Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Spring Song of Delhi - Part I

March 2018

Times are changing and so is Delhi’s weather. This was a different winter; a winter that never felt like the Dilli ki Sardi you knew. It was so mild that your favourite muffler or long scarf did not come out and the rajai stayed in the box. The blankets took care of whatever cold the winter offered. Usually January and February see showers that make the cold air fresh and crispy. Nope, this time there were no showers either to wash the trees of their soot and dust or to make Delhi a little more liveable. The sad, dark leaves unable to breath weighed down heavily from the branches and you continued to breath the vile air. It seems Delhi will soon lose its winters and it will be one long hot season blazing through the year.

There was just one bright spot and that too short-lived. Spring arrived and the air cleaned up. Blue skies finally appeared. While last year NDMC did a spectacular job with the flowers and the roundabouts, this year, just like the winters they too seem to have sleep-walked. The roundabouts seem sadly uninviting and the flowers looked uninterested. 

The trees of Delhi have come to your rescue. The short Spring thankfully makes the trees drop their dusty leaves. Silk Cottons, the old faithfuls of Delhi burst into sparkling reds, peepal leaves take all hues possible before turning into the most delicious green you will ever see. White Kachnars bejewel the blue skies. Shahtoot and Sheesham turn gloriously green. Bougainvillea explodes into molten red lava. The Rosy Trumpet Tree makes the skies blush pink.

The sights are refreshing. While driving, now you need to keep one eye on the road ahead and another on the trees above. 

Here is a look:  

Rain Daisies or African Daisies

Pansies of All Colours
You are seeing Tulips for the first time in Delhi - Nehru Park

And the first time you are seeing Sarson Ke Phool (Mustard) on Delhi roundabouts! Are they?

This is the Flower Park in Nehru Park. At least this part did not disappoint; it was as flowery as last year. However, it seems the NDMC gave a miss to its annual flower show when different flowers and their owners are awarded prizes. 

Notice the trees in the background. A week later they will paint the horizon yellow!

A bed of red Petunias

Dahlia Flowered Zinnias

They look like marigolds but are actually dahlias. It is a different variety which is smaller and more compact and they bloom after the bigger ones have wilted and can withstand hot weather

Soon these flowers will turn into Dussheri Mangoes

Peepal trees are so ubiquitous in the Indian landscape that they are almost visible even when we stand below them on hot afternoons. They are unglamorous as they go about doing their job quietly.  Come spring and it is like you can stand in front and actually see leaves change colour every few minutes. The leaves turn red, copper and few other hues that you can't name. And then almost as if on cue, they turn green. A green so delicious and pretty that all you can do is stand by the road and stare even as passing motorists stare at you

Matching Matching -  Spring is beautiful in monochrome too - Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera) sitting amongst the oh so delicious looking green leaves of Peepal (Ficus religosa), Along the wide boulevards of Noida, UP

Drum Stick or Sonjna (Moringa oleifera) Trees in full glory

The luminiscent Pilkhan under blue skies - Probably the prettiest sky gazing that you will ever experience over Delhi
Pilkhan - Ficus virens
The new leaves are reddish and copper colour. With the increasing and decreasing intensity of sunlight they seem to change colour every few minutes
Pilkhan - What a magnificent sight - Lodhi Colony is the only government housing colony built during British times, so this beautiful tree right here is a colonial legacy besides the ones in Lutyens Delhi

Is this the prettiest damn Pilkhan in Delhi - Gupta ji is just surprised that someone would actually stop and notice the tree and then walk under the tree taking photographs. He follows you around amazed.
The Gandhi cap wearing Gupta ji leads a blessed life. He lives on Jorbagh Road, just a short walking distance from his office in Mausam Bhawan on Lodhi Road. So even as Delhi heats up more every summer, Gupta ji still does not have a cooler. We step inside his Government quarter to see the still same British time ceiling fan. And then you feel it. While outside its already warming up, inside it is cool, almost cold. They will keep using blankets for some more time. The high roof is one reason – yes Lodhi Colony is the only British time government colony in Delhi.
The reason is outside in all its spring crowning glory. A grand old Pilkhan spreads its branches over the entire courtyard. The new leaves twinkle in the afternoon sun. Gupta ji eyes twinkle as he explains how reflection and refraction is colouring the leaves in all those hues. His wife and kids have come out and look at him and you with some incredulity.
Munching on home-made Gunjias, we make our way to Lodhi Gardens. We are going tree spotting.

