“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage,
Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul I am free,
Angels alone that soar above, enjoy such liberty.”
2020 was a unique year, ruled by the Covid virus. Many of us fell to the virus, there were others who recovered. Many homes were left in the dark aftermath of death, there are many which came close and learnt to value life and yet others who live in its continued fear.
When we would fall sick, my Dad would often comment that it is nature’s way to force us to rest. The virus had that effect on mother Earth. Earth came practically to a standstill and got the much needed rest it needed from human frenzy.
The virus accomplished what money had failed to do. It is said that the virus set the world economy back by several years. Looked environmentally, the virus accomplished one of the most economical environmental clean-ups. An IIT Roorkee study found that the waters of the Ganges became drinkable within 2 months of the Indian lockdown.
People in Jallandhar(Punjab) and Muzaffar Nagar(UP) woke up one morning, to see snow capped Himalayan peaks-a view, for which they used to travel to Himachal and Uttarakhand. Crocodiles came out of lakes in which their existence was not even suspected, and basked on its beaches, the virus leaving them devoid of bikini clad beauties.
Locked up in homes, there were many who fought with spouses or developed depression or committed suicide and made news. Yet there were many more who did not make news but who found the beauty of solitude and sang to themselves:
“What was this life, if full of care,
There was no time to stand and stare.”
I had all the time, not just to stand and stare, but to make a number of trips in car and enjoy the clean air and the blue skies. This blog is about some of these trips and the pictures I could take.
TRIP TO KAJRA, RAJASTHAN
Kajra is a village in Tehsil Suraj Garh, District Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, about 200 kM from Delhi. This is the place where the temple dedicated to our Kul Mata (Mother of our Clan) is located.
The story goes that sometime in the 12th century, an ancestor of ours was a Minister in the Court of a Muslim King. The King was unjust and cruel and this Minister tried to explain things to the King, without any effect on him. The Minister rebelled, lost and had to flee for his life, with the soldiers of the King in hot pursuit. At a place called Rejdi Khejdi, located in Kajra Village, the fleeing Minister hiding, behind some bushes, found there the statuette of a “Mata”. He prayed to the Mata to bestow him his life and promised that all his descendants in time to come will worship her.
The soldiers poked around and could not find him. A temple dedicated to the “Mata” was constructed by the Minister. From that day to this, all descendants of that Minister, known as “Sanghi” offer homage to the Mata by taking their children there for their first hair cut.
This temple has since been reconstructed and expanded. It has a park and a comfortable guest house attached. Once in April, every year, Sanghis from all over collect there for a reunion. I visited the temple this year as I wanted to establish a modern Library, networked with IIT Kharagpur, as an addition to the temple-a project now postponed to 2021.
Rajasthan presented beautiful road side scenery. Pictures below tell their own story.
The Sangri/Khejri tree is the state tree of Rajasthan. It is worshipped in Rajasthan, especially by the Bishnoi community. This tree can with stand extreme draught, and both frost and loo(hot winds of the Indian summer). It sheds its leaves in winter and is covered by leaves in the rest of the year, allowing sun shine and shade when needed. All its parts are edible. It is also also known by the names of Shami, Khijro, Jhand, Jat, Khar, Kanda, and Jammi and bears tiny, scented, pretty flowers.
Leafless Kejri made a striking contrast to Sarson (mustard) blooming with abandon.
The area was dotted by Brick manufacturing units-the so called Brick Kilns. Chimneys belching smoke looked like cannons shooting into the blue skies above, in a murderous assault on the serenity of the skies.
High voltage lines seemed to pierce into the heart of nature as human development makes its way.
TRIP TO DATIA, ORCHA, MADHYA PRADESH
Datia is a picturesque town located in Madhya Pradesh, about 500 kM from New Delhi. Datia is famous for Shri Pitambera Peeth- seat of Maa Baglamukhi-an incarnation of Maa Durga.
Maa Baglamukhi is held in awe. For victory in battles, subduing enemies, winning over evil-she is the one to worship. I was amazed to see the respect which the local people have for her. She wears yellow and is worshipped with yellow flowers and yellow coloured sweets. The devotee must also wear yellow. I bought the yellow clothes from a local shop to wear, before I could go in for worship. I was told that I must do all morning chores before donning the dress. Further, after donning the dress, I was not allowed to go to toilet or urinal, until after I was done with the puja. There was a printed book containing Sanskrit verses to be recited. After glancing through it, I was going to put the book on the table and was stopped just in time-the book has to placed in a cloth which the Pujari was carrying-the table might be impure.
Little known stories about her are: When China attacked India in 1962, Pandit Nehru had Yagna performed here. On the 9th day of the Yagna, China declared ceasefire and the last day of the Yagna had co-incided with the withdrawal of the Chinese troops. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had similar Yagna performed as the Kargill war broke out and the Indian victory came on the last day of the Yagna.
50 kM from Datia is the scenic town of Orcha . It is located on the banks of Betwa river. It is a beautiful place, full of Hindu forts and temples and scenic beauty.
Orcha has a quaint air of peace about it. I wish to return to this town again and again. If such a town had existed in Germany, the entire world would be going ga-ga over it. Sadly, we remain hung over Taj Mahal alone. Some scenes from Orcha follow.
DACOIT LAND-This route passes through the famous ravines of the Chambal river. Dacoits have been replaced by dacoity of a different kind and it plunders nature. Pictures follow:
TRIP TO VARANASI
Varanasi, the holiest cities for Hindus, located on the banks of the mighty Ganges, is about 900 kM from Delhi and connected by a modern Highway. It takes about 13 Hours of driving and I covered it in two laps, by stopping overnight at Lukhnow.
The journey to Kashi served to fulfill a desire of mine-a pre-mordial desire of every Hindu–to have a dip there in the holy Ganges, on a day of the full moon. It also gave me a chance to see the great job the Govt of India is doing in transforming this town into a magnificent, modern megapolis.
The entire city was in a state of flux-with massive construction of flyovers, ghats, temples, markets, parking spaces, connecting links going on. What had been completed and was absolutely wonderful-was the highway connecting the city to New Delhi and it was comparable to any American expressway. The expressway provided great views.
With the sky, a Kaleidoscope of clouds, there never was a dull moment, until, late in the evening, we reached Delhi.
TRIP TO THE USA
I made this trip in the beginning of November-a bad time to go as you miss the beauty of the American autumn as also the beauty of its snowy winter. With restrictions placed by the virus on airlines, it was a choice made not by will but by default, determined by constraints.
America is a beautiful continent, and Colorado a beautiful state and Boulder, perhaps the prettiest city. That is where my grandkids live and, a man’s grandkids are his most coveted destination. I thought I should make it, while life lasts, in these days of virus dictated uncertainties.
Luck favoured me on this trip. I could see some remnants of a glorious autumn and a snow fall gave me the fun of its winter also.
TRIP TO FLOWER LAND
The virus threatened the human species, but all other species loved the clean air, the blue skies, the glorious sun, the sparkling springs. Everywhere, the Earth became a nature lover’s paradise-a photographer’s dream. Pictures below testify.
What will 2021 bring?-Hopefully the vaccine but may be a new Virus, this time not from Wuhan but Amazon! In the meanwhile, we can…