Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pak Conversations - VIII

I first heard about Taxila in a serial that used to air long ago on Doordarshan, called 'Chanakya'. I guess I don't need to appraise you about its subject matter. There I first heard about this wondrous place called Takshashila, where the mighty Mauryan empire reigned supreme, and I don't know why I assumed that it was golden in colour. The whole city. Just golden. Never mind. I also assumed that it was in North India, as the other place I heard mentioned quite a lot was Magadha, which was another way of saying Bihar, and I reasoned that one couldn't travel very far on horses anyway (I was EIGHT, okay?), so T'shila had to be close to Magadha. It was quite a moment of bewilderment for me when I found out it was in Pakistan, although by that time I had already reconciled myself with it not being gloriously golden.

Anyway, this trip realised Taxila for me too. Let me give you a little background information. It was a centre of religious and economic activity in this part of the world, and was therefore dotted with monasteries which functioned as both banks and religious centres. It was a day trip from Islamabad, so we left early (hehe....relatively) in the day, armed with egg sandwiches, potato chips, multinational cola products and chocolate cake. The egg sandwiches had black pepper powder on them. Inconsequential detail, but its one a.m. at night and I'm hungry. Getting on with the tale, we went to the Taxila Museum, which was again a quaint ivy covered British wooden building with extensive grounds littered with likely looking benches which would've been filled with furtive couples if it were in India. This NRP(Brit) woman took a picture of us in front of the museum, and shook at the camera at the opportune moment so that the picture came out looking like we all had halos around us. This post isn't a description of the contents of the museum. If you're interested, get a brochure. Suffice to say that it was marvellous, especially how some things never change, and by that I mean junk jewellery. Across the centuries, it has been strings and beads. So it was, so it is, and so it shall be.

We visited Dharmarajika Stupa, where the guide tried to convince us that the small pond-like structure was actually Emperor Ashoka's private swimming pool, and then saw nothing incongruous in telling us that the small concrete chambers next to the 'swimming pool' were jail cells housing hardened criminals. We bought a couple of fake Buddha head antiques there, as we did at EVERY stop that we made after that.

The next stop was Jaulian, perched atop a slope that necessitated us climbing over two hundred steps. The view from the top was breathtaking, mountains, highways, canals....browns, greens, blues, reds. It was like being at the beginning of time, with nothingness all around. I don't need to tell you that the stupas were magnificent, with beautiful detail and immense scale, but I suppose I just did. There was an appropriate looking beggar too, requisite with incomprehensible mutterings and wrinkled, weather beaten skin.

We then went to Mohra Moradu, where the stupas started getting familiar, and our visit was livened up by children who were impossibly perched over a very tricky looking slope, and who decided to welcome us by throwing stones at us. Charming? Not really. And I was getting rather testy by this time, for reasons that I shall disclose soon. The final stop was Sirkap, which was a well planned urban settlement, and rather attractively windswept and time scarred. If you notice a tone of impatience, it is because I really was in no position to enjoy the remnants of an antiquarian empire anymore. Thankfully, my very pressing problem found a solution at Sirkap.

You see, right from the start of the trip, nature had been issuing its summons to me with ever greater urgency. And the United Nations, while taking on the very praiseworthy task of preserving these monuments, regrettably neglected the task of providing facilities where the baser tasks of human existence could be attended to, and the Government of Pakistan had failed me too. Okay, in simple terms, my bladder had been at bursting level right from Jaulian, there were simply NO toilets to be found. And have you ever noticed how, when you're desperate to finish the whole thing and get home before you get incontinent and embarrass yourself and everybody else, your travel companions decide to walk as slowly as possible, buy as many Buddha heads as possible (which all look the same to you, but then you're in a haze anyway, with the pressure of trying to stay within the norms of civilized behaviour), and generally make it very hard for you not to explode into profanity? And then, at the very last stop, which could've been the first stop if you'd turned right instead of driving straight on, you find a toilet, and you thank the merciful heavens, and spout benedictions for the rest of humanity.

In the final analysis, if you want to enjoy Taxila, take a whole day's time, don't listen to the guide, empty your bladder before you set out, stay away from the cola and just let the feel of a different world sink in, without getting disturbed by the vagaries of nature.

