I have travelled to places in India and other parts of the Asian continent like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Singapore and other continents like Europe, America and Africa. I have written good numbers of travel pieces in the Deccan Herald, New Indian Express and in other magazines and e-zines. Due to other engagements I don’t often write travelogues though travel I do as chances occur. But always eager and enthusiastic, I welcome chances to travel and write, if invited.
The Lake District- a Poet’s Paradise
Before going to Antwerp, Belgium and France with a common visa, I obtained a British visa for I could not restrain my thirst for visiting England while visiting some other parts of Europe, mainly because of our (my father and forefathers) long standing relationship with the English, not only as the colonizers but also as partners of life in India. Though I visited London and some other parts of the country, my memory is still vivid about my visit to the Lake District, a Nature lover’s prime attraction. Further attractions were that it is a birthplace of many Nature-poetry, a poets’ habitat which inspired the two poets from India who were brought up there and were quite influenced by the lakes of Cumberland.
Back to my room from the breakfast table, I suddenly remembered the words of my Professor Dr. Batabyal of Rabindra Bharati University; while lecturing on Coleridge he suddenly said in a high pitched voice, the context I do not remember, that if “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was valued at five pounds only, what was the value of the whole British Empire? Coleridge sparked the name of other Lakeists in my memory.
Whether it was a school of hypochondriacs, as Jeffrey said, or the soul of Wordsworth’s moral being, as the poet himself said, it is fact that the lake district of England influenced the creation of a number of great poets, carrying its tradition in influencing Manmohan Ghose and his younger brother, Aurobindo Akroyd Ghose, later known throughout the world as Sri Aurobindo.
However, to come to my journey to the Lake District, this I remember that the train took three hours from London to reach Oxenholme. Another train took me to Windermere. Reaching the hotel by a cab I ran to its rear side overlooking the vast lake abounding in water which stretched to both sides of a hillock beyond the discerning eyes. My attention was drawn to a number of swans, gulls, teals and terns, flying over the lake, floating and resting in it. They were the cynosure of all the visitors. Watching the birds was the beginning of my journey to the lakes.
In the evening I moved round the roads and the bridge full of shops with memorabilia, restaurants and hotels. In the small lanes people were chatting, drinking or moving with familiar steps. I felt comfortable as in a cozy, small Indian hill town with all familiar figures around, as my elders were accustomed to live with them. I too saw them in my native city as some of them settled or stayed back even after the independence of the country. After the sunset the lake was more beautiful under the star and moonlit sky.
Cumbria, the second largest county in the North-West of England, was formed in 1974 out of the former counties of Cumberland and Westmorland. Covering an area of 6808 square kilometers, Cumbria incorporates the lakes, dales and fells. 17 kilo meters long Windermere is the largest lake of England. It has the highest mountain, Scafell Pike (1978 metres) besides other hills.
As I was cruising the lake with others in a big launch the next morning, the dales and fells on both sides of the lake charmed me as it had charmed the early nineteenth century poets, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Robert Southey, S.T. Coleridge and their friends. Big passenger launches, many ticket counters and tourist offices were surely not there at that time but small boats used to sail carrying the imaginative poets with philosophical nature. Reminiscing his childhood days, Wordsworth, in his “The Prelude” wrote-
When summer came,
Our pastime was, on bright half-holidays,
To sweep along the plain of Windermere
With rival oars; …
… an island musical with birds
That sang and ceased not; …
Wordsworth was born in Cumberland but finally settled there in love with the lakes. Coleridge wrote his best when he was with or near Wordsworth. At one time the two poets and Dorothy, their inspiration, met daily in the lakes. They were, in Coleridge’s phrase, “Three persons and one soul”.
