Saturday, December 4, 2010

Strange logic of Delhi Police

Delhi Police commissioner can easily be a politician or a diplomat. After all we know that people in these two professions are given to high degree of deflection, diversion and obfuscation in their talks. Delhi police , the commissioner or for that matter police in general in India will not be found wanting in this aspect.

Recently there was ghastly incident in Delhi when a girl from North East working in a BPO was gang raped in a movie vehicle. As 2 girls were dropped by their company vehicle late at night, bunch of men driving a tempo truck kidnapped one of the girls and fled away. Other girl, her friend, called the police control room soon after. Kidnapped girl was found next day dropped at some location after being raped. That Delhi is not just a political and national capital of India but also a rape capital is not a secret. This is a city where 1 rape is 'reported' every day. In year 2010 itself there have been around 398 rape cases so for. It is also not a secret that Most of North India and Delhi region is unsafe for women and a sexually aggressive culture is one of the reasons. Girls from North east are often the target primarily because of cultural insensitiveness and stereotyping which tag them as 'loose and easily available'. But this is not the point I want to disuses here. Why does North India and Delhi in particular has a certain attitude and behavior towards women is not what concerns me in this post. What concerns me is what Delhi Police commissioner said on a TV debate while discussing the aforementioned gang rape incident.

The commissioner argued that had BPO vehicle stopped for some time more , the incident would not have happened and that BPO and other employers need to be more responsible around safely of women employers. Now these are fair points. But fact is that commissioner was indulging in diversion here. Let me tell you why. Main responsibility of police is to maintain law and order so that citizens of country can lead normal lives without fear, day or night...yes day or 'night'. What if woman in question was not a BPO employee but just another woman on her own returning home after a late night train or flight or dinner or party or after work or after just taking a night stroll ? Would she then be a legitimate target for kidnap and gang rape? This is ridiculous argument. Agreed that one has to be careful at night and specially knowing that Delhi is not safe. But does Delhi police has no role to change this status quo ever? Point I want to make is that commissioner was conveniently shifting blame on BPO whereas maintaining law and order is Police's job. After kidnapped girl's friend called the police helpline, the vehicle carrying those criminals passed as many as some 10 ( or in that range) police checkpoints and was never stopped. Why? According to commissioner Police has to know make of vehicle and its number to look for vehicle . This is preposterous. If Police gets a distressed signal of a kidnap of a girl at 1 am in morning, shouldn’t it stop and check all vehicles in that area! Don’t we see arbitrary, traffic stopping checking at peak hours during day sometime, so why couldn’t it be done in this case at 1 am in morning when traffic is thin. It could have saved a girl from getting raped for god sake. From what we hear, police hardly reacted on time after getting the distress call and a girl was raped in vehicle as it was moving around the national capital streets passing police check points. How tragic and what a failure.

There are many aspects to this case which speak a lot about how bad our policing system is (e.g. the culprits were routine offenders and should have been under watch) and I don’t want to comment on it here. But it is unnerving that commissioner of police instead of accepting that there are things that are not working and need to be changed is indulging in diversionary talks. There is a little hope of change when that happens.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Travels in Central India Part 3- Mandu

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Mandu or Mandav and all I knew was that I had 3 days on my disposal and no definite plan to reach anywhere. I heard of Mandu fleetingly in a conversation and knew that it was known for its historical ruins and monuments. So on bright sunny Christmas morning I took bus to Dhar a town known for Raja Bhoj. Raja Bhoj, a philosopher king is a well known figure in Indian history and Dhar was the capital city of Paramara Dynasty to which Bhoj belonged.

