Friday, November 8, 2013

Gargoti Mineral Museum

What's your earliest memory of a rock? Kicking a small one all the way while returning from a tiring day at school? Throwing a pebble in a still lake and seeing the ripple effect all across? Or using a large one to break a rusted box? Chances are you might not have thought much about it. After all, a rock is plain and uninteresting, right? Now what if you are told that someone has preserved rocks 65 million years old, that too in the heart of a bustling office area? Sounds unbelievable?

As any other major city, Delhi has it's fair share of museums. There is the National museum in Janpath, the Dolls museum in ITO, the Rail museum in Chanakyapuri and even a Toilet museum run by the Sulabh trust in gurgaon. Adding to this list, tucked away in the central hub of Connaught Place (CP) is the National Handicrafts and Design Gallery Museum, also called the Gargoti Mineral museum, a great example of the beauty of nature and how man can do some terrific value addition.

I won't blame you if you can't find it at one go. On the 3rd floor accessible via a nondescript lift in a building crowded with state emporiums on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, the place is not your typical museum. Open all 7 days of the week and with no entry charges, you are warmly welcomed by a guide at the door. There are four corridors in all, and probably the very first thing you notice is a huge Shivling made out of a single piece of pure crystal. Encrusted in a metal base, it is breathtaking to say the least. Leading up to it on both sides are galleries adorned with national award-winning handicraft pieces. There is a wood-carved rendition of the Fatehpur Sikri, Bamboo flutes, Beautiful carpets and human figurines made of clay. Another gallery at the far end has intricate paintings describing the Ramayan, Mahabharat and other such important stories of times gone by. This is what forms the Handicraft part of the museum, and the effort put into each one of these pieces speaks for itself brilliantly.


The second gallery as you enter to your right is where the stones make their presence felt. Neatly arranged in glass shelves adorning all the walls of the place, the 65 million year old rock pieces hardly show any wrinkles to give away their age! Each of the pieces has been carefully catalogued, so you have Pentagonite, Ruby, Cavensite, Pyrite, Topaz, etc., all in mesmerizing shapes, hues and sizes. Though many of them are from the area in and around Nasik in Maharashtra, which was the site of an old volcano, there are unique examples from all parts of the world to give them company. The galleries have been maintained beautifully, with just the right amount of lighting to focus on each of the pieces of rocks. What adds value to the place are some hand-carved statues out of single pieces of gemstones. The Shivling described earlier is joined by a Lord Krishna in Ruby and a Buddha made out of Jade, with all these pieces being amazingly well-crafted. 

Now for some interesting artifacts - There is a fossilized dinosaur egg neatly cradled in a nest, and trust me, it actually looks cute! The other two highlights of the museum are in fact things that are literally out of this world. A piece of moon-rock is attached to a sheet of informative paper in one of the glass cases. There is a similar small piece of crust from Mars. The guide proudly proclaims that they were bought for Rs.20 lakhs each from NASA, and waits to see that awed expression on your face.



As the final leg of the tour, you are left at the commercial side, so if you're actually inclined to take a piece of historical geology, all 65 million years old of it, home, crude pieces of rock are sold for as low as Rs.100, with the prices going up to many lakhs for bigger and more beautiful ones. They come with a proper certificate that guarantees their age. Apart from this, paintings, handicrafts and even jewellery encrusted with gems is up for sale. And don't forget to sign the feedback register on your way out!

How to get there: Get down at Rajiv Chowk Metro Station and walk about half a km

Timings: 10 am to 6 pm (entry closes at 6, they let you wander till about 7)

What else is around: For the devout, the famous pracheen (old) Hanuman and Shiv temples beckon you. There are monkeys in both of them to give you company! You can also drop into the above-mentioned state emporiums showcasing clothes and crafts. And if not any thing else, you can always hang out at CP :)

What to eat: The Kachori subzi stalls right outside the temples do brisk business most times of the day. Or head to Coffee Home along the same pathway for authentic South Indian eats and Filter Coffee

So if you have visited many old museums and have been disappointed by their upkeep or bored of the plain artifacts, give the refreshing and unique amalgamation that is Gargoti museum a chance to take your breath away!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Republic Day Parade

"Bhai, pass ka jugaad ho gaya hai. Kal parade dekhne chaloge?" (Pass has been arranged. Ready to see the parade tomorrow?) When I got a call at just past 00:00 hours (and it wasn't my birthday) I thought it was for inviting me to gorge on cake at somebody else's birthday celebration. "Yaar, itni subah kaun uthega? sochta hun..." (who will get up so early, let me give it a thought). After my failed attempt at arranging passes/tickets both this year and the last, the excitement for the Republic Day Parade had fizzled out. But now it had been rekindled, and the guilt of being in Delhi for 2 years without witnessing the fabled show finally brought me on board.

