Monday, September 23, 2013

Bonderam - The Flag Festival of Divar Island, Goa

With the objective of seeing more of Goa than the usual sun, sand and surf, we set out one Saturday afternoon to the quaint island of Divar in the Mandovi River. Divar Island, which hosts the colourful festival of Bonderam, is situated roughly 12 Kms north-east of Panjim, the state capital. It is reached by ferry from Old Goa as well as Ribandar.

A little background on this ‘one of its kind’ festival. The "Bonderam" festival is celebrated on the Island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. The word "Bonderam" originated from the involvement of flags. "Bandeira" is the Portuguese word for flag. It is stated that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent disputes between two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property issues. These often led to violence and fights in the village. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags. The rival groups, however, knocked down the demarcation flags sometimes with stones. Till recently, in a parody of the past, this was commemorated with a "Fotash" fight (toy weapon of bamboo stem) and berries were used as missiles in a mock fight between rival groups to knock down an offending flag. However, today this practice has been stopped as it has resulted in eye injuries etc. although this bamboo ‘Fotash’ is still visible as part of the parade.

We are a little hesitant to wilfully put ourselves into a place which is bound to be very crowded but our determination to see this unique fiesta overrides all these concerns. And a fiesta it will be, for any event in Goa is inevitably colourful, joyous and an expansive festivity. We reach the ferry point at Old Goa and fall in the queue to board the next ferry. This is probably the first time in my acquaintance with Goa that there is such a long line waiting for the ferry. Not only that, there is a substantial police presence which is efficiently guiding the burgeoning traffic very smoothly without any traffic snarls or inconveniences to local commuters and tourists alike.

In the distance, we see a ferry coming in to dock... and what a pleasant surprise! Even the boat has been draped with multi-coloured flags! The short drive from the ferry point takes us to the fest site. Walking in from the parking area, we join the hordes all pouring into the streets trying to get vantage points to see the procession from. There are bamboo barricades along both sides of the road most of which are already packed with people all waiting for the parade and tableaux to start.

The Ferry
The festive spirit has already reached out to residents and sightseers alike creating a magical, sort of carnivally atmosphere where pageantry and celebration is the order of the day.

People crowding onto balconies and verandahs to catch a glimpse of the festival parade 
At long last, the flag parade starts accompanied by the brass band. The Bonderam festival is declared open! The first of the groups moves forward, little children dancing to a typical Goan-Portuguese number. They are followed by young (and the not so young!) adults performing to the same music. These troupes do their bit, move forward and do a little more of their jig before moving on followed by the floats. Divar has six wards and each ward in the island has its own float. This way, the parade moves forward with the cheering spectators falling over themselves to see and applaud the passing ensembles. Each section of the parade (six, one for each ward) has very distinct themes and music to go with it. I’ll let the pictures illustrate in greater detail.

The dancing starts!

The drummer in the lifesized brass band
From agriculture, fishing and rural markets to fitness and lifestyle, from nature and environment to the indigenous cuisine, the floats depict a very wide variety of ideas and force the onlooker to think and sometimes even introspect about the direction our anglicized, western-thinking-influenced lives are taking.

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Take for example the float titled ‘Revival of Old Traditional Games for Fit and Healthy Life’. Then, the games used to be physical and outdoors, and now they only exercise the digits! Not only the children, even the adults today go to gaming parlours or play at consoles home and elsewhere rather than get out and play a game in the field.

Revival of Old Traditional Games for Fit and Healthy Life

Float depicting the traditional games... Gilli Danda, Tennicoit, Pitthu


Seven tiles or Pitthu

Tennicoit or ring
Addicted to gaming!

Modern marvels...

Addicted to their consoles...


A few speeches between the tableaux have the crowd waiting impatiently for the parade to recommence but the organisers being conversant with this have kept the speeches to a minimum and as the parade resumes, the assortment of intriguing characters and vivid scenes file past.
Nature theme float

Another Nature themed float

Nature theme...
Some random scenes from the Float Parade...

There are scenes from a regular Goan kitchen, preparing the famous Goan Sausages, distilling the local brew FENI or harvesting crop and feeding the cattle as farmyard scenes. All these are interspersed with the exuberant participants young and old alike taking to the streets dancing and singing and their gaiety is so infectious that it is a spirited and participative audience joining in the revelry regardless of caste, creed, nationality or language. It is true that happiness is contagious!

