Tag Archives: travel

Yellowstone National Park -- one of the stops on the Wild West road trip.

In Search of the Modern Indian Train Travel: Road Tripping America’s Wild West

Indians fondly remember their train travels during childhood. Summer was the time when schools would be closed, and every kid would dream of going to a distant place, many would travel by train to their family homes.

Train travel in India has a similar kind of charm to road trips in the US. A vast, continental landmass that is well-connected with an intricate network of freeways, highways, and county roads, the country seems to be built for road trips. Train travel in India has a similar kind of charm to road trips in the US. The summer is here and I’m vaccinated — what better time to discover new places?

I had just finished reading the travel adventures of Ted Simon in his book Jupiter’s Travels when I decided I should plan my own road trip. I wanted a new adventure, as the world was gradually opening up after the pandemic, and become acquainted with the US western states — Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. 

Every journey begins with a single step into the vastness of place and time — some known and lots of unknowns. I didn’t have the route entirely laid out and thought that it would be an adventure to leave a few things up to the serendipity. Also, I knew that I didn’t want to take the same route back. So with some light packing, hiking gears, lots of water, and some chutzpah, I set out to explore the wild west of America and make memories.

I set out from SF south bay and my first stop was going to be Winnemucca in central Nevada, an adventure hub and almost midway between SF and Salt Lake City. The highway I-80 has straight roads that are a pleasure to drive on, especially with wide, open spaces of rural Nevada decorating the highway.

After an overnight rest in the local hotel, I set out to explore the sand dunes the next morning. Driving through sand dunes and taking some breathtaking pictures was delightful and so was getting to know about the Basque culture in the area. I decided to explore Nevada more on my return journey and set forth on I-80 towards Utah.

Bonneville Salt Flats (Image by Author)

Right near the Utah-Nevada border, I was greeted with a vast expanse of white landscape that seemed dazzling from the distance. Upon checking, I realized it was the Bonneville Salt Flats, the second largest salt flat in the world after Bolivia.

Cottonwood, Utah

Reaching Salt Lake City in the evening, I was immediately struck by the dramatic setting of the city in the midst of mountains — Wasatch Range (which is the western end of the greater Rocky Mountains) was dominating the landscape. The mountains just seem to rise from the valley floor in a majestic way, enveloping the city around it in a panoramic fashion. After checking in at my hotel, I set out to explore the Ensign peak from where I heard the view of the city was stunning. And indeed, I was greeted with some marvelous views after a short hike. In the next couple of days, I explored Park City, Cottonwood Canyon drive, Antelope State Park known for the Great Salt Lake, and the satellite towns of Draper and Provo. I also had a fun time zip lining at Sundance mountain resort, which is apparently owned by Robert Redford, the Hollywood thespian.

After having my fill of Utah’s dramatic landscape, downtown nightlife (somewhat muted due to pandemic), and adventurous activities, I set out further north to explore the states of Wyoming and Montana. The immediate destination was Jackson Hole, that quintessential ‘wild west’ town with a mystique and charm of its own. As I drove through Wyoming’s undulating landscape passing myriads of small towns, ranches, and rodeo establishments, I felt excited to be taking in all the sights and sounds. The drive took me through the gorgeous Star Valley and across the scenic towns of Alpine and Afton. As I reached Jackson Hole in the late evening, my first impression of the place was that it was unabashedly charming, captivating, and seemingly distant at the same time.

The next day, I was off to explore the Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Range has a landscape that stirs the imagination, and just admiring it even from a distance seems uplifting and serene. The area has a lot of history around rock climbing, mountaineering, and ranching, which I gathered after making a jaunt to the Visitor Center. I couldn’t help but think that those who dare to climb the Tetons must be attracted to it by the spirit of mountaineering to take on the challenge, compelled by the opportunity to grow even in the face of adversity. The national park has several scenic outlooks, and I was especially captivated by the one near Jackson dam and the Snake River Overlook, made famous by Ansel Adams; it was one of the images included in Voyager 1 flight into Space in 1977. 

Next, I drove to Montana on my way to Yellowstone. After an overnight stop-over at Bozeman exploring the downtown and cool coffee shops, I headed on I-90 towards Livingston. From there, I passed through the scenic Paradise Valley, thoroughly enjoying my trip, and eventually entered Yellowstone National Park through its northwest gate. Little known fact: Yellowstone was the first national park (in the world). Many of us recall seeing the eye-catching, multi-hued pictures of its various springs and geysers including the Old Faithful. I had a gala time exploring the multiple geothermal features, canyons, lakes, and falls that the park contains within its boundaries. I even had a brush with its wildlife of bison and elks. I missed seeing any black bears though. 

Perrine Bridge over the Snake River Canyon.
Perrine Bridge over the Snake River Canyon.

After a couple of days, it was time to head to Idaho, making my first stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, to admire its lunar-like landscape consisting of lava flows and volcanoes. From there onwards, I headed to the town of Ketchum nestled in the Rocky Mountains, a well-known celebrity hotspot for its picturesque location and ski resorts. In addition, I got to explore the town of Twin Falls, the home of scenic Snake River Canyon and gorgeous Shoshone Falls (known as ‘Niagara of the West’). The Perrine Bridge crossing the canyon is known to attract base jumpers year-round for its dramatic nearly 500 ft drop. 

The journey was almost nearing its end and I entered back to Nevada from Idaho, merging onto I-80. Before traveling further west, I decided to spend a day exploring the city of Elko, NV. Elko is fascinating — a place where gold country, cowboy country, and Basque culture collide, creating a distinct mix. I also drove to Ruby Mountain to explore the very scenic Lamoille Canyon.

I took Hwy 50, dubbed ‘the loneliest road in America’, to make a jaunt to the Burning man venue Black Rock City. I entered California the same evening, making a night-stay at the picturesque Downieville area, and drove back home the next day.

