Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

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The Crossing

The door bell rang just when I was about to step out. It was the courier guy. Scribbled my name in running script on the device and then on the list that he was carrying. The man’s credit card statement.

Locked the metal latch and rushed down the stairs. I was late by five minutes.

Underneath the banyan tree adjacent to the Hanuman temple, a rickshaw-puller was enjoying his afternoon siesta. On any other day I would have let him enjoy his nap, but not today. The girl will fire me from mommy-hood. Woke him up and he was more than happy to give me a ride.

Red light at the crossing. The incessant honking just puts me off and the best way I deal with it is by getting zoned out. While the ears were on ‘off’ mode, the eyes observed more sharply.

Sitting on the pavement was this bearded man in his early forties. Dressed in saffron. Fake rudrakshas around his neck. A wooden kamandal (water pot), a staff (a long walking stick) and a potli (cloth bundle) lay beside him. He was adjusting the sandalwood pulp on his forehead using a pocket mirror. The beard sweeping his hairy chest ran down till his potbelly. I wondered what would be the amount that leaves a healthy man with no choice but to bare his body in this cold winter afternoon.

She ran past the rickshaw. In a hurry. Her woollen shawl was trying to catch up to her feet while her torn handbag was sliding down her shoulders. Running for life? I thought. But that smile… The incomplete smile on her face meant something else. She was running non-stop. Not even bothered about the running traffic or the abuses hurled at her by the riders. The light turned green. As we crossed the roads I noticed that she had stopped running. The Metro Feeder bus on the bus stand on the opposite road had left by then. For some reason I looked back again at her. This time our eyes met and we smiled at each other.

A school bus overtook us from the right. Just before it left out of sight I saw her. A cute little girl with two ponytails waving at me. I waved back. Her twinkling eyes and toothless smile. Precious! May they stay forever. I prayed silently.

The school gate approached. As I kept the tenner and the five rupee coin on the palm of the rickshaw guy, he bowed and smiled. It was his rightful money. He had earned it. But grateful he was. Just as I was. For the day. For the ride. For the people. For the experiences. For the lessons.

So much in just ten minutes. And then I realized it. It was the ability to turn off what was not necessary, what was not worth my time, what was negatively impacting me. The honking.

Thankfully the daughter emerged only after two minutes. Her smile as she spotted me at the gate was another precious moment to add to the balance sheet of this life.

#DailyBites #1 – Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Female)

Picture clicked at India Gate, New Delhi, India with #Nikon #P900.

#TravelDiaries – Sultanpur National Park

“Cultivate the habit of early rising. It is unwise to keep the head long on a level with the feet.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Northern Shoveler (Migratory)

Our interest in Wildlife, especially birds, started when the firstborn was about five years of age. Unlike other children who were hooked onto cartoon channels (courtesy the house-helps or us, parents), this girl used to watch wildlife documentaries on Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic. Her thoughtful father observed her interest in wildlife and encouraged her by gifting her various books/encyclopaedias on animals and birds. Our vacations also meant travelling to various forests within India.

And then a few years ago we watched this beautiful documentary together as a family. Do watch it. You can thank me later.

This little girl of ours could identify almost 60% of the birds that are discussed here. That was the turning point in my life as well. I did have an interest in nature photography, but my interest in birds is all thanks to this daughter. An early riser I am and hence my rendezvous with these winged creatures dates back to my school days. But I never bothered to find out what their names were, what they fed on, how they differ from each other and why some of them were visible only during certain seasons. These I started noticing only now.

Purple Moorhen or Western Swamphen (Resident)

Common Moorhen or Common Gallinule (Resident)

Bird watching is indeed a beautiful hobby for people like me who prefer solitude than company. I can gaze at them swimming in the lake or flying in the vast sky for hours and hours.

Spot-billed Duck

It is indeed the most refreshing thing to do in case you’re feeling down. Walk along the lake and watch these winged friends fly without inhibitions. No borders, no fences, no characterization can make them stop. They are just themselves. Vegetarian or non-vegetarian, water birds or field birds, residents or migratory, they coexist and share the resources provided by nature.

Purple Heron (Resident)

Painted Stork (Resident)

We, humans, have a lot to learn from them. Most importantly symbiosis and coexistence. Nature has provided us with enough to survive if only we learn to respect and value it.  These creatures in the wildlife teach us how to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both parties.

