Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Savoy Hotel, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand

The Savoy Hotel is a historic, one of the oldest luxurious hotels in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. It is one of the largest hill station hotel in India. The hotel is built in English Gothic architecture style that flourished in England during 12th to 15th century AD. The hotel is built mostly in wood and spans over 11 acres (45,000 square meter).

The Savoy hotel in Mussoorie, Uttrakhand

Mussoorie became one of the most popular hill stations after the railways reached Dehradoon in 1900. It was a famous summer resort for the Britishers and was popularly known as “the pleasure capital of the British Raj”. Around 1895, Cecil D. Lincoln, a barrister in Lucknow and an Irishman came in possession of the estate of Rev. Maddock’s Mussoorie School. He demolished the school, and built the Savoy Hotel during the next five years. There were no roads, and bullock carts were the only means to carry uphill lots of Edwardian furniture, grand pianos, billiard-tables, barrels of beverage, crates of champagne and other materials including the oak pieces that were later joined to make dining hall floor.

The Savoy hotel full of snow in winters

The Savoy was opened in the summers of 1902 in competition to The Cecil at Simla and The Carlton at Lucknow. The Savoy received a memorable guest in March 1906 when the Princess of Wales (who later became Queen Mary) visited Mussoorie and stayed in the hotel. She also attended a garden party in the Beer Garden on the Savoy grounds.

The Savoy hotel in a bright sunny day

In a tragic incident, Mussoorie was hit by an earthquake soon after the Princess departed. There was a great loss of property and lots of buildings cracked open while quite a few could not withstand the catastrophe and fell down. The Savoy was sealed temporarily due to damage from the natural calamity and was again reopened in 1907 after repairs. In 1909, Mussoorie was electrified, which made the hotel even more luxurious.

The statues and the atmospheric turrets of the Savoy on a misty day in Mussoorie

A rare photograph of HH Shri Bhola Nath Ji attending a function at The Savoy hotel

The Savoy was often visited by many dignitaries such as Maharajas, Chieftains, Princes, Kings of Nepal, Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, the Crown Prince of Laos, and the Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck. Jawahar Lal Nehru was a frequent visitor to The Savoy. In 1920, he stayed in the hotel with his sick mother, wife and Indira who was then a kid. The Savoy orchestra which was renowned for its music was played each night at the ballroom. The couples dances on the music and mostly enjoyed foxtrot (the latest dancing form in those days) in the ballroom.

The rejuvenation of the famous ballroom of The Savoy hotel

Writter's Bar at The Savoy hotel

In the summers of 1911, Miss Frances Garnett-Orme a 49 year old lady and her associate Miss Eva Mountstephen arrived the hotel from Lucknow. Both these women were spiritualist (psychic) who specialized in seances and crystal-gazing. Miss Garnett-Orme was engaged to a British officer of the United Provinces police. However, her fiance died just before the marriage, and it seems that she developed psychic abilities and after the tragic incident.

Crystal Gazing

Miss Mountstephen shortly returned to Lucknow, and then to Jhansi while Miss Garnett-Orme was still residing in the hotel. However, she was mysteriously found dead in her bed couple of days later while the door was locked from inside. After the postmortem, it was established that she was poisoned with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide), a colorless cyanide-based poisonous liquid. The police registered a murder case and started investigation. A few months later, her doctor was also found dead of strychnine (strychnine is highly toxic, colorless and used as pesticide) poisoning.

The novel - "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" by Agatha Christie
The police arrested Miss Mountstephen on the charges of tampering with Miss Garnett-Orme’s bottle of sodium bicarbonate by adding prussic acid to it. People believed that she had used her mystic powers from a distance to make Miss Garnett-Orme add poison to her medicine. However, this theory could not be proved in the court and Miss Mountstephen was proved innocent. The Chief Justice of Allahabad made a remark while delivering the judgment that the true circumstances of Miss Garnett-Orme’s death would most probably remain unknown. This was a legendary case which inspired a detective novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie and a chapter in The Rupa Book of True Tales of Mystery and AdventureIn A Crystal Ball – A Mussoorie Mystery by Ruskin Bond.

Rudyard Kipling had initially written to Arthur Conan Doyle urging him to write a story about “murder by suggestion” centered around this mysterious death. However Conan Doyle neither visited the hotel not did he do any investigation. Instead he mentioned this to Agatha Christie and the thriller The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the result in 1920.