Today, Dhar like many other small Indian towns is congested, noisy and chaotic. Urinal at bus station was dysfunctional and actually had half a dozen people living there and playing cards. Somebody was burning heap of garbage on corner of square in front of bus station and loud advertisement for some local product was blaring from loudspeaker hung on terrace of a bigger looking shop. The policeman posted to control traffic on square was busy talking to a young man on bike, perhaps trying to extract some money in compensation for breaking traffic rule, as rest of traffic was trying to meander its way around a big stubborn cow, not bothered of blaring horns, carelessly passing the road while chewing the cud. Overhead, blue sky could be seen from a maze of hundred criss -crossing electricity wires and all kinds of political and religious banners hung on ropes attached to poles and building on either sides of square. I found a small bus parked in corner of station which was to leave for Mandu. It had a very vocal family seated inside who were eating poha and bananas with banana peels summarily being deposited out of the window. The kids were excitedly talking about going to Khala’s (aunt) place and their dad was telling another man how much children enjoyed during last Id when they visited Ammi’s house. Within few minutes the bus was full and started. A man, conductor of the bus, standing near the Bus door on the foot mat was loudly shouting ..’Mandu Mandu Mandu’, soliciting passengers to Mandu even as the bus made its way slowly through chaos on road out of the bus station and ahead of square. In no time bus had passengers, sitting, standing and hanging wherever possible.

Day 1
After half an hour drive, I could see the plains making way for small hillocks and plateau. It was lovely December morning and when I saw the glimpses of a ruin of what perhaps was a mosque, I knew that I was going to enjoy Mandu. Just before noon, bus finally left me at main square, in front of Jami Masjid and I saw a dozen buses and cars parked and offloading tourists. A big bus with banner of a school plastered on its side had bunch of chirpy kids surrounding it with their teacher trying in vain to get the unruly lot to form a queue The Ram Mandir (temple) in front of Masjid was full of people attending last day of weeklong yoga workshop. I had come to Mandu when it was full of tourists due to Christmas weekend and I hurried to find myself a place to stay. Govt has restricted new construction in Mandu and there are just 3,4 small lodges and Tourism department hotels here. Luckily I got a place to stay in one of better lodge which had immaculately green lawn and overlooked the gorge (kakra khoh) and villages down in it. Bag was deposited, a map bought, a cycle rented and I was on my way. What A day it was. Balmy winter sun, clear blue skies and aroma in the air. Most people come to Mandu on a day long trip, day trippers as they are called, visit some well known monuments and go back by evening. But if you really want to enjoy Mandu , you got to stay here for at least 3 days explore the place on a cycle. Mandu as it turns out , is a natural fort on top of plateau in Vindhay range and has a ruined city spread in around 20 square km , sprinkled with historical buildings and monuments of bygone era. It is also called celebration of love and life in stone and it is quite true, for such is beauty of the place. Built by Hindu Rajput kings of Malwa on a plateau protected by Kakra khoh (deep ravine) on all sides, the fort was won over by Muslims rulers during advent of Mughal empire and traces of it can be seen all around Mandu. One can observe that many muslim buildings have stones and pillars reused from dismantled Hindu temples.

Jahaz Mahal (Ship Palace) is most popular attraction and is quite impressive. It was used by Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji as his harem and is surrounded by two artificial lakes. One can stand here and imagine how it must have been in its day of glory when Sultan would visit his women who were housed in naturally air conditioned quarters around Champa Baoli (water tank) , whose waters it is said used to smell of Champa flowers. Many parties and orgies must have taken place in Hindola Mahal (Swing place) in front of Chmpa Baoli, which is quite unique in its architecture. There is a large courtyard in one corner of palace which was ostensibly used for royal dance parties under starlit skies. I met a small girl here, whose mother is employed with keeping place clean, who told me that at night courtesans who are buried nearby come alive and she said that she knows because she has seen them many times. I thought she was a very interesting kid to talk to. Around 10 minutes away from Jahaz Mahal are Lohani caves and sunset point. Lohani caves are small chambers cut in a rock face on one of the cliffs overlooking Malwa plains. Caves have a water cistern filled from natural water source and were used by Buddhist or Hindu mendicants and later by Mughal sentries protecting the fortress . The sunset from this place is quite amazing and one of the sights that I cherish from Mandu. As the night fell, I cycled back to my lodge. The night was still and silent and I could hear croaking of creatures of night interspersed by laughter of merriment carried from a distant hill by gentle breeze.

