Saturday, December 31, 2011


            We reached Agra on a Friday morning. Anyone reaching Agra on a Friday will curse the moment they planned their journey, for Friday is a holiday for taj, the main attraction in Agra. But we were prepared for the dismay as it was known beforehand. Ours was not a pleasure trip but a trip to Udaipur to take part in the three day long national general body meeting of the Confederation of University employees associations. As the rail tickets to Ahmadabad which is the nearest and convenient point to reach Udaipur from Kerala were not available, we decided to take a circuitous route -Agra, jaipur and then to Udaipur. For the return journey we preferred flight from Ahmadabad to Coimbatore which is very cheap. That way we could tour Agra ,jaipur , Udaipur and Ahmadabad. So on Wednesday 14th December 2011 we started from kannur in the Mangala Lakshadweep Express along the Konkan coast. The Mangala Express was a reminder of the neglect of Indian Railways towards Kerala for the compartments were real cattle class. The toilets were filthy and the seats torn out.  The journey through konkan fascinates the traveler only during his first journey, for the tunnels and the rocky terrain have the same look on all the seasons. But after Goa the sight of the fields extending to infinity are a real treat to the eyes. It is a continuum. Mustard, wheat, paddy, jute and several other crops in  multicoloured bloom fill every inch of the earth.It appears that one could walk and walk for days and through the plane fields without seeing a single hill. A reminder of one of ONV poems about a solitary girl in the wheat fields bring forth childhood memories . In winter Payyannur was alike in my childhood. Every inch of the paddy fields were filled with all types of vegetables and cereals. The banana brought from home by satheesan added to the sweetness of the memories
          Agra was trying to rise from the cold, when we reached there. we took accomodaion in the Railway dormitory as we have to travel to jaipur the same  evening. After breakfast we set off in an innova to the old capital city of India -now totally in ruins, ugly and repelling. Hawkers pestered around on the pretest of arranging everything on earth even a visit to the taj on a friday. Thamarkshan and Sasi have not seen taj before -but all others - the international traveller Sahadevan, Ramachandran, Satheesan and I have seen taj several times before. Still we went to taj gate which is open for prayer on fridays. We went to Agra fort and spend some time pondering over the old times when the Mugal kings with their fascination to art and culture constructed such time tested forts and palaces. Agra Fort located on the right bank of Yamuna is one of the most important and robustly built stronghold of the Mughals, encompassing the imposing Mughal style of art and architecture. It was constructed by Akbar on the remains of an ancient site known as Badalgarh. Some 4000 builders daily worked on it and it was completed in 8 years (1565-1573).The fort, semi-circular on plan, is surrounded by a  high fortification wall. Double ramparts have been provided here with broad massive circular bastions at regular intervals. There are four gates on its four sides, one of the gates was called “khizri-gate” (the water gate) which opens to the river front, where ghats (quays) were provided .The fort has survived through the onslaught of time, nature and men. The fort spreads over an area of about 94 acres of land. At present, there exist more than two dozens of monuments in the Fort.Aurangzeb imprisoned Shah Jahan, his own father, in the fort for 8 years until he died in 1666 and was buried in the Taj Mahal. The barbicans around the two gates and on the riverside were built by Aurangzeb to strengthen its defences. Though Shah Jahan had formally transferred his capital to Delhi, in 1638, he continued to live here. But after his death, Agra lost its grandeur. Aurangzeb remained busy in the regional conflicts and wars. Yet, time and again, he lived here and held the durbar. Shivaji came to Agra in 1666 and met Aurangzeb in the Diwan-i-Khas. Aurangzeb died in 1707 and 18th century history of Agra Fort is a saga of sieges and plunder during which it was held by the Jats and the Marathas and finally the British captured it from the latter in 1803.
         The fort was flooded with tourists. While Indians were seen flirting around, foreign tourists were more serious, all accompanied with guides and some with audio guides. 
Agra Fort

Agra fort

In the evening we boarded the Gwalior Udaipur Express which reached Jaipur at 10 pm. The night was really cold but Sukumaran, friend of Suresh has arranged accommodation in the nearby Hotel, Ashish. After dinner we had a sound sleep after several days of tiresome journey. In the morning we set off to tour jaipur, the pink city of India. Jaipur is a big town with several monuments. Amber fort will bewilder any traveller .

