Bhilar: The Centre for India’s First Book Tourism

Much has been written about travel and tourism in India and abroad. But how much are Indian citizens aware of the phenomenon of Book Tourism? The Pustakanch Gaav in the village of Bhilar, near Mahabaleshwar , has turned itself into a unique destination for Book Tourism. The concept of the village is very interesting and it’s an epitome of our cultural philosophy, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. There isn’t any central library in the village. These books are placed in 25 houses and the local temple, where residents have opened doors to total strangers for their common love of books.

There are about 15,000 titles which are organized in 25 distinct genres. A few genres are very unique; for instance, the Diwali Ank (this is a collection of Diwali edition of magazines in Marathi language) and The History of Shivaji Era (this is a collection of books on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj). Genres such as Humor, History, Poetry, Science, Feminism, Culture, Hagiography, Children Literature, Travel, Biography, Short Stories, Novels, Award Winning Literature, Exhibitions and Newspapers are also present. While the book village houses a few books in English language, the vast majority are in Marathi language. The walls of the houses are adorned by colourful paintings. It is interesting to know that the paintings outside a house reflect on the genre of books that are available inside. According to the Education Minister Vinod Tawde, “Seventy-Five artists have creatively designed the 25 locations with support from Asian Paints Ltd.” The tourists are given a catalogue to browse through upon their arrival in the village. This helps them to understand where different genres of books are housed. The readers are given access to a vast treasure trove of book free of cost, although a minimum amount might be asked for contribution towards the maintenance of these mini-libraries.

Paintings outside houses which have opened mini-libraries

The Origin of India’s First Book Village:

The idea of a book village is the brainchild of the Maharashtra Education Minister, Mr Vinod Tawde. Inspired from Britain’s Book Village situated in Hay-on-Wye near Wales, he set on to build a similar book village in Maharashtra, India.  This project was inaugurated in May 2017 by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The Times of India reports that according to Mr Tawde, “Around 15,000 books (in Marathi) would be made available in the village premises.  Also, the state has provided several facilities such as chairs, tables, decorated umbrellas, and glass cupboards to local villagers to help them enhance the reading experience of literary connoisseurs visiting there.

Resident Involvement:

The volunteers have expressed that the project and the resident’s involvement in it are completely not-for-profit in nature. Residents are simply supporting the Government initiative and there aren’t any monetary gains in return. The key driving forces of this project are passion for literature, appetite for knowledge consumption and enthusiasm for promotion of culture. The total population of around 3000 people has collectively turned Bhilar into a Sanctuary of Knowledge promoting not only dissemination of knowledge but also a unique concept of book tourism. In contemporary times, given the rising level of security concerns, it is not easy to open one’s doors for complete strangers. But the passion and enthusiasm the people of this village feel towards this project and towards sharing the habit of reading, has made them forget security concerns and welcome guests like one of their own; connected to them by the invisible thread of love towards books.  The residents have also started contributing towards the infrastructure which would sustain this project. Some have built additional staircases to separate the library from the main house; many also provide meals upon prior request.

Bhilar itself is undergoing a change. With the residents being aware of the large volumes of tourists coming to visit the village, they have started keeping a vigilant eye on the beautification and cleanliness of the village. The residents have become more responsible and disciplined in their approach towards life.

Tourist Accommodation:

Coming to travel, accommodation and food; Pustakanch Gaav is very strategically located in Bhilar. Good connectivity by road makes travel easy.  There are hotels and home stays. A few home stays charge just about Rs. 500/- per night if the sole purpose of the visit is reading. Other accommodation options range from Rs. 1,200/- to Rs. 1,800/-. Authentic Maharashtrian cuisine is something that you’ll cherish. Although, the weather in Bhilar is pleasant, it can get a bit chilly in the winters and monsoons.

Responses from the Tourists:

Pustakanch Gaav is getting positive responses from the travellers and guests. Being situated close to Mahabaleshwar, which is a tourist hotspot, many have started including a visit to Bhilar on their holiday itinerary promoting the concept of book tourism. Most tourist come with their families or alone to spend some quiet time browsing through books. They are in awe of the concept, as it is very new in the state and India as a whole.  This has benefited the youth population in a larger way. Instead of going out of the boundaries of their village in search for books on competitive examinations, they are now made available to them in the comforts and precincts of their own village through this project. The elders of the village are now quite relaxed seeing their children slowly imbibing in the habit of reading while staying away from electronic distractions for at least a few hours a day.

Tourists enjoying the books from the vast collection housed in Bhilar

The Future of Pustakanch Gaav

According to Mr Fadnavis,“With this concept, the residents of Bhilar have carved a niche for themselves in the country’s social scene. Henceforth, Bhilar will be the definitive destination for bibliophiles and I urge litterateurs and publishers to freely host events here for the promotion and preservation of literature and literary ideas.” Currently the mini-libraries of Bhilar houses only Marathi and a few English titles. But there are plans of expanding the project in the future by adding volumes by Munshi Premchand, Barsanelal Chaturvedi, Harishankar Parsai. There are plans of stocking up the libraries with books of other languages like Gujarati and Tamil. Apart from this, events like book meets, poetry readings and the like would also be organised in the near future.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 4- Arati at Dashashwamedh Ghat

The two times I had seen Dashashwamedh Ghat , it was the epitome of peacefulness and serenity with few souls , probably tourists wandering here and there clicking photographs and selfies. Some Godman had permanently settled themselves in the steps of the ghat and were quite oblivious to the daily happenings in the trance of their Gutka’s and bidis. Oh and you cannot forget the cows! But this time it was different, every inch of the ghat steps was filled with people waiting patiently for the Ganga Arati to begin. The young and the old, the tourists and the locals, the rich and the poor, the newly weds and those who have seen many ups and down in their lives; were all gathered together to witness the homage paid to the river Ganga.

