The land of Kuru

DSC00122Bronze – Krishna & Arjuna  on the chariot ( 60’ long/ 35’ high) Along the banks of Brahma Sarovar


DSC00166Bhadrakali temple – one of the 51 shaktipithas. Horses made of clay are traditionally offered here.

DSC00113Brahma Sarovar

DSC00143Ladies bathing area on the ghats

“Where next?”

“ To Kurushetra”

Eyebrows go up quizzically.

I must confess to having some preconceived notions myself. Eventually reduced to pulp as it turns out.

Past NH1 & less than 4 hours from the national capital, Kurushetra comprises an area covering 48 Kos, one Kos roughly equivalent to a mile & a half.

Myths & legends associated with the place go back several centuries BC. Not only is it a revered Hindu site, it was visited by all the Gurus of Sikhism & by the Buddha himself, giving it rare religious credence. Sufis & Mystics followed, congregating at the ghats on the day of the solar eclipse – to practice & to preach.

Despite this combination of history, legend & myth the one lasting impression is of a town firmly rooted in the present. Albeit quietly on the move

Witness the broad roads, residential areas segmented into sectors, the spectacular campus of Kurushetra University, the museum & the Planetarium where school children flock in droves.

The Krishna museum showcasing the past has more than a thousand footfalls a day, as do the Ghats of the Sarovar. It is believed that the mythical Saraswati once flowed through this land. Geographical changes dried up the river turning it to slush before the water from the Bhakra Nangal was brought in to replenish & restore.

A case of past meets present. And all for the good.

Kurushetra is above all an aspirational town with a feel good factor. Pilgrims, striving for moksha continue to visit in hordes but many more come to avail ample educational opportunities in pursuit of a better material life.

The inspiration clearly is Kalpana Chawla.

Not Bhishma Pitamah lying on a bed of arrows (museum).


Highway Eatery


Brahma Sarovar



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The winds bring wealth to Troy

May 16,2012

I was booked at the Kervansaray, a hotel that spelt old world charm & hospitality. It is nicely located near the clock tower &  Fountain Square, less than 100 meters away from the bustling life of the jetty & promenade. It is a beautiful heritage property once owned by Abdurrahim Efendi a member of the Turkish aristocracy & judge in Canakkale. It remained a family property for 3 generations until it was renovated & converted into a hotel some years ago. I had a room (no: 205 / 45 euro) in the heritage wing but alas it overlooked a side street . The rooms all had ornate mirrors & polished parquet flooring & ceiling. The bannister & the stairs going down to the main lobby, likewise well kept & maintained. The door knobs/ bolts etc. a shiny brass belonging to another era. Altogether the wood, mirror, brass combo giving a nice warm feeling. A modern annex has been added to the main building with a garden separating the two wings but the character of the place remains unchanged. Everyday breakfast is served in the annex & its rather a good spread with an array of breads & cold cuts along with the regular eggs, fruit, juice & jam. Best of all most of the staff speak English. They are good at their job & attend to matters promptly. A minor plumbing problem was immediately resolved. My trip to Troy fixed in an instant. There were maps available at the reception. Also the girl manning it had a lot of information that she shared willingly & with a smile. There was free Internet & Wi-Fi, a bar, library & lobby. Would certainly recommend the place. Highly recommended one & all.

If stones could speakTrojan horse replica

The Troy tour at 70 TL takes 3 hours. It includes AC transport, hotel pick up & drop along with the services of a qualified guide.  There were 3 other persons that day – Australians from Adelaide – as we drove the 30 odd kms from Canakkale to Troy accompanied by Mustafa our guide. He was distinguished, well spoken but looked a trifle bored. The result perhaps of our being such a tiny group. The one-hour drive past low hills & the Dardanelles is beautiful. Much like most of the Turkish countryside. It is a lovely day too, as we disembark to begin the walking tour of the ruins. The archaeological sites of the ancient city, Troy 1 – 1X are still being excavated. One wonders  what they will finally yield. For the moment there is just a replica of the famous Trojan horse, the ruins of the sacrificial altar, the senate building, the concert hall, sundry artifacts, mostly pottery & terracota from early times. And of course the spectacular old stonewalls dating back to 3700 BC. The impregnable defences of ancient Troy. A marvel to behold. If only the stones would speak ! This alone made the entire trip worthwhile, for there are hardly enough ‘remains’ to be seen. But like I said the excavation is still on. Who knows what it will reveal.

