Castille y Leon y Cordoba

IMG_5596Our jet-lagged and tired eyes finally succumbed to the pressure of venturing out and we embarked on our Iberian journey in Madrid at around 7:30 p.m. Our achy legs were forcing us back to our cozy little beds but our restless minds wanted to wander in Madrid’s ever-so-famous bull-fighting rings or taste the exquisite tapas that we had heard so much about.

We took a quick bus tour on the second day of our stay, with a detailed stop at the Palacio Real or Royal Palace. The palace stands on a 9th century Moorish fort, which was converted to an Alcazar (castle) in the 16th century which got burnt and eventually got replaced by this palace was in the seventeenth century. Spain is full of such sites, where inside every great monument lies several layers of history buried deep.


Toledo was our next stop. It was a city established by Jews in the 5th century BC. The Romans made it into a hub for trade but Toledo became the capital of the Visigoths around 6th century AD. The Arab muslims took over the Visigoths by invading Toledo. Capturing Toledo was of prime importance for every ruler. Toledo finally became a Christian empire again in the 10th century and Christianity was forced into the city.

The city sits on a high gorge and entry into it was possible only through one gate. This city had co-existence of Christians, Jews and Muslim culture for centuries and is known as the “City of three cultures”. The Cathedral in Toledo,  known as the magnum opus of Gothic style in Spain, was a monument that displayed Spain’s exorbitant luxury and wealth and leaves no doubt in the tourist that they were once the richest kingdom in the entire world.

Close to Toledo is the town of Consuegra, which hosts the wind mills of La Mancha. There are 12 of these but we were not lucky enough to see them clearly as they were bathed in the infamous relentless fog of central Spain for hours. The legendary Don Quixote fought these windmills, thinking they were fire-breathing dragons, against the counsel of his squire, Sancho Panza.


Further south past miles of olive trees over rolling hills, we entered Cordoba (known as Qurtuba in Arabic). Under Islamic Iberia, the city of Cordoba flourished over 700 years. Found in the region Andalusia, in the south of Spain, Cordoba was the first kingdom the Arabs, known as Moors, established in Spain. In its prime, around 800 AD, Cordoba was considered as the prettiest city in the entire world – rated higher than Paris or Vienna or any other European city. The Kingdom of Cordoba was conceived of by a Syrian prince, Abd-ar-Rahman, who miraculously fled from Syria, reaching the shores of Southern Spain, and eventually defeated the existing rulers to become the Emir of Cordoba.

The Cordoba Mezquita, mosque built under Abd-ar-Rahman’s rule, was a stunner, probably one of my favorite sights in Spain. The mosque was previously a church under the Visigoth rule, then got converted into a mosque and finally was converted into a church under Christian rule. The mosque’s red and white arches are inspired from Damascan architecture while the red color signifies the colors of Spain. The arches span over three centuries of construction over the Umayyad dynasty. The mosque initially began with arches made from red bricks, then was expanded with more arches with a different kind of brick of an inferior quality and finally the mosque was expanded furthermore with arches in which the red was just painted over, showing the decline in the power of the dynasty.


My Bhopal – now a Curate’s Egg?

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.”
Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”

The term derives from a cartoon published in the humorous British magazine Punch on 9th November 1895.

As I am about to end my almost thirty day stay in Bhopal, India, and after scanning it all these days through my America-influenced eyes, I arrive at one question. How was I ever so tolerant over all these days when I used to actually live here? I have spent eleven years of my prime pre-teen and teen life here in this City of Lakes and now all I see around me is complete chaos. Was it like this even before or time has played its unforgiving destructive role?

The unforgivable are being forgiven, the law-breakers are being pardoned, the rules are being broken relentlessly with no consequences. For some, the city is a dream that starts from their beautiful mansions, continues in their air-conditioned cars, enters a few chic places, returns back to their mansions where their real and dream lives reconcile. These people are comfortable with their lives as-is and no one seems to be complaining. The chaos stays shielded outside their dual-pane windows. Maybe eventuality plays an important role in living in India and we all eventually drape ourselves with this apathy.

The traffic seems to imitate a murderous zoo with people resembling wild animals that have been abandoned by their keeper and are ready to burst out free. They are running in every possible direction with no sensibility towards the ones who are adjacent to them. The intersections have no traffic lights or police personnel and there is no prescriptive way to cross a street. The little cars or scooters scoot over to the other side with a giant car shoving them aside. When the mighty car finally soars ahead in the mad rush, the little ones meekly creep in.

The whole nation still enjoys their craze for gold jewelry – as if the sky rocketing prices of gold seem to not bother our fellow nationals. But to wear jewelry in Bhopal is a different story. The jewelry that is actually worn are cheap imitations priced at sub Rs. 500. Why is that, you may ask, to which the obvious answer is crime. Theft of gold chains and the snatching of women’s bags has become the past time for idle youngsters. Quick money is all they see. We cannot walk outside with a beautiful chain adorned around our neck – even in marriages people prefer wearing imitation jewels. People getting robbed in trains by good looking and polished gentlemen is common news on the wire. They target henna adorned females as they correctly assume that these could be returning from a wedding and their purses would be loaded. Women are learning to keep their “real stuff” in bank lockers and opt to travel with a light heart.

Trash-spills all over the city are so annoying that the entire city seems to be covered with an obnoxious blanket of plastic. Mosquitoes and cockroaches are a part of daily street life. There is so much construction associated with new and existing buildings being modeled and re-modeled, that almost every lane has barely two meters of space to drive in while the rest is covered with mounds of sand, dirt and bricks. Hence, every morning  one’s house furniture looks as if it has taken a round-trip back from the dust bowls of Mars.

Bhopal has undoubtedly become a Curate’s egg. As used in the original context, the term refers to something which is obviously bad but which is willfully described euphemistically as being only partly so, its immaterial good features being given undue weight. Sadly this couldn’t be more true for this once palatial city which I was always so proud to be associated with. Now the entire city seems to be living in a state of denial. The population is growing by leaps and bounds, the city’s decay is not paid proper due and respect and yet prosperity is flourishing like never before amongst a select few. The skeleton of the city seems to be decaying but parts of the exterior are being made to shine by putting flashy malls and countless multinational fast food joints. Some see it prosperity and progress. I see it as Botox injections into an aging system.

You might think that these issues are making me all grumpy and miserable here but my stay is as wonderful and relaxing at it could have ever been. I am thoroughly enjoying the comfort of being in a fully-furnished shielded house, moving around the city in an air-conditioned car, loving the world-famous DB mall, and cheerfully experiencing a tornado-speed-boat ride in the Bhopal Lake. Spending time with one’s parents is a feeling of happiness that nobody can displace. I am loving it here and the impediments are enough to perturb me but are not enough to interfere with my precious moments with my family. I too have draped myself in the Bhopali customs and apathy and am trying to keep the problems outside my window. Or simply jotting them down in bytes.