Amber fort
 Such complex structures require very creative architects. India was home to such architectural genius in the past. Now we have bidden farewell to such architects to embrace the British model which is just nothing compared to these super structures. The sight of a solitary Korean girl with a pink umbrella climbing down the  deserted stairs of the fort was a welcome sight. While Indians dread such lone  journeys many foreigners are seen travelling alone. We also went to Junter Mandir were the ancients made very precious astronomical calculations. 
Kankaria Lake -Ahamedabad

Hawa Mahal is a treat to the eye. 
Hawa mahal

There are museums, lake palaces and several other places of importance in jaipur .In the evening we boarded the Udaipur express at 10 pm and reached Udaipur in the early morning. Suresh was waiting for us at the Station. But our local hosts from the University were at the station with a bus. So we decided to go with them and suresh followed us in his car. Accommodations for staff from Universities of Kerala were arranged at Nehru Hostel of the Mohanlal Sukhadia University. The sight of bed sheets laid in a row was very repelling and there was no hot water in the bathroom. Suresh invited us to his home and we went with him and returned to the University soon. Friends from other Universities –Kerala, Calicut, Gandhi, Sanskrit and Cochin arrived. It was a happy reunion after three years. 

Suresh had arranged two vehicles for our internal transit in Jaipur . Stalin, Narayanan, Sadanandan, Subrahmanyan and Murali from Calicut University were with us. We went to city fort first. The imperial history of Mewar looks still alive in the forts of Udaipur. The Forts around Udaipur boast about the legends of glorious past. These ancient forts had witnessed the great battles of Mewar. 
City Palace- Glass work
City Palace- udaipur

City Palace- udaipur

The huge forts had served the Royalty of Mewar. In the present day, the fort stands as the embodiment of the sovereigns of the erstwhile age. These ancestral structures are made of solid foundations that have resisted the weather, cyclones and earthquakes. People from all over the globe come to visit these invaluable structures. The magnificent architecture and splendid work of these forts will leave us in bewilderment about the glorious days of the majestic Kings. The summer palace in Kacholi lake is a miracle. One floor of the palace is beneath water.
City Palace- Inside

The next three days were devoted entirely for the meeting. It was very encouraging to see that there is a common link which connects the Officers of the Universities spanning around the entire nation. Many languages can be heard. Sajjan and Hotta are to be admired for the herculean task they have undertaken to unite the employees . Ramachandran was the first to initiate the discussions. He was elected  to the executive committee. On the first day there was cultural programmes. The traditional folk dances of Rajasthan are a real  treat.
Pacholi Lake
Kalagramam, Udaipur

After the meeting we went to Allahabad in the evening train. We reached there in the early hours. Pradeep has booked three rooms in Nataraj Hotel in Lal Durga  in old Ahamedabad. The sight of the lodge at first depressed everyone. But the fact that there is an Udupi hotel nearby and that the hotel is accessible from all part of the town was very heartening. After some rest we set off to  see the city . We first went to Sabarmathi Ashram. Set up in the year 1915, Sabarmati ashram was the central point from where the struggle for India's Independence was started. Till the year 1930, the ashram at Sabarmati was the home of Mahatma Gandhi. 
Sabarmathi ashram

Bordered by shady trees, the atmosphere over here is very tranquil and peaceful. During the Indian struggle for independence, it was also referred to as the Satyagrah Ashram. The ashram houses a museum, library, auditorium and photo galleries. The museum exhibits the life of Mahatma Gandhi. There is an archive of letters written by Gandhiji. Also, the museum contains the manuscripts of his articles; several films composed on the life of Gandhiji & India's freedom struggle etc. There are plenty of books in the library. Amidst the mad rush of the city, Sabarmati ashram serves as a great retreat. I spun the charka and wrote in the visitors diary as a memoir. 
Sabarmathi Ashram

 Then we proceeded to Kankaria Lake which is a multisided lake that was built by Sultan Qutab-ud-Din in the year 1451 A.D. It is basically an artificial lake with thirty four sides. Lying on the south eastern side of the Ahmedabad city, the lake also has a fascinating island summer palace. People are of the say that Kankaria lake of Ahmedabad was often visited by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir along with his wife Empress Noor Jahan.
Kankaria Lake is one of the most favorite picnic spots of the people of Ahmedabad. Adjacent to the lake, lies a beautiful garden called Nagina Wadi. For people seeking peace, there can be no better place than Kankaria Lake. The pleasing view of the lake, the humming and chirping of birds and the greenery bordering the lake will make you fall in love with this place. You can also avail the boating facility. There is balloon flight and a childrens train running around the lake. Kankaria Lake provides a beautiful view of the sunset. There is also a zoo and children's park located nearby the lake.
In the afternoon we walked through the markets of Ahamedabad . It is a marvelous sight to see lanes and lanes of colourful shops full of men and women with the usual the traffic jams . We made some purchases also.
Next morning we flew from Ahmedabad airport to Coimbatore. From Coibatore we got the fast passenger train to Kannur .

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