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Cultural Meccas | The wide angle

Cultural Meccas | The wide angle
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First Published: Sat, Jan 05 2008. 01 21 AM IST

Divine notes: The qawwals perform in front of an enchanted audience at the Nizamuddin Dargah.  (Pankaj Nangia / Mint)
Divine notes: The qawwals perform in front of an enchanted audience at the Nizamuddin Dargah. (Pankaj Nangia / Mint)
Updated: Sun, Jan 06 2008. 12 16 PM IST
24. Watch qawwali at Nizamuddin Dargah, New Delhi
Divine notes: The qawwals perform in front of an enchanted audience at the Nizamuddin Dargah. (Pankaj Nangia / Mint)
Every Thursday evening, a few qawwals and a handful of enthusiasts gather within the walls of the Nizamuddin Dargah and sing melodious lamentations in the Sufiana tradition. These qawwals travel across different destinations in the country, performing wherever they find an attentive ear. Well-known Urdu poet Tarannum Riyaz, who drops by once in a while, says: “There is a definite element of sukun (succour) in qawwali, and it pulls everyone towards itself.” After the session, regulars drop in at nearby restaurants such as Karim’s, Zaki, Qureshi or Mahboob for some kebabs.
25. Spend an evening on the ghats at Varanasi
When photographer Raghu Rai arrived in Varanasi in 1975, he was awestruck by the religious flavour of the place. “At the burning ghats, you can feel the silence of death, and the intensity of the religious experience grabs you at every moment,” he says.
Many years have passed, but he continues to relive that feeling of spiritual epiphany. Finally, he has decided to work on a book of photographs on Varanasi, which is expected to hit the shelves by fall 2008.
(Varanasi is on the Grand Trunk Road and is around 780km from New Delhi.)
26. Watch Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal at Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Typically, more than a hundred thousand football fans support their respective clubs in the signature jerseys (Mohun Bagan in green and maroon with black shorts, East Bengal in yellow and red with white shorts). Amid the floodlights, the Mohun Bagan supporters chant “shiit, grisha, barsha, Barreto bharsha” (rain, hail, snow, Barreto is our man) in support of their Brazilian striker Jose Ramirez Barreto, the East Bengal ones shout “Edu” for their Brazilian striker Edmilson Marques Pardal all egging on their players in a passionate frenzy. Kaushik Banerji, a Mohun Bagan fan for 22 years, says nothing prevents him from lining up for tickets on these tense evenings.
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(The cheapest ticket is around Rs10.)
27. Prowl after hours in Mumbai
When it comes to nightlife, all other cities are mere impostors. The glamour capital of the country lives its nights as it works by day: unfettered. Model and TV host Nina Manuel, who loves to party, shares her favourite haunts: Aurus for its great food and really nice guest DJs; Zenzi for its chilled-out atmosphere (one doesn’t have to dress up, it’s like a neighbourhood bar) and eclectic crowd; White Lounge for the ambience and music; Blue Frog for its 6,000 sq. ft brilliant décor, sound system and bartenders.
28. Live a tribal life at Bastar, Chhattisgarh
Handmade: Weaving at Bastar. (IndiaPicture)
Barsur, Bailadila, Dantewada, Kondagaon. With names as musical as these, it is no surprise that tribal Bastar strikes all the right notes with tourists in search of something different. Forget the stunning waterfalls and lush greenery, engage with the descendants of the original inhabitants of Gondwanaland in their weekly haats; sample their local brews, invest in their local crafts, including the exquisite dokra work that every state now claims as its own, and the all-natural kosa silk. Worship with your eyes the crumbling temples, some dating back to the 10th century—including Chandraditya, which is said to pre-date Khajuraho by at least half a century—and stalactite and stalagmite caves.
Bastar is not easy-access tourism. Jagdalpur, the district headquarters, is 300km from Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, and is best reached by NH49. The Nizamuddin Gondwana Express stops at Raipur. AC-II fares are around Rs1,500. Howrah Mail fare from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Raipur is around Rs1,400. In Jagdalpur, hire a taxi locally.
29. Shop for books at College Street, Kolkata
Forget the imposing buildings of Calcutta University, even the gracious Presidency College. For millions of Kolkatans, College Street will always be Boi-Para (locality of books). Its glory days—when first editions bound in Morocco leather appeared tucked away beside prescribed books, and banned volumes lurked beneath brown paper covers—may be long gone, but grand bargains still yield themselves to the patient browser, and the guardians of these tarp-and-bamboo stalls continue to hold their own in conversations with professors. A Hafeez Contractor horror is currently under construction around the corner. But Asia’s biggest book mall— Barnaparichay, after Vidyasagar’s Bengali language primer of the same name—is unlikely to be the end of the chapter for roadside booksellers.
