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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Damaged stained-glass ceiling of Mysore palace to be restored

Source: The Hindu   
The portion of Amba Vilas palace is to be taken up for restoration with expert advise. Photo: M.A. Sriram
The Hindu The portion of Amba Vilas palace is to be taken up for restoration with expert advise. Photo: M.A. Sriram

The century-old Amba Vilas, popularly known as Mysore palace, is in for minor restoration as part of its long-term maintenance. For, the authorities are keen on restoring the stained-glass ceiling, portions of which are either broken or damaged.
The move is an initiative of the Mysore Palace Board which had commissioned the Regional Conservation Laboratory (RCL), Mysore, to restore some of the Dasara paintings adorning the Kalyana Mantapa. Impressed by the restoration of the paintings depicting Dasara celebrations and durbar hall scenes, the board has sought the expertise of the RCL again.
Subramanaya, Deputy Director of the Mysore Palace Board, and N.S. Rangaraju, professor, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore, among others, inspected the ceiling on Thursday. It was decided to replace the broken stained-glasses at the Durbar Hall and also at the Kalyana Mantapa.
Manikantan, an expert from Kerala, has been identified for the work. He has been trained in London and has embellished the museum at Egmore, said Dr. Rangaraju. Mr. Manikantan has been asked to make a presentation in two weeks about the process of making the stained glass following which the board authorities will decide the course of action. As scope of the work is immense, it will take a long time and will be an expensive affair. The restoration of stained-glass ceiling was done more than 25 years ago and this is the first major initiative in more than two decades towards replacing or restoring the broken stained-glass ceiling. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Auspicious signs and thousands of devout attend Lachen Rinpoche’s funeral

ANAND OBEROI ( Source:Sikkim Now)
GANGTOK, 26 Sep: The IVth Kyabji Lachen Gomchen Rinpoche was cremated here at Enchey Monastery with full State honours today. The kudung of the Lachen Rinpoche, who had passed away on 18 September at AIIMS hospital in New Delhi, was taken out of his residence at Development Area at 8 a.m. sharp and the funeral procession then walked up to the Enchey Monastery where the funeral was conducted between 10 and 11 a.m. 
Over 10,000 people from all walks of life joined the funeral procession which was also attended by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling who paid his last respects to the Rinpoche at Development Area itself. Also present were Speaker KT Gyaltsen, Rajya Sabha MP Hissey Lachungpa, Cabinet Ministers, MLAs, senior and retired government officials and former legislators and monk representatives from monasteries across the State.
The funeral procession walked it from Development Area through Zero Point, via TNA School and VIP Colony to reach Enchey Monastery where Lachung Rinpoche, Chorten Lachung Tulku, Tsulakhang Tulku and Jigmee Tulku from Ralang Monastery had prepared a magnificent mandala and an appropriate canopy for the cremation. Elaborate prayers were offered after which the Lachen Rinpoche was cremated.
People who had gathered in the thousands witnessed a series of auspicious signs, as are expected and hoped for when a religious leader of Lachen Rinpoche’s stature is cremated, as the funeral progressed. The was clear and sunny and a rainbow appeared as a halo around the Sun and held fast through the duration of the funeral and a collective sigh went up when an eagle, already a rare sight in Gangtok, started circling over the Enchey Monastery compound, directly over the funeral pyre the moment the fire was lit.
Both sign are considered highly auspicious by the devout who believe that these announce that the “passing-over has been clear”.
Monks from Ringhem, Phensang, Ralang, Tsuklakhang, Phodong, Pemayangtse Enchey, Lachen and Chorten Monasteries presided over the prayers.
Meanwhile, the ashes of Lachen Rinpoche will be taken to Lachen Monastery after three days for the people there to receive a darshan following which a Chorten will be constructed over some of the relics, the rest of the ashes then being taken for immersion in the Ganga, it is informed. It may be recalled that earlier it was planned to hold the funeral in Lachen, but owing to the series of landslides which have blocked the North Sikkim Highway which would have made transportation difficult and made it impossible for all his followers to attend the funeral, the cremation was held in Gangtok itself.
It may be mentioned here that the State government had declared a state holiday for today as a mark of respect for one of Sikkim’s most prominent Rinpoche’s and also to facilitate the general public to pay their last respects to the Rinpoche at his funeral.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Sahitya Akademi organises seminar on Tea Garden Literature

NEW DELHI, 24 Sept: Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, organized a seminar on Tea Garden Literature here at the Rabindra Bhawan Hall yesterday.
A total of eight papers were presented at the seminar by Nepali language litterateurs. The speakers shed light on the uniqueness of Tea Garden Literature and its significance in the struggle for identity among the Indian Gorkhas. The speakers emphasized the need to continue this effort with deeper research and study on Tea Garden Literature.
In the inaugural session, Sahitya Akademi Secretary KS Rao informed that the Sahitya Akademi had organized the seminar in consultation with the Nepali Advisory Board and called this seminar, a first on the said theme, an important milestone.
82 years old Sahitya Akademi awardee, KS Moktan, delivered the keynote address and spoke extensively about Darjeeling tea and the well known writers and litterateurs from the tea gardens there. Mr. Moktan expressed that since the Dooars and Darjeeling tea gardens constitute an integral part where the identity of the people living there is concerned, the need for deliberation and discussion on this topic is equally important and relevant.
The Sahitya Akademi Nepali Advisory Board Convener Dr. Jiwan Namdung, speaking on the decision to conduct a seminar on Tea Garden Literature, said that Tea Garden Literature was the base of Indian Gorkhas and informed that this was the very first initiative towards its documentation and study.
The second session was chaired by Professor NB Rai from Shillong and had Dr. Rinji Eden Wangdi make a power-point presentation on the social life of the tea gardens. Representing Darjeeling, Prem Pradhan gave an overview to the historical aspect of tea gardens in relation to the social and literary developments.
Similarly, Yogbir Shakya, representing Kalimpong, spoke about the corpus of poetry which makes up Tea Garden Literature and also presented a reading of select poems.
The next session was chaired by Durga Prasad Shrestha and had eminent playwright and writer Laxman Shrimal speak works written on the tea gardens.
Similarly, in her deeply researched paper, research scholar Garima Rai spoke on the reflections of tea garden lifestyles in Nepali fiction that showed the role of Gorkhas in Darjeeling and Dooars and their contribution in the economic and cultural fronts of the country. Indra Sundas through her talk showed the important role played by women in the making of tea gardens.
The last session was chaired by the poet and writer Shanker Deo Dhakal. Emerging writer Terence Mukhia made a presentation on the present condition and mindset in the tea gardens, the opinion of youth in the modern times and highlighted the shortcomings of the managements.
Seventy year old folklore enthusiast, Dhanahang Subba, in turn, presented a paper on he historical basis of the story ‘Naya Sainli’ where he presented the relation between white Manager and the native labor woman. With reference to the journals published in the 60s, poet, writer and journalist Bijay Banatawa spoke about the exploitation and oppression of workers in the tea gardens and traced the rise of many poets like Agamsingh Giri after the Maragret’s Hope firing incident in the post independence phase and expressed the fact the problems and identity of the tea gardens have become the marker of national identity of Gorkhas.
In his observations as the chairperson of the session, Shanker Deo Dhakal said that the problems of the tea garden were problems of the nation and now the workers themselves should look for a solution with the formation of co-operatives and self management groups.
The Deputy Secretary of Sahitya Akademi J. Ponnudurai declared the publication of these papers in an edited volume with relevant additions in English within a period of six months. The sub-editor of Sahitya Akademi, Dr. Devendra Kumar Deves said that we should recognize the historical importance of this seminar since he had not come across any references to Tea Garden Literature in the world.
Source: Sikkim Now

Friday, 21 September 2012

A devotee offering milk to a snake during "Nag Panchami," celebrations at Shiva Temple in Jammu city in Jammu and Kashmir. During this festival some Hindus worship live snakes.  

