Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jubilant Jaipur: A Blog on our October Trip to the ‘Pink City'

One early morning during the inception of the festive season when all of Delhi slept, we made our way to the railway station with the intention of catching the New Delh-Ajmer Shatabdi Express. The station was bustling with activity even in that early hour, and except for a series of people sleeping on the floor on mats and newspapers, there was hardly any somniferous sign in the vicinity. Passengers waited for the early trains, the customary mechanical female voice narrated the arrival-departure notifications in Hindi and English respectively, while the coolies with brass amulet like badges carried their usual tonnage. The newspapers of the day having freshly arrived at one of the bookstalls, we helped ourselves to a crisp new sheet and a couple of magazines.Our luggage at our heel, we waited for the train to arrive at our platform. 

Presently, the train slithered its way into view. The arrival of a train is always an exciting sight to watch. The beacon of red light and the boom of the engine horn are the first suggestions of its arrival, and then come its massive body and its undulating tail. Even in these modern days when many people prefer air travel over long-distance commute in railroad trains, the appeal of the train as a quintessential mode of transport is far from exhausted. Being an economical and easily accessible means of travelling, apart from that vintage-appeal that it inevitably ensues, many of us desiderate railroad travel to air-travel when time is not an issue.

 Our train commenced on its journey on-time and puffed its way out of the station. For the next few hours, we viewed an ever-changing landscape outside our windows. After the initial quarter of an hour, when we saw backs of houses, dumps of garbage, there burst into view the hillocks, meadows and agricultural fields rich with the fruits of the season. Bathed in the morning light, the green of the fields were soothing to the eye accustomed to the pollution laden scenery of a metropolitan city. 

Presently, when we saw pink-washed buildings and structures, we realized we were nearing the ‘Pink City’. The train reached Jaipur station fifteen minutes later than its scheduled time of arrival and we made our way to our hotel. The taxi cab ride from Jaipur station to our hotel, which was near the Jalmahal, took nearly an hour because of the awful traffic jam caused by the metro rail construction in the city. After a late lunch at the hotel and a spell of much needed siesta, we made our way to the City Palace. The pink city with its pinkish splendor spread its charmingly warm and sunny carpet of welcome for us.

The city of Jaipur is a most perfect confluence point of our eclectic Indian culture. Steeped in romance and marinating in royal heritage, this well-planned, antiquated city, built by Sawai Jai Singh II of the Kachhwaha Rajput clan, is a traveler’s delight. Planned by the Bengali architect Vidyadhar Chakravorty, Jaipur is divided into nine blocks and encircled by a formidable wall. In this walled city, you will find the juxtaposition of the old and the new in a multihued canvas that accommodates the myriad colors of India with rich flamboyance. Here, you will encounter ostentatious palaces, stunning astronomical instruments, royal armory on one hand, and modest shops selling delightful tchotchkes, pagdi-donned commoners, ghagra wearing females on the other. Our three-day holiday in the city offered us a great opportunity to dive into Jaipur’s rich culture and imbibe some of its pink richness.

 City Palace, Jaipur 

 City Palace, Jaipur 

Our first stop on our first day of touring around Jaipur was the royal residence complex or the City Palace. Like the city of Jaipur which offers a concurrence of the old and the new in the same canvas, the City Palace, one of its principle architectures, too is a medley of two different styles of design: Mughal and Rajput. This extensive regal complex is complete with courtyards, gardens, museums, temples, etc. The royal family still resides in a specially allocated portion of the City Palace. A fluttering royal flag abaft the building occupied by the imperial family suggested the presence of the present king in the building. When the king is absent from his royal seat, the flag is not hoisted. 

The entrance tickets of City Palace are modestly priced for Indian residents. Having my graduate student card with me, I successfully availed myself of the discount that you get if you have a valid student identity card with you. Upon entering the royal complex, you find yourself accosting the Mubarak Mahal, or the reception centre. When Sawai Madho Singh built the palace, this area was used as a royal guest house. Now it houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum which displays a glorious collection of royal memorabilia, weaponry, paintings and costumes. The most memorable among this memorabilia is the voluminous dress worn by Sawai Madho Singh I. He was a king with unprecedented adipose deposit: he weighed about 250 kg!

