From Amritsar to Indore by Jayant DoshiA Tour by Bhagini with a Touch of Compassion India is a vast country – a sub-continent – and one can never see much of it in one trip. Having made lots of trips to different parts of India, for me this trip was a mixture of what I had visited before and some totally new areas. After an overnight flight, traditional Bhagini pack meal at the airport, our group of forty reached Delhi on the morning of 20th March 2010. But collecting all luggage and getting everything into the coach took us to lunch time. We had our lunch and then we checked into the hotel. Our sight seeing began immediately as we were to visit the world famous SwaminarayanTemple of Akshar Dham, a modern wonder created in a short span of 5 years in the heart of Delhion 90 acres of land. We reached there at 4.30 and because of prior arrangements we were takeninside and guided through the huge complex. The huge buildings have exhibits, illustrations andrunning commentary on Hindu religion, culture and history. We kept moving from one hall to theother gasping at the wonder created by modern technology. There were screen shows and a boatride. In the evening we show the breathtaking fountains with lights and music. We had dinner atthe temple restaurant, and on reaching the hotel we all collapsed in our beds after a very long day. Delhi sight seeing was the theme of the second day. We saw Lal Quila (Red Fort) and JumaMasjid from the outside. We could not go inside Juma Masjid because of heavy traffic in the area,which was a disappointment. We were taken to Raj Ghat, the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi, wherewe had a walk around the memorial. A visit to Laxminarayan Temple was followed by a drive pastthe President’s palace, India gate, Parliament buildings, Lotus temple. Our next stop was at KutubMinar where the guide gave a very good insight into the intricate carvings on the remains of some ofthe structures – and pointed out the Hindu influence in the carvings. The guide was veryconvincing and knowledgeable in whatever information he imparted. When one is travelling vast distances, and when the travel is in India, then travel time takesup lots of time. We had a very early wake up next day as we were to catch a train to Amritsar. Ourluggage was taken on coach otherwise to get on the train with all the luggage would have been anightmare. We had a pleasant and comfortable train journey, reached Amritsar at 2.00 in theafternoon, and after lunch went straight to Wagha border. India and Pakistan opened up the borderin a very limited way to allow some people to travel into the other country, and Wagha border is thepoint of crossing. It has become a symbolic and an important attraction on similar basis as thechanging of guards at Buckingham Palace. At Wagha border, both countries aredivided by barbed wire fence with automaticdoors with about ten yards of land in between asno man’s land. There are flags of both countrieson posts next to the gates. Both side of the gatehave public sitting areas. Tourists, and somelocals, come to watch spectacle of each countrydoing march-past, raising the flag in the morningand lowering the flag in the evening. There were alot of people on the Indian side compared to thePakistani side. While waiting for the flag loweringceremony, there was music and dancing by thespectators, and it seemed each side was trying toout do the other. Whenever some patriotic wordsor songs were said on one side, the other side booed to drown that. It was all done in quite friendlyand jovial way. At sun set both the flags were lowered with each flag coming down inch by inchprecisely at the same time as the other one. The parade, the singing and shouting and booing wasfun to watch. It had been a long day, and we had hardly recovered from the jet lag of our flight fromLondon. As we had a wake up call set for 3.00 I went to bed hoping to catch up with my sleep.
When the phone rang at mid night, I woke up from deep slumber and instinctively said goodmorning. But it was just mid-night. It was one of the passengers who informed me that one person was not well and had to be taken to hospital. I got ready and we rushed to the hospital. The doctor treated him, and as he was feeling well we came back to the hotel to get one hour of sleep. Next day we woke up early to go to the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest place for Sikhs. Surrounded by water, and the glistening golden minarets of the temple were a sight to be seen at sun rise. Due to prohibition on photography, we could not capture the scene on the camera but our minds had the pleasure of eschewing the scene. After attending the prayers, and walking around the temple, we saw many devotees dipping in the ice cold water. After breakfast we were to visit the famous Jalianwala Bagh, where thousands of unarmedand innocent Indians were killed when the British troops fired indiscriminately at a peaceful crowdwho had no chance of escape from the place with walls on every side. This was to be followed by avisit to a temple. However, I had to miss all this as I had to go to the hospital where I spent most ofthe day. Every time we were told it would take five to ten minutes, but those few minutes turnedinto hours and our day just passed by. The doctor categorically said that he could finish his tripwithout any problem, but his family did not want to take that chance. He decided to go to Delhi,where arrangements were made to stay with a friend, and he would decide whether to join us whenwe returned to Delhi, or to fly back home, after observing his condition in that period. In the evening we drove through small alleyways that gave us an insight into the realAmritsar. Dinner was accompanied by a surprise insight into local culture with a Punjabi night. Notpart of the itinerary, the folk dances and music fascinated us all. After very early wake up and early departure, next day provided us the luxury of spendingsome time in the spa before our breakfast. However the drive to Chandigarh was under estimated,and we were