Day 2
There is something in bright sunny mornings. There is something in sun when it is not at its ferocious avatar. It gives you warmth which percolates inside you into your soul. Is that the reason that sun worship was so central to Hindus! It was one such morning and I took my cycle on my way to another popular spot called Baj Bahadur’s palace and Rani Rupmati's pavilion. It is around 6 km from the Jami masjid and on the way I stopped at many ruins along the road. Dai ka Mahal is quite interesting building. It was built by a poor woman. It is said that during its zenith, Mandu did not have any poor and every new citizen was provided with gold coins by residents and this is how Dai , a poor woman could build a palace for herself. Overlooking Dai's Mahal is echo point which was used by mughal sultan's sentries to shout to Dai whenever one of Sultan's women was to deliver a baby .She must have been very busy women considering the big harem of women the sultans had and absence of reliable birth control devices during those times.

Baj Bahadur's palace is the place where you get the essence of Mandu. The palace is build near Rewa kund (pond) which itself was built by Baz Bahadur to supply water to his consort and lover Rani Rupmati's pavilion which is situated on a hillock , some 500 meters away from Baj Bahadur's palace. When you stand atop Baj Bahadur's palace you can clearly see Rupmati's pavilion and it is said that in evening Rupmati, would sing for her lover and Baz Bahadur would hear her sitting in his palace. Baz Bahadur and Rani Rumpati's love story is extraordinarily unique. Baz Bahadur was a muslim king and Rupmati was a hindu shepherd woman who worshipped Naramada very dearly. After Baj Bahadur met her during a hunting trip, he married her in accordance with Muslim and Hindu rites. When Adham Khan, during battles of Deccan marched on the Mandu fort, Baz Bahadur confronted him with his small force and was defeated . Instead of falling into Adham Khan's hands, Rupmati poisoned herself and thus ended Baz Bahadur and Rupmati's love tale. Rupmati's Pavilion is on top of hill which overlooks Narmada river flowing in its glory in Nimmar plains. So on one side Rupmati could see her beloved Narmada , on other side she could gaze at her lover, Baj Bahadur. Rani Rupmati's pavilion is one of most scenic places in Mandu and on a clear day , one can see vast Nimmar plains. I find Baz Bahadur and Rumpati tale both fascinating and poignant , steeped as it is in times of music, poetry, love, wars and tragedy. Sarojini Naidu's beautiful poem "An Indian Love song" comes to my mind when I read Baj Bahadur and Rumpati's story, considering that both of them were from two religions which were at loggerhead at that point in history and yet found love for each other. Love after all conquers all divides:

Lift up the veils that darken the delicate moon
of thy glory and grace,
Withhold not, O love, from the night
of my longing the joy of thy luminous face,
Give me a spear of the scented keora
guarding thy pinioned curls,
Or a silken thread from the fringes
that trouble the dream of thy glimmering pearls;
Faint grows my soul with thy tresses' perfume
and the song of thy anklets' caprice,
Revive me, I pray, with the magical nectar
that dwells in the flower of thy kiss.
How shall I yield to the voice of thy pleading,
how shall I grant thy prayer,
Or give thee a rose-red silken tassel,
a scented leaf from my hair?
Or fling in the flame of thy heart's desire the veils that cover my face,
Profane the law of my father's creed for a foe
of my father's race?
Thy kinsmen have broken our sacred altars and slaughtered our sacred kine,
The feud of old faiths and the blood of old battles sever thy people and mine.
What are the sins of my race, Beloved,
what are my people to thee?
And what are thy shrines, and kine and kindred,
what are thy gods to me?
Love recks not of feuds and bitter follies,
of stranger, comrade or kin,
Alike in his ear sound the temple bells
and the cry of the muezzin.
For Love shall cancel the ancient wrong
and conquer the ancient rage,
Redeem with his tears the memoried sorrow
that sullied a bygone age.

