Friday, February 19, 2016

Chambal National Park

        " Aap Calcutta se Chakraborty hai"  - In reply of this sudden question , dumbstruck, I just nodded positively , instruction came -- " Chaliye, hume Bhaiji ne bheja" . Before I could realise , who was this " Bhaiji”, why he had sent them for me,   a stout broad shouldered young man picked up my camera bag and his assistant  almost grabbed my heavy rucksack and in a wink of my eyes, he walked forward with large hasty footsteps. As my life clinged to my camera bag, I had no other option but to follow him with a great pace and get into the Innova parked on the other side of the road . Immediate instruction was uttered afterwards to the driver, " Circuit house" . Within 10 mn, the vehicle entered into the huge compound of the circuit house. I was told to wait in the lobby , and the " Boss" started to examine the rooms. A quick look of one  room and discarding it with an irritated face to check the other, the sequence continued for a while . After cancelling 4/5 such rooms, finally my luggage had been dropped in a huge  literally a suite that could accommodate one entire badminton court easily. Along with the electrical ceiling fan hanging from a two story high ceiling, a big handmade decorative " Pankha" was also there, the rope of which vanished in the Varanda, probably to the hands of an invisible ghostly " Pankhapuller" .  It may be that the authority earnestly tried to maintain the flavour of British era till date.       

        With an  surging intention to photograph Gharial and Indian Skimmer in Chambal National Park , when left Bharatpur just after sunrise , the intangible veil of fog was so dense that even my own wristwatch vanished in the white darkness. With passing time , the fog though  lightened a bit, yet the weather was still very dull and drowsy. Apart from the weather , there were lots of other confusions against my trip. Chambal could not wipe its notorious past totally out , so the security and safety of both the photographer and his equipments were really doubtful--- well-wishers continuously gave evidences of so many scary news.  At last I dialed the number of a long known senior forest official who once operated there in Chambal ,  and told me that in spite of this countrywide  severe water pollution phase all over our country, Chambal river is still clean enough. Anyway he assured me of my safety  and I decided to set out for Dholpur , the Rajasthan base for Chambal.
Dholpur Circuit House

      Lying on the king sized bed of the circuit house, I was wondering about the incident happened in the morning at bus stand ,  whether the entire phenomenon was blissful or fearful.  And coincidentally as I looked outside just like that, I found my two " abductors" peeping from the door. After eye contact, they hesitantly entered into the room. I asked their identity and whereabouts in the most possible polite manner. After initial uneasiness was over, the extract of our conversation was - that senior forester  requested one of his old acquaintance to help me in my trip , that person is the " Bhaiyaji" of these two " innocent kids" !!
        After an early lunch , left the circuit house with a very light mood. Now the only companion is Amit, the sole controller of every single thing since our first meet at Dholpur bus stand.  While driving , he started to open up slowly , told about Dholpur , about himself. At an age of mere 26 years , he supervises the administration of three polytechnic colleges, one engineering collage and five schools  , as a part of his family business. Besides this he has stepped into active politics as well. He couldn't suppress his frustration about the neglected position of Dholpur in the state's tourisms map. He opined that, inspite of having rich historical heritages, Rajput architectural marvels, spiritual sites, it had not been highlighted properly.
        In the meantime , our vehicle has crossed the Chambal river and entered into the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh part of the national park. Descending from the bridge we turned left, driving carefully on a sandy path Amit parked the car in front of the forest camp. Some miniature versions of circus tents , surrounded by ropes served the purpose. After collecting the permit for the boat safari moved towards the river bed ; to my utter surprise found a gigantic crocodile basking just outside the rope boundary of the camp. Taking few snaps moved towards the floating jetty, made from bright coloured plastic blocks which tosses at every footstep. As all the boats were in the river , I had to wait for my turn to come , so started to enjoy the fun of swinging jetty with continuous walk on that. Boat came within  fifteen minutes and my Chambal safari started. 

