Friday, March 12, 2021

Nagpur

Nagpur, also known as Orange city is third largest city of state of Maharashtra in the region known as Vidarbha. Nagpur also happens to my hometown. The reason for that is both my parents are from Nagpur though we have mostly lived away from Nagpur due to my father's Central govt job. I was born and raised in Delhi and till my time there I would call myself a Delhiite. However, since my parents left Delhi in 2006 to settle back in Nagpur I have started calling myself from Nagpur. Since 2007 I have also started living in Pune so Nagpur or Vidarbha region is what I associate myself with. Even though I may not have lived at Nagpur technically but have made countless trips to it and have stayed for as much as 2 months during our summer vacations at a stretch but was always a visitor. I still have faint memories of traveling from Delhi to Nagpur every summer in trains like AP Express, Dakshin Express from New Delhi or Nizamuddin station. It is an overnight journey and mostly was carried out in sleeper class. The when we grew up, the visits became infrequent and were mostly for some occasions like marriage or death of relatives. Since 2006, the visits were more frequent with my parents having moved there from Delhi. In 2008 got married which entailed more visits. One of my sister got posted there for 5 years which led to many trips. When she moved out, along with my other sister they started visiting Nagpur annually in summer with their kids for vacations and we would invariably have a family reunion of sorts for few days in summer. I was call it sizzling and sweltering or warm family reunion as it is really hot at that time of the year. In between also made visits to Nagpur to settle some property deals like purchasing a flat and plot. Some of these were from Hyderabad where I lived from 2004 to 2007. All such trips would invariably include visits to all relatives houses. So it never occurs to you that your hometown has sights and places which could be explored like any other destination. Most of the excursions in childhood were to salubrious places within Nagpur like Ambazari lake, Telangkhedi (or Futala) lake which is understandable to beat the heat.

The story of Nagpur being home to both my parents is like this. My grandfather Baliramji Kohad moved to Nagpur in 1942 from a village called Sonora in Wardha district to work in Empress Mill colony at Nagpur. They lived at places including Ramdaspeth in Nagpur before they being allotted a 1500 sft plot with built dwellings to accomodate workers of Empress mill. This is very near to Nagpur Medical college and right in the main city area. My maternal grandfather was Superintendent officer with Maharashtra govt who would get transferred district to district and settled in Nagpur at Laxmi Nagar by building own house. We children would visit and spend most of our time in this house in our childhood and also visit Empress mill colony house. My grandfathers both of them died in year 1987 within few months. 

Now, Nagpur city was founded in 1703 by the Gond King Bakht Buland Shah of Deogarh and later became a part of the Maratha Empire under the royal Bhonsale dynasty. The British East India Company took over Nagpur in the 19th century and made it the capital of the Central Provinces and Berar (CP & Berar). The Bhonsales were there till 19th century before British took over in 1853 when the last ruler died without a heir. During their rein, a number of lakes, wadas, temples etc. were built. Nagpur is named after the river Nag which flows through the city. The old Nagpur (today called 'Mahal') is situated on north banks of the river Nag. There is a historic Kashibai temple complex, located on the shores of river Nag. The temple complex is the Raj Ghat (royal crematorium) of the Nagpur Bhonsles. There are several chhatris (cenotaphs) which are a part of the complex. The oldest chhatri in the Kashibai temple complex is more than 260 years old, commemorating the Bhosale kings and their wives. More information here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagpur_kingdom

Entry to Kashibai temple complex

Temple inside

Another temple

Raghoji Bhosale memorial
samadhi inside 

In the current times, the city derives unique importance from being an important location for the Dalit Buddhist movement and the headquarters for the Hindu nationalist organisation RSS. I happened to visit both this time after all.

Deekshabhoomi is a huge ground where on 14th Oct 1956 Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with 5 lakh of his followers. It is holiest place for Dalit Buddhist or Ambekarite people of India. Every year on 14th April (Ambedkar Jayanti), 14th Oct (Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din) & 6th December (Mahaparinirvan) followers congregate at Deekshabhoomi to pay homage to Ambedkar. The ground now has a Vihara (Stupa) with images of Buddha and Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar inside and their busts outside. Apart from that there is office, place to stay for pilgrims and a book shop. The collection of books here unlike any other with Constitution of India being most prominent. I did pick a copy of constitution from here along with few more books. There is huge bodhi tree similar to Bodhgaya. This Bodhi Tree was planted at Deekshabhoomi from three branches of the Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka which got sapling/branch from Bodhgaya originally.