It was an amazing trip overall, to say the least, and I got to enjoy nature, wilderness, and long drives, satiating my adventurous spirit. Driving in the wilderness, surrounded by picturesque landscape, almost felt like watching a grand theatrical performance in an open amphitheater where the sights, sounds, color, and smell changed every minute. And unlike watching theatre, driving in a panoramic setting demands active involvement in the scene and you are in control of the story! During this trip, I found myself driving during early morning hours or evening twilight hours when the drives are really memorable for the way the sun rays would play on the countryside vistas.

Sunrise (or twilight), open countryside road, blaring music and coffee – isn’t that the romance of life?


Lalit Kumar works in the Technology sector but retains an artist’s heart. He likes to read and write poetry, apart from indulging in outdoor activities & adventure sports. Recently, he started curating famous works of poetry (and occasionally his own).


 

7 Unexpected Places to Hike in India

For those familiar with the Indian terrain and are searching for unique trails, this article showcases seven unexpected places to hike in India. Sometimes, the best travel experiences are those that are lesser-known. From its towering Himalayan peaks, and lush jungles and forests, India is a diverse place of excitement and adventure for those who seek it. And, don’t worry if you’re not a hardcore hiker, India has a plethora of trails ranging from easy to difficult. 

Hopefully, when you’re done reading the list, you’ll be heading to one of these sought-after hiking destinations! 

Manali

“Serving as an epicenter of adventure in Himachal Pradesh, India, Manali is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world,” says Edward Jackson, a lifestyle blogger at UK Services Reviews and UK Top Writers. “Whether you’re an athlete or a casual hiker, Manali has something for many people who go there. First, start at Solang Valley, known locally as ‘Snow Point.’ Afterwards, you’ll be trekking up to Dhundi. As you hike, you’ll notice natural beauties like the Beas River and purple Rhododendron flowers. For this hiking trip, it’ll take a whole day to complete.”

Himachal Pardesh, Manali

Chembra Peak

Chembra Peak is a hiking spot in Southern India, where the treks are filled with surprises. From gorgeous views to breathtaking grasslands and hills, the Peak will leave you amazed. Also, this place takes conservation very seriously — be sure to abide by the rules and regulations set up by the local government and law enforcement. 

Chembra Peak (Image by Karkiabhijeet and under CC BY 4.0)

The Grand Indrahar Pass

Indrahar Pass is a mountainous trek, which makes it one of the best hiking spots in India. Located in the Dhauladhar range in the Himalayas, you’ll start at the Galu temple. From there, you’ll pass by the camping ground Triund, and then visit the Lahesh Caves. You’ll finish the trek at Chamba. The best times to trek this spectacular pass is between May and October.

Indrahar Pass (Image by Ashish Gupta and under CC BY 2.0)

Deoria Tal

Deoria Tal

Essentially a beautiful lake with a scenic backdrop of snow-clad Himalayan peaks – much like in the movies – Deoria Tal is your go-to hiking spot. If you’re looking to get closer to nature, then this is the place to be. The best part? You can either hike its trails or hire a donkey porter to take you through this amazing place. You can also rent a cozy place to stay if you decide this to be an overnight journey. 

Roopkund

While many of the hiking spots so far on this list are spectacular for their natural beauty, the Roopkund is spectacular in a different way. Roopkund is an eerie and remote Himalayan lake sitting in the Uttarakhand region of India. Legend has it that a violent snowstorm had taken innocent lives during the 9th century, and what’s left to show for it years later are skeletal remains that circle the lake. So, when you have the time and the ambition, and you want to travel solo or with a group, then check out the Roopkund. 

Spooky Lake in Roopkund (Image by Abhijeet Rane under CC BY 2.0 )

Kedarkantha

“For those looking to go on winter treks, Kedarkantha is a great trail to hike,” says Philip Davis, a design writer at State of Writing and Elite Assignment Help. “With the best hiking season during winter, hikers will be enticed by the majesty of the snowy landscapes, which offer a refreshing feel to the beholder. When you travel along the trail and from the summit, you’ll delve deep into the natural beauty that this trek has to offer – the lush green meadows, the towering Himalayan peaks, and the humble hamlets.”

Kedarkantha Trek

Gaumukh

Essentially a beautiful lake with a scenic backdrop of snow-clad Himalayan peaks – much like in the movies – Deoria Tal is your go-to hiking spot. If you’re looking to get closer to nature, then this is the place to be. The best part? You can either hike its trails or hire a donkey porter to take you through this amazing place. You can also rent a cozy place to stay if you decide this to be an overnight journey.

Gaumukh, source of the Ganga river (Image by Richard Haley and under CC BY 2.0)

Conclusion

As you can see, India is something to behold in the hiking community. With many things to do, many places to explore, there’s no shortage of excitement and adventure as you visit these 7 hiking spots. Ultimately, when hiking, India has so much to offer nature-wise and travel-wise. If you’re looking to embrace nature more, or just want to go hiking more, then let these 7 hiking spots take your breath away. 


Elizabeth Hines is a writer and editor at Big Assignments and Coursework writing. She is also a contributing writer for Study Demic. As a content writer, she writes articles about the latest tech and marketing trends, innovations, and strategies.


 

The Elephant Stable with its homogenous group of chambers, high arched facade and lofty domed roof is one of the masterpieces of Hampi’s Indo-Islamic architecture.

Temples of Hampi: The Lost Kingdom

From the breezy, cavernous verandah of my guesthouse, the blue waters of Tungabhadra gently wind their way through the desolate landscape strewn with gigantic red and ochre boulders. Over a delightful breakfast of crispy dosas and fluffy idlis, I watch the daily ritual of bathing of Laxmi. She is the resident elephant of the nearby Virupaksha temple. A few minutes earlier, her attendants have ceremonially led her to the river. As the pachyderm rolls around in the shallow riverbed, the sprayed water catches the pale morning light. The scene looks like an ethereal holdover from Hampi’s magnificent, forgotten past.

