Byadgi Chilli

dsc_8536 (2)Chilli, Red and spicy… one of the major ingredients for any preparation in India. The mere thought of Red Chilli sends one in an imagination of a Red or deep Orange coloured shriveled crescent moon structure filled with capsaicin seeds.

Chilli as such is not a native of India but rather an origin from New Mexico, Guetamala, Peru and has been domesticated in an around 5000 BC. Columbus was the one who img_20181223_172012brought these beautiful fiery fruits to Europe and from there this has moved to Asia. It came to India in around 1584. It was initially used as a crop to protect the crops from the birds but today is a main crop as such. I was largely aware that Chilli production happens at Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan but never knew that Maharashtra, Odisha & Karnataka are also major contributors. While Assam’s city Tezpur produces one of the spiciest chilies the world has, Naga Jalokia, the rest of the country produces chilli that are used in food and cosmetics (which was a surprise to know for me!!).

Well the other big surprise were the chilies being produced in Karnataka. I never knew about its Chilli producing capability and the variety that it produces. One of the largest producing areas is Byadgi region, near Haveri. The chilies from Byadgi are known for their red colour enhancement in food and less on the spice content. They are also exported for usage in cosmetics especially Lipsticks.dsc_8547 (2)

We happened to be travelling from our visit from Galaganath to Haveri and thanks to our GPS, it took us through some of the most lovely interior villages of north Karnataka. As we were crossing the village of Agadi, I pulled over to the sides of a paddy field on the sight of red chilies being dumped in the fields.

I had never seen harvesting of Red chilies and the sight was really exciting. We got down and literally ran into the fields with excitement. In a large clearing of the field there were close to 9 people working in sorting and packing the chilies in sacks. There was an air of excitement in them when my partner started talking to them.

She had no clue of Kannada and they had no clue of any other language. Actually, my partner amazes me all the time in the way she communicates with strangers and has good laughter with them.

Our broken discussions lead us to discover that this variety of Chilies that were produces was to be shifted to Byadgi which is the central zone for all Chilies production in the region. Here they were drying, sorting the chilies based on the colour and then packing them in sacks.

Chili Bugs

It was interesting to see the bugs in the chilies. They reminded me of the bugs from “Mummy” movie.

We took photos and videos of them doing the various activities on the land. The laughter that they had was coy and their simplicity was just contagious. It was a time that tells one that the heart of India is in its villages truly.

As we left from the farm land, we did manage to pick up some chilies for ourselves too, off course we paid them for the generosity. It was a beautiful evening to spend time in the rural part of this beautiful country.

Few lovely travel tips:

  • Always be on a look out for the beauty as you drive to your destiny.
  • Travel is for your pleasure, so pause when you feel or find something special.
  • Speak to the locals even though you may not know their language. The heart knows best to connect.
  • Request the people before you would like to take their photos or videos.
  • Carry a simple empty bag, just in case you would like to buy local things.
  • Keep change, it will always be handy as the rural side does not have many ATMs or swipe machines.
  • The last one, just soak in as much as you can.. 🙂
Sunset

India is beautiful

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Ankalagi Caves (Chandravali)

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80ft below the surface, a thought that can send shivers and goosebumps.. many channels to one room can confuse but at the same time, can also be a safe bet.

The Ankalagi caves, at Chandravali is a delight to be. We had driven all the way from Chennai and reached there by 2.30 in the afternoon. The sun was bright enough even on a winter afternoon. Wondered how hot this place would be in summers.

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The place was ambiguous as we parked our car and walked. All the sign boards were in Kannada and it was a struggle for a stranger like us. We asked people here and there who directed us towards the caves. As we reached the spot saying Ankalagi caves, we were not sure if the caves were the same as Chandravali, only to realize later that this place has a relation to the saints of Belgaum from Ankali Mutt. A flight of stairs under construction took us to an opening of the well structured rock place.

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A team of so-called guides seated there suggested they could help us and the moment we stepped into the cave we realized why. One could get lost in the darkness and the many chambers without a guide.

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Salutations as you enter the cave

Chandravalli caves have a huge significance as they seem to have covered times from Pre-historic to the Hoysala dynasty. These caves have been known for the sages who had visited this place for meditation.