So on this freezing cold January morning at 6 am, 18 of us marched out of the hostel with loud chants of "Bharat Mata ki Jai", braving the sharp nip in the air. Hailing a Gramin Sewa auto-rickshaw (sharing type) that has a capacity of 7 but usually seats 12, all 18 of us stuffed in, leaving little interstitial space but a lot of space for Schottky and Frenkel defects (such inane analogies are a result of the author's abysmal knowledge of chemistry!)

With security restrictions enforcing the closer metro stations to remain non-operational, we got down at Jor Bagh station. Entry passes for different gates meant the group splitting up, and we started out on the long walk ahead (close to 4 kilometres!), crossing Safdurjung tomb and Tees January Marg, passing by foreigners, an NCC regiment and an assortment of specially marked cars. Reaching the serpentine queues at the enclosure's entrance a good half an hour post the stipulated time, we realized that if some of the others had their way, they would land up only after the final bugle was sounded! Waltzing through the security, we found prime location seats on the grassy patch right in front of Raj Path. Well, we had to squat and couldn't get a panoramic view, but being occasionally blessed by the sun and getting to see things up close took priority :)

The atmosphere was indeed electric, with motley crowds thronging the area, jostling for space and cajoling the security personnel to allow them a better view. The day's proceedings began with the Prime Minister paying homage at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, followed by the President and the guest of honour, Thailand's youngest and first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, proceeding for the same. They were escorted in swanky Mercedes', heavily cordoned on all sides. The Tiranga was unfurled, and all of us stood singing the national anthem. After the 3 (army, naval and air) chiefs of staffs presented their credentials, the actual parade began, with the President, also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, taking salute.

The Gallantry awardees breezed past us, proudly standing in jeeps, followed by tableaux and various regiments of the army, navy and air-force. The Remount & Veterinary Corps (Sniffer-dogs) tableau was quite unique, while the synchronized and crisp marching of the different regiments left us spell-bound. A notable mention was the Assam rifles, who in their 177-year history have won over a 1000 awards. The corresponding regimental bands followed, all playing various lively tunes to enthuse their contingents. The naval band was led by Ramesh Chand Katoch, the 14th time he was doing so. He has participated in 25 R-Day marches, no ordinary feat indeed!

The DRDO tableaux showcased an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Rustom) and the Agni IV missile, a significant addition to our ballistic arsenal. The Border Security Force (BSF) with it's internationally acclaimed and one-of-its-kind Camel force and band was a treat. After the Delhi police contingent, the colourful state tableaux came in, each state vying to outdo the other. With 2011 being Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary year, the West Bengal tableau featured a scene from Shantiniketan, while Goa, in its party-mood, was as effervescent as ever. A ritual where a person is possessed by a spirit formed Karnataka's theme, and the intricate architecture of Kashmir's blue-stone tomb and the house behind it was breathtaking. Rajasthan was represented by the Aamer palace, and Bihar showcased Dharahara village, where for every girl child born , the community plants 10 saplings. A great initiative for both life-forms!

The departmental tableaux followed next, with the Ministry of Finance highlighting its customs division, and the Horticultural department featuring children playing with fresh flowers as if it were snow! Two interesting tableaux were by the Election commission, making its debut in the R-day parade, and another one featuring handicrafts from all corners of India. The Literacy float looked unique, with a tree whose leaves and fruits were all made of letters! Children who had been selected for the National Bravery award went past next, smiling broadly, savouring this pristine moment with us being told of their exceptionally courageous feats.

There was a short break of sorts before the next event unfolded. Heeding to the commentators' advice that it promises to be a grand extravaganza, we took up vantage points in the seating area behind. And boy, did they deliver! The bike stunts were stunning to say the least - performers standing, sitting cross-legged, climbing a ladder, multiple-persons on single bike, and the largest, 29 persons on 9 bikes, left us spellbound. We realized that the silence and a brief time interval that followed was just the calm before the storm. Helicopters whirred past in a Hercules formation, and before we knew, MIG jets zoomed after them, and 5 Jaguar jets roared ahead touching 800 kmph. But the icing on the cake was the "Vertical Charlie" manoeuvre by a Sukhoi aircarft. The way it first flew horizontally above us and then took off at almost a 90 degrees angle was a breathtaking spectacle. If there was a provision, almost everyone would have wanted a repeat performance! Finally, balloons released in the air bade us goodbye, draping the blue-sky in a sea of tricolour. We clicked some group pics, and made our way towards Delhi's lifeline, the Metro, to head back to the hostel.

