The Nilgiri Library in the hill station of Ooty (also known as Udhagamandalam or Ootacamund) in Tamil Nadu was established in 1859 and moved to its present premises, a handsome red and white Victorian building, in 1867. According to an information board at the Library:
On 28th August 1967, the foundation stone of the main building was laid by the Hon. Mr. A.J. Arbuthnot, then Chief Secretary to the Madras Presidency. A religious ceremony was conducted by Rev. Dr. G.U. Pope. A parchment in the name of the “Holy Trinity” was placed under the stone work… The site on which the Library stands once housed the Jail and Post Office !
I came to know of the Nilgiri Library when I was doing research on Ooty prior to my short #NilgiriMountainHoliday about two months back. Just reading about the library and its collection of over 25,000 books, rare volumes as well as a beautiful reading room was enough to make me head straight to the Library on my arrival at Ooty.
The Members Only sign at the entrance did make my steps falter a bit, but I was confident that I could persuade the Library staff to at least see the reading room, if not their collection.
It is about a quarter past 9 on that November morning of 2016, and we (my friend Niti and I) are on our way to visit the Buddhist rock-cut caves at Kolvi from Jhalawar, Rajasthan. A brief halt at Bhawani Mandi for a breakfast of poha, jalebi and tea later, we are more that half way into the 2 hour drive to the caves on Rajasthan State Highway 19A.
The view from the car window is of a largely flat countryside lit up in the wintry sunlight. We pass village settlements, farmlands, a river crossing… all in all very peaceful and idyllic.
Suddenly Niti asks, “What’s that?”
I’m seated behind the driver and have to twist to look at what she is pointing at on her side of the road.
And as soon as see it, I tell the driver, “Stop. The. Car. NOW.”
Manoj, our driver, not only stops the car, but reverses it so that we can get a better look. At any other time, I would have chided him for reversing on a highway, but at that point in time all I could do was to wait impatiently for him to stop and the jump out of the car to get a better look.
“What are we looking at?” asks Niti.
“This, my friend, is what is known as columnar jointing in rocks,” I say. And add with a touch of drama, “There aren’t many sites like this; I know of only two in India.”
The drive to Sibsagar (also known as Sivasagar) from Jorhat in Assam takes about an hour. Except for one small stretch, the road, which is the National Highway 37, is smooth and and makes for a beautiful drive. The entire stretch is lined with banana and coconut trees and cottages with cane around them making for a pretty sight. It is almost impossible to take one’s eyes off the beauty all around.
But there is one place along the drive, about 15 km before Sibsagar and at a place called Gaurisagar, when you have focus on something else, even get off the vehicle you are travelling in. It is a bridge across the river Namdang, a tributary of the river Dikhou. The bridge is a small, not a particularly impressive looking, one and is about 60 m in length and 7 m in width.
But don’t go by its looks, for this bridge is only one of 10 such bridges ever built in Assam that still survives today. It is a Sila Saku or a stone bridge that was built in 1703 by the Ahom King under whom the dynasty reached its zenith, Swargdeo Rudra Singha.
About a year back, I visited Madurai with Chennai Pastforward. Led by V. Sriram, the 3-day was filled with temples, music, culture, rock-cut caves, heritage, history and was fantastic (watch out for posts on Madurai coming up next week!).
On one of the evenings in Madurai, our group was walking back towards the bus when Sriram, who was leading, suddenly ducked into a narrow street. Actually, alley would be a better word for the street which had a sign that read Mela Anumantharayan Kovil Street.
We obediently followed him, walking in a single file as the alley wouldn’t allow for anything more. Lined with shops on both sides and double storeyed structures above them, the sky was visible as a dark blue ribbon floating above us. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but I had the feeling of being hemmed in.
Just when I was wondering Sriram was leading us to, he stopped and pointed at an open window, through which light was streaming out, and said: “This is it. This is the house of MS Subbulakshmi.
It was around noon when our blogger group we reached Khaba Village near Jaisalmer city after a morning spent exploring the Thar as part of the Desert Exploration Trail organised by our hosts Suryagarh. The sight of cool drinks and light refreshments laid out for us at the village was a welcome sight in the heat.
I picked up some juice and walked over to explore what looked like an old temple nearby. It seemed to be an ordinary looking temple and not in use. At least that is what it seemed like until I peeked into the garbha griha of the temple where I saw the strangest-looking shiva lingam I have ever seen — one with its innards spilling out !
The shiva lingam appeared to have been fashioned out of mud and hay, covered with some kind of a plaster or clay layer and then painted over to give the finishing touches of a lingam. It may have looked like the real thing when ‘freshly made’, but looked like something out of a horror show then.
The ‘what’, how’, ‘where’, etc. of the strange lingam would have remained a mystery, if not for the Suryagarh staff who told me how this came to be.
Here I was on a short holiday at Landour and a few hours after arriving there, was stuck in a traffic jam. I thought I had left traffic jams and noisy cities behind me in Mumbai, but the honking, the slamming of car doors and the fact that my vehicle hadn’t moved an inch in the last 15 minutes brought a sense of déjà vu.
My car driver had switched off the engine and gone off to investigate what was holding the traffic up. It had started raining by then and after waiting impatiently for some ‘progress’, gave up and started looking around. School had just got over and the narrow road was filled with school children returning home and were having to do it by squeezing between the vehicles stuck in the traffic jam to find a ‘route’ to get through.
Then I turned left and looked out of my car window into this.