Street Stories from Chennai

Georgetown, Chennai is one of the few pockets of the city that still bustles with an old world charm and character. These are some of the shots I took while walking in and around the streets and the flower markets in this atmospheric corner of the South Indian metropolis.

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Dawki

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On the way from Shillong to Mawlynnong aka “the cleanest village in Asia” as its known in tourist parlance, we made a longish detour through the settlement of Dawki.  It lies on the Indian side of the Indo-Bangladesh border crossing on the southern edge of Meghalaya but the reason a lot of us casual tourists come here is not to enter Bangladesh but to float in the clear waters of the Umgnot river on the fishing boats idling on the riverbanks. I had been to Dawki back in 2010 and while the place has been well and truly discovered now, it was still pretty quiet with just a handful of tourists for company.

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On my previous trip, I had two sunny days to enjoy the setting and the crystal clear waters all the way to the hamlet of Shnongpdeng which is a handy base to explore this area with a few homestays offering basic food and accommodation. This time around, it was cloudy and rainy and while the lack of sunlight meant you couldn’t see all the way to the bottom of the river-bed, it was still beautiful to be on the river.

In a way, I liked the fact that I got to see the place in different conditions than before even if it meant getting my clothes and the camera drenched. My lenses went all misty on me for the shot below but I quite like this foggy, grainy image of the fishermen in Dawki working in the drizzle on the turquoise waters of the Umgnot river.

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There have been proposals since time immemorial to demolish the 86 year old suspension bridge that you see in the shot below to build a new, sturdy one that could support the coal economy of the region more efficiently. Call it bureaucratic lethargy or lack of political will but they haven’t been able to get it done yet. So for now, people like myself who like their architecture more old-fashioned and aesthetically pleasing can still gawk at the old structure that connects the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and provides overland access to Bangladesh.

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The boat rides on the Dawki river take you to a wide sand-bank where, if it weren’t for the rainy weather, I could imagine myself sitting for hours on end reading a book and staring at the misty mountains beyond. I looked wistfully at a couple of guys setting tents on the sand and wished I had come here with more time on hand. It is as tranquil a setting as one could imagine.

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Cherrapunjee #4 – Mines, meadows and a jaw-dropping view over the Bangladesh plains

Just a little beyond the view of Nohkalikai Falls is this gobsmackingly beautiful wilderness of rolling hills, dainty meadows and if you’re lucky, double-decker clouds in the sky. It’s better than it sounds because none of the crowds that flock to see the falls on package tours ever make it to this place and we had the entire landscape to ourselves. Certainly a highlight of my trip here.

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One of the defining features of the Khasi and Jaintia landscape these days is the ugly gash of mining that’s cutting up the hills. It’s an unavoidable sight no matter where you go here. The mining money is big and it’s one of the reasons the Khasi Hills have the best roads in all of North-East India bringing some prosperity to a few of its denizens.

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We were fortunate to find a last-minute reservation at the spectacularly located and busy Kutmadan Resort in the outskirts of Cherrapunjee. It was quite late by the time we finished wandering the meadows around Nohkalikai and chose to skip a trip to the Mawsmai Caves. It was a wise call because the view across the edge of the Khasi cliffs down to the watery Bangladesh plains was just jaw-droppingly beautiful. The Resort itself comes highly recommended because while it’s on the pricier side, if you’re in a small group, the price evens out and the rooms are huge and well-appointed. Our room had a living area with a fireplace which was bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve seen and another spacious bedroom area. It goes without saying that the views from the place are worth the price of admission in itself.

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Gour PE Wrap-up – The Baishgazi wall and the Gour landscape

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The Baishgazi wall was a massive brick wall built by Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah to protect and encircle the main palace area of Gaur. Much of the palace now lies in ruin where just the foundations remain. 

 

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The archaeological site is still being excavated by the ASI but the caretakers here appeared to be pessimistic about the possibilities of uncovering anything worthwhile in the future. On a quiet day, you find more goats than people wandering about the brick foundations.

 

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The site is reached by walking through a verdant green landscape of mango orchards and photogenic pools of water. It’s worth coming all the way to Gour just to experience what a true rural hinterland in Bengal could be like.

 

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Languid fishing poles loll in stagnant pools of water while fishing boats float by to inspect the catch. It feels as if these scenes couldn’t have played out very differently in the 15th century to which many of the monuments that dot the landscape belong.

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Gour PE #3 – The mango groves, Chika mosque and Gumti Darwaza

Kids ought to be playing with toys and not selling them. This is not a perfect picture by any means (it’s somewhat out of focus and not exposed perfectly) but it’s a moment that moved me. It’s heartbreaking to see kids working around these tourist sites when they should be playing and going to school.
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The ancient landscape of Gaur is peppered with mango groves. They probably look more beautiful in summer when they are in full bloom.
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It was a school picnic on one of the days I went to Gour and the little brats were all over the place running around, screaming, livening up the sombre landscape of the ancient capital
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This imposing Mughal era brick and stone gateway called Lukochuri Darwaza is said to have been built in 1655 AD by Shah Shuja, the brother of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.
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The Chika Mosque (aka Bat mosque), built possibly in the 15th century could have served to house the tomb of Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad. It fell into ruin centuries ago and was taken over by colonies of bats.
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The Gumti gateway, built by Alauddin Hussian Shah in 1512 AD, still retains some of the colourful cornice decorations around its walls. It’s a small, unimposing, yet beautiful building to stare at for a few minutes.
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Here I distract the kids with my big camera while they parade around the walls of the Chika Masjid
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Gour PE #2 – Firoz Minar, Qadam Rasul Masjid and Fateh Khan’s tomb

Just down the road from the Dakhil Darwaza and the Baroduari mosque, you find a tall tower said to be built by Saifuddin Firoz Shah to commemorate a military victory. 

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And a 2 minute walk from the minar will get you to the Qadam Rasul Mosque, which is said to contain the Prophet’s footprints. Built by Nusrat Shah in 1530 AD, the compound also hosts the tomb of Fateh Khan, who was a commander of Aurangzeb’s army. A caretaker ferries you around if you’re interested and admonishes you if you take pictures inside. It’s a rather sombre site if you manage to ignore people taking group pictures and selfies outside the tomb and while the site is ruinous, it does retain a little architectural glory in its marble columns and the brick engravings on its walls.

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Fateh Khan’s tomb, remarkable for its architecture which is completely different from the shells of other buildings around
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One of the guardians of the Prophet’s footprint
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Because group pictures are a totally done thing when you’re near ancient walls
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The old walls of the Qadam Rasul compound
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A caretaker at Fateh Khan’s tomb
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Around these ancient structures, the bucolic life in the old capital continues like it always has
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Reiek Tlang I (the mobile camera version)

Reiek is a hill about 30 odd kms from Aizawl. At an altitude of 1594 metres, it doesn’t seem particularly daunting but once you make the steep hike up to the top here, the views are just gobsmackingly beautiful. From the top here you get a panoramic view of the city of Aizawl on one side and an endless range of Mizo hills on the other. If you aren’t here on a weekend, it’s an extraordinarily tranquil spot. I, for one, was glad there were a few people around because the hike up is quite steep with some exposed sections that could be a nightmare for anyone who suffers from mild vertigo.

All of these pictures were taken with my Galaxy S7 phone.

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