All in all, a great day out, filling us with a sense of pride about our culturally rich and diverse nation, our military prowess and our wonderful sense of unity. Jai Hind!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sunday Book Market - Kitab Bazaar - Daryaganj

Are you a bibliophile who likes to munch one novel right after another? Do you veer towards the novels section in retail stores every single time just to satiate your hunger of looking at new titles? Is your idea of taking some time off that with a novel in one hand and two on the rack? Then the Sunday Book market, more famously the “Kitab Bazaar” in Daryaganj is just the right place for you.

This once-a-week book-lovers’ paradise is something that you can’t afford to miss. The now familiar scene of Chetan Bhagat-wannabe college romances (do their editors know grammar?) vying for your attention with their siblings, the pirated versions of self-help books, is definitely not the USP of this market. About 1.5 kilometres of footpaths/sidewalks laden with a plethora of books, it offers an eclectic assortment that is a one-size-fits-all solution. Bestsellers, Adventure, Romance, Travel, Humour, Crime, Autobiographies, Classics; you name a genre, you won’t be disappointed.

Some neatly arranged, many stacked, others strewn, it exemplifies that variety is the spice of life. Most of them are well-thumbed, while some are “off-the-truck” new copies. Work starts at 9 am, and you can go on searching till 6. Don’t be surprised when the book-wallah stomps many tomes in order to fetch the one you wanted. For you its knowledge and fun, for him its binness ;)

Rowan Atkinson’s (aka Mr.Bean) biography, out-of-print (censored?) Ji Mantriji volumes, Issac Asimov’s brilliant short stories, photo-essay on the life near Siachen glacier, collectors editions of comics, author-signed copies gifted to near and dear ones, and even a PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves story with the note saying “stolen from Mr.Bachoo Lal, 15-8-1978”, the choice is truly flabbergasting. It’s up to you to be able to rummage through the collection and pick out something out-of-the-blue that can set your literary heart racing.

The pricing is spread out across a broad spectrum – you have the “Chaanton novel bees rupay” pile, “alag alag rate hai saab” bargain-friendly stock, and the refined sellers who will not budge on the rates of their treasures. Some stalls give a refund when you return the book after a couple of weeks, working like a library.

Apart from the dirt-cheap prices on some steals (almost pristine John Grisham hardcovers for Rs.50!), your day can be made by the utter serendipity of the search. Would you have ever picked up a book featuring a cat as a detective and then enjoyed it? Or one describing the inherent connectivity behind various myths from China to South America? Obscure authors writing stuff that you like, out-of-print titles, old editions, you can be overwhelmed by the entirety of the place. There are even books in Russian and French, possibly disposed off by some expat family spending their time in the capital.

Though I’ve gone there for the novels, almost 40% of the book market comprises “shops” trading in second-hand tech-books. Some are specialists in Management, Computers, Medicine, while others offer a motley mix. You can get a good bargain on most of them, and even new editions come with a nice discount. So there’s respite for the studious ones among you :)

While the search is on, you’re sure to get hungry. Try out the street-food comprising crunchy Samosas, Kachoris and Bread Pakoras, and quench your thirst at the fruit juice stall. Or if your taste-buds are too polished for that, McD, KFC and Haldiram’s in the adjacent Chandni Chowk will help.

A word of caution: Only a small minority of the sellers have a good idea of what exactly they are dealing in. So try to spot the books yourself, because many of the sellers are illiterate. Yes, the irony ;)

Getting there: Take a Rickshaw (Rs.20) from the Chawri Bazaar Metro Station.

Upsides: Tremendous potential for you to increase your horizon through diverse genres, and break-through your acquainted literary taste. Not going with a fixed “wantlist” is advisable. The satisfaction of discovering a likable read through an unlikely treasure hunt - Priceless!

Downsides: Dusty environment and jostling in the initial stretch of the market, though the latter part (around Delhi Gate) is not so crowded.

Happy Hunting!