Boat safari on River Chambal

       Siyaram , the guide cum boatman of four seat speed boat hailed from Morena. He informed that there was no skimmer sighting in the entire area in last 3-4 days. Near the jetty gigantic pipeline was withdrawing river water to supply in the Dholpur town. Few ruddyshel ducks were swimming here and there. Though some local boys reached very close to them with the help of air filled tube, they didn't get scared , neither flew away. Our boat were also at an handshaking distance, but they allowed that proximity, I got some descent frames. We moved forward and found a baby gharial basking on its mother's back in a small islet. At another area ,saw a mixed flock of innumerable spoonbill, river tern, lapwings and ruddyshel ducks to enjoy their lunch. Gangetic dolphin sprung out of water several times with a flurry of water drops , both in front and behind the boat, but for so small duration of  time that couldn't get the chance to even point the camera.

Ruddyshel Duck

       On moving some more distance found some apparition type figure running and jumping on a small island. A very patient look through the tele lens revealed a tall man playing football with some kids. My observation made Amit highly excited , he told me that man was a highly powerful " Baba", apart from few local boys, he used to avoid human contact. Amit wanted to give a try to meet him, Siyaramji took the boat as close as possible to the bank. Amit removed his shoe, folded trouser and jumped into the water. Though the water was shallow, due to thick loose mud , water reached his waistline. No sooner he touched the solid hard ground on the bank , those boys ran towards him. It was just a silent movie to me, but faced no difficulty to realise that they are sending him back. Amit offered his " Pranam" there on the ground and came back . Later he told, as soon as he jumped into the water , Babaji had sent his battalion to send him back to the boat again.

Garial mother and baby

    On our way back to the jetty , Siyaramji drove the boat in a jig jag pattern to create turbulence in the river water. Surprisingly got glimpses of jumping dolphin at least 10 times , sometimes head, or back part or tail view, but never got the whole body, neither could get even a record shot.  Crossed the bridge again to reenter the Dholpur part. Amit drove the car to a hilltop ancient fort, surrounded by a wall. A panoramic view of entire Chambal valley could be seen from the hilltop. The mesmerising undulated topography  made of red  barren soil and stone hillocks, and labyrinth type road under setting sun made me busy in taking shot after shot. At every moment I imagined that a group of horse riders with giant spring like mustache, red " teeka" on forehead and bullet garlands will come out from those alleys with a sea of dust behind. Spend few more minutes even after sun set and came to the circuit house again. As the entire day was extremely tiring and exhaustive ,  took a hot shower and dinner and just threw my empty body to the inviting bed.

       Next morning was not an exception from the visibility point of view. Yet found 4-5 peacocks, ashy prinia, Indian robin, oriental white eye  and some other very common birds within the circuit house periphery. As we had to start the safari very late and bird activities decreases dramatically with rising sun, the morning safari was not at all productive.         

River Lapwing

       After lunch we reached to the Gharial breeding centre of Morena. Babies of various ages to adult gharial were kept there. Spending few hours there helped me to understand the life cycle of gharial, at least partly. Then again we reached to the jetty. This time Amit's brother Naveen and few of his college mates accompanied me. So we booked a 12 seats speed boat for the safari. This had to be my last safari in Chambal National Park in this lap, but had no luck to get even a single skimmer till then. To console my unsatisfied mind Siyaramji proclaimed  " aaj dikhayenge sir aapko Skimmer" and informed a flock of around 20 skimmer had been noticed to hover few min back.

River tern

      Within 10 min , just after leaving the camp , got cardfull shots of river lapwing, Egyptian vulture , 3 different varieties of kingfishers , Asian soft shell turtle, black winged stilt etc and after 15- 20 more minutes of journey noticed that flock of illusive Indian Skimmer at last , consisting of 26 individuals. Every bird was in a perfect mood of afternoon power nap, deliberately avoiding all sort of movement. Siyaramji switched off the engine and took the boat as close as possible , without creating any disturbance to the flock. My wait began with a hope to record some bird activity.

Asian soft shell turtle

     As soon as the Sun started to soften it's luminosity , they became active. Creating a huge gap between uniquely  unsymmetrical beaks , they started to " Skim" , a species specific habit of touching the river water while flying.  In next 30 minutes , I could photograph lots of bird activities which made my last safari perfect.