“I never saw a place like this,” wrote Nicolo de Conti, the Venetian merchant who arrived in Hampi in 1420, the first European to set his eyes on the Vijayanagara empire. Another century would pass before this mighty southern kingdom would reach its pinnacle of glory. In those early years of the 16th century, Hampi was the second-largest city in the world after Beijing, and dripped with a glitzy splendor. Sprawled on the banks of the River Tungabhadra, the city bustled with its bazaars teeming with merchants from different parts of the globe. From the chronicles of these overseas merchants, the opulent palaces, magnificent temples, imposing fortifications, and dainty riverside pavilions of Hampi became the stuff of legend.

The glory was short-lived though. In 1565, an alliance of the Deccan Sultanates invaded. For five months, Hampi was plundered, the majestic monuments were razed and citizens were tortured and bludgeoned. But even this crudest form of mayhem and carnage could not completely obliterate the magnificence that was Hampi.

The still-used Virupaksha temple, a 160-foot-high, cream-white pyramidal structure that nestles intricate columns, stone statuettes, a pillared mandapa, and orange-robed monks silently gliding through the temple’s layered interiors, is my start-off point. From there, I take a walk that takes me down a stony trail along the bank of River Tungabhadra. The 2-km stretch feels like a time warp, marked with rock carvings, natural overhangs, cliffside chambers, and obscure monuments hidden behind huge boulders. It is here I find Hampi at its most primitive, and most evocative with its herd of striped squirrels and droves of monkeys scampering about the random, abandoned structures. About midway along this stretch lies Achyutaraya temple. Time seems to stand still since the days when this grandiose temple complex was built in 1534. The long, covered boulevard that stems off the temple is in crumbling ruins. This was a grand bazaar with shops dealing in pearls, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. The temple today is a derelict complex of red-capped structures that are now homes to groups of black-faced langoors, but the exquisite carvings of the towers and arched passageways speak of a glorious past.

From Achyutaraya temple, a 15-minute walk takes me to Vittala temple, the eternal symbol of Vijayanagara kingdom. The crowning glory of the Hampi temple circuit mesmerizes me with its architectural brilliance, and its unmatched craftsmanship is reflected none better than in the exquisitely carved musical pillars of the rangamantapa. My guide Shankar shows me around the set of 56 monolithic pillars of the pavilion. He taps gently on one of the fluted columns with a sandalwood stick and a strange thing happens. The pillar emanates an unmistakably rhythmic, musical note that sounds like a faint ringing of a bell. “These are the SaReGaMa pillars.” – Shankar says with an elaborate sweep of his hand. A geological analysis has revealed that these pillars were sculpted from the granite rocks that litter the landscape around Hampi. It was nothing short of a medieval engineering marvel to utilize the resonant properties of the rocks, rich in metallic ore and silica, and turn them into pillars that would not only emit the seven basic notes of Indian classical music but also the higher and deeper pitches of wind and string instruments!

The arched openings of the two-storied Lotus Mahal.
The arched openings of the two-storied Lotus Mahal.

Awestruck, I come out from the semi-dark chamber of the Rangamantapa. Shankar leads me to another architectural marvel inside the Vittala temple complex: the iconic stone chariot. A miniature temple dedicated to Garuda (the carrier of Lord Vishnu), the chariot was immaculately sculpted on a wheeled platform. Legend has it that four wheels of the stone chariot could be made to turn on their axis.

On my second morning in Hampi, I head towards the Queen’s Bath, the 15th-century structure built for the royal women of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Shankar points towards the deep, dry trench that runs around the palace. “It used to be a moat filled with water, and crocodiles.” – he smiles. It was evidently a design to ward off the trespassers as the bathhouse was used by the king’s consorts. The simple exterior of this zenana enclave belies the charm of the dainty interiors. A cool gust of air blows as I walk around the arched corridor that rings the rectangular-shaped pool in the center. The vaulted ceiling still bears traces of exquisite stucco designs. Sitting on one of the ornate balconies that hang over the colossal bath, I try to imagine the heady days of this open-to-the-sky aquatic pool five centuries ago, when it was filled with laughter, frolic, and scented water. 

My next pit stop is Lotus Mahal, the leisure palace of the royal household that also worked as a council chamber of King Krishnadevaraya for his ministerial meetings. The two-storeyed palace stands amid a lush green compound, resplendent with its symmetrically equal projections on four sides. The breezy mahal with its open pavilions, cusped arches, and clusters of decorative panels is a brilliant example of Indo-Islamic architectural style. A short walk away I find the Elephant Stables, a linear building with rows of domed structures – homes of the royal elephants. The large central hall used by troupes of musicians during royal procession has a temple-like tower, while the chambers on both its sides reflect the Islamic architectural motifs and style. 

After a sumptuous lunch at a local eatery that is a typical North Karnataka affair with boiled rice, kosambari ( a salad with dal, fresh cucumber and carrots), sambar, and a tangy, aromatic fish curry, I decide to take a coracle ride. These circular-shaped country boats have been plying on the swirling waters of the Tungabhadra to ferry people since the days of the Vijayanagara Empire. As the coracle moves downstream, I find the ride a delightful way to explore Hampi from a riverine perspective as my helmsman, while deftly negotiating the currents and ravines of the river, delves into the history and architectural details of the temples as they pop into view over the boulder-strewn banks.

 A coracle on River Tungabhadra.
A coracle on River Tungabhadra.

As the slanting rays of the afternoon sun starts lighting up the textures of the rocky hills in a mellow glow, I take a short auto-rickshaw ride to the base of Matanga hill. A 45-minute hike through the stepped ramp that zigzags its way up takes me to the top, the highest point in Hampi. From up here, the vast swathes of granite-strewn landscape that was once one of the richest kingdoms on earth looks magnificent, oozing a crimson glow in the soft light. The architectural wonders dotted across this landscape, untouched by modernity, are now ablaze, their chiseled contours more radiant than ever. And amid that solitary wilderness, I can almost feel that the place is frozen in time. The din and the bustle of the lost empire can come alive at any moment, just the way it had been, more than half a millennium ago.  