Ploughing the fields...Farmyard scene

Fisherfolk dance

FENI distillation

The procession draws to a close and it is almost dark. The lights are shining brightly in all the homes and the stalls set up for today. The DJ has started revving up the volumes.... It is either westernisation, change in sensibilities or economic crunch that has a hand in it since it is probably the first time that a band is not performing after the parade, just a DJ. All the same, the people are enjoying themselves and sadly, some (domestic) tourists are making a nuisance of themselves by their drunk and disorderly conduct. In fact, the few foreign tourists have actually bothered to dress in Indian clothing and are some of the best behaved here! No more are the ‘scantily clad’, ‘rude’ and ‘obnoxious’ labels reserved for the foreigners (though some may warrant it sometime, not today though!).

A festival banner

Crowds milling around after the parade

The DJ revving up the volume and the energy!
We make our way back to the parking lot and are happy that we attended this quaint and unusual festival for the enthusiasm and passion has been contagious and enlivened our lives and our spirits. Viva Bonderam!

A beautifully lit house at Dusk

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tour of Uttarakhand - Kakdagaad Haridwar

Part 1 Morena is here
Part 2 Lansdowne is here
Part 3 Enroute Joshimath is here
Part 4 Badrinath is here
Part 5 Auli - Tapovan - Kanchula is here
Part 6 Chopta Tunganath is here
Part 7 Devariyatal (Deoriatal) is here.
Part 8 Kakdagaad Haridwar is here.

Despite the fact that no views of snow clad peaks or reflections were visible in the beautiful emerald waters of the Tal, Devariyatal has been an uplifting experience. We tidy up the baggage in the boot of the car and start out towards Ukhimath in the rising heat of the day. We had had a flat yesterday at Kanchula Kharak and our priority at Ukhimath today is to get it fixed. The mountainous roads with their numerous bumpy landslide areas do not generate any confidence without at least a spare tyre in good condition. 

Mission duly accomplished at the first auto repair guy we see, the bypass is taken to head out towards Kakdagaad without entering Ukhimath. Kakdagaad is a very small settlement just 4-5 kms south of Kund on the Rudraprayag road. A well known birding guide Mr Yashpal Singh Negi has a little place there called the ‘Mandakini Magpie Birding Camp’. It is right on the banks of the gushing Mandakini. This is where we are headed. At the end of our long driving trip, we intend to dedicate the last full day to birding. 

The Camp is reached in quick time... we do not realise it is so very close to Kund. We have not warned them of our lunch requirement so when we enquire about the availability; we are offered Khichadi as the quickest option which we accept with alacrity. This place seems to me to be just a collection of 5 – 6 little dhabas and this camp. A few yards down the road are two small houses. Some of these dhabas are run by the locals, some by Nepali migrants (or maybe they just come in the season time) and one even by a Bengali. There are a number of organised tour buses passing by here during the pilgrimage season and these joints cater to the specific needs of these various groups.

Mandakini flowing alongside our camp

After lunch and a short nap, we are ready to explore the surroundings. Another (Bengali) family is put up in the room just a half level up. The lady is evidently setting out for some birdwatching with camera and guidebook in hand. We tag along quite happily. A hundred metres away is a bridge across the stream which joins the Mandakini here. Right under the bridge is where we are headed. The path which leads us down to the water’s edge is very precarious. All rubble and loose mud which on the steep incline makes us slip and slide all the while hanging onto the (expensive) equipment we are carrying. There is birdsong all around.

Making our way over the small and large stones on the edge of the water, we come to a little space where the water has been channelled away from the main stream into a little pool which serves to attract the small birds for a dip. Taking up positions behind a large boulder, we start our vigil at the ‘swimming pool’ as Negi calls it. We do not have long to wait. Whiskered Yuhinas, White eyes, Western crowned Warblers, Blue-fronted Flycatcher, Black chinned Babblers, Crimson sunbird, Black Bulbuls and a plethora of birds are vying for our attention. An Emerald dove comes along for a dip but shies away on spotting us. There are Black Bulbuls with their juveniles and a juvenile Brown Dipper bobbing away in the water. Plumbeous Water Redstarts are zipping across the water; the Black lored Tits are plentiful; the Verditer is as common as the crows in the plains; the Great and Blue faced Barbets put in an appearance; the Asian Paradise Flycatcher adult male with his glorious streamers is flitting around. I am in HEAVEN! So many of these are first sightings for us and we are absolutely astounded with the variety and sheer density of birdlife here.

