more. In between the triangle of Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad is Asola where I had gone for a trek organized by "Delhi By Foot"  few months back, a departure from the more famous landmarks.
As per the instructions on the page of "Delhi By Foot" the group had assembled in the parking lot of Manav Rachna International school in Surajkund. At the designated time, our caravan of vehicles, led by our trip's organizer Ramit, had started to head towards the point from we would start the trek. It however had come to a standstill within a few minutes. Bholi, a resident of the village situated on the edge of the arid forests of Aravali had got late, he was the one to guide us through the forest. There was time to catch a cup of tea, wake up properly on a Sunday morning. Almost at the point when we would have got restless Bholi arrived, with a wide smiling face he apologized for being late and got us going again. Only a few kilometers inside the Surajkund - Delhi road we reached the point from where the trek was to begin. 
We had left our cars behind, slowly the group headed into the forest mainly comprising of thorny bushes and trees. The terrain was ok with not many steep slopes to negotiate. The signs of urban life were left behind with even the cellular network giving us a miss at some points. A few kilometers into the trek some of the members had started feeling the brunt of the sun. There were some groans and whispers of impatience but the group soldiered on. Bholi kept egging us on by saying that we did not have to walk much further.
We were actually heading to one of the lakes which have been formed in this area after a prohibition was put on mining in order to safeguard the ecological balance of the Aravali range. The pits which were once dug up by the miners have now been filled up by water, forming the hidden lakes of Asola. While we marched on some people ran past us, I realized that there were markers all around , a marathon was going on. I don't know about others but I was embarrassed at my fitness after looking at these runners. Suddenly there was a spring in my step , if they could run I could certainly walk a little faster. So there was us on a trek and these runners and there were the women from the nearby villages who were out to get some wood for their Chulha, the contrast could not have been wider. Leisure, competition and livelihood all at the same place, only the profile of the seeker changed. There were places where we stopped on the way, like a small hillock of white sand where climbing up and sliding down it ( as some chose to do ) was a break welcomed by all. After a walk of a  nearly an hour we finally descended a slope which took us to a pretty little lake tucked away in these hills with mini beach of its own. The munchies and snacks were out as we refilled ourselves for the walk back. The tranquility of this neat little space which somehow has been carved out could not be ignored amidst all the chatter. There was water , there was sand  and there was greenery around, in mid of nowhere the spot was perfect for a picnic.(Always advisable in a large group though with someone who knows the way around here). After spending sometime at this wonderful and obscure manmade lake Bholi led us back. The hunger pangs now motivated us to reach the end of our trek where a sumptuous breakfast awaited us. Another hour of walking and we reached a building where we were treated with delicious Parathas and Chatnis made by one of the villagers. Overall it was a pretty satisfactory  day  where I burnt some calories , explored a  new location and rounded it all off with a perfect meal.
Courtesy: Delhi By Foot




Sunday, January 10, 2016

From the Jungles of Barnawapara

We are an argumentative nation, aptly quoted by an eminent personality, ready to debate a whole range of subjects at the drop of a hat. Some have made it their livelihood by taking this art to another level, every night the nation comes to know about where it is headed to through nerve jangling discussions by a panel comprising of intellectuals who seem to know it all. A verdict is given and the fate of the nation is sealed. But do these self appointed upholders of our democracy discuss everything essential for us as a nation or only those subjects which catch people's fancy make it to the table. The latter seems to be true. There is a report called the India State of Forest which was released early in 2015 noting that India's forest cover has gone up. Albeit the rise is marginal but it is a crucial feat at present when climate control is an agenda which is bringing  the developed and the developing world to negotiations. The recently held summit in Paris also has given greater emphasis on afforestation as a key to our endeavor in making our world a better place for the coming generations. These subjects may perhaps never afford primetime and will always be limited to documentaries but people need to be exposed to ecosystem of our forests, concern for natural ecosystems must become part of the national consciousness .Popular media may never do it but the new brand of eco-tourism can help bring the urban eyes face to face with what they don't see and realise in their routine.