Sugato Mukherjee is a  journalist based in Kolkata with bylines in The Globe and Mail, Al Jazeera, Nat Geo Traveller, Fodor’s Travel, Atlas Obscura, Mint Lounge, and The Hindu Business Line, among others. 


 

Gujarati Caves Embellished With Buddhist Architecture Are a Marvel of Craftsmanship

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

Caves have always fascinated me. With their texture and architecture, they are a marvel of centuries-old craftsmanship. Calm and serene, the ruins inhabit a deep silence that soothes my mind. I can feel the peace — a kind of spiritual vibration permeates the atmosphere.

Caves seem to be so well-planned that once entering them, you realize that every structure was laid with thought. Every stone, every wall, even the foundation was built according to the need of the monks, who used to meditate in solace. 

When the situation was favorable, I got the chance to visit such caves in Gujarat, India. Actually, these caves come under the Buddhist circuit of this state. The remains of Buddhist establishments have been found in almost every region of Gujarat in the form of rock-cut caves. The coastal region of Gujarat, stretching from Kachchh to Saurashtra and up to Bharuch, is dotted with several such caves. These caves were excavated between the 2nd century B.C. and 6th century A.D. 

Buddhism had led the way for Indian art by encouraging the veneration of the symbols. The famous Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsiang, had visited the stupendous Buddist caves of Baba Pyare, Khapra Kodia, and Uperkot of Junagadh during his travel in India in the early seventh century A.D. 

Khapra Kodiya Caves

My very first visit was to the Khapra Kodiya caves at Junagadh, Gujarat. The oldest, the Khapara Kodia caves are the plainest of all cave groups and belong to the 3rd-4th century AD. These caves are situated along the edge of the ancient Sudarshan Lake (which no longer exists) and the northern side of Uparkot. Cut into a ridge of trap rock in an east-west direction, all the chambers of this group of caves are rather plain.

The central part is somewhat narrow, which provides an approach to the caves, facing a kind of broad U-shaped quadrangle formed by rock excavation on the southern side. The two prominent wings of the caves comprise of an oblique oblong western wing provided with a great pattern of water tanks within having rock-cut steps for harnessing and storage of rainwater, and a wing-shaped ‘L’ shaped wing fashioned to serve as a dwelling campus for Buddhist monks. There are many scribbling and short cursive letters on the walls of some of the chambers and their corridors. These caves were carved into living rock during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and are considered the earliest monastic settlement in the area. The Khapra Kodiya caves are the most unadorned of the Junagarh caves.

Uparkot Caves

This important rock-cut group of caves is located at the Uparkot ridge across an eastward slope. These caves are scooped out in three tiers from the surface downwards, with all members of each gallery shown in semi-relief. There are three rock-hewn chambers’, each open to the skies. A winding flight of steps from the south leads into the first chamber, which is a pond with a covered corridor around it. The pond got water directly from the rains as well as from an elaborate system of vertically cut drains and cisterns on the top surface. 

The three-tiered Uparkot caves are justly famous for their exquisite art. Its lower floor has a corridor and six ornate pillars. The large hall is decorated with Chaitya motif with female figures in them. At the entrance is a raised square platform with a pair of short thin pillars supporting a framework that projects down from the roof. Base shaft and capital of pillars are decorated with a unique design with traces of Satvahana art and exotic Greaco-Scythian trends. The body of the capital is divided into eight denoting breaks in the ledge at the base, each section carries a group of women, and some of them have multiple Cobra hoods and are lightly clad and attended by dwarf attendants. The larger columns are decorated with exuberant chain and festoon designs in the main body of its flattened pot-form. The pillars are stylistically dateable to the 2nd century A.D. 

Khambhalida Caves

Khambhalida Caves (Image by Kaushik Patel/Flickr)
Khambhalida Caves (Image by Kaushik Patel/Flickr)

Located in Gondal taluka of the Rajkot district, Khambhalida caves have five groups of caves in limestone rock. The first group consists of seven caves of varying dimensions and were probably Viharas for monks to stay. A second of three caves is the most important, having a Chaitya hall in the center, Padmapani Avlokiteshwara and Vajrapani grace the entrance of Chaitya hall. Undoubtedly, these caves are indicative of belonging to a Mahayana order. The Chaitya has an apsidal end with the free-standing rock-cut worn-out Stupa. The Vihara caves have plain interiors. On the basis of structural style, the caves believed to be of the third century A.D.

Kadia Dungar Caves

Kadia Dungar Caves
Kadia Dungar Caves

Located between Jaghadia and Netrang of the Bharuch district, Kadia Dungar caves are also called Vaghandevi caves as a monolithic lion pillar stands at the base of the Kadia hills. These seven rock-cut caves suggest that they were viharas. A Brick stupa was also found in the foothills. The caves are the first of their kind to be found in the region of south Gujarat and are said to be of the Kshatrap period (1-3 century AD). People of that area believe that these caves were made by the Pandavas during their period of exile, and the legend of Bhima’s marriage with Hidimba is also associated there. 

Amidst their tiresome journey, wandering Buddhist monks were granted these caves as shelter. While building these caves, the ancient architectural skills utilized are also notable. Since, its discovery in the modern era, these caverns have been a holy shrine for Buddhists. 


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

Dhokra art

Dhokra Art is a Sustainable Tribal Legacy

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

When we talk about Mohenjo-Daro, immediately the famous statue of the dancing girl appears in front of our eyes. It is one of the earliest known ‘lost wax casting’ artifacts and this technique of non-ferrous metal casting, known as Dhokra (or Dokra) is 4,000 years old and still popular and in use. 

