Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shots from everyday life of Amritsar, India

Brijwasi ki chaat - Famous for Bunn Tikki - Amritsar must taste!

Women cooking langar for lunch meal at a neighborhood gurdwara

Famous Chai Stall in Amritsar. A morning stop for many Amritsaris.

New style patterns of the colorful Phulkari, traditional embroidery of Punjab

Stacks of duppattas in a cloth shop in Amritsar 

Dress material for women's clothing. Amritsar likes it bright.

Lovers of Osho in Sikh dominated city of Amritsar

Read my travelogue on Amritsar.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tara Pan center - Aurangabad Must Eats

Located in one of the oldest part of the city of Aurangabad, Osmanpura, Tara Pan center is a local  favorite. The lights shine on what one could call the Paan street of Aurangabad in late evenings when families and adult males in groups arrive for to bite into special ingredients wrapped raw into a betel leaf. 

The old Tara Pan center
The undeniably most famous in Aurangabad and arguably so in India, is the paan of Tara pan center. Running for generations this shop serves a large variety of paan. A fact you will be told everytime you go to the shop with your hosts is that it is in this shop that Asia's most expensive paan is sold. I have no means to judge the veracity of the statement. But, the costliest of paan on the menu costs Rs 3000.

The new Tara Pan center formed after brothers seperated
There are several competing paan vendors on the same location. I have tried paan at both the Tara Pan centers and liked both equally well. The paan vendors have their employees reach out to arriving customers who place their orders sitting inside their air conditioned cars, receiving a quick delivery of ordered paans and leaving as soon as they arrive. But what they carry with them is the refreshing after taste of paan well-made and served.

Competing Pan sellers on the same street

Sachkhand Express - Train to the land of truth

Sachkhand express initiates in Nanded every morning and finishes its journey in Amritsar the next day after running for 34 hours.

We boarded the train at Aurangabad. We were provided free langar at the station. A bowl full of vegetable rice. At Manmad station, vendors sell pomegranate in little packets. At nine in the evening we reached Khandwa where devotees served rotis called 'parshada' with kaali daal to the travelers onboard train. 

The train itself is considered holy since it connects two major centers of Sikh pilgrimage, Golden Temple and Hazoor Sahib. This was my first overnight journey on a train and we were pampered all the way by the kindness of the believers. 24 hours passed by quicker than usual.

Here is my video log of the journey:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lucky Juice Center - Thirst Quencher of the soul for Aurangabad

Lucky Juice Center is located in Paithan Gate in Aurangabad. It is arguably the most famous refreshment corner in all of the city. It has been standing in the area for over 30 years now.

This is a photograph of New Lucky Juice Center - one of the many competitors of the original center located in Cidco
The quality and consistency of juice served at Lucky Juice center is different from any other you will ever drink anywhere in the world. The mango pulp is my personal favorite. The price for juices vary between INR 20-30. It proves yet again that great taste and good quality do not necessarily come expensive.

To the right mango pulp. To the left mango pineapple juice.

The Lucky Juice center is so famous that now many look alike of the original shop have sprung up in different corners of the city. They may or may not be equally good. But definitely give the original one a try to taste the soul quencher of this historic city.

The elaborate menu on the walls of New Lucky Juice Center

Sunehri Mahal Museum in Aurangabad

Located within Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University Campus, Soneri Mahal lies on foothills of Satara mountain range. It is close to the Hanuman Tekri, Aurangabad Caves and Bibi ka Maqbara.

Now converted into museum, the mahal is a small building which is said to have been constructed by the Bundelkhand Chief of Aurangzeb, Paharh Singh between 1651 and 1653. 

Pahar Singh and his family resided in the building but now it houses a variety of ancient Indian pottery, dresses, statues excavated from nearby sites and remains of local palaces and antiques of daily use. 

As you enter the main building, you will see a number of 18th century paintings on wooden planks on display. Inside the building, the walls were once painted with frescoes made from natural colors with a heavy usage of golden paint from where the building gets its name "Soneri Mahal" - "Golden Palace". 

