Monday, 21 May 2012

Roopkund: Glacial Lake of Skeleton

A good mystery is loved by everyone but for some, unraveling mystery is everything. Roopkund lake is one of the most beguile and enthralling exemplar of mysterious places getting unraveled. The Roopkund lake cuddles in the isolated wombs of the majestic Himalayas at a height of 5029 meters above sea level. This lake is also popularly known as Skeleton Lake. The lake is nestled in a valley with steep sides and no one can inhabit in this area, even passing through the area can prove fatal for normal human beings. Roopkund Trek has an inscrutability and vagueness that has decepted multiple generations of fortune tellers.

Roopkund - Glacial Lake

Roopkund lake is a mystery in itself. This frozen lake which glorifies the beauty of the Himalayas with a mystery is really hard to decipher. Apart from this there is a lot to this side of the story. The Roopkund lake has a lot of traditional myths intact in it and the Pandora's box could only be opened once you visit it.
For long months this shallow lake is frozen. It is beautiful but there is also some menacing feel in this nearly lifeless place. In the summer, as the Sun melts the ice around the lake, there opens dreadful sight - bones and skulls of people and horses lying around the lake.

Glacial Lake of Skeleton

Skeletons of Roopkund
It is not fully clear whether local people knew about these in earlier times or not - but first written reports appear in 1898. In 1942, a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery. Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake's edges. Something horrible had happened here.
The instantaneous assumption (it being war time) was that these were the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died of exposure while sneaking through India. The British government, anxious of a Japanese land invasion, sent a team of investigators to determine if this was true. However upon examination they realized these bones were not from Japanese soldiers—they weren't fresh enough.
It was evident that the bones were quite old indeed. Low temperature, rarified and clean air helped to preserve the bodies of deceased better than it would happen elsewhere. Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 200 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.
Skeleton in RoopKund

Through carbon dating tests, it has been experimentally estimated that these skeletons belong to anytime between 12th and 15th century. It is primarily believed that the deaths were caused by some kind of natural disaster like a blizzard, landslide or any bacterial disease. However, this topic still remains controversial among the residents, anthropologists and paleontologists of modern times.

More recently in 2004, a team of European and Indian scientists sent by The National Geographic Channel visited Roopkund to carry on with the probe. Their research has unearthed interesting hints and information. Part of their findings includes anthropological treasures like well-preserved corpses, jewelry, bones and skulls belonging to the dead. Further analysis shows that there were rather diverse people. DNA analysis hints at specific mutations observed in people living in Maharashtra (at Roopkund were found family members of Kokanastha Bramins) as well as few local people. There were found children, women. Analysis shows that these people for weeks were walking without proper food.
All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?

Skulls in Roopkund
Local legends have the following explanation
A king of Kannauj (ancient land south from Gharval Himalaya) Jasdhawal was on an important pilgrimage to praise the Goddess Nanda Devi. Somehow he disregarded advice of religious counsellors and behaved in an arrogant way.
King took all his entourage with him including numerous dancer girls, musicians, servants. Also his pregnant wife was with him. As they reached Roopkund lake, queen delivered a child in a cave near the lake (Wondermondo: interesting - could it serve as a shelter for few people during the hailstorm?). Goddess Nanda Devi disliked the fact that dancers and musicians entered her sacred land - local customs strictly forbade it. But the worst violation was childbirth on sacred land: according to local customs newborn and their mothers are considered to be unclean for certain period of time. Thus Goddess sent a terrible storm on poor piligrims and they all were killed on spot.
This legend is well known in Himalaya and there is even traditional song mentioning this event - this song mentions exactly hailstones "hard as iron" raining on the heads of sinners.
Piligrims in Roopkund
The complete mystery is still to be unfolded. The questions related to the origin and cause of death needs more satisfying answers. Geographical location of Roopkund and adverse climatic conditions also making it difficult for research scholars to go for the search of truth. Whatever may be the case the conclusion remains undrawn and this lake is not ready to demystify its existence. But nobody knows when and how we can explore something known out of the unknown. Therefore, a trip to this alluring Roopkund lake is a must.

How to Reach Roopkund
There are different routes for a trek to Roopkund. However, most of the trekkers and adventure travelers travel to Lohajung or Wan by road. From there they reach Ran ki dhar by climbing a hillock at Wan. So, the way is Kathgodam - Ranikhet - Garur- Gwaldam - Debal (1220 m) - Bagrigad (1890 m) - Mundoli village - Lohajung pass - Wan village (2590 m) - Bedni Bugyal (3660 m) - Baghubasa - Kalu Vinayak - Roopkund

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mattur: A Village Where People Converse in Sanskrit

Mattur, a culturally rich village on the banks of the river Tunga in Karnataka, is now famous across India as the 'Sanskrit village'. Here, even the vegetable vendor speaks in Sanskrit. Villagers use Sanskrit here for their day to day conversation and not just during poojas. Yes, Sanskrit is the language of the commoner in this village.

Mattur Village
It was unbelievable for me. In school, I merely use to get pass marks in Sanskrit and in India there is a village where people speak Sanskrit as a native. I still can’t believe till I saw Bajaj advertisment in TV. This is a traditional village with a difference.

Like me, many of majority of Indians may think that Sanskrit, also known as Devabhasha (language of the Gods), is a dying language, but it thrives in a few pockets.
Sanskrit is the language of Gods need not apply to Mattur. Enter Mattur, and your senses are assailed by a host of sights that is eccentric in its fusion of the picturesque and the quixotic. Soft and dulcet, a conversation sounds like a Vedic recital. Though it is a journey, which began about 500 years ago, Sanskrit has been modified as per the modern needs here by Samskrit Bharati. As one enters the village he is greeted with ” bhavatha nam kim? (What is your name?), “coffee va chaayam kim ichchhathi bhavan? (What will you have, coffee or tea?). The pronunciation of “Hari Om” instead of ‘hello’ and “katham asti” instead of ‘how are you?’ are common here.

Signboard in Sanskrit

Everybody-men, women, children, literate or illiterate-freely speaks Sanskrit. Even the Muslim families speak Sanskrit without hesitation and as comfortably as is spoken by the Hindus. Their children are found in the streets reciting Sanskrit shlokas. Even while fighting and playing cricket in the grounds children freely speak Sanskrit. When one walks down a few places from the school where one touches the ratha veethi (car street) and graffiti on the walls what grabs the attention is: “Maarge swachchataya virajate, grame sujanaha virajante” (Cleanliness is as important for a road as good people are for the village). Other slogans like ‘keep the temple premises clean’, ‘keep the river clean’ and ‘trees are the nation’s wealth’ are also written in Sanskrit and painted on walls reflecting ancient values. There are families who have written on their doors-‘You can speak in Sanskrit in this house.’ This is basically to tell the visitors that in case they are fluent in the language they can talk to them in Sanskrit.

Sholkas Written in Sanskrit on Walls
Yet another surprise is that many domestic articles at home are all identified with Sanskrit names – something very common in all homes in Mattur. So is the case with grocery stores, where all bottles and bags bear Sanskrit labels.


The village preserved its legacy, handed down by Vedic scholars, who were the original settlers at Palghat in Kerala. They decided to move north and found the banks of the river Cauvery and Tunga most suitable to continue their rituals and traditions. A few settled down in Hassan district, while some reached Mattur and Hosahalli. History has it that the Vijayanagar emperor gifted Mathoor and neighbouring Hosahalli, known as centres of learning for Sanskrit and Vedic studies from time immemorial, to the "people" in 1512. The gift deed inscriptions on copper plates have been preserved by the archaeology department. The journey back to its Vedic roots started for the village in 1981 when Sanskrita Bharati, an organisation that promotes the classical language, conducted a Sanskrit workshop in Mattur. It was attended,among others, by the pontiff of the Pejawar Mutt in nearby Udupi. Inspired by this village where Sanskrit survived as a spoken language, the seer reportedly exclaimed, “A place where individuals speak  Sanskrit, where whole houses talk in Sanskrit! What next? A Sanskrit Village.

Mattur Village Mentioned in Newspaper

Study of Sanskrit in Mattur begins at the Montessori level, where children are taught rhymes and stories in the language. Sanskrit is a compulsory subject in both primary and high schools of the village. A Sanskrit school has been set up to teach the language to a large number of outsiders who flock to the village to learn.
Apparently, it has given birth to more than 50 software engineers, most of who had come back from the 6 hour journey to their new homes in India's silicone city, Bangalore (Bengaluru). Mathoor has produced over 30 Sanskrit professors who are teaching in Kuvempu, Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore Universities, besides many software engineers. Among the illustrious personalities from the village are Mathoor Krishnamurthy of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, violinist Venkataram, and gamaka exponent H.R. Keshavamurthy.

Isn't it amazing Mattur is in Karnaataka and people speak sanskrit instead of  karnataka's local language Kannada. That's the reason we call our country as " Incredible India".

Image Via

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Parsi Embroidery: A Fading Art

Parsi embroidery is yet another example of how a century-old art can be so relevant, without putting up with those bleeding colors. Parsi embroidery is a unique part of India’s diverse textile heritage. This unique artistic tradition has its roots in Iran during the Bronze Age but with time it has drew influences from European, Chinese, Persian and Indian culture.

Parsi Embroidery

A very famous example of Parsi embroidery is the Parsi embroidery sarees also called as Grara embroidery sarees. Parsi embroidery sarees have been renowned since last bygone centuries for its striking beauty and also demonstrates a cultural Parsi tradition of embroidery and ethos. These saris come in many colors, are offset by delicate embroidery in pastel shades and pale white, and are testimony to the superior craftsmanship of the Parsi embroiders. Realistically pictorial, lyrically composed, aesthetically colorful and delicately embellished Parsi Gara embroidery is an emblem of style and elegance.

Parsi Gara Saree

Classisc Parsi Embroidery in Saree
These sarees are indeed worth a treasure and take almost 9 months for completion as the embroidery work is crafted on all the four sides of the saree making it one of the most tedious and intricate task. The khaka stitch is so fine that women who do the needlework start suffering from failing eyesight, which has given it the name of the forbidden stitch. Mostly the threads used for embroidery are violet and pink combination. Parsi  sarees are comparatively more costlier but their appeal and style are so immensely enchanting that it overcomes all the hurdle of price tag for a avid buyer.

Parsi Saree in White Color
The rich gara embroidery, originally considered a Parsi family’s heirloom, has become rare, collector’s items because of the intricate work and beauty. Since it’s not a machine embroidery one of the most prized possessions of Parsi families (read women) is their Gara saree or sarees! Not only are they possessions of pride and boy, these beautifully embroidered sarees are often worth more the rest of the entire family wardrobe put together!

A Prized Possesion for Parsi Family

Parsi embroidery incorporates motifs that have deep meanings. The reverence of the Parsees towards nature is evident in their embroidery work.  The fleeing Parsis brought Persian symbols like the cypress tree, chakla chakli or contradictory birds, represented with delicacy. A tree called the divine fungus is used as a symbol of longevity and immortality. Lotus and peacock brings the fragrance of the Indian soil in which Parsi culture blossomed. Raj flavour incorporated floral baskets, the Chinese pheria stitched in vignettes of Chinese court life, beautiful gardens and flowers such as peony, rose, and chrysanthemum. Some or all these motifs fill up a typical gara or jhablawith an overriding feel of harmony, richness, grandeur and delicacy.

Parsi Embroidery Work
Parsi Gara Embroidery
Although Parsi embroidery traces its origins to Bronze Age Persia, the garaitself is not more than 150 years old. Its concepts and symbolism, which lay in the Zoroastrian psyche coupled with an innate sense of aesthetics, were translated into embroidery on sari and apparel by Chinese master embroiderers. In the 19th and early 20th centuries there was brisk trade between Parsis of Western India and China.  Back then, Chinese pherias, or craftsmen, travelled with big chests of embroidery across the seas to Persian lands and sold them to Parsi women. Some of the Parsi women were also taught the craft by these pherias, and the women later skilfully interwove the new style with their own.

Salwar Suit with Parsi Embroidery
However, this unique and magnificent art is facing dangers of fading into oblivion. With mass produced clothes readily available nowadays, the interest in traditional hand embroidered clothing has steadily dwindled over the decades and is a constant threat to the livelihood of many craftsmen. Moreover, the decline in the Parsi community is another cause of worry.

Parsi Desgin in Cushions
Organization like  Parzor Foundation has been working, since 1999, with the support of UNESCO and the Government of India to revive the craft. Some breathtaking garas have been reproduced under its aegis. An attempt has also been made to contemporize gara embroidery by creating products like cushion covers, bags and scarves while being sensitive to the original embroidery form.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Orchha: New Found Bollywood Destination

Orchha literally means “the hidden place” or  “hidden treasure”. Its grandeur has been captured in stone, frozen in time a rich legacy to the ages.  On the banks of river Betwa in MP, Orchha, is a charming village. The temple town of Orchha has become a hot destination for Bollywood stars and filmmakers.
Orchha Monuments

High spires of Chaturbhuj temple at Orchha
 My introduction to Orchha happened just that way. It was not a place I had heard about in text books, glossy tourist brochures or magazine covers. Last year, I had seen a picture of Orchha in one of the photo contests which made me to pause and take a second look. It appeared so attractive and amazing that it remained on the back of my head since the day I first saw the photographs.
This year, I finally got the chance to visit Orchha. It was a conventional little town in the middle of the forest – one of the places where life goes at its own pace without worrying about what is happening in rest of the world. Orchha has an array of surprises for pilgrims and also the vacationers alike. This small size town allows all the ancient structures – the palaces in the fort, the very tall Chaturbhuj Temple and the cenotaphs of the kings to dominate the landscapes.

View from Lakshminarayan Temple

Climb up on one of these buildings and you see the other structures standing so high that they make everything else in the vicinity look like miniature models. The views suddenly give the idea of being in a lost country ruled by kings living in a magical, opulent world .Orchha is known for its elegant architecture and its unique sequential development of domes, brackets, pillars, arches and ledges. Exteriors & interior of Orchha Fort, temples and cenotaphs is a remarkable example of Bundela art, which is reflected in the gently flowing water of the Betwa River.
The unspoiled beauty of this small town by the Betwa stems from its eclectic mix of nature, history and architecture and is only now being widely recognized.
A couple of years ago, star couple Abhishek Bachchan and wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan visited Orchha for a film shoot. They had stayed in the town for about two weeks for the shooting of important portions of Mani Ratnam's Raavan.

A scene from song 'Kata Kata' with Chaturbhuj Temple of Orchha in the backdrop

A scene of Song 'Kata Kata' over the low bridge on Betwa River with the Chhatris in the backdrop in Orchha.

Yet another film, Singularity, by noted Hollywood director Roland Joffé was shot here. The shooting was cancelled midway over a row over vulture deaths in the region. It was alleged that the crew violated the rules and regulations of the permission they had received from the State archives department.

A Still from Singularity which has been shot in Orchha

A few months ago, Katrina Kaif shot for Slice commercial in Orchha, which is still quite unknown to Bollywood filmmakers and commercial ad film companies.

The Orchha Fort is one of India’s most spectacular. Orchha fort is pretty huge with amazing architecture and views. Orchha use to be main center and capitol of the mighty Bundela dynasty during 15-16th century. The Orcha Fort is the primary attraction that has spectacular palaces like  Raja Mahal, Raja Praveen Mahal and Jehangir Mahal that is built with an open quadrangle.  Jahangir Mahal, is a fine example of perfect symmetry, it provides a breath taking view of the river side and the chattris. There are various fine paintings on walls and ceilings using vegetable colors. Next to Jahangir Mahal, is the Raj Mahal (King and Queen’s Palaces).

Jahangir Palace

Open Court of Jahangir Palace

Ramayan Scene Painted on walls
The entrance of Raja Mahal shows fine stuccowork and stone designs and carvings .These have some fine paintings of Hindu Gods, including Lord Vishnu and His 9 avatars, exquisitely done on the ceilings of the halls inside the palace. The palaces here stick out in the others for getting fortress-like walls. Now, area of the structure has become been changed right into a Heritage Interpretation Centre’.

LaksmiNarayan temple
The town is also famous for temples like the Raja Ram Temple, the Chaturbhuj temple and the Laxminarayan temple. The Raja Ram temple and the Chaturbhuj temple are associated with the legend of Lord Rama. The Laxminarayan temple is popular for its temple and fort architecture. There are frescoes in the temple depicting various aspects of human life. The interesting thing about it is that the color of these frescoes is still there.
Also interesting may be the prominent cenotaphs of Orchha around the river banks. The cenotaph of Jaswant Singh, who ruled the city from 1675 AD to 1684 AD is of prominent importance. The sanctum sanctorum, placed using the rectangular passage with arched doorways, decorated shikars and also the inverted lotus on top of the domes are typical options that come with Bundela architecture.
Orchha was founded in the 16th century A.D by Bundela ruler king Rudra Pratap. The Bundelas were a warrior tribe who traced their ancestry to a medieval Rajput prince who sacrificed his life for the mountain goddess, Vrindavasini. In return, the goddess proclaimed that the prince and his descendants would be known as ‘Bundelas’, literally means ‘who gave blood’. The Orchha Bundelas are said to be chiefs of the Bundela clan settled all over the plains of North India.
For me journey to this amazing place can not be described in words. I felt like I have reached to medival era where Mahals (palaces) and chhatris are spread all over the region. Its a worth visitng place.

Reaching there
Located 460 kilometres from Delhi on the Agra-Khajuraho route on national highways 25 and 26, Orchha, is approximately an eight-hour drive from Delhi. The area is a half hour's drive from Jhansi, which is well connecting with the rail network. Since, Jhansi is centrally located; people may visit the place on a short journey plan only. From Jhansi, Orchha is only 15 km, which can be travelled by taxis, auto-rickshaws or other local transport. Though Orchha has a railway station, it is not well-connected. The nearest airports to Jhansi/Orchha are located in Gwalior and Khajuraho.
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