Friday, 19 February 2016

When I met Kabir outside Banaras & the weaving of a Banarasi sari

I have been sitting on this post for a while even as I was very excited meeting Kabir in Banaras and thought of writing about it. But its more than 20 days since I came back. And suddenly one acquaintance again brings me back to Kabir about a festival on Kabir.

May be I am more involved with Lord Shiva these days than Kabir and thats the reason for delay. Read my post: When I met Lord Shiva in Banaras. Read it here

Anyways, Kehat Kabir Suno bhai sadho...let me tell you how I met Kabir.

I didnt go to Banaras thinking of Kabir. All that I had in mind was Banarasi Paan, Bhaang and Saris. It was only after I reached Banaras that I got to know that it is also the city of Kabir. Not really, as some people say that the village of Kabir is on the other bank of Ganga in Banaras and Kabir deliberately never came to Banaras saying that if I have to meet God...I need not go to a city of pundits or so called holy city. God is everywhere.

And that may have been the reason that I had to go outside Banaras to meet Kabir...literally.

One of my seniors from JNU teaches history at Banaras Hindu University and one of his students doing research on carpets in Mughal India told me that his father is a weaver of Banarasi saris. Buying a couple of saris was anyways on my agenda, so I thought its a good idea to get it from a weaver.

The village was about 25 kms away from Banaras but near to the airport. While two of my other friends chose to buy saris in the city. I headed to the weaver's house with his son, the Phd student.

The village was name Badagaon near Babarpur.

The moment I entered the courtyard of the house, I could see women with some seemingly silk stuff with them. I got excited. But the Phd student, Parvez Sharqi (I call him Sharqi because he is doing some research on monument of Sharqi dynasty as well) told me that oh its not that, this is for the carpets.

Parvez had given me a copy of the article that got published in the proceedings of the Indian History Congress last year. The moment I struck a conversation with his father, I took it out and told him that this is something which you should be proud of about your son. He just smiled and said if its true its good. I presumed he couldnt read much of English.

I was eager to get to the weaving bit and he didnt disappoint me. Within seconds we were in a hall, which had a loom and lots of interesting things around.

On your left is the bible that decides the print. Its put on the loom somehow. See video at the end to understand.

He showed me the loom and the frame where handwork is done on the saris. I asked him questions about the work of gold that used to happen at some time.

The thing going on inside my mind was that its a good experience to capture and let me just get to know the sari industry a little better and write an entry on my travel blog. But I was in for a spiritual treat.

We just sat down for a cup of tea and the discussion started on education. Parvez's father hadnt studied much and both his brothers at home helped at the loom. Interestingly, one of the brothers of Parvez was laapata or lost and his father said nobody can find him. I enquired and got to know that he had become a Sufi/Fakir.

I anyways being on my Sufi trail told him that he is blessed to have  kid taking the Sufi track. He smiled. I got interested and then magic started happening in the conversation as we discussed education.

Dhai aakhar is a famous doha or couplet of Kabir and the way he said it was amazing.

The one we study is:

Pothi pad pad jag mua
Pandit bhaya na koye
Dhai Aakhar Prem ka
Padhe so pandit hoye

But he said something else to the effect:

Jo kuch pothi patra rakho do taak par
Aur dhai akhar prem ka padhlo...

Coming from a modern day weaver, it was Kabira live for me.

When I asked him to repeat as I wanted to record it...He couldnt recreate it. As they say golden words are not repeated.

Interestingly, as Prof. Mujeeb Rizvi a renowned scholar of languages at Jamia in one his interviews told me that a lot of what we read as Kabir is in fact not an original verse. So, I dont know what did Kabir originally say but I did enjoy this weaver Kabir telling me a similar quote just off the hand.

He told me a lot of gospels about money as I started buying sarees from him...and also on life and philosophy. I guess I should have written a bit earlier as I forgot a lot of them. May be they dawn on me when time comes.

But it was a lovely interaction. I bought some saris and enjoyed the time before my flight. But it was memorable to be there and listen to a Kabir doha from a modern day weaver.

So, I guess its important to visit a weaver's village outside Banaras to meet Kabir.

In the end they put on the loom for me to listen to the music that inspired Kabir's poetry.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When I met Lord Shiva in Banaras...Why you should skip the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi?

Varanasi or Banaras is the city of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. You cannot meet him at the Ganga Aarti. And if you dont meet Lord Shiva, there is no point in being at Varanasi. You will miss the most important part of Varanasi.

As any other person we also went for the Ganga Aarti, where a horde of people on land and on water were keenly watching the pundits do their antics holding fire in diyas. I immediately wanted to leave that place as we were far away from the ghat and couldnt make any meaning of what was happening. But my Muslim friend asked me to wait until the Shiv Stuti was over. Being a Hindu myself I didnt know that it was the Shiv Stuti going on (a song in reverence of Lord Shiva). About a hundred boats filled with people from almost every part of world, looked on at the pandits at Dashwamedh Ghat. Two different groups of pandits in two seperate parts of the ghat. Tourists aggregate at this place every evening as it is the most talked about thing.

