I’m in the middle of my winter break and I am travelling. So yes, 2022 couldn’t have got a better start than this. I have actually dubbed this trip as my grand ‘Spiritual Rejuvenation Tour’.
Presently I am in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. Many don’t recognise the place so I find it easier to call it Ayodhya which happens to be the adjoining twin city.
Faizabad had its glory days when it was the capital city of the Nawabs of Awadh. In 1775, the capital shifted to Lucknow but one can still find pockets of faded beauty hiding in plain sight.
If you are ever in Faizabad, look out for ornate makbaras (tombs) and crumbling but grand darwaza (doorways) straddling chaotic roads.
One may need to make an effort because the city has grown higgledy-piggledy.
Shops, signboards, encroachments hide all these grand edifices, unless one is actively seeking them out.
Oh! Also tackling the vehicular traffic to access these places is a nightmare. Think of these roads as an invisible net tightly pulling the cars, scooters, pedestrians and hawkers, while they thrash to free themselves.
If you are successful, you will find yourself in these islands of peace and extraordinary charm that both both time and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) forgot.
Trust me, they could do with a whole lot of love and care.
My favourite place though happens to be the Guptkar Ghat at Saryu river. I had always imagined this tributary of the mighty Ganges to be some what small. Saryu stuns you into disbelief. It is unbelievably broad with huge sand banks stretching into far horizon.
Google now tells me that it is also known as the familiar River Ghaghara that I learnt of in school.
Anyway, the Saryu riverfront is a perfect spot to watch the sun move across the sky. One can feel the cool breeze while colourful boats bob in the water.
One of the biggest temple, Raja Mandir is here. Mornings are quiet and calm. Often one hears the loud racket of the birds mingling with the soothing strains of the bhajans (hymn) wafting in the air. On the other hand, evening takes on the energy of a bustling tourist spot.
It is loud and colourful.
The local boatmen and the corn sellers that hang around in the evening have begun recognising me. Each one has staked a claim on me to buy their wares and sail to the sand banks across the river. One day I need to do both.
Ah! These sand banks are also a treasure trove of discarded stuff. Broken idols, flowers, bangles, puja offerings to the river regularly wash up on the shores next to the Ghat steps. A sight we take for granted considering how we Indians revere the river. So you can imagine our curiosity when my hubby and I saw two young men, wading in the shallow pools of a sand bank, panning the sand in the far corner.
What in the world were they looking for? Couldn’t be crabs, right?
Hubby got talking and soon enough they showed us what they found for their back breaking effort. They had been at it for a few hours. Their haul included seven silver metal snakes and a well crafted, miniature gun metal elephant buried in the sand. Selling those would bring enough money to supplement their earnings. They would be back when their money runs low.
Fascinating, right? I’ve yet to find my treasure. I’ve realised one needs X-ray vision to spot it in the squishy grey earth.
Anyway with Ayodhya as a close neighbour, the legend of Rama dodges our footstep out here as well.
The young priest of the Raja Mandir at Guptkar Ghat explained, “Shri Ram at the end of his lifespan, in the presence of his people, gods and goddesses left this plane at this very Ghat. Bharat aur Shatrughan ka ansh apne mei samakar, Shri Ram gupt hogaye. Hence the name of the Ghat. Also that’s why Rama’s idol in the temple doesn’t have him holding a bow and arrow. He gave it up.”
Now, the priest too smiles where ever he sees us around. Quick to chat, from him I have learnt a bit about the local history too.
- For instance, Raja Mandir is an ASI protected monument. There is no sign that mentions it but it’s been around since the time of the nawabs.
- The motif of the twin fish on the walls and roofs of the temple were actually the sigil of the Awadh Nawabs. (I’ve seen the same motifs in many old buildings and grand doorways all over Faizabad and Ayodhya.)
- A temple next door claims to have the footprints of Rama. The young priest explained logically how it could not be possible. Then again, religion is all about belief.
- Dev Kali temple in the city with a beautiful pool at its entrance is the kuladevi, the ancestral deity who watches over the kula (clan), of Lord Rama.
- There is a samadhi (a memorial) at the Ghat. It is dedicated to the illusive Subhash Chandra Bose when he lived here as Gumnami Baba. Papers connected to him were recovered from the room he lived in. A red herring or perhaps the truth. One may never know.
What I do know that Faizabad is an underrated city with much to offer.
Such as the pakoras (fritters). They are the tastiest I have ever eaten.
So is the tea!
Now if only some one could do something about the kulhad (the earthen cup) it is served in. It could do with an upgrade in size.
Like an upgraded 2022.
Here’s wishing all the readers a fantastic new year, sunny days and piping hot brew, all through winters.
To making each day count, cheers!
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