The legend of Troy has always held a strange fascination. Hence this visit at the expense of other more popular tourist destinations.  The excavated sites were not exciting enough, a huge disappointment no doubt.

And the sea, in the far distance would surely have been closer in Homeric times, one thought.

Yet it was strangely moving to be standing on the very ground where the brave & noble Hector fought legendary Achilles who had his body dragged in full view of aged Priam, lovely Andromache, beauteous Helen, Paris, & the rest.

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May 17,2012

My Gallipoli tour was organized by ‘Crowded House’, Eceabat. It was a day trip – 5 hours to be exact, at Euro 25 & included AC transport, lunch, entrances & the services of a qualified guide. We started at 12.30 after a delicious lunch of Turkish soup, spicy chicken wings, potatoes, vegetable & jelly. It had  rained through the night & the day was cold & wet  but that did not deter us at all.  These are about the last rains before summer sets in with temperatures of above 45 C. Also, the rains are good for the crops. We were a  small group  of 3 Aussies, 2 New Zealanders & an Indian – Me – . The Aussies were  kind of  curious about my Gallipoli connection. Why was I here  at all ?. ‘We are an ignorant lot’ said Michael, shaking his head good naturedly.

The Gallipoli campaign of WW1  was the brain child of Sir Winston Churchill, then 1st lord of the Admiralty. He  planned to capture Constantinople / Istanbul via the Dardanelles in order to open a sea route to Russia. The British & the French were joined by the Anzacs (Australians & New Zealanders ) The Turks resisted fiercely & won a famous victory. Mustafa Kemal  their commander, was to describe it as   “ where the battle was defeated”

Gallipoli today is a peaceful wooded war site. About 40000 hectares  covered with sea pine. It was not always so. The landscape then was more shrub & dune than tree. It is a Peace park today, incredibly beautiful & serene with the all pervasive presence of Ataturk & the millions killed or maimed.

The Sphinx
Our tour began with Brighton beach where the Allies were supposed to land but did not, because of a fatal error of judgement. They landed at Anzac cove instead, a pretty beach head  further up along the curve of the sea. There is a museum & the cemetery at  Ari Burnu. More on that later. We walk past Johnstons Jolly, the Anzac trenches,  Shrapnel valley, the Nek & Walkers ridge. The ‘Sphinx ‘ is a distinctive  landmark of the area. Mute spectator to the  many battles fought  between April 25,1915 –  January 9,1916.

WW1 has  been described as the last gentleman’s war. The soldiers suffered from a shortage of  drinking water, with little to bathe & clean. During the long stalemate they were  to  endure  heat, mosquitoes, vomit, odour & the stench  of the  trenches. Bodies infested with lice & racked by disease  several died of dysentery –  the ‘Gallipoli gallop’  as they called it. The Bully beef supplied to the Anzacs smelled so foul at times that they tossed it as gifts across no mans land.  The adversaries developing a strange camaraderie tossed it back with a message : ‘ Any thing else will do. Like biscuits & sweets’. Hence,’Johnstons  Jolly’.

We visit the  Australian graves  at Lone Pine, the graves  of the  Turkish soldiers of the 57 Infantry regiment  & Chunuk Bair which has the graves of  soldiers from New Zealand. This is the  tallest hill feature offering a breath taking view of  both the Dardanelles & the Aegean. Its capture  was a strategic aim of the campaign.

Our guide Bulent Yilmaz Korkmaz or Bill as he likes to be called narrates it all  with a rare lack of  emotion, bias or favor. He is the best there is in the trade. Has all the facts as if he were  living witness to the horror that maimed & killed over half million nearly a century ago. He is a Turk but  sounds  Australian – almost.The result perhaps of showing so many Anzacs around  each year. Unlike them however Bill understands  the presence of a lone Indian in the group. He sidles up to me & whispers : “There are 3 Indian graves too. At Ari Burnu. Come let me show them ”.  The graves are  separate, placed just a little away from the others. The stones clearly marked. My countrymen. Here they lie in  another land having fought anothers’ war. Finally at  peace. Tranquil beside the waves. A  flowering rose bush & a field of poppies at the head.

( 21 Kohat Indian Mountain Battery was  present in the theatre of war through out. They  were never used  however  because the British feared they  would not fight  their co religionists.)