A table rapping seance

It is believed that the halls and the corridors of the historic Savoy Hotel are haunted by the ghost of Miss Garnett-Orme, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances about one hundred and three years ago. Reputed guests at the hotel have heard flushes going off and doors opening mysteriously. They have often sighted something which looked like an apparition (floating silhouette) of a lady. Mysterious sounds of a woman whispering and singing softly has also been recorded. The case was quite a sensation because Miss Garnett-Orme was a practitioner of occult and was involved in crystal gazing and table-rapping seances.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Golconda Fort, Hyderabad

Mouth of Gun Cannon in Golconda Fort
The Golconda Fort, located on the outskirts of Hyderabad is one of the most splendid fortress in India. It was initially constructed as a mud fort around the holy spot by the Kakatiya rulers who came to know about a shepherd boy who found an idol on the rocky hills of Mangalavaram in 1143. Couple of centuries later (1364), the Bahamini dynasty acquired the possession of the fort. However, in 1518, Quli Qutub Shad broke away from the Bahmani Sultanate and formed the Qutub Shahi Dynasty and declared Golconda his capital. Since then, for a period of around 60 years, the first three Qutub Shahi kings reconstructed the fort into a huge granite fortress and expanded it to around 5 km in circumference.

Golconda Fort

Golconda Fort

During the 16th century, a huge outer wall was constructed around the fort which extended the circumference of the fort to 11 km. In 1590, the Qutub Shahi rulers shifted their capital to Hyderabad. In 1686, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb attacked the Golconda Fort with an intention to seize Hyderabad. The fortress was invulnerable, and held out against Aurangzeb for nine months, before falling to the Mughals through treachery. In 1687, a traitor betrayed the Qutub Shahi Dynasty and Aurangzeb's army managed to breach the defenses of the fort. Aurangzeb looted and destroyed the fort and left it in a heap of ruins.

Ruins of the Golconda Fort

Magnificient Fateh Rahben Gun Cannon on top of Adrah Sidiya

Cannon balls in Golconda Fort

The Golconda Fort is an exquisite blend of Hindu and Islamic styles. The fortress which consists of four distinct forts is build on a 400 ft elevated granite hill, surrounded by a wall, which is interspersed by 87 semi-circular bastions. Some of the bastions are still mounted with canons while a few of them are as high as 60 feet high. The fort has eight gateways, and four lift-bridges, and a countless number of royal buildings & lobbies, temples, mosques, magazines, stables, etc. inside.

A mosque at the summit of the Golconda Fort

A beautiful view of Golconda Fort

The Balahisar Gate guarded by statues of lions and peacock carvingsLocated on the eastern side, the Balahisar Gate is the main entrance to the fort and is guarded by statues of mythical beasts and lions. It has a pointed arch that is adorned with scroll work and peacock carvings. Fateh Darwaza, which is adorned with giant spikes, got its name after Aurangzeb's jubilant army entered the fortress through this entrance. Located on the South Eastern side, the Fateh Darwaza is well known for its acoustic effects. Even a small sound such as the sound of clap at a certain point of hand echos and can be heard clearly almost 1000 meters away at the Balahisar Baradari.

Beautiful garden inside Golconda Fort

Darya-e Nur diamondThe diamond mines at Golconda yielded many famous and magnificent diamonds. The fortress city within the massive walls was world famous for diamond trade. Among the most exquisite, outsized and precious diamonds believed to be excavated from Golconda are Darya-e Nur (sea of light), the largest and finest diamond of the crown jewels of Iran was 185 carats (37.0 g), The Koh-i-noor, Nur-Ul-Ain, The Hope, The Regent, Wittelsbach, Idol’s Eye and Beu Sancy.
Darya-e Nur diamond of Golconda

Kohinoor Diamond of Golconda

Nur Ul Ain diamond studden in Iranian Jewel Crown

Nur Ul Ain diamond of Golconda
The Hope diamond of Golconda
The Regent diamond of Golconda

The Wittelsbach diamond of Golconda
The Idol's Eye diamond of Golconda

The Beu Sancy diamond of Golconda 
Among the most prominent structures in the fort are public and administrative structures laid out in a sequence of enclosures, Silah Khana, Mortuary Baths, Nagina Bagh (now in ruins), Ambar Khana (granary), Bari Baoli (step well), a Hindu temple carved out of a huge boulder, and a mosque built by Taramati. The structures also included Akkanna-Madanna Offices, Ramdas Jail, Darbar hall, Baradari, Hammams, Mahals, royal courts that served the capital of the Qutub Shahi dynasty. An ascent of 380 steps from the Bala Hissar Gate finally culminates at the Balahisar Baradari. Far away in the hills, are two separate pavilions built on a hillock - the Taramati Gana Mandir and the Premamati Nritya Mandir where the legendary sisters Taramati and Premamati resided. They performed on a circular platform on the top of double storied Kala Mandir while the King enjoyed the performance from his durbar on top of the Fort.

