Wrapping it up
It has been almost two years since the trip and in the meantime, I have already made a fascinating trip to Kerala. In this post, I am determined to wrap up this trip. And I did it!
On the way to Bhopal, we went to see the caves at Bhimbetka. The cave shelters seemed to be comfortable places to stay and there was a statue of a primitive man in front. It was unbelievable that the paintings have existed for so long. I wonder what colours they used! My watercolour paintings seem so lifeless after the water dries up. Some of the pictures reminded me of the ones I used to make on the walls of our apartment when I was a child. I guess these were also made by little children of the ancient times. We stopped at a dhaba on the way and the food was so bad and service so poor that I hardly ate. Due to Baba’s insistence, we had to visit Bhojpur, a long way on a dusty road, to see the ruins of an 11th century temple. I was too tired and didn’t climb up the stairs to see the inside of the temple. I was scared of stairs and gradient after Pachmarhi.
When we reached Bhopal, it was late afternoon. Baba and Sejomama were insisting on visiting Van Vihar, an open zoo. Moonie and I started grumbling as we were too tired and we wondered where they get so much energy at their age. Thanks to my cousin Bapu da, whose place we were going to stay at, ( Bapu da and Chhotu da are identical twins, my Boromasi’s sons) Van Vihar was forgotten for the time being since it was too late and the zoo would close for the day. Bapu da was still at office and we had a hard time finding the house. Our new driver didn’t know anything and he didn’t even have a sense of direction of which was left and right. Since I was in the front seat I had to ask passers-by and vendors and to my irritation, he was slowing down the car at places where there was no one to see. Once I told him to turn left, and he turned the car right. Finally, after crossing innumerable chaurahas, we reached the place where Manju boudi was waiting for us. She guided the driver to the house. As soon as we entered, we were treated to tea and an array of assorted snacks, all of which Manju boudi had made at home. I hadn’t had lunch properly and I devoured everything, asking for more. My other nephew, little Joydeep, was buzzing with excitement and chatting with us. He showed us everything from his textbooks to firecrackers. When Bapu da was back from office, we spent a good time chatting and Bapu da is best at cracking jokes.
The next day was Bhaiphonta and Moonie and I celebrated it with much fare as this was the first time Bapu da got phonta from us.
We visited Sanchi in the morning. The familiar picture in history books stood in front of me. I imagined Ashoka, one of our greatest kings, giving up war and spreading the message of Buddha. The ruins of the viharas around made me imagine how once this place had been buzzing with monks chanting shlokas in praise of the Buddha, a new kind of faith sweeping across the country. There was also a structure resembled Grecian architectural style. The museum nearby was closed on Fridays and so was Van Vihar. All my hopes of seeing a tiger ended with that. We visited a museum called Manab Sangrahalaya in the afternoon. It was a scenic place and I admired the tribal huts from all over the country built there. However, the main museum was too boring for me, which described details of anthropology and evolution with statues of numerous Australopithecus-es and Neanderthals around us. I moved around listlessly taking photos of Joydeep, while my Baba and Sejomama seemed to enjoy the museum completely!
We spent a pleasant evening in a promenade by this huge lake in Bhopal called Bhojtal, supposed to have been built by Raja Bhoj, the Parmara king of Malwa. The waters of the lake turned crimson with sunset as the colossal statue of Raja Bhoj watched. This sunset was much more beautiful than the foggy one at Pachmarhi. A proof perhaps, that sunsets do not need quaint places to be enchanting.
We were back to Bapu da’s place soon and treated to a sumptuous, homely dinner and a peaceful sleep in makeshift but comfortable beds on the floor.
A disappointing birthday
The next day, I was awakened with wishes of a happy birthday. It was my 24th birthday and we were setting off for Ujjain. I have often spent birthdays out in trips. On my 14th birthday, I had taken a bath in the chilly waters of the Ganga at Hrishikesh and when I turned 17, I had spent it inside the caverns of Araku Valley. But this one was the most disappointing.
