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Articles: Travelogue
Nagpur Diary
- Dr. Rajeshwar Mittapalli
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On the 24th, after the lectures, it was free time. I asked Dr. Shende to drop us off at Prof. Kelkar’s place in Dharam Peth. Prof. Kelkar was my colleague in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Asmara, Eritrea. We lived in adjacent flats at the Sembel Housing Complex there. Mrs. Kelkar, housewife but an accomplished scholar who has authored a significant work on the archaeological sites in Nagpur and its environs, used to very often treat me to tasty Indian dishes in Eritrea. It was therefore a happy reunion in Nagpur for us after something like three years. When we stepped into their flat Mrs. Kelkar was the first to greet us -- with her hands and eyes -- since she wore a surgical mask and couldn’t speak. I asked jokingly if she was halfway through a surgery. She took off her mask and, pointing to the workmen who were busily scrubbing and painting the walls, she said, “Yes, it’s Operation Whitewash today.” After half an hour of pleasantries and reminiscences about our years together in Eritrea, and on the suggestion of the Kelkars, Uma and I reached the enormous shopping mall BIG BAZAR in the Sita-Burdi district of the city. It would take half a day even to look at everything on offer at the BIG BAZAR but we confined ourselves to just a couple of floors and bought some knickknacks and utility items, including a body cover for my car and designer oil lamps for the ensuing Deepavali festival. The following day was an absolutely free day -- with the lectures done and friends visited and with the train scheduled for 6 o’clock in the evening. It was a great opportunity to travel in and around Nagpur and see places of interest. Dr. Shende was again kind enough to arrange a car for us. And so at 8 am we were on our way to Ramtek, 60 km away, where there is a hilltop 600-year-old Ram temple. Ramnavami festival is celebrated here with much gaiety and religious fervour every year. The ubiquitous langurs (semnopithecus entellus), the black-faced, long-tailed monkeys with bushy eyebrows and beards, caused much concern for Uma but finally they proved to be friendly, accepting whatever eatables we offered. This Ram temple was, we were told, patronized by the maharajas of the Bhonsle dynasty who ruled the Nagpur kingdom between 1743-1853. The Bhonsles were part of the Maratha Confederacy which established a short-lived empire during the years of the waning Mughal power. When the last Bhonsle king Raghuji III died without an heir Nagpur came under the British control following Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse. At the Ram temple on the Hill of Ram there still are on display the portraits and weapons (swords and guns) used by the Bhonsle rulers. The priest told us that the maharajas used to worship their weapons every year on Dussera festival occasion at this temple. The Hill of Ram also has other historical importance attached to it. Recent research has established that the great Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa lived there during the time when he composed Maghdootam. The Hill of Ram or Ramgiri finds a mention in this great work of Kalidasa. A little distance from the temple there is a memorial, called Kalidas Smarak, and a small library devoted to Kalidasa. But we were not lucky -- these institutions were closed at that time of the day, mid-morning. I asked the chauffeur (who spoke perfect Hindi but never told us his name) to take us to the huge lake, downhill, called Khindsi which is nestled in what looks like a forest, and sandwiched between two hills. It was a great photo-op for Uma and me. Since we did not exactly have too much time to spend at the lake we started our journey back to Nagpur. On the way back, still some 16 km away from Nagpur, at a cantonment town called Kamthi (previously spelt Kamptee), we stopped briefly to see the Dragon Palace Temple of the Buddha which was built with Japanese collaboration. The serene surroundings of the temple were highly inspiring. I felt doubly lucky because it was the first ever time I visited a Buddhist temple in my life. The Buddha idol at this temple is dusky but, like the Buddha idols everywhere in the world, it exuded kindness.

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