Sunday, 14 July 2013

A forgotten fort,enchanting lake and bonfire!!! Belatal, Mahoba

It was already winters in Bundelkhand and me and A had been pestering our batchmate-friend M, to take us to some beautiful place in Mahoba. Workaholic that he is, the idea kept getting pushed to yet another weekend each time and we feared wasting the entire season like that. Unlike in the bigger cities like Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow which are completely shrouded by smog come winters, due to total absence of any industrial activity in this remote region of Uttar Pradesh, winters mean a long season of crisp yellow sunshine and clear blue skies. Add to that a rugged landscape dotted with pristine rivers, low hills and innumerable ruined forts and palaces and one gets a perfect recipe for getaways.

If it were for M, we could have never visited the beautiful place that Belatal is. God sent for us, his officer trainee, N, chanced to visit us and told us about this place. I wasted no time in extracting an invitation from M, and on a lovely sun soaked afternoon of 10th December, 2011 we announced ourselves at M's house. What's even more memorable than the entire visit is the excellent food M's mother made for us and if one could stuff food like that in pockets, I would have done so. Having had our fill of homemade goodies, me, A,M and N started for Belatal. It must have been around six by the time we reached the place and as per the winter daylight hours in India, the sun had already set. But the magical part was a gleaming disc of full moon shining on the waters of the lake and lending an old world touch to the entire setting. The lake, Bela Sagar, too seemed like a leaf out from some otherworldly book of fairy tales for its  exquisite beauty and for the beryl hills which dotted its shores.To me,it was as if the elements had 'conspired' to make the evening truly unforgettable for us.

Given that I have an endless appetite for all things historical, the colonial era inspection bungalow where we stayed itself would have sufficed as an alibi to visit the place, sans the lake and the fort. Till the day of our arrival, the place which is currently maintained by Irrigation Department, had not had electricity for years and was mainly used for day time halts. Thanks to the efforts of some enterprising officers, the electricity got restored and the doors of the colonnaded building were thrown open to us.

The location could not have been better (and am sure must have replaced some older structure) and offered us an expansive view of the lake, the hills and the fort itself. I have always admired the acumen of British era officers who made even such remote places worth a visit . The bonfire and the food were added bonuses and we spent the evening chatting endlessly, mostly about things of little or no importance! Little did we know upon arrival at Belatal, that it was lunar eclipse that night. Growing up in Delhi where sky is rarely visible, I never knew what a full moon lunar eclipse must be like.

Not wanting to miss a thing, me and N decided to be up before the sunrise and in the words of Cassia Leo, (Relentless) we were up and about by that time of day when the sun hasn’t come up yet, but you can already feel it coming. It’s an elusive warmth, like a subtle promise whispered in your ear and you can go on with your day knowing you’ve been given another chance to get it right.” 

The morning held a different promise altogether not just because sunrises always appear beautiful in their reflection upon water bodies but because the historicity of the place became evident only when the first rays of sun shone upon the Inspection Bungalow and we realized that the terracotta tiled building where we had been picnicking has been around for nearly a century having been built in 1918. The bougainvillea creepers at the front and the back and the white lime-wash seem to convey not much has changed since the days of the Raj.

While words could never convey enough, a splendid sunrise has been spoken of by many a writer and poet. The most cherished memory of mine of the trip to this day however remains the song of those boatmen in the lake who had come to collect chestnuts at day break. For me the ballad they sang in their local dialect was no less than the hymns we sing in temples and perhaps it was their own unique way of expressing gratitude to God!

Even from a purely strategic point of view, the fort (which is said to have been originally built by the local kings Raja Jagatraj and Raja Parikshit of Jaitpur and later passed to the British) could not have had a more commanding view of the  place than it already does standing tall by the lakeside and with its watchtowers extending well into the lake. Even today whatever remains of the old bastion is daunting enough and one hopes that the large number of historical ruins which dot the entire Kulpahar sub-division were taken good care of and showcased better. The eight lake which was was built by Raja Parikshit of Jaitpur in the loving memory of his wife Bela, even a good 200 years later is the major source of irrigation and drinking water (through lift irrigation) for a huge population of the region. Today when we go about building dams endlessly and cause such political and social furore, my stay in Bundelkhand also made me realize the sagacity and farsightedness of the erstwhile local rulers who gifted their people with such valuable assets (with minimum incidental costs) which have lasted for generations and still continue to hold good. However, the intellectual arrogance of our generation (read our profession) and the constant zeal to do something new does not yet seem to make us realize the futility of constantly reinventing the wheel and a dysfunctional one at that!

A morning walk in the nearby village told us a sad story of backwardness and poverty. In a place where for the large proportion of the populace, its an endless challenge to eke out two square meals a day, the locals could not care less for the history and heritage. Despite its enormous potential for rock-climbing, rural tourism, water sports etc, if it were not for the Irrigation Department's upkeep, the place would have fallen into complete disuse by now and  another precious chapter of Bundelkhand's rich historical legacy would have been lost forever. While the sights the place afforded will remain etched in my heart forever, I truly hope life affords me another opportunity to revisit the place. As we left the place, I could look back from our car windows and see the solid walls from a great distance.To me they seemed to bid farewell to its rare visitors..

To leave, after all, was not the same as being left.” 
― Anita Shreve, (The Pilot's Wife)

1 comment :

  1. Very nice... Only some have the gift of appreciating any circumstances that life throws our way.. Loved the moon-over-the-lake capture.