The Mystical Awari Mata of Asawara

About 90 kms from the city of lakes Udaipur is the temple complex of the mystical Awari Mata, a deity who, it is claimed, provides dramatic cure to people suffering from paralysis, polio, stroke and other physical handicaps. It was on the insistence of a colleague of mine who suffers from a limb handicap, seconded by my better half that we decided to pay our obeisance at this temple situated in the village of Asawara, in Chittorgarh district.
A bright sunny morning saw us embark upon our trip to Awari Mata. The drive down the Udaipur-Chittorgarh highway is serene and pleasurable with the exception of the speedbreakers at the congested Debari stretch of the route and the occasional uneven craters that have been formed due to the heavy vehicular traffic. Thus, before we knew we were at Mangalwad Chouraha munching on hot samosas in kadi garnished with freshly cut onions and green chilly accompanied by piping hot tea.
After a very satisfying breakfast, it was again time for us to keep our tryst with the mother goddess. From the Mangalwad Chouraha, you have to take the straight double laned Mangalwad-Nimbahera road and keep driving till you reach Nikumbh Chouraha. From there a left turn will lead you to the village of Asawara, the abode of Awari Mata also known as Asawara Mata ji.

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Temple of Awari Mata also known as the Temple of Asawara Mata ji

The temple complex consists of a beautiful pond, some resting places, public bathrooms, shops that sell offerings for the deity, a temple dedicated to the Hindu Simian God Hanuman and the temple itself. The place has ample parking space and the parking ticket for a four wheeler is 20INR. We entered the temple complex from the backside which is adjacent to the parking lot.

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A whiff of cool breeze from the pond

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The embankment of the Holy Pond

On entering the premises, the first thing that greeted us was a whiff of fresh cool breeze that emanated from the scenic pond on the banks of which the temple complex is situated. The pond, which a notice board proclaims is the private property of the Ekling ji Trust, is believed to have medicinal powers. It has ghats on its embankment where people were taking a dip in the holy waters in a bid to cure their ailments and even otherwise. We too took a dip in the water that soothed us for sure, from the heat of the stinging summer sun.

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Shops that dot the area

A narrow pathway dotted with shops that sell variously priced offerings for the Mother Goddess leads you to the main temple. Besides the regular items like coconut, red cloth and garlands, the offerings also include bottles of oil.

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Awari Mata ji of Asawara

The scene inside the temple was almost electric. There was a long line of devotees who were there dripping in religious fervor but despite such a long queue there was an almost tranquil vehemence, an oxymoron that I can’t possibly describe in words. The line was fast moving and an entry through a small window like opening landed us in front of Asawara Mata ji, Avari Mata. All things seemed so miniscule, so irrelevant in front of the Mother. Numbness overpowered my senses and an indescribable sense of joy percolated whole being. Oblivious to my surroundings, it took a security guard and his whistle to dislodge me from my state of spiritual actualization.

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Devotees gathering ash at the courtyard

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Devotees with ailments lying on the floor with hope and conviction

The courtyard of the temple has ash from the incenses (agarbattis) that keep on burning day and night. Some people smear it on their bodies others take them back home in the hope of divine miracles. In the passage that surrounds the courtyard; many people suffering from paralysis, stroke, polio and other physical disabilities could be seen lying down. Their bodies told a story that was oozing with their pain, distress and misery but their eyes told a different story, a story that was full of hope and conviction. It is believed that participating in the daily rituals of the temple and inhaling the smoke from the incense lit during the rituals go a long way in curing the ailments of the devotees who are otherwise incapacitated by their ailments.

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Passing through the archway 

Devotees make it a point to go almost sliding through a small archway made of stone in the courtyard. It is believed that a person who can pass through the archway, for him recovery from ailment or fulfillment of a wish is almost certain.
As I drove back home from the dwelling of the Mother in reminiscence of the day gone by, I almost felt overwhelmed by a strange feeling of gratitude, a gratitude whose genesis was from the fact that even when the struggle is unfathomable, there always is a divine power that always backs up the person, who has not ceased to struggle.

