Archive for January, 2011

nainital: the lake district

We came up here yesterday, fourteen miles, by one of those strange, winding, precipitous roads, common to all mountainous countries. The air is keen and penetrating. The spot is one of those beautiful scenes with which the Himalayas abound. Its peculiarity is an enclosure of rocks, two thousand feet above the spot itself, and covered with hanging woods, protecting, as it were, with their giant forms the peaceful lake, or tal, below..

oil painting on paper of bhim tal by marianne north (1878) from the india office collection, british library

The above is how Josiah Bateman describes Nainital, one of the finest hill resorts of India world-renowned for their lakes, schools and colleges and the breathtaking beauty in general.

naini tal

Though the area came under British rule after the Gurkhas lost the Anglo-Nepali War (1814-1816) the hill town was found by a sugar trader P Barron from Shahjahanpur in 1841. Nainital developed rapidly as a town but has been ravaged by quite a many landslides the most glaring of which was on 18th September, 1880 which claimed some 150 lives.

naina peak (in the background) at 2615 m

Owing to its suitable climate the town saw an increase in population but was mostly inhabited by white people until the 1880s and Indians usually were confined to behind-the-scene labor. But, by the dawn of the 20th century the town saw an upsurge of Indian migration since the state government of United Provinces shifted to Nainital every summer and the final blow was in 1925 when the Raj started subsidizing British civil servants to holidays in England. Henceforth, the population of the whites declined substantially which continued till India got independence.  The population of the town has increased from greater of 7000 in 1901 to almost 40,000 a century later.

naina devi temple, a shakti peetha

Nainital of today is reeling hard under the ecological disturbances caused by deforestation and the ever-increasing flock of tourists who come to see the peaks, the lakes, the flora and fauna and for relaxing. India’s first national park which opened in 1936, the Jim Corbett National Park is nearby.

raj bhawan, nainital

The pear shaped Naini Tal is perhaps the most famous landmark of the town and is believed to be mentioned in the Skand Purana as Tri Rishi Sarovar. The story goes that the sages Atri, Pulastya and Pulaha had dug a hole large enough to allow the waters of the nearby Manasarovar lake (in modern China) to flow in it. Thus, a dip in the lake is not any less equal in merit to a dip in the more famed Tibetan lake. The lake is also believed to be a shakti peetha where the eyes (naina) of Devi Shakti had fallen and the form of which is worshiped at the nearby Naina Devi Temple.

st joseph's college, nainital

The lake is surrounded by some magnificent peaks including Naina (2615 m), Deopatta (2438 m) and Ayarpatta (2278 m)

St John in the Wilderness is a church established in 1844. The church was so named by the then Bishop of Kolkata, Daniel Wilson because he had to spent his nights in an unfinished house at the forest edge and had fallen sick. A brass plate at the church altar has the name of all those who had died in the great landslide of 1880.

church of st john in the wilderness, mallital

The Governor’s House, now called the Raj Bhawan was built in 1899 in Victorian Gothic architecture by architect F W Stevens. Presently, it is the official guest house of the governor of Uttarakhand.

a view from tiffin top

Snow View (2270 m) and Tiffin Top (2292 m) are two of the most famous view points from where, on clear days, the mighty peaks of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Trisul can be seen. Dorothy’s Seat is a stonework picnic perch on Tiffin Top built as a memorial to an English artist, Dorothy Kellet, by her husband and admirers after her death in a plane crash.

sat tal

Sat Tal (1370 m) is a cluster of seven lakes including Panna or Garud, Nal-Damyanti, Purna, Sita, Ram, Lakshman and Sukha or Khurdariya.

autumn in nainital

Bhim Tal (1370 m) is the largest lake in the area and has an island and a 17th century temple, Bhimeshwar Temple on its shore.

Khurpa Tal (1635 m) is one of the most attractive and is a hit with anglers and surrounded by terraced farms.

naukuchia tal

Naukuchia Tal (1220 m) is the deepest lake in the area and legends say that if one sees the nine corners of the lake in one glimpse they will disappear in a cloud of smoke.

khurpa tal

There have been many literary references on Nainital the most famous of which have been by Jim Corbett, Rudyard Kipling and Munshi Premchand.

