May 13, 2015

Kabini- Serene Wilderness...!!


A few kilometers before the Kerala border, a sign board showed up with the direction to Kabini River Lodge. From the well paved asphalted road that made its way through villages and farmlands bordering the Nagarhole forest, the sudden detour led to an undulated mud road. Slowly, green vistas made its presence and in a while Kabini showed up. Blue, expansive and serene, Kabini reservoir looked like a humungous blue amoeba floating amidst brown hills and patches of greenery, albeit only a portion visible.

The first glimpse

Kabini reservoir has been carved out of the river by the same name, which originates in Wayanad. Being a part of the Nagarhole national park, which teems with wildlife, the shores of these backwaters offer numerous exciting sightings. Earlier well known as the hunting ground of Mysore King and British Viceroys, Kabini now has quite a few resorts offering breathtaking vistas of the gorgeous backwaters. Mesmerised at the first glimpse of Kabini, the car trudged forward to one of the best properties of Jungle lodges and resorts. This hunting lodge of the erstwhile Mysore maharajas has been creatively converted into a beautiful resort overlooking the serene Kabini reservoir. Kabini river lodge charms its visitors with its explicit woodwork and beautifully maintained interiors amidst the serene surrounding. The tall ceilings in the rooms and the plush wood furnishings in bar area which takes one back to the maharaja's era gives it the royal charm.

Jungle Lodges and Resorts
I strolled around the campus, captured the exquisite hunting lodge, the colourful tress and the encapsulating vistas of the Kabini reservoir from the pier. A hot cup of sweet coffee later, wrapped in orange life jackets, boarded the boat and it motored its way sending ripples in all directions. Kabini lay ahead like a femme fatale, spreading itself out along the boundaries of the forest reserve. Beyond the buoyant waters lay expansive stretches of greenery with withered trees and small open grasslands. Summers had just set in and the lush greenery had slowly given way to the brownness in patches.  Protruding wooden stumps emerged from the waters at many places, and quite a few black cormorants perched themselves on them to gaze at the expansiveness of Kabini in oblivion.

Kabini reservoir

Cormorants
Kabini is home to more than 200 species of birds. A wide range of avian fauna such as herons, storks, cormorants, ibis, lapwings, kingfisher and many more languorously strolled by the shores. Some waded along the shallow edges of the reservoir, while a few flew in different directions in search of another location to perch. Many lenses came out and the shutters clicked many a time to capture the avian fauna and the gorgeous landscape. There were numerous deer, both spotted and sambar which nonchalantly grazed along the fringes of the reservoir, not buoyed by the noise of the motorboat.





Kabini is well known for its elephants and leopard sightings, and though many wished to see a feline quenching its thirst, the frame remained elusive. A while later, the motorboat went silent and all spoke in hushed silence as a lone tusker rattled some bamboo by the bank to satiate its hunger. Never once did it turn around to stare at the boats, nor were the deer nearby perturbed by the presence of the pachyderm. A couple of mongooses made a quick dash amidst the many wooden stumps on the bank while a peacock languidly strolled past the deer to make up for an ideal wild setting. The boat stood still for long as the picturesque wild frame amidst absolute serenity was captured both by the lenses and the souls who stared in oblivion.

The tusker
Wild boar
The boat motored its way once again into the expansiveness of the enchanting reservoir which seemed more like a placid lake with its verdant green background. There were more deer, peacocks, cormorants, wild boars and a few langurs that loitered along its bank as the boat stopped again at the sight of another lone elephant which was semi hidden amidst bamboos. The sun had mellowed and the gleaming reservoir looked all the more gorgeous as the boat made its way back to the pier. As the boat moored, the setting red sun going down the horizon was indeed one of the best frames captured during the day. The day wound with a wildlife video which was an insight into the lives of the wild beings and their survival in a world encroached by humans.



Jeeps packed with visitors left the resort premises early next morning on a safari ride into the Nagarhole national park (presently known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park). Enthusiastic wildlife lovers with tucked in cameras and bleary eyes peered in search of anything wild as the jeeps lunged forward into the wilderness of Nagarhole. The forest was still wrapped in the morning mist, and the brown muddy road meandered its way through the tall withered trees. It looked more brown than green due to the onset on summer. A sambar was the first sighting which gave a glance before it sauntered away. Wild boars, spotted deer and langurs sprung up many a time as the jeep surged on the mud trail. Avian fauna was a delight to watch as numerous colourful birds fluttered all over. Indian roller was the frequently sighted one while others included hoopoes, kingfishers, parakeets, indian robins, emerald doves, jungle fowls and many more. A lone serpent eagle stay put on a tall branch lost in the amazing vistas from the top. Further high on a different branch was perched a brown owl which was only partially visible.


