Thursday, February 23, 2012

Growing Up in Bamrauli







Bamrauli is a suburbs of the great city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh where i spent the first twelve years of my  life. Bamrauli is  home to CATC, (Civil Aviation Training Centre), a Division of Airport  Authority of India. Since Dad was  in Government Service, we lived  in the CATC Colony, a sprawling complex spread over 106 acres.

106 acres is a lot of space, and besides the official, residential and recreational buildings, there was greenery at every nook and corner.  Be it in the form of shrubs, hedges, age old towering trees, creepers, manicured official gardens or quaint home gardens in the colonial style barracks , kitchen gardens in residential areas,  a huge Swimming Pool cum Open air amphitheater with painstakingly  maintained Rose garden, Guava orchards,  papaya orchards and khet of chana in the vicinity of  our colony.

So, i grew up along with my siblings, smelling the scents, hearing the twitter of birds and experiencing the beauty of Mother Nature in all its glory.

This post, is a great opportunity for me to share the little joys of growing up, close to Nature.

Our home had a courtyard which had three fruit trees, Sharifa (Custard Apple),




 Guava and lemon.

Climbing on the Guava tree and hopping on  to the boundary wall was a regular activity.  It is a different matter that the guavas never got a chance to ripen , as most of them would be plucked by us much before that. The guava tree also came in handy when it was time to  mug up History lessons. Perched up on the branches it was easier to understand and memorize about the campaigns of Mahmud Ghazni.

With the Custard Apple tree  it was a different story. Under Dad's supervision we would carefully wrap the custard apples in newspapers, giving them a weeks time to ripen. And then the ripe,  sweet fruit would be savored by all.

 The Lemons came in handy for making nimboo pani and pickles.





 And sometimes,  for innovations like a Pedicure :)

A simple metallic bar was lodged on the custard apple tree and the adjoining wall ,which served for a humble swing.  Here, swinging on the swing, i would memorize  the dohas of Kabeer and the shlokas  in Sanskrit.

In an additional courtyard was an elaborately made structure for a Tulsi (Basil) plant. At a young age, Mum  taught us that it was a sacred plant with many medicinal qualities.




The front of the house had three creepers, Bougainvillea, Ivy and the Rangoon creeper. The way the Ivy trailed all over the veranda wall would surprise us no end.



 The petals of the Rangoon creeper




 happily made  for a ready to put on nail paint. The Caterpillars on the Lily leaf





 , would hold our attention for hours.The thorns in the Bougainvillea taught us to be careful.

The vivid Red Hibiscus and its elongated pistil would cheer us up,






 just as the scent of Jasmine bushes




 in  Summer reminded us that it was time to make a veni for Mum.

One of the most abundant and common plant was the Periwinkle




We would pluck leaves of Oleander bush, two at a time. 




Joining them at both ends we would delight in  the sound it created on tweaking.

Since ours was a corner house, we had a much bigger garden than  our neighbors. The entire boundary of our garden was covered with Henna bushes.  We would watch in fascination as Muslim women wearing burkas would stop by to collect  henna leaves for mehndi, on their way home to their adjoining village.

And of course my Dad's love of gardening and his green fingers. He would spend a great deal of his spare time in growing vegetables. Mint, tomatoes,






 potatoes, beans and more.

Our neighbor's had a Jamun tree.




 When the tree would bear fruit, instead of asking them to share the fruit with us, we would happily climb on the roof, balancing  precariously on the sloping front, without a care of a fall, and  skilfully gather jamuns in our frock, completely oblivious of the fact that the jamuns  left stains on the new frock Mum had  stitched lovingly for me.

The Kindergarten school of our colony doubled as the evening park for kids.  While the boys would get busy with a game of cricket, we would pick flowers from the Lantana bushes which lined the boundary of the school, throw the petals gleefully over one another, shouting...'....Holi hai!' .




Our hair bedecked with these tiny colorful flowers, we  would rush to the swing, aiming higher and higher , our hair flying wildly.