Influence of Tribal Themes

Dhokra art is the famous art of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a state of east-central India, whose rich tradition of craft and culture has always attracted art lovers from all over the world. This art is influenced by tribal themes related to animals, mythical and human creatures, and nature. The folk characters used to make the artifacts make this handicraft more valuable and that is the reason in every household or office, we find these pieces decorated as a pride possession. Dhokra artists make each piece with delicate attention to retaining its authenticity. The process involves manually casting brass and bronze metal with the help of a wax varnishing technique. 

The unknown beauty of this art, in which metal crafts are made through wax casting techniques, is that it is eco-friendly! Most pieces are made with waste and scrap metal. 

Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)
Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)

History Tells a Tale 

The Dhokra craft has been discovered in the relics of the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilizations and is proof of its historical and traditional importance as an art form.

Today in Bastar region, the small artisan group of the Ghadwas produces brass or bell metal objects. In Bastar, many folk stories are told about the origins of the Ghadwas. According to one most popular story some three hundred years ago, the ruler of Bastar, Bhan Chand, was presented a gift, a necklace crafted in Dhokra craft, for his beloved wife. He was so mesmerized with the beauty of craft that to honor the craftsman, he decided to bestow the title of Ghadwa on him. Ghadwa, derived from the word Ghalna, means to melt and work with wax. 

Fascinating Process

Natural raw materials are used in the process of making Dhokra pieces. The famous Dhokra artist Rajender Baghel explains that the basic mold is made with fine sand and clay. Goat and cow dung or husk is added to it, which is then layered with pure beeswax found in the jungle. Then wax threads are prepared and wound around the clay mold until its entire surface is covered uniformly. Then it is cooked over a furnace while the wax is drained via ducts. The wax burns in the furnace leaving a free channel for the metal to flow. Molten metal (mainly brass and bronze) is poured inside the mold. The molds are taken out and water is sprinkled to cool them, once the metal is melted. By breaking them the cast figures are removed. It can take up to nine days to complete a three-foot-high sculpture.

Dhokra art styles
Dhokra art styles

Themes and Inspirations 

This art is unique, not only because of its process or intricacy, but because no two Dhokra artworks are alike. Every single sculpture is crafted to be different from another and exquisite. Inspiration and themes generally come from mythology, nature, and day-to-day traditions and rituals. Intricate works of the local deities, sun, moon, jungle, flora, and fauna are used to give a decorative look to it.

One of the popular themes is the local deities – Jhitku-Mitki and an interesting story accompanies these characters. Jhitku-Mitki were deeply in love with each other but their families were against their relationship. As a result, Jhitku was killed by Mitki’s brothers, when she refused to stay away from him. The people of Chhattisgarh worship them and usually make their figures.

Tribal Legacy

Dhokra Jewelry, which is crafted using motifs of gods and goddesses, floral shapes, and rustic designs, is a creative and contemporary expression of an ancient technique. These days Dhokra artists are experimenting with designs to give it a stylish and international look. A woman can match it with her both ethnic and international styles.

Not only jewelry, items like decorative platters, containers, vases, photo frames, tea light candle holders, wall hangings, dining accessories, and cutlery and sculptures are also in trend. These objects are a smart mix of tribal designs and contemporary styles – each piece tells the enchanting story of the tribal legacy, culture, daily lives, and environment-friendly orientation.

Each Piece is Unique 

Dhokra art is also practiced by the artists of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal also. No one can make the same Dhokra piece as every object is exclusive because each artisan of each state, creates it in his distinct way. Thin hands, legs, and a slender body – if you look closely, you will find that this tribal art is not perfect, body parts aren’t proportionate but it reflects its own history. Simplicity mixed with intricate work and tribal designs are the beauty of this art form.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

India Currents' Publisher, Vandana Kumar with her mother in India (Image by Vandana Kumar)

Coming Back From India? Follow These Santa Clara County Guidelines

Indian Americans have been traveling to and from India in this time of crisis to spend time with ailing parents and family members. Our Publisher, Vandana Kumar, left San Jose to visit her aging mother in Jamshedpur 3 weeks ago, whom she had not seen in 2 years. Unknowingly, she ended up experiencing peak COVID chaos in India which culminated in a lockdown. Perhaps a bittersweet reminder of why she made the trip in the first place – to spend quality alone time with her mother.

“Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible,” She comments with poignancy in her article about traveling to India in April 2021.

Luckily, Santa Clara County has information and resources to support community members impacted by the crisis. The County offers the following guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the entire community’s health, and provide support and resources to those who have traveled recently.

Although the US government is restricting travel from India as of May 4, 2021, this guidance applies to those who have recently arrived from India and any travelers who are exempt from the travel restriction.

Recommendations for Travelers Arriving from India:

All unvaccinated travelers should immediately quarantine for 10 days:

The County strongly urges unvaccinated travelers returning from India to immediately quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Santa Clara County, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health. Travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms throughout the quarantine period. Visit www.sccstayhome.org to learn more.

The quarantining traveler(s) should remain separate from people they did not travel with, meaning that the arriving traveler(s) should stay in a separate room within a home or stay in a hotel.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in India should quarantine for 10 days:

The recommendation to quarantine applies despite vaccination, given the extremely high rates of COVID-19 and incomplete information about vaccines currently deployed in India.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in the US do not need to quarantine:

For travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three vaccines with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), the recommendation to quarantine does not apply.

All travelers should get a COVID-19 Test 3-5 Days After Arrival in the US:

All arriving travelers should test on day 3, 4, or 5 after arriving in the US, even if vaccinated.

The County offers many options for free testing, including drive-through testing. Visit www.sccfreetest.org to learn more and find a location. Testing does not require insurance.

If a Traveler test positive, they should isolate:

If an arriving traveler tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate to protect others from getting infected. This means that the person who tested positive should stay home, separate themselves from others in the home (i.e., in a separate room), not allow visitors, not use public transportation, and not prepare or serve food for others.

