When Buddha Was Detained In Maldives

A week of laying on the sand and counting waves started by one day of continuous itchy feet and an ad for a Spice Jet flight which promised flights to Maldives for Rs 8000 which got me all excited. That flight was the last cheap thing we had Maldives barring a free octopus magnet that a Maldivian shopkeeper gave my pre schooler.

We landed in Maldives after a short flight from Sri Lanka. We had gone berserk shopping in Sri Lanka because it is rare for Indians to feel rich while converting money. Along with beach ready clothes I also bought a Buddha statue in black stone. I also bought two small statues in brass. We took the flight out from Sri Lanka after an amazing time in Sigiriya, Kandy and Colombo.

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Coral reefs islands and

The descend to Male airport was amazing as I could see coral reefs and turquoise islands. At the airport a customs officer who saw me with a sleeping child called us on priority and helped us enter the country smoothly. After picking our bags and feeling grateful to the officer we made our way to customs, where we were pulled over. Our bags were checked and they asked us if we are carrying a Buddha statue, we said yes.

Well to my astonishment Buddha was held at customs and we were given a ticket to claim Buddha back when we left Maldives as Buddha was no longer welcome in Maldives. Maldives being a 100% Muslim country has a past entrenched in Buddhism which changed in the 12th century with the conquest of a Turkish Muslim ruler. Maldivians are quite proud of being a 100% muslim country right behind Saudi Arabia.

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I was immediately on guard as my swim suit was definitely not islamic. Customs in Male holds things like alcohol, porn, LGBT and other religions at bay from the Maldivian islands. We reached Maldives on the day of Eid and immediately had mixed feelings about this island paradise. Recently an islamic group had destroyed all remnants of Buddhist history of Maldives from the museum at Male.

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Male the smallest capital city in the world

Once outside the airport we were whisked out of the airport island in a speed boat that our resort had sent. At resort nothing reminded us that we were in an islamic country. The island could very well have been in the US as every transaction was in US dollars, I did not see Maldivian currency this entire trip. As a traveler I am used to merging with the culture of the country I am visiting, understanding their history, way of life. I felt a bit cheated in that sense as resort islands operate on a completely different way of life and are intentionally separate from the local islands.

After the first day of trepidations the sea came calling. The coral reefs, aquatic life, wild dolphins and the joy of shallow turquoise water and days of being beach bums are the memories I took back finally. I also did my beginners PADI scuba dive and had one of the highlights of my travels as the realization that I have only scratched the  surface when it comes to traveling became further apparent.

As we left Male after a week of some hard core tanning, Maldives looked quite different to me as I saw women in hijabs working in posts that were usually male dominated in India. Met locals at Male, made friends with a Maldivian kid who became bum chums with my 4 year old from the get go.

Why I Followed Three Young Girls Last New Year In Goa

The beaches of Goa are a lot of things for a lot of people in India and abroad. It is a ritual, a place where you can let your hair down, beaches, sand, sea and unfortunately – the marketing also includes babes! Babes just like the sand, the sea shells, the shacks; said in the same breath as if they are kept there for male enjoyment; babes who wear their swim suits so that it adds to the ambience!

As a member of this section of society who has been reduced to an object, the gaze that followed me bothered me greatly on this trip. I hardly got into the water this time around, much to the chagrin of my husband who had hoped for a lot more beach hopping. All around me on the beach I found men leering, with video cameras tuned to the sea to capture women in their swim wear. The argument which they have completely internalised is that good women don’t go out, don’t enjoy themselves and are always covered even if they are in the water and hence they are ‘allowed’ to do what they please with the ‘bad’ ones.

 

Since women from many other countries  have not grown up in this oppressive culture, their natural point of view is of freedom which these men take for granted as they partake in their yearly ‘boys’ trip to Goa away from their families and (preferably fully covered) wives.

My last trip to Goa was on a New Year when Goa is packed with tourists both from within the country and from abroad. Goa this time around seemed different to me with tourism and its effects creeping up on menus, sign boards and everywhere possible. On New Year’s night we decided to go to Calangute beach which was a stone’s throw away from where we were staying. The shacks were brimming with families, men, women – old and young; however, closer to the water the scene was slightly different. The beach had many groups of men drinking, all the way from Calangute to Baga. It was New Year’s and I am not opposed to the drinking or merriment, but why does the merriment have to be at the expense of someone else?

In front of us three young Caucasian girls were walking, possibly on their way to Bagha beach and as they crossed, every group of men either catcalled at them, called them sweetheart, darling, or tried touching them as they strode past. Possibly because we were walking right behind them, it was some protection for them but not enough. The men however seemed pleased with themselves by calling three random girls minding their business darling or something more ludicrous. The glee the men had on their faces was what disgusted me the most.

As a responsible traveler I am not of the opinion that India is unsafe in its entirety or even that Goa is unsafe, because it is not. Many women and men travel across India and the tales of good times outweigh the bad and horrific incidents. I hope that we are able to shed these twisted and hypocritical rules and stereotypes that we have for women. These notions are causing damage to women every single day.

First published on Women’s Web. Pics credit Pixabay.

Bahubali Reminds Of Kumbhalghar Fort

In preparation of watching Bahubali 2, my household was watching Bahubali – The Beginning as revision. I went and watched Bahubali 2 in Telugu even though I don’t understand the language completely because a lot of the meaning and emotions get lost in translation in the dubbed versions. The one thing that struck me was how many scenes from Bahubali had similarities from the folklore we heard at Kumbhalgarh. Ofcourse the stories of Kumbhalgarh, Chittor and Maharana Pratap Singh are different no doubt but certain scenes evok familiarity.