Strdel/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A devotee offering milk to a snake during “Nag Panchami,” celebrations at Shiva Temple in Jammu city in Jammu and Kashmir. During this festival some Hindus worship live snakes.  

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Last Indian village' embraces lost Tibetan link

By Raja Murthy

MANA, Uttarakhand, India - "I remember merchants from Tibet coming on horseback to Mana," 76-year-old Swajan Singh tells me as I walk up the mountain road from the revered Himalayan temple of Badrinath to Mana, near the Tibetan border. "It all changed after the 1962 India-China war."

Life has not changed much, though, for the crinkly-eyed Swajan. He looks like a Nepali sherpa (mountain guide), and like generations before him, earns a living tending to horses grazing in last of the pastures, amid the last of the vehicular roads in this part of India, at an altitude of about 3,500 meters.

Mana, 43 kilometers from the border and 540km north-northeast of the capital New Delhi, is the last civilian habitation before the closely guarded Himalayan regions where people are not officially permitted to stay the night.

Seven kilometers below Mana blooms the Valley of Flowers, an Indian Shangri-La believed to be a playground for celestial maidens after sunset. And so it may be. With the setting sun lighting up a bank of white clouds in a surreal glow, the mountains around Mana seem an unearthly paradise.

"Last village in India," proclaims the overhead governmental road sign as I reach the outskirts of Mana, 3km up the road from Badrinath. A historian might happily add: "The oldest living link to India-China trade."

The unique hamlet, perched above the mystical River Saraswati in the central Himalayas, is the ancient home to the last generation of the Bhotiya tribe, a semi-nomadic people of Indo-Tibetan ancestry.

The 300 Bhotiya families in Mana resemble time capsules retaining signs of centuries of trade through high mountain passes, decades of high-altitude agriculture and hand-spun woolen goods, with invading 21st-century changes of satellite TV, two nearby helipads and torrents of wonderstruck tourists.

An unexpected Nescafe vending machine and a Coca-Cola cooler symbolize such changes at the "Himalayan Cafe" inside Mana village.

"The last cafe in India," declares the signboard, with the cafeteria continuing its originality in the menu offering "chaumin" (which we hope is chow mein) and "Brad Bater" (maybe bread and butter).

Surendra, owner of the Himalayan Cafe, earns his bread largely from tourism, unlike his forefathers who had a career serving traders from Tibet.

Those traders who entered India through mountain passes now live only in memories of veteran inhabitants like old Swajan Singh. Mana itself is of uncertain age.

Just as the exact source of the Saraswati below Mana remains a mystery - the river vanishes underground soon after Mana and Badrinath - the date of birth of Mana is not known either.

The village, though, is closely linked with the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. [1] Mana may be one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth.

"This cave is 5,111 years old as of 2003," says a painted sign above the entrance to the cave in Mana where sage Veda Vyas is said to have meditated.

But no official Archeology Survey of India sign confirms it, as one does outside the more than 2,000-year-old Kanheri Caves in Mumbai. In which case, the "5,111 years" may comfortably belong in the same boat as Noah's Ark.

The belief, though, is that Sage Vyas dictated the Mahabharata here in Mana to Ganesha, the hugely popular god of adventure and enterprise, in the nearby "Ganesh Cave".

The 11-day "Ganesh Chaturthi", starting on September 19 and celebrated across India, is the biggest annual festival in Mumbai, about 2,000km from Mana.

A tourist group appears from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, about 2,600km away, where too Ganesha is widely worshipped. Visitors plod through narrow paved pathways between old, low-roof dwellings, and keep the village economy alive buying local produce like woolen garments, apricots, and rare herbs.

Vehicles cannot enter Mana, not even bicycles. Time seems to stand still in some of these tiny cottages; dark-robed women sit outside spinning wool or stand to pound jhambu (Allium auriculatum), a rare herbal seasoning sold in small packets for 10 rupees (18 US cents). Raw jhambu tastes like dried grass, but it may be worth 10 times that humble price.

"Jhambu grows only for a few months far away, higher up in the mountain," explains Rekha, a more beautiful Indo-Tibetan version of the Bollywood star of the 1980s after whom she was probably named. "We collect only a handful of jhambu flowers after searching from morning to evening." It's very good for health, she says, and is the only seasoning Mana villagers use to spice their food.

Like Rekha, many Mana women and children have strong Mongoloid facial features and traditional Indian names. Rekha's three-year old son Ganesh, for instance, could easily be unnoticed among toddlers in any kindergarten in Lhasa, Tibet.

Rekha's husband Chandra Singh runs a tea shop adjacent to the Veda Vyas cave. "India's last tea stall," proclaims his 35-year-old establishment. And it brews a terrific frontier farewell with tulsi tea, regular milk tea made with basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) leaves.

In the magical twilight of early evening, with a steaming cup of tulsi tea in hand, a breathtaking view of the world below and awe-inspiring Himalayan peaks around, heaven becomes a postal address on Earth.

But heaven is obviously not an easy place to reach, and Mana becomes proof of the essential choice in life: of taking the more difficult road to quiet and tranquility, or the easier beaten tracks filled with clamor and crowds.

August to early September, during rains and the threat of landslides, is generally considered an unwise time to take the road to Badrinath and Mana. So unconventional wisdom announces this is a good time to go - and take the risk.

On August 30, three landslides blocking the solitary route turned the usually 12-hour journey from Rishikesh to Badrinath into a 33-hour saga, including walking past and under a rockfall with the potential to ensure Asia Times Online has one fewer correspondent, taking four buses, an overnight halt in Karanprayag, and then a jeep ride from Joshimath town to reach Badrinath.

But it's worth even walking the distance; the deeply serene Himalayan neighborhood around India's last village reconfirmed that it inevitably pays to take the harder road.

Life in Mana too exchanges physical discomfort for the much greater mental comfort. When winter sets in, the entire population of Mana and Badrinath migrates about 45km down the mountain to Chamoli district, or to Joshimath.

Mana gets buried in snow sometimes 2.4 meters deep. A few solitary ascetics and soldiers then become the only dwellers around Mana.

Indian and Chinese army soldiers here share a more cordial frontier office space than their counterparts at the prickly border in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

"We having frequent border meetings with the Chinese army," an Indian Army major sporting a fierce mustache and a friendly grin tells me as I stop to chat with him, on my trek back from Mana to Badrinath. He is sitting with a walkie-talkie in hand by the roadside, watching his solders play volleyball in the adjacent meadow. "Many of the Chinese soldiers patrolling this border area happen to be women."