Visitors awaiting the start of the Ganga Arati

Vendors sold garlands and lamps which can be offered by the people during the ceremony and floated in the Ganges afterward. My friend told me that each ghat had it own separate community which conducted the arati every evening. In the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it was the Ganga Seva Nidhi . I could sense the heat of the full beamed lights even though it was the cold month of January. The speakers were on full volume playing ‘Radhe Radhe which continued for a good sixty minutes.

A pandit engaged in prayer before the start of the event.

Suddenly out of the sea of people, I saw five pandits emerge. They were the ones who would conduct the ceremony. They took some time off and meditated before beginning the actual ceremony. Dressed in beige dhoti and magenta kurta, surrounded by yellow lights, they looked majestic in this royal ambiance. What more they even have live singing of the bhajans! With the people ready and awaiting this grandeur experience, the stage set; all that was left was for the arati to begin.

The Ganga Arati in action

With Bhajans in the name of Lord Ganesh, Ganges, Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna the arati went on for almost an hour after which just as people had emerged in flocks from all around to witness the event, they left in a jiffy and went about carrying their own businesses. The completely occupied ghat became unoccupied and desolate in a matter of hardly ten minutes.

We decided to head back to our hostel after a long day’s sightseeing. But before that Lassi was on our list. It is a shame to come to Varanasi and not try out some of the delicacies the city is so famous for. After trying out some amazing lassi, we even stopped at the paan shop; after all, Benarasi Paan is world famous, right? The temple of Khichdi Baba fell on our way to the hostel. Interestingly, my friend told that the eyes of the Khichdi Baba are always wide open and close only once a day when Khichdi is offered to him.

Benaras is full of stories and legends. One trip is not enough to uncover them all. This was my last visit to the Dashashwamedha Ghat during this trip, but I hope I would return someday again to witness the grandeur of this place again. We had a long day ahead of us and decided to call it a day. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sarnath and Ramnagar Fort were also in store for us as part of our sightseeing- and we did have to get up early to cover all these places. More about them in my next post.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 3- The Chase and the Walk

Much that I love Varanasi, it can be annoying at times ; when the roofs of the houses are so close that you can almost hear someone singing ‘Tip Tip Barsa Pani’ while taking a casual walk on a certain roof, when you are taking a bath.  Nevertheless, after a quick refreshing bath, I found my friend engaged in giving directions to our friend who was almost going to join us five hours later than the allocated time. She hurried downstairs to help him finish with the check -in procedures, while I stayed back to soak in a view of my temporary neighbourhood. I saw a boy desperately taking a walk in anticipation and trying to free his kite that was stuck in a tree and was the prime reason of a fight between four baby monkeys. He smiled at me, understanding that I was a tourist and we started speaking about monkeys, kites, the city and its beauty. After bidding him goodbye, I figured out that I did not even know his name!

Monkeys out on a morning stroll

I turned around to the sound of my friend coming in. After settling down he told the unique story of a certain Mr. P (read Pee) Man, who went on stopping the whole bus at least twice enroute from Delhi and got lost. The bus had to wait or travel miles in the opposite direction to find that passenger and get him aboard each time. Needless to say, all passengers were equally irked with Mr. P Man. After resting for a while we embarked on our mission of finding food in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Godhulia. Our search finally brought us to a South India fast food centre where we gorged on yummy Dosas.

The Dosa Man

We went to see the royal observatory –Jantar Mantar- whose twins sit in Delhi and Jaipur . The intricate wall designs and architecture transported me back to an era gone by. The glass stained windows overlooking the Ganges in white- washed walls was a scene to behold in its true sense. But alas my trance was short lived as I tripped over a manja (kite flying thread). A few minutes later, my friend tripped over it too. And like good, responsible citizens we thought of putting an end to this tripping business and started collecting the never-ending manja thread. Finally, we managed to gather a huge spool of thread and deposited it with the least interested people at the reception before heading upstairs to look at the observatory.

A glimpse of the interiors of the Jantar Mantar

After taking a few photographs we saw some curious pairs of eyes looking at us. Some started running towards us with great pace. All three of us were surrounded by Monkeys – of all sizes. I could hear ‘Bhaag Bhaag’ behind me through clenched teeth. We started walking fast and I could feel a monkey catching onto my coat. Then we started running full- fledged and heaved a sigh of relief when we managed to come downstairs alive and unharmed. Following the Great Monkey Chase, we took a walk along the ghats and opted for a boat ride on our way back. It was by then time for the Ganga Arati, which we watched before finally heading back to our hostel for the day.