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The stories surrounding Kumbhalgarh fort is a genius in architecture and warfare. The scene where Bhalladeva’s son walks headless after his head is chopped off by Shivdu is one such scene. The genesis of Kumbhalgarh fort has a story of a saint whose head was chopped off and his headless body kept walking on till it reached a point and there his samadhi was made. In this day and age these stories seem horrific but they lived in different times.

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The scene in Bahubali with his foot on an elephant is another such scene as the battle story of Maharana Pratap includes the legend of how his horse Chetak stood with its forelegs on the elephant as Maharana Pratap killed the invading enemy. Maharana Pratap was known for his brilliance in warfare and not just using brute force or the might of the army.

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In Bahubali 2 (*spoiler alert) Bahubali goes and lives in exile and his subjects follow him. Similarly in Maharana Pratap’s story he lives in exile leaving his kingdom till he gets back his kingdom, in both stories the reasons are different and Maharana Pratap is history and folklore and Bahubali is brilliant fiction but I can’t stop but see parallels. Maharana Pratap had tribal soldiers in his army as he went to war against the invading forces much like Mahendra Bahubali has tribal chiefs on his side and uses guerrilla warfare tactics in the second part.

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Kumbhalgarh fort similarly has seen its fair share of trials and conquests, the fort is hidden in the Aravali mountains and can not be seen by an approaching party, unless one is a mere 5 kms from the fort. The fort also boasts of the second longest wall in the world which still embraces the fort and holds strong even after its inhabitants have long left. However there are two small hamlets still inside the fort where villagers stay. The fort also has 100’s of temples inside the complex.

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The fort has also stories revolving around how a prince was bought to the fort when his life was in danger and he grew up inside the fort training to avenge the wrong. Kumbhalgarh and Chittor is full of such amazing plot lines, twists, treacheries and fates that changed the lives of the people in Mewar in modern day Rajasthan. I got goose bumps in watching the epic that S.S Rajamouli and team have captured on screen and to think that there were actual people and kingdoms who lived through similar experiences and extraordinary lives in Indian history is just amazing.

Pics Credit : Photos of Kumbhalghar Fort credits Traveling Noodles and Razor Rasu. Photos of Bahubali are from screenshots and movie posters.

What Will You Talk About To A Camel Rider In Rajasthan

Sam is a village in Jaisalmer district close to the India – Pakistan border, Sam is known due to the popular Sam dunes which is a tourist spot brimming with dessert camps and tents. The dunes themselves are amazing when it is quiet and natural and sans the hustle of tourists. I know at the time we were tourists too but one can always hope to have a place all to ourselves.

When we reached Sam dunes and our desert camp, we were briefed by the manager who proceeded to tell us with precision what our next 24 hours would look like down to the hour. It was a good thing that we did not listen to him after the first itinerary point because who wants to be told what one should be doing during a vacation, I can’t put up with such pressure (*sigh).

The first thing on the itinerary was a camel ride, it was hilarious for the camel rider as he watched us flip and flop as we tried to mount. After a few attempts he offered us his salwar clad knee so that we could scramble up the camel. He was an old man who said that he is farmer and some of this land belongs to him but this year there were no crops. Considering the sand around us it was difficult to fathom any type of cultivation there. He wore a turban loosely tied on his head and a pastel colored loose salwar kurta, his lips were pan stained and his camel wore polka dots with distinction.

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He led his camel almost stoically across the sand towards the dunes where the desert air carried the sounds of people squealing in merriment on the sand buggy rides. One of the first questions he asked us, after asking where we were coming from was whether there were muslims in Bangalore. He spoke Hindi with us but with a distinct tilt to it much different than the accent one hears in the marwadi heartland. I wanted to know what his camels name was because after all the camel was carrying us two city folks and I felt obliged to make a connection. Turns out that the camel was called Pappu.

At the dunes, we met a kohl lined camel rider who insisted that we try the sand buggy or jeep ride, he seemed amused by my apparent disinterest that he took it as an affront. He spoke at length at how all the tourists who came had ‘majaa’ on the sand buggy. Soon the conversation turned to when Bajrangi Bhaijan was shot at location near there and how the crew did not allow locals to see the shoot. The locals apparently decided that this was their land and no one can keep them off it and barged in at the shoot to which the crew amended that the locals can see the shoot but needed to be quiet which was something more amicable to locals there.

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Watching the sun setting at Sam dunes over the fairy tale that is Rajasthan

The conversation also took us to their village in Sam and how it was off limits to tourists because of permits that were required as a border town. A specific village that had gone to Pakistan during the war and then came back to Indian territory. He also insisted that the dessert camps are a sham and are only manufactured experiences. I was quite on board with this particular assessment as I found that the dessert camp experience while good seemed a bit forced with its banjara dances to Bollywood music, rich food and alcohol while the dessert lay silent and the camels hmmphed all around us.

We continued talking as our camel was ferrying a few other passengers and our elderly camel rider promised to come back for us shortly leaving us alone on the dunes. It gave us a chance to soak in the cold dessert air, the stars beginning to twinkle above us and an offer for tea from the kohl lined camel rider. He then spoke about how we should actually stay at a village where people will be more than welcoming and sleep on a charpoy under the stars and then claim to have had an authentic dessert experience. The premise was very tempting but unfortunately we weren’t the type to walk into a village and ask to be fed.

As we watched our camel rider come back for us with the camel against the backdrop of the setting dessert sun, I felt grateful for having stolen this moment away from the regular tourist trappings and feel the sand run down my fingers.

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