Tag Archives: music

A visit to the Mecca of India- Ajmer

Time has been kind on me yet again bringing me to the right place when the time was right! And this time it was to Ajmer during the holy month of Ramadan. Ajmer-Marwar region was a separate state until it was merged with Rajasthan. At a distance of 130kms by road from Jaipur, it is believed to be the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. I managed to squeeze in sufficient time from my business trip to venture out in this city and explore most of whatever it has to offer for the traveller in me.

Needless to say that no visit is complete without heading to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah dedicated to the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. We were fortunate to have contacted one of the trustees of the Dargah who managed our entire visit and made it one of envy for most people who struggle to get past the crowds in other seasons. Also, our visit coincided with the 27th day of the Holy month- revered as the ‘Night of Destiny’ in the Islam faith. The Dargah is located at the base of the Taragarh hill atop of which a fort is situated. The view of the entire hill is so beautiful with a township constructed on the steep slopes overlooking the Dargarh. Photography is prohibited inside the Dargarh premises and hence, I wasn’t able to capture most of the things. It’s a welcome move in some places like these and respect the sanctity of the place. Enough is said and written about this place and I wish to cover about the other things this historic town has to offer.

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Breaking the fast at Ajmer dargah Sharif

We were right there on the premises at the time of breaking the day’s fast. After that, we walked the by lanes around the Dargah to explore the best of Ajmer. Not in terms of places but in terms of its lip-smacking street food. With a lot of Mughalai and Nawabi influence and it being the Ramadan season, the best of the spread was available- Needless to say, it is a haven for food lovers. By the time the last ray of the day’s sun had vanished, we were stuffed until our glottis. If you are a history buff and want to find something to feed your wanderlust, you can take a walk to Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra and the Akbar Palace and museum that are located closer to the Dargah. Soniji-ki-Nasiyan is a nice two-storeyed wooden Jain temple that can be visited enroute to Dargah Sharif. If you are at the luxury of time, a quick ride to quick ride to the Mayo college campus can be ended with some peaceful sunset time spent by the banks of the Ana Sagar Lake. But, for me- something else was awaiting!

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The folk singers performing live in the courtyard of the Taj

I was hosted at the Taj- Ajmer gateway for the night, a world in itself to visit and hang around. The drive from Ajmer city towards it outskirts on Pushkar road, through winding roads with the backdrop of the setting golden sun was a picturesque treat after a tiring day of work and toil. All this seemed like only a grand welcome to the beautiful Taj property that’s nestled in the midst of nowhere in the lap of the Aravalis. The sky was dark, when we arrived at this palatial hotel. The entire driveway was lit with dim sodium lamps from the gate through the lounge. A faint outline of the Aravalli hills standing calmly on the backdrop only enhanced its grandeur. It was a warm welcome as the live Rajasthani folk music with the timbre of the Morchang and Khartal resonated from the courtyard. It was a pleasant check-in when the host personally lead me to the room while explaining the delicately chosen wall murals and paintings as we walked through the elegant corridor. Though I was stuffed with Ajmer’s street food, I did manage to make some space for the delectable dinner that I was hosted at the restaurant. With all items seasoned and cooked to perfection, each dish seemed better than the other. With a refreshing dip in the pool, a day was called!

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Top: The courtyard at night Below: the morning view from my balcony

I looked forward for the morning as much as I did for the previous evening! I had set the alarm for sunrise but was woken up rather early by the calls of dozens of feral peacocks that had come from the forest/hills just behind the pool. I opened my balcony doors and voila! It was a magical morning with peacocks dancing in the courtyard and a modestly calm sun peeping out of shadowy grey clouds with the glorious green Aravalis forming a backdrop… I soaked in this special moment as much as I could from my balcony before I realised that it was time for me to pack-up. Finishing up the morning chores and ending my stay with the Taj with a wonderful breakfast spread, it was time for me to say good bye to this beautiful city of Ajmer and this beautiful Taj property- the Ajmer gateway!

Summary:

Must-do: Make a wish by offering the Chadar or the decorated shawl to the deity/tomb at the Dargah Sharif.
Must eats: while the street food and the never-ending list of non-veg dishes are to die for in the month of Ramadan, Kadi Kachori and Soan-Halwa are an all-season recommendations.
Must buys: variety of prayer caps and incense.