Scenes from the Ghats I

For a while I closely started making a mental note of the names of all the Ghats; but after sometime I got so lost that I thought it was best to enjoy the scenes unfolding in front of me than memorizing history. What struck me was the beautiful wall art and graffiti’s. They were of all shapes and sizes. Some had only letters while some depicted designs or even scenes of Indian mythology in various hues. Tourists were learning how to fly kites from the locals and it seemed they enjoyed it a lot. A little further ahead, boatmen were cleaning their boats, cows and washing their clothes simultaneously. Looking at a very colorful structure I climbed up some stairs, only to be chided by the locals for not opening my shoes. It was a temple and one which looked very beautiful and unique with a bright red roof nestled between endless stretches of beige color ghats. At some point scenes of cows, buffaloes and dogs hit my eyes; but the very next moment it shifted to beautiful paintings put up for sale right in the middle of a certain ghat. Then came the burning ghat where someone’s soul was being put to rest. Finally after a long but interesting walk, we reached Assi Ghat and boarded a boat. I was even interested to try my hands at the oars but my friends probably did not want to die by drowning in the Ganges.

 

Wall Painting: Scenes from the Ghats II
Scenes from the Ghats III
The Boat Ride on the Ganges

We were well on time for the Ganga arati to find seats for ourselves. What followed next would be etched in our memories forever. At least, I would not let my friends erase it from theirs for a long time.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 2- The City of Temples

I woke up the next morning to the sound of the alarm I had set on my mobile phone. It was a day to explore and witness the grandeur of the city of Varanasi- a day to explore the temples of education and faith. My friend, who was on a vacation to Kolkata, had two huge suitcases accompanying her. She wanted to drop them off at her hostel and this was the perfect excuse for me to go to the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) also known as the Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay. BHU is one of the oldest universities in India and one which is extremely coveted for its high standards of education.

Kashi Hindu VishwaVidyalay/ Benaras Hindu University (BHU)

We skipped breakfast and hastily got ready to go to the campus and boarded an auto for Lanka (not Ravan’s Lanka), of course, and reached within fifteen minutes through the rugged and rustic roads. We preferred to walk it down to her hostel and she explained some of the major buildings that fell en route. We arrived at her hostel where some familiar faces greeted her. After accomplishing the task that we initially came to BHU for, we set out for exploring the city. My friend insisted on trying the Malaiyo, (a sweet dessert made of malai and topped with dry fruits). Initially I thought it might be heavy, but one spoon of malaiyo and I instantly fell in love with it.

Malaiyo

After a hearty breakfast, we proceeded towards the Assi Ghat. I had heard that there is a Morning Arati in Varanasi which takes place in Assi Ghat but we just could not manage to get up on time to witness it. Nevertheless, it was as beautiful as I could have ever imagined. Lines of boats were parked near the shores. A few handfuls were out on the waters touring tourists and photographers. I saw a flock of birds encircling the sky at a distance. They were making a wonderful pattern over the sky. The temples in the ghat were filled with devotees and a few people were sitting and sunbathing in the January sun on the ghat. We stayed there for about half an hour before making our way out.

Tulsi Manas Mandir

We got on a hand- pulled rickshaw to take us to some of the most famous temples of the city. The Durga Mandir with its own temple pond attracted my attention a lot. Unfortunately, as is with most temples, photography inside the premise was not allowed. I went inside, took a tour and came outside. It was a beautiful red colored temple. We then moved onto the Tulsi Manas Mandir.  The walls of this temple were inscribed with versus from the  Ramcharitmanas in Sanskrit. Outside the temple, miniature statues depicting scenes from the Ramayana was positioned at frequent intervals of each other.

Photo Courtesy: Sumedha Bhattacharya

I was rather interested to take a photograph of me in a yogic position and requested my friend to click a photograph which she obligingly did. Our next destination was the Tridev Mandir where all three deities – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh– are worshipped. Interestingly the stairs of this temple had carvings resembling Mughal architecture.

Tridev Temple

We made a quick stop to Godhulia because I wanted to buy some little curios for my family back home; and what better than the main market of Varanasi to help me decide on the gifts to bring back home. After finishing my shopping, I even took a minute out to visit the Brihaspati temple before heading back to the hostel.

Brihaspati Temple

We reached Zostel around 12:30 pm and decided to take rest before venturing out for lunch. Also, we were to be joined by another friend of ours. His travels were very unique in its own way and would make anyone burst out laughing.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 1 – The Journey To my Dream City

They say this city is as old as the legends, culture, birth of India and life itself. I am talking about no other place but Varanasi. No sooner had I heard that my friend got admission in the prestigious Benaras Hindu University that I started bugging her “Take me with you” or “I will save some money and come over. Let me know when you are free. ” But life planned my Masters outside the country itself. For a year and a half I was sitting and planning out my finances to visit this city. In fact, three months before I left Manchester, I still poked her “What would be the appropriate time to come to Varanasi. I am coming home after 3 months. This time I have to make it.” Within a month of my arrival back to Kolkata, train tickets were booked, Zostel (my home in Varanasi) was booked and needless to say my excitement was limitless.