Bougainvillea Hanami in Lodhi Gardens

The cascading shower of flowers fill the entire place with a special red and pink ambience lifting the mood and placing it up there where everything is gossamer and floaty.

The entire city is camping below the two bougainvilleas. There is a birthday party happening, a couple is making hundred poses for their pre-wedding shoot (they all should be banned from public places for causing serious harm to sensibilities of innocent people like you), a portrait shoot is going on. Every bench, inch and spot is taken.

The Green Wave

Indian Coral Tree or Tiger Claw (Erythrina variegata)

Jungli Badam or Wild Indian Almond (Sterculia foetida)

In its annual restoration exercise, Spring studs stars on the dome of Sheesh Gumbad in Lodhi Gardens - More Pilkhan Delights

The old favourite Neem
Caribbean Trumpet Tree (Tabebuia aurea) - In another week the trees will turn into a brilliant show of yellow

Pink Poui or Pink Trumpet Tree (Tabebuia rosea)

Also known as Basant ki Rani - equally beautiful name

Some red Bottle Brush, some violet Bougainvillea, some more red Silk Cotton

Can't get enough of Pilkhan

Finally sunset at Lotus Temple
Today's Spring day is perhaps the loveliest so far - skies have turned blue, leaves change colour every moment, the crunch of fallen leaves under the feet feels heavenly, birds chirp happily in the branches. In the evening, clouds and the setting sun add dash of purple and pink to the skies. The cool breeze makes the nights magical as you walk through the royal palms in the colony park. Legs walk to a special rhythm. Smile is playing on your face. A single day has added months to your life. Delhi knows how to keep our romance alive. You don't want this beautiful day of spring to ever end.  

Related Posts on this Blog

Delhi's Star Spangled Spring

Delhi 'Holi'Day 2018
Delhi 'Holi'Day 2016
Delhi 'Holi'Day 2015
Floss Silk Flowers

Blooming Walls of Lodhi Colony  

Love in the Times of Amaltas

Photography Locations
  • Nehru Park
  • Sunder Nursery
  • Lodhi Gardens
  • Lodhi Colony
  • New Delhi Roundabouts
  • Noida Roads
  • Lotus Temple
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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Hampi – The Epochal Love Story

From a distance it seems pebbles have been strewn around carelessly forming mounds. Coming closer, the huge loose granite boulders begin to take shape. Stretched among these precariously balanced boulders piled high, paddy fields glow in the morning sun. Coconut palms sway to the music of the breeze. The sparkling Tungabhadra River flows serenely. High up, a lone mantapa perched on the side of the hill standing guard for centuries watches this scene dispassionately. This is the hauntingly enchanting landscape of UNESCO World Heritage Site Hampi in Karnataka that witnessed the rise and downfall of one of the greatest Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagara.

The Classic Hampi Landscape - you could look at it for the rest of your life - boulders, palms, Tungabhadra and the ruins
The love story that started few years ago has grown stronger over several visits. It was love at first sight with the austere and grandiose Hampi and now every visit is a joyous homecoming. The ochre boulders, the green banana plantations and the grey ruins seem to hold you into a lulling embrace filling your entire being with surging bliss. You want to see, feel and experience more of Hampi.

