Jun 26, 2014

From Armenia To Madras

In the 7th and 8th centuries, groups of merchants from a small land far beyond the Hindu Kush mountains started coming to India to sell silk, muslin, spices, timber and precious stones. Starting with the Malabar coast, over the next many centuries, they formed small settlements in different parts of the country from Kerala to Kolkata, and from Agra to Madras. By the 17th century, there was a sizable population of their people in Madras, and the street where most of them lived, came to be known as the Armenian Street.

These merchants were Armenians. Armenia is an ancient mountainous country in Eurasia, surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is said that Noah's Ark came to rest on the Ararat mountains in Armenia after the flood waters receded. It is one of the oldest Christian civilizations, and in the 4th century AD, it became the first officially Christian state in the world.
The Armenian street is home to the Church of St. Mary, India's oldest Armenian Church. At this point, I'm beginning to count the number of times I use the word 'Armenian' in each sentence! The church was first built in 1712, but after getting destroyed in a French siege in 1772, it was rebuilt in its present location - the grounds of what was an Armenian cemetery. 
 Since it is built on a cemetery, hundreds of flat graves with inscriptions in the Armenian script are scattered all around the church and in some places it is difficult to move without walking on them. 
While all the other graves are flat and at ground level, a raised one in the garden adjoining the church is clearly special. Buried here is Rev Harutiun Shmavonian, who printed the first Armenian newspaper in the world, sitting in this church! And hence, the open stone book on his grave :)
There are no Armenians in Chennai anymore, and the church is maintained by the Armenian Church Committee in Kolkata, which still has a small population of Armenian Christians. Regular service is not held here, but the church is open to visitors from 9 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. Here's more about the church if you are interested.

After we spent a while at the church, Ashwin's father took us to a cafe called Hotel Zum Zum (yes, seriously) where he'd hang out sometimes when he was young :)
For lunch, we went to an old restaurant called Menaka in Hotel Palm Grove. Coincidentally (it wasn't father's day or anything :Pmy dad regularly ate at this restaurant when he was young (he went to college in Chennai). I had the 'Madras Meal', a traditional thaali - simple and very yummy.
My birthday was earlier this month, and Ashwin gave me a Fujifilm X-Pro 1. I love the camera so much - it is small and unobtrusive, the colours are gorgeous, the lens (I'm using an 18-55 at the moment) is brilliant and the shutter sounds beeeeautiful ! I used it to shoot the pictures in this post.

May 12, 2014

Afghan Church, Mumbai

Afghan Church, Mumbai
The first time I heard about the Afghan Church was when I saw this picture on Ashwin's Flickr stream. At that time, I never thought I'd visit the same church with him one day! :D
Afghan Church, MumbaiAfghan Church, Mumbai
The beautiful basalt and limestone church in Colaba is actually The Church of St John the Evangelist, but it is locally called the Afghan Church, because it was built in the memory of the soldiers of the British army, including members of many Indian regiments, who died in the First Afghan War fought against Afghanistan from 1839 to 1842. The church has a spire that is almost 200 feet high, because the government granted land for its construction on the condition that it must be the tallest structure in the area, and the spire must be visible clearly even to the ships at sea. The exquisite stained glass work on the windows depicting scenes from the Bible came all the way from England, and the tall pillars and imposing arches came from Iran.
Afghan Church, Mumbai
These grooves were for praying soldiers to rest their rifles in:
Afghan Church, Mumbai
The highlight of this church would have to be the shafts of light streaming through the stained glass panels! Gorgeous!
Afghan Church, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Mumbai
I first went on a weekday - I was allowed to take pictures of the exterior, but the main church was closed. So I had to go again on a Sunday to see the inside.

May 7, 2014

Squirrel Love

We live in a building surrounded by trees, so squirrels hang out in our balconies and terrace a LOT. Remember the time we found baby squirrels in a shopping bag? So now, a couple of very hungry squirrels keep coming to our balcony - if the door is shut, I can get really close to the glass and they don't get scared at all. Putting sunflower seeds in a small metal bucket and standing behind the door with my camera has become a game! Let me show you some of the results :)

Are those....SUNFLOWER SEEDS???
YUMMM!
MUST. JUMP. IN.
Almost there
Popping in
Popping out
Nom Nom Nom!

May 5, 2014

Two temples in the Gingee Fort

I shared this photo in my previous post - do you see a temple tower on the top right?
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
That is the stunningly beautiful Venkatramana Temple inside the Gingee Fort. It is unlike any temple I have ever seen. I never imagined I'd use the word eerie for a temple, but I really cannot think of another word to describe it. It was built by a Nayak king in the 16th century, but is now dilapidated and not in use even for worship. It was a little unsettling that many of the inner shrines that usually have idols of deities are empty! When we went, free food was being distributed outside the temple, but there were very few people, and inside, there was hardly anyone. It probably looks a lot more cheerful when it is sunny, but in the rain, it was very dramatic and super gorgeous despite the decay. It was raining pretty heavily by now, so those strange circles you see in some pictures are raindrops on my lens!
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Spot the people in the picture to imagine how big and imposing the temple is
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
The 7 storeyed 'gopuram' or entrance tower
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Stories of Lord Vishnu on the walls of the entrance passage
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
A large courtyard with many pillared pavilions
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Remains of beautiful sculptures
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
The ruins of the temple with the hills of Gingee behind them
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
The huge empty passage around the temple
Now the next temple - I don't remember for sure, and am unable to confirm looking at my photos, but I think this tiny temple by a pond is dedicated to Lord Ganesh. So charming, no?
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
There are still tons of photos from Gingee sitting on my hard disk, but I'm not going to bore you with any more :) Check out part 1 and part 2 for more about the fort and how to get there.

Edited to add this warning: This was on a rainy day - on a regular day, the place gets really hot - don't get misled by the mist in these photos :D

Apr 14, 2014

Gingee - The Fort

Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
The Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, is believed to have considered the fort of Gingee (also called Senji or Chenji) India's most impregnable fort. And yet, the fort has apparently been occupied by most dynasties that ruled the region, like the Cholas (who built it), the Nayaks, the Vijayanagara empire, the Marathas, the Mughals, many others in between and finally the British.

Located about 160 kms from Chennai, the fort is built on three hillocks - Krishnagiri, Rajagiri and Chandrayandurg. When you drive into the fort area, it is easy to see how hard it must have been for an enemy army to invade while being attacked from 3 hills simultaneously. Since it was raining pretty heavily when we got there, we could only do one hill, Rajagiri, and did not even climb too far up. A friend said he climbed all three on one day and couldn't even feel his legs by the time he was done!

The Archaeological Survey of India keeps the Gingee Fort really clean. The Rajagiri hillock has an assortment of structures like temples, stables, granaries, tanks and pavilions. Let me now show you some pictures from the hill - mostly from around the base. What would have otherwise been just another (very beautiful) fort, was transformed into a mysterious wonderland by the clouds, the rain and the mist.
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
After spending some time walking about the ruins, we went to a couple of temples at the foot of the Rajagiri hill before beginning the drive back to Chennai. I'll show you those in the next post :) 

If you happen to be in Chennai and have a day to spare, definitely visit Gingee.The road is pretty great most of the way, but traffic can get rough - we saw a very gruesome accident on the way back :( I'd totally recommend going in the rains, but ONLY if you are a very very very careful driver. Wear sensible shoes and carry snacks and water with you - I didn't notice any shops around the fort. There is a lot of vegetation all around, making it a great place to spot some cool birds.
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
A lily pond on the way to Gingee