Making my way through a group of bewildered onlookers who stood gaping at the king’s mighty dress, I found myself face to face with the royal attire. Since visitors are not allowed to take pictures in the museum, I mentally captured the image of the cloak impleached with gold. In breadth it is so extensive that it could very well clothe a full family of four individuals. As I tried to imagine the king wearing the same costume and standing before me in his full height, I found a few stray drops of perspiration on my forehead and so decided to amuse myself by concentrating on the other finery.

Our next stop at the City Palace was the Diwan-i-Khas, or the hall of the selective audience. Located on a raised platform, the ceiling of this marble paved pavilion is decked with beautiful chandeliers. However, the most exquisite items on display in the Diwan-i-Khas are the two mammoth silver water containers mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. Sawai Madho Singh II used these gigantic silver vessels to store drinking water from the river Ganga when he went on his trip abroad. 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

The Maharani’s Palace or the Sileh Khana is the power-packed chamber of the City Palace, it being, ironically, in my opinion, the abode to some of the most exquisite Rajput weaponry you’d ever see. Upon leaving the Diwan-i-Khas, we headed in that direction of fearsome beatitude. An ostentatious “welcome” sign on the wall made by arranging several daggers and knives overwhelmed me with their presence. The Rajputs were evidently fond of their toys as wherever I looked I accosted glass-case after glass-case of fierce weaponry. Knives, swords, some with engraved, stone studded hilts, some simple in appearance, bucklers and shields, guns and other armory filled every corner of this massive chamber. Being a non-violent individual, I wasn’t at ease in that chamber of arms; nevertheless, I couldn’t but admire the zeal of the Rajputs who must have taken great pains in collecting that massive array of armaments. Be that as it may, I decided to leave the gallery of weaponry and all thoughts of war and death behind when I descended the stairs and headed for the Diwan-i-Am.

The chamber for the general public or Diwan-i-Am is a breathtaking gallery of royal collectibles and curios. From a handwritten copy of the Bahagavad Gita to copies done in miniature form of other noted sacred Hindi texts, the Diwan-i-Am displays it all. The hall itself is a poem done in masonry. It has exquisite chandeliers, marble pillars and many more. You will be drenched with beauty inside this extraordinary hall of ordinary people.  

Upon exiting the Diwan-i-Am, we felt a strong urge to savor some royal tea at the Royal Café in the vicinity. Apart from the fact that the restaurant was inside the City Palace and their crockery had the royal emblem, there was nothing especially royal about the café. The prices of food items in the menu were modest and the quality of the tea they served was good.

Puppet Show at The City Palace, Jaipur

Some gratuitous Rajasthani decor shopping later, we went to see the Hawa Mahal, that exquisite palace of the wind located a few yards away from the City Palace. The Hawa Mahal is the unequivocal crowning jewel of Jaipur. Such is its design, its distinctive architecture, that standing in front of it, even among the jostling peddlers and honking traffic of Jaipur, you will find yourself transported to some romantic land of dreams. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who commissioned this building had originally intended it to be a gallery for royal ladies to view the processions of the city. Nowadays you don’t need to belong to the royal family to climb the stairs of this exquisite five-storied marvel and enjoy the ever-changing kaleidoscope of life in the Pink City. 

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur 

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur 

The second day of sightseeing around Jaipur began with a chance of adventure for us. We decided that instead of booking a cab, we would travel by auto rickshaw and take in the flavor of the city, which we did, literally, since pollution is the main ingredient of the Jaipur air.

Our first stop upon leaving our hotel was the Jaigarh Fort. Of the three forts in Jaipur, Jaigarh is now known exclusively as an artillery warehouse. Located at a strategic point, this hill-top fort offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Jaipur. Maharaja Jai Singh II built the fort in the 18th Century with the aid of the architect Vidyadhar Chakravorty. 

Jaigarh Fort

The most exquisite item on display at the Jaigarh Fort is the behemoth Jaivana Cannon cast in 1720. It is a humongous object that speaks of the sheer power of the erstwhile Rajputs. Our guide informed us that the Jaivana was test fired once and the impact of the cannonball was such that a lake had formed in Chaksu, the place where the cannonball had landed. It is mythically held that the range of the cannon is around 40 km. 


