Annakoot at Gaudiya Math, Allahabad

Annakoot — Mountain of food — is celebrated in observance of the episode in Sri Krishna’s childhood, in which He gave protection to the cowherd clan of Vrindavan from the wrath of Indra and humbled Indra in that process. The cowherd, their wives, children and cattle jubilantly surrounded Sri Krishna. They were awed by His superhuman accomplishment and celebrated Sri Krishna’s feat with a sumptuous feast. Thus began the tradition of Annakoot.

Gaudiya Math in Allahabad also celebrates Annakoot. Baba — Jaya’s father — planned to visit the temple at the Gaudiya Math with all the family members for the worship on the day of Govardhan Puja. It’s the next day after Diwali. This year, it was celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor to this ashram.

The Annakoot or the Govardhan Puja celebrations take place on the first day of the month of Kartik which is the first month of the Hindu new year — Vikrami Samvat. The Monsoon season has come to an end and new harvest has been brought in from the fields and grains and cereals are plentiful. To thank the Lord for the good year that has just ended, plenty of delicious foods are prepared and offered to the Supreme Lord.

According to legends, Lord Krishna taught people to worship the Supreme Controller of nature, God, specifically Govardhan, as Govardhan is a manifestation of Krishna, and to stop worshiping the God of Rains, Lord Indra. For Annakoot, a mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan mountain said to be lifted by Lord Krishna to save the people from the wrath of Lord Indra, the demigod in charge of rain.

Annakoot

Annakoot

The devotees gather in the temple and sing kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti is performed and then everyone enjoys a special meal which is prepared earlier.

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We all sat on the floor of the temple with other devotees and had Annakoot prasad, and bhog offered to Lord Krishna. We prayed to Lord Krishna and returned home. Baba was very happy that we all family members went to the temple and had the prasad and bhog.

Dining at Alfresco, Kolkata

On 16 October 2014, I came to Kolkata with my parents for my mom’s health check up at Quadra Diagnostics, Hazra Road.

My dad booked at Great Eastern Hotel in Dalhousie for our stay tonight. It’s the oldest five-star hotels in all over Asia and its establishment dates back to 1840s during the East India Company rule in Kolkata. The hotel has been in top charts since then. The location of the hotel is very good as it’s in the heart of the main business district of Kolkata. All the big and reputed companies have their establishment around.

The hotel is quite huge with three separate restaurants. One of them is on the lobby named Alfresco, which is a multi-cuisine restaurant accompanied with a café.

We walked in there for our dinner. Well it is a very beautiful restaurant. As the name literally suggests ‘outdoor’, all the arrangements are like sitting in the outdoor porch or a tent with circular glass cane table and cane chairs complemented with sweet chirping of birds making you feel sitting at a garden in the open. The ambiance made us feel good. My mom was tired of the journey started feeling refreshed there.

We had a hard time discussing the menu since there were a lot new dishes on the menu card. Finally we settled for ‘mushroom cappuccino’ soup for my dad and me and my mom had ordered for hot and sour soup as she doesn’t like mushrooms. As the name mushroom cappuccino soup it was served in a cappuccino cup, yah truly in a cappuccino cup with cookie shaped baked breads! The innovative cappuccino was a rich, earthy soup made with mushrooms and served exactly like cappuccino. The froth and color was very much similar to the cappuccino that we generally have at the café. The presentation was awesome. The innovation was really appreciable.

Along with that they served some breads and green salad. Also we ordered for chicken Caesar salad which was equally delicious.

But for us, the star meal of the dinner was the traditional Bengali dish: ‘posto murgi’, which we ordered in the main course. The concept of posto (poppy seeds) murgi (chicken) was awesome. The idea of posto with some non-vegetarian item is really novel and a peculiarity of Bengali cuisine.

The taste of the chicken in poppy-seed paste was even more delicious than I had expected. Along with that we had preserved breast chicken which was chef’s special. It was a chicken steak along with steamed omelets.

Lastly we had fresh lime soda (sweetened) before leaving the restaurant. The food was so great that I would say that this place should be visited once again and enjoy the foods here. I’m loving it!!!

Ugrasen ki Baoli, New Delhi

I went to Delhi for attestation of documents by Iraqi embassy. So, Jaya & Babai also accompanied me to Delhi from Ranchi.

After depositing the document at Ministry of External Affairs for their attestation before it’s attested by the Iraqi embassy, Babai & I went for a walk from Patiala House towards Connaught Place. We then walked into the historic Ugrasen ki Baoli.

Ancient Indians used to build water temples as well as earliest forms of step wells and reservoirs.

Ugrasen ki Baoli (a.k.a. Agrasen ki Baoli) is one of such step wells in Delhi.

It is designated a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). It’s a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Baoli or baori is a Hindi word (from Sanskrit vapi, vapika). Water temples and temple step wells were built in ancient India and the earliest forms of step well and reservoir were also built in India in places like Dholavira as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen during the Mahabharat epic era and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen.