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The Street shopping at Ajmer

A valley beyond music and the tribes- Ziro

Before I take you through this journey, it is required to know that Ziro is the name of an entire area. It is a valley located in the Lower Subansiri district and surrounded with mountains 360deg.

After a long and tedious drive up the hill, we had finally reached the top of Ziro valley. We were in our shorts and loafers shivering with cold at a temperature of 2 deg C. When we reached Hapoli at 12.30.a.m. There, we met the caretaker of the homestay we had booked who had come down to pick us to his home located in Siiro, a further drive up. After reaching his place, I couldn’t help but jump into the cozy bed that was set up in this traditional house with bamboo interiors and wrapped myself with the warm fluffy blankets. I crashed!

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The interior of our homestay at Siiro

The next morning was an interesting day. We visited the fish farm at Tarin. The Ngihi variety of fish is cultured in tanks that are placed well amid the pine trees in a beautiful location that you reach after a very scenic drive. Ziro is the only place in India where this species of high altitude fishes are grown and that too as an inter-crop in paddy fields. That means the fishes grow in the same marsh as the paddy thereby mutually supporting each other. September would be the ideal month to see the green aquaculture farms that sets a beautiful backdrop for the popular Ziro music festival in this hill station.

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The fish farm at Tarin

I must say that there are no roads in Ziro and you just randomly drive. So we drove amid some scenic stretches and parked our car at the end of an eddy path. From there, we trekked up a small path inside the Kardo hills to reach the Sri Siddeshwar Nath Temple. Lord Shiva is believed to be residing here with his entire family in the form of a 20+ feet high self-manifested idol. We were introduced to Lord Shiva, Parvathi, Karthikeyan, Ganesha and even his little mouse in this remote location filled with just silence and the smell of burning incense. We walked a little further which happens to be the only place in India where kiwi fruits are grown. This fact came as a rather surprise to us who are so used to seeing the New-zealand seal on kiwi packs almost always. I picked up a kilo of these home-grown fruits at the price of what I would generally pay for one fruit at the supermarkets.

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Shiva temple at Kardo

We then, wandered around the Hapoli market which was altogether an experience in itself! Clothes, shoes, thermals, utensils, vegetables (that are mostly local), local sweets and confectionaries – everything was sold under the same roof. Bunches of bhoot-Jhalokias (the hottest chillies in the world) were sold in abundance. And then we reached this section of the market where we went berserk… Trust me! Rats, moths, honeybee larvae, silkworms, roaches were all there- up for sale. Rats were fancy. These rodents were sold in their farm fresh or dried & seasoned form. A dozen of them tied by their tails were handed over to the person next to me as if the tattooed shopkeeper was giving him a bunch of litchis. Although I couldn’t gather enough courage to try these rodents, I carried a handful of silkworms to be cooked back at the homestay for dinner.

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The chillies and dried rats at the Hapoli market

From there, we drove to Putu (Hill-top) to catch the sunset. This is the top-most point in Ziro and you can see the entire town from here and the hill that surrounds it all around. The Ziro airport runway cuts right through the several Apathani tribal hamlets that lay scattered all over as seen from the top. We stayed there for some time enjoying the 360deg view and the cool breeze before heading back to Siiro.

We requested our homestay caretaker to serve us some local and traditional meal for the night. So, he enquired us if we would like to visit an Apathani tribal home over for dinner. What better than eating with an Apathani family in the land of the Apathanis! Without a second thought, we all jumped up and said “YES” in unison! We drove past several bamboo groves, pine forests and finally alighted at Hong village- A village full of the Apathani inhabitants. It was a sudden shift in the environment with almost all structures being only of bamboo. We were greeted at the village entrance by the carols and guitars at the church (That also was a traditional Apathani bamboo structure with fireplace in the center of the room). Although we couldn’t understand the lyrics, we were still lost in the magic of the native music. We waited there until the mass was over and visited the family that was waiting for our visit.

