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Sunday, November 30, 2014


We were driving from Detroit to Chicago and it was raining heavily. The traffic on the highway had slowed down and our car was moving at a snail’s pace. My nephew Gaurav took one of the exits.

“Where are we going Gaurav? Won’t we be late in reaching Chicago?” I could not help asking.
Gaurav smiled; it was the smile of one who knows what he is doing. “The traffic being so slow, we are definitely going to be late. In my understanding, it will take at least two hours for this mess to clear up. Why take undue stress? If we take a detour, we will drive through the beautiful dense forest of Indiana State Park and you will be able to see a fantastic place in addition, which we would have missed otherwise.”
“And which is that beautiful place, Gaurav,” I was curious.
“I will not reveal it to you in advance. You tell me how you find it when we reach there,” Gaurav beamed.

In next to no time, we were there and the scene, that unfolded in front of my eyes, was so soothing that I completely forgot the stress I was experiencing on account of getting delayed to Chicago.

It was a beautiful sandy beach with crystal-clear water and the sky oh so blue. It was Indiana Dune beach, a treat for our eyes.

Although we could not stop there for as long as we would have loved to, the amazing sight was forever captured in my mind.  

Lake Michigan shore from the top of one of the beach dunes as captured by Gaurav 


Saturday, November 08, 2014


“What are you doing today?” asked Gaurav, my nephew as I sipped my morning tea. 

“Nothing. We plan to enjoy the solitude, the beautiful environs  here and sit with our feet dipped in your swimming pool,” I replied admiring the lush green surroundings around the aquamarine pool which I could see from the deck.
“Oh, that you can do any day. The weather is lovely and the sun is bright. I suggest you visit Greenfield Village today. I can assure you that you will not regret it,” Gaurav persuaded in his inimitable style.
“If you can get ready in half an hour, I can drop you there on my way to work,” he added without giving us time to think.

Lo and behold, in the next hour, we were at Greenfield Village, the village of the famous Henry Ford. As I wondered, how a village could be there in the thick of the city, Gaurav read my mind. “This is not the original village but it truly represents America and the Americans.”
I looked at him to understand the meaning of what he had said.
“Henry Ford was basically from a village. Though he became a big man and shifted to Detroit, his heart was still in his village, so he decided to recreate a village here. The village sprawls across 80 acres and has 83 historic structures. They are Noah’s Webster Home, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practised law, and many more, anything which represents America,” our Walking Encyclopaedia explained. 

Greenfield Village 
By this time, we were already at the entrance of the village. Tickets purchased, leaflets collected and saying bye to Gaurav, we moved towards the village.

Josephine Ford Plaza
At the entrance of the village, was Josephine Ford Plaza, named after Henry Ford’s grand-daughter. It has an amazingly beautiful fountain in the centre. We looked around. There was a cafeteria, there were washrooms and a number of benches. It was heartening to see even old couples coming, walking slowly with the help of sticks. A single woman, may be in her eighties, had also ventured to see the place which involved a lot of walking.

The 19th-century steam engine which pulls the circular train in the village
We had purchased tickets for the train ride, which goes around the village on a three-mile track with hop-on hop-off kind of arrangement. 

Henry Ford's vintage cars moving around the village
We had the option of taking a ride in Henry Ford’s Vintage Model T car of the 20th century.

1931 Ford Model AA Bus
Alternatively, we could take a tour of the village by the 1931 Ford Model AA Bus. 

A horse cart plying in Greenfield Village 
There was also Greenfield Village Omnibus Shuttle, a horse driven cart. Although we had so many choices of going around the village, we stuck on to the steam engine powered open train as I love the chhuk-chhuk trains. For the entire day, we hopped on and off the train and continued to walk without feeling tired.  

Brief descriptions of some of the centres that I particularly noticed and liked are given below.

Richart Wagon Shop
This was the place for the villagers to get almost anything wooden repaired. It was a convenient one-stop shop for the local farmers for the repair of their vehicles, tools and equipment. Robert and William Richart, who were wagon makers and owned this shop, were able to do almost everything here. They built, repaired and painted wagons. They fixed tools and sharpened saws. Villagers even brought their old chairs to make them look like new. The Richards were in business for more than fifty years.