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Sultanpur Lake Bird Sanctuary is located about 15 km away from Gurgaon, Haryana. Established in 1972 as the Sultanpur Bird Reserve, this place was upgraded to a National Park in 1989. Spread over an area of 1.43 sq km, this bird sanctuary is inhabited by over 250 species of birds.

Little Grebe

Spoonbill

After our first visit to Sultanpur National Park, a birdwatcher’s paradise, on day two of our stay at Golden Creepers Farm Retreat, I was not very happy because the foggy day spoiled almost all my photographs. The birds were all very close yet the pictures were far from good. And in between the husband injured his ankle while playing with the children. He said it was just a sprain and so we continued our stay. The next day I visited the sanctuary again with the sun still playing hide and seek. The daughter, my got-to-person for wildlife information, gladly joined me ‘for my protection’. Such fun this date was!

Spoonbill

Darter or Snakebird (Resident)

With Li’l Love, my younger one, a visit to any place is fun yet crazy. She’s still too young to enjoy such places. She’s fine for some time but starts acting cranky almost at the same time when I start clicking. So this trip with just me and A was not only fun but absolutely perfect for my photography craze. She kept guiding me by spotting birds and identifying them while I clicked them. One of the few things we have in common is our love for photography.

Northern Pintail (Migratory)

Bar-headed Geese

Hand in hand, we kept walking around the lake, climbing on top of the watch tower and spotting various birds. This kind of individual time is very important with each child as it brings us closer in indescribable ways and also is a reassurance for the child that he/she can count on us for anything at all times.

Black-headed Ibis (Resident)

Blackwinged Stilt (Resident)

The park is right now abundant with lots of resident as well as migratory birds. Breeding has been extremely good this season and hence you have a good chance of witnessing a fairly good number of species.

Intermediate Egret (Resident)

Greylag Goose (Migratory)

I’m sure these pictures and my extempore around the trip has made you envious. And that’s why I need to share this incident. Wildlife is beautiful, peaceful and rejuvenating. But wildlife is also full of dangers from unexpected corners. The daughter and I were almost lost in the wilderness clicking non-stop when we saw a pair of Nilgais and started clicking.

 

She started recording them when she saw another pair a little farther. As I turned to click the other pair I saw about five more running from behind an island in the lake. It looked like once in a lifetime shot. But within seconds we realized that almost seven-eight of them were running fast towards us. The daughter was almost in tears as we were standing just a foot or two away from where they crossed us. It was not their fault at all. Some miscreants in the park were pelting stones at them. Trust me when I say that ‘we humans are the most disgusting species on planet earth‘.

Nilgai or Blue Bull

Not just the animals, these anti-social elements were passing lewd remarks on almost all of us and it took some of the professional photographers to warn them and get them out of the park with the help of the authorities. A forest is not a place for picnic. Unfortunately most of our people are not aware of it. It is a protected area. It is the home of these birds and animals. We are only visitors who must graciously exit after visiting them.

I have tried my best to leave you with the best shots possible. Yet I can vouch for the fact that what my eyes witnessed can never be caught on camera. Such is the grandeur of nature.

#TravelDiaries – Golden Creepers Farm Retreat, Gurgaon

The school was to close only for a week starting New Year and the man had to take his leaves before year end which would otherwise lapse. That’s when we spoke to the teachers and got their nod for taking two days off without much pending work stress for the daughters.

As always the man gave me three choices and asked me to check out the reviews and get back to him with a few hotels and their reservation charges. From Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to Udaipur to Jaipur, we finally zeroed down on Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. Why? Only because of Golden Creepers Farm Retreat which the husband had noticed on some of his friends’ timelines.

We stayed for three nights at this boutique property near Gurgaon. Just 12 kilometers from Gurgaon and about 4 kilometers to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary is this lush green farm spread over 45 acres of land.

A farm by all means. Don’t expect the luxuries of air-conditioners and electric water heaters. Room heaters are provided in the tents and hot water is provided as and when requested.