I started counting days to my visit to Varanasi and finally that morning came when I was about to board The Poorva Express. I woke up excitedly at 5 am and left for Howrah station by 6:30 am. I saw the sunrise- one of the very few I have seen in my entire life and the very first since coming home. My friend waited for me near the ticket counter. This was to be my first long journey via train and that too out of state. I had promised Ma to call her in intervals. The train surprisingly left on schedule -dot 8:20 am. The scene started changing outside the window- from heavy industrial buildings to blankets of greenery was what greeted my eyes. After a while we ate and continued to chat. The only question I asked throughout was ‘How long to reach Varanasi? ‘ . I deliberately did not ask a lot about the place for I wanted to experience it on my own. Around 7:15 pm finally my friend tugged me to get our luggage’s out , we were arriving at the Kashi junction (where the train does not stop) . I remember requesting a middle aged couple to shift a little so that I can see Varanasi from the windows while the train was passing through the bridge – the beautiful twinkling lights on the ghats and its reflection on the Ganges. This is exactly how I thought of my Varanasi to be. The train finally stopped at the Varanasi Junction or the Cantt. and I stepped foot on my dreamland.

Wall Art outside the Zostel

We hired an auto to drop us off at Zostel . While covering the distance between the station and our hostel, I noticed uneven roads lined by shops and hand pulled stores on each side. There were no traffic signals and vehicles and animals traveled on the same road. The traffic was high but it gave me more time to gauge at my surroundings. When we took the offshoot roads- they were exactly as narrow as they were supposed to be and as I had seen on Youtube videos. Finally after travelling for a good twenty minutes through the roads we reached Zostel. The first thing that struck me about the place was the beautiful wall paintings, doodles, graffiti’s in the building.  Our host was extremely warm and welcoming and explained everything to us. He even gave us a map to keep in handy. (I still have it)

Jantar Mantar

After freshening up, we decided to go for a walk. My friend briefed me that the closest would be the Dashashwamedh Ghat but we would have to walk for a good fifteen minutes through Godhulia. I was very happy to go for a walk during which we encountered two marriage parties and of course their famous song ‘Tu lagavey jab lipistick’; cows, buffaloes and calves walking beside us on the main road, the markets being opened at 9:30 pm, an ocean of people still out on the roads ; beautiful wall paintings outside people’s homes and the aroma of sweets, rabri, malaiyo, and other fried foods coming from everywhere and flaring up my nostrils. The Dashashwamedha Ghat looked ecstatic. After clicking a few selfies, seeing the Jantar Mantar from the ghat and noticing the dwindling strength of people out on the roads, we decided to head back, eat dinner and finally call it a day.

I was in Varanasi for only two whole days and had to fit in everything the city had to offer within those 48 hours –even if it meant sleepless nights!

6 Alternate Things to do in Stratford- Upon -Avon

In my last post, I highlighted the main attraction of Stratford-Upon-Avon (SUA) which includes the mesmerizing history of being William Shakespeare, the legendary bard. But this place has many more attractions apart from being the birthplace of the legend. My adventures took me to a few amazing places. Thus, without much ado, let us embark upon some exciting adventures in this beautiful city.

1.Butterfly Farm:

Butterfly Farm, Stratford-upon-Avon
Butterfly Farm, Stratford-upon-Avon

 I have always been neutral to butterflies. For me, for a long time, they were only beautiful subjects of photography. But a visit to the Butterfly farm changed it all. A short walk from the Avon Canals would lead you to this beautiful museum and butterfly breeding centre. A nominal fee depending on whether you are a student, senior citizen or general visitor would let you enter this museum. If you take your camera along with you (like I did) be sure that your camera is able to withstand heat, as the museum is artificially heated to make it comfortable for the butterflies inside.

The moment I entered the museum, I saw garden paths winding its ways about in serpentine motion. The green foliage of trees were marked be beautiful hues of blooming flowers and on those flowers sat hundreds of butterflies each one of a different species. There were fruits and flowers kept on tables at a distance where the butterflies made themselves comfortable. Statues resembling the Incas were placed at intervals to give the museum an interesting look. There were also seats for the visitors to sit and enjoy the beauty of the multi-colored wings flapping all around. Little boards mentioned the names of each of the species along with some general information about them.

I could see young children chasing the butterflies and parents running after them to get them back on the path, lest they disappear within the thick foliage of trees. The museum had butterflies from all parts of the world. It has a breeding center where pupils were kept to mature into butterflies. I could see people walking about in all directions with their cameras and phones in order to catch a few shots of these beautiful creatures. Some of the butterflies even came and sat on my hands and head which excited a group of children around me. They extended their hands to get the butterflies to sit on them and were very happy when some of them did.

2. Remembrance Garden:

Remembrance Garden
Remembrance Garden

 The remembrance garden is situated right outside the Hall’s Croft. It is a small  garden with benches to sit and relax. Usually, the people take a little halt in this garden while exploring the city to rest their weary legs and continue on with their journey. During dawn and dusk you would find people taking their regular evening walks in the garden and might end up chatting with some friendly locals of this town.