Soybean Experimental Laboratory
Henry Ford used soybean as more than just food. He designed car parts from soybean, an experimental car body and even clothes from the soybean plant. Henry Ford knew that the soybean and other crops could be reproduced quickly, unlike iron ore, lumber or lead. He built this lab to help farmers to find a way to use these crops in an industrial world. Chemist Robert Boyer ran the lab.

Port Huron Engine
Like the ox and the horse, this engine was a versatile power source that could be used anywhere on the farm where power was needed. The arrival of this steam-powered traction engine during fall harvest season created a lot of excitement, as it gave neighbours and families a lot of opportunities to socialise and work together. Big threshing crews used this engine to power their machines as they moved from one farm to another. It could also push or pull other farm devices and run a variety of machines when a belt was hooked to its steam-driven pulley. The Port Huron Engine represents pinnacle of technological development for steam traction engines before gasoline tractors replaced them.

Sir John Bennett Jewellery Shop
Sir John Bennett was a successful watch, clock and jewellery maker in London, England. He liked the mythical story of Gog and Magog, the ancient protectors of Britain, so he recreated them for the front of his shop. The clock figures, Gog and Magog, toll the chimes of this clock every fifteen minutes. This building stood a grand five storeys at its original London site. It was scaled down to two storeys when it was moved to the village. Today it has a sweet shop inside.

Tintype Studio in Greenfield Village
Tintypes were inexpensive photographs made on a thin sheet of iron painted black. They were much less expensive than the paper photographs made in the late 1800s. Having one’s photo taken was considered an event and people got dressed up and went to the tintype studio for a portrait.

Ready for a tintype photo
Charles Tremear was a travelling tintypist until he found work in the Ford Motor Company in 1909. In 1929, he was asked to create authentic old style tintype photographs for visitors to Greenfield Village. In this studio, Tremear made portraits of many famous people including Thomas Edison, Joe Louis and Walt Disney.

Thomas Edison's Idea Factory

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” said Thomas Alva Edison. Henry Ford admired Edison a lot and was inspired by him in his own inventions. We explored a day in the life of Thomas Alva Edison and his workers in the Invention Factory at Menlo Park Complex, which is the home of first electric light bulb, the first phonograph and many other inventions. Edison believed that the best creations came from the people working together. His team of workers brought both traditional craft skills and new scientific knowledge to the exciting challenges facing them at this laboratory. 

Thomas Alva Edison
In 1876, Thomas Edison had set a goal to have one major invention every six months and one minor invention every ten days. He came very close to achieving this goal. Yes, ninety-nine percent perspiration!

Sarah Jordan Boarding House


Sarah Jordan Boarding House was one of the first homes, which were wired to be lighted by electricity. 

A view of the room 
More than a dozen male workers from Thomas Alva’s Menlo Park Laboratory lived in this boarding house run by a widow Sarah Jordan. These men came here after a day long work and spent most of their free time here. Sarah Jordan ran this boarding home with the help of her adopted daughter Ida and a maid. These three women took care of the men and served lunch to the people who came to see the new developments at the Menlo Park Laboratory.

House of Thomas Edison's grandparents
Thomas Alva Edison had happy childhood memories of the time he spent in this house with his grandparents.
His grandparents were kind-hearted people and they always left some food on the stove in their kitchen when they left their house so that hungry passers-by could find something to eat there. Thomas Edison’s grandparents fled to Canada after the American Revolution because they sided with the British. The guys wanted to know which country we were from. Hearing India, they asked us, "Is it true that Indian weddings are very lavish and last for many days?" We laughed and shared with them the multiple rituals that we have in our weddings. The reputation of big fat Indian weddings has travelled across the world!

In front of a Cotswold Cottage
Limestone was plentiful in England and many English homes were made of this natural resource. The families, who lived in this home, had a variety of jobs. Being a stone mason was a good job for the family because most of the homes in the area were made of stone.

Poet Robert Frost's House
While a poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, Robert Frost often took walks around the neighbourhood. He found this house during one of his walks and thought it was quite a charming place. He wrote some of his best poetry in this house. His poem “Spring Pools” was also written here in only three days.
“These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods---
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers

From snow that melted only yesterday.”