Sambar
Lapwing
Indian Roller
Hoopoe
Serpent eagle

Though there were a couple of alarm calls, all were false ones and despite the wait at a few junctures like waterholes, the felines remained elusive. I have always believed that sighting the wild is sheer luck and the only tiny factor other than that is having good guides who know the jungle well. Despite the guide's good effort and the constant information that passed on while the jeeps crossed paths,  I will have to come back to sight a wild cat in Nagarhole national park and Kabini. After a long wait at a waterhole, the jeep stopped at another, where a lone tusker quenched his thirst. The jeeps and human presence did not deter him from his act and he nonchalantly strolled along the edges of the waterhole to drink more water. This sighting did satiate the eagerness to spot a wild being to an extent and the jeep drove us out of the park, past more deer and peacocks en-route. 

 




A sumptuous breakfast awaited the wildlife enthusiasts at the resort, post which it was a drive back to Bangalore along the fringes of Nagarhole national park. Kabini is undoubtedly a wildlife lover's delight with the serene reservoir and the national park, which teems with wildlife. 

Signing Note- Lose yourself to the wilderness of Kabini...!!

Route- Bangalore- Mysore- Hampapura- HD Kote- Antarasanthe- Karapura
Distance-235 Kms

April 14, 2015

Submerged...!!


A shrine lies semi- submerged in the expansive azure waters of River Krishna. 
Korti- Kolhar, Bijapur, Karnataka. October 2013.

March 26, 2015

That Distant Rain...!!


An evening shower drenching the town of Bijapur, as seen from Gol Gumbaz. Bijapur, Karnataka. October 2013.

March 4, 2015

Sarnath- Buddha Land...!!



Saffron had a subtle change in colour and the beards and long braids disappeared as the autorikshaw rode through the crowded dusty road from Varanasi to drop me off at Sarnath. Such a drastic change within 13 Kms. Sarnath, though geographically close to Varanasi is quite contrasting and does not possess the exuberance of its more famous neighbour. It is relatively peaceful, has many Buddhist temples, stupas, sculptures and excavations of ruins. After attaining enlightenment, Gautama Buddha travelled to Sarnath and preached his first sermon to his five companions at the deer park here. This stage in Buddhism is known as 'Dharma Chakra Pravartana' or 'the turning of the wheel of law'. Sarnath forms one of the four major pilgrim destinations for Buddhists, the others being Bodhgaya, Lumbini and Kushi nagar. Buddhism and the preachings of Buddha flourished in Sarnath until it was attacked by the west asian rulers in the 12th century. The place remained abandoned till the 18th century when the ruins were re-discovered.


A few guides approach to show me around the stupas and temples of Sarnath, but I ignore them and walk away with my guide book and a self made list of places to visit. I walk into the premises of Mulagandhakuti vihara, a Buddhist temple built by Anagarika Dharmapala, a Sri Lankan Buddhist follower in early 20th century. He is also the founder of Maha Bodhi society of India. A nice garden with lined trees and school children welcome me as I walk in. The famous deer park is behind it. Along with seated Buddha statue, the insides of the temple has beautiful mural paintings depicting various scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha by Japanese artist, Kosetsu Nosu. Also nearby is a bodhi tree, which has grown from a cutting of the Bodhi tree in Gaya. As I walk close to the tree, I see huge statues of Buddha giving sermon to his disciples. The huge bell with intricate works and the surrounding inscriptions of the sermon along with colourful prayer flags fascinates and takes me closer to it.


Mulaganandha kutir





Beyond the trees and the garden, I see the huge Dhamek stupa dwarfing everything else in its vicinity. As I walk towards the 31 meter tall and 28 meter wide imposing structure, am dumbstruck by its magnitude. Built by emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C., the real name of the stupa is Dharma Chakra stupa. A few visitors light candles in front of the stupa while some circumnavigate it, not quite similar to the way it is done in Hindu temples. The followers take a couple of steps, then lie prostrate on the path and then keep repeating it as they navigate the majestic structure. Remnants of gold foil are seen on the outer of the stupa. Though prohibited from pasting the foils, pilgrims still press the foils hard onto the structure. The stupa also has wonderful geometrical designs and floral carvings on it.

Dhamek Stupa
In the near vicinity lies the excavations of monasteries, other stupas and ruins. I meander through the brick remains, more lush green gardens, saffron clad meditating monks, a swarm of tourists and school children who are spread all over the premises to reach the Ashokan Pillar remains. Only a cylindrical shaft remains here, well covered and away from the reach of visitors. Built during the times of emperor Ashoka, this tapering monolithic pillar made of sand stone displays Mauryan architecture and was first installed here. It once surmounted the four headed lions, The Lion Capital of Ashoka which is also the national emblem of India and is securely displayed at the site museum.  

