Tuesday, November 01, 2005

amritsar – chamba – chandigarh (linear / non linear)

chapter one : linear

october 17th

night train- the golden temple express to amritsar

october 18th

the train journey

october 19th

morning at amritsar.
the golden temple.. langar.. distribution of work load
the guru nanak dev university to meet sarabjit singh behl in his office.

october 20th

jalian wala baug and more meanderings in the walled city.. sarabjit singh behl’s lecture at the university..

october 21st

exploring the city and its gates on bicycle.. kesar da dhaba.. the bridge gurudwara, , the ranjit singh museum and the baug at night. the big trees, the midnight swim.

october 22nd

amritsar – wagah border- the bicycle ride.. the performance at the border.. on top of the bus on the way back home

october 23rd

bus to chamba via dalhousie. tibetan market.. the mall road.. the new jackets.. the bus ride at night down into the valley.. girls with motion sickness.. hotel aroma palace

october 24th

the chamunda devi temple.. the bajreshwari temple.. the hydro electric water peoject.. finding our way to the water.. swimming in the cold water of the ravi river.. laxmi narayan temple complex in the middle of the city.. playing football on the chowgun with the boys.. looking for momos on the streets at night and failing.

october 25th

morning hike to khajiar lake.. uphill all the way.. the short cut that ended up being very long and very tough. nimita, ajay and me lost and found. the landscapes of the mountain.. chicken chilly dry on a verandah overlooking the clearing. the camping site overlooking the eastern mountains.. the cold air and lying down on the clearing in the evening light.. the campfire party.. singing and dancing.. sleeping.

october 26th

early morning drive to evening driving to chandigarh first in mini bus to chamba and then in our rickety old one. stopping at various places for food.

october 27th

chandigarh - panchayat bhavan hostel. walking around making fun of pseudo corb-ness.. the secretariat, the assembly and the high court.. nek chands rock garden in evening light and swings.. dinner at hot millions 2 – sector 17 and hunting for a drink and finding one at ‘wild wild west’.

october 28th

morning train to mumbai. the paschim with all the crowds

october 29th

mumbai at 3.30. screaming kids.

amritsar – chamba – chandigarh (linear / non linear)

chapter two : non - linear


amritsar has seen so much violence from the jalianwala baug massacre to operation bluestar. important moments in two freedom movements one successful and one abandoned have occurred within 100 meters of each other. after having committed a violence on the center of sikhism the center does not know its role in the city anymore. it now takes a back seat as the monetary power- canada born- and the considerable clout of the akal takth evict complexity from the once thriving commercial portions of the city. the evicted include markets, akharas and other subcultures. the houses and markets around the golden temple have recently been flattened by the state as per the wishes of the temple and has been replaced by a gated walled garden with seating areas and red sandstone steps. an urban designer is earning a lot of money destroying a city yet again. our site for the next third year project overlooks this clearing.

the golden temple lies in the center of the walled city of amritsar. it is beautiful. amruta called the movement within organized chaos, it seemed more to me like a ritualistic dance that people entering learned by watching people around them move. heads covered and footwear off, you enter below the huge clock tower and walk down to the amrit. the golden temple lies in the middle of the pond glittering as sikhs donning the five k’s are seen moving around it clockwise.

amita, nikhil, sachin and me went for an evening walk one day in amritsar to the ram baug gardens in the middle of the city. in the dark we found the derelict summer palace of ranjit singh in the middle of the charbaug. there were the largest trees above us that loomed in the night light.

i remember the fervent nationalistic jingoism at the wagah border where we sang along on tiers to ‘mere desh ki dharti..’ and ‘yeh desh hain veer jawanon ka..” and anuj danced along with a fat mustached man for a few photographs on the road. the choreographed cries we were made to repeat and the performance of the armies on both sides now shaking hands instead of pretending anger. the moment when the doors between our nations opened made my hair stand up on end. i did not know that i cared about boundaries that much.

chamba is a beautiful city. in a valley surrounded by mountains, i can still see it nestled in the distance way below me, with the green chowgun clearly. directly in front of me snow peaked mountains and the shade below the tree where we took one of our many rest stops.

i got to know the landscapes of a mountain on the walk up to khajiar. every face of it has a new facet. the pine tree forests, the fir trees, the terraced agricultural fields, the underbrush and the barren bald areas criss crossed by zig zagging paths like scars.

some short cuts are tiring but generous in what they show you. Distant snow peaked mountains.

I met a school teacher on the way to khajiar lake. friendly and amused by our adventure. I also saw his students – little kids in military green, running wildly on slopes that we were trudging over.

chandigarh cant make up its mind whether it is a city or a dark garden. the roads at night are dark and gloomy. shadows everywhere and the lights from passing vehicles blind you for moments after the cars pass. we walked down unknown roads that all looked the same (doesn’t all darkness?) looking for food and found tacky restaurants in the heart of the city serving bad punjabi food. in punjab!

the capitol complex - the secretariat has a roof like an urban park. many levels and the ramp up has randomly coloured windows. the assembly is churchlike and brutal in its domination of the human body. the high court was alive and kicking the other buildings’ ass as it was teeming with black clad lawyers below its gigantic wave like roof and twisted fluorescent columns. while the secretariat was modernist housing complex, the assembly a medieval church, the high court was a true public space. its too bad the plaza in front is as barren… but so dramatic.

there were kids playing cricket in the monument of the open hand. the sun was setting.

nek chand’s rock garden is a twisted counter point to the pristine clarity of the master plan of the city. convoluted paths, grottoes and waterfalls.. a little bit of lonavala at the base of corbusiers stark masterpiece. the class was swinging in the clearing for a good half an hour before we went for a walk through the bungalows and empty open spaces in a residential sector.