The museum at the Jaigarh Fort was fascinating as well, being well equipped with royal photographs and artillery; nevertheless, it was the ancient temple dedicated to Kal Bhairav, the protecting deity of the fort, which interested me most.

From Jaigarh we headed to that famed structure of Jaipur: The Amer Fort. In Jaipur, Amer is the only one where you’ll encounter royal luxury in full. It has an exquisite Sheesh Mahal, fabulous gardens, a beautiful Diwan-i-Am, and is in one word a perfect erstwhile royal seat. Located about 10 km north of Jaipur, Amer was the capital of the Kacchwaha Rajputs for nearly 700 years. The fort was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh 1, while the subsequent rulers added to its majestic charm. 

Garden at Amer Fort, Jaipur

Sheesh Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur

 To reach the fort you can either take a jeep at the car-stand or take an elephant ride. We opted for the former and reached the rear portion of the fort in ten minutes. The lovely sandstone Diwan-i-Am and the twenty-seven pillared scribe-hall or Sattais Kacheri are some of the attractions at the Amer Fort. In fact, every section of this fort, be it the mirrored Sheesh Mahal or the royal bathing hall, or even the faded murals on the interior walls, will overwhelm you with its beauty. A visit to the exquisite royal seat is never complete without a stop at the sarangi player outside the fort. The musician is an undoubted virtuoso and entertains the crowd with the melodious notes from his sarangi. I had listened to him in my previous visit to the Amer fort and enjoyed his music this time too. He wields myriad kinds of music from his Saringi and that day he even played a snippet from “Baby Doll” the latest Bollywood item song.

The Saringi Player at the Amer Fort, Jaipur

 It being four already, we rushed to see the Jantar Mantar, which closes at five in the evening, from the Amer Fort. Jantar Mantat was built during a time when kings received especial epithets for being extraordinarily intelligent. Apparently, the sire who built Jaipur was in the eyes of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb sawa, meaning a quarter, more intelligent that most people. And this extra-intelligence earned him the soubriquet Sawai from Aurangzeb himself.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

 The Jantar Mantar observatory was built by Sawai Jai Singh II, who was renowned for his astronomical interest. It features an extraordinary array of complex astronomical instruments and is a treat for the eyes. This observatory is the best preserved of the five observatories that the king built in India.

Delicious Rajasthani Thali at LMB, Jaipur

 A long spell of shopping later, we next headed to the famed Lakshmi Mistanna Bhandar, or LMB, as it is called in Jaipur, at the Johri Bazaar for dinner. Being an avid traveler I have been to several restaurants that serve Rajasthani food, but the exquisite Rajasthani thali of LMB beats all my previous Rajasthani food experience by a wide margin. Delicious is an understatement when speaking about the magnificent meal we had that night at the eatery. The food was the cream on top of our perfect Jaipur get-away. The cherry on top of it, however, was experienced by us the following day when we boarded the famous double-decker train from Jaipur to Delhi. The train not only started and reached its destination on time, but also offered us an opportunity to view the landscape outside from an upper level compartment.

Thus our fabulous getaway to Jaipur came to an end and we returned home refreshed and bearing a luggage of new memories to please us in the coming months. 

P.S. A caveat: if traveling by the double-decker train, avoid the lower compartment. You will know why when you see it in person. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mahalaya: The Dawn of the Festive Season

This morning, I chanced to stumble upon a gorgeous article  by Tanya Basu among the dregs of social media updates and shares about Mahalaya, the auspicious day that marks the exordium of the Durga pujo season. The reading of the same got me thinking about Mahalaya and I couldn’t but post a blog on the topic. (Here's the link to Tanya Basu's article in the Atlantic: An 83-Year-Old Song Dominates India's Airwaves Every Year)

Mahisasur Mardini: The Full Radio Program 

For many of us Bengalis, Mahalaya unequivocally starts with the All India Radio program Mahisasur Mardini. From childhood upwards, we have been getting up with the pigeons on the morning of Mahalaya to sit before our radio sets and listen to the mesmerizing baritone of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The aforementioned AIR program is for us the official herald of the festive season, the sonorous clarion call of happiness that resounds in our ears the prospect of glorious days to come. The velutinous morning air is penetrated by the canorous notes of the radio-piece which incorporates both chants in high-Sanskrit and religious songs dedicated to maa Durga, the fiery-eyed, demon-slaying, evil destroying mother goddess.