Come Summers, the Allahabad loo (hot winds) would make life miserable for all.  But not for us.  In the peak of the afternoon we would sneak out of the house while Mum was having her siesta, and armed with sticks and stones, we would run towards the Mango trees,




 to taste the first raw mango or ami,  of the season.

Summers also meant  daily trips to the Swimming pool. We would admire the carefully tended Rose garden,





marveling at the variety of colors, and enjoy watching movies in the Open Air Theatre  amidst greenery.

Summers also meant school vacations.  We would be loaded with Holiday Homework. Handwriting pages, charts, projects. But one activity i enjoyed the most was preparing a Herbarium. 




We would scout the entire colony, hunting for the  widest  variety of flora and would patiently dry them in old  notebooks.  To be later assembled in a file and proudly presented to the Science teacher.

And once Monsoons came, it was time to do a rain dance. With gay abandon we would run wildly in the little square next to our home and enjoy the seasonal Dassehri




mangoes. Monsoons also meant wading through shallow water bodies, floating our paper boats




 and collecting red velvety insects,







 which i now know as Trombidium which make  their presence only during Rains, spending most of their time buried in the soil.

 As also taking delight in watching the Earthworms




 crawl into our veranda from the garden.

With the arrival of Monsoons, it was time to surrender to the  sounds and sights from  heaven. The arrival of dark clouds, the roaring thunder, the electrifying lightning added up to the excitement of the most romantic season. Not to forget the pitter patter of the rain drops, the thud of the hail storms,  Petrichor, the ecstasy  of the Peacock and the most beautiful sight on earth, the Rainbow.

And yet, there was a music of another kind to be experienced. 

 The courtship ritual of the Frogs and toads. 





The croaking of the male species to impress their female counterparts  became part of the backdrop of Monsoons. Perhaps the not-so-exciting part :). And  one  day  my elder sister, excited about her newly acquired Dissection box decided to put her skills to test.  She managed to catch hold of a frog, pin him up on the board and set forth with her scalpel.  It was indeed an encounter of the close kind that day.

Our other  neighbors had a Neem Tree.




 Many times, Mum would boil the Neem leaves and mix it with water and ask us to bathe  with it, as it served as an antiseptic.

And then there were other lazy,  unhurried days  without  a care in the world, when  we would explore nooks and corners of  the colony. An abandoned well. The haunted house. The beggar.  The mad woman. 

Stopping by the Tamarind tree for a bite of the raw sour fruit, gazing at the mighty Pipal  and Banyan,



the fragrant Frangipani



  Plucking  Falsa (Falsa Grevia)






from the CPWD Office, admiring the seasonal potted plants like Chrysanthemums, Marigold, Zinia, Pansy, Sweet Pea, 



in the Welfare Officer's Office,  picking up bers from a friend's home which had fallen on the ground much to our delight, biting into shahtoot





(Mulberry) which grew in a friend's backyard.

It was during one of our leisurely jaunts that i chanced upon the Mimosa Pudica plant, or chui mui.  




What joy it was to see the leaves  close at  the touch of your finger!.

Discovering new varieties of Butterflies




was always  a challenge  and chasing them, a thrill.

Getting up in the morning to the scent of Harsinghar




and collecting the pretty little flowers with bright orange stems for mum for Pooja,  is yet another memory.

Post Summers the Swimming pool itself would be closed, but the complex continued to be the hub of the colony.  Cultural programmes were held regularly.  On one such occasion, three Nigerians  training at CATC gave a heart warming rendition of the song..... Ye dosti, ham nahi todenge.... from the film Sholay.  It was within the complex's massive amphitheater that movies were screened.  Dosti, Pakeezah, Sampoorn Ramayan, Mughle- a -zam, Documentaries on Eskimos etc.

As the weather changed, it would be Picnic time. We would go to the Swimming pool complex with food , spread our sheets on the dry fallen leaves



and  watch nature rest in its dormant season, preparing to renew again in the new year in  Spring.