From Rupmati's pavilion I cycled my way to Fort of Sonagarh which is around 7 km. There is nothing much left in fort expect for its door but I enjoyed cycling to it. The afternoon was so beautiful that I could live there forever. On way to Soagarh, is temple of Nilakanth which is a Shiva temple clinging to a steep hillside and is unique because temple facade has a look of a mosque and has Persian inscriptions on it from the time when Akbar visited it during his stay in Mandu. The village kids around the road to Sonagarh would wave to me and shout "Hi, whats your name, which country!" Every second kid asked exactly same question. I guess they are used to seeing foreigners on cycles and perhaps thought that I was also one. Apart from well known monuments there are many other ruins which one can stop by. There is a very impressive Cavern building which was built in European style, and around Dai's Mahal is a ruin of mosque where one can clearly see use of temple pillars. On intersection of Rupmati road and Sonagarh is Hathi Mahal, a deserted place , perfect to get siesta under its tree covered courtyard. Jami Masjid is another beautiful building, built in year 1450 after a famous mosque of Damascus. Adjacent to it is Tomb of Hoshang Shah . Tomb is architectural marvel and it is said that architect of famous Taj Mahal in Agra had paid a visit here and used this white mausoleum as blueprint for building Taj Mahal. I must say that ASI (Archaeological survey of India) has done a good job of maintaining ruins of Mandu and must be commended in a country which is known to deface its historical legacy. In evening I cycled back to Sunset point and interplay of lights before the sun set was mesmerizing again. Just sitting on a hill side and watching the night fall on ruins is one amazing moment.

Day 3
Next morning was the most beautiful. I could understand why Mandu became city of pleasure. In rainy season it is said it becomes entirely green replete with vegetation and hundred natural streams that start flowing from plateau down to kakara khoh. In winters it is pure heaven, days are comfortably warm and evenings are cooler mixed with aromatic breeze. Summers are not as harsh as in towns of Malwa and in plains of Nimmar. There are many ruins and buildings one can explore. Gada Shah's shop has an impressive facade and is must visit. But the place I liked the most was little known and almost skipped by day trippers; Chisti khans's place. Take a book there, soak in sun with none to bother you, hear distant faint voices from tribals working in their fields down in kakara khoh (Kakra gorge or ravine), pure heaven. I thought of going down the hill to tribal villages but then love of cycling won over and I decided to cycle my way to a Fossilarium, around 7 km away from Mandu and outside the fort. The road is littered with ruins again, Zali mahal, some old temples, Delhi darwaza, etc. Fossilarium is small and can be seen from a distance due to two massive stone statues of Dinosaurs in its compound. Mandu is considered to be part of ancient Gondwana continent and places around it and Narmada valley are considered to be geologically very significant. 100 fossilized dinosaur eggs were found in Dhar region including Mandu in year 2007 and some of them are displayed in Fossilarium. Millions of years ego before kings and sultans made Mandu a pleasure resort, before love and songs reverberated in ravines around it ,Mandu was home to these gigantic creatures.

“Origin of self initiated System of Systems resulted in the existence meaningful enough , that is being Shiva- According to Hindu mythology”

Domed mausoleums Mughal palaces, mosques, ruins crumbling beside medieval reservoirs and precipitous ravines, a place where love roams in air, where tragedy lies buried in sands, a place where stones tell stories....that is quintessential Mandu or Mandav. And at the end , all I could say was "Incredible India".

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Travels in Central India Ujjain - Part2

Ujjain was one place I was really looking forward to see as I had rather romantic notion of it. Shyam Benegal's Discovery of India , every Sunday afternoon used to be my favorite TV program and names of cities like Kosala,Maghada, Avanti, Ujjaini had stuck in my mind. Ujjain is one of oldest cities of India and traces its history to ancient time. Ujjain saw its golden period during Gupta empire when it became a centre of Hindu leaning, art, science and trade. But the city finds references in book like Ramayana, so one can imagine how ancient it is.

