These are times when it is safer to embrace passion popping out of your inbox… and these words have the basic aim to brighten up a difficult period. A few of us experienced the passionate joy of travel to some of the brightest moments in the cultural history of our country when we travelled to the #HeartOfIndia a few days back. All these heritage sites still have the power to nudge excitement in any mind and awaken the poet even in those who opt to remain mesmerized by the mundane world. It is completely justifiable to admit that the #TimesPassionTrails begin with poetry, stays with rhymes, peaks with pulsating beats, and the experience spreads through a traveler’s being to remain there forever! Travel makes us all citizen of passion.
The true path to nirvana
Travel is possibly the best way of attempting to appreciate what lies on the other side of the sleep of reason and when it is fueled by the passion of someone who understands the underlying nuances of the organic talent spanning thousands of years, everything gets just that bit more fascinating… and interestingly relevant. We were fortunate to have an eminent archaeologist (Padmashri Karingamannu Kuzhiyil Muhammed) who had been with the ASI and the way he transformed every complex bit of our cultural history into memorable little stories was an unbeatable experience. We met equally absorbing and absolutely involved personalities like Muzaffar Ansari or ‘Kalley Bhai’, an approved guide and weaver, in Chanderi and Anurag Shukla, the endlessly energetic travel expert at Khajuraho. Quite obviously then, our trip starting from Bhopal and moving through Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, Bhojpur ShivLinga, Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal, Stupa at Sanchi, Udaigiri caves, Chanderi, Kati Ghati, Orchha and then being let into the enigma of Khajuraho was nothing but a journey into understanding the road-map to nirvana.
Human nirvana, I believe, happens when the mind is able link everything that galvanizes it with something that amuses the taste-buds… it is this jugal-bandhi that happened every day during this passion trail. In a way, each day of the trip was like a delectable exotic cuisine for the mind.
The Molecular Papdi-chaat day
An easy day began with settling down at the Jehan Numa Retreat in Bhopal and then moving straight into the world of pre-historic Paleolithic and Mesolithic rock paintings at Bhimbetka, around 45 km southeast of Bhopal. We ambled around a few rock shelters (there are over 750 spread over 10 km and on and around seven hills), creating our own visual memories of the past.
This tantalizing start then gently wheeled us into the mystery of Bhojesvar temple with one of the largest linga in India… and ‘what is important here’, explained KK Muhammed, ‘is that the ramp built in Raja Bhoj’s time to transport massive stones to build this huge structure, is still there.’ Such structures are destroyed once the construction is completed… but the temple remained incomplete and thus the ramp survived. This isn’t all… but then I’ll be writing other exhaustive posts and talking about these intriguing facets of our heritage later on my blog.
The day, surprisingly managed to push in more surprises and these included listening to Dhruva, India’s first Sanskrit band singing vedic strotas and vedic gaan… and followed by a trail culinary degustation of Madhya Pradesh. The sub-titles for my post are inspired by what we were served here.
The Patthar Gosht Kabab day
The next day began with Jamal Ayub giving us story-dunked tales as we stood inside Taj-ul-Masjid… these stories were about the reflective carpet that never got used to the Begums who went on Haj, and then from the story of the dhai seedi mosque to the matriarchal structure of the Bhopal ruling family. By the way, one of the things that I never stopped doing throughout this trip was to keep clicking pictures on my Galaxy Note9 and my Nikon DSLR… the GoPro Hero7 with me didn’t really get many opportunities.
This was the day when I realized that all these years I had been wrongly assuming that Buddha was at Stupas at Sanchi. ‘No, Buddha never visited this place,’ clarified KK Muhammed, ‘but these along with the Chausath Yogini temple have certainly gone on and inspired the architect of Rashtrapati Bhavan.’
I have mentioned earlier that each day during this passion trail is packed with mesmerizing visits and the day went on from staring at Ganga on a crocodile, Yamuna on a tortoise and a lot of other facets etched on rocks and walls of caves at Udaigiri to drive back to Sanchi to watch the sound and light show at the Stupa.
The Matar-pudina ka Shorba day
This was the day we drove to Chanderi, the outpost of Bundelkhund – the city with Urvashi and Betwa flowing near, a stimulating series of white, grey, and red sandstone Shaivite, Vaishnaivite, and Jain temples… and, of course, also widely known for Chanderi silk. It is said that 1 km of silk used in Chanderi cloth weighs just 1.5 gms.
This was also a day when we hopped from the gory references of the Kati Ghati story to the horror bumps of the shooting of Stree, a Bollywood movie… and then on to the svelte charm of Chanderi silk, the valid concerns of the weavers, and the photogenic views from Kila Kothi to click this enthralling jhilon ki nagri before moving on to Orchha.
The Dahi-Baigan Shirazi day
I was almost tempted to call this the fresh basil and lemongrass sorbet day because the combination of Raja Ram temple, the fortress, and the chhatris photographed very early in the morning was just that kind of a soul-cleansing experience. Walking across the rapta over Betwa and then allowing the friendly forest reserve dog to guide us through a dark undulating terrain to the river bank on the opposite side of the Chhatris was more than just-another-adventure. Waking up the chowkidaar at the Orchha fort to get entry into the mahals much before the tourists ambled in was brilliant as we had the entire property to ourselves to explore, pose, and click just as we wanted to. Yes, the monuments viewed from here in the soft morning light were applauded by our cameras. These were our #LiveWhatYouLove moments for sure.
The day, as usual, surprised us with a meeting with the Bundelkhund royalty and the conversation with Rajeshwari Shah and RudraPratap Shah as we savored Bundeli dishes at their resort, were brimming with nuggets from Bundeli itihaas. With such a lot to keep us in good humour, the long drive to Khajuraho wasn’t as horrifying as it could have been.
The Gulab ki Kheer and Shahi Tukda days
The last two days at Khajuraho were sweetened adequately by the sheer brilliance of the sufi vocals sung by Dhruv Sangari (Bilal Chishti Sangari) creating the right sort of auditory stimulus for the sensual posturing that Khajuraho is somehow known for… though I must say that it is the cultural history, modular architecture, mythological references, Swargarohan temples, Jain temples, the subtle and not-so-subtle links to tantra and mantra, and the spice-infused cuisine surviving through the tumultuous past of the region that are as vital as are the erotic attractions here. Yes, we did miss out on a more personal tete-a-tete with the eroticism of the temples as they were closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions… but then this is just the right reason for us to plan another trip to this place.
The Times Passion Cultural & Heritage Trail in Madhya Pradesh has #SabKuchJoDilChahe and for the foodie in me it covered almost the entire menu from amousse bouche to the dessert as it meandered through the delicious soups, starters, the entrée, sorbet, and the main course.
First published on the Times Passion Trails Blog.
More pictures from the trip…
Written on 26 March 2020
First published in the Times Passion Trails blog