A full 9 day trip to the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A journey into myself. I have always maintained that travel is the best form of education. Any kind of travel always teaches us new things and enriches us in a completely unique way.
This could be a travel to an entirely different continent, country, place or even to the same place that we have been to multiple times. Travelling, meeting new people and knowing about different situations and ways of life is always enriching.
With the same quest, I embarked on my first holiday for the year – a trip to my in-laws, Bihar. This is my first trip to the beautiful rustic Eastern Indian State. To say the least, it has completely mesmerized me.
Like it is said, do not believe anything without seeing it with your own eyes. Nothing holds truer when it comes to Bihar. The state’s image is ridden with negative news all over the National Media. Not completely refuting the news, a large part of it is probably true, but there is also a lot on the other side – its natural beauty, the vast serene plain lands and the people.
The Indian festival of colours, Holi is celebrated with full vigour in this part of the country, and it has now become an annual custom to be here during the festivities. The long weekend with Holi being couple with Good Friday holiday helped in extending the holiday for the complete 9 days weekend to weekend.
Our first stop was at Gorakhpur – the land of hardcore Hinduism, home to the famous Gita Press. The Railway station itself seemed impressive and much cleaner compared to the last visit here. Exactly a year back.
My initial impressions of Gorakhpur being a small sleepy town without any modern amenities were all quashed with the Mall visit. The SRS mall here is as good as any decent mall in any metropolitan city, and the Spencers within seemed more stocked than most of the departmental stores in Gurgaon. This clearly was a picture of a growing and developing India and a reflection of the middle class aspirations. Brands like “UCB” and “Levi’s” have made an impression across and even Reynold’s feels the need to have a kiosk within the mall to promote its range.
Talking about Reynolds, and pens, one thing I noticed across my trip is the stress on education in these parts of the country. Everywhere the roads were painted with huge hoardings with pictures of young spectacled boys and girls who have aced the different entrance exams – IIT, PMT,etc. No wonder entrance exam guide books sell on street side vending carts alongside fruits and sattu.
I also squeezed in time to visit the famous Gita Press. The recent mainstream book on the institution surely added to the curiosity. Tucked away in the centre of a busy market place, this place is a very welcome escape to the world of Hindu Culture. The imposing museum on the first floor of the building is a must visit. Though the paintings in itself are quite old, the way in which they have all been laid and categorized is mesmerizing. Also, the first printing machine used by the press nearly a hundred years ago is in itself a trip down the history line.
The impressive modern looking bookstore with the glass façade and neatly categorized and stacked books is an experience in itself. The store displays books on every possible Hindu learnings in most of the Indian languages, and all available for a pittance. Probably just to cover the printing charge and nothing else. No wonder, I loaded up on a huge pile limiting myself only with the fact that there is still a week of travel before I get back home. They also service online orders! I very soon would ned a new bookshelf.
An interesting thing to note is the font used to write Gita Press. The famous Chariot frame from Mahabharata in the background, and GITA PRESS GORAKHPUR written in typeface reminds one of the early powerpoint days.
Gorakhnath temple, from where the name of the city is derived, is another landmark in the city. I have a theory on temples in Indian Cities. In olden days, there was no culture of vacationing and our learned ancestors did realize the importance of a good holiday for a fulfilling family life. Thus, the temples. Every city in the country would have a worshipping place which would be frequently thronged by people from neighboring villages. This served the dual purpose of a picnic outing for the complete family and also served the spiritual quests.
The Gorakhnath temple served this purpose well. With a small waterbody within the temple premises now serving as a boating place, and a hall with statues of ancient maharishis and babas jostled between Gods scultptures. The temple did feel serenic and calm even in the Hot harsh summer sun.
Small impressive additions to the Railway Station from the last time, or were these here and I missed them the last time over? The clean irctc café just outside the station was a welcome relief from the unpredictable carts outside the station serving litti. The café had an impressive menu though most of the items were not available on the day we visited. And the hygienic “Water Point” at the station. At Rs. 8/- for a liter of drinking water (with an additional charge for the container) this was a welcome addition to avoid the wastage of a plastic bottle. This seemed like a good initiative to be scaled up across, and I bet the Water Manufacturers would be keen to use this as a branding initiative benefitting the end consumer.
With this, our brief two day stay in Gorakhpur came to an end. we now headed to the next part of our Journey – Bihar.