Black lored Tit

Blue faced Barbet

Blue fronted Flycatcher (f)

Blue fronted Flycatcher (m)

Great Barbet

Oriental White eye

Plumbeous water Redstart

Russet Sparrow

Whiskered Yuhina
As darkness falls and taking pictures is no longer possible we head back. On the banks is a little stone shaped somewhat like a Shivling. The local folks have added some Trishuls and come down to worship at it. We see a brother-sister pair at the little shrine praying. Their sincerity is visible on their animated faces. We reach them just as they are finishing their evening prayers. They are happy to pose for us.

Evening prayers at the Shivling....

We download the huge amount of data from the cameras, charge batteries, dinner and then bed. Bright and early in the morning, we are off on the guided tour with Negi. We walk towards the bridge where we went yesterday but instead of going down to the stream, we cross the bridge and walk a hundred or so yards up the road. A little path goes down to a foot bridge across the Mandakini which we walk across and birding starts in earnest now. Small Niltava, Spotted forktail, Slaty headed Parakeets, Grey Treepie, Babblers, Prinias... we keep climbing uphill and birding as we go along. It is a slow process but the rewards are stunning!

Grey Treepie

Slaty headed Parakeet

Small Niltava

Spotted Forktail

Verditer Flycatcher

Later we go down the road from the camp and see some more beauties. Wedge-tailed green Pigeons, Long tailed Minivets, we miss out on the White throated Laughingthrushes... The Chestnut bellied Nuthatch is very prompt when Negi plays the call from his cell. A very pretty bird this!

The afternoon is spent exploring the riverside. We see the Crested Kingfisher and the Black throated Sunbird. The Forktail decides to grant us close views and comes along to the water’s edge though on the other bank. The Dipper is happy to have us around. A very intensive day of birdwatching indeed!
Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Black throated Sunbird

Brown Dipper (juvenile)

Chestnut bellied Nuthatch

Chestnut tailed Starling

Long tailed Minivet

Wedge tailed Green Pigeon
A small video of a bathing beauty...

We set out for Haridwar early as we want to spend time and hopefully have breakfast at the GMVN hotel at Chandrapuri. On the banks of the Mandakini, it is said to be one of the best located GMVNs in Garhwal. We are not disappointed. The mellow gurgle of the waters here is so soothing, one can just sit on the banks and feel all the stress melt away...

Mandakini at Chandrapuri

There is not much choice for breakfast. Bread/butter/jam or puri-aloo ki subzi. The puri-aloo ki subzi is delicious. Usually not one of my favourite foods, this one is mouth watering! 

Past Rudraprayag, Devprayag and Rishikesh we reach Haridwar. We have some reserved rooms at an ashram at the Har ki Pauri. Parking in the huge car-parks outside, we walk into the congested lane leading us to the ashram. A quick check in, we deposit our overnight bags and step out the other side of the building onto the ghat. It is a revelation! The Ganga flows roughly 15 metres from the ashram. The ghat is well laid out. We turn right towards the temples and the bulk of the crowd.
Sangam at Rudraprayag - Mandakini and Alaknanda

Sangam at Devprayag - Bhagirathi and Alaknanda

Sangam at Devprayag - Bhagirathi and Alaknanda

Hardly a few yards ahead, I am totally horrified and nauseated by what I see... Place stinking to high heavens, people are relieving themselves not 5-6 metres from the water under a foot bridge! I am ashamed to admit these are... INDIANS!

Up ahead and putting some distance between us and this stink hole, we settle ourselves on a bridge at a vantage point and watch the Ganga Aarti at dusk. The lamps set out in the water glow, bobbing along before vanishing quite abruptly in the fast moving current of the Ganges. A lot of piety around us... a lot of it genuine, some feigned and some totally farcical.

Har ki Pauri, Haridwar for the evening Ganga Aarti

Lamp from the Ganga Aarti

Har ki Pauri, Haridwar

It has been an experience not to be missed. For better or worse, it is one of the holiest places in India but our management of it is woefully inadequate (and I’m being very diplomatic!). Also, it’s time we as a people learn some basic civic sense and take pride in ourselves as well as our places of worship and our country as a whole. I live in hope... 

Dinner is at a small Rajasthani Dhaba with really yummy food. One thing we have experienced throughout the trip is that the food has been consistently good in the small places and not once have we had any tummy upsets. It just reinforces my belief that one must have what the locals have in the places that they patronise... one really can’t go wrong then.
Har ki Pauri, Haridwar at night
We leave very early in the morning to beat the traffic which we have come to dread. Even at 0430 hours, the roads are not empty. We reach Gwalior for the night without incident and then onwards to Bhopal. This road trip has been an amazing journey with much to see and much more to learn! Hope we will do something as enjoyable sooner than later. Till then, BYE...