It intoxicated the Indian poets Manmohan and Aurobindo Akroyd Ghose (born a hundred years hence and left the earth hundred years after Wordsworth) of St. Paul’s School, London. Manmohan wrote to his poet-friend, Lawrence Binyon, on 10 August 1886 from Keswick that Lake District and Derbyshire were “One of the loveliest countries in England…” 1 The two brothers stayed there during the holidays and walked in valleys. Sri Aurobindo reminisced later, “Manmohan used to have at times poetic illness. Once we were walking through Cumberland. We found that he had fallen half a mile behind, walking at a leisurely pace and moaning out poetry in a deep tone.’ 2
From Ambleside I took a bus and went to Grasmere. There in a corner in ‘Dove Cottage’, in a serene atmosphere, lived William Wordsworth with his family from 1799 to 1808. His garden which was once tended by the poet’s own loving hands is still there. It is a two storied house; still maintained with care. A guide took us round every room and showed us all the furniture used by the poet. There is a museum dedicated to the poet in a nearby house. That too we visited. On display were many statues, photos, manuscripts, which bore the sensation of the poet’s touch. There were photos and manuscripts by other fellow poets. The house and the museum created a nostalgic atmosphere. I liked my visit as Wordsworth is still one of the loved poets in India. One would like to spend an hour more but the charges were rather on the high side.
While returning, I remembered having read a story about the presence of Wordsworth in a subtle body in ‘Rydal Mount’, another cottage with a similar appearance as the ‘Dove Cottage’, on the fringes of Ambleside, six years after he was gone. In that house the poet had lived for long with his sister, wife and sister-in-law. It also opens for public view.
Mary, a young girl, who was taken there to live with the poet’s widow in 1856, felt the poet’s presence in a room where Dorothy Wordsworth had lived.
“I can still recollect the childish feeling…that a presence still haunted it.” Wrote Mary, now Mrs. Humphry Ward, in her “A Writer’s Recollections.”- published in 1918. 3
52 years later she again lived there joined by her daughter, Dorothy, whose weird story of beholding the poet sitting in his old used chair in the dead of a moonlit night, was recounted by the mother in her above book.
Let us hear what Dorothy had exactly said, “I slept soundly, but woke quite suddenly, at what hour I do not know, and found myself sitting bolt upright in bed looking towards the window…. I saw perfectly clearly the figure of an old man sitting in the armchair by the window.
“I said to myself – ‘That’s Wordsworth!’
“He was sitting with either hand resting on the arms of the chair, leaning back, his head rather bent as he seemed to be looking down, straight in front of him with a rapt expression. He was not looking at me, nor out the window. The moonlight lit up the top of his head and the silvery hair and I noticed the hair was very thin. The whole impression was of something solemn and beautiful and I was not in the least frightened. As I looked- I cannot say when I looked again, for I have no recollection of ceasing to look or looking away – the figure disappeared and I became aware of the empty chair.
“I lay back again and thought for a moment in a contented way- ‘That was Wordsworth!’
“I became nostalgic again. If he lives in ‘Rydal Mount’ still, he must be visiting the ‘Dove Cottage’ also from time to time.” 4
The Lake District is a nice place to remain for three, four days and enjoy the serene nature. One may hire a boat, cruise in a launch, visit the aquarium, hire a cycle and move round places or he may simply walk through the dales and fells. Bird watchers may take the chance of watching the rare and beautiful Osprey in flight or plunge-diving with outstretched talons and catching a big fish from the ‘Dodd wood Osprey View Point’ or ‘Bassenthwaite Lake’, where they migrate from the far away South Africa in spring.
There are a number of other places to visit like ‘Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop, Art Gallery and Museum’. One may spend a night or two in the countryside in the deep of quiet nature.
While going I had lesser trouble but while coming, I had enough. Five times I had to change trains due to misinformation and uncertainty about the movement of trains as some work was going on in the tracks, they said. I was given to understand that such things happened often. Such things are usually imponderable in a developed country where only disciplined services are expected. But the people were friendly. They helped. I reached London City Airport only 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of the flight to Antwerp. I was specially allowed to run through the small runway and helped to get into the plane, even without usual security check. The small plane was roaring with running engine, ready to run and fly. As I hopped in helped by a fellow passenger, it began its journey. Few pairs of eyes brushed my face as I must have been excused for my delay. The plane was waiting as a matter of extreme courtesy. I was certainly grateful to all, more to the cause of all, the Divine.
