Saturday, December 10

Returning from Delhi

Finally, the departure from Delhi is at hand, after nearly two-and-a-half months in India. The blog posts will now be sporadic, till further travels beckon. But before signing off for now, here are some pictures of the Qutab Minar and Red Fort areas of Delhi.

The inscription on the 1600-year-old rustless Iron Pillar of Delhi near the Qutab -- most likely erected to honor Chandragupta Vikramaditya in Udaygiri and later carted to Delhi -- reads:

He, on whose arm fame was inscribed by sword, when in battle in the Vanga countries, he kneaded back with his breast the enemies who, uniting together came against him - he by whom, having crossed in warfare the seven mouths of the river Sindhu, the Vahlikas were conquered, he by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed, he the remnant of the Great Zeal whose energy, which utterly destroy enemies, like the remnant of the great glowing heat of a burned out fire in a great forest, even now leaves not the earth, and gone to the other world, moving in bodily form to the land of paradise won by the merit of his actions, but remaining on this earth by the memory of his fame -- by him, the King, was attained sole supreme sovereignty in the world, acquired by his own arm and enjoyed for a very long time, and who, having a name of Chandra, carried a beauty of countenance like the beauty of the full moon, having in faith fixed his mind upon Vishnu, this lofty standard of the divine Vishu was set up on the hill called Vishnupada.


In the Siwalik hills of the lower Kumaon lies one of the world's foremost nature reserves -- Corbett National Park -- home to over 500 of the 1200 or so animal and bird species found in India. The park is named after Jim Corbett, the famous British hunter and writer, whose Man-Eaters of Kumaon and The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag are still worth a read. "Carpet Sahib" often reluctantly responded to villagers' requests for help to kill a man-eater, but in the end he shot more with his camera than with his gun.

At the forest camp Dhikala deep inside the park, we see the Ramganga river flowing through magnificent stands of sal, rohini and haldu trees -- habitat for wild elephants, tigers, leopards, boars, deer like chital, sambhar, barasinga, alligators and crocodiles, monitor lizards, black bears and hundreds of species of birds.

Wednesday, December 7

Old Delhi

In 1675, Iftikhar Khan, Aurangzeb’s governor in Kashmir, was ordered to set about converting the Kashmiri Pandits to Islam by force. Those who would not succumb to the emperor’s pleasure fled for the Punjab. A delegation of the Pandits approached the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur and sought his protection. The Guru pronounced – Go tell the Mughal that we Pandits will gladly accept conversion if Tegh Bahadur the Sikh is persuaded to do so.

It is not clear what Tegh Bahadur thought the escalation steps would be, nor how he planned to negotiate with the Emperor. The Sikhs' military might was still quite nascent, and it is quite possible the Guru was carried away by the bravado of Dharma. Teg Bahaur's reply was duly conveyed to Aurangzeb, and orders were issued for his immediate arrest. Installing his son Gobind as his pro-tem successor, and taking leave of his family and followers, Tegh Bahadur began the journey to Delhi with three devoted Sikhs, the Bhais Mati Das, Sati Das and Dayal Das, in order to meet the Emperor. On the way, the Guru halted for the night at a village near Ropar. There he and his companions were taken prisoner and whisked away to Sirhind fort. After some months, they were brought to Delhi in chains. If you are a Guru, his captors asked, show us some miracle. That would amount to an interference with the work of God, Tegh Bahadur replied; He works in mysterious ways, if He wants to get involved He will.

The Emperor ordered torture. Mati Das, Sati Das and Dayal Das were brought to an open space in Chandni Chowk, where now stands a fountain. First, Bhai Mati Das was sawn across from head to loin. Bhai Dayal Das was pushed into a huge cauldron of boiling oil and Bhai Sati Das was roasted alive, with moist cotton wrapped around his body to prolong the agony. A chained, hanging Tegh Bahadur was made to witness the deaths of his companions. Convert and we will cease, he was told. After a few days of refusal, on November 11, 1675 at 11 o’clock in the morning, the Guru was brought to the open space and beheaded. His son Guru Gobind Singh, says in his autobiography Bichitar Natak (Strange Drama):

To protect sacred thread and forehead mark, in the dark age of Kali
He performed the supreme sacrifice, for the sake of Dharma
He gave away his life , without so much as a sigh from his lips
Gave his head, not his honor.

Sis diya par sir na diya. The area is today called Sisganj, and the gold-domed Sisganj Sahib gurudwara stands on the spot of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur -- a stone's throw from the towering minarets of the Jama Masjid and the ochre ramparts of the Red Fort. Nearby is the famous Paranthey-wali Gali, where pure-ghee parantha bars stuggle to survive the onslaught of a new breed of fast foods -- the McDonalds 'Family Restaurant' stands across the street.

Tuesday, December 6

Rajdhani Express, Howrah to New Delhi

It is time to leave for Delhi. It turns out that Howrah station is celebrating its Centenary this week. Scenes of Howrah above.

Saturday, December 3

Faces: 4

Friday, December 2

Calcutta Scene