Very few of these frescoes can now be seen on the wall. ASI has done a very shoddy job of recreating some of the frescoes after having white washed all the walls.

The palace is also a venue for the annual Ellora Ajanta Aurangabad Festival held at the end of November.

The abode of eternity - Khuldabad

The tomb of the last great Moghul stands in all humility inside the little town juxtaposed to the city of named after him. Khuldabad is the last stop on the Mughal Trail where rests Aurangzeb. It was once called 'Rauza' which means garden of paradise. 

22 kms from Aurangabad and four kilometers from Ellora caves, the town itself is surrounded by a wall constructed by Aurangzeb with seven gates built around the city.

Here lies the valley of saints where several sufi saints chose to reside in 14th century. Zar Zari Zar Baksh migrated to Khuldabad in 14th century on the orders of his teacher Nizamuddin Auliya. 

The sun setting on the town of Khuldabad

It is said that in this town rest 1500 Sufi saints in their graves. Referred to as the the abode of eternity many in the history including Malik Ambar who is referred to as the architect of Aurangabad, Azam Shah who constructed Bibi ka Maqbara found their resting ground beneath the soil of this little town.
The old wall around the town of Khuldabad

Aurangzeb died in Ahmednagar on 20 February 1707 at the age of 88. Today he lies in the courtyard of the Sufi saint Shaikh Burham-u'd-din Gharib's dargah. His grave lacks any embellishments, a sharp contrast against the elaborate burials that has brought Moghul dynasty much fame around the world. His grave is covered by a simple cloth next to his teacher's as per his last wish.  

On the other end of the courtyard behind metallic door and heavy locks is placed a robe of Prophet Mohammad and a single strand of hair from his beard. The robe 'Pairhaan-e-mubarak' is said to be historically important. It is said that the robe was presented to Prophet by Allah on his trip to heaven. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gayatri Chaat Bhandar, Aurangabad to eats

Alongside the Kranti chowk there is a deceptively decrepit shop open on all three sides facing the Shivaji statue in the center of the roundabout. With a clay oven in the center and chairs and tables strewn about carelessly on another side, it could be a place you can easily miss. The shop is shabby, its walls blackened by the soot from the oven that rages with fire like your empty stomach.  But this is the shop that Aurangabadis have been thronging for ages for their dose of evening snacks. 

What is on offer you ask - from moong daal bhajia, aalloo vada, samosas and kachori, you cannot pick one. You must have one of each.

Everything is sold at per piece basis for INR 10 laden with sweet and sour chutney at the top.

Bhajiya is fried balls of soaked and boiled moong dal that taste crunchy and soft.

The food is fried in a big wok infront of you, served fresh and hot.

Close to the shop are other food options including paav bhaji, bhel puri, and badam milk.

If you eat as much as I did, your mouth will now be on fire and what you now need is a cool stick of kulfi available for INR 10 from push cart vendor.

We ended up with a meal for four for INR 130 with 3 plates of bhajiya, 3 plates of samosas, 3 plates of kachori, 1 aaloo vada and three kulfis.

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad to see - 1

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The chaos for identity - Aadhar, Indian Bureaucracy

Aadhar literally translates as ‘ the basis’. The aadhar card would therefore mean the card that is the basis – the basis of our existence. According to the government, it is this card that will vouch for our identity making it a necessary document for bank accounts, property transactions, driving license, etc. I highly doubt the conveniences of the card. The only one convenience I can think of is the lack of inconvenience of not having an Aadhar card.

Maybe I will learn about conveniences of Aadhar card in coming days to douse my cynicism. However, I learnt today - that getting an ‘Aadhar’ card itself is a lesson in chaos, endless wait, humiliation and disappointment, that public servants are indeed public bullies and that stereotype of bureaucratic inefficiencies is in fact under played.  