They have a few rooms and a good number of Swiss Style cottage tents to make your stay cozy, comfortable as well as adventurous. Though we love staying in tents, late Decembers in Delhi can make anyone change plans. Daljeet was thoughtful enough to offer us their lavish cottage which they refer to as Baithak (Lounge in English) because we were accompanied by kids. 

That’s Baithak, their ancestral remain that they are still preserving. Hygienic linen and clean bathrooms are a must for us and we were not disappointed at all.

Farm stay is something we enjoy as a family. The commotion of the city is extremely chaotic. So this was the perfect place for a family like ours who wanted to spend the new year away from the mayhem.

As you can see there’s enough to keep the children busy and active. And there’s enough for a budding photographer to sharpen their photographic observations and techniques. You’ll slowly know what I mean.

I was telling Daljeet that he should get the farm declared as a mini bird sanctuary. They have resident owlets  (about five of them) and a resident peacock family.

Apart from these resident family members they also have many guests that grace their farm with their beautiful presence.

Indian Grey Hornbill

Pied Bushchat

Fork-tailed Drongo

Red-wattled Lapwing

White-throated Kingfisher

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Indian Roller

White Wagtail

Hoopoe

Hoopoe

Red-vented Bulbul

Black Redstart

Indian Peafowl

Food is another concern while travelling. You can imagine our delight when we munched on this farm fresh organic meal.

 

A perfect balanced diet. That salad says it all. Juicy and pure organic stuff. And what’s not to like about those three different kinds of hot chapattis (wheat, corn and maize) that my namesake served me with.

We just kept hogging on all that delicious food plus the finger-lickingly delicious snacks that were served around the bonfire in the chilly winter breeze in the evenings. These angithis used to keep the food warm took us back to our time with our grandparents when natural resources were still used for cooking and cooking ranges, LPG and CNG were unheard of.

But the best thing about our stay was what the girls learnt. Going Back to Basics. Advancement has been misused and health has been taken for a ride. It is in these farms that you learn why you should promote organic. The fresh produce that is grown organically is something we city-dwellers miss. And thus our health has gone for a toss.

Be it milk, veggies, cereals, pulses, eggs or poultry, everything is organic. What I love about farms is that it is a ‘Zero Waste’ project. Absolutely eco-friendly. Something we want our children to learn. The touch of soil is so soothing and refreshing.

Kitchen waste goes into composting or as fodder. Paddy, Wheat, Carrot, Cauliflower, Radish, Turnip and other leaves get consumed by the rabbits, cows and buffaloes. Milk, ghee, Paneer, Dahi and all from home-fed cattle. Dung used for manure and dung cakes for cooking and bonfire.

And such a huge setup will not function effectively enough without personal involvement. That’s where Daljeet and his parents, Mr.& Mrs. Ajit Singh Kataria, play a vital role. Their energy, enthusiasm and determination is what is behind the warm hospitality that you enjoy in this serene village-like atmosphere. I was mighty impressed by the way both uncle and aunt kept themselves busy in the overall functioning and maintenance of the farm. Their hard work and positive outlook towards life is infectious.

Daljeet and his lovely family made our stay absolutely homely and  our New Year a memorable one. The children bonded so well that I was free enough to enjoy my stay around the place.

Stay tuned for the next post on the migratory birds at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. A Birwatcher’s paradise indeed.

#MythicalMondays – Bali Stones in Temples

I belong to the coastal state of Kerala which is popular for its coconut palm trees, spices, natural beauty and most of all, its temples.

My Ammamma (maternal grandmother) used to tell me that our house was earlier a Mana/Illam (the house of Namboothiris or the Brahmins of Kerala; also called Brahmaalayam or Mana) and it came with a Paambu Kaavu (abode of the snakes) which included Brahmarakshassu (the spirit of a Brahmin). My childhood vacations were by default spent in this house with a large compound and hence most of the stories I remember revolve around this place.

Brahma Rakshas is actually the spirit of a Brahmin, a dead scholar of high birth, who has done evil things in his life or has misused his knowledge, who has to suffer as a Brahm Rakshas after his or her death. The earth-bound duties of such a scholar would be to disperse or impart knowledge to good students. If he did not do so, he would turn into a Brahma Rakshas after death which is a very fierce demonic spirit. The word Brahm means Brahmin and Rakshas, a demon. As per ancient Hindu texts they are powerful demon spirit, who have lot of powers and only few in this world can fight and over-come them or give them salvation from this form of life. It would still retain its high level of learning. But it would eat human beings. They have the knowledge of their past lives and vedas and puranas. In other words they have qualities of both Brahmin and Rakshas.

