Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary

Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary
Riding along SH-13, it took hardly thirty minutes to reach the town of Bandel from Pandua fair ground. Hailing from Bardhaman I had heard of Bandel Church countless times, but as you tend to ignore places of tourist interest nearby your native place, I too had followed the same footprint till then, i.e. I deaf-eared the call of this church. On reaching Bandel I inquired the road direction to the church from a helpful localite. The church was located adjacent to the Don Bosco School. What I’ve observed till date is, when a local guy comes to know that I’m a motorcycle tourer he shares information and directions with added warmth. If you ask me the inside logic, I’m just as clueless as you are. A probable hypothesis could be- Majority of people still considers riding on two wheels to be a mode to small distance commuting. In five minutes, I was in front of the Basilica of Holy Rosary. Yes, that’s the official name of Bandel Church. Needless to say, it was massive and somewhat comparable in size to the St Philomena’s Church (do not take it too literally) in Mysore which I had visited earlier.
Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary
Although there were many visitors, the ambiance inside the church was serene and appropriate for prayer.
This Portuguese church, the Basilica of Holy Rosary attracts a lot of Christian pilgrims along with other tourists to the old port town Bandel all throughout the year, especially during November-January. It is one of the oldest churches in India. The church that stands today with three altars, several tombstones, an organ and a shrine to Mary was the reconstructed in 1660 by Gomez de Soto on the ruins of the original church which was built much before in 1599. You can see the keystone of the original church bearing the date 1599, on the eastern gate of the monastery and an antique piece of ship’s mast in front of the church which was donated by the captain of a ship after he got saved from a tempest in Bay of Bengal with the divine blessing of Mary!
Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary
Bandel Church is massive and somewhat comparable in size to the St Philomena’s Church in Mysore.
As you ascend the upper floors of the church you can view the Hooghly River and the surrounding area quite clearly. Although there were many visitors/devotees, the ambiance inside the church building was serene and appropriate for prayer. You’ll be approached by many candle sellers before you enter the church, which according to me is a good means to contribute to the local economy, even if it’s very little. I was glad to find my motorcycle and helmet safely stationed where I had parked them. The easiest way (of course, other than hiring a cab) of reaching Bandel Church would be to take a local train from Kolkata/Howrah/Bardhaman and then opt for rickshaw ride up to the Church as you get down at Bandel railway station.
Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary
As you ascend the upper floors of the church you can view the Hooghly River and the surrounding area quite clearly.
Well, from a traveler’s point of view I would not have advised you to make a trip to this Hooghly belt just for documenting the Bandel church but I am recommending you to do so, because Hooghly has many more historical gems to lure its tourists. You must visit the nearby Hooghly Imambara and the Hangseswari Temple at Bansberia to make the most out of your day trip. I put on my helmet once again in search of Hooghly Imambara. Read out its tale of sorrow in the following blog post. Signing off with your kind permission... See you folks!
Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary
 Bandel Church, the Basilica of the Holy Rosary is one of the oldest churches in India!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly

Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
Durga Puja is the most happening yearly thing that fine-tunes our mundane lives. Yes, you guessed it right, I’m a Bengali guy popularly addressed as ‘Bong’ by my interstate friends. Some of us who are settled out of the state flock back like sunset birds during this time of the year, and a good portion of Bengalis rooted to their soil take liberty of planning family trips during Durga puja holidays. I've always been a hybrid of these two categories and had planned for a simple family trip to Puri in 2013. But, the wicked ‘Phailin’ (a devastating cyclonic storm) dropped in from nowhere with all her glory and washed out our modest travel itinerary barely few minutes before we were about to board the train! It was a big disappointing story and certainly off-topic to this travel tale of Pandua, a historical town in the Hooghly district.
Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
Once you reach the fair-ground, the 125 feet high Pandua Minar will surely steal your gaze.
The effect of Phailin was not pleasant though. Leave alone the coastal areas of Bay of Bengal, it had exerted its malicious effect even on regions 200-250 kilometers away from the coastline! It drizzled intermittently all through those four Puja days. While others agreed to put up with the whims of nature by staying at home with occasional pandal-hopping, I decided to make a brief day ride to some worthy nearby destinations. Exploring various well known corners of Hooghly seemed like the only feasible idea. Pandua, a tinsel town in Hooghly district, roughly fifty kilometers away from Bardhaman was my perfect starting stopover for the day. As long as the sweet chemistry between a man and his motorcycle exists, riding to new places is a cheese walk. Thus, my visit to Pandua was soon followed by quick rides to the Bandel Church, Hooghly Imambara and Hanseswari Temple at Bansberia. Well, each one of them deserves separate blog posts and I'll be doing just that.
Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
Adjacent to the minar lies the ruins of the Mosque of Pandua, popularly known as Bari Masjid.
Once my two wheels touched the pamper ground of NH-2, the apprehension of an overcast sky evaporated out of my head and the motorcyclist inside me moaned in ecstasy! Good things seldom last long. Soon NH-2 had to be left for narrower state highway. On a positive note, this picturesque road through suburbs and villages provided me with abundant greenery to sooth my eyes. In little more than an hour my pony took me to the unsung historical town of Pandua. Alternatively, one can reach Pandua from Howrah or Bardhaman side through railways. Once you reach Pandua you'll have two monuments to visit, and good thing is that they are located at the same place. You have to ask from any local guy the direction of the fair-ground.
Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
This brick-made Minar has five storeys, diminishing in size as you go higher, with flutings in the lower three.
Once you reach the fair-ground, the 125 feet high Pandua Minar will surely steal your gaze. But you will be sad by the extravagantly under maintained state of the monument. The fence put by Archaeological Survey of India has been torn apart at various points to facilitate the free wandering of cattle and dry domestic clothes, as if the colossal Minar was built for this purpose only! Rising to a height of 38.10 meters, the Pandua Minar was built possibly in 1340 AD by Shah Sufiuddin as a tower of victory.
Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
Adjacent to the locked entrance of the minar you'll find this base of a broken sculpture (probably?)
This brick-made minar has five storeys, diminishing in size as you go higher, with flutings in the lower three. The entrance was provided with a stone door frame flanked on either side by carved stone pillars of some Hindu temple. Visitors are not lucky enough to climb up this minar due to the rusted lock on the main entrance. I was really curious to know who actually possessed the key to that lock. I could not find anyone who could possibly quench my curiosity. After all, who needs to know everything! Adjacent to the minar, barely 50-70 metres away lies the ruins of the Mosque of Pandua, popularly known as Bari Masjid. Bari Masjid, built by Shah Safiuddin in 1300 AD, is a prototype specimen of brick-type architecture of Bengal.
Visit to Pandua - a historical town in Hooghly
Roof of this Bari Masjid had 63 small domes over brick arches resting on stone pillars of Hindu design.
Bari Masjid is a long, low building measuring 70.41 meters by 12.80 meters, having 3 aisles with 21 door openings in front and three on sides. Its roof had 63 small domes over brick arches resting on stone pillars of Hindu design. A canopied platform is an attractive feature of this monument. In my short 30 minutes stay at Pandua I could spot only a couple of tourists who were photographing those ruins with their tablet. I made my camera to toil with some quick clicks and then left the fair-ground with a faint optimism- someday, all historical monuments scattered throughout this incredible India will be taken better care by our Government. My next destination was Bandel Church - the Basilica of the Holy Rosary. I've blogged about my visit to the Bandel Church in the subsequent post, so give it a read!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India

Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
All these years I had been making best use of my Navaratri days by happily capturing various phases of Durga Puja, starting from idol-making to burning of Ravana effigies on Dussehra. But this year, I was too trapped in my less adorable priorities to live free on my own. Things were not falling in place at all. What my heart longed for was being snatched away from me by uncompassionate time and that too repeatedly! At first, the end-monsoon Kurseong trip, then the family trip to Kashmir valley in mid-October and finally, the work related Udaipur trip, all of them had to be called off one by one. When your travel appetite is high but you are left to grieve with your hung up boots, you start hearing whimpers of your otherwise inanimate travel companions- rucksack, camera or the most manly member of the troop, your vehicle. It doesn't mean that you are hallucinating. The simple message is: Get out of the maze and submit yourself to the wanderlust...
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
Parasnath range of hills as seen from the Delhi-Kolkata highway.
Strictly adhering to the Navaratri lingo, I was free from Chaturthi to Shashthi (5th to 7th October), of course not by choice. In a 3 days/ 2 nights itinerary, a starving traveler might want to circumnavigate the world (mathematically, around 25,000 miles) but that's super surreal. I had already fixed my mind on a motorcycle trip. The first destination that struck my mind was Kakinada, a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, roughly 1,100 kilometers distant from my home. Due to feasibility issues I ruled out Kakinada and settled with Parasnath Hill. Yes, Parasnath Hill was the right call. It is less than 250 kilometers away from my home and beautifully connected by NH-2, the Delhi-Kolkata highway. Plan was to ride to Madhuban (the northern entry point to the Parasnath pilgrimage trail), stay overnight, hike to the summit of Parasnath Hill in the following morning, descend back to the village of Madhuban for a goodnight sleep and vroom back to Bardhaman on the third day. Pretty elementary you see!
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
A glimpse of the white Parasnath Temple at the very top, partially veiled in mist and clouds.
Parasnath Hill is the loftiest member of the Parasnath range, located towards the eastern edge of Chota Nagpur plateau in the Giridih district of Jharkhand. Although Parasnath is the highest (4,429 feet) mountain peak of Jharkhand, its prominence in the travel map of India is purely due to its religious significance among Jains. Every year thousands of Jains hike to the top of Parasnath Hill or circumambulate (parikrama) this hill at its base as a part of their religious endeavor. The peak of Parasnath Hill is more popular among Jains as- 'Shikharji' (venerable peak) or, 'Sammet Shikhar' (peak of concentration), and they believe that this is the holy site where twenty of the twenty-four Tirthankaras attained Moksha (salvation). 
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
Jain pilgrims cover a mountain trail of about 27 kilometers on bare feet as a part of their religious endeavor!
My ride to Madhuban along most familiar NH-2 would haven uneventful sans the continuous drizzle that kept me wet and cold throughout the journey. Obviously the driving time got prolonged and I was all muddy as I reached the village of Madhuban. On the last leg of the ride, the road connecting Dumri-more to Madhuban was very scenic, quite similar to those picturesque foothill frames you often come across. I was too apprehensive to take out the camera in rain and chose few missed opportunities over risking my photographic gear. Before the daylight drew its curtain I could reach Madhuban. My first impressions of Madhuban were definitely positive.
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
Pilgrims who are not in positions to walk can avail 'doli' services for the entire Parasnath trail.
Madhuban is a tiny town (don't know if I should call it a village) studded with many Jain temples, mostly crowded by Jain pilgrims, and locals carrying pilgrims in dolis (palanquins/ litters) is a common sight over any street of Madhuban till it gets dark. There is no commercial hotel available at Madhuban but you'll find a lot of rest houses which primarily accommodate Jain pilgrims. They won't refuse to provide you a room unless you act fishy. It has to be understood that Shikharji is the holiest Jain pilgrimage site in India and during festival times when the tourist influx is high you might not be able to find an accommodation on the spot without prior booking. You shouldn't mind the justified discrimination if a Jain visitor is given priority over you. Considering my solo status as a traveler the first lodge denied me a room. I didn't have to toil though. I managed a spacious room at Yatri Niwas. They have both AC and non-AC room options. Be careful before inclining for air conditioning because it might not just work, owing to bad voltage or faulty compressor.