 3. Avon Canal and Markets:

Sights along the Avon Canal
Sights along the Avon Canal

 The Avon canal is one of the main attractions of this town. It flows swiftly through the beautiful town and its banks are always filled with a lot of activities. You can hire boats for boating, opt for a group tour of the river on a chartered boat, take a look at the vibrant weekend markets on the banks , stroll about on the beautiful gardens or sit quietly under a try to gorge on some amazing snacks. On my first glimpse I was stunned to see people gorging on great snacks but could not see any restaurant. It was then that I figured out that most of the boats parked along one side of the canal were makeshift takeaway food centers. I got my lunch sorted from one of those boats and it tasted delicious.

 4. Tudor Museum:

Tudor World
Tudor World

 ‘Tudor World’ was a sudden discovery while I was walking along the city. Located near the Avon Canal just off the main street, this beautiful museum is known to be the most haunted place in the UK. In fact, there are evening ghost tours conducted on most days and weekends after 7 pm. Unfortunately, since I had to board my return coach at 5 pm I missed the tour but the museum itself was a great experience.

The cobbled stone pathways that lead you to the reception; and middle aged man waiting for you there, all added to the aura of the museum. From the entrance to the reception, the short walk gave you the feel of the place. The large walls covered with decaying creepers, and the rusted windows with faces peering at you, can make you uncomfortable at times. The old tube well, which seemed to have been well out of use for a century and the scattered carts with half-finished pots welcomed me to the museum. A nominal entrance fee was charged for the maintenance of the museum and I was let in to explore the Tudor World on my own.

The exhibits have been recreated to look like the Tudor times. You can actually go and touch them, smell them and even sit on the bed to experience the feel of the era. For it was all about photographing them and getting to know about the times.

 5. Hop- on Hop- Off City Tour:

Famous Heritage Sights of Stratford Upon Avon
Famous Heritage Sights of Stratford Upon Avon

 As with most cities of the UK, which offers Hop-On Hop-Off bus service, SUA also as its own city tours. The tickets can be bought at the bus stop directly and no prior bookings are required. The tour covers all the major Shakespearean attractions including the farms, theatre and Avon canals. As usual there are bus stops to get down at a particular attraction and then catch the next bus to continue with your journey.

 6. Take a walk along the streets of this historical place:

Sights on the Streets
Sights on the Streets

 One of the best ways to explore a new city is to take a walk along it streets. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do. As long as you have a map, which is essential lest you lose your way; it is recommended to take a walk. While I was taking my walk, I figured some interesting facts about the city. Many of the pubs and restaurants are named after the characters created by Shakespeare. Most of the houses including the official district administration, residences and offices have the rustic look of Victorian Age buildings.  In fact, during my walk, I even spotted a skull hanging out from one of the windows Wonder why that was kept there? It wasn’t Halloween when I went.

I would be back again with some of my other adventures, till then leaving you with one of my favorite photos from this beautiful town.

Stratford Upon Avon: Home of the Bard

William Shakespeare is an unforgettable part of English Literature. For generations before us and for generations after, his tragedies and comedies would continue to inspire people. It would illustrate the relevance of his characters composed in the sixteenth century compared to modern-day people. Sharp orators like Octavius, shrewd and cunning wives like Lady Macbeth, over ambitious betrayers like Macbeth would come and go but what would remain sacrosanct is the literary predictions of these personalities that Shakespeare made centuries ago. To understand his literature, it is equally important to understand the man himself and what better to know him from his birthplace Stratford-Upon-Avon.

My passion for both literature and travelling lead me to Stratford-upon-Avon on a bright sunny day. This adventure, in true sense, was my first solo trip in the UK. Upon looking at the itinerary at the International Society Website, I immediately booked a ticket for myself. Thus, we set out on a bright sunny morning from Manchester to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a two and half hour journey down South to reach our destination. After reaching the city, we were left on our own to explore this beautiful place for the day. Stratford is a small town pertaining mostly to the ideologies of Shakespeare but there are a few other amazing places to visit too. This post would highlight only regarding Shakespeare while the next would deal with the other amazing places to see in this city.

I had chosen four very specific places to visit: – Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft and Shakespeare’s Grave apart from having an exterior view of the Theatres while walking around the city.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace:

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The first Shakespeare property that I visited was the house where the famous bard was born. The aura and charm of the house was so sophisticated dated back to the century that he was born, that it almost felt like a portal to the past. Upon entering the gates, at the reception area, excerpts from his dramas were being played. A large display screen showed clips from movies as well. I entered the garden walkway on leaving the reception. The garden was unique in the most interesting way possible. A large board across the garden had all his dramas shortened and visually represented for the visitors to see and read.img_5031

A large pulpit was constructed at one side where actors dressed themselves up as the characters of his play and entertained the guests with monologues and scenes from Hamlet. The ushers in the main building were dressed up in Tudor costumes and narrated the rich history of the house to the onlookers.img_5035

The main highlight of the house was the room where Shakespeare was born.  In fact, the window of this room has been specially preserved. Many actors who have played any character from his dramas have actually come and signed on the window making it all the more special.img_5047

The reconstructed window now overlooks an all year Christmas Market on the opposite footpath. This market is opened 365 days a year selling Christmas curios to the tourists and locals.img_5016

Another interesting display of this house was the glove making chamber. William Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker. His chamber was filled with glove making equipments and ready gloves basking in the sun. The last stop in Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the amazing gift shop which had postcards and books with phrases and scenes printed from his comedies and tragedies.