just lucky to reach there to see the world famous Rock Gardens in the nick of time.When the world had not heard of recycling, a street sweeper in Chandigarh undertook thismammoth project in his pare time to create a wonder of the world from recycled waste products. Hehas created a wonderful garden using broken crockery and glass bangles, hessian cloth and tarmacdrums, broken pottery and ceramic tiles – literally every thing we throw away has been utilised tocreate this wonder. The Rock Garden took seven years to make, and it is still being developed. Thecreator, Nek Chand, has made this into his passion, written books, has been asked to undertakesimilar projects in many cities around the world, and is still working at this particular garden. Wewere fortunate to meet the person and were impressed by his passion for his project. Our drive to Shimla, the summer capital of India during British Raj, and popular hill stationfor honeymooners in particular, was pleasant going up the Himalayan range through the beauty ofnature. We had a free afternoon and took thechance to explore the popular Mall and somehistorical buildings. After having beenthrough coldest winter in England, the cold inShimla was pleasant but not for every one. The timings given for certain tripsdesired much improvement. Our visit toKufira next day involved some horse riding.Only twelve of us went for that while rest ofthe group sat in the coach. The trip tookmuch longer then we had been told, and restof the group might have been better staying atthe hotel till lunch time instead of sitting inthe coach. Horse riding was tricky withmuddy and snowy paths. Because of thedelay, horse riders were directed directly tothe restaurant for lunch while rest came by
coach and then had to be ferried to the restaurant taking some time doing it. There was a temple next to the restaurant, on top of a hill. The steepness of the slope leading to the temple was daunting but I took the opportunity to walk up bare footed. By the time we finished lunch it was evening. Our visit to the highest golf course was limited by just passing by it. The day was badly planned and most of the group spent the day doing nothing. Next day we had a long drive from Shimla to Delhi, and many were keen to do some shopping in Delhi. As per the time schedule we were told that we will get time for that. However,as other days, the timing was wrong and we reached too late to Delhi to do anything except haveour dinner. My freind and his wife joined us and the good news was that he had decided to join usfor rest of the trip. Early wake up next day to fly to Varanasi did not shake us as we had now got used to it.After lunch in Varanasi, we embarked on sight seeing when we visited some Buddhist monasteriesand museums. Varanasi, on the banks of the holy River Ganges, is one of the oldest cities in India,and has immense importance to Hindus. To come and dip in the holy waters of Ganges in Varanasi,and to take part in the famous arti on the Ganges are the dreams of most Hindus. To die and becremated in Varanasi on the banks of the river would be considered as path to heaven by devoutHindus. Today was Holi, the most colourful and important festival in Hindu calender, and colours aresplashed by every one on every one. Going to the arti would be through huge crowds and wouldinvolve lot of walking. Some of the group decided to go for it, but I had a dinner invitation and hadto forego with that opportunity. After dinner, some of the group planned to go in the city to enjoyHoli bonfires taking place. However, after some advice, the plans were cancelled. Next morning we went early to take a boat ride in the Ganges, to watch arti and the sunrise.After the festivities of Holi previous night, crowds were thin, but devout Hindus were bathing in theGanges in the chill waters. While walking to the boat some of us had a taste of Holi colours. Afterbreakfast we took a flight to the world famous Khajurao. The ancient temples of Khajurao withamazing sculptures were found by an Englishman in the 19th century. We had a free afternoon. While most decided to catch up their sleep, some of us decided todo some sightseeing. We rented two rickshaws and we had an amazing afternoon. The rickshawdriver was wonderful singer and also took us to some temples which were not on our itinerary. Wevisited a local house and were offered sherbet. We were shown around the village where stolenstatutes from the ruins were used in houses. We also visited a local school. It was a wonderfulexperience for us all. And as a bonus the driver ofthe rickshaw entertained us with some lovelymelodies. Khajurao temples, built at least 2500years back, have become the biggest touristattraction. The intricate sculptures on the wallsof the temples depict an age of great knowledge.The temples are spread over a few hundred acresand we visited the most important ones on thewest and the Jain temples on the east. For ourgroup, the visit to the Jain temples representedthe highlight of the visit. Few of us again called the same rickshawin the afternoon while others decided to take rest.He took us to Ranesh Falls where we sawdistinctive red, green and black rocks. There was not much water but we were told the whole areagets covered after the monsoons. We also visited the Pandav falls and caves. It is believed thatPandav brothers (of Mahabharat fame) spent some time in these caves during their exile. On thecliff where the caves are, there is water dripping from above and no one knows where that watercomes from. We were told that the water keeps dripping non stop through out the year. We sawtrees whose roots had penetrated huge rocks in search of water. Then we were taken to a tree top