30. Join the Bob Dylan birthday celebrations in Shillong
It is a celebration and not a concert,” says Lou Majaw, the legendary Khasi guitarist who co-started the event in 1972. Every year on 24 May, youngsters congregate in an open-air venue and pay obeisance to the iconic singer-songwriter. There is no entry fee and the performance lasts the whole day. Local singers (and some from Kolkata and New Delhi) and bands sing Dylan’s popular numbers as well as their original compositions. Majaw says it’s a tribute to the power of Dylan’s writing and his ability to transform: “He opened all the possible doors of my mind and my attitude towards music.”
31. Be an a.m. shopper at a Kolkata fish market
Morning catch: The Gariahat fish market in south Kolkata. (Indranil Bhoumik / Mint )
Amid shouts of “aashun aashun” (come here, come here), it is easy to see why the fish markets of Kolkata are frenzied zones of activity. The fish from different bheris (large ponds) across West Bengal start arriving as early as 5am, along with the customers. A. Choudhuri, who has been shopping for fish at the Gariahat market in south Kolkata for the past 12 years, provides a ready reckoner to buying fish: Make sure there are no black or red patches; the gills should be a bright red colour; as you pick up the fish, check if it is firm from the centre and not wilted on either side; river fish, such as carp, should not be excessively smelly; and choose a trustworthy vendor.
32. Visit the Sonepur cattle fair in Bihar
Mumbai-based Isha Gopal, who is an amateur photographer, visited the fair in November and came back with the following report: “It’s the largest fair in Asia...there were elephants, camels (including a camel blind in one eye who had come to see the fair and accompany an elephant...we forget these animals are peoples’ pets!), horses (who were made to race up and down, displaying their calibre; it was beautiful), cows and bulls (who, interestingly, weren’t named so as not to develop attachments) and dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits (very illegal; we weren’t allowed to take photographs, they were kept extremely shoddily) and some species of birds (probably endangered...all very sad).”
The fair is held on Karthik Purnima (around November) every year.
33. Ride the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk on Sunday
In the mornings preferably. Drive to the Central Secretariat station, park your car and run down the flight of stairs to the Metro ticket counter. Grab a ticket for Rs9, whizz through the serious security gear and enter the “paid area” to wait up to 12 minutes for the next train going north.
Four stops is all it takes for the near-empty train, all soft laughter and colourful woollies, to transport you to another world in Chandni Chowk. Leave behind the country’s showcase Metro for the unchanging lanes of the original CBD. Try the parathas at the famed gali or the superb haleem in the alley behind Karim’s. Saunter around Jama Masjid, buy bangles or bask in the mild sun. When time runs out, slip back into the future, a short walk away.
34. Watch ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ at Maratha Mandir, Mumbai
Some vital stats: Running since 25 October 1995; show time: 11.15am; average attendance: 60%; attendance on weekends and public holidays: 100%; hall capacity: 1,102; cost of tickets: Rs20 (balcony), Rs18 (dress circle), Rs16 (stalls); average collection per week: Rs45,000-50,000 (as of December).
35. Watch Dasara in Mysore
Mysore masala: Elephant procession.
Two centuries, and an essentially unchanged celebration. On the 10th day of Ashwin in the Hindu calendar, this sleepy city pulls out all the stops to show the world the stuff it is made of, including a precious stone-studded gold throne, domestic doll festivals and a jamboo sawari that beats every other procession hollow. Tour agents can organize seating for the elephant walk, but there’s nothing quite like standing with the crowds, gasping at the pachyderms and brushing rice flakes off your hair. Claim your vantage point around 9am for the procession that begins at 2.30pm.
36. Go ‘garba’ in Vadodara
Mumbai may have all the stars and Ahmedabad all the glitz, but no one does tradition better than Vadodara. The university town of Vadodara has a unique place in the country’s culturescape, and at no time is it more evident than during Navaratri. United Way, Aarkee and other big garbas get crowded, so buy, beg or borrow your passes and dance the night away to music that is still, thankfully, not remixed.
For nine nights, participatory passes for men cost up to Rs650; viewer passes start from Rs50.
37. Ride the tram in Kolkata
Kolkata was the first city in India to have the Metro. But it didn’t impact the national consciousness as its Delhi counterpart did, perhaps because the train never summed up the city as well as its gently decaying trams, trundling past man-drawn rickshaws and Maybachs. Hop into a clean-powered No.25 early one morning as it clangs its 8.65km way from Ballygunge to BBD Bagh, from the bhadralok’s south Kolkata to the colonial CBD (Central Business District), via Muslim- and Christian-dominated localities, for a slow-burn lesson on the essence of the city. Only in Kolkata can you get from Point A to Point B for Rs1.75 and make friends along the way.
(Text by Arjun Razdan, Sumana Mukherjee, Melissa A. Bell and Aarti Basnyat)
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First Published: Sat, Jan 05 2008. 01 21 AM IST