Category: Heritage

Ajanta – one of the greatest wonders of India

Boddhisattva Padmapani, Ajanta Caves, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you were to ask tourists to India to name their greatest sights, or the one that they would like to visit, the chances of anyone saying ‘Ajanta‘ or ‘Ellora‘ are remote. In fact, I would argue that most Indian tourists themselves might not have it high on their bucket list. And that is a shame, for I believe that these are the greatest treasures in India.

I admit that there are lots of places in India that I am yet to see, but the caves at Ajanta (and Ellora) were easily the most awe-inspiring and moving sights of all the places that I have visited. The mind boggles to think that some of these caves were excavated, carved and painted over 2,000 years ago! They should rank high on the list of must-visit sights in India and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen them.

For people who would like to read and know more of these stupendous sights in Western India, here are a few resources that I came across recently:

The Ajanta Caves – a great introduction to the Ajanta Caves

Vignettes of Ajanta and Ellora – a virtual tour of some of the highlights of these caves

The Life and Times of Walter Spink – Walter Spink was an American researcher and professor, who dedicated over 60 years of his life to the study of the Ajanta Caves. This page provides details of his work. There is also an excellent film on the same site.

Meet The Man who is Digitally Conserving the Ajanta Cave Paintings – Ajanta is a place that inspires dedication. We saw that with Walter Spink. Another person who has spent years at the site capturing the paintings carefully on (digital) photographs is Prasad Pawar.

I hope reading these articles will make you add this place on your list of places to visit!

100 Common Birds in India

Image of peacock

I have been bird-watching for over 3 decades now. It’s one of my favourite hobbies, though I have not been able to spend as much time on it these days as I would have liked to.

India is one of the most bio-diverse countries on Earth, with a diverse range of habitat ranging from dry deserts, high mountains, to tropical rain-forests and a long coastline. And this diversity extends to the species of birds found in India as well. With over 1,200 species of birds, India ranks 9th in the list of countries by number of bird species. About 12% of the total bird species on earth can be found in India. And my guess is that I must have seen about 20 %- 22% of all the bird species in India.

Bird-watching is a very easy hobby to get into. All it needs is a good sense of observation, sight and sound. A pair of binoculars would be helpful, but not absolutely essential (to get started). But one resource that I would advise is to have a book handy to identify the birds that you see.

There are a few good birds available. One of the most commonly referred to birds for beginners is Dr. Salim Ali’s “The Book of Indian Birds“. This is the book that sparked my interest in birds and I would strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Indian birds.

I also came across a resource recently which might also be very useful for beginners. This is a PDF called “100 Common Birds in India“, written by Dr. Raju Kasambe. It is available as a free download here – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343218657_100_Common_Birds_in_India

This handy book covers all of the commonly found birds of India with their distribution map. I hope that you will find this helpful!

The Indian Monsoon

Monsoon Western Ghats
Photo by Satyan Chawla on Unsplash

The Indian Monsoon is considered as one of the biggest and most important weather systems on the planet. This is an eagerly anticipated event every year. By the end of May, with most of the country sweltering under the scorching sun, the eyes of the nation turn towards the South West, waiting for the first signs of the arriving rains.

The monsoons usually hit the mainland of India (the state of Kerala in the South West) on the 1st of June and makes it way steadily northwards to encompass the whole of the country by early July. June 10th is when it hits my home town of Mumbai.

Growing up in this city, I used to dread the arrival of the rains, bringing as it does long periods when the sun is obscured by dark, grey clouds. It did not help that the onset of the rains coincided with school reopening. Trust me, it is not fun to walk through school in the pouring rain and having to stay in class with wet uniforms, backpacks and, sometimes, damp books.

My feelings did not really change after I finished education and started to work. Other than the fact that school was replaced by office, everything else remained the same – commuting in the rains, having to make ones way through the crowds of umbrellas while trying not to step into puddles, having to spend hours in the air conditioned office with wet clothes and socks, the very thought depresses me!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The rains bring renewal. I stayed at the foothills of Mulund hills and it was always fascination to observe the almost immediate transformation of the barren brown hills to lush green ones. Not to mention monsoon treks in the Western ghats (and the occasional holidays due to heavy rains and flooding!).

A few years older, and I have become a bit more accepting of this annual occurrence. It is a big change from the almost monotonous weather during the rest of the year (in many parts of India). It plays a very important role in irrigating the land and filling up the water reserves that sustain 1.5+ billion people and wildlife. I won’t go so far as to say that I enjoy this season, but I have definitely begun to appreciate it!

 

The King of Fruits

Varieties of Indian Mangoes
Varieties of Indian Mangoes, and other fruits

I am talking about the Mango, the undoubted King of Fruits, in my humble opinion. This is a fruit native to India (as highlighted by its scientific name, Mangifera indica). The best part of an Indian summer is the pleasure of consuming the different varieties of juicy and tasty Indian mangoes.

The start of this year’s season was severely impacted by the Covid pandemic crisis. For a while, there was huge uncertainty on whether we would even get to consume any mangoes this year. But then, the logistics slowly started opening up. Many farmers started supplying directly to apartment complexes. And because of the collapse of exports, the prices have been reasonable.

The first mangoes we consumer this season were Raspuris and Sindooris. This was followed by one of the varieties most commonly available in Bangalore – Banganapalli or Bemisal. We then started receiving regular supplies of the prized Alphonso varieties, but at very good rates. Next in line was the glorious Imampasand, possibly the best variety we have had this year. This was followed by Badami and Mallika.

Each of the varieties has unique flavour characteristics. While Alphonsos are usually considered the King of Mangoes, this year we were exposed to other varieties that are equally, if not more, delicious.

It’s a shame that most of the outside world do not know about the varieties of Indian mangoes. I came across this interesting article that explains more about this King of Fruits. Happy reading, and happy mango eating!

Mangoes
Photo by Gowri Subramanya on Unsplash

My Saharan Africa Bucket List

Mauritania
Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash

The Sudan region, along with the countries to the West and South of The Sudan, is possibly the one part of the World that I would most like to visit, at some point. Here are a few places in this region that intrigue me:

Mali – Who’s not heard of Timbuktu? For a long time, I wasn’t sure that such a place actually existed. And ever since I discovered that this is a real place, I have always wanted to visit it. Djenne, for its Grand Mosque and the capital city of Bamako are the other places that I would like to visit.

Mauritania – Definitely off the beaten track is this large West African nation with an Atlantic coastline. It has a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Ouadana, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata that would be great to visit, in addition to the Banc d’Arguin National Park and the capital city of Nouakchott.

NigerAgadez for its Grand Mosque and the intriguingly named W National Park would be the places I would like to visit in this country.

Burkina Faso – I have a friend whose family was associated with this country for a while, and that’s possibly one of the reasons that I would like to visit it. Bobo-Dioulasso and the ruins of Loropeni seem like interesting places to visit.