Indian and Chinese solders begin their border meetings with a friendly "Jhule," Tibetan for "Good day" and a common greeting among people in the high-altitude desert region of Ladakh, in the northern Indian state of Kashmir.

Indian Army officers posted here, says this major from Chandigarh city in Punjab, are required to learn Tibetan and Mandarin to ensure accurate communication in a sensitive border area.

With or without army presence, Mana could see further changes ahead. In the past two years, India and China have declared plans to revive these centuries-old bilateral trade routes through the Himalayas, such as through Nathu La and Shipki La passes.

Or, Mana may have other supra-mundane destinies in store, if an ancient legend comes true. The local belief is that some day in the near future, Badrinath will be entirely cut off from the rest of the world. And it won't be an unhappy prospect for those here, if and when that happens. Nothing quite like being stuck in a solitary heavenly abode, with a signboard saying "No way out."

1. The Mahabharata, one of the two great Indian epics along with the Ramayana, narrates the lives of the five Pandava princes and their final war in Kurukshetra against their evil cousins the Kauravas. After winning the war, the Pandavas are believed to have passed through the Himalayas around Mana, on their way to heaven.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd

Guinness World Record holder, pulling a “toytrain”

Sailendra Nath Roy, 49, a Guinness World Record holder, pulling a "toytrain" with his ponytail in Siliguri, West Bengal. Mr. Roy pulled the "toytrain" which weighed about 38,000 kilograms, two and a half meters with his ponytail.

Diptendu Dutta/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sailendra Nath Roy, 49, a Guinness World Record holder, pulling a “toytrain” with his ponytail in Siliguri, West Bengal. Mr. Roy pulled the “toytrain” which weighed about 38,000 kilograms, two and a half meters with his ponytail.

India is concerned and committed to ensure sustainable management of its urban historic areas: Kumari Selja

The Culture & HUPA minister Kumari Selja has said India is concerned and committed to ensure sustainable management of its urban historic areas. Speaking at the Ministers meeting  AT 5TH ASEM MEET   “MANAGING HERITAGE CITIES FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE” IN  YOGAKARTA, INDONESIA today she said, India recognises Quality of living of a citysatisfaction with cultural infrastructure such as concert halls, museums, libraries etc., satisfaction with public spaces including markets and pedestrian areas, satisfaction with public parks and gardens as well as beauty of streets and buildings and theattractiveness of cities towards tourists as important indicators to benchmark the governance of historic cities. She said approximately 30% of India’s one billion population lives in urban areas and the cities of India are growing at an unprecedented scale and speed. Urbanisation is taking place at an unparalleled speed throwing a challenge at the traditional historic cities. She said historic cities are yearning for a more inclusive and sustainable process of urban development.
 The Minister said, the draft National Conservation Policy envisages strengthening the role of crafts people whose knowledge of building materials and traditional systems in conservation works is indispensable. The emphasis here is on sustainable livelihoods as an integral part of sustainable development. She said New legislations of the Ministry of Culture AMASR Act 2010 [Ancient Monuments and Archaeological and Remains and Sites (Amendment and Validation) Act] provides for Heritage Byelaws to be prepared for every single monument of national importance. Kumari Selja Said her country has been instrumental in supporting the preparation of the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT Toolkit on ‘Historic Districts for All – India: A Social and Human Approach for Sustainable Revitalisation’, comprising of a Manual for City Professionals. This is a powerful instrument for raising awareness and building capacity for the Urban Local Bodies and our State Governments to design and implement policies and programmes for the present and future inhabitants of city cores.

            She said ,An apex body – The National Monuments Authority has been set up with the aim of  introducing  new ways of sensitive planning, using tools such as ground surveys and  ‘Cultural Impact Assessment’ to ensure that  mega infrastructure and other developmental projects  do not harm the historic environment. The authority is also equipped with enforcement powers and can impose stringent penalties for violations in heritage landscape. This applies equally to private citizens and government functionaries who allow such violations to take place.

 The minister said that the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India and UNESCO, New Delhi Office have developed a partnership “Moving towards Heritage based urban development” to help safeguard and promote the sustainable use of India’s unique and diverse urban heritage. The project primarily aims to mainstream the concern for heritage protection and conservation, and the sustainable use of cultural and natural resources, in our ambitious Urban Development Mission viz. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The objective of this Mission is the creation of economically vibrant and productive Indian heritage cities. She said the joint UNESCO-MoUD project positions heritage as important and central to urban development initiatives.  The Minister said the Indian Heritage Cities Network (IHCN)  comprising of  22 Indian heritage cities, seven French cities  and several regional and non-governmental partners, along with UNESCO, helped revise the ‘JNNURM Draft Toolkit for the Preparation of  City Development Plan’ with a special focus on heritage concerns. 

            Kumari Selja said we have exemplary examples of urban renewal projects within historic cities such as the urban renewal initiative between ASI and AKTC (Aga Khan Trust for Culture) in Nizammudin area. Historic cores in cities of Mumbai, DelhiVaranasiHyderabad,MaduraiMysore, Jaipur, Udaipur and many more have taken initiatives in framing heritage management plans and heritage committees for conservation and development of historic areas.


(Release ID :87827)

Coimbatore, September 17, 2012

The tribal way of life

Subha j rao

  • A Feeling of Community: Toda women dancing during a function Photo: PTI
    PTI A Feeling of Community: Toda women dancing during a function Photo: PTI
  • C. Maheswaran, director, Tribal Research Centre, Ooty
    C. Maheswaran, director, Tribal Research Centre, Ooty
C. Maheswaran threw the spotlight on the evolved traditions and customs of tribals
A Kaadar boy living in the Anamalais sits in a corner with some bamboo and gets to work. He smoothens the reed, creates sharp teeth and polishes it to a shine. Then, he carves out elaborate designs — a comb. It is for his beloved. If she accepts the comb, she becomes his.
When the Malayaalis go looking for a prospective bride, they swirl a stick in the air to let people know they are coming. If the prospective bride’s people take the stick inside their home, it means the proposal is welcome. If the stick is thrown back, the bridegroom’s party returns without protest.
This is how tribals communicate. Without many words being spoken, said C. Maheswaran, director, Tribal Research Centre, Ooty. He recently delivered a talk on ‘Lifestyles of Kongunadu Tribes’, as part of the monthly lecture organised by The Vanavarayar Foundation.
Tribes have influenced the lifestyle of Kongunadu in many ways, he said. Why, even our city is named after an Irula tribal chieftan, Kovan!
While some tribes have learnt to move on with time, others have held fast to a vanishing way of life, he said. Which is why, even today, some tribes follow the ancient practice of ‘kalavu vazhkai’ (living together out of wedlock) before ‘karpu vazhkai’ (marriage). And, also why when a Toda woman gets pregnant, her husband takes her a small gift made of shrub and grass blades, shaped like a traditional Toda house. With this, he announces that the child is his and will be born into his clan.
Actions speak
Maheswaran spoke about how tribals have adopted a refined communication technique, one that relies less on words and more on action. This has prevented wordy duels and arguments. For instance, when going to seek a boy’s hand, the elders would say: “We have some seeds, can you give us the land to sow it in?” If all went well, a stick (representing the boy) would be left in front of the girl’s house, letting everyone know she has been spoken for.
Though many tribes live a hand-to-mouth existence, they have not forgotten about graceful community living. For example, the Pazhiyar have to dig deep into the hard ground for edible tubers. It may take a man well over half a day to find the tuber, but once he does, he will snap off only one bit, and leave the rest for others. En route to the digging site, if he saw a honeycomb, he would mark it with a cross, as if booking it. If another man came to the forest to extract honey and found nothing, he would still not go near the marked honeycomb. “That’s the kind of grace they exhibit,” said Maheswaran.
Most traditions have survived because of oral narratives, said the expert on tribes. And, the feeling of community is very strong. “Every occasion, be it building a temple, a wedding or a funeral, sees them get together. And, when it comes to training adolescents, the old tribals — men and woman — ease them into the ways of their world.”
The welfare of each tribe is paramount to its members. Which is why, among the Aalu Kurumbas, once a year, seven people go out into the forest, for seven days, without informing anyone. They live off the jungle, in a bid to call upon Nature to protect their village. When they return, they cook pongal in seven pots and feed everyone — a case of the individuals working for social good, pointed out Maheswaran.
Kongunadu is home to 14 of the36 tribes in Tamil Nadu. All the six Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups in Tamil Nadu — Toda, Kota, Kurumba, Irula, Paniya and Kadunaickaya — are in the Nilgiris.
The Maha Malasar or Mala Malasar in Valparai can converse with elephants. They work as mahouts.
Kurumbas are known for their painting and black magic; Todas for their embroidery; Kotas for their pottery and carpentry; and Kadunaickayas for their expertise in honey collection. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Indian tank brigades to defend China border