Ruins

Ashoka pillar remains
I walk amidst the excavations envisaging the life of monks in the monasteries that existed a many centuries ago. In the distance I see the Dharmarajike stupa, with monks praying peacefully atop it. Dharmarajike stupa is one of other popular stupas built by emperor Ashoka to enshrine the relics of Lord Buddha. Only the base remains of the once existent stupa which was pulled down during the 18th century by the King of Benares to exploit various materials. A small crowd of monks is seated below the stupa and all I can see is meditation everywhere. The place is serene and my mind wanders into the lives of the monks again as I gaze at them from a distance. While I frame my subjects clad in saffron with a green background, a mild fog envelopes suddenly only to disappear within minutes. 


Dharmarajike Stupa
I leave the huge premises even as the monks continue their meditation. The red ruins turn feeble and hazy to my eyes as I walk out in search of Chaukanthi Stupa. Located a short walk away, this huge stupa made of bricks was built during the Gupta period in A.D. 5th century to mark the location where Buddha met his disciples while returning from Bodh Gaya. Atop the stupa is an octagonal brick structure built in Islamic style to commemorate the visit of Humayun, the mughal emperor. I enter the gates of the stupa and saunter towards it. There is no other soul in the vicinity as I gaze at the massive structure before me. I walk around its corners and from nowhere appears a group of buddhist monks who have just finished their meditation and are about to leave. They are absolutely nonchalant about this lonely visitor and do not even spare a glance. They gather their belongings in hushed silence and leave the premises as I still gaze at the stupa and walk around it. A close look reveals that the base of the stupa has interesting patterns and unlike now, must have been quite attractive when it was built. Sun has inched closer to the horizon and I am asked to leave by the guard who calls out from the road.

Chaukanthi Stupa
On the way back I pass the Wat Thai, which is a Buddhist temple which has a huge statue of the lord himself. I take a close look at the intimidating statue and go past it towards the Archaeological museum located next to the excavation site. Photography is prohibited and for a change I do not rush and explore the intricate inscriptions and works on the half broken sculptures and antiques displayed. With five galleries and two verandahs, the site museum at Sarnath has a plethora of displays ranging from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. which were discovered during the extensive excavation. This is a wonderful museum where visitors need to spend time, read the plaques and enjoy the unearthed art works and antiques. I loiter around until the authorities say it is time to close. 

Wat Thai
Numerous temple such as Chinese Buddhist temple, Tibetan Buddhist temple, Japanese Buddhist temple etc adorn the lanes of Sarnath. I walk into a couple of them and most of them are enveloped in serenity and peace. Well decorated Buddha statues with the country specific architecture and decorations adorn the insides and exteriors of these temples. Japanese temple is the last in line and surprisingly there is a small function with drum beats and hymns with a small crowd enjoying the beats. I too become a part of the evening ritual which ends shortly with chocolates being distributed.


Japanese temple

I go past the numerous vendors sell various buddhist paraphernalia on their push carts and small shops by the road to my final place of visit in Sarnath. Along with Buddhism, I add a tinge of Jainism and visit the Digamber jain temple before leaving the serene Sarnath for the chaotic Varanasi. Sarnath is also a pilgrim centre for Jains as it is the birth place of Shreyansanath, the eleventh thirthankara of Jainism. Its quiet, dark and peaceful inside the small temple. Without loitering around much, I leave the premises in search of an autorickshaw.

Jain temple
 The sun has gone down, visitors have left the roads of Sarnath deserted and it's become cold again. I get a glimpse of the excavations as the auto-rickshaw passes its gates. There are a few monks wrapped in saffron walking swiftly to their abodes. I look back for one last time at the land where Buddha gave his first sermon before the driver speeds past the lanes of Sarnath to the saffron land, which is far less serene.

Signing Note- Immerse in the serenity that prevails over the stupas, temples and excavations of Sarnath...!!

Location- 13 Kms from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

February 25, 2015

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014

After a mesmerising Biennale in 2012-13, Kochi is back to its artistic best with Aspinwall, Pepper House, David Hall, Durbar Art Gallery, Calvathy street and every nook and corner turning into works of art. Biennale is back! The brilliant art exhibition has gained popularity over a period of time with artists from various corners of the globe joining hands to bring out their creative work. It is undoubtedly one of the most creative exhibitions in the country. In addition to the exhibitions of art works, paintings, videos and much more, there are also cultural shows, collateral projects and art cinemas that are screened for the art lovers. Held from December 2014, this wonderful display of art culminates on the 29th of March 2015.

For more details please visit- http://kochimuzirisbiennale.org/





Shadow painting
Works by artist Nampoothiri



Location- Fort Kochi and surroundings.



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