People, who either need forms or need to submit filled forms start arriving at seven in the morning at the N-2 Community center in Aurangabad where an Aadhar Card center is set up to cater to the densely populated CIDCO area. The ones who are here to submit the forms arrive with food, water and a neat pile of papers, held in hand or tucked in a polythene bag. After three hours, crowds continue to swell and patience begins to wane. No one is allotted a coupon number. There is no queue and no way to know how long it will take. But everyone knows that the wait is long and the battle is tough. They are all prepared for the worst. For many, it is their second day at the center.

Yes, there are few people who get preference when the office opens at expected time of ten in the morning. These people walk through the crowds and enter through a small inlet. The gates of the buildings open for the public at 11:00 AM, four hours after most people have been waiting and one hour after the stated time. The lesser mortals get a sighting of the demi-gods appearing from behind the doors. These are government employees.  Even, in the absence of uniforms or nametags, you can still identify them by their nonchalant demeanor and a cruel “devil-may-care” smile. As people brandish their forms huddling around a lone peon in charge to maintain order, a hope sprouts inside your restless mind and aching body. Finally, someone will form an orderly queue to let in people, you think. But, this is where the Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” kicks into bureaucracy. The ones who can push the hardest get through first. The peon, who emerged only for a flash, took a bunch of forms randomly from an impatient crowd and again shut the building doors. The crowds wait some more. When the crowd decided that it had had enough, then started the thumping on the doors. Finally, the gates were thrown open. Moving around like cattle grazing in a dry pastures, people walked from one point to the other inside the building compound with no one to assist or rather grace them with any information on when they can expect to have their turn. School children, office workers, house wives with little children and senior citizens all part of a big chaos. For a huge area with population of about 100 thousand, three people are seated on a booth to collect details and with one person to maintain order.

The disorder is appalling, aggravating and often humiliating. There is a complete absence of any procedure and structure. It operates more like a lottery. If you are fortunate, you will walk out of the building without your form. If not, you can continue walking behind the nameless clerks and peons to get a greater clarity on their whims, opening times and lunch times as they play around with your helplessness giving you no clear answers.

The local municipal corporator of CIDCO has put self-promoting poles all around the area. These are ostensibly to publicize a helpline number mentioned in fine print on the poster that is pretty much useless because no one picks up the phone. You are left with no one you can complain to.

For the city of Aurangabad, which has a population of about 12 lakh (1.2 million) there are just nine centers to issue aadhar card, which is now a necessary evil shrouded in absolute apathy and confusion. It is now left to the masses to struggle against each other and the uncooperative, ill-equipped and untrained government employees to get the prized card that is to be our aadhar. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Istanbul 5 - Sultan Ahmet's Hagia Sophia

It is not as old or as historic as its rivaling 'Hagia Sophia' but like the grand building it stands facing, Sultan ahmet mosque popularly called 'the blue mosque' is the dream of an emperor, his highest aspiration, standing out like the solitaire bedecked in a ring amongst its contemporaries.

Its victory stroke is that it is not dead yet. Its spacious halls, glistening ceramics and chandeliers hanging from sky high ceilings are all alive with the prayers of many believers that knock on its doors and kneel on its floors. While outsiders to the faith queue infront of its majestic doors, waiting for their turn in its grand courtyard examining its galleries. 

When the clock bids and the devotees depart, the vistors enter eagerly. Failing to mimic the order of the believers, the visitors totter around in deference holding their shoes in plastic bags, admiring the mosque and appreciating the delicate carving at the mihrab from a distance. After a few minutes of silence, pictures and videos, visitors make a quiet exit into the courtyard. 

There are six elegant minarets from where the call for prayers is made five times a day, nine mighty domes that reverberate with devotion, the 260 windows that let in the light and 20,000 blue tiles fitted on its ceilings - all tell the story of four hundred years that it has been standing for. 

The central hall is lit with 260 windows
The mosque stands proudly in the center of Istanbul adjacent to the ancient HippodromeCommissioned by Sultan Ahmet, it was to be his response to Justinian's Hagia Sophia. The ambitious sultan demolished the last few remnants of the Great Palace of Byzantine to make place for his ambitious project at the chosen spot. Although built in seven years, even after four centuries the mosque is by no means an old building. It is constantly restored to its old glory.