Ajai Shukla / New Delhi Sep 17, 2012, 00:49 IST
Business Standard

The army’s defences on the China border will get a major offensive boost with the impending deployment of two tank brigades, one each in Ladakh and north-east India. This is the first time that India will deploy armoured formations on the China border. Such formations, equipped with main battle tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, are traditionally used for striking into enemy territory.
Authoritative MoD (Ministry of Defence) sources tell Business Standard that the plan, cleared by the MoD, involves raising six new armoured regiments, equipped with 348 tanks (58 tanks per regiment, including reserves). In addition, three mechanised infantry battalions will be raised, amounting to about 180 BMP-IIs.
The decision to deploy tanks to beef up India’s light, mountain infantry divisions was taken due to doctrinal changes in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA has deployed armoured and motorised formations in both their military regions across the Line of Actual Control, as the de facto Sino-Indian border is called. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Lanzhou Military Region, which faces Ladakh, has 220,000 PLA troops, including an armoured division and two motorised infantry divisions (a division has three brigades). The Chengdu Military Region, opposite India’s north-eastern states, has some 180,000 PLA troops, including two armoured brigades and four motorised infantry divisions.
The Ladakh-based 14 Corps will be allocated an armoured brigade to cover the flat approaches from Tibet towards India’s crucial defences at Chushul. In the Sino-Indian war of 1962, six vintage AMX-13 tanks that the Indian Army had airlifted to Chushul inflicted serious losses and delay on the advancing Chinese.
The second armoured brigade will be located in the Siliguri corridor in Bengal, covering the approaches from Sikkim to the plains. One regiment will be located on the flat, 17,000-feet-high North Sikkim plateau, on which border areas are hotly disputed between China and India.
According to MoD sources, the army has demanded the purchase of additional T-90 tanks for these six armoured regiments. India has already bought 657 T-90S tanks from Russia and obtained a licence to build another 1,000. Now, in addition to these purchases, the army wants the latest version of this tank, called the T-90MS.
Contacted for comments, the army has not responded.
As first reported in Business Standard, India is also raising a mountain strike corps in the northeast, consisting of two mountain divisions with about 40,000 soldiers. The addition of an armoured brigade would add real teeth to the strike corps.
The army demanded such capability because China’s infrastructure build-up in Tibet allows it to rapidly concentrate forces in a sector, overwhelming the Indian defenders there. If China manages to capture a chunk of territory, India will no longer be forced into bloody, Kargil-style, counter-attacks to recapture it. Instead, an Indian strike corps could launch an offensive in an area of its choosing, capturing Chinese territory.
The north-east has already seen a vastly strengthened Indian Air Force (IAF). Sukhoi-30MKI fighters are flying from new IAF air bases in Tezpur and Chhabua, with additional air bases coming up in Jorhat, Guwahati, Mohanbari, Bagdogra and Hashimara. Six squadrons of the anti-aircraft Akash missile will defend north-eastern airspace. The IAF is modernising eight Advanced Landing Grounds, which would support offensive operations in the sector.

Trekking in Sikkim: The Top 4 Destinations for Trekking

Sikkim is a well-known state on the map of India and the world for the richness of the natural bounties and its extravagant show. Landlocked by Nepal, Tibet, West Bengal and Bhutan, it is the second smallest state after Goa and just as richly bestowed for tourists’ devouring looks. The landscapes of this state allow trekkers to find their way in and out through the difficult routes of hilly terrains and still enjoy everything encountered.

Trying any of the popular trekking destinations in Sikkim is worth of the time in the Himalayas:
Trekking in Sikkim
Yuksom Dzongri Trek
Delhi is the destination generally to start for the trip to Sikkim to get on the trekking between Yuksom to Dzongri. The only place that is in the route is Tshoka. Else, coming to Bagdogra followed by Darjeeling is the way to reach Yuksom to start the trekking journey. The trip could be extended to Goecha La if wished and generally the trekking itineraries will describe it full-fledged. Choose what you specifically want. The whole trip will consume around 6 days’ time. Panoramic sceneries of Kabru, Ratong, Kanchenjunga, Koktang, Pandim and Narsingh will be the gift of sight you will carry in your memories.
Singalila Trek
The trek could be tagged somewhat similar to the one explained above if trekker is planning for a long trip and not just stopping at ridge Singalila. But this is not the case here. From Darjeeling, the trekker will take the route of Maneybhanjang, Tonglu, Garibas to Singalila Ridge. If the journey is continued it will lead to Sandakphu which a good place to try hands on camera.
Darjeeling Kanchenjunga Trek
A trip of around a quarter of month or may be more, it is meant for trekkers who have seen the roughness of mountains and know its villainous ways. Reach Darjeeling via Bagdogra from Delhi. The actual trekking will start from Uttarey covering Chewabhanjang, Dhor, Paharey Megu, Daphe Pass, Gomathang, Panding, Dzongri, Thangsing, Samity Lake, Goecha La, Lam Pokhari, Kasturi La, Kasturi Odar, Labdang and Tashiding. Near Goecha La, you will get the spectacular views of Mt. Kanchenjunga here while enjoying trekking in Sikkim Himalaya.
 Green Lake Trek
The base camp of Mount Kanchenjunga is reached by taking the journey on this trek. The Zemu Glacier makes the view very appealing. The mountain flowers infuse the route with veritable colors and can anytime make a normal traveller turn in to a prolific photographer. Getting acclimatize to the climate makes sense else mountain sickness can pull the trekker down from the terrific journey. The places on the trek will be Lachen, Jakthang, Yabuk, Siniolchu and Green Lake. The view of Kanchenjunga in the Lake is just fabulous. Consider coming here when trekking in Sikkim.
 Be assured that lovers of trekking are going to have a blast here!