Scotch Settlement School
Henry Ford and his friend Edsel Ruddiman sat next to each other in school. Henry Ford was a hard-working student at the school, but he was restless too. Henry and his friend Edsel played pranks in the school. They created their own alphabet so that they could send secret notes to each other in the class. To deal with such mischievous students, the school hired a teacher named John Chapman. The stern and heavy-set Chapman was paid an extra $5 to keep such mischievous students in line.

In the backdrop of Martha Mary Chapel
MARTHA MARY CHAPEL: Henry Ford built this chapel as a tribute to his mother Mary Litogot Ford and his mother-in-law Martha Bench Bryant. Churches like this, as the centre of community life in colonial days, were often built at the centre of the towns.

We could have gone on walking, but we had factored limited time for this visit but whatever time we spent here was quite a revelation. The experience was like getting into a time machine. We could choose our lunch from 18th-century menu and feel the sounds, sensations and sights of America that was two hundred years ago. So different from the America of today.

The Greenfield Village truly represents the people of America, their love for life and their unbridled optimism, which has made the country what it is today. 

And finally a ride through the complex.... see if you can view it

It was truly an exciting experience and we will definitely come here again to see what we could not see today. 

 Henry Ford, the legend


Wednesday, November 05, 2014


As my nephew Gaurav drove us down from US-Canada border to his house in Detroit, he suggested that we take a detour to Belle Isle. I did not respond. I was tired after seven hours of road journey and one hour of standing in the queue for completing the customs formalities at the border.

With Gaurav on the river bank
“It is quite a beautiful place and you will not regret visiting it,” he had sensed my lack of response. Whether it was his contagious enthusiasm or my eternal wanderlust, the gypsy at heart that I am, I could not say no and we moved towards Belle Isle. My nephew is a storehouse of information and he went on narrating about the history and geography of the island as we drove around.

“Belle Isle has a long history, which goes back to the 17th century when the French colonists established it. They named it Île Aux Cochons (Hog Island). Later, in the year 1768, King George granted ownership of the island measuring 704 acres to one Mr McDougall for Pound Sterling 194. Interestingly, the population of the place at that time was only 5 persons and 200 farm animals.”
“In the year 1783, when the Treaty of Paris took place, the island became an American territory. Eleven years later, McDougall’s heirs sold off the island to one William Macomb for Pound Sterling 813. An escalation of four times its value in 15 years!”
“Compare it with the current ever-rising cost of real estate in Delhi. It sounds ridiculous,” I was getting curious about the island now.

Gaurav told me that the name of the island was changed sometime in the year 1845 to “Belle Isle” in honour of Miss Isabelle Cass who was the daughter of the then Governor General Lewis Cass.
“The tendencies, to flatter the people in power and their relatives, is not exclusive to India only”, I promptly expressed my views.  

Presently. Belle Isle is a 982 acres state park and lies between USA and Canada. It is the largest island in the Detroit River. Belle Isle is a state park and has an aquarium, a conservatory, a golf course, a museum, a yacht club, a zoo and a beautiful fountain. It also has many walking trails through the forest as well half a mile of beach where revellers love to swim.

MacArthur Bridge
We stopped over at the MacArthur Bridge that connects the island to Michigan and spans over River Detroit. The original wooden bridge known as Belle Isle Bridge caught fire in the year 1915 and was replaced by a new bridge, which got ready in the year 1923 at a cost of $2,635,000. It is 668m long and has nineteen arches. It was rechristened Douglas MacArthur Bridge in 1942. Forty-four years later, in 1986, it was repaired and the state spent US$ 11.5 million, much more than the cost of construction.

As Gaurav continued sharing his knowledge of the place and I listened with rapt attention, I forgot my fatigue. Excited like a child, I was enjoying every aspect of the island.

At James Scott Memorial Fountain, Belle Isle
Our next stop was the James Scott Memorial Fountain. It was constructed in 1925 at a cost of $500,000. Its lower bowl has a diameter of 510 feet and the centre spray reaches 125 feet. The designer was designed Cass Gilbert and sculptor Herbert Adams. There is an interesting background to this beautiful piece of art located at a prominent place on the island. One James Scott left $200,000 with the city of Detroit with a request that a fountain be made in his honour. Well, Scott was a controversial person. He had received a sizable inheritance from his realtor father, but Scott did not enjoy a good reputation. He gambled and was said to be vindictive and tried to bully his competitors. He died in 1910 and donated his estate to the City of Detroit with the proviso that they should construct a memorial for him. Many people were against accepting such a donation while some others said that such a huge amount should not be denied. Time passed and the amount continued to grow. Finally, the fountain memorial was constructed but Scott’s statue was placed in an innocuous place behind the fountain. This way, both the purposes were served. The island got a beautiful fountain and Scott’s demand too was met in principle.

