Category: Heritage

Mahabalipuram – Poetry in Stone

I recently visited Mahabalipuram, located on the East Coast, close to the city of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was not my first visit there, but the first one was a quick overnight trip and memories were a bit hazy. This time around, I spent over 2 days there and visited quite a few interesting places.

The first place we visited was quite a unique attraction – a Seashell museum. This is the life’s efforts of a private collector, exhibited quite beautifully in a modern museum. The collection is stupendous, and really photos will not do justice to the place, but here are a few.

The next day, we visited the Panch Rathas. It was a bright, sunny (and hot) day. We visited the place in the morning and were among the first visitors, so got to see the place at leisure and without much crowds. The place is very well maintained, with ample parking space, toilets, etc. Kudos to the authorities for doing so.

In the afternoon, we first visited the Lighthouse. On the way, we took in the utterly delightful Heritage Museum. With exhibits largely from the nearby lighthouse housed in a beautiful small house like structure with cool air conditioning, this would easily rank as one of the best small museums I have ever visited anywhere. An absolute must visit.

The whole process of visiting the Lighthouse was quite exciting, with the climb up a narrow, twisting staircase to walking around the narrow ledge with great views across all directions of the compass. Be warned though that it is not for the fainthearted!

We then visited the group of monuments centred around Arjuna’s Penance. The stone structures and sculptures are simply stunning. We ended our visit at Krishna’s Butter Ball. Located within well maintained, lush green lawns fringed by trees, this is a popular destination for local families.

On the third and final morning, we visited the beach located to the north of the Shore Temple. It is a working fishing village, with relatively clean sand and waters. The kids and I enjoyed splashing in the waves!

The only slight disappointment was the food. I had expectations of finding a food scene similar to what one can find in Goa, or even Pondicherry, but was sorely disappointed. The food in the restaurants was uniformly mediocre as was the service. Maybe it was because I visited in the off-season. But all things considered, it is a great place to visit with family.

On Museums

I read an article today in the Hindustan Times about family-run museums. It was an interesting article. I personally find it a bit sad that we in India do not have much of a museum visiting and appreciating culture. Many people, I believe, just do not think of museums are not seen as a must-visit place. It could partly be because our memories of museums, from the time when we used to visit museums as part of school trips, are of dusty places with old artifacts gathering dust.

But the reality is different. Yes, I am sure there still exist some museums where it feels like time has stood still. A good example of this is the Jaganmohan Palace Art Gallery in Mysore. With its priceless paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and others, it would have been a must visit destination in many Western cities. But here, while it had a good crowd of visitors, the exhibits themselves looked in urgent need of some tender care. It would be a shame if these works of art are lost to future audiences due to apathy.

On the other hand, there are many good museums dotted around the country such as the HAL Museum in Bangalore, the Archaeology museum in Hampi, the Naval Heritage Museum and Seashell museum in Mahabalipuram, which are as good, if not better, than many museums that I have been fortunate to visit across the globe. These have interesting exhibits displayed in a clean space with ample facilities. But unfortunately, other than the first one which had a decent crowd the day I visited, in the others, we were pretty much the only people there.

I believe museums have a very vital role to play in the preservation and dissemination of the culture of a place, especially when that culture is in serious threat of vanishing under the ever expanding tentacles cast by the homogenisation of culture due to globalisation. Museums are a place where we can still feel connected to our roots. It is hard to not feel a sense of pride when we observe the Indian exhibits at the British Museum in London, placed alongside similar exhibits from culture around the world.

So a humble request. The next time you visit a place, in India or anywhere in the world, please do take some time off to visit a local museum. If you have kids or youngsters under your care, please take them too and let them soak in the experience and help them understand the significance of the exhibits. Let’s take some small steps to help preserve the memories of our rich culture and heritage.

Tree Parichay

I recently attended a ‘Tree Parichay’, organised by INTACH Bengaluru chapter. INTACH is an organisation dedicated to the conservation of heritage. And I must admit, I would not have thought of trees as an integral part of our heritage before this walk.