Mahalaya is that time of the year when you may behold in all Bengalis a feeling of nostalgic stillness, when, thanks to this old radio program recorded in 1931, we lose, albeit momentarily, ourselves in the spell of music and let a sense of unmistakable, and absolute peace fall over us in the early hours of dawn like a sheer silk curtain impleached with golden threadwork. Year after year, the tradition of listening to the inimitable voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra continues without a speck of rusting in the machinery.

What is it, I wonder, in that eighty-minute program that stirs us to the very depths of our souls? Why, as we listen to the Sanskit slokas, our eyes well up and we feel a distinct lump in our throat when in the climactic moment of the tale the oratorio’s voice trembles with emotion? The thought leads me to the power of music. Since a time out of mind, music has been granted one of the highest seats of creative art form that moves you like nothing else. Be it the tribal song and dance rituals performed in the open, or a classical music performance unleashed in an auditorium, the power of music is potent everywhere.

On Mahalaya mornings, we Bengalis form a music-loving claque of our own as each of us, even those of us who live in distant lands, unite with the other under the canopy of music for over an hour and become a microcosm of the humanity at large. Every year, an invisible alarm-clock announces the hour of partaking of the musical ceremony when for a stipulated time we bid adieu to the changes of society, to our medical marvels, scientific spectacles, and social flux to engage in a changeless limbo of our own in a harmonious ritual when Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice booming with life presents before us the saga of the our beloved maa Durga.

In the early hours of this day of Aswin (the sixth month of the Bengali calendar), like the tintinnabulation of a pair of anklets, we hear the sound of the advent of the mother goddess, says Birendra Krishna Bhadra in the opening of the program. This line laden with poetry is for me one of the most favorite literary lines I have ever come across. In our society where women are shamed, raped, killed, abused and destroyed every day, the recitation invokes the spirit of the goddess in us. Although maa Durga, like Eve created out of Adam’s rib, was born out of the united strength of the great Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar, she single handedly slew the demon Mahisasura, a Satan like character who was granted the boon of immortality by Brahma, without the aid of the patriarchs (the male gods). The section in the radio program where Birendra Krishna Bhadra narrates the battle between maa Durga and Mahisasur is breathtaking. When the former vehemently cries out that she would destroy the demon, we see Durga, not as a matron, but as an all-powerful woman. We need to draw inspiration from this holy feminist who teaches us the need to take a stand for ourselves, to be ambitious, and not to be restricted within the boundaries of traditional domestic roles. 

This year, like all the previous years, when I finished listening to the radio program yesterday, I found myself brimming with new life. I felt rejuvenated by the antiquated musical program which gave me a new perspective on my life. It is possibly because of our need to jolt our somniferous muses out of their torpor in the subconscious strata of our minds that we cluster around our radio sets and listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s invocation of the mother goddess. May be it is our identification that transports us to our childhood when we listened to it with our parents and grandparents on similar Mahalaya mornings. Whatever the reason is, the octogenarian radio-piece is  a quintessential part of our Bengaliana, and in this era of westernized Indian culture, it is indeed refreshing to see this rite continue and thrive in our cultural crucible. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Home is Heaven on Earth: Part Uno

Sharing with you all some pictures of our home in Delhi. I love eclectic organization; I also have a knack for monochromatic palate. My home, therefore, is a mix-and-max space of both eclectic, multihued decorating style wish a dash of monochrome thrown in here and there.

My favorite corner in my home. This nook houses two of my favorite pieces: the miniature painting from Udaipur, and the antique brass lamp. 