Source: Wikipedia

We used to have regular Vishnu/Devi Poojas, Naivedyams and Sarpa Pooja. As I type this I can smell the milk and jaggery based payasams, uzhunnu vada, neiyappams and the other delicacies that were served to the gods. The poojas were mostly done by my ammavan (Amma’s younger brother). It was an exciting experience. As a child, it was fun to run around plucking Tulsi and Koovalam (Bhel) leaves, jasmine and rose flowers and dehusking malar (puffed rice). The memories of those days I hold precious.

Until I got married I hadn’t visited any place in Kerala except the houses of both grandparents and a few relatives. But I did travel the length and breadth of the state visiting various temples. Sometimes clinging on to Muthachan‘s (maternal grandfather) fingers or walking behind Amma and Mema (her younger sister).

This is what made me notice the stones that are laiden around the temple complex at various distances. These are called Bali Kallu or Bali StonesLike all children, my mischief would multiply the moment I landed in Kerala because I knew there were enough people to support and protect and acres of land to run and escape to, from Amma’s spanking. These round stones looked interesting and were nothing more than stepping stones to the innocent child in me. I used to jump around on these without any knowledge about what they were.

Amma’s punishments made me feel rebellious as she did not provide any accompanying answers to my Whys and Whats. They are sacred and we should pray, that’s all she would say. What is it? Which God are they? Why should we not step on them? My questions were always hushed and I was told God will punish me for my sins. I wanted to meet this ‘monster’ that everyone prayed and called God. I wanted to ask him in person why he will punish innocent children for asking curious questions.

Recently Li’l Love, my younger one, did the same thing and as a reflex action I scolded her. She is an improvised replica of me and hailed a number of Whats, Whys and Why nots my way. It made me research for this post.

Bali Kallu/Bali Stones

Image result for bali kallu in temple kerala

These are small stones laid around the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) and the outer perimeter of the temple. These stones represent the Ashtadikpalakas or Lokapalakas, the rulers of the eight directions.

Utsava Bali at the Chuttambalam Balikallu (Picture Credit: Guruvayur Utsavam)

During the utsavam or annual festival in the temple, most of the ceremonies are around these Bali Kallus. The annual festival is meant to please these lesser known deities because they are the ones who take care of the village for the entire year. The main deity’s idol is brought out for “Bali” or rounds during the festival and during these rounds or pradakshinams, the various Bali stones are offered Pujas.

Ashta Dikpalas are the guardians of direction. They are:

Kubera : for North (Uttara)
Yama : for South (Dakshina)
Indra : for East (Pūrva)
Varuna : for West (Paścima)
Isana (Shiva) : for North-East (Īśānya)
Agni : South-East (Āgneya)
Vayu : North-West (Vāyavya)
Nirrti (sometimes Raksasa) : South-West (Nairṛti)

 

Apart from these there are two more deities added for the vertical directions and then the Dikpalakas are considered as being 10 or Dasa-Dikpalakas.

Brahma : Zenith (Ūrdhva)
Vishnu : Nadir (Adho)

Vastu-Shastra is strongly related with the eight directions. It defines the eating, sleeping, reading and worshiping habits. The most commonly referred example is not to sleep with your legs facing the South(Dakshina) direction.

Some temples in Kerala have Sapthamathrukkal (Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Shankari, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamundi, Indrani) in addition to these Ashtadikpalakas.  The seven mothers with the invisible presence of the Mahamaya is installed on a single granite stone on the inner balivattom at left hand side of the main shrine and parallel to the sreekovil (main temple inside the complex).

While you are completing the circumambulation, these stones must be on your right side. These stones are considered to be the hub of energies and are constantly transferring energies around the temple. This is why we are not supposed to touch or step on these because that causes a break in the transfer of energy between them.

So, the next time any child steps on these stones, kindly share the story with them instead of bashing them up without clearing their doubts.

Stay tuned every Monday for more such lesser known stories. Would appreciate your suggestions and additions to the stories. It helps us expanse our knowledge.

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