I had many expectations from Ujjain, after all, it was the capital of Chandragupta Vikramaditya, one of those celebrated ancient cities of which I had read so much in Saradindu’s stories on Kalidas. But I realised after visiting the place that ancient cities are best left as ruins. The interference of life is too much for these cities to bear. Most of them are converted into crowded pilgrimages, and Ujjain was no exception, and to be honest, the place is pervaded with a stinking smell. The Shipra river of which Kalidas had waxed eloquent in his verses is now no more than a huge drain of murky waters, full of garbage. We visited a number of temples here. The caves of Bhartrihari, the Mangalnath temple, the Kalbhairab temple and the Mahakal temple are mostly what I remember. The most interesting was Kalbhairab, the commander-in-chief of Mahakal or Shiva, who feasts on country liquor. Outside the temple, the shops sold bottles of liquor. Since it was my birthday, my mother had decided to appease all the gods in the universe, Kalbhairab being no exception. She bought one of those liquor bottles and the priest poured some of it in a saucer, held it to the lips of the idol and it disappeared. I wonder where it went. The priest offered the rest of it to us as prasad, but now, my mother would have none of it and declined.
The Mahakal Temple was the best of the lot. But I was disappointed to see cement constructions invading the ancient structures, something should be done about these. The manner of visiting the sanctum of the temple was very methodical and organised with spacious pathways, not crowded alleys. And the besan laddoos as prasad were delicious!
We had much trouble finding a hotel here, and the one we finally settled for was the worst one in the entire trip. Yes, it had a crumbling staircase! When Baba and I came back to our car from the hotel hunt, Moonie was smiling mischievously. “Dekhbi ja…dhoreche police e.” Our driver had been fined by the traffic police. No wonder about that, I thought that he should have been fined in Bhopal itself! That was not the end. This was the day I found out that I had lost Rs 500 from my wallet and Moonie had lost Rs 600. Since it was my birthday, I was spared from what otherwise would have been a sermon on my carelessness. My mother, however, turned into Sherlock Holmes, made a thorough inquiry where and when both of us had left our bags and in that elementary-my-dear-Watson-like manner came to a very plausible conclusion of who took it, and also when and how. After that, I decided not to carry money with me if I am travelling with my parents next time, but I wasn’t spared of this responsibility, when we visited Kerala.
Misfortunes never come alone!
The next day, we were on the way to Indore. Our old driver had come back, and we were all pleased. And we were all wondering whether now the other one would travel with us or go back. There wasn’t enough space in the car and more because everyone was annoyed with him (there were enough reasons for that too) and my Baba’s friend remarked, “Indore-e pouchhei eke namiye debo.” But just about 8-9km away from Indore, we got a flat tire. As we waited on a bench in front of a local shop, from out of nowhere a person came (just like the characters of Sukumar Ray’s Ho-jo-bo-ro-lo), guessed we were Bengalis and started chattering away in Bengali, when none of us were interested. Finally, when the tire was changed, our old driver told us that he could not risk it with other worn-out tires and it would take time to change the tire. But our trip was almost ending and we had no time to wait, so we had to change the car when we reached Indore.
Our new driver was completely silent in the beginning. Soon, we realised that he was a worse menace than the previous one. The new car too was not so comfortable, but since there was just two more days left, we had little to complain. We visited Omkareshwar and came across Narmada again. The temple though was too crowded and congested, and I was happy to come outside unhurt. I would have been better off had I not ventured into it. I had a more frightful experience at the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, and have firmly decided that I am not going to visit any more congested holy places with unruly crowds. We had lunch at an eatery outside the temple. Here, the pungent smoke from the oven made my eyes tear and I came out as soon as I ate a bit.
It was from lunch onwards that our driver began to talk. And, he never stopped!
I have read that Subah-e-Benaras, Shaam-e-Awadh and Shab-e-Malwa: the mornings are best in Benaras, the evenings in Awadh and the nights in Malwa. Although our trip had been quite disappointing in its last leg, the only redeeming feature of the trip was the shab-e-Malwa, although it could have been better.
We visited Maheshwar next. A huge fort graced the banks of the Narmada, which once housed the great queen Ahalyabai. The river bank was a pleasant stop. We wanted to spend some more time here, but it was getting late and we needed to reach Mandu/ Mandav, which was quite far from here and the roads were not that great. We also needed to search for a hotel. The car travelled through a moonlit night on the rolling plateau of Malwa. The air outside was cool and pleasant, stars shined through the clouds and the landscape was quiet and lonely with woods scattered around. Although the road was full of potholes and the ride not very comfortable, the journey was pleasant. It was when we were travelling here that I first felt that we are soon going to leave Madhya Pradesh and that I would have to join office again. But what spoilt the experience was the loudmouthed driver, who was interested in asking whether we ate fish and telling us when he had got married and how he had conned tourists (!). Even when none of us answered, he went on and on.