Saturday, 15 September 2012

KG Marg parking hits fresh hurdle

TNN | Sep 15, 2012, 05.32AM IST

NEW DELHI: The KG Marg multilevel parking project, which has been waiting for the green signal from National Monuments Authority (NMA) for almost a year, has hit another hurdle. NMA had asked New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and private concessionaire DS Constructions to commission a heritage impact assessment report due to the site's proximity to 13th-century Agrasen ki Baoli and recommended Intach Delhi chapter for the task. However, after Intach said no such report was required, NMA now wants to review the project. 

Intach has been entrusted with the task of preparing heritage bylaws by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for all protected monuments according to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010. "The heritage bylaws will take into account the impact assessment report, so there is no need to commission a separate report. From our side, we have sent a proposal to ASI that we will prepare the heritage bylaws for all 174 monuments within a year, and we are preparing bylaws for monuments like Agrasen ki Baoli on priority . But it is up to ASI and NMA to notify the bylaws," said Intach convener A G K Menon. 

NMA member-secretary Praveen Srivastava said the project would be reviewed after the concessionaire comes back to the Authority with Intach's response. "The 2010 Act mandates that all projects of over Rs 20 crore need to have an assessment report. This is a large project and has to be reviewed . NOCs have been granted to some projects on a case-by-case basis, but the only large public project approved was Northern Railway's bridge project after it got the assessment report cleared," said an official. 

The delay in NMA's approval , the private concessionaire claims, is adding to the cost of the project. NDMC had given the contract to DSC in December 2007. The work was put on hold following objections from ASI. "After getting approval from all the agencies concerned, we had applied for approval from ASI in February 2010. Since then, we have been just waiting. From the height of the parking lot to its facade , we have incorporated all the suggestions made by ASI and NMA. This parking site is mentioned in Master Plan of Delhi 2021, then why delay the project?" asked an NDMC official. 

Sources say the entire process is stuck in unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. "There are so many highrises in this area. This parking is not even visible from the main road. There is a need to simplify the procedure, so that private firms don't face any difficulty in taking up project on built-operate-transfer ( BOT) basis,'' said an official with DS Constructions. 

Those who work at KG Marg, too, want the work to start soon. "Ever since the site was dug up for the project, parking has been a serious problem in the area. We have to park in CP and other neighbouring areas and walk all the way to our office. The government should expedite the work," said Rajeev Shekhar, a professional. 

The site at KG Marg is one of the three areas identified for multilevel parking projects under the master plan, which came into effect in February 2007 in NDMC areas. Before the site was dug up two years ago, it served as a makeshift parking. With the project yet to take off, office-goers in the area are running out of patience. 

Times View 

It is absurd that a much needed infrastructure project like the proposed multilevel parking should be stuck in red tape almost five years after it was officially sanctioned. On the face of it, the argument that the parking lot could pose a threat to the 13th-century baoli seems stretched. It is not as if it is in the immediate vicinity of the monument or that the area around the monument is currently not built up. On the contrary, the area is full of multi-storeyed buildings which have been there for decades. How would one more building several hundred metres away from the monument pose such a grave threat? 

The epic in colours of Koothu

Anusha Parthasarathy

A work on display at the
The Hindu A work on display at the "Inner Flow' exhibition

‘Inner Flow’ presents little known stories from the Mahabharatha on canvas
Traditional chithrakathi style of art inspired by scenes from ‘Bharatha Prasangam’, is the story behind “Inner Flow”, an exhibition of paintings at Lalit Kala Academy. This interesting blend of art and culture not only brings out some of the lesser-known stories of the Mahabharatha but also the richness of earthen shades and indigenous art forms.
‘Bharatha Prasangam’ is an annual performance by Bharatha-k-koothu, a folk theatre group that performs at Draupathi Amman temples across the State. This is done especially during the months of Chithirai and Vaikasi, when the temples celebrate a 20-day festival. The exhibition also captures on canvas the performances.
The artists of “Inner Flow” focus on smaller stories from the Epic, and each artist chooses a character whose story he/she narrates. The main characters are always in theru-k-koothu attire, with painted faces and dramatic and colourful garbs. The colours are either pastel and earthy or bright and fiery, depending on the scene and context.
S. Srinivasan’s take on portraits of gods look at the finer details such as the pleats on the sari and the feathers on the fan of the maidens beside Lord Ganesh. The colours on the peacock who garlands Goddess Saraswati are earthy and subtle, but in no way diminish the grace of the bird.
Arjuna and Abhimanyu, the heroes of Vaishnavi Srikanth’s series, are always dressed for a battle. Dusky skin painted with red and white dots, kohl-lined eyes, clothed in intense shades of red and blue, their kshatriya spirit comes through the art. Her series describes Arjuna’s marriage to Subadra, Abhimanyu’s birth and his life as a warrior prince.
The theme of Shobha Rajagopalan’s art also includes Arjuna, but a very different one. Here, his headdress is pompous; he marries Mohini and forgives Perandan when his wife, Perandi pleads with him. All the characters have sharp features and stand out against the vivid backgrounds. There is also a fascinating picture of Yellamma waiting for Arjuna after marrying Pashupathi. A whip lies coiled around a trident, while a garlanded linga sits next to a green maiden, who seems lost in thought.
Rajsri Manikandan’s characters are attired in bright, regal clothes and highlight important episodes of the epic — Draupadi and Bhima humiliating Duryodhana, Dharmaraja losing the game of dice, Dushasana dragging Draupadi out of her chamber and disrobing her. V. Shanmughapriya’s series, on the other hand, has Draupadi at its centre, and talks of her trials and tribulations throughout the story. Shanmughapriya’s style is distinctly South Indian, and has vibrant leaf thorans at the palace entrances.
S. Suresh’s picture story revolves around Aravan, whose death proves a turning point in the Mahabharatha. The Kala Bali, where his depiction (a rust-coloured god dressed in grand jewellery) is larger than life, needs no words to explain. The artist’s depiction of Aravan’s marriage to Mohini, is dramatic, where Krishna seems more like himself than a woman, perhaps indicating the fact that he is both man and woman.
Indira Seshadri celebrates Karna in her art, his birth (when Kunti puts him in a basket and leaves him in the river), to being cursed by Parasurama (with his axe) for lying about his race and his eventual death during the Kurukshetra war, when he is killed by Arjuna.
Duryodhana’s relationship with his mother, Gandhari, comes out in Meenakshi Madan’s paintings. It also brings out some of the twists in the tale; where Gandhari forces herself into labour, giving birth to the 100 Kauravas and strengthening Duryodana with her eyes (while Krishna tactfully covers Duryodana’s thigh which Bhima later crushes to kill him).
The exhibition also showcases sketches of Bharatha-k-koothu artists by Thiru Adimoolam. These men are hidden behind masks and lead twin lives; on stage and off it. There are a couple of pencil drawings by nine–year-old Anupama Rajagopalan as well. The exhibition is on till September 16, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Lalit Kala Academy, Greams Road.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Intach to make dossier for Unesco tag

TNN | Sep 12, 2012, 12.33AM IST

DELHI: The Delhi government is making a pitch for the capital to be declared as a Unesco World Heritage City. The cabinet has given nod to the tourism department to appoint India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) for preparing the nomination dossier for the Unesco tag.