The beautiful and life supporting lakes of Nainital are dying out due to immense strain by the pollution caused by increased tourism. The lake district is a source of pride for India and it’s our responsibility to keep it clean and well nourished. The many Himalayan lakes are like shining gems nestled amidst the loft peaks and it would be a mundane world without them.



Bhopal, one of the most beautiful cities of India and the capital of Madhya Pradesh, has a history that often shouts glaringly for its due recognition. It’s the city of raja Bhoj, of erstwhile nawabs and begums, of rich culture, good food and everlasting peace and above all a heritage to be treasured by generations to come.

another case of justice delayed and denied

It attained worldwide notoriety post the 2nd December tragedy at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant which killed (and continues to kill) an estimated 23,000 (upper estimate) and severely injured many more. Children are born with disorders even today but Bhopal has always found reasons to smile and present itself as the City of Lakes (Upper Lake, a part of Bhoj Wetlands and a Ramsar Site is the most popular and supplies much of the city’s water needs) than the City of Sorrow. This small documented history is a personal salute to the people of Bhopal for having to bear the brunt of the world’s worst industrial disaster and the apathy shown by the government henceforth towards them.

bhopal as seen from upper lake, bhoj wetlands

Bhopal has a long history of monarchy but prior to the rule of nawabs and begums the legacy of 11th century Paramara king Bhoj stands out. Bhoj lends his name to the city and though etched in the conscience of Indians as a polymath and a philosopher was also a master builder, the best example of which is the unfinished Bhojeshwar Shiva temple in the town of Bhojpur (Raisen district). The temple houses the largest shiv linga in the world with a height of 18 ft and a circumference of 8 ft.

bhojeshwar temple, bhojpur, raisen

The state of Bhopal was formed in 1724 by an Afghan sardar, Dost Mohammad Khan, a commander of the Mughal army posted at Mangalgarh. It was the time when Mughal Empire was at its death-bed and Khan took advantage to usurp Mangalgarh and Berasia. He helped the Gondi queen Kamalapati execute her husband’s assassins and restore her rule and was duly awarded with cash, land and an everlasting friendship. After the death of the queen, he took possession of her land and formed his own rule with Jagdishpur as the capital which he renamed as Islamnagar. He built a bigger fort and a new capital at Fatehgarh near the Upper Lake but soon shifted his capital to Bhopal.

qudsia begum, the first begum of bhopal

Though he ruled over Bhopal but still acknowledged the suzerainty of the declining Mughal Empire. The Marathas who were getting stronger by the day kept on acquiring nearby areas but Bhopal remained a Muslim state under the successors of Dost Mohammad who took the title of nawabs.  Bhopal remained loyal and friendly to the British East India Company in its three wars against the Marathas in 1778, 1809 and 1817. The British Raj in turn awarded it a princely state status in 1818 under nawab Nazar Mohammad Khan whose wife Qudsia Begum was to become the first female ruler of the state after his death in 1819.

gohar mahal, bhopal

Qudsia was merely 18 at the time of her coronation but was a brave and able ruler and didn’t follow the purdah. She got the Gohar Mahal and Jama Masjid built under her able guidance. After her death, her daughter begum Sikander Jahan took the reins in 1844 (though Sikander’s daughter and Qudsia’s granddaughter Sultan Shah Jahan was the actual ruler till 1860) whom Qudsia had prepared well in advance as her heir.

begum sikander jahan, the second begum of bhopal

Sikander was a strong lady well adept in warfare and looked at her state and subjects well. The Moti Masjid and Moti Mahal were built during her rule. She rendered full support to the British during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. The maulvis of her state though revolted against her and declared jihad against the British and maintained contacts with Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Tatya Tope, Nawab of Tonk, Nawab of Banda and others. A maulvi, Abdul Qayyum, distributed 500 copies of a pamphlet issued by the rebels of Cawnpore (now Kanpur) which claimed that the British were interfering with the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims, and urged them to rebel against the British rule in India. Begum Sikander instituted an inquiry against the maulvi (who was charged of collusion with the rebels) and got a pamphlet published denying the charges of British interference in the religious affairs of Hindus and Muslims. Much of her political strength was because of the Anglo Bhopal Treaty of 1818 whereby the Company had helped the state have a strong army of its own which the begum successfully utilized to oust the rebels despite much discomfort and plundering by them in the wake of the Indian Rebellion.

