The India You Don’t Know

July 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I read this wonderful article in Readers Digest. So I thought sharing it..How true it is that We Indian still don’t know lot of places where we can visit..  I have already started saving my budget..planning to go North Side of India..sad I haven’t been above gujrat

here is the article…

The India You Don’t Know

Travellers in India usually have their itinerary all mapped out—it’s generally the tried and tested routes. The Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) or Goa. And since unstable Kashmir is out, Kerala is in. That is an Indian holiday in a nutshell. There are a few who do special interest tours.

Lakshadweep and Andamans for the diving, Kipling Country for jungle safaris, the Buddhist pilgrim trail, the heritage train rides. But beyond these busy pockets, there is a vast treasure trove of secret places.

Talk to any Indian about a favourite childhood memory and he or she will wax poetic about their “native place.” Ponds they used to swim in, fruit eaten straight off the tree, family feasts, temple festivals. They may also speak of memorable holidays to special destinations, often very close to home but still unexplored, preserved as if in amber. Here are seven spots off the tourist map but well worth seeking out.

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
For Mumbai-based model Ashutosh Singh, Lucknow is home. “Whenever I return, it’s as if I’ve never been away. There is an old world courtesy unique to my town.” He says that the frantic development that characterizes other Indian towns hasn’t altered Lucknow’s essential structure. The Old City still preserves the fading glories of this capital of the Nawabs of Awadh.

Towering gates, domes and arches define the cityscape. Even the Charbagh railway station looks like something out of the Arabian Nights. There are also charming havelis with intimate courtyards and interconnected rooms, just like the one where Ashutosh’s own family still stays. In the evenings people would stroll out unhurriedly to socialize over Lucknow’s famous chaat, sweets or paan.

Many of Lucknow’s iconic landmarks have made their presence felt in films like Umrao Jaan and Shatranj ke Khilari: The Bara and Chota Imambaras, Rumi Darwaza, the labyrinthine Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Chattar Manzil and Jama Masjid. The Bara Imambara complex, which also houses the famous maze, is essentially a Shia Muslim shrine. This grand project was undertaken by 18th-century Nawab Asaf ud Daula to generate employment during a time of famine. While the common people worked during the day, the equally impoverished but unskilled nobility were secretly hired to destroy what was constructed during the night, so that the task would continue till the crisis was over. He was the general architect of much of what we see today. “The magnificent Lucknow University buildings are an architectural marvel, with a vast campus,” says Ashutosh, “I’m proud to have studied there.”

Delhi-based writer and filmmaker Vandana Natu Ghana fell in love with Lucknow while she was a student there. She recommends the old markets of Chowk and Aminabad for delicate shadow embroidery (chikan), rich zardozi and badla work in silver and gold threads. This bustling area also houses the legendary Tunde ke Kebab shop, over a century old. “You can base yourself in Lucknow and do some fascinating day trips out of the city. Barabanki, with its ancient Mahabharat connections, and Malihabad, famous for its mango orchards, are redolent of a bygone era and only 25 kilometres away from the city centre,” she suggests. There is also the village of Kakori, which has given its name to silken smooth kebabs, created to indulge a toothless nawab. Lucknow is also very much a gourmet destination. Vandana, who has an Army background, advises that I not miss the British Residency, said to be haunted by ghosts of the 1857 Mutiny and siege, and the long drive through the cantonment area to the War Memorial, fringed by laburnum and gulmohar trees. “In summer, the road becomes a carpet of red and yellow flowers. People tend to visit Delhi, Agra and Varanasi and bypass Lucknow altogether. They don’t realize what they’re missing,” she sighs.

Kasauli and other cantonment towns
I have always liked cantonments. They stave off rampant development, preserve heritage structures and are often in beautiful locations. If you’re interested in old churches, military graveyards and history, you will definitely have a sense of stepping back in time.