The Dinning Area. The lamp of the table is a traditional brass lamp from Nepal 

The Living Area. The star attraction of this space is my huge framed wall hanging depicting Durga, the mother goddess and her family. 
A Colorful Corner


Pictures of our guest room. The thanka is from Nepal. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Launch of Dr. Manju Jaidka’s Novel “Amaltas Avenue”

The launch of Dr. Manju Jaidka’s new novel Amaltas Avenue at the Indian Habitat Center in New Delhi on the 16th of August 2014 was a literary event that added a dash of warm aureate hue to an otherwise plain Delhi evening. The event was attended by several renowned Indian academicians, writers, scholars, and bibliophiles. Among the prominent personalities who were part of the event, were writer and journalist Mr. Rahul Singh, son of the noted Indian scripturient, Khuswant Singh; Dr.Vijay Sharma, principal of Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University; Dr. Manpreet Kang, Dr. Vivek Sachdeva, Dr. Ashutosh Mohan, Dr. Rajiv Ranjan Dwivedi of the University School of Humanities and Social Sciences, GGSIP University, New Delhi. The event was presided over by Rahul Singh, while Dr. Vijay Sharma formally introduced the proceedings.

Dr. Manju Jaidka

Amaltas Avenue is the third novel penned by Dr. Manju Jaidka. Dr. Jaidka, a stellar academician, a writer of more than eleven scholastic books on English literature, is a professor of English at Panjab University, Chandigarh and a present chairperson of the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi. She is a prolific writer, who has written, apart from two novels, Spots of Time and Scandal Point, a play called The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, and a poetry collection, For Reasons Unknown. Unlike Scandal Point—a historical fiction—Dr.Jaidka’s latest book, Amaltas Avenue, is an academic novel set in contemporary India and focuses on the lives of characters who are denizens of the same milieu. 

The book launch (from left: Mr. Rahul Singh and Dr, Vijay Sharma) 
Following the official launch of Amaltas Avenue, Dr. Jaidka read certain excerpts from her novel at the request of her audience. The latent wit and humor of the book, together with the oratorical skill of the author, the inflection of her voice and her enthusiasm made the experience of listening to her a refreshingly pleasant one. As I listened to Dr. Jaidka reading from her book, I felt that Amaltas Avenue, if read by its brilliant author, might do great as an audio book as well!

A question-answer session was the penultimate part of the evening’s literary proceedings. During this session, Dr. Jaidka made several important observations about creative writing and her life as an academician in general. She said that in order to write well, one much have sufficient time and space. She mentioned that one always has stories inside one, and that ordinary life incidents could very well marinate in mind and take fictional form in due course. She laid great stress to the idea of a creative work gestating in mind for a long period before it is rendered on page. When asked what inspired her to become a creative writer, she replied that she had always wanted to become a writer and that she was glad that she could now devote herself to her creative pursuit. In response to a compliment on her stylistic legerdemain and her effortless narrative technique, Dr. Jaidka said that her training as an academician and her previous experience of teaching narrative theory and narratology has helped her in perfecting the craft of writing. 

Talking about Dr. Jaidka’s latest novel, both Rahul Singh and Dr. Vijay Sharma commented on the author’s brilliant power of description, her elevated sensibility, her perfect sense of artistic detachment when composing a work. Both the aforementioned dignitaries considered Amaltas Avenue a literary masterpiece displaying the same high level of perfection that is the recognized signature of Manju Jaidka, the writer.

The literary event concluded with the author of Amaltas Avenue autographing copies of her book and interacting with her friends and fans. 

My Copy of Amaltas Avenue 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Memories of Nepal (Part 3, Day 3)

Memories of Nepal_Day 3

The third day of our Nepal trip had a gloomy beginning. We had arrived at Nagarkot, the small hill station close to Kathmandu, the previous evening and had spent the night there surrounded by gorgeous rolling hills and pine-forests. It is a sequestered spot where you can enjoy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Nevertheless, the morning we woke up in Nagarkot proved to be an exceptionally somber cloud-covered one. At five in the morning, we beheld, instead of the birth of the sun in the eastern sky, great rolls of cloud covering the sky from end to end. It was as we saw these great dollops of cloud that we realized what a great decision it was to come to Nagarkot earlier than we had planned and seen the breathtaking view of the mountains the evening before. The memory of that spectacular view acted as a palliative and prevented us from being despondent.