"It may be recalled that in 2008, Intach was entrusted with the task of preparing a conceptual report for this purpose. The report has been prepared. A nomination dossier is to be submitted to Unesco through ministry of culture. Hence, Delhi tourism has been allowed to enter into an agreement with Intach for preparation and submission of the final dossier," said senior officials.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

color amid the monotonous earth tones of the Kutch region

The village of Ludiya erupts in color amid the monotonous earth tones of the Kutch region.

The village of Ludiya erupts in color amid the monotonous earth tones of the Kutch region

“In scattered hamlets, weavers, embroiderers, textile painters, tie-dyers, bead workers, potters, carvers, cobblers and bell-makers work as they have for centuries, often taking weeks, even months to finish a single flawless piece,” Claire Spiegel wrote in The International Herald Tribune of the craftsmen of Kutch, in the northwestern state of Gujarat.
“It’s a dying art, almost extinct,” Sumar Daud Khatri from Nirona village told Ms. Spiegel about the 400-year-old tradition of elaborate freehand fabric painting called rogan art his family has practiced for seven generations. Source:NYTIMES

Monday, 10 September 2012

Metro rail asks experts to come up with ideas to beautify its upcoming stations

Sandhya Soman, TNN | Sep 8, 2012, 06.54AM IST

CHENNAI: Fancy looking at a mural while waiting for your train? If Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) firms up its station beautification plans soon, then there might be some bright artwork gracing its stations. 

CMRL recently invited artists or organisations with expertise in local culture and heritage to contact them with ideas to beautify metro stations and structures. NGOs, public sector and government bodies could also apply to "voluntarily adopt metro stations for beautification and advertisement of their cause". 

"We want people to feel a sense of ownership," says a senior official. It will help if there is artwork that recreates the feel of local culture. The idea is to pep up both the lines -- Washermenpet-Airport and Chennai Central-St Thomas Mount -- covering both the underground and elevated sections. 

It will select only technically feasible suggestions. The ideas have to fit the budget, with each station costing around Rs 20 crore. "The responses we have got are not encouraging. We are awaiting more feasible proposals," says the official. Since the basic station design is already in place, the suggestions have to fit in and be finalised before the detailed plan is drawn up. 

According to architects and conservation experts, the initiative is limited as it doesn't provide an opportunity to integrate local architecture or heritage with the designs. "They could have involved architects from the beginning to have better designs within the budget," says V Sriram, historian and convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), Chennai chapter. 

World over, planners try to retain the local flavour while designing metro , tram and other public transport facilities, says Xavier Allard, design and styling director of Alstom, the French company which is designing the trains for CMRL. Allard and his team recently worked with artists to incorporate the design aspects of Rabat in Morocco while coming up with a tramway for the city. 

"They wanted a modern tramway that represented the idea of Rabat," says Allard. The design team collaborated with three local artists and recreated the traditional patterns on seats and ceilings of trains. "The response has been great as both locals and tourists like them," he says. 

What is more remarkable to urban transport enthusiasts like Michael Rohde, a Hamburg-based designer who runs a website ( showcasing metro stations, is the collaboration between planners and archeologists . Many cities have strict preservation laws, especially those with a rich history, like Athens or Rome. In Athens, the construction of a subway line in 2004 turned out to be an archaeological milestone, he says. In Cologne, archaeology determines the pace of subway construction, which has revealed a plethora of finds from Roman history. 

Some cities display archaeological findings discovered during construction at the stations. "The Moscow Metro's underground station is nothing less than a museum," says Rohde. Close cooperation could minimise delays when you stumble across archaeological sites or objects. "In London, the Jubilee Line extension project was done along with the London Museum. It prevented unplanned delays and led to valuable discoveries," he says. 

However, there is not much dialogue when big infrastructure projects are executed in India, leading to delays as seen in the case of the 'heritage' corridor work of the Delhi Metro. "There will be exchange of ideas only if authorities realise that heritage conservation doesn't hamper development," says A G K Menon, Intach-Delhi convenor. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

‘Still Waters: LEGACY’ debuts with headlining act in Bhutan

source:Sikkim Now
GANGTOK, 07 Sept: ‘Still Waters: LEGACY’, a new band put together by Ananth Pradhan, former vocalist of Still Waters, debuted as the headlining act at the ‘Tour of the Dragon’ mega cycling event’s grand finale concert on 01 September organised  by the Bhutan Olympics Committee.
Having parted ways with Still Waters a couple of months back due to some issues regarding the band’s further musical direction and management, Ananth was determined and quick to form a band of his own which he aptly named ‘Still Waters: LEGACY’ owing to the fact that he was the person to name his former band Still Waters in the first place, informs a press release.
The band performed at Bhutan’s Clock-Tower open air theatre in Thimpu along with Bhutanese rock and pop artists to a 2000 strong crowd.  They also performed on the eve of the 31 August as well as on 01 September at ‘Mojo Park’, a Rock n’ Roll club/pub of Bhutan. The gig marked the first anniversary of the club as well.
Their playlist consisted of originals like “Happy Go Lucky”, “Live A Little” and “Rock 2 The Rescue” along with some classic crowd-pleasers like Jailbreak (Thin Lizzy), Evenflow (Pearl Jam), Sweet Home Alabama, Come Together etc.
The band now plans to hit the studios and record some new originals within the next few days, the release mentions.
The band’s line-up during their Bhutan tour had Ananth Pradhan [Lead Vocals/ Guitars], Basu Ghatraaj [Lead Guitars/ Vocals], Raaz Kshettri [Bass/ Vocals], Milan Rumba [Drums] and former Nightmares member, Lakpa Tamang [Rhythm Guitars/ Vocals].

An evening with the Yeti, Chi and music

Source:Sikkim Now

LISTEN TO THIS, HIC! Acoustic Traditional's Salil Mukhia Kwoica narrates a Lepcha folktale about the Yeti in the 'drunken style' accompanied by Sonam Chopyel on the tungbuk at Mayfair Resorts on 31 August