moti masjid, bhopal

Sikander’s successor begum Sultan Shah Jahan, who ascended the throne in 1868, was as much passionate about architecture as her namesake of the Mughal Empire and got built for herself a huge palace, Taj Mahal, at her new-found capital Shahjahanabad.

begum sultan shah jahan, the third begum of bhopal

A lot many more buildings rich in architecture were built at her behest that are still found in various stages of decay or use in Bhopal. She also initiated the construction of Taj-ul-Masjid, one of India’s largest and most beautiful mosques and contributed generously towards the founding of the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh, which developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.

taj mahal, bhopal

Shah Jahan subsidized many important public works including railways and irrigation facilities and looked after the welfare of her people. During her time, Bhopal was one of the largest contributors to the Indian economy.

taj-ul-masjid, bhopal

She ruled till the wake of the 20th century when her only daughter, begum Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan took charge in 1901. She had her own palace, Sadar Manzil (which now serves as headquarters of Bhopal municipal corporation) but spent considerable time at a city founded on the name of her husband, Ahmedabad, at the outskirts of Bhopal.

begum sultan kaikhusrau, the fourth begum of bhopal

A palace, Qaser-e-Sultani, now serves as the prestigious Saifia College while another, Noor-us-Sabah, is a heritage hotel. She was the first president of the All India Conference on Education and the first and the only lady chancellor of the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University.

hotel noor-us-sabah, bhopal

She was the last of the four begums who ruled India’s second largest Muslim princely state with a majority Hindu population. It was an era marked with peace and notable achievements in the fields of architecture, public welfare, executive, judiciary, legislature, taxation, education etc and patronization of arts.

sadar manzil, bhopal municipal corporation headquarters

She bequeathed the throne to her son, nawab Hamidullah Khan in 1926 who continued to rule until India got independence in 1947 and further till 1960 when he died. He had served as the chancellor of the Chamber of Princes twice (1931-1932 and 1944-1947) and was one of the last to go with India after signing the Instrument of Accession in 1949.

ruins of islamnagar, bhopal

Hamidullah’s elder daughter, Abida Sultan, migrated to Pakistan in 1950 and thus his younger daughter, Sajida Sultan was made the begum of Bhopal in 1961 after his death in 1960. Sajida married the 8th nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi in 1939. She ruled from 1961 for a decade till 1971 after which she remained merely the titular head until her death in 1995 relinquishing the title to his son Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi (who was also the 9th nawab of Pataudi till 1971 and then as titular head till his death in 2011). Mansoor married Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore in 1969 and has three children, Saif, Saba and Soha, two of whom are popular Bollywood actors presently. Mansoor died in 2011 leaving the title (of mutawali) to her elder daughter Saba Ali Khan while his only son Saif Ali Khan became the 10th Nawab of Pataudi.

ruins of fatehgarh, upper lake, bhopal

Bhopal state, which includes the present day districts of Bhopal, Raisen and Sehore was merged with Madhya Pradesh according to the States Reorganization Act of 1956 and was made the capital of the state. The city is still flourishing despite the ghost of the gas tragedy and with a population of nearly 1.5 million and such a wonderful history it has its share of pride etched in the minds and hearts of millions of Indians. May the city and its people grow unbound and achieve the pinnacle of glory and success.

(pics sourced from GOOGLE)

kolkata: city of joy

This post is written for BLOGESHWAR 7.0 and Anubhooti

A city is not its skyscrapers, its roads, its multiplexes, its employment opportune, its shops, its gleaming towers from where you can see miles ahead and all that flash. A city, as such, is its people, its life, its culture, its heritage, its history, its care, its warmth. A city is a soul and much like ever other city in the world, it’s a soul so pure, a soul so divine which if you close your eyes and feel, you will realize that it’s not a particular city that is good or bad, it’s just our perception or lack of adventure to bring about a change.

victoria memorial

Though I am a Purvanchali by origin I was born in the wonderful city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and have grown and lived here ever since and my whole being is that of a person who belongs to this city with much respect and love not just because this is where home is but because Kolkata is one of those very few cities in the world of today that is ever so charming and welcoming to just about anyone. It’s a city of the richness of Tagore, Ray, Teresa and many stalwarts who are too many to be named here.