Mahakali temple carved out of a huge boulder

Mahakali temple carved out of a huge boulder

The romances of the Qutub Shahi rulers is well known. Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah was in love with Bhagmati while Abdullah Qutub Shah fell in love with Taramati. While the fifth Sultan honored Bhagmati by naming the city founded by him as Bhagyanagar (Hyderabad was initially called Bhagyanagar), the seventh Sultan and grandson of Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah created an open musical auditorium with twelve doorways (baradari) which came to be known as Taramati Baradari

Taramati Baradari - Taramati used to sing and dance here and her melodious songs reached the ears of the Sultan

Taramati Baradari

Taramati Baradari is located at Ibrahimbagh on Gandipet Road just outside the Golconda Fort. It consists of a musical auditorium with 12 entrances. The baradari was build on top of a hillock mainly to avoid disturbance to the sound of the performances from the adjoining area. Taramati and her sister Premamati resided in Taramati Gana Mandir and the Premamati Nritya Mandir respectively. A few hundred meters away from Taramati Baradari, Premamati has a mosque to her name.

Light show at Taramati Baradari in the evenings

Both Taramati and Premamati were magnificent dancers and courtesans of the seventh Sultan of Golconda - Abdullah Qutub Shah. Taramati, who was admired for her beauty by one and all was a melodious singer and the most favorite courtesan of the Sultan.

Steps leading to the uppermost structure of Taramati Baradari

Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah - the seventh Sultan of Golconda
According to a school of thought, the structure at the hillock operated as a sarai for travelers during the reign of the second Sultan of Golconda, Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah. Abdullah Qutub Shah the seventh Sultan of Golconda, used to listen to Taramati's songs when she sung for the travelers at the sarai, from the fort almost a kilometer away. Her melodious voice reached to the Sultan by the soft breeze. The Sultan was so mesmerized by her melodious voice that he fell in love with her. He transformed the sarai into a baradari with such marvelous acoustic that her songs could be distinctly heard from the top of the Golconda Fort.

Light and music show in the pavallion

According to another school of thought, Taramati and Premamati were accomplished dancers. They used to display their dancing skills on tight ropes tied between their pavilion all the way to the Golconda Fort’s pavilion.

The stage being prepared for light and music show at Taramati Baradari

The Taramati Baradari was made of mortar and limestone and has terraced garden. It had natural air-conditioning properties provided by a gap in the twofold walls which suctions the air and releases it with accumulated pressure in the chambers. Due to its acoustics, APTDC has converted it to a cultural complex which is dedicated to various music and dance forms as well as events, concerts, performances and exhibitions.

A rare photograph in which the Qutub Shahi tombs are visible from the summit of Golconda Fort

One of the most prominent tombs among the prominent 7 Qutub Shahi tombs

Taramati passed away in 1672. As a tribute she was buried at the royal cemetery along with the Sultans and their Queens at the Qutub Shahi tombs. Premamathi was also buried in the same cemetery after her death. Qutub Shahi tombs are located a further kilometer north-west of the Fort.

Twin tombs of the Taramati & Premamati among the royal tombs

Is Golconda Fort really Haunted?

The fortress is a major tourist attraction and one of the favorite spots for a movie set. Moving around the dark corners, passages, empty wide spaces and large windows of the Golconda Fort is a fascinating experience. Many people have had frightening experiences when they tried to venture deep into the ruins. Most of them believe that the fortress is haunted. An apparition of Taramati often dancing in the royal courtroom is one of the most famous sightings at the fort.

Light Show in the fotress in the evening

Does Taramati's spirit still wander in the baradari where she danced and sang her heart out and the melody was carried by the gentle breeze to touch the heart of the Sultan?

Beautiful Light Show in the fotress in the evening

As per the rumors, the souls of Qutub Shah rulers still roam in the Golconda Fort. Many people have claimed hearing strange sounds from the ancient ruins at night. Some of the tourists have even experienced body-less shadows wandering in the fort. These unknown and unowned shadows come up suddenly shocking up the person who experiences it. There had been instances when some old photographs and pictures were turned upside down by some mischievous ghosts. Utensils have often been seen hurling up against the walls in the Kabootarkhana .