1 Sujata Nahar. Mother’s Chronicle. Mysore; Mira Aditi. Book-4. p.145
2 Nahar. p.147
3 Humphry Ward. “A Writer’s Recollections”. ‘Cumbria and Lake District Life’. Carlisle, UK. April, 2003
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2003
Published in The Mother India, Pondicherry. 2004
Lakshadweep: A Marine Paradise
We were waiting at the dock on board M. V. Amindivi at 10-15 am. The ship was bound for Lakshadweep from Willingdon island, Cochin. Formalities over, standing on the deck, receiving the blowing wind on our faces and ruffled hairs and beholding the tricks of the terns and seagulls in the space above the water, we became impatient to immediately begin our journey for Agatti Island, our destination.
But it was more than 400 km away, requiring a day and a night’s journey to reach. The Sun reflected blue water at a distance was inviting us for quite some time to sail. It was time for the ship to move and it moved. Leaving behind all and sundry concrete shapes the ship was amidst the blue-black of the sea. The receding waves were bidding us adieu and the dolphins were leading us.
Dolphins moved afore or appeared parallel to the flank of the ship at a distance. The water was blue-black mostly but at a distance dazzled in the sunrays falling on to it, turning it to still-gray and silvery. Now the balmy breeze flowing over us became a companion, acting without rest. We felt and touched it. A shipping boat occasionally appeared, a steamer sometimes chugged along. The wake at the aft of the ship was a point to observe. Milky foam was continuously chasing the ship or the ship was continuously trailing it. These movements in the ship from morning till the fall of night attracted us so much that we were engrossed in it as if that to be our sole interest for the time being.
Towards the evening some strange sights attracted our attention. Suddenly some bird like things started flying above the surface water emerging from below and after flying some distance they again fell on the water to be sunk in it. Flying fishes like silver sheets dazzling in the dying rays of the sun was a strange sight. A fun It became, really enjoyable when we learnt that they were the Butterfly Fishes (Chaetodon Trifasciatus), the national animal of the archipelago, the smallest Union Territory of India, Lakshadweep. Its national tree is bread-fruit tree.
Gradually evening covered us. The ship continued to move amid the calm water all around and the rising moon above. Most of us had not been on our seats for long. We climbed the stairs and were somewhere in the deck, at the front, at the aft or on sides of the ship, on first or the top floor alternatively, to enjoy the rare occasion of moving through the vast blue planet with few boats and steamers chugging along here and there. The soothing air lulled us to sleep to be awakened for dinner followed by a retirement for the night. It was a different, almost an eerie world at the dead of the night when the ship cruised alone through the vast water body with a moon and thousand starts overhead, with us in its lap. It was as if a midnight dream.
The next morning at seven a.m. we reached the outer range of Kabaratti island, the capital of Lakshadweep, consisting of 36 islands of which 10 are uninhabited. To tell it differently- it has 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks. From the deep sea where our ship anchored, passengers and their luggage were shifted by ferry boats to the island. A process we had to follow at 12 noon as we reached the corresponding line with Agatti island, our destination. As the motorized ferry boats were much lighter in weight and size compared to the big stationary ship and as the levels of the two vehicles were not the same, we faced some difficulty in changing from the big to the small rocking boat but the trained staff of the tourist company helped us to alight. They shifted the baggage too.
We reached Agatti at 1 pm and were allotted spacious rooms at the resort immediately. A quick bath and we were at the lunch tables. After a short nap we gathered at the beach and beheld what we could not so much enjoy while coming as we were quite tired and hungry then. It is the colours of the sea. It is perhaps at Lakshadweep and such rare areas on earth like Maldives and Seychelles islands that offer the greatest occasions for feasting the eyes on the sea. Here it is turquoise there aquamarine, still further sapphire and amethyst, almost touching the blue of the sky. The water soon becomes greenish yellow and yonder it is blue-black again. The sand below our feet, actually the pounded coral reef, is softer than usual sand; very soothing. The water of the sea, somewhere transparent somewhere opaque, according to the depth, invited us for kayaking. One of the colourful fiberglass boats with oars and life jacket, available aplenty on the shore, was taken for a ride by two of us for kayaking around the jetty and sometimes beyond. It was a fun and pleasure to kayak, to splash water on each other’s body with swimming big-bodied hawksbill turtles along side our boat as our companions.