And how can i forget the Guava orchards. Allahabad is famous for guavas.  Dad would carry bags full of them for his brothers in Delhi.  Even today, the vendor in my neighborhood will call out, "Allahabad ke pede le lo"



 There were two big orchards, where one could  hear the melodious cooing  of  the Koel ,




 the raucous cawing of the Crow,  the chirping of the common Sparrow, the shrill sound of the Parrots





and more sounds from occasional birds like  Magpie, Woodpecker, Mynah and Kingfisher. With the mention of Kingfisher






 is another childhood memory. We would sing a little prayer on sighting this exotic Blue bird and make a wish. It was something on the lines of..... Neelkant tum neele rehna,  jaagte hui  bhi  neele rehna....

 It was a joy to walk through the shaded, calm and serene environs of the guava orchards or baagh.  And yes, we would happily ask the Mali to  share the  tempting and ripe guavas with us.

We would  be on the hunt to discover nests






 perched up high on the branches, and sometimes well within our reach.


And lastly, a post on Allahabad without a mention of the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of three rivers Ganga, Jamuna and the mythic Saraswati  would be incomplete.





 Many times, we would get up early in the morning to  visit Triveni  Sangam for a holy dip as per Hindu beliefs, a dip  is said to wash away all of one's sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth. One more  of the countless elements of Mother Nature.

We would also spend time playing on the wet sand.

Before writing this post, my daughters never knew the extent of my closeness with nature as a kid. And now, i want to take them for a Natue Trail holiday.

As a parting shot, i'll say  that  with rapid urbanization , population explosion, the crunch of space is felt by one and  all.  Not every home has a garden today.  So the onus is on all of us to conserve our Natural Resources and emphasize the need to do this to our children. This generation which has grown up with Technology and a large chunk of the virtual world needs to connect with Mother Nature all the more.

It was great going down memory lane. Yes, my childhood felt like 100% in the lap of Nature and i feel blessed i did not grow up in a concrete jungle. Thank you Kissan and  Indiblogger.

[This Post is an entry for the Kissan 100% Real Blogger Contest organized by Indibloggger in association with Kissan].

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Memories of KAFUE NATIONAL PARK





Several years ago, while i was living in Zambia with my family in Mongu, the Capital of the Western Province, we decided to take a holiday to Kafue National Park.

We hadn't planned much about this trip, and the trip would probably would have been uneventful had it not been for our interaction with  the Games Ranger, of the Park.. Thanks to him, it turned out to be a real adventure, and till today i remember him as someone who had a great passion for his work -  promoting and preserving the Zambian Wildlife.

Kafue National Park, set up in 1924 by the legendary Norman Carr is a huge Park, the second largest in  Africa, covering an estimated area of 22, 400 square  Kilometers. It became an Official National Park in 1950.  The Kafue River, a major tributary of the might Zambezi river runs through the Park.

We set forth in the early morning on the well maintained and tarred  Great West Road, stopping by at Kaoma ,a  town midway  to  Kafue, for  refueling.  The Great West Road  which runs all the way to Lusaka from Mongu, bisects the Park in two.

We were headed to stay in the Southern part of the Park, very close to the Great West Road at CHUNGA SAFARI VILLAGE.

While we were about  four kilometers away from reaching the Park, we met with a most unexpected yet delightful  sight. The trumpeting of the African elephant!  I t was a great start to the holiday and we proceeded further with gusto to explore more of the wild animals  in the famed park.

After crossing the Hook Bridge over the Kafue river, we reached CHUNGA.

Chunga Camp,  run by Njovu Safaris is a campsite /self catering chalets ,  just off the Lusaka-Mongu road on the west bank of Kafue River,  inside the park and near the Park Headquarters.

As  we entered the camp we were greeted by a sight of colorful tents hooked up all over the safari  village, beneath the shade of trees.  After having been on the lonely road for over four hours, it was a good feeling to be a midst other tourists.

We had gone in the dry season , which is recommended as during the rains many roads are inaccessible.  It  was the peak season and the weekend.  We were politely told by the Park officials that no tents were unavailable for  rent.  Even as we digested this piece of information , with the possibility of having to spend  the night curled up in our car, a young , well built native Zambian walked towards us and introduced himself as the Games Ranger of the park. His name was Christopher.