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Saas Bahu Temple-The Forgotten Wonder

 

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Famous, the world over for its shimmering lakes, Udaipur, often called the Venice of the East, has a facet which is lesser known. The capital of the erstwhile princely state of Mewar, Udaipur boasts of some ancient exquisitely carved temples. Though temples like the one dedicated to Lord Jagdish, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu and the one dedicated to Lord Ekling ji, the chief deity of the Royal House of Mewar are revered and thronged by thousands, some others like the 11th century temple complex of Shahastra Baahu, popularly known by its local name ‘Saas Bahu” have been relegated to the back pages of relevance and reverence.

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Set on the banks of Lake Bagela near the Ekling ji temple about 22 kms from Udaipur is the small hamlet of Nagda, which lore claim was one of the earliest capitals of Mewar. Nagda is named after its founder Nagaditya, the fourth King of Mewar from the linage of King Bappa Rawal, and is set in a surrounding which is breathtakingly picturesque. The temple of Saas Bahu expands the magic and charm of the place. Built in the early 11th century, the twin temple complex which is right on the shores of lake Bagela, is an example of exemplary architectural workmanship of ancient Vaishnav art form.

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On a sunny winter December afternoon, we decided to take a road trip to the Sahastra Baahu Temple Complex. To get to the Saas Bahu temples, you have to turn left adjacent to the embankment of the Lake Bagela, as you approach the steep slope that takes you to the temple of Ekling ji at Kailashpuri. A glaring drawback en route to the temples is the absence of any road signs or indicators that might help you to reach the temples without getting the feeling of having got lost. The narrow road takes you past a resort aptly name Heritage Resort and centuries old Jain temples but even the approach road towards the Saas Bahu temple complex is devoid of any signage that might proclaim its existence to the wandering visitors. An empty and derelict parking lot added to the confusion.

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We took a steep road past the parking lot and were greeted by the sound of cascading water from a small artificial water fall beside a small shop selling curios. The shop owner doubled up as a parking attendant and after paying INR 15/- as parking fees to him, we began our tryst with the complex that houses the twin temples of Saas Bahu.

 

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Entering the complex, which is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), you are greeted by a well maintained garden and beyond that is the raised platform on which are the temples of Shahastra  Bahu dedicated to Lord Vishnu in an incarnation with thousand hands (hence the name shahastra meaning thousand and baahu meaning hands)

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The complex though is more widely known by its distorted name ‘Saas Bahu’ temples.  Saas in the local language means mother-in-law and Bahu connotes daughter-in-law and it is not hard to fathom why the temples are known as the Saas Bahu temples. Standing right across each other, the ‘Saas’ temple which has a beautiful archway at its entrance,  is comparatively larger in size than the ‘Bahu’ temple which has a fascinating octagonal carved ceiling, signifying the relative place of importance that a mother-in-law has for the daughter-in-law and the family in general. Both the temples are adorned by some exquisite carvings depicting events and figures from Hindu mythology like Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh besides others like Ram, Parshurama and Balrama that showcase the sculpting prowess and vivid imagination of the sculptors of that time.

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There are two more much smaller temples on the platform, both in ruins. The ancient temple complex has been a witness to destruction by marauding invaders for centuries and it shows. Today, the temples despite the scars that ravages of time have wrecked on them mercilessly stand resplendently in resilient abeyance to their creators and as a proud reminder to modernity that the past has more gems hidden in her bosom than the future can even aspire to provide.

Chawand- The Lost Capital City of Mewar

About 65 kms from the city of Udaipur lies the sleepy hamlet of Chawand. The place which has a great historical significance in the annals of Mewar, was once the capital of Mewar’s favourite son, the Rajput king, Maharana Pratap.

The history of Mewar and Chawand

The history of Mewar and Chawand

Surprisingly, though other places associated with the Maharana such as Haldighati and Kumbhalgarh are known the world over, the capital town which he himself built and from where he reigned over Mewar for nearly two decades from (1578 AD till his death in 1597 AD), has been pushed into the back pages of contemporary history.

Ruins of Chawand

Ruins of Chawand

On a sunny September Sunday, aided by Google map, we embarked on a journey to the lost capital.