Day 1
Today's Ujjain is a different city, though still very important and holy for Hindus. One of its major attractions is temple of Mahakaleshwara, which is seat of one of 12 jyotirlingas in India. Reaching Ujjian from Indore is very easy as there are constant buses plying from Sarvate bus stand in Indore to Ujjain and it takes just about 2 hours to reach. Mahakaleshwara was the first place I visited and comforting sight was that temple didn’t have long winding queues which are often the case with famous temples. Temple itself is not very glamorous or impressive in its architecture or setting and I didn’t feel particularly spiritual either. There is some amount of jostling one has to sustain during darshans of Shiva lingam as you are pushed, pulled and manhandled by dozen others in pursuit to touch the holy stone. I don’t get it. Do people think that if they touch the shivalingam long enough or from a particular angle , it is going to eliminate all their pains and give them instant salvation! May be this urge to hold the shivlingam arises because Mahakaleshwara is supposed to be self-manifested and one of rare lingams which is south facing. Anyway, I spent couple of hours in the temple and then walked around other temples;and there are too many here, bada ganesh, chotta ganesh, wrinmukta ganesh, rudraganesh and normal as we know him ganesh.

The place I wanted to really see was ghat of river Shipra, so I asked someone around and set off in that direction and came across a water body which looked stagnated, covered with moss and place around it was garbage dump of some kind with open drains overflowing into it. And my heart sank. This was not happening. Ujjain was to be glorious city of Kalidas and navratnas where pundits and Brahmins walked on streets, where lofty conversations on art and religion were held under banyan trees. And all I was seeing was garbage lying around roads, poor emaciated cows and beggars. I cursed myself and felt pangs of sadness. So is this the Holy city of Ujjain! What is holy about it beyond legends? keep the faith I told myself. Be patient.

So I walked down and reached ghats of real Shipra river. This was better place . Only slightly. Thankfully it wasn’t crowded and I sat on the ghat and watched dozen people coming , worshipping , offering, getting naked and bathing in the river. Women with saris, portly men with half of their body fat hanging out…. Shipra let everyone in. Among the crowd which was gathering for evening prayer, I met this old farmer Bhagirath who was on a 300 km padyatra around holy places along river Narmada. Illiterate but wise and interesting and yet so simple man was such a delight. He made me see Ujjain, Shipra, ghats and about to start evening Aarti in a different light. There are millions like him, simple and humble men who still carry the flag of our culture which is not blind rituals and apathetic symbolism most have started indulging in. Evening aarti on the ghat where prayers are offered to holy Shipra was fantastic experience. First time for me, unique experience of music created by cymbals and bells and drums and chanting of mantras along with incensed lights just as the day was fading into laps of darkness. So I bid farewell to Shipra and walked back to main city and into its narrow streets. The bazars at night were brilliant. There was a fragrance in the air. There were streets which look hundred years old with equally ancient buildings and shops and with equally old shopkeeper selling equally old wares. Large section of the bazars are owned by muslims. Ujjain being one of holy cities for hindus was always under attack by invaders and signs of those time can be seen around. I walked around the city until city started shutting down and then...

Day 2
Next day I woke up early, googled what else was an attraction in Ujjain, asked locals and set to Bhartrihari caves. I have read story of Bhartrihari in my school days including some chapters form his seminal book called Bharithari Shatak. Bhartrihari for me is an important figure in Indian history, but so little known . He represents man's two eternal quests- enjoying the material world and looking for metaphysical . It can't be said whether his story with Rani Pingala was real or a legend but one thing is certain that he was a man who enjoyed pleasures of life to hilt before renouncing it for quest of ‘truth’. His shatak has 3 volumes or sections, Shringar Shatak, Niti Shatak and Varagya shatak. Roughly coinciding with his phases in life when he was lover of women ,a king of Ujjain and when he renounced and became a Yogi. Sample this very crude translation of one of his couplet from Shringar shatak:

"There are only two ways worth living,
either roaming in valleys of woman's body
or exploring valleys of Himalayas."