hotel built on the shores of a lake. Being sun set time we had some wonderful views. We weregetting late for our evening show of dance and music, but we did not wish to miss this wonderful spectacle. While we missed the show which rest of the group saw, we were taken to another show of local dances and the show was good enough for us not to regret missing what the rest saw. We had a long drive to Gwalior, the seat of a big empire in the olden days. We saw the palace and the castle that reminded us of the glories of the past empire. They represented the best Hindu architecture of the bygone days when in other places Mogul architecture dominates most historical buildings. We also saw an ancient temple which had similar sculptures and designs as Khajurao temples. We had a comfortable train journey to Bhopal. Afternoon was free. While most optedfor a rest, some of us went to Van Vihar where we saw many wild animals. Then we had a boat ridein the huge lake. The boat took us up to the fountain in the middle of the lake and enjoyed a splashof cold water to cool us down. Next day, we visited Sanchi which has old Buddhist relics dating from 3rd century BC to12th century AD. During our visit we saw some great stupas, Ashoka pillar, and some temples.After lunch we visited some caves with statutes of deities. Our evening finished with a musicalevening with dancing and puppet show Next morning we had sightseeing in Bhopal which included visits to a mosque, a temple anda museum. Afternoon was free time and some of us went to visit Manav Sanghralaya (HumanMuseum) and the place was amazing. Built over 200 acres of land with a huge museum buildingthat houses relics or examples of Indian huts, day to day tools for cooking and living, clothing andhead wear, arms etc. It is such a huge collection and would need a few days to do a proper study.In time this would become the most important collection of life style and household tools from eachand every part of India. Out in the grounds they have built sample huts from some parts of India,and more work is being done in the place. If any one is visiting this part of India then this museumis a must. Today was celebration of International Women’s Day, and there was a celebration of thesame in the museum. The organisers invited us to come in the evening to see the show. It was awonderful show of traditional dances, and it made our day with what we saw earlier followed by thisentertainment. Bhopal got international renown for the great chemical factory explosion, and we were keento look at the site but it could not be arranged. We moved on to Panchmarhi, a popular hill stationand summer holiday place in this part of India. The huge area has hills covered with thick forests,wild animals roaming around, water falls and caves and a paradise for the adventurous trekker,who could walk in this amazing creation of nature for days and days. After lunch some of us walkedto the top of a nearby hill while others took a taxi to another hill top. In the evening we walkedaround the bazaar in the small town. Our tour of Panchmarhi included a visit to acave with a Shivlinga. The walk to the cave was steepdown hill and treacherous but faith and religion givesstrength to those who would normally not attemptsuch a walk. We visited caves reputed to have beendwelled in by Pandav brothers, and a few Shivtemples. After lunch we were taken to a water fall thatalso involved a steep down hill walk and only a few ofus ventured to the base. But we had a wonderful timedipping in the water and having the force of the watercoming down the slope and hitting our bodies. It gavea wonderful massage to our backs and we had greatfun for an hour or so.
Our trip to the famous temple of Omkareshwar took much longer then anticipated and wewere left with just enough time to visit the huge Omkareshwar temple. Next day we drove to Ujjain. At this point some of the group decided that they needed some rest and took a taxi to Indore while rest of the group proceeded to Ujjain. Ujjain is one of four cities with mystical importance for the Hindus. Naturally this meant lot of temples in the city situated on a river bank. We had the day free after arrival. Most of the group decided to take taxi and travel to the famous Nageshwar temple. This temple is one of the famous temples for the Jains, and the devout in the group did not want to miss this opportunity to see that famous temples. I, with a few others, stayed behind and after some rest, walked around the small town. For those who visit India, with some exceptions, going to all famous temples gives themthe satisfaction of a successful pilgrimage. Madhya Pradesh had lot of Jain influence a fewcenturies back, and this makes it an important pilgrimage centre for the Jains. While to some visitsto temples had reached saturation point, most felt that the visits to all those temples made theirvisit a very successful pilgrimage. Bhagini tours are known for the compassion shown to all theparticipants, and especially those who need help most, and they are also known for taking care ofthe desires and needs of all that join the tour. Our sight seeing included some caves,lots of temples, some palaces and the famousancient observatory. The ancient observatoryshows the depth of astronomical knowledge inancient India. This observatory is similar tothose in Jaipur and Delhi. Our drive toIndore, as usual, took longer then we hadanticipated. The free afternoon hardly gave usmuch time. The day finished with a galaevening with speeches, presentation of tips tothe guides, drivers and others. Every onedanced away the evening, saying theirfarewells and preparing to separate anddepart the next morning. Success of any such trip depends onthe planning and on the manager whoexecutes that planning. Bhagini are wellknown for their meticulous planning of every small detail. But the manager of the tour plays animportant part, and we were lucky to have a manager who listened to our needs and complaints,and who ensured that everything went smoothly. Normally tour manager stick to the written wordbut this manager was flexible and at times gave us more then was written in the itinerary. Overall it was a good trip with no mishaps, and very adventurous and exciting for few andvery satisfying from pilgrimage point of view for most.(your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org …other travel articles available on www.jayantdoshi.yolasite.com)