Shakespeare’s New Place:

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Most of us knew Shakespeare as one of the greatest playwrights the world could ever be gifted; but very few know that he was a family man too. Not only did he marry Anne Hathaway and have three children, but also he was a loving husband and a doting father. He was born in his father home (Shakespeare’s Birthplace) but created his own family home a little further from his childhood home. This family home dated from 1597 to 1616 is called Shakespeare’s New Place. The entrance to this house has been reconstructed to give it the form of a modern-day gate. But I could very well feel the vibe of crossing a threshold on which stood the main gate to this house years ago. Upon entering I found myself strolling on the garden. This garden was huge and various trees were planted in it. It was also interspersed with various sculptures. His chair and desk, sitting on which the ideas of many a great tragedies and comedies came to him was also on display. I had thought the garden ended here, but to prove me wrong the path extended and lead to another garden, bigger than the former. This one called, the Great Garden was the largest surviving structure of the original house.img_5067

After exploring the gardens at leisure I walked into the house itself. The house has been converted into a museum and hosts permanent and temporary display throughout Shakespeare’s days as a writer. From rekindling his way of working to the inspirations behind the characters he created all found a place in this exquisite museum. In fact, some of the displays even contained actual objects from the house before its re-construction.

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Shakespeare’s Will 

Hall’s Croft:

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Further down the road from the New Place, I found myself standing outside the beautiful cottage of John Hall’s Croft. This was the house of Shakespeare’s son-in-law and daughter Susanna. It was active from 1614-1951 before finally being given away to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; the organisation responsible for the maintenance and tours of the Shakespeare properties throughout this city. The house mainly had day-to-day objects in display reflecting on the lives of his daughter and son-in-law. But the major highlight was the room in which Susanna gave birth to her daughter Elizabeth.  

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 Shakespeare’s Grave/ The Holy Trinity Church:

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A two minutes walk from Hall’s Croft lead me to the most coveted destination of my trip Shakespeare’s Grave inside the Holy Trinity Church. The moment I entered the church grounds, the beautiful walkway surrounded by numerous graves on both sides greeted me. The interiors of the church were strikingly beautiful. The atmosphere was filled with peacefulness and solitude. The many visitors inside the church were admiring the wall murals and frescoes.img_5114

I wondered about the church in awe for sometime before realising that I had come for the grave. But I was taken for a surprise when I saw Anne Hathaway, Susanna and Hall Croft’s graves as well lying beside that of Shakespeare. His tombstone said,

                                “Good Friend for Jesus’ sake Forbear,

                                  To Dig the Dust Enclosed Here.

                                  Blessed be the Man that spares these stones,  

                                  And cursed be he that moves my bones. “

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 Theatres:

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I must admit that it took me a while to get out of the beauty of the church. But I had to move onto my next destination. Though, I did not have the time to actually go and watch a theatre but that was no excuse for not having even walked past the Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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Gower Memorial:

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The roads lead me to the Avon Canals and to my last Shakespeare related destination: The Shakespeare Memorial. This memorial was a unique columnar structure made of five sculptures. Sitting in the middle of the structure was Shakespeare himself peering over the mighty characters of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hamlet, Falstaff and Prince Hal that he created. Built in 1888, it is also known as the Gower Memorial. Each sculpture represents a theme- Lady Macbeth represents tragedy, Falstaff represents comedy and Hamlet and Prince Hal are the symbols of Philosophy and history respectively.

Other places to see: Apart from the ones mentioned above, the two other heritage sites to see are Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. In fact, you can actually purchase an all property entry ticket which would enable you to visit all five of Shakespeare’s properties in town. In case you would want to visit only the three I have visited you can settle for a different clubbed ticket too. Their prices would vary depending on the type of tickets and entries to the number of properties you are looking for.

My travels in Stratford -Upon- Avon certainly did not stop at these Shakespeare’s properties and I would be back soon with the non-Shakespeare related things to do in this lovely city.

 

Manchester: Sculpture Walk, 2016

Manchester is a city of wonders. Every where you look, the buildings are beautifully constructed. From colonial architecture to gothic spirals and domes, you would find them on all houses. Even the contemporary apartment buildings have been made on the grounds of erstwhile important commercial markets or have unique designed which need to be noted. I am not an architecture student, but definitely am interested in the atistic architecture of the houses of Manchester. In fact, each architecture and sculpture has its own story. While some are symbols of power, some have been gifted and others are lone remains of flourishing trade. This post is on the Sculpture Walk of Manchester where,  I travelled to some of the known and unknown alleys of the city and captured the sculptures and its histories. I have done it only for Manchester, but every city has something to say through its sculptures and it can be conducted anywhere on Earth. 

Manchester pubs are really cool places to be in. You can sit inside on cold and windy days and enjoy the view over a glass of wine and a delicious platter. You can sit outside on the chairs provided in the pavement on sunny days and enjoy the rare natural warmth of the weather. The third thing that you can enjoy, is the architecture of the pubs. Some of these pubs have been built in the original infrastructure of the buildings. Thus, even if the interiors are modern, the outside architecture has sculptures and artworks all over it. The one taken above is from a restaurant in the Northern Quarters (It serves awesome pizzas BTW 😛 ).  This beautiful sculpture appears at the entrance to this eatery. 