Shiv Stuti got over and we left on a boat. It was while coming back that we passed by Harishchandra Ghat. There was dead body being burnt on the funeral pyre and some people, possibly relatives standing in grief or perhaps some good willed people were cremating dead body of an unknown person (Watch the film Masan). You start connecting to Lord Shiva, the moment you look into the fire.

We asked our boatman to stop the boat there. We deboarded and stood near the funeral pyre of somebody whom we didnt know and I prayed for the people in my life and the world. It was a spiritual experience of being there and we met Lord Shiva, the god of finality. The god of Truth. The truth that we all will die one day.

There were hardly any people there as compared to the crowd at the ghat where the Ganga aarti was happening. Here there was no aarti, no noise..just silence. spritually uplifiting silence. You realise that all this rat race that we are in...our jobs especially, our fears are nothing...and we are wasting our time and energy on these fears, on earning money. We all will die one day and all our fears and anxiounesss, our money will go away. You get to experience that there is no point wasting your life on all this. Just enjoy life and be fearless.

And you cant get experience at the Ganga aarti. You get this only at Harishchandra Ghat. Thats the reason I would rather skip the Ganga aarti and be at Harishchandra Ghat every evening. By the way Harishchandra was a king known for speaking the matter what.

I also happen to meet Nandi, the famous bull of Lord Shiva there. While you find scores of these everywhere in Varanasi but the grace of the bull at Harishchandra Ghat was unmatched.

 I video recorded a dog play at that ghat. Three dogs playing tug of war with a piece of cloth.They seemed like humans to me who keep playing the same game in life to prove their worth. But you only realise the true worth of a human being at that ghat. Its either soil or life.


As we walked out of the ghat another dead body reached for cremation. Life's truth.


One of my dear friend's father passed away recently but I couldnt attend the funeral. I guess I was required to attend the funeral of another human being and I was able to do my bit.

For rest of the stories of Banaras, you will perhaps have to read my other blog entries on visiting a village where Banarasi saris are made and one on foods of Banaras.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Dont spread your holiday energy:Multiple Locations on a holiday

So you are going for a holiday to your favourite destination. You have saved, planned and researched for your holiday and are looking forward to it. You know you are not going to be there again soon unless you win a lottery ticket, so you want to make the most out of it.

One tendency obviously is to visit as many locations and hot spots at the destinations and put several things on your itinerary. And what virtually happens is that while chasing all these locations, you end up skipping a few because it becomes too hectic. And despite you skipping some places, it still sucks the energy out of you. While you are happy that you will give no chance for your friends to say "Oh you missed that" as you proudly announce that you have been to all the cool places in Paris, but you know in your heart of hearts, how much energy it sapped.

While you may have selfies at all the right places in London to share on facebook, but you still are not satiated with your trip. You come back as a person who requires another few days to recover.

And worst is that while you were there at all those cool places but you actually werent there! Because you were worried about moving ahead. You never enjoyed the moment.

You never enjoyed the cool breeze by the Thames as you clicked a picture beside the London eye. You didnt enjoy the sun while you were there at the Taj Mahal or the Blue Mosque. While you were busy looking at all the shops in Istaklal, not to miss any, you didnt take the time to just sit on a bench on the roadside and enjoy watching the people pass by. You didnt stop to have a small chat with the guy selling food on the street. You didnt strike a conversation with someone at a pub.

You were just busy going from one place to another.

I realised it while doing some whirlwind holidays in Himachal that while I may do Sangla, Kalpa, Sarahan, Rampur and all but I will not get even one of them as I dont stop to have a relationship with any city or town.

Your trip transforms the moment you spend more than three days at a place. Just sit quietly and relax. You are not on a holiday to get up early in the morning to take a cab to a destination on your checklist, three hours away. Just sit and have a hearty breakfast with your loved one as if its a sunday morning at home and you dont have to cook breakfast.

Go out for walks into the city or the wild. Absorb the place. Feel the sunlight, the breeze, the mist, the people...everything. Relax. You may miss some very important locations in a city...agreed. But you will come back as having a relationship with the place you went to.

Keep only 2 to 3 things on your agenda: nature spot; music and shopping OR  shopping;food and liesure. Choose whatever are the top 3 things on your mind not more.

For sure you will come back from a holiday looking forward to work and not to another holiday.

Rather than moving to multiple destinations, locations or places...keep a minimal list and enjoy every place. Keep time for yourself to relax and enjoy the moments.

Make it a sweet, simple and satisfied holiday

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Kaliyar Sharif

Kaliyar Sharif is the dargah of Sabir Peer in a place called Kaliyar near Roorkee.