Skimming of Indian Skimmer

Indian Skimmer pair

      From both Bharatpur and Agra, Dholpur is roughly 50 KM and are well connected by regular bus service. So one can have glimpses of this beautiful National park if just one extra day could be added to the Agra  or Bharatpur trip itinerary. There are lots of accommodation  of different budget around Dholpur Bus stand. Car can be booked from Agra, Bharatpur or Dholpur to visit the Morena Camp. 



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hyderabad, a history still alive…

 Text and Photograph 
Sitasri De

Sitasri is a final year English Literature student from Kolkata who has traveled across wide portions of the country from a very tender age. As a hardcore travel-lover, she has visited several places around the nation which has in turn generated in her the love for writing. An amateur photographer and freelance writer by choice, she has an aspiration for traveling around the globe and seeing every nook and corner of the world.


If the great Shah Jahan could have built a wonder like the Taj Mahal for his beloved, Mumtaz, the nizam of Hyderabad dedicated an entire city to his love, Hyder Mahal. Hyderabad, thus, literally means the city of Hyder which was initially named Bhaganagar.
Hyderabad, famous for its delicious and mouth watering biriyani and haleem, is a city of immense historical significance that has changed its course over the past 400 years. It is the capital of the south Indian state of Telengana and the de jure capital of Andhra Pradesh and has a twin city named Secunderabad. Originally it belonged to the Nizam, but later came under the Indian Union after the Nizam was overthrown in ‘Operation Polo’ and the city was annexed by independent India. Popularly known as the “city of pearls” or the “city of Nizams”, it is one of the busiest cities in our country owing to its rich cultural heritage that makes it a common-place tourist hotspot among travelers from all the country and abroad.
Hyderabad is a historic city noted for its monuments, temples, churches, masjids and bazaars that are clearly indicative of the fact that the city welcomes people from all races and religions without any discrimination. These vividly portray the traditions and old-age charm that the city never fails to hold on to.  Established in 1591 by Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, the city was under the rule of the Qutub Shahi Dynasty for nearly a century until the Mughals took over.
Hyderabad has lots to offer to anyone who cares to dive deep into its history. In the long span of 400 years, from a Muslim Nizam naming it after a Hindu woman to countless wars being fought and numerous lives being lost for its possession, from being the capital of one state to gaining the unique identity of being the capital of two states, Hyderabad has seen it all. And for all the people out there who are looking for a change from their usual mundane lifestyles, Hyderabad, I assure you, is the place for you.

Most Notable places in Hyderabad:

Golkonda fort:
Golconda, also spelled as Golkonda or Golla Konda (shepherd’s hill), is situated 11 Km west of Hyderabad. It was first built by Kakatiya dynasty as part of their Western defenses along the line of the Kondapalli fort.It is 120 mt high and is surrounded by massive battlements. The fort was rebuilt and strengthened by Pratapa Rudra of the Kakatiyas. The fort was further strengthened by the Musunuri Nayaks who defeated the Tughlaqi army occupying Warrangal. The fort was ceded by the Musunuri chief Kapaya Nayak to the Bahmani Sultunate as part of the treaty in 1364.After the Collapse of the sultunate,the fort became the capital of Qutb Sahi dynasty. The fort finally fell into ruins after a siege and its fall to the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb in 1687.
After the collapse of the Bahmani Sultanate, Golkonda rose to prominence as the seat of the Qutb Shahi dynasty around 1507. Over a period of 62 years, the mud fort was expanded by the first three Qutb Shahi sultans into a massive fortification of granite, extending around 5 km in circumference. It remained the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty until 1590 when the capital was shifted to Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahis expanded the fort, whose 7 kilometers outer wall enclosed the city.

The fort is now under the care of the Archaeological Survery of India. The whole complex of the fort is apread across a total area of 11 kms and seeing every nook and corner of the fort is an arduous task. We enter the fort by the Fateh Darwaza, which reflects the engineering marvels of the era.  A hand clap at a certain point below the dome at the entrance reverberates and can be heard clearly at the 'Bala Hisar' pavilion, the highest point almost a kilometer away. This worked as a warning note to the royals in case of an attack.

The view of the city of Hyderabad from the top of the fortress is spectacular as is evident in the picture below.