There was a turn on the road which we should have taken to reach Mandu. Although Baba insisted on asking someone around, our driver was more interested in knowing about the actors and actresses of Bengal, he was going on and on about Akshay Kumar and perhaps, Kareena Kapoor, I don’t remember. He didn’t even care to listen to what we said. That made us miss the turn and since it was too late, we stayed the night in Dhar. Everyone was annoyed with the driver, at least, the previous one did not talk so much! My father was determined to get rid of him as soon as we reached Indore.
Subah-e-Malwa is splendid too. We reached Mandu, early next morning. The beautiful fortress located on a hilltop was perhaps the best historical place in Madhya Pradesh. On one side was the plateau of Malwa and on the other, was the plain of Nimar. The structures were pre-eminently Mughal with green lakes in the centres of huge courtyards and magnificent domes. The palaces of king Baz Bahadur and queen Rupmati were the chief attractions. It is believed that both of them composed many ragas and Malwa had once swayed by the music they created. Nearby was unique buildings called Jahaz Mahal and one of them which seemed to swing in the wind! These had an intricate network of pipelines and fountains and we all marvelled at the beauty of the architecture and engineering. The most remarkable structure was Hoshang Shah’s tomb, the first marble structure in our country. Shah Jahan had sent Ustad Isa to visit this building before building the Taj. I loved the morning spent here, since the car was parked outside the fort, the driver hadn’t come to disturb. 🙂
We were on our way to Indore soon. On the way, we were all hungry for lunch and we asked the driver to stop if a dhaba was to be seen. We passed quite a few of them, but showed no sign of stopping. Instead, he remarked, “I am not hungry at all, we would have lunch at Indore.” I was sitting in the front and couldn’t control my rage any longer, and shouted back in Hindi, “How would you feel hungry, you’ve eaten seven bananas that were kept in front, while we had only one each? And it doesn’t matter if you are not hungry or not, if there’s a dhaba to be seen, you have to stop.” I was supported by everyone, especially my father. And now, he was compelled to stop at one.
After lunch, we had a bit of fun as we neared Indore. The driver got repeated calls from his wife and soon, he was yelling at her. From what we could make out of the one-sided conversation was that his wife had come home from somewhere and couldn’t unlock the door, and the driver kept hollering, “Main kya kar sakta hu? Tala torwao…abhi main kaise jaun. Mujhe phone mat karo!” (What can I do now? Get the lock broken…how can I go now. Stop calling me!)
Of bedbugs and palaces
We reached Indore in the afternoon and found a relatively decent hotel, at least at first sight. And we did not bother because we were stopping just for a day. Our driver wanted to show us around and stay but we refused. And we thought he had gone. Later, we were going out in the evening to walk nearby. When we came down to the lounge of the hotel, it was almost as if we saw the devil, the driver waiting! We refused him again and took a stroll nearby, only to see local tea-shops and tire shops. The location of the hotel was not a good one, but we wanted one near the station, as our train was at 11pm the next day.
When I woke up in the morning, everyone was complaining about the bedbugs. I sleep too soundly to feel them. But soon Moonie showed me one (this was the first time I saw one of these creatures) and my Sejomama punned, “Bagh dekhte ese seshe bug dekhli toh.” We hired an auto to see the city, the driver was finally gone! The most remarkable place here was a Jain temple completely inlaid with glass and the Lalbagh Palace. Once a residence of the Holkars, the palace is one of the most luxurious houses that I have ever seen. This palace built of Italian marble was strewn with relics of the past, ranging from tiger skins and ivory caskets to a room with a billiards table. Baba, Moonie and I spent the afternoon packing and resting at the hotel, others had gone shopping. What was distressing was the smell of a fumigant that had been sprayed in our rooms, after Baba had complained of the bedbugs. I blamed Baba for that, since we would have left the hotel tonight. After, a light dinner we reached the station and boarded Shipra Express, bidding goodbye to Indore.
The journey was two nights long and boring. In the evening the next day, it seemed to feel that we have boarded the train for a month. When we reached Durgapur, I heaved a sigh of relief. There is no place sweeter than home.
P.S Will upload the photos soon. And beware the drivers of Indore.