A trip to UTTAR PRADESH
Its been 6 days since I returned from the FAM (familiarization) trip of Uttar Pradesh but the euphoria refuses to die down. Back with more than seven hundred pictures in my mobile and camera, I am enjoying assimilating the thrills and miles of the trip. Though my connection with its capital city has been of several years but this trip has compelled me to think around the state differently. There is much to cherish and appreciate. No doubt, I have returned more curious around its history, heritage, wildlife, architecture, art, culture and more. Here is a glimpse of each day!
From 2nd October to 7th October, I am sure you noticed my inactivity on the blog. Well, that was the duration when I had an opportunity to travel through my own state- Uttar Pradesh. The itinerary from Delhi- Agra – Chambal -Etawah – Lucknow really kept me ‘on-the-go’. My special fondness for the white marble mausoleum- Taj Mahal, the intriguing stories of Chambal ravines and the culmination of the trip in one of the lovely cities of India, Lucknow looked like an exciting travel plan to me.
Was it just plain excitement to discover the state where I had lived for the maximum time of my life? No, the little girl in me felt proud and accomplished. The travel writer in me felt worthwhile. The city where I have lived for initial thirteen years of my life (Lucknow) and had learnt to scribble my first words had invited me to be a part of its first travel writers conclave. What could be more special than this? Uttar Pradesh is all about my roots. I have not only done my schooling from Lucknow first and Noida later but also my engineering from one of its prestigious government colleges in Gorakhpur. I am extremely fond of Avadhi culture and ‘aap’ sounds much more melodious to me instead of ‘tu’. I must also confess that with all the excitement, in one corner of my heart I also felt guilty for not writing about the richness and marvels of my state for all these years. This was the chance to do my two cents.
Day 1- Beyond the TAJ
The efforts to make an early visit was all worth it. When the first rays of sunshine kissed the marble beauty at 6 in the morning, it looked resplendent! No doubt, the epitome of love and one of the gorgeous monument of the world-Taj Mahal always does that to me but this time I have many more reasons to be in awe of Agra. Agra fort, Sikandra, Baby Taj have left me impressed and curious around Mughal emperors and their fondness for opulence and art. Each of these architectural marvels, their inlays, the Persian writings have several stories to tell, what we lack is eager ears and eyes to decode them.
Agra, the capital in the Mughal era has witnessed and stood through time and many generations and today it definitely calls for attention and respect from its locals as well as visitors.
DAY 2- FATEHPUR SIKRI, RAVINES OF CHAMBAL and BATESHWAR
After twenty years I was back to Fatehpur Sikri and I realized I had very faint memories of it. The fortified city of Fatehpur Sikri revived my love for history. To start with, our group visited the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti. I did not forget to tie a thread on its marble window or jaali with a wish in my heart. Next, we walked further to get awestruck by the ‘Buland Darwaza’ or ‘Gate of Magnificence’.
The highest gateway in the world made us all look small and fragile. The Persian inscriptions and the historians tell us that the gate was build to celebrate Akbar’s conquest over Uttar Pradesh and the victory in Gujarat. With lavish palaces dedicated to his queens and friend Birbal, King Akbar left no stone unturned in making it a historical district. The smallest of art on these walls, the carvings, the inlays conveyed meaning and significance. If you are keen on history and love to explore, this is the place that you must do.
So here I must tell you if you are doing Agra, you must not miss doing Fatehpur Sikri which is just 40 kms away from it. Remember to dedicate a complete day to it.
Talk of the ravines of Chambal and there is none who will not be intrigued. A beautiful and healthy ecosystem thrives in here. While we went for a boat ride in the Chambal river, none could ignore that the water in the river was absolutely clean. Ofcourse, we did not dare put our hands in it because it is home to swarm crocodiles and ghariyals. We did see a couple with our naked eyes. Yes, we did! No less but 500 species of birds found only in this area. This piece of natural and scenic beauty must be well protected. In the evening, we visited the famous village of Bateshwar. A place that gets its name after a ‘bat’ or banyan tree. It is area where a complex of 101 temples (dedicated only to Lord Shiva) were found. Now only 44 exist.
Next day, when we were leaving this place, my beautiful cottage at the Chambal Safari lodge kept telling me that I must return here as soon as possible. If you are a bird lover, you must make a plan soon. Let me know too!
DAY 3- ETAWAH and LUCKNOW
After a quick visit to the Lion Safari that is being built in Etawah, we boarded the Shatabdi from Etawah. Nostalgia touched me because during my first job, I would make frequents trips between Lucknow and Delhi via Shatabdi. After six years, I was coming back. Lucknow fondly brought back my lovely childhood memories. When I got down at the railway station, it felt like a homecoming. Char Bagh Railway Station is the station where I have boarded maximum trains of my life. All trips to grandparents place would happen from here. Though I must mention that Shatabdi train has absolutely lost its charm, the station and the platform looked clean and well-kept.
‘Tehjeeb’ and ‘Nawabi’ infleunce comes first to Lucknow but food follows it next and very closely. You just can’t resist getting overstuffed in the city which boasts of famous chefs and connoisseurs. Apart from hogging on the Biryani and the kebabs, you must not miss the local delights of Chowk, Aminabad or Hajratganj markets. Getting ‘bhaanged’ at the famous shop of ‘Pandit Raja Thandai in Chowk’ or losing your way in the labyrinth called ‘Bhool Bhulaiaya’ are some the firsts that must be done whenever you are in Lucknow.
Chikan is a famous hand embroidery work and Lucknow always gets a mention whenever any one talks of it. I have grown up wearing chikan kurtas and I still love the salwar kameej. In this trip we were taken to the factory of the famous SEWA chikan and I was inspired to meet the founder and other ladies who have been carrying forward this art for years. In the little time that we had,we also did the little treats in Chowk, the oldest market of the capital city that is known for its intangible rhythm. Yes, I did not miss gulping down the big glass of plain, sweet, yellow drink prepared from milk, almonds, saffron and cashew-nuts (Thandai) and savoring 11 paani wale Golgappas.
DAY 4- ‘Travel Writers Conclave’
The ‘Travel Writers Conclave’ organized by Uttar Pradesh Tourism was an interactive platform where speakers talked around and discussed ways and means to pitch U.P. on the world map. No doubt, it has all the potentials but there are several factors that need to be worked out before we can actually do that. The basics need be sorted first and foremost. Roads, accessibility, safety, infrastructure must be of prime importance. You can’t restrict a traveler to just the manicured part of any city, therefore the whole city and primarily, its people have to contribute to its own well being. The involvement of the local people is of utmost importance. One must not forget that tourism is a great means of employment too. Lets reap the benefits.
As rightly stated from many at the conclave-
We have to learn from the success stories of other states and countries but we just cannot ape them blindly. Our ecosystem is our own and it can only be conserved and not built differently.
I would say the conclave is a very intelligent initiative to rekindle the lost love for the state that has architectural marvels, wildlife, heritage, culture and cuisine to boast of. I can proudly say we have a rich heritage that deserves attention across the globe but the shortfalls have to be worked on war-footing. The journey looks challenging but where there is a will, there is a way.
Keep watching this space for lovely stories that I have brought back from Uttar Pradesh. This trip was special not just for the places that I covered but also for the people that I traveled with. I had a great company and meeting so many like-minded people at one place was a lovely treat in itself.