I got interested in Sabir Peer primarily because he is one of the most popular desciples of Baba Farid, whose dargah in Pakistan is as popular in Pakistan, as Ajmer is in India. But I hadnt heard of Sabir Peer in popular circles in India.

My research got me to realise that the reason was that perhaps Sabir Peer chose to live a life away from the popular circles. I really got interested in being there and then finally once coming back from Dehradun, I thought it was time for me to pay a visit.

The place is about 25 kms from Haridwar and about 10 odd kilometres from Roorkee. From the main Haridwar-Roorkee highway, it is an offshoot of about 3.5 kms.

The place has a character of its own. Though I reached late in the town and didnt have time to see the town of Kaliyar but I found out that the town is full of dargah's of many other Sufi saints, some after and even some before the time of Sabir Peer. Its a town of Sufis it seems.

The sanctum sanctorum was closed by the time I reached but yet it was great to sit in the courtyard and meet the saint. What a peaceful place it is. The courtyard has a couple of trees of gular...that adds to the beauty. There is also an old porched section, where one can sit and be with the saint.

Interestingly on one of the trees, I saw a number of papers tied. On enquiry, I found that they were actually applications to the Peer to take care of matters of the devotees. I havent seen something like this before. I had seen locks and dhaagas at dargahs but not letters.

Have been thinking what I will write in a letter if I had to write one. How about writing a letter to God?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Dents, Car Design...and Sustainability???

Being the philosopher traveller that I claim to be, I was toying around with an idea for a while, which came true this weekend.

On New Year's Eve 2013, one drunk fellow (Its not that I hadnt been drinking...but he was more drunk than me...believe me) hit my car badly. And that dent has been on my car for a while now. There were a few more visible dents from my earlier mistakes while parking.

I was lazy that I didnt have the energy to leave my car with the denting guy...until some of my female friends pointed it out and I thought seriously about getting it repaired. I could still not break the inertia.

One fine day, the philosopher in me started to philosophize as I looked at the new year dent. I started comparing dents to experiences in life. Being the pucca philosopher, I realised whatever I am is because of the dents or experiences I have had in life. And they are memorable.

I thought of putting memory tags on my car giving out the details of the dent: where was it dented? when was it dented? how was it dented?.  How interesting would it be to point out the dents with an arrow and then giving out the details as sticker tags. I loved the idea.

Started sharing it with my French Classmates and one freaky lady (Nupur to be exact) gave me the tagline "Every Dent is a Memory".  Another dastangoi friend, (Ankit to be exact) after laughing it off, finally gave me ideas of monetising it as well, by patenting the idea. I was sharing with him, that repairing a dent on a car is a resource wastage, with so much of labour and other materials going it it. We were sharing the sustainability leanings of the idea, when he shared that even paint has harmful chemicals and we are saving out on polluting a little less with the paint. Did we actually hit on Sustainable Car Design. Hmmmm....

I was excited but I slept over it for over 3 months. But finally this weekend it happened.

Ab Buss Musafir Travels Private Limited ka thappa lagana baki hai.

Here is the beauty...My Ford Figo. It is Figo indeed.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Adding FUN to travel & Organic Travel Design

Fun is a key element in my life and I would want to enjoy each moment of my life. With this feeling in mind, I thought of giving a surprise to one of my university friends. He was coming to Delhi from Hyderabad and I had told him that I would pick him up from the airport.

Sitting in the evening in my room, I thought of having some fun. I opened a word doc typed a placard for my friend. He belongs to Meerut and his name is Prashant, but we used to call him Dr. Pareshaan(Pareshaan means disturbed about something and it rhymes with Prashant). I typed the following message:

Musafir Travels Private Limited
(Meerut Wale)

Went to a photocopy shop and got it printed in A3 size. Then went to a stationary shop and got it pasted on to a cardboard so that it looks like a placard. I knew he was fond of alochol so took some cans of beer as well. Thought, we will sip beer as we drive back to Gurgaon.

With all the ammunition ready...I drove to the airport. Parked my car at the parking and At the arrival terminal, I took out the placard and stook at the arrival gate. With the placard in hand I was standing along with chauffeurs of top private hotels of Delhi, hiding my face. By chance i had worn a cap also on that day, which became a disguise.

When his flat landed,he called me.I said ' Sorry Yaar, I had some urgent work to do and so I have rather sent a driver for you to pick you up. So Sorry. The driver has a placard with your name. Please just come with him". Sounding apologetic I finished the conversation.

After waiting for a while, the moment came, which I had been waiting for, the surprise and the smile on his face. It was a moment. A kodak they say. Being proud of having given such a suprise, I asked him to click a pic of mine...which I am posting here.

 Another friend posted it on facebook and today I made it my facebook profile pic. There was a lot of interest generated with lots of likes.