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
Early morning chill encasing the hill and chirping of birds as the sun rises make the ascent more delightful to nature lovers!
Pre-hiking excitement didn't let me savor a wholesome sleep and I wok up before four in the morning beating the punctuality of the cellphone alarm. Many Jain devotees flags on their pilgrimage by 02:00 AM and cover a mountain trail of about 27 kilometers on bare feet in 10-12 hours which includes worshiping breaks at various temples along the hiking route. Those of you who're accustomed to my religious bankruptcy already know that my purpose of hiking was anything but pilgrimage. I was there to tease my subzero stamina (as a result of sedentary lifestyle) with few hours of mountain walk and get the bird's eye view of the plain below from the top of Parasnath Hill. For me the hiking trail didn't have to be so painstaking like Jain pilgrims. My planned hiking route was modest 20 kilometers and hardly did I know when I commenced my trek at 05:30 that I would be huffing and puffing right from the midway!
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
At every 500 meters or so, you'll come across a stall selling lemon juice, tea and bottled water.
Do not underestimate the vital role of a walking stick while hiking to Parasnath Hill. Keep your backpack very light. Hydration is essential but you don't have to mule a large supply of water because, at every 500 meters or so, you'll come across a stall selling lemon juice, tea and bottled water. If you are hiking for non-religious reasons do remember to put on a good pair of hiking boots. They will save your toe joints, ankles and calf muscles from extreme stress especially during downhill walks. The route to Shikharji is paved with concrete slabs all the way up and there are several places along the trail where steps have been constructed. Although the path is good steep slopes probably make this hike more challenging. Early morning chill encasing the hill and chirping of birds as the sun rises make the ascent more delightful to nature lovers.
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
A doli is carried by either two or four bearers, depending on the weight of the passenger.
Pilgrims who are not in positions to walk can avail 'doli' (litter/palanquin) services for the entire Parasnath trail and these can be arranged right from the rest house at Madhuban. A doli is carried by either two or four bearers, depending on the weight of the passenger. A devotee weighing within 69 kg can opt for the simple-doli (carried by 2 doli bearers) and above that one has to go for chair-doli (carried by 4 doli bearers). If arranged from Madhuban, doli fares are usually fixed and ranges from 1984 to 7935 rupees, depending on the body weight of the devotee. While hiking up the hill you may come across a number of doli-walas ferrying empty dolis who would try to convince you for their services. They do not nag and usually quite helpful. But once you're already out of breathe, easy availability of a comfortable vector can alter your hiking determination. After 4 kilometers from the base there is a gurgling stream called 'Gandharva nala'. Pious Jains consider the trail from Gandharva nala up to the summit very sacred. About 7 kilometers up the trail one would find a bifurcation. The left path shall take you to the Gautam Swami Temple and the right one directly takes you to the Parasnath Temple at the top. Pilgrims first reach the Gautam Swami Hill, then head towards Chandra Prabhu Hill, then back to Jal Mandir and finally to the Parasnath Temple. I simply took the path to my right.
Hike to Parasnath Hill - the holiest Jain Pilgrimage trail in India
Everything around the Parasnath Temple was too smoky and mystic to reveal much to any mortal!
Just 1-2 kilometers before the reaching the summit you'll come across a dak-bungalow. One can experience an overnight stay there by booking it from the base at Madhuban. Increase in the frequency of snacks stalls and roomy tiled steps mark the arrival of your destination. You get a glimpse of the white Parasnath Temple at the very top, partially veiled in mist and clouds. The weather at the top is seldom clear. Clouds were brushing the floor of the temple and hiding the vista of the vast plains lying below. I wanted to spot the NH-2 but everything around the peak was too smoky and mystic to reveal much to any mortal! After a humble peep inside the Parasnath Temple it was time for descent. Steep gradients are equally energy consuming during downhill hike. After all human bodies are not equipped with anti-lock braking system, right? In 2-3 hours I climbed down to Madhuban concluding my hike to Parasnath Hill. It was time to rest, recap and rejoice the memory. In a travelogue the writer often misses out the shitty part of the trip to make it look all buttery. So did I. Keep guessing my act of omission. More importantly, if you've sound physical and mental health, and of course desire to travel, waste no time and pack your rucksack  for Parasnath. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

