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.”
All cities have a past that they would rather forget about and not acknowledge or showcase it to adoring tourists. The Cross Bones Graveyard in London is one such place.
Located in the Southwark borough of London, near London Bridge, the Graveyard was an unconsecrated site for burying over 15,000 prostitutes and paupers of medieval London. Though the site was never a secret, it came into prominence in the early 1990s when it was dug up for construction of the Jubilee Line of the London Underground. Excavators found an unusually “crowded graveyard with bodies being piled on top of one another”. Forensic tests showed that most of the buried had suffered from some disease or the other.
I visited the Cross Bones Graveyard one July evening as part of “The Other London Walk”, a guided walk conducted by a homeless woman. She led our group to the sites of London’s other history, a history not showcased to tourists—a London of the deprived, the homeless, the sick, and the disadvantaged.
The simple memorial plaque affixed to the gates only says what the site is, but the gates which are “festooned” with ribbons, and messages and prayers convey a far more powerful and poignant message.