The County offers resources, including motel placements and assistance with food, for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves without help. Visit www.sccstayhome.org  or call (408) 808-7770.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Publisher Vandana Kumar and Managing Director Vijay Rajvaidya, traveling to India.

Experiencing Two Lockdowns: Traveling to India During a Pandemic

My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.

And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.

Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms. 

Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.

Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:

Before the start of travel

(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.

You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy. 

(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family. 

Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.

During the flight:

I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.

Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.

Tips:

(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul

(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing

Vijay Rajvaidya
Vijay checking out the snacks at the airport lounge

Arriving in India:

We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers

Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.

At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form. 

By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!

Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.

Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters. 

There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.

Vandana & her Mom
After a LONG journey, Vandana gets to hug her mom

Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.

So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!

UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries. 

The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.


Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.


 

OCI Re-Issuing Simplified By Modi Government

In a decision that is expected to significantly ease the process for re-issue of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, the Modi Government has decided to simplify the process. This decision has been taken on the directions of the Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah. 

The OCI Card has proved to be very popular amongst foreigners of Indian Origin and spouses of foreign origin of Indian citizens or OCI cardholders, as it helps them in hassle-free entry and unlimited stay in India. So far about 377,200 OCI Cards have been issued by the Government of India. 

A foreigner of Indian origin or a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen or foreign spouse of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder, can be registered as an OCI cardholder. OCI card is a lifelong visa for entry into and stay in India with a number of other major benefits attached to it that are not available to other foreigners.  

Presently, the OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age, in view of biological changes in the face of the applicant.

It has now been decided by the Government of India to dispense with this requirement. A person who has got registration as OCI cardholder prior to attaining the age of 20 years will have to get the OCI card re-issued only once when a new passport is issued after his/her completing 20 years of age, so as to capture his/ her facial features on attaining adulthood. If a person has obtained registration as OCI cardholder after attaining the age of 20 years, there will be no requirement of re-issue of OCI card. 

To update the data regarding new passports obtained by the OCI cardholder, he/she can upload a copy of the new passport containing his/her photo to the online OCI portal, each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder within 3 months of receipt of the new passport.  

However, in the case of those who have been registered as OCI cardholder as the spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or an OCI cardholder, the person concerned will be required to upload on the system, a copy of the new passport containing the photo of the passport holder and also the latest photo along with a declaration that their marriage is still subsisting each time a new passport is issued. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder spouse within three months of receipt of his/ her new passport.  

The details will be updated on the system and an auto acknowledgment through e-mail will be sent to the OCI cardholder informing that the updated details have been taken on record. There will be no restriction on the OCI cardholder to travel to/ from India during the period from the date of issue of new passport till the date of final acknowledgment of his/ her documents in the web-based system.  


Find the original document HERE.


 

In Mumbai or Japan, Mother Nature Can Calm A Restless Mind

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.

Learning to unwind in nature – A life-saving skill that can help us survive not just the pandemic, but the ups and downs of daily life.

In the early months of the pandemic, I consoled myself by saying that all the drastic changes demanded by the Covid-19 virus were short-term measures. The inconvenience was temporary; a test of resilience that was best borne with a smile. A year later, the once-surreal situation that has now become an unpleasant but accepted reality for the foreseeable future, makes me grimace. 

As an unabashed urbanite who thrives in crowded spaces and fast moving environments, I doubt whether I can endure being cooped up on an island for much longer. Singapore is Covid-free but reluctant to risk outside threats, particularly in the form of returning residents who have visited other countries. Therefore travel, my preferred form of rejuvenation, is not an option. I need to find other ways to survive. 

Mysteries of nature

Growing up in Mumbai, I assumed milk came in glass bottles or plastic bags, delivered to the doorstep each morning. I knew the names of common vegetables and fruits that were easily available at the store down the street but I had no idea whether they grew on creepers or shrubs or trees. Textbooks references to four seasons, particularly autumn and winter, seemed to be theoretical constructs, much like physics. The water cycle however, played out in front of my eyes each year in the form of a sultry summer that gave way to monsoon rains. 

My first introduction to changing seasons came in my first year on the east coast of the US. Arriving on a cold December day in Washington DC, I was aghast to see wide avenues lined with tall tree trunks that resembled giant skeletons. The barren branches shocked me as much as the unfamiliar cold. 

When warm spring days arrived with spots of color on tree branches and sprouting tulip bulbs in the ground, I felt a lifting of my spirits. Finally the homesickness that had plagued me all winter seemed to melt. The breathtaking view of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial in full bloom in early April is indelibly etched in my memory. I hoped to one day visit Japan, the country that had gifted these Yoshino cherry trees to the United States.

Dreams take time, so do flowers

In March 2018, almost three decades after that original wish to travel to Japan, my dream came true. My husband and I arrived in Tokyo in late March. We had made arrangements to walk part of the Nakasendo trail, a path that runs between Tokyo and Kyoto. 

Since the sakura usually blossoms in April, we wondered if we would catch the peak of the blossoming. But we were lucky. Tokyo looked like any densely populated city with it’s crowded trains and high rises, except for the majestic flowering trees lining its busy thoroughfares. 

Side-effects of Shinrin-yoku 

On the trail, we walked through picturesque villages and mature forests with well-marked paths. Each evening we checked into small ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. The hosts gave us cotton yukata robes to wear and served freshly-cooked food made using seasonal, local produce on exquisite crockery. To our delight, ryokans were able to accommodate special requests from vegetarian and vegan guests. After spending several hours each day absorbing the refreshing energy of the forests, we fell fast asleep on futons laid out on tatami-matted floors. 

Although I had often visited the California redwoods in summer and admired the glorious colors of Shenandoah Valley in the fall, this entire experience was unusually soothing. It was my first foray into nature for a prolonged period. 