P.S.: - When you're finances are in a state of crisis, do not fool yourself into thinking that a visit to the nearby bookshop will be harmless, because you're of such a prudent nature. Doesn't work, children, never does.


another brick in the wall said...

hehe.. funny funny :).. yay! now this was well described! i'm back 2 my "marking" ways.. here u go.. 8.5/10 :)

just a warning.. if u ever remind me of eggs at 3 am.. i just mite murder u.. i'm serious

heh? ok said...

@ brick
every day, at three am i shall remind you of eggs, i promise :)

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

so is taxila our history or pakistans ? :)

Gandharva is in Afghanistan now.

heh? ok said...

@ ninja
taxila belongs to people who neither subscribed to india nor to pakistan, so i guess it belongs to neither of us. and, dude, gandhara is in afghanistan now. gandharva is a class of heavenly sprite, along with the yakshas etc.. hehe.

raghu said...

yes gandharvas are those sexy babes!
me liked Julian decript..bad reasonin abou t'shila dou..come on the north n south fought many times na.. :S

raghu said...

n NRP was a a new thing!i thot u misspelled MRP :P

reeju said...

the Buddha heads dont look the same!!! Okay! What does suck is that the customs guys almost took them away..and that i lost count of how many i bought and i think i may have left a couple of them in Pak land. Anyway, next post, looking forward to glorious descriptions. I think Sirkap, that wonderous place, deserved more of your words. Anyway me back to 16th century France..Rock on girl!

reeju said...

And yes you compel me to write several ways.

heh? ok said...

@ raghu
i was eight, not the most informed age to be. and gandharvas aren't just female.

@ reej
do you even remember how wound up i was at sirkap? its a wonder i noticed anything at all.

another brick in the wall said...

i had an "eggfull" sunday! yay! :D

heh? ok said...

@ brick
i won't even pretend to understand your horrid fascination with eggs. whatever makes you happy, man.

Tinky Toinkers said...

:) read the bus to haryana wala post and thn this and lemme tell you, wat you say here about bookshops is way too profound than the travelling when you dont own a car is. i know. really.

arunabh said...

' the small concrete chambers next to the 'swimming pool' were jail cells housing hardened criminals'
and so what were the "hardcore" criminals expected to do from their chambers.. ogle at the bathing King Ashoka and his maidens ? :O
And actually hats off to you for undertaking a trip to believe it or not.. Pakistan! One fine day, even i wud love to be there. One fine day...alas !
btw, the way you have documented the trip is absolutely fundooo :)
A query.. do you actually travel blog for some kind of newsp/magazine.. ur name just sounds too familiar?

raghu said...

how the hell do u get sooo many new readers every damn time!

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

Heck you're right. I should be more hindu :)

heh? ok said...

@ toinks
its a pity that knowing something doesn't stop you from doing exactly what you shouldn't, over and over again, na?

@ arunabh
ashoka would have to be one of those people who thrive on getting kicks out of very strange things if he agreed to this, don't you think? the guide also told us that a large circular stone structure was actually a grindstone where the prisoners gorund a monastery..sigh. and, no, i only blog here. my name sounds familiar coz every second girl is called sangeeta.

@ raghu
i go and comment on random blogs, that's how. :P

@ ninja
you should read your amar chitra kathas more closely, that's what you should do. that's where i remember gandharvas and yakshas and asuras from. hehe. :)

akhila said...

@ reeju
dearie...who told u to hide the damn buddha heads inside a sleeping bag!!! wat else du expect the customs officers to tk u for but a smuggler!!! :P

@ sangy
me fully sympathetic with sangy here, cos i was equally stressed but if i remember clearly i did relieve myself earlier, where were u at that loo? not accusing just curious...dont beat me pls pls
me loves it still (the post i.e.) inspite of the pressures!
and by now me thinks u will be convinced that i have gone round the bend...hehehe

heh? ok said...

@ akhila
i know, the sleeping bag thing was so darn suspicious...hehe...and well, if you work at this rate, the bend will get ever closer to you.