There are two ways to reach Chawand, one that is via the state highway to Jaisamand and the other by the National Highway No 8 that connects Udaipur with Ahmedabad. We opted for the latter one.

The NH8 takes you through valleys and lush greenery and we sped on till we reached the town of Parshad about 50 kms from Udaipur. A detour through the heart of the town took us onto the Parshad-Chawand road. A rough patch of road initially, gave us the hiccups, but that soon gave way to a picturesque road winding through hills and water-bodies.

The picturesque NH8

The picturesque NH8

The main attractions of the town of Chawand (about 13 kms from Parshad) are the ruins of the Palace of Maharana Pratap and his cenotaph, which are on either side of a crossroad beyond the town of Chawand. We turned left and our first stop was the cenotaph of Maharana Pratap in the middle of the Kejad Lake.

The entrance to the Cenotaph of Maharana Pratap

The entrance gate of the road leading to the Cenotaph of Maharana Pratap

The Cenotaph in the middle of Lake Kejad

The Cenotaph in the middle of Lake Kejad

What a spectacle we were treated to?? A stone and cement bridge led us onto an island which has shady trees and beautiful “Chattris” and pavilions along its perimeter. In its centre is the final resting place of Mewar’s valiant Rajput king, who valued self respect and freedom more than all the riches of the world.

Chhatri on the island

Chhatri on the island

The scenic view of Lake Kejad

The scenic view of Lake Kejad

Up and close with Nature on the island

Up and close with Nature on the island

Though the Maharana Pratap’s cenotaph is not very impressive architecturally, you are engulfed by an overpowering sensation of awe as you bow in veneration in front of it. A king, who willfully chose a life full of struggles and hardships and sacrificed his life for the love of his beloved ‘Motherland’, indeed the experience for us at the cenotaph was indescribable.

The Central Cenotaph of Maharana Pratap

The Central Cenotaph of Maharana Pratap

The Final resting place of the Maharana

The final resting place of the Maharana

The entrance to the Palace of Maharana Pratap

The entrance to the Palace of Maharana Pratap

From the scenic Lake Kejad, we set off for the Palace of Maharana Pratap. On entering the main palace premise, a Chamunda (Hindu Mother Goddess) Temple that predates Maharana Pratap’s era and is much revered by the locals, is a major attraction. Two ferocious stone lions on either side of the entrance of the temple are a source of fascination for children.

A Lion statue- a hit with kids

A Lion statue- a hit with kids

The Chamunda Temple

The Chamunda Temple

The presiding deity

The presiding deity

A steep walkway takes you to the ruins of the palace of Maharana Pratap. Some stone structures are what is left of the palace of the great king. Standing on the remnants of the palace, you get a great view of vast expanse of greenery, the Chamunda Temple and a statue of Maharana Pratap on a pedestal on an adjoining hillock.

A side entrance to the ruins

A side entrance to the ruins

The ruins of the palace

The ruins of the palace

Statue of Maharana Pratap on an adjoining hill

Statue of Maharana Pratap on an adjoining hill

After a thoroughly enjoyable, day in Chawand, it was time for us to say goodbye. But as we bid goodbye to the precincts of the palace, a metal statue of the Maharana stood as though blessing us for having visited and explored his capital, a town that has been lost in the pages of contemporary history.

The statue of the Maharana as though blessing us for visiting Chawand

The statue of the Maharana as though blessing us for visiting Chawand

Lake Jaisamand- A Quick Getaway from Udaipur

The Magnificent Lake Jaisamand

The Magnificent Lake Jaisamand

Udaipur is known  the world over as the city of lakes and the city palace and the adjoining Lake Pichola have provided backdrop for many a movie, both Hollywood as well as Bollywood. Even Lake Fatehsagar, the favorite haunt of the locals is a featured destination.

But the biggest of them all is the majestic Lake Jaisamand, which is located at a distance of around 50 odd kms from Udaipur city. Also known as Dhevar Lake, it is, in fact, the second largest artificial lake in Asia covering an area of about 90 sq kms.

