Remember the scene from ‘Jab We Met’ in which Kareena was stranded in a small town Ratlam when she missed her train? She marveled at the narrow lanes and lifestyle of that small town, and points how she always wondered when she passed through it. Being an avid traveller myself, I totally related to the scene. Whenever I travel to a major tourist destination, I love to take a detour to such small towns and get the feel of those quirky lanes, laid-back life and local attractions. I did it when I went to Manali. I stopped at many towns enroute, drank tea at tea-stalls and explored their marketplaces. And, there are certain small towns that have caught my fancy for many years - one, because of its Bollywood reference and others, because my father. Every time he came back from his official trip, he narrated his experiences in detail.
As a child whenever I heard, ‘Jhumka gira re, bareilly ke bazaar mein’ on radio, I sketched Bareilly in my mind, specially its market. I always wanted to go there, roam in its famous bazaar and buy a thing or two. And now as an adult, I know there is much more in this fabulous city to explore. There is so much history and culture in this small town that I am totally mesmerized by it - from its historical importance in the revolution of 1857 to religious and recreation places. For starters, it has one of the best amusement parks in North India - Fun City Boond and Amusement Park, where one can have plenty of fun with their family.
In addition to it, this city has many parks throughout - Phool Bagh, Children’s Park, Lichi Bagh and Gandhi Garden, which are perfect places for a quaint morning walk or a relaxed evening. If you love nature as much as I do, a stroll in one of the parks and checking its plant collection sounds perfect. Another high point of this city is its religious places. It has 4 Shiva Temples at each corner of the city - Alakhanath, Trivatinath, Madhinath, Dhopeshwarnath. Each temple has its own history and significance. Dhopeshwarnath, which is believed to be the birthplace of Draupadi, and Alakhanath is the home of naga sannyasins and has many shrines devoted to different gods and goddesses. Bareilly also has a popular Muslim shrine - Dargah é Ala-Hazrat, which is famous for a cult of Sufism. Without doubt there is so much to explore in this small yet beautiful town, much more than I ever thought of!
Just 200 kms away from Bareilly is another town where my father traveled a lot for business - Meerut. Just like Bareilly, even this small town boasts of history and culture. During his many trips, my father visited almost every religious place in the city. Jain temples of Hastinapur is a great place, he said often. It has Jain Temples - Shri Digamber Jain Mandir, Jambudweep, Kailash Parvat, Shwetambar Jain Temple; and a Gurudwara and Hastinapur Sanctuary. I remember my father narrating the beauty of Saint Johns Church, as it was the first church he ever visited. Other prominent religious places of Meerut are Augarnath Temple and Jama Masjid.
If one one hand Meerut has serene religious places, on the other it has Martyr’s Memorial - a 98 foot marble pillar situated in the city where all major National festivals are celebrated, giving city a patriotic feel. Even the pre-independence Gandhi Bagh is a major attraction of the city. And there is one place which is on my list since my father told me about it, Suraj Kund - there is a pond dating back to the 17th century and a temple with breathtaking architecture. One can sit and pray there, sounds like a perfect place to go in the evening after a trip to the city.
Lastly, there is one city where my father has been many a times, but unfortunately rest of us always missed the opportunity. Nanded, a small town in Maharashtra is of great significance because of Gurudwara Shri Hazur Sahib. Situated on the bank of Godavari, it is the place where the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh took his last breath. I have seen three out of five takhts of Sikhism and it’s my wish to visit the remaining two. Not only this place is of religious significance but the architectural beauty is astounding. The 'Laser and Musical Fountain Show' at the premises of the Gurudwara attracts thousands and adds magnificence to the place. Nanded is an absolute gem, a small town which holds majestic significance for millions.
When my father travelled years back to these towns, he took extra care while packing - clothes, documents and enough money for contingencies. Now, things are comparatively easy for travelers. Most services are easily accessible, like banks. Kotak Mahindra Bank is expanding its presence in small towns, which not only help locals, but businessmen and travelers like my father. It has branches in all the cities that I’ve mentioned. And with their #KonaKonaKotak initiative, they are reaching out to millions and bringing banking on their doorsteps. Fantastic, isn't it!
As they say - Not all who wander are lost. So, what are the little gem towns you have discovered while taking a detour on your trips?