Bhartrihari Caves are around 5-6 km away from Mahakleshwara temple and situated on banks of Shipra river. But river here is dirty and stagnated. This makes me very angry. Same people who worship river in evening with flower, also offer it all our civilizational garbage. I reached there early morning with no tourists around and spent time in chamber under huge stone where he meditated for 12 long years. The place has vibes. Sit there with eyes closed and meditate for some time to know it. Three sahdus from Pir sect (I thought so looking at their big black ear rings) who live there were smoking holy pot and trying to get enlightenment. One of them high on substance exhorted me to donate for "service of cows" but all I could offer was my middle finger.

From caves I moved to temple of Gadkalika where great poet Kalidas is supposed to have worshipped. I found wild berry trees around temple more interesting. It is such a pleasure of life to be able to collect berries form lush and full trees and pop them in your mouth. I could have spent entire day eating berries, lying on grass and sleep. Men are after all evolved from monkeys. Around 15 minutes walk from Bhartrihari cave, on a small hillock is Pir Matsyendranath. This is supposed to be samadhi of adi-guru Matsyendranath who , as legends have, had learnt from Lord Shiva the art of Kriya Yoga and then taught to his more famous pupil Guru Gorakhnath. Samadhi which was in Muslim control for long time, now has a sadhu as its keeper and he was very happy to see me. He told me that there is no place more powerful than this. He gave me a prayer’s mat and said go and meditate near his samadhi and see for yourself. So there on a brilliant sunny day, with noise of gentle crows nearby and fragrance of slowly burning wild herbs (I forgot what it is called but it is amazing) I sat and closed my eyes ,said "OM", took my breath and mind down in my spine hoping to raise it further up and invoked great guru Matsyendranath. I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t keep my eyes close. They started fluttering uncontrollably. Guru was telling me "Go son, you ain't ready yet. Your heart is full of sin. You have debts of hundreds unfulfilled karmas and you are carrying guilt on your soul." I spent 2 hours there and promised to sadhu that I will come back one day and stay him. Incidentally, Pir Matsyendranath is skipped by religious tourists who flock to temples and holy trees and pujas where quick shortcuts for a better afterlife or material prosperity are in offer. I will have to come back here.

From Pir Matsyendranath, I moved to a holy banyan tree called Siddhavat on banks of Shipra which ostensibly doesn’t grow or die for centuries and even after Some Muslim king tried to murder the holy tree under tons of stones. I sat near the tree for some time watching complex rituals being performed enmass and then moved on and went to Kaliadeh Palace which is also on banks of shipra and is in ruins now. A good site to visit but could be better developed from tourism point of view. The palace was ostensibly sun temple but with nobody looking after it , it has now become a dating place for dogs. From here I rented a Jugadu local transport for 50 bucks which is called tempo. I agreed with driver that I will pay him fixed 50 rupees for 4 sites with added incentive that he is allowed to seat any lonely female looking for lift midway. This is monster of a vehicle, runs on a diesel engine with a thousand years old starting mechanism (priming the engine with rope) ,makes noise like a woman delivering baby and can seat 100 people like in one of those fevicol advertisement. My next stop was Kal Bahirov temple the god which is fond of alcohol. Temple is again thousand year old and nobody knows where does all the daru which is offered to deity goes. I theorized with a vendor selling trinkets that there might be secret chamber under the temple but he found it to be too sacrilegious. Anyway, I bought a small bottle of whiskey and offered it to Bhairov which it drank without saying cheers. I had strong urge of joining this friend of Bacchus but preferred to keep my vow of no alcohol while touring the holy city.