Morning in Nagarkot, Nepal

Morning in Nagarkot, Nepal
Having breakfasted at nine, we left Nagarkot for Changu Narayan temple at ten in the morning. This temple is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Nepal. Located around 6 km north of Bhaktapur, the temple of Changu Narayan is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is home to a series of beautiful sculptures of Vishnu like the Vishwaroop Lord Vishnu, Vishnu-Vikranta Lord Vishnu, Nar Singha Vishnu and Vishnu mounted on Garuda, the humanoid-bird.  Magnificent relief work done in gold in the pillars and in the torans crowning the temple offer a rare treat to the eyes. The temple is one of the holiest sites in Nepal and is said to have been constructed in the Lichhavi period. It is home to a series of incredible examples of Nepalese architecture. Like other temples in Nepal, the Changu Narayan temple too is done in Pagoda-style.

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

The second stop on the third morning of our visit to Nepal, was the world famous Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Situated about twelve kilometers away from Kathmandu city, Bhaktapur, or the city of devotees, is said to have been founded by King Ananda Dev in 1197 A.D. Of the three Durbar squares we visited in Nepal, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was unequivocally the best. This royal plaza is not only very well maintained— which you will expect it to be considering the exorbitant entry fees you pay before you step into it—but is also home to some of the most exquisite pagodas, palaces, and monuments that we've seen in Nepal. I was glad that we had kept the visit to the best Durbar Square in Kathmandu till the last day of our visit.

View of the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal, from the Palace Restaurant. 

To enter the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, you need to walk a little way down the road opposite the ticket counter and climb a series of stairs leading you to the entrance gate to the Durbar Square. The moment you step through the gate into the Durbar Square, the royal plaza with its irresistible antique charms, would suddenly burst into view and obliterate all thought for a moment. What you would perceive before you would be unlike anything you've seen before. For few brief moments, you would be overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of the edifices that stand before you. When you have gained your composure, you may look around and concentrate on each specimen of exquisite Nepali architecture and treat yourself to as many photographs as you like. I think we took more than a hundred photographs at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and still felt that it was not enough.

The Lion Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Our first stop at the Durbar Square was The Lion Gate. It gets its name from the two exquisitely carved stone lion statues installed on either side of the gate during the reign of Bhupatindra Malla. Statues of lions, symbolizing the elements of power and protection, are found in every Durbar Square in Kathmandu, but none we've seen before were as beautifully carved and perfect in every detail as the pair we saw sitting on either side of the Lion Gate at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

The statue of King Bhupatindra Malla perched atop a long and slender stone pillar with his hands folded and his body bent in an attitude of prayer to the Taleju goddess, was the second exquisite royal figurine we saw. We stopped before the column on top of which the stone-king sat motionless under the shadow of an elegantly carved umbrella, his sword and buckler next to his kneeling form, and thought how true the statement of E.A. Powell, writer of The Last Home of Mystery, was, who said, while talking about the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, that even if there were nothing else in Nepal, save the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, it would be sufficiently worth “making a journey half way around the globe to see” it.
The Golden Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Tympanum of the Golden Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

The Golden Gate, erected by King Ranajit Malla after a successful feat in the battleground in 1753, was our third stop. It serves as an entrance to the Taleju complex. This ornate gate, boasting some of the most delicate gilded copper-work in the Kathmandu valley, is one of the most beautifully carved golden entrances in the world. It is an exquisite piece of gilded art that takes the breath away. At the richly-gilded bosom of the tympanum, appears the ten-armed goddess Taleju with Shri and Lakshmi on a crocodile and a tortoise respectively on either side of the central deity. On the door frame are gilded representations of a doorkeeper, a good-fortune vase, and figures of such deities as Bhagwati, Bhairava, Ganesh, Kumari and Kali.

Palace of 55 Windows, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

The supreme wooden architectural structure dominating the entire Bhaktapur Durbar Square area, is the three-storied palace of 55 windows. It was built by Yakshya Malla in 1427 A.D. and embellished later by Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century. It is a magnificent edifice with exquisite relief work in its windows and pillars and beautiful carvings on the doors and windows of the lower floors.