The walk was ably led by a botanist, Ganeshram Esh, and was help on the 12th Main Road of Indiranagar. It was well attended by over 15 participants from different walks of life united by an interest in trees.

The location itself was interesting for the participants, being a busy suburban road. But as Ganesh explained, the city of Bengalure was planned as a garden city and this thoroughfare itself has over 60 varieties of trees from all over the World. In our two hour walk, we came across specimens from South America, Africa, South East Asia and Australia, in addition to native species.

In addition to just visually observing the trees, we were also encourages to explore the trees by the other senses – touch and smell. And this definitely added a different dimension to the experience.

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Agara Lake

One of the natural heritages of Bangalore are the number of lakes that dot the city. Bangalore does not have any rivers flowing through or near it, and being a landlocked city, the lakes are the only natural water habitat in the city. Unfortunately, the lakes have been under threat for a while due to population growth, encroachments and sewage being dumped into them.

There are a few lakes in the vicinity of where I live in South East Bangalore. One of these in Agara Lake. The lake was completely dredged a few months back. I do not have any photos of how it looked at that time, but the photo below of Ibblur Lake in a similar state will give readers an idea of how it looked like. I was a bit concerned when I first saw the lake in this situation but then I heard that this was part of a project to rejuvenate the lake.

Ibblur Lake
Ibblur Lake being dredged

The rejuvenation process was complete a couple of months back and I finally got a chance to visit this lake last weekend. It is now a sight for sore eyes, with clean water in it and greenery all around. The authorities must be recommended for the good work done in the restoration. There is a walkway (and cycle-way) encircling the lake with benches dotted around. There are also a few permanent gazebos that provide shelter from the elements. Children can play in a neat, albeit small play-area while grownups can exercise at a number of exercise equipment placed around the lake. There are also a couple of public toilets though one was closed when we visited.

Agara Lake
Agara Lake
Agara Lake - play area
Play area – Agara Lake

The place was packed with people of all ages having a good time. A private company was providing cycles on rent and it was good to see quite a few people having a go. The whole area, which was deserted initially is now buzzing with activity. Enterprising vendors had set up temporary stalls near the entrances and seemed to be doing brisk business. To me, this is ample proof that conservation can play a very positive role not just in improving the quality of life of residents but also in providing a fillip, however small, to the local economy.

 

Standing only restaurants

It was during my first stint in Bangalore in the early 2000’s that I discovered the ‘Darshinis’ of Bangalore. For people not familiar with the concept, this is a standing only fast food style of restaurant with a minimal, no frills, South Indian ‘tiffin’ menu. You pay for your food up front at the cashier, collect a chit which you hand over at the relevant counter and pick up your food a few seconds later or at best a minute of two later. You then pick up the cutlery (spoons only) from a common receptacle, proceed to one of the high tables and consume your food standing. The plates, cutlery, glasses are usually of steel. After the food comes the highlight of the meal (for me, at least!). A glass and saucer of piping hot South Indian filter coffee! A great way to finish off a cheap, tasty and satisfying meal.

So it was with not a little disappointment that, in my second stint in Bangalore from 2016 till date, I struggled to find similar Darshinis, at least in the suburb I am presently staying in. There are multiple sit down restaurants, cafes, bakeries, but no ‘Darshini’ or ‘Sagar’. I finally found one about a twenty minute walk from my place, but it closed down soon after I discovered it!

However, I am happy to report that I found one yesterday – a slightly more updated version of the original. It is located in HSR layout, near the recently renovated Agara Lake and is called Arogya Ahaara. It is a small place, but very clean and modern looking. The concept remains essentially the same though I was amused to see plastic plates being used to serve the dosas (the idlis and vadas happily came in a steel plate). It also has a large takewaway counter occupying about one half of the place.

In addition to the usual South Indian snack food, there is also a vendor immediately outside the place serving North Indian sweets. One had to pay for this at a separate counter so it is possible that it is provided by another vendor.

It was great to discover that the concept of standing only restaurants, possibly unique to Bangalore, still exists. Going by the crowd, which seemed multi-lingual, the concept seems to be popular even with non native residents. Long may these restaurants prosper!