Next morning some of us learnt snorkeling, diving in the sea with an apparatus allowing us to breathe through the opened mouth under water, the snorkel jutting out. Some did the scuba diving. In both ways one can see through the clear lagoon water, an opening to the world of wondrous marine wealth consisting of coral reefs, polyps, multicoloured fishes with colourful fins and gills, slippery lichens, anemones, sea cucumbers, green and hawksbill turtles, eels, squids, star fishes, butterfly fishes, different angel fishes including the beauteous emperor angel fishes with white circles on semi round black bodies and innumerable insects and other living beings and non-living things. I can not list all the colourful denizens of the Lakshadweep lagoon, hiding and playing with protruding eyes. It was a complete biodiversity, a compact living world with vegetarians and non-vegetarians beyond our day to day earthly experience. One of them, the big hawksbill turtle swam near the shore. It is a native of Lakshadweep, a huge animal like the Green turtle.
We saw many of them along with many coloured beauties swimming, crawling or playing away from the shore while travelling to Bangaram and Tinnakara islands in glass boat. Our travel around and up to Bangaram was a little risky adventure in almost frail motorboats rocking and swaying against the violent waves which splashed water inside, sometimes drenching us. As we came back, the journey which seemed risky at the moment, remained with us as sweet memory, an unforgettable experience of life.
Bangaram has a long beach with modern resorts, may be with more amenities than Agatti for the political bosses prefer to stay there only. But our short stay at the small island of Tinnakara, where we had our packed lunch consumed, was more remarkable as it is uninhabited still, though to our dismay, news is making the round that it is in the list of a business-industry tycoon for turning it to another resort with small landing space for aircrafts. A visit to pristine nature even with difficult journey and lack of attractive foods is more enjoyable as we have the satisfaction that it does not pose a threat to nature.
Suhali and Tinnakara are among the largest nesting beaches for the green and hawksbill sea turtles in the world. But Tetra pods cordoning the islands restrict nesting and hatching of sea turtles, leading towards their decline.
While Kalpeni is a small uninhabited island near Agatti, Minicoy is at the farthest end of the group of islands. Pitti island with choppy waves and rugged rocky surface is a haven for different types of Terns (sterna) and Lesser Noddy (anous tenuirostris) besides some other birds. Turbulent sea and rocky shore threatens landing on it but it is a bird watchers’ adventurous delight.
Busy with the sea and its wonderful resources, we looked around to understand the other aspects of the land we stood on. The islands here are made of the body of the coral reefs formed by corals. Their body secretions, skeletal remains and chemical compositions on the shallow water create lagoons. Catching tuna fishes, making dried stuff called Masi out of them and then selling the product or exporting, and coconut growing, coir making and selling different products out of them, are the main livelihood of the people of these islands which look very simple with simple folks living in simple dwellings. Surrounded by the sea, they have little connection with the outside world. In the past these group of islands were called coir islands and cowrie islands.
Sometimes they were ruled by Chela, Chola and Pandian dynasties, by Namboodiris and Nayars, sometimes by Ali Raja or colonized by Portuguese, Muslims or the British before becoming the Union Territory under the Government of India in 1956.
Important visitors- travelers and historians- like Ptolemy, Al Biruni and Ibn Batuta came at different times. The inhabitants are mostly Muslims. All their ancestors were induHindu Hindu Malayalese converted to Islam, it is said, mostly by one Arabian Saint, Ubaidullah (636 AD). Their language is derived from an old Malayali dialect.
Simple islands with simple folks have rich tourist resorts in some of them with all comfort and small air craft operation facilities. We had to return by a costly Indian Dornier flight, non-stop over the sea to Cochin airport, as suddenly the movement of ship was restricted for a day or two. But we had our corresponding journey tickets booked.
It is to be remembered that a programme for journeys to and from Lakshadweep may be changed any time for weather or other unforeseen reasons. A journey through Sports office at Cochin, run by the Government of India, is usually cheaper than through other private tour operators. Cochin is the only place to go from. One may find good contacts through www.lakshadweeptourism.com or www.keralatourism.com.
(c) Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2007
Published in www.museindia.com in May-June 2009