Married to officers of the Indian Army’s Gurkha Regiment, Naji Sudarshan and Daphne Chauhan live in Delhi, but have had homes in cantonment towns all over the country. “It is a world all its own,” says Naji. “We are a stone’s throw away from chaotic towns and crowded metros, but the instant you enter Army territory, everything is disciplined and beautifully maintained.” A cantonment town is a time machine. And still properly British. You need a dinner jacket to dine at clubs where the menus have been the same for generations. Gardeners maintain seasonal flowerbeds with military precision and since wooded areas are protected, you find an astounding variety of birdlife.

 

Self-contained cantonment towns like Ranikhet, Lansdowne and Deolali have a quaint character all their own. Foreigners are not permitted to visit Chakrata in Uttarakhand, which is a restricted access area while Mhow, near Indore, is actually an acronym for Military Headquarters of War. There are artillery and combat schools, sanatoriums, military colleges and regimental headquarters scattered through all of these.

Army families keep getting posted to far-flung stations, but everything remains reassuringly familiar within the cantonment. “So while you get to discover a different place every time you are transferred, the set-up never really changes. Cocooned within the Army, you couldn’t be more secure,” adds Naji.

Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh is one of Naji’s favourites, a flower basket of a hill station with its typical upper and lower mall roads, a delightful bazaar and Victorian cottages with roses around the door. It is also across the hill from Subathu, where the Gurkha regiment has its headquarters. Daphne returned recently to Wellington, home of the Madras Regimental Centre in the Nilgiri Hills, where they had been posted 20 years ago. “Nothing has changed. It is still the same sleepy town, with perfect weather. Yet it is close enough to the social whirl of Ooty,” says Daphne. “A good place to base yourself for treks and tea gardens. Not many hotels, but there are home stays and farms in Wellington as well as in nearby Coonoor.”

Ashtamudi, Kerala
Ashtamudi is a sprawling expanse of water, the second largest and deepest wetland ecosystem in Kerala.

Like an octopus, it is eight-armed (ashtamudi literally means eight locks of hair). Vembanad (which includes Kumarakom) is larger and much promoted by Kerala Tourism, but lesser known Ashtamudi has much to offer. All the canals and creeks of these backwaters converge at Neendakara, a hub of the state’s fishing industry.

For Naresh Narendran, a rubber businessman in nearby Kollam (formerly Quilon), Ashtamudi is home territory. “Unlike the other backwaters, you see dense stands of coconut trees, rather than the usual scene of rice paddies,” he says. “There are also sand bars in the estuary which fishermen use. From a distance, it looks like the man is actually walking on water.”

I remember visiting an uncle whose backyard extended to the water’s edge. We could buy karimeen (pearl spot fish) and river mussels straight off the fishing boats. For fresh coconut water or toddy, a man would be immediately despatched up a coconut palm. Much of what we ate was picked from the kitchen garden. Naresh himself is proud of his own “little farm” not far from here, where he experiments with varieties of banana, yam, fruit, and vegetables. This is quintessential, picture-postcard Kerala with palm-fringed lagoons and dense tropical vistas in a hundred shades of green. “You could rent a boat and go around,” suggests Naresh. “But there are commuter ferry services to Alleppey at a fraction of the cost, which will give you much the same views.”

The much-photographed Chinese-style fishing nets of Cochin are seen around Ashtamudi as well. You could use the ferries to visit neighbouring islands, villages and lesser-known towns in and around the backwaters, much as the locals do. There are temples, sacred groves and churches to discover. Water birds like cormorants and herons abound. “I love photographing the backwaters in its many moods. In the monsoon it is quite spectacular,” says Naresh. “A few resorts are coming up here but it is still largely unspoilt.”

Kollam itself is a historic port town worth exploring. The coir and cashew industries made it prosperous but it was well known on ancient trade routes. Marco Polo came here, as did Ibn Battuta, the famed Islamic scholar and traveller. Not far from Kollam town is Thangassery, a little Anglo-Indian enclave that was once settled by both Dutch and Portuguese colonizers. It has a layout reminiscent of towns in Goa, beaches and a stately lighthouse. But the Anglo Indian community which gave it much of its character has largely emigrated.

 

 

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