Other attractions -
A light and sound show is held for the tourists everyday (except Monday) from 7pm to 8pm. I would recommend carrying “odomos” as mosquitoes are a problem in the place at night. The cost of the tickets is Rs.130.

Entry fees and timings-
The entry fees for Indian tourists are a minimal amount of Rs.5. Special tickets costing Rs.25 are to be bought if one wishes to click pictures. It is open on all days from 9 am to 5.30 pm.

How to get to Golconda-
It’s a pretty easy route to Golconda. By car it takes around 44 minutes via Fort Rd (12.8km), around 49 minutes via NH7 and Fort Rd (12.7km) and around 48 minutes via Langar House Road and Fort Rd (11.8km). The times taken may vary depending on the traffic conditions. Also a number of bus services are available from the Koti bus terminus.

The charminar means the “four towers”. Constructed in 1591 CE, it is a monument and a mosque situated on the east bank of the river Musi. The Laad Bazaar lies to the west and the Makkah Masjid to the southwest. It is listed under the ASI as a “list of monuments”. The landmark has become a glocal icon of Hyderabad.The fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, built the Charminar in 1591 century. After Shifting His capital from Golkonda to Hyderabad, he built this awesome structure of Charminar. The Old City of Hyderabad was designed with Charminar as its centerpiece. Popular folklore says that during the Mughal governorship between Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi rule, the southwestern minaret "fell to pieces" after being struck by lightning and was repaired soon after.

The clock of Charminar is a special attraction for people. Tourists are allowed to take the stairs and enjoy the splendid view of the city from the top of the monument.

Entry fees and timings-
One can visit the place between 9am and 5.30pm on all days of the week. The amount payable for entering the premises of the Charminar is a bare minimum amount of Rs.5.

How to get to Charminar-
By car it takes around 20 minutes to cover a distance of 4 kilometres via NH 9, around 21 minutes (3.7 kilometres) via Maharani Jhansi Rd and around 24 minutes (4.2 kilometres) via Chanderghat Rd. if someone wishes to take the bus, several buses leave for Charminar from the Koti bus terminus and Women’s college.

Other places of tourist attractions are -

The Birla Mandir- which is a Hindu temple, built on a 280 feet high hillock called Naubath Pahad on a 13 acres plot in 1976 by Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission with the cooperation of Birla Foundation.

The Lumbini Park- it is a small public, urban park adjacent to Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad, India. Since it is located in the center of the city and is in close proximity to other tourist attractions, such as Birla Mandir and Necklace Road, it attracts many visitors throughout the year. It was constructed in 1994. It was one of the targets of the 25 August 2007 Hyderabad bombings that killed 44 people.
A musically synchronized water fountain and a water clock are major attractions here. The Lumbini Park jetty is an ideal place for pleasure boating. The laser show is a thing to see here.

The Hussain sagar Lake- it was built by Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali on 1562 during the rule of Ibrahin Quli Qutub shah. It is spread across an area of 5.7 sq km and fed by the water of river Musi

The Salar Jung Museum- it is an art museum located at Darushifa, on the southern bank of the Musi river. It is one of the three National Museums of India.

 Ramoji film city- this is the largest integrated film city in the world spread across an are of 2000 acres. It was founded by Ramoji Rao in 1996.

The car museum-It is the first and only wacky car museum in the world. Sudha car museum is the brainchild of Mr. K. Sudhakar, a Guinness World Record holder for building the world’s largest tricycle that actually functions.

The Chowmahalla Palace- is a palace of the Nizams of Hyderabad state. It was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty and was the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they ruled their state.  The palace remains the property of Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah, heir of the Nizams.

Falaknuma Palace- is one of the finest palaces in Hyderabad, It belonged to Paigah Hyderabad State, and it was later owned by the Nizam of Hyderabad. It is situated at a distance of 5 km from Charminar. It was built by Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra. Falak-numa means "Like the Sky" or "Mirror of the Sky" in Urdu.

 And to conclude, I’d like to urge my readers to take time out of their busy scheduled lives and pay a visit to this beautiful city called Hyderabad. I can claim with utmost authority that anyone who cares to spend a little time in the city will not be disappointed.