The bund made by Maharana Jai Singh

The bund made by Maharana Jai Singh

Jaisamand Lake has a very colourful history. It was built by Maharana Jai Singh of the House of Mewar in 1685 AD, who emulated his illustrious father Maharana Raj Singh, who constructed the imposing Rajsamand Lake in present day Rajsamand district. The lake was built when Maharana Jai Singh made a dam on river Gomati with an aim to channelize the waters of the river for irrigation as well as providing drinking water for his subjects. In fact, even today pipelines bring in water from Jaisamand that quench thirst of a large part of the city of Udaipur. These huge pipelines can be seen running adjacent to the road that connects Udaipur with Jaisamand.

The densely wooded Kewre Ki Naal

The densely wooded Kewre Ki Naal

The picturesque route

The picturesque route

The ride from Udaipur to Jaisamand is a very scenic one, which crisscrosses through dense jungles, picturesque valleys, quaint water bodies and just about bypasses The Jaisamand Wildlife Sanctuary. If you are lucky enough, you could spot wild animals including panthers, in the area around Kewre Ki Naal, a protected biosphere.

The imposing Roothi Rani Ka Mahal

The imposing Roothi Rani Ka Mahal

As you approach the hamlet of Jaisamand, the imposing ‘Roothi Rani Ka Mahal’, a beautiful palace on top of a hill overlooking the Jaisamand Lake, is a sight to behold. To reach the Lake, you have to climb up a long winding steep road. At the base of this road, is a bazaar which has shops selling snacks like pakodas, chai, samosas, katchoris and fried fresh fish from the lake.

The beautiful embankment or 'bund'

The beautiful embankment or ‘bund’

The Shiva Temple and the Palace on the hill in the background

The Shiva Temple and the Palace on the hill in the background

The beautiful marble Bund of the lake

The stepped Bund of the lake

The Lone Sentinel- White marble elephant

The Lone Sentinel- White marble elephant on the embankment

The embankment or the ‘bund’ of the lake is a white marble marvel and is adorned by 6 chhatris or dome like pillared marble structures with exquisite carvings, a Shiva temple and white marble elephants that overlook the vast expanse of water, standing in testimony of a glorious era gone by.

Row Row Row your boat...

Row Row Row your boat…

Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds on a hillock

Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds on a hillock

Land Ahoy!

Land Ahoy!

Jaisamand Lake has 3 big islands and is also home to the famed Jaisamand Island Resort. Boats leave regularly from the ‘bund’ and you can choose from a variety of ticket options. The Rs 20/- per person ticket is the most economical one and takes you around a stretch of the lake that has a palace, known as ‘Hawa Mahal’ or the Palace of The Wind on a lush forested hillock on the banks of the lake. You can also avail of Rs 50/, Rs 75, Rs 100 or Rs 200/- rides which take you further and further into the wonderful lake towards the bigger islands that are home to the Bhils and Meena, the indigenous tribals of the region.

In Nature's own lap.

In Nature’s own lap.

If you are looking forward for a quick day getaway from Udaipur, then Lake Jaisamand definitely deserves a place in your list. A place which is a culmination of soothing rides, magnificent architectural wonders dripping with history, all in Mother Nature’s own lap.

The Holi Escape (Part-1)- To Baroda

Cometh, the festival of colours, Holi and it is time for me and my family to take a break from our routine in the Lake City of Udaipur and venture into new territories. If last year, it was Mount Abu in Rajasthan, this time around we zeroed onto the idyllic west Indian union territory of Daman. The distance of Daman from Udaipur is about 600 kms, so it was unanimously decided that we would have a night halt at Vadodara (previously known as Baroda) in Gujarat, as winding up things at Udaipur, we could only have left home, earliest by late afternoon. Thus, two days prior to the Holi festival, on a blazing Saturday afternoon (15th March 2014), we set off for Baroda, as we planned our Holi Escape.

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The NH8 that connects New Delhi to Mumbai, which in turn connects Udaipur to Ahmedabad, makes its way across the hills of the Aravali ranges. Trees with blooming local red flowers, dotted the slopes of the hills and provided for a very picturesque beginning to our travel, as we took a detour from the NH8, after entering the state of Gujarat.

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The state highway to Modasa and beyond was equally scenic and was in fact in a better shape than even the national highway. The rural countryside adjoining the highway showed glimpses of prosperity and we crossed hamlets after hamlets as we made our way towards Baroda.