general post office, benoy badal dinesh bagh (dalhousie)

The ruins of Chandraketugarh (North 24 Parganas) prove that the place had been in continuous habitation since 400 BC but since nothing much had been documented much of the ancient history remains uncertain. The arrival of the British East India Company in 1690 and consolidation of villages in the marshlands of the Hugli saw the growth of Kolkata under the tutelage of various Englishmen including Job Charnock, Robert Clive and Richard Wellesley. The Battle of Plassey in 1757 saw the fortunes of the ruling Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah dwindling and the resurgence of the Company which later took power in much of South Asia.

satyajit ray

Kolkata became an important trading point for the Company and many palaces in European architecture were constructed which made the city famous as the City of Palaces. It was made the capital of British India in 1772 and stayed so until 1911 when post partition of Bengal in 1905 on religious grounds a period of marked disturbances in the area forced the Britishers to shift the capital to New Delhi.

dakshineshwar kali temple

The city was an important junction for the Indian Independence Movement during the 19th Century and a burgeoning group of intelligentsia in the city during Bengal Renaissance saw a upliftment in the general lifestyle of people and saw the fame of the city grow widespread and it increasingly came to be known as the art capital of India (a reputation it enjoys till date). The city was bombed several times by Japanese forces during World War II, was shaken by a massive famine in 1943, and suffered the unrest of Direct action Day in 1946 and the partition of India in 1947. It is also prone to heavy monsoon rainfall and cyclonic disturbances.

durga puja

Post independence, the city saw a  rise of trade unionism, left-wing politics and Naxalism (left-wing extremism that has spread to various pockets of rural and tribal undeveloped India) which saw the city spiraling into oblivion despite being, at a point of time, known as the second capital of the world after London. Post the economic reforms of 1991 the reluctant Left Front government fearing widespread unemployment did open its gates and since then, because of the IT industry and the recent developments in real estate, retail etc the city has shown signs of bouncing back but definitely lags behind in opportunities compared to other major cities of India.

st paul's cathedral

This was about the city in its literal terms, a short snippet of an otherwise huge city which will take eons to write about. It is a city marred in the psyche of the Indians of today as the most laggard of the big cities with a reluctance to bounce back and work hard and amazingly, even the indigenous people of the city, the Bengalis, lambast the city once they go out and taste the lifestyle of an allegedly bigger and better city.

nakhoda masjid

I agree Kolkata has had a period of prolonged stagnation and couldn’t catch up with the growth of cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune or for that matter even Lucknow or Ahmedabad but it’s not a matter of development or the manholes or the lack of jobs or the strikes or the babudom that has inflicted the city but a matter of faith, a matter of grit to either overcome the problems or solve them. It’s easy to live in a world of denial, escapism and shifting loyalties. One may go on endlessly criticizing the food, culture, infrastructure and ethics of work because it hardly requires an effort but am sure it would be herculean to come out and bring about a change. The least we can do is to give our tongues some rest and do our bit to set forth and discover a city and find out how much it has to offer.

new town, rajarhat

I, for that matter, find solace in visiting even the smallest and most nondescript of towns and villages because I firmly believe, each and every city or place in this world has a unique charm of its own and has much to offer and teach us. We just need an eye to see, a mind to perceive and a brain to comprehend.

city of joy

I am proud of my city and will ever be. I am a stake holder in all its development and all its negativity. And not just me, it’s as much a city of every Indian as it is mine and the rise or fall of this wonderful city has an onus on each one of us. Common perceptions don’t help find solutions but reinforce them further. It’s about collective responsibility and breaking myths and causing a revolution. I will continue to love my lethargy, my Bengali sweets, my sweetened dal, my College Street, my Durga puja, my Esplanade, my jatra, my Hugli ghats, my Salt Lake city and employ every possible effort towards the growth of the city to better the prospects of the millions in its slums, the poisonous air, the massive unemployment, the dirty alleys, the neglected heritage buildings and parks but despite that Kolkata for me has always been and will always be the City of Joy.

(pics sourced from GOOGLE)