My native state Chhattisgarh ranks amongst the top most states when it comes to percentage area covered under forests, 41% against a national figure of 21%.In terms of area under forests it is the third largest state in the country. Thus it is reasonable that as part of the recent push to increase tourism in the state  the natural reserve at Barnawapara is finding a prominent place, where we had an opportunity to go recently. Barnawapara is at a distance of around  120 km from Raipur, a drive of around 3 hours. Therefore not so surprisingly it has become a popular getaway for people in Raipur. We had taken a detour to Sirpur, otherwise you drive up to Pithora on the Great Eastern Road (NH 6 ) and take a left turn which will take you to this forest reserve. Our stop at Sirpur was brief (Read: Templesof Sirpur) and after we had a glimpse of the recent excavations in this upcoming destination we got going for Bar (local lingo for Barnawapara).The single lane tar road soon gave way to a kutcha road, we were now in the forest territory beyond the jurisdiction of our public works department. On the way were some small villages, with small farms adjoining them. This is where human existence gets intertwined with the jungle and its ecosystem. Tall teak trees appeared on both sides after a while. I spotted a guy holding his cell phone and waving it, he was searching for the cellular network. Our mobile phones had blissfully lost the network and it was only the locals here who knew where to look for it. We reached Bar village in about half an hour from Sirpur. We were to stay at Paryatak Gram, an eco resort run by the government.

Paryatak Gram - A self susatained eco resort run by the state's forest dept. It uses solar power.

The resort is a self sustained initiative by state's forest department, also commendable was the fact that  it was powered by solar energy. Large solar panels were installed in the premises to trap sun's energy .It powered everything from lights to geysers and was a live experience of how solar energy can be an answer in our quest to provide power in the interior most parts of our country. However to do that there has to be a sincere endeavor to make solar energy popular as well as cheaper. Meanwhile we enjoyed some tea and snacks in the lawn facing our "Machan". The mobile phones had stopped buzzing, so there was absolutely nothing to distract us, a throwback to pre-cellular area when people did have attentive conversations sitting together, this detour from a loaded digital highway we are used to was like being in a world long lost. Suddenly You realize that how technology ,meant to be an enabler to begin with,  has got us thoroughly within its clutches. The calming silence of the forest, green surroundings and fresh air were a perfect stimuli for the mind to forget about the pace of daily routine. Since there were no choices  enjoying this soothing pause was the only thing to do.

Machans of Paryatak Gram

 Going on a  jungle safari is a main attraction of the stay here .The safari takes curious visitors on a pre decided route, in the hope of spotting the wild animals which take shelter within this reserve. By late evening our jeep was also ready for safari, the sun had started setting by the time we had started. It was quite a thrill to be out there in the jungle, in the dark with slight winter chill. We spotted a herd of deers , a gang of Bisons and some rabbits . But the stars of the show, the leopards which live in this reserve eluded us. Nevertheless a drive of almost an hour in the heart of the dense forest was well worth in itself. The next day we visited Pakhsi Vihar, a spot where the birds can be spotted if you come at the right time .In mid of nowhere the place looked surreal , a perfect spot for a sunrise or sunset.  We spent some time there clicking some photos  and simply admiring the view .

A main attraction here is to go out on a safari

Pakshi Vihar - A surreal spot which attacts a variety of birds, you need to time your visit perfectly  to catch them .

Solar RO - This was an RO which used solar power, the villagers an draw water from it using their cards.

A visit to far flung villages will have so many images like these, a realistaion that life is a whole lot different there.
It was great to be amongst the the green forest after a long time and it is time we understand the role they play in our existence.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Temples of Sirpur

Laxman Mandir , a piece from the empire of Magadha
Chhattisgarh , a mention of this state in central  India invokes some raised eyebrows whenever I introduce to people that I hail from Raipur. It is synonymous for its tribal heritage & mineral resources while at the same time notorious for being at the heart of the Naxalite movement in the country at present, so the picture probably is that either people here roam around covered in leaves or are rebels ready to wave their guns on any outsider. Far from these popular public perceptions I believe the state has done very well since this state was formed and Raipur which I safely call my hometown now has transformed into a fledgling commercial hub for this part of the country. The city to its credit has a swanky new airport , hosts IPL matches and is now witnessing the advent of renowned hotel chains. This is bound to boost the efforts which are being made to make Chhattisgarh an attractive destination for the tourists.
The statue of Buddha which has been excavated in Siprur
In my recent visit to Raipur I had gone to Sirpur, a small village nearly 80 kilometers from the capital. This place has become famous among the travelers and bloggers because of an annual dance festival which is held in January here . It scheduled  from 29th to 31st January in 2016. This small village has come into prominence because of the recent excavations which have been undertaken here . Buddha Vihar, a small monastery has been unearthed with a statue of Buddha. Laxman Mandir, a brick temple with intricate carvings built in 7th century AD was also uncovered .This temple is supposedly a proof that the empire of Magadha extended to this part and was built by queen Vasata, a widow of Harashgupta. There is also the Gandeshwar Mahadev temple situated on the banks of the river Mahanadi, it is another historical masterpiece  with some very rare statues. The huge Pipal tree which stands in the premises of this temple adds to the aura of this old temple.
The Gandeshwar Mahadev Temple on the banks of River Mahanadi