From a Geography point of view, these caves are in the valley between three mountains, the Kirabanakallu, Chitradurga and Chollagudda. There is a lake right before you enter the caves that adds to a beautiful sight. There are rock structures that would make you feel like you are looking at Elephants at the water body.

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Elephant drinking

Now, as the guide took us in our biggest challenge was that of language. Most of the guides are Kanada speaking and they speak in broken Hindi. Our guide got inside and went on a ramble. We had to stop her many a times and reiterate what we understood. There is so many more things that one needs to soak in the darkness down there. The only that helps is the torch lights.

As one steps in one does realize that, the place is airy and not stifling at all. The heights of the passages are quite short may be around 3.5 ft so one has to be watchful. With the clean shaven head, I had to be more careful. 🙂

Secrecy and escape routes were of paramount importance. As we entered down a flight of stairs, the space opened up into a meditation center with the entrance being adorned by two elephant like structures. Then we moved into the sleeping and the bath chambers of the caves. Even though we were in the cave, the bathing chambers had a space for rain water harvesting and ensuring that the water was let out properly. There were spaces for keeping the Diyas which was the only source for light in the caves in those times.

We also happened to walk through smaller passages to reach a space where the king and his key members along with the sages had discussions. That space was so dark when the lights were off that, if there was any emergency they could escape quickly without anyone knowing. There is also a belief that there were underground passages connected to the Chitradurga fort. These caves also were used to store the treasures of the kings (It is so believed).

What really was breath taking to observe was the carvings and sculptures that were created and still available for us to see after thousands of years. Just imagine, how those fine artisans would have sculpted just using the light of diyas. What a craftmanship it was during those times. The walls are adored with creepers, designs and idols. A treat to the eyes even in such darkness.

Lord Shiva seems to have been a prominent deity to be prayed to. There were too many a sculptures and graphic images that adorned the walls too.

As we came out it took time for the eyes to adjust to the light. Once out, you could see the other structures that were built on top of the caves, though mostly in broken condition.

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After we left the guide, we took time to just soak in the feeling of a history that was not only mysterious, historic but also architecturally brilliant. As we left the place, it felt there is much more than what we saw and the place needs more time for art and architecture lovers.

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The lake in front of the caves

Few points definitely to note.

  1. The road leading to caves is not that great.
  2. Ample parking space to park your vehicles.
  3. Do take a guide as you step in or else you would get lost inside.
  4. If you are not from Karnataka, negotiate well with the guide before getting in.
  5. Torches are the best, not cell phone ones. Carry them. (We missed to get ours ready).
  6. Take your time, if you like something. The guide would ask you to hurry up all the time as they are running their own agenda.
  7. Stay at the place before you leave, breath in the freshness of the place.

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Terracotta Adda – Bishnupur

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The first time that I heard of Bishnupur, it did not rekindle any feelings. Yeah, like any other local town in India, this could yet another city. Now, the mind does play tricks and I happened to start reading about this town and what got me excited was that this small The wingstown some 130 odd kilometers from Kolkata has been on the tentative list of UNESCO Heritage sites. That was more than enough for me to make up my plans to travel to this city.

And thus the wings took me off to the “City of JOY” … Kolkata and from there we headed off to the sleepy town of Bishnupur. We had a great cab driver who was quite a chatter box and ensured that we had a lovely time travelling to the Town of RED. Tera HorseThis town today falls in the Birbhum district and was ruled by local kings under the rule of the Gupta Dynasty. Somewhere in the 17th & 18th century, this quiet town was ruled by the Malla Rulers who were followers of Lord Vishnu and had built these elegant structures. There has been a time in history, Bishnupur was the cultural capital of Bengal.

Today stands still to get recognition that it had in the past. The only thing that has got a world recognition is the beautiful Terracotta horse from Bishnupur that stands proudly with the West Bengal Tourism. It has become a symbol of pride from the past.