A eye catching view of the Taramati Baradari at night

The people who tend to stay back at the fort after a deadline of 6:00 PM are most likely to witness these paranormal phenomenon. Film crews who usually do not leave the fortress after the dusk and pass the deadline have often heard distressful sounds of people crying out in pain and are a witness to the most terrific, unexplained and strange activities. The experience and visualize much more than they would like.

A view of Taramati Mosque from the roof of Golconda Fort

There are people who believe that this is a planned activity, a type of publicity stunt to attract tourists to the fort. You need to experience the feeling in the fortress which was once a massive and full of grandeur.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kodinhi - The Twin Town in Kerala

Kodinhi - The Twin Town in Malappuram district of Kerala
Kodinhi, popularly known as The Twin Town is a small village in the district of Malappuram in Kerala, India. The village comes under the administration of Nannambra panchayat. It is surrounded by water bodies on all sides except one through which it connects to the nearest town of Tirurangadi. Researchers and tourists can reach the remote tropical village from the Calicut airport in about two hours of journey. Kodinhi is located 35 km south of Calicut. The village has about 2000 families, majority of which are Sunni Muslims who normally follow the Shafi school of thought.

A pair of twins in Kodinhi - The Twin Town

A pair of Kondinhi twins

Kodinhi attracted worldwide attention when people came to know about the unusually high rate of twin birth in the village. Its absolutely amazing to know the fact that India has one of the lowest twin rate, while Kodinhi has one of the highest twin rate in the world. The village has witnessed birth of twins almost six times more than the global average. This has left the expert investigators in dilemma. The investigators are absolutely clueless about the high concentration of twins in the village.

A group of adolescent twins in Kodinhi

Five pairs of twins in Kodinhi
Successive surveys reveal that there are about 204 pairs of twins and two triplets in Kodinhi. Several studies has been conducted on this phenomenon but a perfect justification is still wanted. There are records of twins to females of the village who were married of even to distant places. On Sunday, November 10, 2008, a national scientific team of Geneticists arrived the village to study the enigmatic phenomenon. G. R. Chandak (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad), Kaumudi Godbole (Centre for Human Growth and Development, Pune) and other Consultant Genetic Pediatricians (Deenanath Mangeshkar and King Edward Memorial Hospitals, Pune) analyzed more than a dozen of twins. They studied their food habits, medicare, heredity, climate and parents including a wide range of other factors.

A large group of twins in Kodinhi

Dr Krishnan Sribiju a local doctor and himself a twin has been studying the phenomenon for the last six to seven years. The residents say that this phenomenon is recent and has been occurring since three generations only. The oldest twin pair as reported was born in 1949. According to the doctor, the twin phenomenon can be categorized as a natural anomaly instead of a genetic mutation. Kodinhi has 45 twin births out of every 1000 births, while India (including Asia) has a rate of 4 twin births out of every 1000 births. Survey reveals that rate of twin birth in Kodinhi is increasing every year. In last five years more than 60 twins have been born, and it seems that the number of twins has doubled since the last decade.

A group of twins in Kodinhi

Kondinhi Twins
In the western countries, twin rates has increased due to artificial insemination, but there is no artificial insemination (IVF) in Kodinhi. It is also believed that twins are normally born to more mature women over 5ft 3in in height, but Kodinhi girls are normally married when they reach 18 – 20 years, and the average height of women in the village is 5ft. The majority of twins in Kodinhi are identical twins of same sex. Considering the fact that a large percentage of the twins are in their adolescence, the possibility for mischief is enormous. The mischievous students may sometimes swap their classes, while the teachers usually mix them up.

A pair of mature twins in Kodinhi

During the end of 2008, the residents of the village set up Twins and Kin Association (TAKA) to register and provide support (such as education and healthcare) for the twins of Kodinhi and their families under the president-ship of Puallani Bhaskaran, who is a proud father of twin boys. This is the first organization of its kind in India.

One of the elderly twins in Kondinhi

The twin phenomenon in Kodinhi is not unique as it has also been reported in Igbo-Ora in Nigeria. Igbo-Ora has the highest rate of twin births in the whole world. As per a study conducted by an English gynaecologist, Patrick Nylander, an average of 45 to 50 pairs of twins per 1000 live births were recorded during 1972 and 1982 in Igbo-Ora. Researches carried out by the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital indicated that twin births were related to the eating habits of Igbo-Ora women. However, the dietary habits of the residents of Kodinhi is similar other Keralites and no such inferences could be drawn. In Candidi Godoi, Brazil large number of twin births has been reported.