GANGTOK, 06 Sept: Acoustic Traditional unveiled its drunken style of storytelling at the ‘One Tribe’ concert at Mayfair on 31 August. In a rare moment of shamanic music and oral storytelling, a unique journey was embarked upon, something that will perhaps in future find a lasting tie with indigenous oral traditions in and around the region. For the moment, the word is out and the world is keen on knowing what this style could possibly mean.
“Acoustic Traditional has been telling stories for over a decade now and throughout our journey, we have never stopped ourselves from being influenced by community-based storytellers. They are remarkable storytellers and we have constantly reinvented ourselves over the years taking inspiration from them. One important area in our work is that of documenting the oral traditions maintained by our shamans such as Bongthings, Fedongmas, Jhankris, Poibas, etc., and somewhere we have been compelled to bring their traditions and ways of storytelling forward. These are vanishing traditions. All our shamans use some form of ‘chi’ or the other in their rituals and this is not unusual”, says AT founder and storyteller Salil Mukhia Kwoica.
The ‘chi’ [ fermented millet beer], he says prepares them for a spiritual journey and the drunken style of storytelling borrows from this tradition and uses their system of mapping (shamanic) to tell stories or build narrations. It isolates the storyteller from his set of distractions and enables him to go where he usually cannot.
This seems to have worked, as Salil explains, “The first musical verse played by Sonam Chopyel on his flute took me very far and I suddenly realised that I was telling a story I heard from Mr. Netuk Lepcha in Dzongu when initially I had something else in mind!”
On the whole, the style touches upon two things: stories being sacred and use of ‘chi’ as a spiritual offering to our deities to help enable us to tell and interpret the stories, he further informs.
Session organiser Abhishek Pradhan adds, “We could not get the traditional ‘chi’ [millet beer] so we had to do with beer. I have been organising sessions for some time now and Salil did not sound the same as before. He had been drinking a week before to see if he could remain in his senses while narrating. We now look forward to taking this style before others in our National Storytelling Tour.”
With musicians and bands from across Gangtok and Darjeeling (Michelle Pradhan, Neha Pradhan, Adams Apple, Debashish and international Baul singers Satyananda and Hori Das), the concert proved to be more than what it had intended to be, share members of AT.  Impromptu performances, last minute changes and support from unexpected corners brought the whole endeavour together turning it into something more than what had been planned.
For Sonam Chopyel who accompanied Salil through the storytelling session with a Lepcha guitar [tungbuk] and flute, it was an experience which offered him a different perspective on the music he had been playing till now. Interestingly, Chopyel would not have been part of the show if it wasn’t for his uncle who could not make it to Gangtok from Dzongu for the concert.
A teacher at a government school here, Chopyel says “It was something that I did not expect. I felt being taken over through my own music and perhaps it’s because there was this element of sacredness at play. I played the music that is used to invite our deities and with the storyteller on a ride of imagination, it took me far deeper in my music than before.”
From music enthusiasts to educators to intellectuals to media professional who were present at the concert, the event brought in a wide spectrum of audience. As the last story was told with notes fading off the flute, those present were lost in a trance which was broken only a while later.
“It was one of its own kind - different and unique. Acoustic Traditional contributed towards the promotion and preservation of this art form”, is what Tseten Lepcha had to say of the evening. “The overall show was great and really enlightening especially the story regarding the Yeti and I liked the drunken storytelling style by Salil. The song ‘Handy boy’ by Debashish was simply awesome with lots of bitter truth in it”, said Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha.
Acoustic Traditional has now got quite a few invitations to showcase the ‘drunken storytelling’ style, as Minket Lepcha of AT informs, “We have just received an interesting invitation from one of our supporters to do our session at an upcoming Festival at Hyderabad this October where people from around the world will be present, especially from civil society organisations”.