As Gaurav completed the story, I could not help saying, “Saanp bhi mar gaya aur lathi bhi nahin tooti.”


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


(This is third of the five blog series covering our Bhopal trip)

Shiva Temple, Bhojpur (MP), India
On a short visit to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, I suggested that we visit Bhojpur Shiva Temple. Though I had been there earlier for a short trip but wanted Shiv, my husband to see this unique engineering marvel located on the banks of river Betwa in District Raisen at a distance of about 30 km from Bhopal.

His negative reaction was spontaneous, “No mandir-shandir! They are all the same… ritualistic, dirty and filthy…. money making factories. Let’s not waste time.”

Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum of Bhojpur Shiv Temple is 21' high
and is made of one solid single rock
“Look, this is not a usual pooja-wala temple. It is different. It’s carved out of solid sandstone rocks available locally around that area and is an engineering marvel. Imagine, it has the biggest Shiva Linga in the country which is about 21 feet tall and made of a single rock. And do you know that it was built about 1000 years ago and is still incomplete?” I rattled off in a single breath.

“It is known by many names, Bhoj Temple, Bhojeshwar Temple or Bhojaswamin Temple because Shiva was perhaps the main deity of Raja Bhoj.”
“Is this the same Raja Bhoj about whom we…..?”
Reading his mind instantaneously, I interrupted, “Yes, yes the same…... Aadhe mein Raja Bhoj aur aadhe mein Gangoo Teli ka poora pariwar.” We both burst out laughing and decision-making became easier. So here we go!

The entrance is decorated with statues of Kuber, Ganga and Yamuna
We drove down to this “wow” place built during the time of Raja Bhoj of Parmar dynasty who ruled central India from 1000 to 1055 AD. Reaching there, the first thing that I noticed about the temple, even from a distance, was that its structure was unique. It did not look like any of our usual Hindu Temples dotting across the length and breadth of the country. I thought it looked more like those Greek structures. Am I imagining things?

Reaching closer, I saw that it was under the protection of Archaeological Survey of India. A board displayed there stated that this structure was never completed. Why is it lying unfinished even after 1000 years, we wondered. Raja Bhoj ruled this area for over 50 years and was known to be a great patron of art and culture. Why then could he not get it completed? Was it lack of resources or loss of expertise?

There are a number of folklores about the incomplete status of the temple. According to one such folklore that did not sound too convincing, the temple was to be built in one night. As the night got over, the plan had to be abandoned. Makes no sense whatsoever! 

These local rocks have been used in the temple
Another legend says that the King suffered from some skin ailment, leprosy to be precise, and started concentrating on getting lakes and dams made where water from different sources could be collected for his treatment. Yet another one says that Mohammed Ghori had attacked Somnath Temple and all the resources were diverted in that direction. Another story says that the King became unwell and the project had to be given up. Also, perhaps the King had to move towards Malwa to tackle some threats there. They compelled me to think, but I could not reach any conclusion. To my creative mind, it was the loss of expertise. Otherwise, nobody would leave a well-planned beautiful project like this midway.

All devotees do worship here only not inside the temple.
The temple is on a little higher rocky area and is built on three levels. 
Big wide steps, again more Greek than Indian in design, lead to a higher level where there is a place of worship outside the temple. The main temple is on the next plane. 

All devotees do their worshipping rituals outside the main temple only.
Usually, in all Hindu temples the sanctum sanctorum is quite small and the hall around is large. However, in this temple, the Shiva Linga takes almost three fourth of the space with hardly any area left for the devotees.  May be it was only the garbha-griha (sanctum-sanctorum) and the main temple was still to be built around it. The access to the Lingam is also by way of steps which have since been closed.

Prima facie, this temple appeared to be an engineering marvel. Made of huge single piece sandstones, one wonders how these huge stones were lifted to that height without the facility of cranes those days.  There is a slope at the backside of the temple that was perhaps used as a ramp for rolling the stones towards the construction site. But the stones are massive. How many men would it have taken to roll even one stone? Well, I am confused now.