This has been shot from the wall of an under-renovation building off Rochdale Street. The walls of this building is adorned by beautiful graffiti’s  and artworks.  The vents (as the one  above) has semi circular sculpted patterns. 

Travelling back to 1872, the Smithfield area, now known as the Northern Quarters housed the wholesale markets dealing in fish , vegetables and fruits. There was not a moments peace in the area . The whole street got busy since the wee hours of morning in loading and unloading items. The hustle and bustle of those markets only added to the vibrant and lively atmosphere of the place. These markets were relocated in 1973 to the Openshaw area and what remains today are the sculptures and gates of the erstwhile market. This photograph (above) is from one of the gate. Today, large modern apartments have been built to accommodate the growing population of the city beyond those gates. 

When in Manchester, do not forget to scan the buildings around you quickly. You never know which building has beautiful sculptures engraved into its walls. These sculptures were found on the walls of an office building just off the Picadilly Gardens. In fact, it is not unusual to have sculptures of the buildings’ founder’s engraved on the walls . For instance, the University of Manchester as a sculpture of its founder and so does the Town Hall of Manchester. 

This floral pattern has occupied most of the walls of another office building near Picadilly Gardens. This long column joins the ground floor with the top floor balcony. Columns are important parts of the architecture here and why waste the space by leaving it blank when you can fill it with beautiful artwork? 

Queen Victoria needs no introduction. Known as one of the longest reigning monarch of the UK, many sculptures and statues have been built to honour her. One such statue is the one sitting at the Picadilly Gardens, Manchester. The erstwhile Queen herself sat for the artist Edward Onslow Ford so that he could build her a beautiful sculpture. Unfortunately, the Queen’s statue was unveiled only ten months after her death in 1901. Today, there are other sculptures besides The Late Queen in the Gardens  but she stands tall as an overarching sculpture in a raised platform. 

This sculpture has been shot from the gates of the Hidden Gem or the St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. This is called the Hidden Gem because it is situated in a narrow alleyway away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life. In fact, it did take me quite a few rounds to find it, the first time I went there. 

Taken outside another eatery in St Anne’s Square, this sculpture deserves a place here because of its neat details and intricate carvings. I especially, liked the two cupid styled sculptures ‘up in the air’. 

These four sculptures and work of arts are scattered around the city. I found them very unusual and thought that they deserve a place in this post. The first photo (from the left) is of The Big Horn on Tib Street and Church Street junction. It symbolizes the introduction of development and newness in the city. It is built by David Kemp. The second photo is unusual as it is a sculpture made of cardboard box cartons. The third is a beautiful artistic impression constructed on the walls of a building. The fourth, is a lovely walkway in Exchange Square. It feels really nice to walk on those disorderly pavements but care must be taken with children lest they fall down and get hurt.  

I hope you like this new endeavor of mine and would support me the same way in which you like my travel posts. Do let me know  which is your favorite among these sculptures.   I would be back soon with another adventure of mine in no time. 

Bury: Art, Memories and Black Pudding

I have a habit of picking up brochures about interesting places, tours, exhibitions, walks and so on. Thus, while browsing one such brochure, I came across the Bury Art Museum. Having done further research it was revealed that Bury is not very far from Manchester and can be easily squeezed into a day trip. What was even better was that the Bury Art Museum and The Fusilier Museum were both a two minutes walk from the bus station.  Hence, without much ado, I choose a bright weekend and boarded the bus to Bury. If you are travelling from Manchester, then the buses 163 and 135 leaving from Church Street are the best buses to catch.

The Metropolitan Borough of Bury rests on the bank of River Irwell. It is most famous for its Bury Markets, museums, arts and culture and of course the Black Pudding. In fact, former Bury resident Sir Robert peel had also served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Bury is well-connected to nearby boroughs through buses and metro links (trams)  I had gone in mind to visit the Bury Art Museum and The Fusilier Museum. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to stay and visit the open air markets or taste the black pudding as it started raining with thunderstorms.

Bury Art Museum:

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One of the most famous art museums in the UK, the Bury Art museum was formerly known as the Bury Museum and Art Gallery before being given its revised name in 2011. The gallery consists of over 200 paintings and sculptures including water colours, oil paintings and sketches. Here are glimpses of some of the best photographs. The section I liked the most was the exhibition of a local photography competition. The photographs were truly inspiring and there was so much to learn about the technique from each of those photographs. At times, it seems that the vision is more important than the camera but one cannot rule out the improvement in the quality of the photographs due to a better camera. The Bury Art Museum is free to enter and would take around an hour and a half to visit all the galleries of photographs, paintings and sculptures. There is a souvenir shop that you can visit to get little tit bits for yourself. You can also order prints if you would like to have them for your personal collections. That apart, you can enjoy some tasty dishes in the local café.

