Thursday, February 13, 2014

Of lights & curiosities

Apart from the well-known Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai also has a much smaller musem, quaint but interesting. 

Now, known as the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, it was formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum and is located in the Jijamata Udyan premises (erstwhile Victoria Gardens) in Byculla. So much for our country's colonial past! :)

Much has been written about this 130+ years old museum by better bloggers than me, for it's an irresistible piece of history of this intriguing, ever changing and evolving city. 

Rather than repeat all that's been written about this beautiful building and all that it contains, I am going to post a few photos of some of the bits that I found interesting, in and around the museum. 

The beautifully restored interiors of the museum. You can catch a glimpse of the statue of Prince Albert that rests on the ground floor. It's huge!

The tiles on the grand staircase that leads up to the top floor. They are supposed to be the original Minton tiles imported all the way from England when the museum was built. 

A view of the decorated ceiling from the first floor

The gorgeous chandelier suspended from the ceiling close to the staircase

The turnstile that still allows entry into the main hall of the museum from the foyer outside
The plate on the turnstile that vouches for its British origins

A lamp post on a huge pedestal was lying in a small patch of garden on one side of the museum building. Giving it company were a few statues, some headless (more of that later). They all seemed to have been moved from various parts of the city, too interesting to be junked (thankfully) but past their usefulness. 

The lamp had a plaque on it that said "Erected A.D. 1867 in honour of The Right Honourable Sir Seymour Fitzgerald, K.C.S.I., The Governor of Bombay by the Esplanade Committee." There is a mention of A.F. Bellasis, A.T. Crawford and (I think) K Muncharam as President and Members (of the committee). No other details of the lamp or its history were available.

The heavily ornamented street lamp. Unlikely to be electric as Bombay hadn't seen electricity until 1882
The sides of the lamp's pedestal had this bowl and lion's head. Wonder if the mechanics of a fountain were in-built into the pedestal.

One side had a metal ladder reaching up to the top. Presumably, to operate the lamp and occasionally clean it too.

Headless marble statues of various colonial figures. Plaques mentioned Lord Cornwallis (standing) and Lord Wellesley (seated) as two of them.

I haven't included any photographs of the artefacts and dioramas that are inside the museum as they were overwhelmingly large in number. Since the museum was set up to showcase India's (under colonial rule) arts, crafts and industry it has numerours artefacts from the subcontinent - carved objects, metal work, inlay work. It also includes models of various scenes - in villages, of tradesmen, of various communities and their culture etc. 

Among them are images with descriptions of some of the Gods and Goddesses from Hinduism. Considering it's almost Valentine's Day, I think it's appropriate to end this post with the image and description of Kamdev (Cupid's equivalent) as seen in the museum. :)

The label says, "Kamdeva, the God of love, is the son of Brahma. He holds a bow made of sugarcane with humming bees and arrows with flower-tipped shafts of desire. It is said that he roams the earth during spring and fires his arrows at sages, young girls and married women."


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Country roads

In late 2013, I made a crazy trip to Arunachal Pradesh. Crazy because I dislike long road trips. Being cooped up in a vehicle for hours together does not hold any appeal for me. In most cases, the journey on the road is not broken by enough rest stops. The day's travel as planned invariably is a long one and the destination must be reached at a reasonable hour in the evening/ night.

It proved to be all this and more on the trip to this North Eastern State. Before I tell you why, I must mention beforehand that the trip was worth every jolted and jarred bone, ridiculously early starts (such that I'd never call it a holiday) and sometimes missed breakfasts (thanks to the early starts!). The views were beautiful, the hillsides green and silent, the roads free of traffic and the people ever friendly and cheerful. Though a bit surprised that 'Indians' were visiting their state. The majority of tourists they encounter are foreigners.

Roads as we know in our urbanised lifestyles (where potholes & puddles take on larger than life proportions), are non-existent in this state. They are merely tracks cut into the hillsides and if they was ever any tarmac on them, it's long gone. Almost every day I & my fellow travellers had to travel 5-6 hours on an average to reach our next destination, which on regular roads (as we know it) would have taken us half the time. As it's the eastern most part of our country, the day begins early and night falls early too. As early as 4 AM and ending by 5PM. Therefore, for practical and safety reasons it was crucial that we started and ended our road trips while daylight lasted.


Nightfall by 6PM enroute from Guwahati to Tezpur
Our first sight of the roads in Arunachal Pradesh as we crossed into the state
The road is carved out of the hillside while a river flows at its foot
Streams flowing down the hillside continuously erode the surface of the roads leaving mud and stones in its wake

The network of roads are the lifeline of this state. There are no railway lines since the state lies in a mountainous region. The closest rail heads are along the state border in Assam. Villagers are able to connect to the nearest towns only via this network of roads. During the monsoons, landslides and flooding block parts of this network isolating people for weeks on end. While travelling through just one small part of the state, even in the good weather we had, we could not escape the realisation of how cut off the lives of the people here are.

We had great mobile connectivity (imagine that!) in the towns where we halted and we saw almost every household with cable television (thanks to satellite dishes). But travelling from one place to another is a daunting task. The state transport buses plying these roads are few and far between. Days went by when we would pass at best one state bus a day on the roads we travelled. There were no private buses that we saw of. Taxis and vehicles for hire cost a pretty penny. So, they take to walking long distances in the hilly terrain which is probably the reason they have the reputation of being a hardy and resilient people. Obviously, this affects access to schools, healthcare services, jobs, markets etc.

Well maintained roads like these were few and of short stretches but very welcome!
A 'minor' landslide being cleared on the route out of Arunachal Pradesh

One must admit that a fairly commendable job is being done by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) who maintain and keep roads and bridges motorable in this border outpost despite inclement weather, soil erosion and the remoteness of the area. Nevertheless, even they seem to be able to manage just the bare minimum.

On their election campaigns, when the politicians talk of development in the North East and lifting the region from its isolation, one can only ask them to travel and experience these roads instead of air dashing from one helipad to another making fancy promises they never intend to keep.