We were hosted by a warm welcome by all the members of the family where the eldest women of the family handed over bamboo mugs with the local brew of rice beer- Apong. The construction of these houses are very simple. A large room with a central fireplace. Given the extreme cold temperatures of the place, almost all activities of a normal house are in this room since the fire keeps everything warm. The room has bamboo chairs in the living area, cots with beds on the other end for sleeping purposes, food will be cooked right there and food grains & meat hung right above it for drying, a small water outlet to be used as a wash-basin that gets drained down the hut that is situated slightly above the ground. The washrooms are however located on the backside of the huts separately. Then we were served with a sumptuous Apathani meal with rice, with chicken cooked inside hollow bamboo placed inside the burning firewood, Teak flower & shredded pork curry, Pika pila- a pickle made with bamboo shoot and pork fat and made to taste with Tapyo- the salt made by burning the local herbs without any water ( not from the sea!). Bliss… Just as we thought we couldn’t ask for more, the friendly family invited us over to stay with them for the night! Hearing that, our joy knew no bounds! We were excited and went back to the homestay to get our luggage for the night!

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The bamboo mugs that are used to serve rice beer

We spent the next morning photographing the village, discussing about the Apathani traditions, feeding the domesticated pigs and relaxing in this place that was so cut-off from the rest of the world. We were served a simple sweetened rice with boiled eggs for breakfast after which we got busy chatting with the local folk. So, Apathanis are known world-over for their unique tradition of wearing huge nose studs with women folk having tattoos across their faces. The culture of drawing permanent face tattoos was practiced back then to avoid men from neighbouring villages from abducting the girls of Apathani tribe who were considered to be very beautiful (indeed they are!). However, the younger generations of the tribe are against this practice in modern days who often get bullied in the cities/towns for the weird designs on the faces. It is sad that the so-called cultured people in the urban areas fail to recognize the line between tradition, culture and style! Although I have photos of the folk who had been so welcoming towards us, I will not post any of them here as a mark of respect for them as they don’t like the exploitation the photos undergo in the electronic media.

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The village post office at Hong

That is all the time we had in this beautiful village until next time. If you intend to spend a few more days in this valley, then you could plan short treks to places like Dilopolyang Maniipolyang- the twin hillocks; Dolo Mando hill; Middey- the place of the largest pine tree of the valley; Kile Pakho ridge; Meghna cave temple; the orchid research centre etc. where you will be treated with spectacular views of the valley. You can also include a drive of 30kms to the Talley Valley national park in your itinerary to spot the illusive clouded leopard if you have an additional day to spend. However, it was farewell to Ziro, its incredible natural beauty and the wonderful people, until next time!

We drove down the valley with company of two Apathani women seated in our rear seat until half way (thanks to the poor connectivity of the place) and the serene river flowing down on our left side all the way down!

Summary:

Must do: Stay with an Apathani family, enjoy the Ziro music festival, spot a Mithun (a cattle breed endemic to this region), shop groceries at the Hapoli market

Must see: The aquaculture in paddy fields.

Learning to Rock with MLTR..!!

<04-Oct-13> A dedication to the day..

With a short break from work, I have decided to just relax in the comforts of my home and slumber.. Meanwhile, over the last few days I have been digging out all the old and long forgotten music CDs stocked up in my cupboard.. Like the saying goes- ‘Old is Gold’; Old music makes me feel sooooo good and relaxes my worked up senses.. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Dream Theater, Linkin Park, Aerosmith etc etc.. You call them masterpieces, classics of rock or whatever- They NEVER cease to soothe my metal head..

But in between all of them- I stumbled upon this one- Micheal Learns To Rock..!!

This boy band ain’t any metal masters.. But the lovely tune, nice guitar and simple lyrics that can be so easy to relate… Just makes me feel so good each time I take a listen to them.. With their compositions like- sleeping-child, Out-of-the-blue, Paint-my-love, you-go-away, take-me-to-your-heart, the list goes on… There is something in their music that lifts up my spirits and pulls in a very pleasant mood even after a screwed up day..

Movie/Music reviewer/Critic- This is not what I usually do. My mind is so occupied with my work that I have even lost track of my interests and likes.. I don’t remember when or who has updated the list in my phone’s music player last.. But, finding this CD suddenly has made me all nostalgic..

You guys are AWESOME… Love you so much for creating such awesome music..

RESPECT \m/

mltr