The Bazaar area of Krishna Temple - One of the four temple complexes in Hampi and as with every temple complex there is a huge Pushkarni
This is Kishkindha, the Monkey Kingdom where several episodes of Ramayana were played out. Ram & Lakshman had arrived here looking for the abducted Sita when they met Sugriv and his chief minister Hanuman. Upon Hanuman’s request, Ram kills the usurper brother Vali restoring the kingdom to Sugriv whose help was needed to find Sita. Across Tungabhadra, overlooking the Pampa Sarovar where Ram bathed, Sabari fed berries to Ram. The stories don’t end here. The Pampa Sarovar or Lotus Pond is named after Brahma’s daughter Pampa who performed penances on Hemakuta Hill attracting attention of Shiva. Shiva seated in meditation after destroying Kama, god of love, finally relented and married Pampa and she became identified as his consort Parvati. The God and Goddess are worshipped in Virupaksha Temple; Hampi or Pampakshetra’s oldest temple. Locally, Shiva is known as Virupaksha.

The King's Balance - the kings supposedly got themselves weighed in gold and silver and then donated it to the public - on the walking trail along the Tungabhadra from Virupaksha Temple to Vitthal Temple

In 1336, two brothers Harihara and Bukka, who probably ruled over the tiny principality of Anegundi, crossed over the Tungabhadra to establish the capital city of Vijaynagara – City of Victory - which grew into the formidable Vijaynagara Empire. Over a period of 200 years, the kingdom would become fabulously rich, powerful and the largest in South India. Vijaynagara became an important trading centre. Chroniclers from Persia, Italy and Portugal who visited during this period were dazzled by the unrivalled imperial splendour, the likes of which they had not seen before.

Last time the serene Tungabhadra raged during the monsoons and you wimped out and refused to climb the boat. This time you jump across the boulders to discover the Bohemian piece of Hampi with shacks and budget hotels catering to backpackers

The magnificence of Hampi is best appreciated by walking. Virupakhsa Temple, patronized by the founders and around which the city grew is the logical place to start. Hemakuta Hill with its smattering of temples and mantapas lies to the south offering atmospheric views of the temple and its towering gopuras. The sprawling temple complex has a 100-columned hall and coronation mandap decorated with fantastic yalis and makaras. The ceiling has brilliant paintings depicting mythological scenes and royal life. The living temple sees the most visitors and devotees thronging the mandaps and sanctum. Don’t miss Laxmi, the petite elephant blessing the visitors. Emerge out from the north gateway to the Manmatha pushkarni. Just beyond the Tungabhadra flows.

Hampi's skies are always atmospheric and here they seem to be in a mixed mood - Manmantha Pushkarni at the living Virupaksha Temple

Come back to Hampi Bazaar where a long colonnaded bazaar stretches in front of Virupaksha Temple, one of the four street bazaars, a feature common to all the temples in the sacred centre. At the far end, a colossal Nandi is seated in a mandap with the backdrop of Matanga Hill.

You can keep going to Hampi forever for this sight. Ride the circular boats made of reed and bamboo. Just like the inhabitants of Vijaynagar did hundreds of years ago. In the distance is the Anjanadri Hill in Anegundi where Hanuman was born

If you want to go back into time, turn left from Hampi Bazaar and walk along Tungabhadra with perhaps the most remarkable setting. Time seems to have stopped here. Devotees dressed like they did 700 years ago rest on the rocks at Chakratirtha, the holiest bathing spot, after paying obeisance at the Kodandrama Temple. Circular boats made of reed and bamboo called coracles rest on the riverbank like they have done through the ages. Sit with the devotees as you watch the tranquil waters flow through a gorge towards Anjanadri Hill, where Hanuman was born. Hampi is a window where you can watch mythology, lost glory of Vijaynagar and the present in the same frame.

The lofty gopurums of the temples in Hampi are built of bricks with stucco bas relief ornamentation. Exposure to elements have damaged the gopurams. Conservation efforts are underway at Krishna Temple 
Continue walking along the river, as you pass the Courtesan’s Street, another bazaar that leads to the third temple complex Achyutaraya Temple, until you reach a double storeyed pavilion like gateway with the King’s Balance next to it where the kings were weighed against gold and gems. This brings you to the most ornate temple complex called Vitthal Temple. Here the iconic Garuda shrine in the form of wheeled chariot pulled by horses stands splendidly under blue skies.  

Hampi - Every visit to Hampi reveals more surprises. Here you meet the most enchanting and the prettiest woman in whole of Vijaynagar - what flair what verve and what a hairstyle - You are in love!
But then all good things come to an end. The Deccan Sultanates to the North form a coalition. Vijaynagar army is routed in the Battle of Talikota in 1565. For next six months, the beautiful city is ravaged and pillaged. The ruined town is soon abandoned. The lively streets and bazaars that saw merchants from across the world trade gold, gems, ivory, brocade, silk and horses were soon overgrown and forgotten.

You love the blue skies over Hampi. They add that extra dimension to the ruins and the landscape. Here, last time you were treated to a beautiful sunset; this time ruins and wrestling sculptures

The Royal Enclosure bore the brunt of the pillage that followed the doomed battle. Nothing survives except the beautiful unearthed pushkarni with elevated stone aqueducts and the massive three-tiered Mahanavami Dibba platform. During the nine days of Navaratri, the king sat on a gem studded throne on top witnessing the grand celebrations with dazzling display of wealth and power.  Foreign chroniclers have left glowing accounts of the extravagant pomp and splendour.

The Zenana Enclosure is relatively damaged and houses the prettiest structures - The Lotus Mahal incorporating distinct Islamic architecture is one of Hampi's most recognisable monument

Hampi - The Elephant Stables

The high fortification walls bring you to Zenana Enclosure. Inside, the Lotus Mahal and the elephant stables with pointed arches, vaults and domes built in distinct Islamic architecture are apparently inspired by the contemporary neighbouring Bahmani Kingdom. In fact, there is an entire Islamic Quarter near the Malyavanta Hill which points to cosmopolitan spirit of Vijayanagara.

The higher you climb the Matanga Hill, the more spectacular Hampi turns - Here is the bird's eye view of the massive Achyutaraya Temple
After a full day of exploring on foot, there is one last promise to keep. You are back at the entrance of Achyutaraya Temple. Unfrequented by the tourists, it is all quiet here. On the right rises the craggy Matanga Hill. The rounded boulders have inexplicably arranged themselves to form the highest peak in Hampi. You have promised yourself that this time you will climb to the top for the breath-taking sunset views. A passing shower has made the steep climb on the broken steps built during Vijayanagara times treacherous. With every step the views turn stunning. 

For the first time you get bird’s eye view of the most surreal landscape in the country - the same pebble like boulders, the patches of green and to the north the sliver of Tungabhadra. The Virupaksha Temple radiates golden aura under the setting sun. The prayers from the temple wafts up along with the cool breeze. The sky changes colour every minute. You want to savour every moment. This is your Promised Land.

The views were worth waiting for five years - On top of Matanga Hill and looking towards Virupaksha Temple

You just realise that not a day goes by when you don’t miss Hampi. It seems you have known each other for ages. The next time you will come for a longer visit. You want to spend more time with her. You feel her anguish. We will both sit holding hands looking into each other’s eyes. And then we will let the tears flow. We will cry together – at our ruins, at our fate and our lost glory.

Must Do Things in and around Hampi
Ride a coracle on Tungabhadra river
Watch the sun go down over Hampi from top of Matanga Hill
Walk along Tungabhadra river from Hampi Bazaar to Vitthal Temple
Enjoy a slice of bohemian Hampi across the river from Virupaksha Temple
Marvel at never seen before pre-historic art at Onake Kindi near Chikkarampur Village
Enjoy some fish angling at the sublime Sanapur Lake
Discover the quiet Anegundi Village where the story of Vijaynagara began

A Version of this story appeared in the March-April issue of Inflight Magazine Trujetter

The spread is delicious enough to eat

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Some more Hampi Magic