The Baoli is a unique blend of architecture with an impressive design known to have existed centuries ago. The red stone walls of the Baoli, dressed with a series of arched structure are grim and desolate, but still beautiful.

The Baoli is made up of a series of superimposed arches supported on piers or columns. It consists of 103 steps made of red stones.

The Baoli had water till recent times, but now it has dried up and one can see the bed of the reservoir, full of bird feathers and droppings.

It is well known for the pigeons and bats residing in the lofty places of the reservoir.

It is a cool and silent place in the heart of the capital. The silence deepens as one moves to the bottom of the stairs, and the gradual increase in the gurgling sound of pigeons, and squeaky chatter of bats echoing off the stone walls makes this place creepy.

The mystic architecture is definitely worth a visit.

After enjoying the magnificent baoli, we walked into Amber Bar in Connaught Place for a couple of glasses of beer.

India Gate, New Delhi

India Gate is the pride of Delhi. An imposing structure, the gate was built in memory to the of the 90,000 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during World War I.

The India Gate is a war memorial located astride the Rajpath. 13,300 servicemen names, including some soldiers and officers from the UK, are inscribed on the gate.

The India Gate, even though a war memorial, evokes the architectural style of the triumphal arch.

In 1971, following the Bangladesh Liberation war, a small simple structure, consisting of a black marble plinth, with reversed rifle, capped by war helmet, bounded by four eternal flames, was built beneath the soaring Memorial Archway. This structure, called Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the Flame of the Immortal Soldier, since 1971 has served as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

During the night, India gate is dazzled by floodlit and the fountains nearby are lit up with colored lights. People throng the lawns around the India Gate in the night.

We went there yesterday to enjoy the splendor of India Gate.

There are many vendors selling tea, ice creams, chanachur etc. We spent sometime there and returned after having dinner at Pindi Restaurant in Pandara Road, New Delhi.

Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

I have come to Delhi with Jaya & Babai for a couple of days for getting my graduation degree attested by Iraqi embassy in New Delhi. We are staying at hotel The Park in New Delhi.

A lovely view of Jantar Mantar from our hotel room window

It’s just opposite to the iconic architectural masterpiece of 18th century – Jantar Mantar.

We today visited the Jantar Mantar site. Jaya & I remembered this place as Jaya used to wait with Babai in the lawns of Jantar Mantar for me to come from office and pick them up for shopping etc in Connaught Place area.

The Jantar Mantar is an equinoctial sundial, consisting of a gigantic triangular gnomon with the hypotenuse parallel to the Earth’s axis. On either side of the gnomon is a quadrant of a circle, parallel to the plane of the equator. The instrument is intended to measure the time of day, correct to half a second and declination of the Sun and the other heavenly bodies.

The jantars have evocative names like, Samrat Yantra, Jai Prakash Yantra, and Mishra Yantra; each of which are used to for various astronomical calculations. The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets.

ASI is carrying out some renovation at the site

Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. This is the most significant, most comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories.

It is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.

The site is one of five built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur as he was given by Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables. The construction was completed in 1724.

The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. Some of these purposes nowadays would be classified as astronomy.

Between 1727 and 1734, Jai Singh II built five similar observatories in west-central India, all known by the name Jantar Mantar.

They are located at Jaipur (Jantar Mantar (Jaipur)), Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi. While the purpose of the Jantar Mantars is astronomy and astrology, they are also a major tourist attraction and a significant monument of the history of astronomy.

Kojagori Lakshmi Puja

People of Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Orissa worship Goddess Laksmi on Kojagori Purnima night — the full moon night in the month of Ashwin of Bengali calendar, just four days after Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera — the last day of the Durga puja in the month of October.

It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, and prosperity, visits every household on this full moon night and blesses them with sheer promise of wealth, fortune and good luck.

It is also a common belief that in order to guide goddess Lakshmi to the households, residents lit up deep, earthen lamps on the terraces or balconies especially to show the path inside the house.

It’s customary at our house to Lakshmi puja every Thursday and also on Kojagori purnima. After several years, all of us are at home on this day. It was nice that we all together performed the puja at our house. Babai drew alpana with rice powder paste, while I made all other arrangements and performed the puja. Jaya cooked the bhog.

Alpana refers to colorful motifs, sacred art or painting done on a horizontal surface on auspicious occasions in Bengal like Puja, wedding or community events. The art typically has some religious significance. This type of art is found on the Indian subcontinent. The word Alpana is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally in Bengal, alpana is strictly white since the liquid paste used for alpana is rice powder mixed in water.

Different items are offered to the goddess like fruits, grains, rice, naivedya prepared from milk products sweetmeats made from coconut and other stuffs. Lamps are lit to ward off evil spirits and devotional songs are sung in praise of Goddess Lakshmi.