22 vows given by Dr. Ambedkar to his followers

Dr. Rajendra Prasad receiving constitution from Dr. Ambedkar

Bodhi tree inside Deekshabhoomi

Bust of Dr. Ambedkar

Bust of Gautam Buddha

Deekshabhoomi Vihara

RSS has a Hedgewar Smarak Samiti at Reshimbagh area in front of namesake ground. There is a huge barrack like building which houses dwellings for Swayamsevaks. There is a Smriti mandir dedicated to Dr. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar also known as guruji. There is a huge Sabhagriha for occasions and book shop which unfortunately was closed till afternoon. This too would be unlike any other bookshop. There are guides present at Sabhagriha to take visitors around. The main RSS headquarter is in the old city near Badkas chowk in Mahal area. I went there as well as I was told that one can visit. The place is under heavy security. After security check, went inside and talked to those present at reception. From here went to house of Dr. Hedgewar which is a little away in an alley looked after now as a heritage property by NMC. This is where RSS was established way back in 1925.

Hedgewar Smarak Samiti

Information about Smarak Samiti

Smriti Mandir

Pillarless Sabhagriha

Room at Dr Hedgewar's house where RSS was founded

Dr. Hedgewar's house

Nagpur has green & hilly area called Seminary hills. While driving past it, came across the arch of "Lourd Mata Mandir" with an inviting narrow, tree flanked road inside. Out of curiosity went inside and found it to be a Shrine dedicated to Mother Mary. There were symbolic plaques of Jesus and cross. The place was nestled among trees and quite calm. Climbing stairs from there came across a whole complex of convent educational institutes & colleges and church.

Lourd mata mandir

Lourd mata mandir

Nagpur is also known for being center of India though there is no official declaration. It has major North-South, East-West highways and train tracks meeting at this place. Nagpur is almost equidistant from all 4 metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata & Chennai. The train track of the two trunk routes Delhi-Chennai & Howrah-Mumbai form a diamond crossing just outside Nagpur station where the tracks criss-cross.  It has erstwhile NH-6 (Surat to Kolkata) and NH-7 (Varanasi to Kanyakumari) passing through it. Now Nagpur has a ring road which let's major truck and commercial traffic bypass the city. There is a Zero Mile Stone which is a monument built by British during the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1907 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. The Zero Mile Stone consists of a pillar made up of sandstone and another small stone representing the GTS Standard Bench Mark. It has distances marked of various towns at that time like Chandrapur, Jabalpur, Hyderabad etc.  Apart from this there is a white & yellow National highway marker pillar which has Nagpur marked as 0 kilometer! Has anyone seen such milestone? Generally the distances are marked from GPO or main Bus stand of the city on roads but in case of Nagpur it is marked from Zero milestone. What more evidence is required for Nagpur to be center of India!! 

Zero milestone info

Zero milestone pillar

Benchmark stone


Nagpur 0 km

In 1994, there was an unfortunate incident in recent history when more than 100 people died in a stampede. Around 50000 members of Gowari community gathered in Nagpur for their grievances when the stampede occured. Now there is a Gowari smarak opposite to Zero milestone which was constructed as a memorial to those who died.

Gowari smarak

Nagpur is famous for its "tari" Poha which is plain poha topped with hot chickpea curry and burnt poha. It is quite hot as in spicy. Nagpur is also famous for its "Saoji" food which is again spicy and has special masala. Nagpur being one of the hottest populated places could not understand how residents handle heat with spicy hot food. But Nagpur does get cooler post summer and does get very cold as well.