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing, involves soaking in the atmosphere of the forest by mindfully absorbing its sights, sounds, textures, smell and taste. Invented in 1982 in response to the increasingly stressful life that the Japanese were leading, as well as to protect its forests, the practice gained prominence after studies proved its health benefits that included stress and  blood pressure reduction and ability to promote better sleep. 

The act of immersing myself in nature forced me to slow down, be observant, and acknowledge the trees, the sky, and the gurgling river that kept us company for most of the trek. As a city slicker, it was an unfamiliar experience. Yet, it was exactly what I needed – an orientation to the therapeutic and restorative benefits of the natural world.

Escaping everyday life

In April 2021, I’m looking forward to receiving my Covid-19 vaccine shot and keeping my fingers crossed for the possibility of a vaccination passport to ferry me to foreign lands. But what can I do until then?

The accumulated stress of living and working from home demands a release. Last year we found creative ways to work from home. This year we need to find new ways to get outside

My kitchen window offers a verdant view of a nature reserve that is literally in my backyard. Sometimes after a rain, the dense foliage is slick and shiny. At other times, trees topple, branches collapse and it’s a glorious green mess. During a dry spell, the trees shed leaves, the grass dries up and everything looks forlorn, like an abandoned project, begging for mother nature’s grace.

In April, hot mornings are often followed by afternoon thunderstorms. I step out for a stroll after the rain dies down, enjoying the gentle drip-drop of rain falling from saturated leaves. A meandering walk through paths littered with fallen leaves and creeping vines, amidst thick shrubs and trees, slows down my heartbeat. The green canopy soothes my tired eyes. 

My solo nature walks are a mindful pause that invite mother nature to do what she does best, provide a nourishing environment for things to grow. These mini recharge breaks help clear my mind and allow budding ideas to take shape.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a time when I can travel to a faraway place to have a rejuvenating break. For now, I’m glad to have a quick serenity fix, right in my neighborhood.  


Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is presently working on a memoir. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

 

BET Island: An Untouched Gem

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

If you appreciate the vastness of the sea, boat rides, and heritage temples of India, then this place is for you. A place where you feel immersed in serenity one moment and the adventure in the next. 

Okha is a small coastal town in the Dwarka district of Gujarat. It is surrounded by the sea on three sides and has a sandy beach on the Arabian Sea coast. BET Dwarka Island situated 3 km across a small creek from Okha port and reached by ferry, which was a memorable experience for me.  For the about 20-minute journey, you only have to pay Rs 20 per person. If you want to hire a personal boat, you will have to shell out Rs 4000.

For me, amidst the clean blue sky, hovering seagulls, and the coos of birds, the soothing cool breeze was like a tranquilizer.

Indeed, Bet Dwarka is a magical, beautiful, untouched, and enchanting island. This is a place on the western coast of India where I get the opportunity to see both the sunrise and sunset from the ocean. It is a lifetime memory. The long stretch of the Bet Dwarka beach is perfect for a long walk. The best part was that I did not find a lot of commercial activities here and it might be because Bet Dwarka beach was the first in Gujarat that the Government earmarked for eco-tourism development.

BET Dwarka Ports

Archaeological Importance 

The place derived its name from the ‘bhent’ or gift that Lord Krishna received at this place from his friend Sudama. The island is also called Shankhodhar as it is dotted with a huge number and variety of conch shells. Archaeological remains found under the sea suggest that there were settlements of the Harappan civilization from the Late Harappan Period or immediately after it, from the Indus Valley Civilization. It was an important shell-working center during the Harappan period. During the explorations in and around Bet Dwarka, a large number of antiquities of late Harappan period which include pottery, a seal, coins, etc, were found.

That is the reason Bet Dwarka has always stirred the curiosity of archaeologists. Probably because of the mythical claim that points that this place had been Lord Krishna’s original house in the yesteryears. 

Ferries going to and from Okha to Bet Dwarka Island.

The Beauty of Nature 

While getting to the jetty to board the boat, I saw people selling packets of bird feed. Not knowing why, I also bought some packets. And as soon as the boat left, seagulls flocked to the boat for the feed that’s in our hand. It’s was an incredible experience to see the gulls flying extremely low at such close range and even picking the feed from your palm. After getting down at the jetty, I walked for nearly 700 meters to reach the Lord Krishna temple. I saw hand-pulled trollies taking elderly persons to the temple. The main temple which closes at 12 noon, is believed to be built by Rukmini, wife of Lord Krishna. This is the place where Mirabai, the devotee of Krishna, disappeared at the feet of the Lord’s idol.

Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple in BET Dwarka Island.

Story of Sudhama and His Gift

The main temple here is Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple. Interestingly, here the idol holds the shankha (conch) in an oblique position. The temple is like a palace, built in pink limestone and filled with carvings. Small shrines are built for every queen of Krishna. Rukmani who is believed to have carved the idol here is not found, instead, Satyabhama, the second wife of Krishna, is very prominent here.

Devotees offer ‘rice’ here, which reminds one of the legendary tale that tells how Sudama, a friend of Krishna, had bought him ‘rice’ as a gift. 

When Sudama decided to seek Krishna’s help, to come out from his poverty, his wife packed him a handful of Poha to offer to the Lord. Sudama was hesitant about how to give his gift to Krishna. Krishna asked what gift his friend has brought for him. Sudama tried to hide it but Krishna took it and ate the Poha and offered it to his wife. Sudama returned without asking for help. But a surprise awaited him back home! Instead of his broken hut, there stood a palace and his wife and children were dressed in expensive clothes. That’s when he realized of Lord Krishna’s magical powers.

Other Shrines 

Apart from the main temple, there are various small shrines dedicated to Radha, Rukmani, Jambavati, Lakshmi-Narayan, Devki, Matsya form of Lord Vishnu, and many more. Hanuman Dandi temple of Bet Dwarka enshrines idols of Lord Hanuman and that of Makardhwaja – Hanuman’s son. According to myths, a drop of sweat from Hanuman Ji’s body was gulped by a fish who later delivered a son known by the name of Makardhwaja. Interestingly, the Bet Dwarka region has two Dargahs – Sidi Bawa Peer Dargah an Hajo Kirmil Dargah.  

Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple, so better leave either in the hotel or you will have to keep them in the lockers specially made for this purpose.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 


 

An Imperfect Street: The Delhi Airport Race

When I step off the plane which I have been on for the past sixteen hours, I am immediately hit with the biting cold that is Delhi winter. The smell of pollution and smog drifts into my nose. For most people, freezing and polluted air is the opposite of a comforting experience, but the air is refreshing and the smell is what I associate with my favorite place in the world. I drag my carry-on off the sky bridge, and my shoes are met with the familiarity of the faded orange carpet decorated with geometric patterns. After sleeping for the majority of the flight, my sister and I are energetically skipping with excitement to see our loved ones, oblivious to the fact that it is three in the morning, local time. We speed walk through the quiet airport, chatting about what we are looking forward to; I think about the way my grandma’s chicken curry tastes or the afternoons I spend chatting hours away with my other grandma. 

As I exit the sky bridge, I am reminded of what it feels like to be home. The feeling of warmth and comfort that consumes me is something that I only feel when I am in Delhi. Exiting the plane in San Francisco gives me a sense of relief of being literally home after a long vacation, but often feelings of sadness emerge knowing that my vacation is over. Walking into Indira Gandhi International Airport only brings excitement, comfort, and genuine happiness to my soul. 

Though the airport is quiet, as we approach immigration you can feel the bustling excitement of children anxious to see their cousins and grandparents, and college students itching to eat home-cooked meals again. I stand at the top of the escalator at immigration, staring at the four hands above the cubicles; the giant rose gold hands are representative of different poses that are done during the traditional Bharatanatyam dance. These hands feel like a warm hug. Those hands mean that I am just one door away from hugging some of my favorite people in the world. We make it through immigration, continuing to speed walk through the maze that is Duty-Free, a new series of strong scents from perfume and alcohol hitting us. Once we reach baggage claim, we anxiously await our numerous large suitcases which are filled with our clothes for our month-long trip as well as gifts for our family. With smiles on our faces, winter jackets on, and a full trolley of suitcases in hand, we head outside to the meeting area. 

Ayanna’s grandparents at the airport in Delhi.

My sister exits the doors first, and though I can’t see her face, I see those of my grandparents, uncle, and cousins, lighting up. My grandpa walks towards us, and my sister and I abandon our bags in the middle of the walkway so that he can wrap us both in a bear hug. My grandpa is always the first to hug us, but certainly not the last. We make our rounds, embracing whoever has braved the cold, early morning to welcome us, getting smiles from strangers who are also about to see their loved ones. 

After a quick tussle with my grandfather, who insists on dragging the heaviest suitcases, we make our way to the car. There is a broken sidewalk which we must overcome before we can get the luggage into the car. Every time a trolley full of bags goes over it, we hold our breath to see if a suitcase is going to fall and lie in the middle of the road until my dad can come to pick it up. Though it is the most stressful experience trying to get eight heavy suitcases across a busy street with a broken sidewalk, it makes us all laugh and despite the chaos, I would not trade that moment for the world. My sister and I pile into the car with our grandma and she pulls out our favorite biscuits which she knows we crave and miss. The whole way home to my paternal grandparents’ house, we crack jokes, catch up, and eat our snacks as the sun rises. Our annual trip to my favorite place in the world has commenced. 

I didn’t grow up in India, nor was I born there, but this annual pilgrimage has not only made it feel like my second home but my happy place as well. However, it has not always felt this way. This same airport routine takes place every year and the sensory experiences I can describe in my sleep have always existed, however, a few years ago I was too focused on the negative aspects of this experience to value the comforting ones. All my life, I have spoken and understood Hindi fluently and well.

However, as an American, a local can pick my accent out of a crowd. My cousins, parents, grandparents, and babysitters would lightheartedly tease me about certain pronunciations, and I used to take that so seriously that I wouldn’t even try to speak the language. Even the immigration officer would see my Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and American passport and ask me if it was my first time in India. People would think of me as spoiled or privileged and ungrateful because I am from America and still calling myself Indian. It was wrong on their part, but that is just how nuances in identity work. While these were small events, as an impressionable young child, I would start to question my belonging and negate the extreme happiness I felt in India with the small jokes about my dual identity. 

Ayanna with her younger sister at the Delhi airport.

I still have difficulties with my identity, but the difference is that now I have learned how to embrace both parts of my identity. Being Indian and spending so much time in Delhi has taught me that identity is not uniform and legal documents don’t define me.

Now, when people ask me about America and how “my country’s government is so crazy,” instead of getting annoyed or feeling mocked, I embrace it. I recognize that I have the privilege of living in an extremely different country and people are genuinely interested, so I happily answer them. In fact, sometimes I like to make it known that I’m from America; I will deliberately talk in English or wear a Bay Area sports jersey because I have learned to have pride. In fact, it has even made me friends even in India. I have struck up conversations with multiple tourists who have heard my accent or seen my jersey and we have connected on one part of my identity. 

Adding on, due to COVID-19, I have not been able to visit India in almost two years. The absence of these feelings of comfort and happiness has made me better appreciate and understand how much those experiences and that place mean to me. It’s unfortunate that the absence of a feeling, and not the presence of it made me grateful for Delhi, but nevertheless, I no longer take that sense of true happiness for granted. 

India is “my place” and not only because of the comfort it gives me but also because of the challenges it has thrown at me. Challenges that have taught me to be resilient, and have also helped me find myself and better understand my identity. I hold India near and dear to my heart because of the people and experiences it holds. No one can take that feeling away from me. A passport determines citizenship, but emotional attachment and love are what dictate identity. It is also what keeps pulling me back to my favorite place in the world – Delhi.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds.