Thursday, November 6, 2014

Trip to Abbott Mount

Abbott Mount

Rahiye Ab Aisi Jagah Chalkar Jahaan Koi Na Ho 
HamasuKhan Koi Na Ho Aur Hamazabaan Koi Na Ho 

Thus wrote Mirza Ghalib a long time ago. At times you feel like going to a place where you can feel the silence, the buzz of the city, the sound of horns, the screech of tyres is all behind you. Books are your only companion and the mountains your only friend. In search of this place brought me to this amazing place called Abbott Mount.

The route

One may chose to take the following routes:

  1. Drive to Moradabad-Rampur-Rudrapur-Tanakpur-Loha Ghat-Abbott Mount. This is about 410 kms and would take 7-8 hours depending upon the traffic.
  2. Drive to Budaun-Bareilli-Pilibhit-Tanakpur-Lohaghat
One may take a train also to Rudrapur and take a cab from there. We chose the second route via Budaun as we had a night stay at Budaun.

From Budaun to Tanakpur the route is what you expect in Uttar Pradesh. Bumpy, single lane and altogether bad. A very strange thing happens near Tanakpur, suddenly the mobile picks signals from Nepal Telecom. The Indian telecom signals being too weak and the place being as close to Nepal as it is.

The road from Tanakpur to Lohaghat is very bad. For a short journey of 88 kms, we took more than 3 hours. Lohagjat to Abbott Mount is 8 kms. All provisions like soda , cigarettes and liquor need to be purchased from Loha Ghat. 

Abbott Mount is named after Mr Harold Abbott who bought a bungalow here a century ago. as of now there would be 6-7 bungalows at Abbott Mount one of which belongs to my wife's family and was purchased by her grandfather about 40 years ago. The family has now partnered with M/s Asian Adventures as maintaining the property while living in Delhi is both a costly as well as difficult ask.

My better half had very fond memories of the place as she had spent a lot of her summer vacations with her family here. As for me, my love for mountains and the chance to catch-up with my reading after a financial year end was reason enough to be here.

The good thing is that the cottage, though modified partly to suit visitors, has retained most of its original charm. The staff is extremely friendly, though it may not be correct of me to praise them too much given the obvious bias they had towards us.

One may take quiet long walks here without the chance of getting run down by a bus or by a teenager playing Yo Yo Honey Singh at full volume.

A walk around the entire mount shall not take more than an hour and you shall pass the church built by the Abbott family in 1942 which is now closed. The Abbott Bungalow and a couple of more bungalows.

A small graveyard of the Abbott family is close to the church.

On a clear day one may have a spectacular view of the mountains from the cottage garden. We weren't so lucky as the weather at the time of our visit was partially cloudy.

We stayed here for 4 days in April and it was an amazing stay. The books, the mountains and the quiet do make a lethal combination.

The throne where i read 'The Best of National Interest' by Shekhar Gupta and 'The Siege' by Adrian Levy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Delhi-Orchha-Kahjuraho-Delhi( Part 4) A Photographic Journey

Kalinjar Fort


Kalinjar(Hindiकालिंजर) is a fortress-city in the Bundelkhand region of central India. Kalinjar is located in Banda District of Uttar Pradesh state, near the temple-city and World Heritage Site of Khajuraho. The fortress is strategically located on an isolated rocky hill at the end the Vindhya Range, at an elevation of 1203 feet overlooking the plains of Bundelkhand. It served several of Bundelkhand's ruling dynasties, including the Chandela dynasty of Rajputs in the 10th century, and the Solankis of Rewa. The fortress contains several temples, dating as far back as the Gupta dynasty of the 3rd-5th centuries.

Kalinjar is about 130 kms from Khajuraho and 40 kms from Ajaigarh. It is said that these are twin forts and that a underground tunnel connected Kalinjar and Ajaigarh. In modern times, these twin forts lie in two different states.

(Kalinjar) is one of the most characteristic specimens of the hill-fortresses, originally hill-shrines, of central India. Its antiquity is proved by its mention in the Mahabharata. Kalinjar means The destroyer of time in Sanskrit. 'Kal' is time and 'jar' destruction. Legend says that after manthan Hindu God, Lord Shiva, drank the poison and his throat became blue (hence the name Neel (blue) Kantha (throat)) and he came to Kalinjar and overcome the 'Kal' i.e. he achieved victory over death. This is the reason the Shiva temple at Kalinjar is called Neelkanth. Since then, the hill has been considered a holy site, casting its shadow across the patches of grasslands as well as the densely forested valley. The natural splendor of the surroundings makes it an ideal place for penance and meditation and, surprisingly, a strange mystique still pervades all over the hill.
The hilly peak has several legends attached to it. Its origin being shrouded in mystery, not much is known as to when and by whom the fort was built on this holy hill, though modern historians conjecture that Bargujar Kings built it from 150 to 250 CE. The fort contains Shiva temple of Neelkanth Mahadev. Similar to the one built by King Manthandev Bargujar,(a shilalekh/rock edict stands testimony to this fact,now inside Sariska Tiger Reserve ) confirmed by Col.James Tod in his classical, "Annals and Antiquties of Rajasthan" 18th century British historian,and at Baroli near Rana Sagar Dam. Later the Bargujars were part of a much bigger Gurjara–Pratihara Empire in North India which was at its peak from 500 to 1150 CE. The fort was a unique monument of its time and had no parallel in any other part of the country in terms of sheer grandeur and artistry.
Its historical background is replete with numerous battles and invasions. The Hindu princes of different dynasties as well as the Muslim rulers fought hard to conquer it and the fort continued to pass from one ruler to another. But, except for the Chandelas, no other ruler could reign over it for long,Chandelas are also a branch of the Bargujars called Chandela Rajputs.
It was besieged by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1023 without success, and later by the Mughal Babur who was the only commander in history to have captured the fort in 1526 when driving away Raja Hasan Khan Mewattpati. It was also the place where Sher Shah Suri met his death in 1545 when he was killed either in the fort or nearby on the grounds. Kalinjar played a prominent part in history down to the time of the Revolt of 1857, when it was held by a small British garrison. Both the fort and the town, which stands at the foot of the hill, are of interest to the antiquary on account of the remains of temples, sculptures, inscriptions and caves.
In 1812, the British troops marched into Bundelkhand. After a long battle they were able to annex the fort. The British seizure of Kalinjar proved to be a great watershed, transferring the legacy of the old aristocracy into the hands of the new bureaucracy of officials who showed their loyalty to British imperialism by damaging the captured fort. The damages caused to the fort can still be seen on its walls and open spaces.

With as much history attached to the fort, we were quite excited to be there. A long steep road leads you to the fort.

Neelkanth Temple

I have been to many temples in India and having seen the beautiful Khajuraho temples i was of the firm view that nothing can be more beautiful or enchanting. I was wrong. The Neelkanth temple is probably more beautiful than any other that i have seen.

The western part of the fort rewards all who take the time to look inside the temple of Neelkanth Mahadev. Each time one peeps through a cave-like opening and glances at an imposing Shivlinga of around five feet, one is awe-struck. The idea has been to use landscape and cave-isolation to set the solemnity of the mood for prayer. Its intrinsic feature is to reflect and refract light in the appropriate seasons, letting in light in winter and darkening to restrict its entry in summer. Just above the temple is a natural water source and water in this source never dries up. Water continually drips on Shivalinga. The priests, who are Chandela Rajputs since the time of the Chandela kings, point out an interesting factoid: The neck of the sculpture of lord shiva on the shivalinga, though made of solid rock, is always moist to touch. In some sense reminding every visitor the "neelkantha" or drinking of poison story.

Close to the Shivling cave, stand the idols of Bhairava and goddess Parvati, made of black stone. Images of numerous gods and goddesses are carved on both sides of the gateway. A number of broken pillars are seen at regular distances. On these pillars, it is said, six-storey constructions were raised, but they were demolished later. There are numerous rock-cut sculptures showing neglect and ravages of time. The vagaries of nature and of man have taken their toll but the remnants indicate a synthesis of several ancient cultures and faiths, the legacy of a glorious past.

Bastard scribbling his filthy name on the wall

The temple area from the top

Carvings on the rock


The Shiva Statues

The most beautiful statue

Flight of stairs leading to the Temple

The fort cries of lack of maintenance and neglect. A place of such immense historic significance lies in ruins today. A must visit for anyone going to Khajuraho.

Delhi-Orchha-Kahjuraho-Delhi( Part 3) A Photographic Journey

Ajaigarh Fort

The Ajaigarh fort is situated about 100 kms from Khajuraho. This fort is in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. From the town of Ajaigarh you need to climb about 600 steps to reach the fort. While climbing the stairs i was thinking 'this may be worth it'. It was Bakrid day so no guide was available and frankly we did not know much about the place anyway.

As we reached the fort we realized that all hard work had been in vain and from the gate which is called the Kalinjar Gate there was just nothing to see. We also did not find a soul at the place. We ventured further in the jungle only to realize that there was actually nothing to see.

We then decided to return and were deeply disappointed. On our way back near the gate we found Mr Pooran of the ASI, he told us that there is actually a lot to see but we will have to go about 2 kms in the jungle.

Part of the 600 stairs

View of the town from the fort

With no mobile signal, no information, not a soul around, and being deep in a jungle, i can assure you that the  2 kms stretch was scary. We were not even sure what we will see, how we will find whatever there is etc. After 2 kms into the jungle we saw what appeared like a temple.

Statue near the temple

Pond near the temple area

At the temple we found two gentlemen who told us that there is a place called Rang Mahal closeby. We decided to have a look at it and believe me, all the hard work of climbing the stairs just vanished.

The beautiful Khajuraho style temple
There is no information about what appears to be a temple but is called the Rang Mahal. As is with most places, ASI probably started restoration and then due to lack of will or money or both stopped midway. The place is in ruins but extremely beautiful nevertheless.

Stones with carvings of what must be parts of this heritage are lying in the jungle neglected.

Pond near the Rang Mahal
There is no water, no food , not a human being in sight. Packed lunch and enough water is a must. The fort is about 90 minutes drive past the Panna sanctuary, the road is good and this fort beautiful.