While heading to this historic place, we enjoyed the “Aaloo Chap” (Potato balls) a specialty from Bengal. It was way different from what we have had so far. One thing to remember is that, if you are heading towards the hinterlands in east, food is something you would have to adjust or carry your own stuff. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ed1
UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ecfYou may not find great restaurants on the way but guaranteed to find some amazing local delicacies in shacks. Offcourse, water is a treasure and do pick your bottles as you head towards your beautiful destination. Not that you may not find them, but just be sure that you have them when you need them.

We rolled down our car and one would tend to have some guides who would reach out and ask. The best part is that these guys are not too pushy here and very reasonable. Our guide asked for Rs 200/- to take us around. You would need one of these guys just to get a understanding of some of the nuances that web may not throw out.

After picking up the tickets, I turned to just be awestruck by the grande of “Rashmancha”.. the base itself is some seven feet high and on top of that is the edifice which to me reminded of the Pyramids.  More than anything, it was the usage of Terracotta and red bricks to build this massive structure. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f7cOn these red bricks, the terracotta slabs depict the life from Ramayana & unadjustedraw_thumb_f82-e1536476895193.jpgMahabharata. Just imagine, to cover such a huge structure how many just blocks would have first been conceptualized and then molded in heat to get the story done in a beautiful sequence.

The “Rashmancha” was made to celebrate the festivity with Lord Krishna. The villages from nearby and far would bring their Lord Krishna & Radha decorated in their finery best. There were places that were demarcated within the “Rashmancha” where the respective deities were kept. It must have been a scene filled with fun and frolic. Bazars must have been filled with delicacies and handmade art work for people to buy and celebrate the festivities.

After this we went to the “Radha Balabha temple,” which is exquisite art work. The temple is small but a lot compactly built. The square structure is proportionately built with door ways exactly the same way. But, each wall has a different inscription and story to tell. The terracotta work will leave you mesmerized and you would tend to spend more time understanding each of these panels.

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Post this we went ahead to see another beauty called “Jor Bangla”.. Which is also called Twin palaces. “Jor” means joint.. There are two identical structures that look to have been joint in the middle. Except the fact that one has got a door while the other does not. The rest of the structure is the same.

UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_faeThe sad part is that people are not allowed to get inside the place. Am sure the exquisite work would have to be preserved.

As we walked around we found that, apart from the red bricks there were laterite rocks that have used to build these palaces. Both red soil and laterites are common to this place. A beautiful usage of what is available in the vicinity.

Then there is the Madan Mohan temple and many others. All these temples that have been created. Many of these structures are fairly identical to one another and grandeur. This is one temple where the lord Krishna resides and the idol is worshiped everyday. We happened to reach there a little late.UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_fcc

Just a furlong down, is the “Large gateway”. It is also made up off Laterite rocks and Bricks. As I walked into the gateway that is still used for smaller vehicles to pass through, one could see the posts that were created for the sentries and Royal army to be stationed. The large dome did make it more spacious.

Each of these places do have something or the other happening right outside. We had a Baul singer, mesmerizing the place. Then you have the tea stall and a vendor selling the local handicraft.

After  going through the regular tourist spot, we were fascinated by some of the dilapidated structures. One of them was this “Radha Krishna” temple. There were still in sequence next to the village pond. Even though it is a locked and broken temple, people have had kept the space in front of that cleaned for their evening get-together.

A further down was an old house of one of the singers from the “Bishnupur Gharana”. This house is now run down and is beyond use. Only after seeing this place, did we realize that Bisphupur, does contribute to the Indian Classical Music in a big way. Felt sad too that such places and art has not been publicized much.IMG_20180429_124950

What really surprises me the heights and the similarity in layout. One would tend to find a similar layout within each structures. Each of these temples have a Tulsi area, a kitchen area right behind the temple structures.

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The top of all these temples have a very beautiful arch which am sure serves both the ways for keeping the place cool during the hot summer days and also, let’s the water recede faster during the rainy season.

There seem to be an alignment to the Vastu requirements of building a place. The vastness of the temples does talk about the fact that these places were not only built from a worship point of view but also a place where people could get together and celebrate various functions. There is a very forward thinking by the kings who ruled this places.  Importance has been given not only to the architecture but also the society that thrived around them.