Into a Nizam’s heaven

  • Fairytale lair: Central foyer of the Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
    Fairytale lair: Central foyer of the Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  • Sufi qawali at the Gol Bungalow. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
    Sufi qawali at the Gol Bungalow. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  • Queen Ujala Devi’s bathtub with a piping system that infused perfume into the bathwater. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
    Queen Ujala Devi’s bathtub with a piping system that infused perfume into the bathwater. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  • Frontal view of the palace, built in Tudor-Italian style. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
    Frontal view of the palace, built in Tudor-Italian style. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  • Meeting-cum-gossip room of Queen Ujala Begum. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
    Meeting-cum-gossip room of Queen Ujala Begum. - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
Adaa and nazakat, two beautiful Urdu words, come closest to summing up the fairytale world that is the Taj Falaknuma Palace in the Nizam’s city of Hyderabad. But to get the nuance of what they really convey, many English words need to be deployed — elegance, style, romance, beauty, poise, grace, charm, tantalising…. This palace, in its different moods, does all this, and more, to you.
I arrive at the Taj Falaknuma (mirror of the heavens) bleary-eyed after an early morning flight. But the regal horse-carriage, bearing the Nizam’s insignia, waiting to transport me to the elegantly appointed Shahzaadi suite, wakes me up. The carriage pulls up before the magnificent white-and-grey edifice, and I climb up the steps — to be showered with rose petals! The palace, built in the shape of a scorpion, exudes warmth, calm, grandeur and beauty, all rolled into one. Suddenly my simple cotton top and comfortable trousers (worn for the flight) appear inadequate… surely, a delicately embroidered Tusser silk kurta was called for, I rue.
My suite is in the zenana section, where the sixth Nizam, Mahboob Ali Pasha, kept a harem of 100 women, no less. Built over 32 acres on the Koh-i-Tur Hill, which is 2,000 ft above sea level, the palace overlooks the old city of Hyderabad. It’s Eid, the weather is great, and the city’s icons, such as the Charminar, Mecca Masjid and Golconda Fort, are visible from the marbled front porch.
An Eid celebration
The sound of Eid prayers, the shor-sharaba of the festivities rend the air. The ambience transports you to a bygone era where every Eid celebration must have been special, with huge bartan overflowing with lazeez khana. Men and women, resplendent in their finest silks and the famed Nizam’s jewels, would be gliding around the palace grounds enjoying a scale of grandeur that ordinary mortals can only dream of.
Or so I thought, having no clue of the warm and lavish hospitality that General Manager Girish Sehgal and his team would enchant me with!
Within an hour or so of landing at Falaknuma, it is easy to get intoxicated. Particularly enchanting is the flora: Acres of lush greenery, shady canopies of tamarind, pomegranate, sweet-lime and other fruit trees, swaying date palms, flowering trees and colourful bushes twirling around the many pathways. The fragrance of mogra, the Nizam’s favourite flower, permeates the air.
But more intoxication is in store — when sparkling wine is offered at breakfast. The first morning I say a polite ‘no’, but on the second I go for it, thinking it would pair beautifully with the delectable Paya-nihari-Sheermal (trotters-bread) combo. It does. I’m coaxed into trying the kheema-naan, which is delicious too. A wide range of healthy drinks, a host of pastries, cakes and the softest of croissants are on offer at breakfast, which is prepared to order.
To atone for the sinful calories, after a break, I head for the cool waters of the swimming pool nestling in perfect sylvan surroundings. A few laps, and the pool attendant treats me to a refreshing raw mango drink and cut fruits.
Nawabi hospitality
The breakfast is only a teaser for the nawabi hospitality that follows. Ramzan has just ended, so the haleem has to be tasted; it melts in the mouth. To keep it so smooth and yet, unlike a paste, with distinct, well-done meat strands tantalising your taste buds is a challenge the chef has got right. Between Celeste, the Falaknuma’s all-day diner offering international cuisine, and Adaa, its aptly named Indian restaurant, Executive Chef Arun Nayak’s team provide guests an unforgettable culinary experience.
The kachchi Hyderabadi biryani is subtle and deliciously fragrant, the lamb just right and juicy; the array of kebabs are a delectable assault on your taste buds. From the Dahi ke kebab, a rare kebab made from hung yoghurt, green chilli and cardamom, to the Gosht ki shammi, patties made with meat, chana dal and spices — the stuff just melts in the mouth. Falaknuma also reminds you that just as in the finest of Mediterranean cuisine in Greece or Spain, food is not something you rush through.
So you have Ithmenan se, the Urdu equivalent of “slow food”. Under this category, I sampled the lip-smacking and unbelievably tender Pathar ka Gosht; the recipe for this special dish was discovered in the Falaknuma Palace’s archives and perfected by the chef. On offer are scallops of kid lamb marinated over 48 hours and then cooked slowly over hot granite.
Unimaginable extravagance
But the best of Dakhani cuisine is only a part of the charm of staying at the Falaknuma, where, as a reviewer puts it on Trip Advisor, “The staff make you feel as though you’re a king returning to your own palace”. Whether it is the shining marble, the shimmering, exquisite chandeliers, gleaming tabletops with intricate wood inlay work, luxurious sofas with leather embellishments, rich carpets, the central staircase which is an architectural wonder having no vertical suspension, ballroom and conference hall — which was once the Nizam’s breakfast room, library with a collection of rare books, or banquet hall with a table that can comfortably seat 120 diners, every nook and corner of this edifice raises enigmatic questions in the mind of the guest.
For answers, I read Falaknuma, the book by George Michell, and take a guided tour with historian Prabhakar Mahindrakar. Hyderabad, as the largest Indian princely State, had to keep abreast of western politics and fashion. Among important persons who often visited Europe was Viqar ul Omra, the Diwan of Mahboob Ali Pasha. After an eight-month Europe visit in 1882, Omra was inspired to build a new-classical style grand palace.
Work on the Falaknuma Palace began in 1884 with an ambitious design, and although the Diwan moved into it in 1889 he continued to embellish it with custom-built furniture, chandeliers, frescos, and fountains. Over 10 years, he spent an estimated Rs 30-40 lakh and went bankrupt. There are many versions of how the palace changed hands from the Diwan to his boss, the Nizam. I liked best Prabhakar’s, which has it that after a lavish party at the palace in 1897, the Nizam stayed on for a few nights, called his host and said: “Merey pair yaha se nahi uthtey hei (My feet refuse to move from here).”
Nizam moves in!
Omra had little option but to offer the palace, built in Tudor-Italian style, as a gift to his boss, and the Nizam compensated him handsomely, paying much more than the amount spent on building and decorating this edifice. “Sixteen types of wood and 10 types of marble have been used here, mainly from Europe. The exquisite chandeliers were custom-built in France and England,” says the historian, as he walks me around the place. As we enter the frescoed entrance foyer adorned with a stunning painting of an eagle (by Jean Gaudier), he recreates the past.
“The Nizam had 17 palaces in Hyderabad, but he chose to stay in Falaknuma, which was the grandest and most beautiful of all. He entertained and hosted State heads and the world’s royalty here… crown prince of Germany, Czar of Russia, King George V, Queen Mary and India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad, have been guests here.”
The walls and fittings in the famed library have spectacular inlay work in rosewood and mahogany. The glistening central reading table has prominent monograms of VO, the Diwan’s initials. The chairs have embossed gilded leather coverings, and the coffered ceiling is designed akin to the one at the Windsor Castle library!
The library has 5,970 rare books in nine languages, including English, Urdu, Persian and Arabic; the Nizam was well-versed in all the four languages, Prabhakar says. “We also have a first edition of the Sinking of the Titanic, written by a survivor, and a rare edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica printed in Cambridge in 1911 and dedicated to George V,” he adds.
Mind-blowing hospitality
My suite is elaborately done up in the subdued palace colours of beige, brown and grey. The washroom area is huge, the sanitary fittings are a shining gold, and the arrangement of white and peach lilies seduces the senses.
I am assigned a personal butler, Chinar, who ensures that my geographically-challenged brain takes me to the right places for meals, melodious sufi qawalis in the Gol Bungalow, and other places in the mammoth palace. Both the dinner experiences are unique; the second is a surprise pre-birthday party — they’d found out that my birthday was four days away — in the Nizam’s suite, which costs a whopping Rs 5–8 lakh a night, depending on the season. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Vijay Mallya and the Queen of Qatar have stayed here. Before dinner, the General Manager, Sehgal, joins me for cocktails — the pomegranate/ watermelon/ orange Mojitos here are to die for — and a special, intimate qawali session is organised by the Nizam’s poolside.
The GM is thrilled that in less than two years of its opening, the hotel is seeing many repeat guests opting for longer stay. The basic room here starts at around Rs 24,000, and the priciest is the Nizam’s suite.
“We treat all our guests as the Nizam’s special guests and strive to provide personalised service… if you love history, nature or luxury, this is the place to be in,” Sehgal smiles.
I experience total pampering and personalised service during my stay.
Yet, there is more, to reiterate that it is a Taj hotel. I’ve been attacking the scrumptious macaroons kept in my room, and Chinar must have noticed their disappearance. Just before I get into the Jaguar for airport transfer, she hands me a beautiful container packed with the delicacy… so I take back home more than just beautiful memories.
Queenly touches of luxury
In 2000, Taj Hotels took over the renovation of Falaknuma Palace. The renovation committee was headed by Princess Esra Jah, who married Mukkaram Jah, the grandson of the seventh Nizam. Historian Prabhakar Mahindrakar says when he first saw the palace, “I thought it would crumble very soon — huge cracks, decaying wooden ceilings, water seepage were all there. The carpets and curtains were in tatters, the upholstery was eaten away by white ants, and heaps of dust and huge cobwebs greeted me. Outside there were wild dogs, porcupines and snakes.”
But soon, experts were pressed into service and Princess Esra said, “I will restore the bygone era.” Her standards were rigorous — numerous carpets and curtains were rejected, and others had to be dyed repeatedly to get the right shade.
Women visitors will be fascinated with the meeting-cum-gossip room of Queen Ujala Begum. It has exquisite French furniture, with special shelves above the sofas to store cosmetics and perfumes for the ladies. Complementing wall-mounted mirrors and chandeliers are exotic drapery and matching carpets.
A highlight at the palace is the Nizam’s study, where “huzoor used the famous 183-carat Jacob diamond, valued at Rs 400 crore, as his paperweight. You can see the gold border all around and the original leather covering… 117 years have passed, but the leather is still intact,” says Prabhakar. Pointing to an ornate phone, he says: “From this phone, the Nizam used to make calls over 100 years ago.”
The treasures the various rooms and halls unfold are a virtual feast for the eyes and the senses. Ornate gilded frames and frescos, elaborate drapery and crystal castings for ceiling fans, intricate music systems, clocks with celestial figures… and the Nizam’s bed, its top made of gold and legs diamond-studded. A pulley system helped lower the lights for his reading! And then there was the Begum’s special bathtub with an intricate pipe system that carried not only hot and cold water but also perfume to be mixed into the bathwater.
I discover a fine touch in my wardrobe drawers, which are lined with cushioned silk, and smile, recalling the historian saying that Queen Ujala Begum’s wardrobes were lined thus because if one of her countless maids was not around and she rummaged around in it, her fingers should not be hurt!