On realizing our predicament, he came out with a suggestion which surprised us no end.

" I can offer you my official residence.   But for a maximum  of two nights".

This sounded like music to our ears and without bargaining about the tariff etc,  we  nodded  in agreement.

From that moment onward he became our dear friend and guide. 

Post lunch, Christopher recommended that we take a  boat trip on the river Kafue.

 So we headed towards the banks, and sped on to explore the river on a speed boat.  The far reaches of the river were bordered by luxuriant ,  evergreen, riverine forests as  the Kafue river provides a permanent source of water.


The Kafue river is also an excellent source for fishing.


 A little while later we stopped at an island and explored the area.  There were several cottages built on stilts  to  escape  onslaught of  insects.  They were named as "Rabbit", " Hippo" etc.  Very well decorated , complete with all basic amenities including mosquito nets to avoid the dreaded Tse tse fly, whose bite  causes African sleeping sickness.

On returning back from the boat ride, Christopher took us to his bungalow , which was a bit in the interior of the Park.  Post resting, it was time to prepare dinner.  Christopher played the perfect host, offering  us the entire kitchen and the grocery. That night we had fish curry and rice for dinner.

The next morning, post breakfast, Christopher invited us to experience the surroundings of his bungalow.  As he took us around the bungalow and  told us about the vegetation growing there.

Most of the Kafue  National Park lies in the Central Zambezian plateau which comprises of Miombo woodlands ecoregion characterized by savanna grasslands with Miombo tree species, growing thickly in some patches.   

Miombo is the plural name of 'Muombo', in  Bemba , the most widely spoken native language ,  for Brachystegia longifolia,

 Brachystegia longifolia,
a tree which dominates extensive ares of the Zambezian Plateau.

The second  type of  flora in the Kafue National Park comprises of  few small Dambos , Grasslands which become marshy in the rainy season, interspersed among them.

 We were surprised to see a group of monkeys skipping around. We enjoyed some happy moments, though keeping a safe distance . 

 Christopher had arranged for a Field guide to accompany us for our Safari.

So, finally, it was time to explore the Zambian bush.  The park  has been earmarked in loops where specific game can be spotted.  We first went to the Lion loop.  We had barely landed at the spot ,when there was a loud roaring sound and in a flash of second we scrambled back  to the safety of the car.  We waited for about twenty minutes and when nothing was in site, proceeded to the next loop.

As we traversed  the park , the most common site was of ant hills.  something Christopher had asked us to be on the look out for.  He had told us that many of them were centureis old.

We spotted a few game like  herd of antelope,

Antelope
 the jumping Impala,  herd of buffalo and also some Warthogs


Warthog
which  make an annoying , grunting sound as they scamper around for food in groups. At first glance warthogs look like a pig that has been given the dracula touch :).

We had carried food with  us, and there in the middle of the bush we had our lunch followed by more  exploration of the wilderness..  By the time we reached the bungalow, it was  evening. Done with boat cruises and safaris we just wanted to end the trip on a relaxed note.This was to be our last night at the bungalow.

We all gathered in the living room including Christopher who was keen to know about India.  One thing led to another and soon the evening turned musical.  We sang songs and Christopher happily reciprocated by  entertaining  us with Zambian songs, accompanied by his  drum. It didn't matter that  Christopher didn't understand Hindi songs.  Nor  that we understood his native songs.  The common factor was bonhomie.

And then, Christopher walked to his room and came back with a portable cassette player. He inserted a cassette of Bee Gees.  And then everyone was dancing to 'Staying Alive'. It was the perfect ending to a great experience at the Kafue National Park. Only, God had some different plans.....

 Post dinner we retired for the night,  hoping  to start early on our way  back to Mongu, least  expecting the drama which was to unfold later at night.

I woke up to the sound of breaking glass.  Even as i rubbed my eyes, trying to figure out my bearings, i realized we were in Chunga. In the  bungalow. So, who could be crashing the door? A thief? Most unlikely.  In a few moments everyone was up and in the living room. 