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Exploring the kitchen area, my imagination on food had no bounds 😉

We had spent almost three hours in this beautiful historical place and still felt we have not seen enough. Our driver then took us to a place slightly away from the main area. This place was further decorated with many a temples. These temples have been built by the local Zamindars and these are no less captivating.

After another hour of exploring the beautiful red structures and soaking in the past, we went ahead to see one last chapter in the annals of history. That is the “Dalmadal Canon”. This canon was the largest manufactured by the Malla Kings. The canon has been manufactured by layers of alloys stripped together and is quite intact. It has not rusted at all.

IMG_20180429_141955We ended our trip at the “Chindamastika temple”, which was really a peaceful space in front of a rather “Ugra roopa” (Violent image) of Goddess Kali.

By around  2.30 pm we were hungry and our driver took us to the “Bishnupur Tourist Lodge” for a simple Fish meal. Well even if you are a vegetarian, the food is really simple and nice. It was really a nice place to end the trip and before we headed back to Shantiniketan for the next part of our journey to soak in the cultural hub of West Bengal. It was quite a fulfilling journey.

A few things definitely would suggest who would like to go and soak oneself in this beauty:

  • Carry water bottle as much as you can
  • Be ready to walk, as there is much more to explore, a CAP is a must as these are open spaces.
  • Do carry some food with you if you can.
  • Try being there during the non summer season.
  • Take a guide, he will help you explore the place from a different perspective.
  • The place is fairly clean and the Archaeological department has done some great restoration. Help them in the cause by keeping it clean.
  • Soak in the local flavours, you will not regret it.
  • Enjoy the place, it has more to offer.

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Soulful Baul!!!

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A regular Saturday afternoon on the banks of Khoai river, near Shantiniketan is a beautiful setting of the Khoai Hatt every Saturday.  Those tall “Sonajhuri” trees adorned every meter of the ground. Under these lovely trees and as the sun shines right above your head the khoai market gets into a shape. The expanses gets filling up fast with the tribal and the local sellers unpacking and setting up their shops in the regular places. Listening to the argument between two adjacent stalls, I got reminded of the school days when we used to draw a line on the table to say that my neighbour should not cross the border. I laughed as I walked around seeing the various hawkers set up their establishments.

As I walked around, I heard an ektara play, and my head turned as I walked to the direction of the soulful music that played.

It was a hoarse tone to start off with but then the jingling sound of “gungroo” and the UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f6edhol sound mesmerized me as I seem to float towards him. As the man came into view, I was delighted to see the saffron kurta clad man in his own world playing the ektara and singing on…

It did not seem to matter if there were people sitting or listening to him. It did not matter who clapped or not. He seemed to go on with his song, the beautiful baul songs.

As he finished one, he paused adjusted his Gungroo, tightened the ektara sting to the tune he wanted, played with his hairs and beard and clearing his throat went on to sing the next song. I was simply stuck at the simplicity.

As I got up to leave, he did not even bother to acknowledge the only one intently listening leaving. I kept some money and moved on.

It felt as if he was the master here with no strings. I am here to give and do not expect any in return. If you feel like giving, give or else move on.

img_20180428_165439.jpgAs the afternoon moved to evening, had many other Baul singers who IMG_20180428_165521went on with their presentations. One of the them seemed to be slightly modern with CDs of their songs displayed as they kept playing. These artists were more playful with one a banjo like instrument and the second one on the flute while the third one was on the dhol and another couple of them who were busy playing the gungroo. As the tempo went on, I could not stop myself from swinging and dancing along with them. They were so mesmerizing that you will forget where you are. It is one that can only be experienced as it steers your soul.

While their singing was soulful, their dressing sense was equally swag. I just fell in love with their representation and deep connect with the roots.

These songs are mostly from what they see life as and are not written down. It is the Guru-Sishya Parampara that enables the knowledge move from the guru to his disciples. While today, you do have CDs and music available to pick up and listen to them but the ambiance and their presence adds to the overall soulfulness to the baul music. Folksongs at its best and pristine form.

It is an experience not to be missed at all if you happened to be there at Shantiniketan on a Saturday.

As I left the hatt, even though I am a distant relative to the language, the music kept playing on my lips and my hands dancing to the tune.

It is Soulful!!!!