10 Things every Traveler should Carry

10 Things every Traveler should Carry
Traveling is one of the most enjoyable activities known to mortals. All travelers, irrespective whether they are lazy or proactive would agree on one common ground- Packing the travel bag is the only non-sugary part of the whole game. Why? Because, we are expected to remain calm while throwing those right things into our backpack despite that horny pre-traveling mood! It is along the course of our trip we discover that we have missed out few travel essentials, which is often manageable but sometimes disastrous. Can you expect to find your piles ointment at Everest base camp or toilet tissue roll in a remote village of India? In this article I will condition your mind with few essential things which you should never miss out while stuffing your travel bag. Most of these things you already know but you tend to forget them in the excitement of exploring a new destination. Besides common travel essentials, make a checklist of these 10 things which every traveler must carry:

* You should never forget to carry Toilet Paper roll: Even if you have the habit of washing your assets after blissful purgation, like majority of Indians, do not be a miser to leave out a toilet paper roll. It is one of the most versatile things a traveler can have in his backpack. You can remove a greasy stain, wrap some dry eatables, wipe off your utensils, nurse your watering nose and the list continues. After all, if a mischievous crow poops over your head how are you going to clean it up?

* You should never forget to carry few meters of a strong nylon Rope: Even if you are not going for camping or hiking trip, a rope might come handy in your traveling. In a budget hotel you can tie the rope in your balcony and hang your wet clothes to dry. In worst scenario if your bag/suitcase/trolley bursts open, you can assemble it again temporarily by tying it from all four sides. Don’t carry more than 8-10 meters of rope, otherwise it’ll add up to your luggage weight.

* You should never forget to carry a strip of Super-glue: It can fix anything and everything, starting from your broken glasses to shoe sole. It is just in my last trek I realized the essentialness of a super-glue when one of my fellow trekkers parted with his shoe sole and a strip of super-glue from somebody else’s rucksack saved him from walking barefoot in the dense forest trail. Since then it has found a permanent place in my travel bag.

* You should never forget to carry a Crepe Bandage and few Medicated adhesive bandages: Once your limb suffers soft tissue injury resulting from fall, stretch or strain, nothing can give better relief to it than a crepe bandage. Although it will be disrespectful for the crepe bandage but still you can exploit it as a rope when you need to! Medicated adhesive bandages come in different names like Band-aid, Hansaplast etc. Buy the wash-proof variety and keep 5-6 of them in your bag. Hold on, I do not expect you to get 5-6 accidental cuts on your body but you never know those infinite possibilities, do you? Moreover, these mini bandages come to use when you get painful shoe-sore.

* You should never forget to carry a Foldable sharp Knife: Some prefer a small scissor in their travel bag but I go with the knife. After all, can you slice/peel off fruits with a scissor? Don’t carry a large knife or you may be harassed in the airport and remember not to put into your cabin luggage. Now do I have to preach on 100 roles of a knife?

* You should never forget to carry a Power Bank or a mobile phone with marathon battery: Better spend 1000-1500 bucks (~ 25 USD) for a heavy-duty power bank which will guarantee 2-3 emergency recharges of your smart phone battery. I personally prefer carrying a simple phone with marathon battery. It’ll come to rescue once your expensive smart phone gives up and you don’t have luxury of recharging it. You may ask- how is it superior to a power-bank? Well, a branded power-bank (anything over 10,000 mAh) is way too expensive and adds substantial bulk to your luggage weight. Of course, if you have too many online obligations which your smart phone can only assist then definitely go for a reliable power-bank to juice up cell phone from time to time.

* You should never forget to carry few Plastic Packets: Carrying few plastic packets of different sizes can prove beneficial anytime. You may pack your wet clothes inside them or, safeguard all your dry items in case water sips into your supposedly waterproof backpack. You can also dump all your waste products throughout the day and dispose it off later to a recycle bin. Take proper care to ensure that your plastic packets are strong enough to hold your goods and also environment friendly. For devil’s sake do not litter them anywhere along the route.
10 Things every Traveler should Carry
* You should never forget to carry Hard-copy of Travel Map and Tourist Information: Most probably you do online research work while planning your travel itinerary (If you didn't then start doing it from your coming trip). Take a clear printout of your travel map and relevant details, collected from different travel forums and Wiki. Before converting it to hard-copy, concise the material and limit it to not more than ten pages. When every other source (electronic gadget, local people etc) betrays, this modest booklet will be your travel lifeline. Moreover you can always crosscheck info and aid to your safety, budget and entertainment.

* You should never forget to carry a Cigarette Lighter and a Torch: These are useful not only to travelers who smoke but also to those who hate it. Anytime you may need a source of fire and matchsticks may not always light up due to dampness or the wind. Keep a good quality gas lighter in your travel bag that won’t leak. Also keep a battery operated LED pencil torch. A LED torch consumes very little battery and enough to accompany you throughout the trip on a single recharge.

* You should never forget to carry your valid Driving License: You never know when you need to hire a self-drive vehicle in emergency situation, or to explore a scenic route. If you are traveling international you are bound to carry your passport, but if you’re traveling domestic then your driving license will eliminate the need to carry any other extra identity proof which can be demanded anytime and anywhere. Never travel without a single ID proof. Oh yes, make sure that your driving license has not expired.

These are enough for time being. Here, I reminded you of those 10 things which every traveler should carry, yet misses out often while packing his travel bag. There are few more things which are really vital, like- your daily medications, travel documents, credit/debit card etc which I haven’t included in this post as it is highly unlikely that you'll forget packing them. May be I’ll come up with another article on travel essentials. Be responsible, smart, nature-loving and keep clicking photos on the go!