The drawings for the structure have been etched on the stones on the floor and are visible even now. According to these, there was a big plan for a huge building. I wondered who had prepared these rock drawings? To my creative mind, was there a special team from some other country that might have left the project due to some reasons leaving the work mid-way?

I also noticed that on stones fixed on the wall of the temple, there are different markings which were perhaps made by different artisans. Why did they do that? Obviously, to clearly demarcate the job done by each person? Was the system of performance linked wages prevalent then?

Incomplete statues & decoratives are all over the place.
Why were they left like this abruptly?
There are a number of half-carved statues and decorative designs lying all around the place half done as if somebody had to leave everything abruptly. 
There is also a stone-grinding type of broken equipment lying there even today. 

The dam on River Betwa destroyed by Hoshang Shah in the 15th Century

We saw everything with a lot of inquisitiveness, walked over sandstone rocks and reached Betwa, (known as River Vetravati in ancient times), looked at the unique dam created on the bridge, which was said to be destroyed by Hoshang Shah of Malwa in the 15th century when one of his soldiers died while crossing this river. Another legend says that he got it destroyed because bandits used to hide here and attack the caravans of local merchants passing through this area.

The place was quiet and serene and made us feel very much at peace with ourselves. But it was time to go back and we left this place much against our wishes cherishing the peaceful surroundings, mesmerising building and a mind full of thoughts and ideas of what must have happened in this place some 1000 years ago, everything shrouded in mystery.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


(This is second in the five blog series covering our Bhopal trip)

Bhoj Taal, the Pride of Bhopal
Bhopal the capital of Madhya Pradesh and erstwhile Malwa Region has the distinction of having seven lakes in the area but two of them are really large, locally known as the 'big lake' and the 'small lake'. 

The evening was free and we had a couple of hours at our disposal. So we decided to make the best of it by visiting the Big Lake, popularly known as the Bada Talao in Bhopal. We were told that a couple of years ago, it was rechristened by the State Govt. as Bhoj Taal after King Bhoj.

Different type of surroundings on different sides
Going by the folklore, Bhoj Taal is one of the largest man-made lakes in India. It is said that it was built by King Bhoj of Parmar dynasty who ruled this area then called Malwa, almost 1000 years ago, from 1005 to 1055 AD. It is believed that King Bhoj suffered from some skin ailment called Kushtha Rog (Leprosy) and was advised by his physicians to mix water from various sources before taking his bath. He, therefore, got this huge lake built where water from a number of rivers was aggregated. It is also believed that his skin disease got cured by bathing in this water. Later, the city of Bhojpal, now known as Bhopal, grew around it.

As we got down from the car, we heard an announcement soliciting tourists to come for a ride in the last cruise which was sailing off in another 10 minutes. We promptly bought the tickets of Rs 50 each and were comfortably seated on the upper deck which we preferred for a better view as compared to the lower deck which was enclosed with glass walls.

The friendly ducks
Before the cruise started, I noticed the ancient steam engine they have parked on the lake-front. I also noticed that the area was quite neat and clean unlike many other such places in India. There were lovely ducks going around fearlessly. 

Biodiversity Park ...the colours remind me of Fall in US
There are hills on one side to accommodate a bio-diversity park, giving shelter to a variety of birds which flock to this area and there is the city on the other side. Surrounded by hillocks, greenery and the city, the lake has extremely picturesque surroundings and is rightly termed as the Pride of Bhopal.

There is an island in the middle of the lake.
Don't miss the speedboat.
The cruise had started now and we were going around the lake spread over 31 square km. The loud peppy music was playing and the small kid sitting ahead of us was constantly tapping her feet. I prompted her and she started dancing to the beats constantly gazing at me for acknowledgement and approval. I had a great time connecting with her and admiring simultaneously the crystal clear water of the lake.

The setting sun, after losing its dazzle feels more friendly
The cruise lasted for an hour and we watched a beautiful sunset. The rays of the setting sun playing with the blue-green water of the lake made a heady cocktail and I am still high on it. Needless to add, we were the last ones to alight from the cruise.

The sun rays playing with the lake water made a heady cocktail.