After the puja is over, we ate prasad — offerings given to the Goddess. I was reminiscing our earlier days. This puja used to be a grand affair at our house with lots of friends coming to our house celebrate this puja and eat prasad at our house. Jaya & my mother used to prepare prasad and bhog for everyone. This time we didn’t make it a big affair as we are leaving for Delhi tomorrow morning. After puja at our house, we went to Maitraee Club, North Office Para, Doranda for Lakshmi Puja at our club. We had prasad there too. It was a nice evening.

Jaya is advised hysterectomy

Jaya is suffering from chronic pelvic pain, dysmenhorrhea for couple of years along with lower back pain and leg pains. She was under medication but that didn’t solve the problem. We consulted Dr. Indrani Lodh, a gynaecologist in Kolkata. During our last visit, she repeated ultrasonography besides getting other diagnostic tests including CA-125 bio-marker test done.

After seeing the reports, she confirmed that Jaya is a case of endometriosis. Her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus. She even showed me on the monitor that her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus while doing the ultrasound test. The doctor suggested laparoscopic hysterectomy to remove her uterus along with ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The good thing is that CA-125 test confirmed that there’s no malignancy in my wife’s case. Thank God! CA-125 is a protein that is a so-called tumor marker or biomarker, which is a substance that is found in greater concentration in tumor cells than in other cells of the body. It is usually measured from a blood sample. CA stands for cancer antigen. CA-125 is used most often to monitor patients with a known cancer (malignancy) or as one of several tests in the workup of a patient suspected of having a tumor.

Back home, we again consulted another gynaecologist, Dr. Reshmi Roy at Santevita Hospital in Ranchi. She also confirmed endometriosis and suggested hysterectomy.

Both the gynaecologists said that there’s no urgency for the surgical operation, but it’s better got done as early as possible. We are planning to get it done during this winter season.

Many medical websites report that 20-33% women get hysterectomy done and 90% of them are for benign cases. Although, hysterectomy is quite common among women but still I am now worried for her. I hope that everything goes off well and Jaya recovers fast.

Temi Tea Garden

We planned to visit Char Dham in Namchi. We left the hotel early after having our breakfast.

The road to Namchi from Gangtok is via Temi Bazar. The road cuts from the National Highway at Singhtam. The scenic beauty is excellent on the sides of the road.

A Sikkim tourism restaurant just above the river after crossing Singhtam

Temi is famous for its internationally renowned tea, which is sold under the name Temi tea. We stopped at the garden, which is about 60 kms from Gangtok.

One can savour the breathtaking view of temi tea garden from the road.

It’s one and the only tea estate in Sikkim, which produces top quality tea in the international market.

Temi tea garden is considered one of the best in India and in the world.

The garden is laid over a gradually sloping hill.

The tea produced in this garden is also partly marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea”.

There’s a restaurant selling hot momos and tea. Momo is a type of dumpling native to Nepal, and in some communities in Tibet, Bhutan.

 

We enjoyed the lovely tea with hot momos and fale. Fale (falay) is another Himalayan cuisine but not as popular as momo. Fale is TIbetan style puff pastry filled with minced goat/lamb meat.

Then we drove towards Namchi.

Banjhakri Waterfalls

Banjhakri waterfalls is a popular tourist spot near Gangtok in Sikkim.

We visited Gangtok for a couple of days with Jaya’s father. He wanted to see the institute of Babai and the place too. We reached Gangtok yesterday.

We decided today to visit Bankjhakri waterfalls with him due to its proximity to the city of Gangtok.

It’s around 4 km from Gangtok. The falls is set amidst dense greenery and the theme park itself is littered with ethnic sculptures and figurines of the Jhakri culture.

The waterfall roars down from a height of say 70 feet. Enough facilities have been provided for the tourists to go closer to the waterfall.

The word ‘Banjhakri’ means a forest shaman. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

These shamanistic practices are depicted via the figurines in this theme park. Some of these depict rituals, some healing ceremonies and others the initiation process in the life of a shaman.

Sikkimese style bridges have been built over the water streams and that lead to small view points from where one can get great shots of the waterfall.

Baba couldn’t walk up the stairs to reach the waterfall area, so he sat near the stairs leading to the waterfall and was watching some local boys catching fish in the stream.

It even hosts some decent momo stalls.

Nothing beats a hot plate of momo, aloo dum and a steaming hot cup of tea on a afternoon here. The items were nicely cooked that we repeated the orders.  Then we returned to our hotel in Gangtok via Hanumantok, Ganeshtok and MG Road.

It’s a nice place and worth a visit. It should be on every Gangtok visitor’s itinerary.

Happy birthday, Jaya!

Today is Jaya’s birthday. I sent her flowers and cake to her as I am in Baghdad now through Ferns N Petals.

It was delivered by afternoon. Jaya called me immediately as she got the bouquet and the cake. She was very happy as she was missing me and our son, Babai. She cut the cake in the afternoon and posted her pictures to me.

With as much love, as I can share, I wanted to let you know I care enough to send some love your way, Happy Birthday, sweetheart! I am missing you.