From here with my trusted Tempo and a very verbose driver I moved to Temple of Mangalnth which is, Ripley's believe it or not, a birthplace of planet Mars. Yeah right there was planet Mars born before it ejected out to outer space. Oh by the way, driver also showed me a temple in a distant field which he said is right on top of centre of earth because line dissecting the earth in two equal halves passes right through that field. After meeting Mangalnath I moved to Sandipani Ashram where lord Krishna had studied. There is a water tank there which is called Gaumti kund where Krishna used to clean his slate (so it is called Aksharpat).A little Shiva temple there is unique for two reasons if you like subtleties, 1.) Nanadi is standing (usually Nandi facing Shiva is always sitting) 2.) Temple has a Shri-ynatra made in its roof. There I met an interesting man who claimed to be direct descendent of Guru Sandipni himslef!! Incidentally he also said that he worked as a software engineer at one point of time.He told me some interesting things like why Krishna needed to study if he was all -knowing incarnation of Good! Or why we never take full circle of shiva. By now I was getting into spiritual mood of Ujjain and city was growing on me but so was the darkness around. So I bid goodbye to this amazing city with a promise to return sometime and boarded my bus back to unholy Indore.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Travels in Central India - Part 1

I have visited many places in south and north India but never had chance of visiting central India. Recently I got opportunity to work for a month in Indore which is in state of Madhya Pradesh, very much the central India and I decided to explore some places during long weekends. My first impression of Indore was that it had looks of typical provincial town - it is dirty and crowded, roads are terrible and traffic is chaotic. Very much like any other Indian city, you might say. Indore, it seems, is one of fastest developing cities in India and has become educational hub with dozens of colleges and also on its outskirts, in place called Pithampur, it now has one of biggest Industrial areas of Asia. Indore in fact is also called mini-Mumbai but considering what has become of Mumbai of lately, It shouldn't be seen as a matter of pride. My first week in Indore was extremely depressing. City is such that it can leave you mad. Every second person on streets, chew paan masala and spitting is almost a second nature to everyone. In fact spitting is so rampant that if you are in Indore (or elsewhere in Madhya Pradesh, as I learnt later), you are advised to stand clear of any window, buses and other vehicles because you never know when someone will roll down the window and spit copious quantities of red saliva. It is almost a malaise there. You see on roads, driver of cars suddenly opening the doors to relieve their mouths of paan laden salvia, all the while when car is speeding. Being an Indian, you would expect me to be immune to this, but no, you have to see this phenomenon to believe it. Imagine thousands or may be lakhs of people in coordinated spitting spree and you get the picture. Custodians of Indore city and generally of Madhya Pradesh would do very well by launching a mass anti-spitting campaign.

How to Travel?
If you like backpacking and travel cheap and believe that best way of really seeing a place is by travelling in local transport then there are some things you should know about Madhya Pradesh. First, local buses here are as big as matchboxes but they contain an ocean of humanity within them. Chances are that if you happen to be any taller than 5 feet, then you have to cut off your legs below knees to fit your body inside the seats which are designed for kids. And obviously that is only if you can get a seat in bus which is more often than not packed like can of sardines. And if you could still survive the campiness, you have to face another challenge, smoke of beedis. People in these parts, love beedis and they love to smoke while travelling. And no, you can't complain to driver or conductor of bus because they themselves smoke. It is a normal, accepted behavior. Do I hear about smoking ban in public places! Nobody would have heard it here. Only thing which works is hostile stare and threat of violence.

Travel Times
And now something important, especially if you are time challenged and want to squeeze the time you are going to spend on road. Average speed possible while travelling in local buses is 20km/hr. So normally everywhere else in world, if your destination is 60 km away, you would expect to reach in 1 hour, but not in Madhya Pradesh. Here you should be happy if you can reach in 3 hours. The reasons are many, buses don’t run they drag and then they stop every 2 miles to unload and load sea of people. There are just too many people everywhere. Roads are so bad at places that they resemble lunar surface and at places they are as wide as pissmark. To make things worse, most drivers have no lane sense. By the way, the slowness of travel is not limited to just local buses but also to many trains. For example one of the trains which I almost took form Indore to Bhopal, around 300km away, takes
7 hours and stops at some 20 stations.

Where to Stay:
In most town getting a cheap place to stay is easy but do check water supply in toilets. In one of town called Pipariya , where I arrived very late in night , I got a room which the manager proudly told me was royal suite fitted with bathing tub and other modern amenities like a local type of four poster bed. Well, in morning, with my pants down I found out that there wasn’t any water in toilet and bath tub had cobwebs. In Ujjain, I had to fight and shut up hotel guys who would sit outside my room ,shout loudly and argue over lost towels from rooms, all at midnight. In Pachmarhi, the Bengali families which had invaded the town, had taken it on themselves to not let anyone sleep, in audible range, so excited were they at finally coming on picnic.