I was just looking at the pic and satiating my self gratification and my desired to be likeable (on facebook) and loved in life.

Suddenly, an entrepreneurial thought came to my mind and I thought I should share it on this blog as it relates to travel only. Though it doesnt intend to be a professional travel blog and merely my travel jottings, nevertheless its a free flowing thought in my mind and ought to be shared.

I thought travel should be FUN. How if a family takes a trip and is recieved with as much warmth in a distant place. How if the travel agent does an hour long call with the traveller and knows them and what they want and form a relation and then recieve them. I am not saying do the nonsese that I did...But may be something loveable for the tourist.

I intend to name it Organic Travel Design or ODT. Where the trip is designed as it starts and in conversation with the traveller tourist.

So, once the travel agent has collected enough information about the tourist. He chooses the point to visit accordingly. So, if someone is more nature loving, they are taken to nature spots and if some are shopping loving, they are taken to malls and prominent shopping centre of the city. If someone in art then there. 

S, if a person is visiting 10 different spots in a city. 8 are predecided and 2 happen after the person lands and interacts with the travel agent on ground. Lets call this travel agent a Guide.

He takes you around and shows you the places you would want to go.

Also, in the preliminary call  of the travel agent, he collects informal information. Does the person take alcohol?.  I would love to land at my favourite destination welomed warmly and as I sit in the taxi, my chilled beer is ready. Now I know its illegal in some countries to drink in a car. But I ask if we can drink on a plane, why not a car. As long as the car is being driven by a driver, there should be no problem if the passengers drink. What say?

Now, this guide who takes you places will assess your needs in so detail that, it will be awesome for you. For example, you are with your girlfriend and obviously want to spend time with her alone. The trip will give you that freedom and your guide will meet you only in the mornings or in the evenings or whatever is decided mutually.

Those who are in a funky mode with family can have the guide for a longer time.

But having a friend Guide, where you go is an asset, as you would agree with me, whenever, you have hired a guide.

Guides are usually for groups but it will be great to have personal guides. Usually its the taxi guy in each city which becomes this friend of yours taking you to places. How about if you get a trained person to do that for you...English, French speaking.

Your trip is made. Imagine a travel agency, which has got well read people, who are highly paid but also work as taxi drivers and take you around.

I am sure there may be agencies like that, but the point here is that the person who takes you around reads you and makes your trip the way you want. You want to stop at a point and have fun. Have it. FUN is the key.

May be I will start such an agency one day

Musafir Travels Private Limited

Monday, 22 September 2014

Guga, Guga Chohan and Roerich at Naggar

It seems I am on a roll in my discovery of Guga ji. Read more about my earlier story on Gogamedi fair in Rajasthan.

I was just reading a bit more on the Guga in Himachal and came across an interesting article in the Tribune on snake gods or nag devtas in Himachal written by one D C Sharma. He talks in the article that there is a temple of Guga Rana in Naggar in Kullu valley and in fact Roerich, the great painter himself painted the idol of Guga.

More research led to me to search for any such painting and finally I found that there in fact is an idol of Guga in the Roerich art gallery complex in Naggar under a tree. It used to be a single idol at some time and now has some more idols along with. I found pictures of Roerich with the idol, which means that way back in 1931, when there were no roads to Himachal. This God travelled from rural Rajasthan to the untouched valleys of Kullu. Amazing !

The pics below are from other websites and an article on the International Centre for the Roerichs

I was also able to locate the painting or paintings which DC Sharma talks about in his article in some art websites. The paintings are now preserved in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

It seems that Goga ji or Goga Chohan as it was possibly called was a favourite of Nicholas Roerich. Svetoslav Roerich painting his father along with the Guga idol is an evidence of the fact of how associated Roerich was with Guga.

Though I have been to Naggar before but this connect was never there. I am travelling to Naggar now in the next fortnight and should come back with more news.
Forgot to update, I actually visited the Roerich Art Gallery and locate the Guga idol talked above. Its very much there under the tree. And now there are many more idols along with including Bajrang Bali.

The interesting bit however is that the logo of the Roerich Art Gallery has the idol of Guga on it.

I spoke to a local employee at the gallery and he told me that the idol is not of Guga but his sister. And perhaps thats true because you can distinctly see the ghaghra or skirt.

The same gentleman told me that Guga is the idol right next to the sister, whose head is missing. The story is that he went up the valley for a battle and lost his head...which was later restored I guess. But the head of the idol is still missing.

Apparently there is a village near Kullu, which has a larger temple of Guga. Thats on my list next time.

Its an amazing journey to explore Gugga...which took me from Rajasthan to Kullu Valley. God knows, where else will it take me. Am excited.

Jai Guga Chhatri !

Jai Guga Jahar Veer!

Jai Guga Jahar Peer!