The Art Gallery in the area, like all museums and galleries we visited in Nepal, charges exorbitant entry fees. The gallery has a modest collection of Buddhist artifacts and some exquisite thankas depicting esoteric images of Tantric deities.

Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Temples galore at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and you may take your time and visit the four dhams (religious sites) of Jagannath, Kedarnath, Rameshwar and Badrinath situated near the west entrance.

The Shikhara style stone-made Vatsala temple dedicated to the goddess Durga is a breathtaking monument of religious architecture. On the lower section of this edifice, is the famous “barking bell,” which causes dogs to bark and whine when it is rung. In olden days, this bell was used to communicate an alarm of emergency during times of trouble.

The Yakcheswor Mahadev temple, which is a replication of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, is an important religious edifice in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square area. This religious seat of Lord Shiva was built by King Yakshya Malla, who was a great devotee of the lord, and is said to have received dream-instructions from the divine deity himself who commanded him in his reverie to erect a temple for him in the Bhaktapur area.

The greatest temple we visited on our day-trip to the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was the Nyatapola in the Taumadhi Square. We were awestruck by the sheer size of this enormous religious structure. It is a massive five-storied pagoda-style temple that stands above five plinths. Each plinth has majestic stone statues of men and animals on either side of the stairwell that runs through the middle of it. The five tiers of this gargantuan temple symbolize the basic elements of Nature. It is the tallest temple in Nepal and is dedicated to the goddess Siddhi Lakshmi— a Tantric deity representing the most potent female force.

After visiting the Taumadhi Square, we took our leave of the gorgeous Bhaktapur Durbar Square.  I wished I could stay in Nepal and in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square for a decade in the least. Nevertheless, logic came to the forefront of my mind and waved a pair of air-tickets at me. 

Traditional Nepali Thali Meal 

Our last meal in Nepal was at a small but famous restaurant in Kathmandu. My husband ordered a Nepali thali for himself while I had a plate of dumplings. The dumplings I was served was good, but the ones I had at the Tree House Inn in Nagarkot were the best. The Nepali thali looked very much like a traditional Bengali afternoon meal with rice, saag, daal, vegetable curries, and a dish of chicken. The food was lightly spiced and was delicious. I especially loved the brass platter and bowls they served the food in.

 Having finished our afternoon meal, we headed straight to the airport. The departure formalities and security check being completed, we made our way to the waiting area. One incident that brightened my last moments in Nepal was this: As I was being pat-checked by a female security official at the airport, I noticed the beautiful glass bangles she wore. When I told her that I absolutely loved her bangles, she promptly took out a few of them and gave them to me. I was surprised at this and said that I was simply complimenting her. But she was so touched by my remark that she insisted I take a few of her bangles as a parting gift. I hugged the security official and accepted the gift. I still have the bangles with me carefully stored in my accessory box. That last moment in Nepal welled up my eyes.  

Time to Say Good to Nepal 

I believe that when you visit a new country, a new city or town, not only do you see the place, but the place sees you too. To it you may be one of the travelers with indistinguishable features flitting from tourist sites to tourist sites sipping the delicious nectar of art and heritage that the place offers. Nevertheless, it always has a ubiquitous eye directed at you, judging your actions and watching your deliberations during your stay in it. I wonder how Nepal saw me; did it see me as one of the many travelers who flit about from place to place, or more like a person, an individual who loved every bit of the gorgeous country she saw. Did it perceive my childish excitement on seeing the Kal Bhairav statue in Kathmandu, or my exhilaration upon seeing the beauteous mountain ranges in Nagarkot? May be it did, may be it smiled and shook its head like a septuagenarian at the foolishness of a young soul; may be it too shed a few drops of tears like I did when I boarded my flight back home and bid Nepal adieu.

 The trip to Nepal was one of the most memorable trips I had made in my life. And now, as I sit at my desk in my home, surrounded by souvenirs I got from that beautiful country, I feel that even if I had my finished my trip to Nepal, a bit of Nepal will always be in and around me forever. 

Prayer flags from Nepal in my balcony garden communicating my devout prayers to the gods!