People, Food and Cows
In this Middle India, everyone seems to take middle stance, centre of both left and right. Binary logic is unknown in these parts. If you ask anyone some question, chances are that you will hardly get the definite answer. Also more people you ask, more varied answers you will get for same question. Don’t trust anyone for what he says. It is not that they are malicious. It is just that they are "like this only". And finally, nowhere else have I seen such veneration to cows. Even being and Indian and having default in-built deference to the holy animal, I found local devotion beyond my comprehension. In most cities or towns you will find posters and banners extorting public to save cow. In some places, like Ujjain, I saw proclamations like "Only Cow can save the universe". Blimey, how please! And in most towns you see cows abandoned on roads and forced to eat paper and plastic garbage. Ah! talking about eating and food, the little said the better. Place is not known for its cuisines. Or maybe it is because I am not that fond of food or a connoisseur so I didn’t look for places where I could relish some local dishes. But whatever I ate at places which you are bound to get to while backpacking (like bus stands, cheap hotels, railway stations etc.) was certainly not remarkable. I mean, what is the deal with Poha and Kachori and Jalebis for breakfast and lunch and dinner! I am sticking to vegetarianism and only option I could see was "spicy chats" masquerading as food. With all due respect “Poha Jalebi” is worse kind of food I have seen. Poha and Jalebi separately, I can understand ; But together? May before I leave this place, I will make an attempt and discover some food here.

Central India – what is?
Ok, so now that I have offloaded all my pent up anger, I can move on to positive side of things. For me, whatever little travels I did, have been a discovery of central India and I loved it. From Administrative point of view, central India comprises of states of Madhya Pradesh and newly formed Chhattisgarh. Though seeing central India from a historical perspective is more interesting because there are different regions each with its unique history and culture. This makes travel in each region unique. Malwa, Nimmar and Bundelkhand can be broadly seen as 3 distinct regions. Malwa is central west part occupying a plateau of volcanic origin. Ujjain, Indore, Mandu, Omkareshwar are some prominent places in Malwa. The culture of the region has had influences from Gujarati, Rajasthani and Marathi cultures and Malwi is the most commonly used language in villages. Nimmar lies on south west part of Madhya Pradesh and Khandwa and Burhanur are prominent towns in it. Nimadi languages or dialect is spoken in these parts. Bundelkhand is central northern parts in Madhya Pradesh and some places in Uttar Pradesh. Jhansi, Orcha, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Khajuraho etc. are important towns or cities in region. There have been some demands of making Bundelkhan into a separate state. Bundeli is a common dialect of region. Central India is also home to one of India's largest and (well) holy river called Narmada which forms boundary between south and North India as it flows from west to east. Flowing between Satpura and Vindhya hill ranges, Narmada has religious significance and in some village, I found people greeting others as "Narmade" (respect to Narmada), very heart warming. Satpura and Vindhya ranges were once thickly forested and housed various animals. Most of forests have now been cleared and animals poached for man's wanton desires. But many national parks and reserves have been created in recent times to control the damage and preserve some of natural bounty. Central India is also home to some ancient tribes and tribal tour is very exciting to see a different people and culture. I couldn’t do that because of being time poor. But will return some day.

So, Central India as it turned out is really the heart of India, as the MP Govt. tourism also says "India ka dil dekho" (come and see India’s heart). It has some amazing forests and tiger reserves in Bundelkhand and Malwa, Geologically, parts of it are as old as Gondwanaland and some of its cities like Ujjain have been at centre of golden period of Hinduism. Malwa region has been hotbed of political turmoil in times of kings and nawabs and is replete with architecturally significant sites. If you are patient and tolerant, then the region exposes it real beauty as I found out.

To be continued..................