Unfortunately the time was enough to only catch a glimpse of what Sirpur has to offer. Attending the Sirpur Dance Festival and getting to know more about this place which finds place in Hieun Tsang's  memoirs is definitely on the to do list now !

Monday, October 5, 2015

Aurangzeb's love story

Several dynasties have taken turns in ruling the city of Delhi in the last millennia and stories of this layered past are an inherent part of any narrative on the city. Such is the richness that only a scholarly effort with full dedication and diligence would peel off the layers under which lie the obscure, often untold, myths and tales. So as an amateur with interest in history of Delhi I had started visiting the events of " Delhi Karavan"  last year, each one being dedicated to one of the many chapters which would perhaps be in the book aiming to consolidate the history of Delhi .
An utterly busy routine has not helped me to be a regular at these events but I have been part of some interesting ones at Sanjay Van, Old Fort and Qutab Minar. After a gap of almost a year I had joined one more event last month, we had assembled at the Humayun's tomb on a Sunday evening and the point of discussion was Aurangzeb's love for Begum Zainabadi.
Our history texts are superficial, always overpowered by a halo where the narrative focuses only on a selected aspects of a character, the background is lost for the paucity of space in the text and perhaps for enabling an easier curriculum. Therefore for most of us Aurangzeb was a tyrant, a man who killed his own father and siblings in order to accede to the throne of Delhi. For most of us the deeper shades of the this man's character have forever been understated. So when Asif Khan Dehlvi, the man behind Delhi Karavan, asked us to speak out what came to mind when Aurangzeb was mentioned the top of the mind words only connoted violence and tyranny. Once the amateurs like me had spoken, others who knew a little more of history gave their accounts of what they thought about the man touted as the most cruel of the Mughal emperors. All of them agreed that casting him as either good or bad would be a great injustice to the complex persona of Aurangzeb. So after this brief session which in a way set everyone's perspective Asif began telling us the story of the love which got away from Aurangzeb.
Asif's narrative had began with a vivid explanation of the harem in Burhanpur, the fame of which was widespread in the Mughal empire. It was here in this small town a puritanical Aurangzeb met Begum Zainabadi. Aurangzeb, before he had become the emperor of Delhi , was given the charge of Deccan which was on the fringes of the empire ,continuously facing hostilities from south. On one of his journeys south he was visiting his aunt In Burhanpur when he saw Begum Zainabadi at her place and had immediately been taken over by the love for the beautiful woman. For once Aurangzeb who was an ascetic, having denounced music and alcohol for all his life, was overpowered by his senses. He managed to  get the beautiful  woman inducted in the harem and a  love story ensued . Such was the devotion of the young prince that he even agreed to take a glass of wine offered to him by Begum Zainabadi , only to be snatched away by her, it was a test he had passed . However the news had spread northwards and of all the people Dara Shikoh convinced everyone that Aurangzeb was a hypocrite. A conspiracy was hatched to bring an end to the saga and thus it lead to an untimely death of Begum Zainabadi. As interesting as this little anecdote is, it was made even more enthralling by Asif's unique way of storytelling. The sun had set and the chowkidar's whistle meant it was time to leave.

What would have become of Aurangzeb had his love not been taken away from him can be anybody's guess. Would he have been the same tyrant which the history books depict him to be no one can tell. One thing  this session has indeed done is to arouse a curiosity about Aurangzeb and find more about the most cruel of the Mughal emperors

Event organised by Delhi  Karavan

Other Sources of Information: Excerpts from Akham - E - Alamgiri ( Anecdotes of Aurangzeb)