Eatery at Shukravar peth

"tari" Poha

Nagpur has water bodies like Ambazari and Futala lake which have promenade and frequented by residents to relax and spend time however, they are mostly at outskirts. There is another one called Shukrawari talav bang in the middle now called as Gandhi Sagar lake. Then there is a Naik talav which is bang in the old area which is also known as Bangladesh. Yes, there is a locality known as such. Not sure whether it is official but it is definitely there on google maps. Just went around the lake just to observe the people and locality.

Shukravari talav

another angle of Shukravari talav

Naik Talav, Bangladesh

Kingfisher

Recently Nagpur has taken strides in terms of infrastructure. During my trip I drove around Nagpur and was pleasantly surprised to see well laid, wide cemented roads and flyovers to pass over junctions. It was a pleasure driving around. Then the newly opened Nagpur metro and as a customary made trip of entire length. It was as expected smooth like other cities in India. Travelled from Khapri to Sitabuldi and from there to Lokmanya Nagar, the two legs which are open. The other two are yet to open.

Nagpur Metro

Double decker metro with flyover beneath

JP Nagar station

Khapri station built in grand style

At Khapri station

Tried to visit other prominent places of Nagpur like Sitabuldi fort, Central Museum of Nagpur and Narrow gauge Railway Museum but all of them were closed due to Covid. Visiting Sitabuldi fort is perhaps allowed only on 26th Jan & 15th August as the fort is occupied by Army. The story of Sitabuldi fort is that here in a battle in 1817 British defeated Bhonsales and got a stronghold in Central India.

Sitabuldi fort description outside

Nagpur Central Museum

Monument of Bhakt Buland

Narrow Gauge Museum

There are institutions which one cannot visit as layman like Vidhan Sabha where the winter session of Maharashtra happens. Reserve Bank of India building is a prominent location. There there is a small monument dedicated to Bhakt Buland who established the city. Lokmat is a prominent newspaper. It has a huge building in Sitabuldi area and also the square called as Lokmat square.

Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha

RBI Building

Lokmat Square

Close to Nagpur is town of Kamptee across the Kanhan river is town of Kanhan. I had not been to this road ever which goes to Jabalpur, so thought of a drive upto Kanhan. The road bridge is from British time flanked by two cantilever single line railway bridges. The river is quite wide and basic quite deep but was mostly empty now. Kamptee has another Buddhist site called Dragon Palace temple which is a Vihara with a huge hall used for meditation. The main building is quite grand and beautiful in a manicured garden. 

Kanhan river bridge


Dragon palace temple

Buddha statue @ Dragon palace temple

Dragon palace temple in manicured garden

 Nagpur has many more hidden gems from colonial or cultural past. Some of the buildings like GPO, Agricultural college and many in old areas are interesting. Hope to visit them someday and post about them.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Statue of Unity, Vadodara, Anand

Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat is one of the planned city of India & one of the greenest. I have been visiting Gandhinagar on account of my sister living here. After Statue of Unity dedicated to nation on 31st Oct 2018 on Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, I was contemplating to visit it for quite some time. In Oct 2019, I planned to visit it along with family. We drove from Gandhinagar straight to SOU, a 225km drive which took 4 hours thanks to good roads mostly. The SOU is located in the basin of Narmada river, a little ahead of Sardar Sarovar dam in district Kevadia surrounded by Shoolpaneshwar wildlife sanctuary. The place is a bit hilly and forest. The place seem completely transformed looking at the construction, roads, parks around. Statue of Unity is tallest statue in the world at 182m. The first view of statue is breathtaking and from close its imposing. Patel was first home minister of India, instrumental in uniting all princely states and British India into a whole we today know as India. Apart from great unifier, he is also called as Iron man who was strong and stood tall among the leaders of his time. It was befitting to have his statue installed in his home state and aptly name as statue of unity. The statue has already become large tourist destination and has broken records of footfalls and revenue collection. The tickets to SOU can be bought at https://www.soutickets.in/. The statue is built adjacent to river on a raised platform on rocks with a gallery depicting his life stories and stories from independence movement. One could visit SOU at the top but those are separate tickets and due to large crowd could be time consuming to wait and go up. We skipped that part. The statue is made of concrete, steel and brass claddings. It took 3 years to build. When we look in to the history and admire structures built hundreds of years back and still standing, this statue would probably also live for 100s of years. 