Christopher stood in front of the broken glass door and signaled us to be quiet.

" Please switch off all the lights except for one bedroom.  It is a group of baby hippos.  They have lost their way.  Must have come from the Kafue river.  Keep calm".

We digested this bit of news and rushed to the window to peep.  Sure enough there were three baby hippos grunting and running around in confusion.  


Our curiosity aroused to no end , we watched in awe as they ran around in circles, aware that they had strayed away from their familiar habitat.


 Five minutes minutes later, they  calmed down and slowly sauntered away from the bungalow towards the bush.



We heaved a sigh of relief.  It was 3 in the morning. After this unexpected commotion sleep was the last thing on our minds.  So we settled down  in the living room.

'Did you see any hippos while you took the boat trip on the Kafue"? Christopher inquired

''No", we replied

"Well, then they were God sent just for you", he laughed.

" In my four years of stay, i have never encountered something like this", he added.

We finally relaxed and waited for  sun to rise.  Our  bags were already packed.  

The sun rose, and it was dawn.  It was time to bid adieu to the wilderness and go back home.

Just before leaving, as we thanked  Christopher for his hospitality,. He brushed it aside casually saying,

" It is part of my job. And the training.  We are taught to be  guide, teacher. game warden, story teller, doctor, all rolled in one. It is  our  endeavor  to make sure that Conservation and Tourism remain sustainable so that the future generations may appreciate our natural heritage."


And as we drove away from the village, i recalled  the sign post at the entrance of the Park:


"Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but foot prints. Leave for others to enjoy."

To this day, he remains  an integral memory of my stay in Zambia.

Travel is not only about discovering exotic locations and experiencing new things.  it is also about the people you meet in your journey, who impact you, and broaden your  outlook on life, making you a better person having encountered an experience that stays with you for life .


I end this post with a quote  by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

" Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not".

 I enjoyed recollecting this post.  Hope u did too :)







This Post is an entry for the  Indiblogger's 'Around The world With Expedia' Contest.


Contest sponsor: Expedia India.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mahashivratri


Today is Mahashivratri, an important Hindu festival associated with Lord Shiva.

 According to sacred scriptures, ritual worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri festival that falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun pleases Lord Shiva the most. 



Mahashivratri Festival is also considered to be an extremely significant festival by women. Married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiv Pooja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati  who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ - one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is regarded as the ideal husband.

According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri is the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is also believed that Lord Shiva performed ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction on this auspicious night of Shivaratri. According to another popular legend, described in Linga Purana, it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga for the first time. Since then, the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by the devotees of Shiva and they celebrate it as Maha Shivaratri - the grand night of Shiva. 

According to Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits including spiritual growth for the devotees.

Shiva Purana further says that performing abhisheka of Shiva Linga with six different dravyasincluding milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while chanting Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi pleases Lord Shiva the most. According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the abhisheka blesses a unique quality:
  • Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness.
  • Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny.
  • Honey is for sweet speech.
  • Ghee is for victory.
  • Sugar is for happiness.
  • Water is for purity.
Devout Hindus bathe early in the morning and visit temples for offering and prayers.

Vendors selling pooja items associated with Mahashivratri can be seen around the market place.





It is believed that Lord Shiva is appeased by offering of 

Bers

Ber


Bel patta

Bel patta


Bel

Bel fruit


Dhatura,

Dhatura


Bhaang leaves

Bhaang leaves



besides regular pooja itmes like

A typical pooja thali for Shivratri


 flowers, incence, fruits and deepak.

Many people also  fast on this day to seek blessings of Lord Shiva.

Every temple in every neighborhood if full of devotees offering prayers and pooja all day long.

 I too offered prayers and pooja to seek the blessings  for my family.This is accompanied by chanting of 'Om Namo Shivay' and other shlokas and songs of Lord Shiva. People also donate liberally  in temples on this day.

Wishing you Happy Mahashivratri.