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The Fusilier Museum:

This museum commemorates the more than 300 years of history of the Lancashire Regiment. With the history of the Lancashire Regiment and the World Wars, it is an interesting museum to dig up the past and see how the brave hearts who fought for the country survived and lived. With almost human –like figurines at the exhibitions, at times you get confused whether they are humans or statues. The various artefacts of those days help us in transporting back to those times and almost reliving them. The Fusilier Museum is just opposite the Bury Art Museum. There is a nominal fee of 4.95 for adults and 3.95 for children and concessions. The ticket is valid for twelve months from the date of purchase. When in the museum, you must have a look at the beautiful gardens with gravestones, sculptures and beautiful daffodils in bloom.

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Sightseeing:

Bury is a lovely place to take a walk around in the city centre. As the bus station and both the museums are just in the city centre, we decided to have a little walk around before catching the bus back home. The Bury Church which was unfortunately closed is another must if you love to steal sometime and spend it in the quaint company of the almighty. You can also visit the World Famous Bury markets and pick up little souvenirs for yourself and of course try the black pudding. The Railway Museum is also another place worth visiting but it is more towards the interior of Bury and you would need to catch another bus or a cab to go to the museum.

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Bury is a nice place to spend some time with friends and family. It is a melting pot of history and culture. I would not recommend spending the night here unless you have friends or relatives  but I would certainly recommend a day trip covering all the main sites and activities as it is totally worth it.

My First Liebster Award

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This post is way different from what I usually post about. This is not a travel post and for the first time I have been nominated for the Liebster Awards by a fellow travel blogger at Not All Things Touristy!. I thank her for this nomination and  recommend you guys to check out her blog . So, the Liebster Award is given to bloggers by the blogging community in order to praise their hard work in this field as well as to get to know them better. In this post, as per the rules of the Awards I would have to answer ten questions asked to me by my nominator, nominate ten blogs on my behalf and request them to answer some questions about themselves.

Here are the questions that she asked me :

Where are you from and where are you currently based out of?

I am from Kolkata, India and currently I am in Manchester, UK for higher studies.

 

What inspired you to start blogging?

 A combination of love for travelling, photography and writing motivated me to start my own travel blog. Also, the fact that before I started my blog I used to read other travel blogs and was in full awe of them.

 

For blogging, do you feel more creative at day or night?

 I don’t really have a suitable time when the words come to me. It can be at midnight or even while watching a movie on a similar subject that I would blog about.

 

Are you active on other social media platforms? Which ones?

 I am active on three main social media platforms:

Instagram: subhadrika007

Twitter: @sensubhadrika

Facebook: (Page) www.facebook.com/trekkersoftheeast

 

What are your must haves before you start blogging? (What kind of environment do you prefer for blogging?)

 I need to have my laptop, a diary to scribble and plan out the post, a pen (of course J ), pamphlets of places I have been to so that I can add in more information for future travellers. There should be strictly no noise in the room because I work best in a quiet atmosphere.

 

Do you have a particular favourite blogger?

 I don’t really have any particular favourite blogger. I like to brose through travel blogs mostly and other genres life lifestyle and food.

 

Would you like to pursue blogging as a full-time career eventually?

 I don’t think so, because I want to be a journalist. My professional priority would always be journalism and second to that would be my travel blog.

 

Have you ever attended a blogger’s meet-up in person?  Tell us more if you have.

No. I have never attended a bloggers meet up.

 

What are the top three things/places in your bucket list and why?

  1.  Vatican City- I can lose myself in the beautiful architecture of the Pantheon and the other churches. It has been on my list for a long time.
  2. Benaras/ Varanasi- Something about the evening arati (prayers) on the banks of River Ganga draw me towards this place. Although this might soon be struck off from my bucket list as I have a trip planned.
  3. Austria- ever since I have seen the hills and landscapes of ‘Sound of Music’ it has been on my list.

Tell us about your best/worst travel experience till date?

My best travel experience was a travel vacation I took recently to Wales with friends. It was liberating and culturally uplifting having met tourists from all places and corners of the world. We met, chatted and shared our travel experiences with each other knowing that we might never meet again in this world.

My worst travel experiences are always with the transport delays. In Jaipur my flight was on hold for nearly eight hours and I reached Kolkata ultimately at 4 am. In Manchester, my train to Lake District did not have a coach and I travelled for two hours standing.

 

Furthermore, here are my nominations:

1. Zishan Asad

2.GoBeyondbounds

3.Faded Spring

4.DecoPix

5.Vagrants of the World

6.Ana’s World

7.The Stylish Voyager

8.Siniciliya

9.The World in My Pocket

10.A Busy Bees Life

 

Here are my ten questions to my nominees:-

  1. Please introduce yourselves and your blog.
  2. Describe how did you first get into blogging?
  3. Who/What has impacted you most in blogging and how?
  4. Do you have any favourite bloggers?
  5. How would you rate your blog out of ten?
  6. If there was one thing you would want to change about your blog, what would it be?
  7. What are your future plans with your blog?
  8. Tell us about your best and worst blogging experience till date?
  9. Which Social Networking Platforms are you active on?
  10. If not blogging, what can we find you doing most of the time?

 

I would request my nominees to follow the rules of this award and nominate other lovely bloggers so that each one feel recognised for the hard work that they put in to maintain their great blogs. I would eagerly wait to read their responses. As for me, I will be back soon with another one of my adventures next week.