at khajiar the lawn rolls like it does in a yash chopra movie. i was rishi kapoor to amruta’s sridevi. couples found their way to the remote corners of the evening light and walked back to the verandah for a long dinner.

what i learnt from corbusier was that there is a joy to being free from dogma. the only rules he had for himself was his imagination- problematic as it did turn out to be for so many of us. for me the ease of hand and the playful madness, along with the complete disregard for an over articulated form were refreshing and beautiful. so different from the anal overproduction that we adore so much in mies or kahn. more baroque and classical in approach than truly representative of the “spirit” of modernity. it is about the people, dammit! not about the palaces that they build!

the hotel astoria at amritsar has a central double heighted lobby that was our living room for three days. our sheets were everywhere, and there were kids lolling around on the chairs until 4 in the morning.

jalianwala baug, the scene of that massacre is now the site of a phallic gruesomely ugly monument in an axial garden. you can either stand where a small stone pyramid marks the spot where general dyer stood to give his orders; or walk around landscaped paths with neatly trimmed lawns and shrubs to a wall where bullet holes have been marked out in white chalk on a wall for us to appreciate. a travesty of a memorial.

the chamunda devi temple overlooks the city of chamba with ritual bells and stone walls rising in cascades to protect the white plastered sanctum. the shikharas of the temples in chamba have a double roof to protect them from the snow.


the class has too many couples. at last count there were 11.. that is 22 students out of 40 are seeing each other. you can imagine the train rides and the romantic night walks.

the class is also boisterous and rowdy and a lot of fun. they seem to be all together and peaceful but it does not take long to see the tensions right below the surface.. also they sing a lot.. if i hear the class singing ‘happy birthday to you once more’ i will scream.. amita and amrithi had birthdays on the trip. and then there was the entire hour before the trip ended at borivili station. the continuous screaming, the gang rape of the boys, the rambunctious mad behavior. and i was in my firing mood more than once and was a little bit of a dampener on their spirits… especially poor dishita, and anuj whose obsession for photography got on my nerves.

perhaps the most articulate person we met who set the stage for the design project at amritsar was pauls friend mr behl, who teaches at the architecture school in the city. the department is in a large oppressive modern atrocity on the central axis of the green university. his room is on the top floor of the central axis of the building shaped like an inverted pyramid with chains hanging down its sides (to drain the rain) the khalsa college was on the way to university and we decided not to see it.

whenever nikhil and me came back to our room we turned on the tv for background noise and ganesh hedge was on channel v. i liked and it was my anthem for a while.

sachin, nikhil and me sat on top of the bus with our bicycles as the sun was setting, heading back from the wagah border. the wind was cold as we ducked electric wires and the boughs of trees. our bicycles shuddered on the roof top behind us. the bus conductor joined us on the roof for a while. i remembered s v road from the front of a double decker bus.

the langar- or the free food that is served in the golden temple in a hall was not nearly as nice as sachin had made it out to be and nikhil and me held it against him throughout the time that he was with us.

night swimming in the amrit sarovar. 2 o’clock in the morning, sachin, nikhil and me on our bicycles drove to the golden temple to strip and cleanse our sins in the freezing soft water of the lake. the golden temple glowed ethereal in front of us. the coffee at bubby’s was fabulous later.

speaking of swimming, the ravi that flows though the chamba valley thunders blue frothing. We stopped along it on the first day there to dip our heads in the freezing water; to stand on top of rocks and admire the young man who swam across the flowing river; and to photograph semi clad bodies drenched in the morning light.

amita had a problem with cycle rickshaws. the closeness of out relationship with the sweat of laborers was too much for our city bred sensibilities. we took them only when absolutely necessary.

i have been reading poetry throughout the trip. languages that emerge from a completely different one from that i was experiencing. this acontextuality was strange and beautiful. the words has presence purely for themselves and therefore the images a purity. i finally was able to really love t s eliot and w b yeats- though i still cant claim to have understood either of them.

kesar dhaba was what saved sachin from being murdered after he fooled us into too many vegetarian meals. after leading us down many alleys, he took us to a vegetarian restaurant with marble tables and friendly self confident waiters. the parathas! the gulab jamun!

the food was fabulous in amritsar, whether it was the ice cold lassi near the lahori gate that was had in the early morning, or the chicken at friends dhaba, or the strange chicken and bread thing that siddarth, nikhil and me had one evening in the old city. chamba was a disappointment gastronomically and chandigarh a disaster.

whenever we started driving our bikes the first thing sachin used to do is sing ‘main nikla gaddi leke…” really loud much to our amused embarrassment.

i played football after, i think 20 years. it was never really a sport i liked. the chowgun is a large green space in between the hill town houses of chamba and the ravi river that flows in the gorge. i must have touched the ball 5 times, but ran around and screamed like i was diego maradona.

around campfires the songs are either boisterous and rowdy like sing-alongs; or they are sung in soft falsettos. hindi film ballads or 70’s rock. rajiv was our backstreet boy doing his dance number. kausik imitated a rickshaw’s music and s p balasubramanian, shetty did a cool elvis act. i danced a little and drank a little. the night was freezing.

photography in the age of digital cameras is no longer an art form or even a recorder of a special moment. it is documentary evidence of banal ordinariness. it is not about the moment in space and time as much as it is about capturing a representation of oneself having been in that space and time- once. all is image.

the bhangra on the roof top of a poor caretakers house at a temple, or the incessant posing for photographs wearing glares in front of buildings remove all wholeness of an experience in favor not even of the visual- but of the idea of the visual- ‘reality’ thrice removed.

shopping - a small kirpan and a amulet around my neck, two jackets from dalhousie and a shawl from the cloth market at amritsar.

1 comment:

sachin bhoite said...

hey put pictures