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We covered the distance of about 315 kms from Udaipur to Baroda (via Modasa) in about 5 hours that included a stoppage for snacks and refreshments at a way-side restaurant where we had tea, Idli-sambar and Mango lassi. We had prior bookings made at the Hotel Sapphire Regency, Sayaji Gunj for our night in Baroda.

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Right at the city centre near the Vadodara Railway station, the Hotel Sapphire Regency provided for a very cozy stay in Baroda. Its highlight was its gastronomically amazing restaurant “Cafe Khyber”. The neat fine dining restaurant was nearly full when we went there for our dinner. We ordered vegetable noodles (for my kid) and chicken angarey for starters. For the main course we had Chicken Afghani, Murg Mussallam, buttered Naan and white rice. The food was exceptional, lip smacking and complete money’s worth (made more so by the 15% discount that was applicable for Axis Bank cardholders).  We retired to our rooms, very gastronomically as well as economically satisfied.

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The next morning being a Sunday morning, my father and me went in search for any temple that was in the vicinity of the hotel. We found a small and simple temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the Hindu God of Wisdom, in the nearby lane. After prayers, we went for a stroll and discovered some old architectural gems that were still there, standing proudly in a landscape that is being fast inundated with modern buildings and complexes.

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After a sumptuous breakfast at Cafe Khyber, Hotel Sapphire Regency, it was time for us to set off for our next and final destination of Daman….

(to be continued)

 

 

Explore like never Before- (part2)

When we reached the main medical centre of Parshad, it looked as though some sort of curfew had been imposed on it. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere in the vicinity of the place besides some patients, who were waiting patiently in the soothing sun for the doctors to come. The notice board at the centre said that the winter timing of the centre was from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm and 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm but even at 10.20 am there was nobody to attend the patients. The patients instead of sullying over the matter seemed to be enjoying chit chats amongst themselves quite oblivious to their own ailments, enjoying each other’s company besides the warmth of the sun. Truly Incredible India, this!

Not a soul at the Health Centre, Parshad

Not a soul at the Health Centre, Parshad

From Parshad we moved on to the historically important town of Chawand. It was at this place that the heroic Rajput king Maharna Pratap breathed his last, after a fatal hunting accident. The town has a memorial in honour of the great king, which unfortunately lies in utter neglect, today. The landscape in and around the town is dotted with remains of a glorious era, gone by and I, for one was taken aback by the sheer beauty of a small castle on a hillock on the Chawand – Sarada road, whose historical significance, none of the people I encountered seemed to know, besides the fact that one time or the other in history, it acted as the treasury for Maharana Pratap.

The imposing treasury in ruins!

The imposing treasury in ruins!

At Sarada, the main medical centre was abuzz with activity and the doctors were efficiently tending the patients. It was here that we had a plate of crisp crushed samosa dipped in hot “kadhi” sprinkled with “sev” and garnished with chopped onions and chillies. This street food from a street side shop was a real gastronomic delight, the perfect antidote on a winter morning.

The gastronomically delightful Street Food

The gastronomically delightful Street Food

The next haunt was Semari and the first thing that strikes you when you enter this hamlet is the temple of the Mother Goddess that is located right in the middle of the main road of this town. The cattle jostle with mechanized vehicles for supremacy of the road aided by the “divine intervention”, as mere mortals like me just look on in awe.  But in spite of seemingly so much chaos, the harmony and a pleasant flavor of rural India that the place bestows on you, is just overwhelming.

The temple at the centre of the road, Semari

The temple at the centre of the road, Semari

From Semari we went to Kalyanpur and the road though narrow and winding was pretty amazing. It took us along idyllic villages and scenic ponds. We came across a very big pond which was host to a large flock of migratory birds. Cranes, swans and kingfishers were there in galore and their chirping and the sound of their flying was purely divine. The pond even had an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva partially submerged in its water which seemed to signify the fine blend that exists between divinity and nature.