SOU on a rock along Narmada watching over the valley
Way to SOU

HUGE is an understatement

SOU across the river

View from SOU, Sardar Sarovar dam in distance

SOU up close
Cloud & sunlight play at SOU

Giant feet of SOU

There was sizeable crowd due to weekend and a bit hot in October. Thankfully, arrangements were excellent and galley was air conditioned and water coolers to quench thirst. There are travelators and escalators for the benefits of folks. There is also a modern food court like in malls and was doing brisk business. Once done admiring the statue, one can admire the river and hills on the other side. There is a large SOU sign as well placed across the river. In the evening there is light & sound show which must be good but we did not plan to wait to see it. The place being remote, one would have to travel in the dark after that. 

After finishing up with SOU, we went to viewpoints for Sardar Sarovar dam. Even though it is visible even from SOU but being up close is a different experience. There is a viewpoint which has a small temple and clear view of Sardar Sarovar dam and downstream river and the hills beyond. The clouds come and played their part in enhancing the view of river & SOU. There are stalls selling local fruits, boiled peanuts etc. Everyone coming to SOU must be coming here and has improved the economy of the place.

Sardar Sarovar dam with few gates open
River, hills and play sunlight peering through clouds

Vadodara evoked memories from my trip here back in 2001 when I came here for railfanning trip. We had come by Mumbai Rajdhani and after enjoying narrow gauge, took my first flight ever from Vadodara airport back to Delhi. However, at that time we did not sightsee anything except railways things of our interest. Vadodara is city of Gaekwads, a Maratha family. We first went to Laxmi Vilas palace which is home to Gaekwad family but it was not open for visitors. Disappointed we wen to Sayaji Baug. The Zoo was quite a relaxing place with lot of trees and walkways. They also had electric trolleys to ferry visitors. We got to see leopard doing rounds in his pen. Birds section too was interesting. Next to zoo is Baroda Museum & Picture gallery which has good exhibits. There is also a toy train within the zoo and it has a bit of history. Earlier the toy train was run by a miniature steam engine which is discontinued long back. It featured in one of songs called Chakke pe Chakka of hindi movie Brahmachari which was released in 1969. Now they currently have a shining modern electric train. The timing was odd so we skipped riding it but then doesn't have the same charm.

Inside Zoo
Baroda Museum

Joy train inside Sayaji Baug

From here we went for lunch at Mandap restaurant which is inside Express Hotel towers which is known for its delicious authentic Gujarati thali. The food was excellent and served like royalty. After satiating ourselves, we headed back to Gandhinagar however in between visit Amul factory at Anand. 

Thali at Mandap restaurant

The factory is open to visit from 2-4 PM only and we timed it perfectly by being there at 2:30pm. Amul needs no introduction. It is one of the largest cooperative movement, business and now a success story which has uplifted lot of farmers around this region and pioneered the white revolution through its operation flood and made India the largest producer of milk. There is a great story of people behind this revolution namely Varghese Kurien, Tribhuvandas Patel and others. I had read the book I too had a dream by Varghese Kurien and was quite familiar with Amul & its story but now got to visit the place as well. More than the book, one should watch iconic movie Manthan by Shyam Benegal, which depicts Amul's initial days. The movie was produced by collect Rs. 2/- from each member of the cooperative. We got our passes from the gate and parked inside. We could see the large towering containers of the factory which stores milk and cream. This plant was dedicated to produce milk powder, butter etc. We were taking around for a round of factory with the representative explaining the operations. It was difficult to imagine so much sophistry, machine and containers required for seemingly simple products like Milk powder, butter, cheese etc. The experience inside the Amul campus was good with staff seem to go out doing their work. The staff may not be highly paid but working in an efficient, positive environment could be fulfilling. Photography was prohibited during the tour so all we can recall from memory. There is a product outlet within premise where one can buy Amul products. 

Amul Factory containers
Inside Amul museum

Amul museum
Amul outlet inside Amul campus

Amul also has a chocolate factory at Mogar but we did not plan to visit it. From here, we left and went back to Gandhinagar. The NE-1 which means National Expressway-1 between Ahmedabad and Vadodara makes the travel so easy.