The beautiful pond

The beautiful pond

The submerged ancient temple

The submerged ancient temple

Rishabhdeo or Kesariyaji , a place that is holy not only for the local tribesmen of the area but also for the believers of the Jain sect, was our next stop. It has the famous temple that houses a black stone idol which is worshipped as Adinath by the Jains and as a form of Lord Shiva by the tribals. But this was not the place we went. My colleague told me that a newer temple was being built very near to the ancient temple and the trust which was building the newer temple also served wonderful Jain lunches. Since, it was well past 1.30 pm we decided to go there. The approach road to the new temple was very narrow and the façade was highly unimpressive. But lo as you enter the gates of the temple, the beauty of the exquisite work in progress marvel, just strikes you. The white marble temple that is surrounded by large life like white marble elephants is full of highly intricate carvings and would surely be a great tourist attraction once it is fully complete. The lunch as promised was simple, hot and delicious.

The beautiful new Jain Temple, Rishabhdeo

The beautiful new Jain Temple, Rishabhdeo

Temple surrounded by white marble elephants

After a very satisfying lunch, we went to Dungarpur via Kherwara. After completing the official job at hand, we went to the embankments of Lake GapSagar. The bank of the lake is a host to a flurry of activities. You can find shops selling branded cloths wear, accessories and glares on one hand and on the other there are vendors who sell you fresh farm produces along with many stalls and carts that sell street food.  Also on the bank is the ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shreenath ji and incarnation of Lord Krishna. As you enter the premise of the temple you are suddenly enveloped by a serenity that is way beyond words. Leaving behind the humdrum of the big bad world, the temple offers you an oasis of serenity and complete bliss. The presiding deity and his consort and the keeper of the temple, the mighty winged demi-god Lord Garura leave an indelible impression on your mind.

Lake Gap Sagar, Dungarpur

Lake Gap Sagar, Dungarpur

The ancient Shreenath Temple, Dungarpur

The ancient Shreenath Temple, Dungarpur

The blackstone keeper of the temple

The blackstone keeper of the temple

The presiding deity, Shreenath Temple, Dungarpur

The presiding deity, Shreenath Temple, Dungarpur

Divinity-Up and close

Divinity-Up and close

With the sun fast setting, it was time for us leave, back for home. Capturing the sun setting among the cactus that guarded a lush sesame field on my 3 Megapixel Samsung mobile camera, rounded off a wonderful day for me, in which I explored places which were off the beaten track, all around Udaipur.

The Sun sets on a beautiful day.

The Sun sets on a beautiful day.

Explore like never Before-Off the beaten track from Udaipur

The New Year has started in full earnest, so let me begin by wishing all a very Happy New Year 2014. The month of January has had quite a shivering beginning and it also has had quite new developments for me, professionally. New avenues explored and new journeys embarked. During the course of the first fortnight of the  month, I was asked by a member of the top management of a premier Hospital in Udaipur, whether I would be interested in accompanying him on a tour of the periphery areas of the city of lakes. Not to miss an opportunity, I replied in the affirmative and had a most memorable trip of some quaint little places and hamlets, off the beaten track. Image The cab was there to pick me up, half an hour behind the scheduled time of 8 am on a foggy, chilly January morning. The periphery areas we would be covering, I was told included territories that were to the south of the city of Udaipur, the tribal heartland, so as to say. As we proceeded on the Udaipur-Ahmedabad super highway, the ranges of the Aravalis that encompassed us and which were in turn embraced by a mist, looked breathtakingly beautiful under a sun that lacked its intensity and shone in its full unwillingness. Image Our first stop was the sleepy small town of Parshad, about 45 kms away from Udaipur. Seeing people in the town was akin to seeing things in slow motion on television. People walked in slow motion and even seemed to talk in slow motion in the town, though it must be said to their credit that the biting cold may also have aggravated their plight. A piping hot cup of “chai” (tea) in one of the road side stalls near the main bus stop was a welcome relief from the cold that was goaded on by a sharp wind that made it seem much chillier than it actually was. We crossed a red tinged water body that we were told was the main source of drinking water for the area as we moved towards the main health centre of Parshad. The red tinge, I found out later was because of the proliferation of water algae in the pond. It looked awesome but it also made me make up my mind that if I were to be offered any water in the town, I would politely refuse.