Meta Temples, Meta Forests, and Skipping Stones….Once Upon a Time

A famous Arch in a Shiv Temple and a Tree that could swallow anything!

My friend Maulik and I landed up in Polo Forest on 26th January and as we watched the crystal-clear waters rushing down Harnav river we decided to do skip stones, to see how many times we could bounce the stones off the surface of the river waters. Maulik had no idea of the physics that the magic angle between a spinning stone and the water if at 20 to 25 degrees leads to the maximum number of skips — but boy — he was just nailing it effortlessly getting 5 consecutive skips. He was a natural stone skipper. For that matter — nor did I have an idea of the physics — but being the geek that I am and horrid as I was at skipping stones, I had to look up this theory!

I was able to learn that there are artificial intelligence models being built to better understand this theory as the pattern can be correlated with aircraft water landings and re-entering spacecraft that collide with water surfaces at high speeds; crazy stuff. Now with the upcoming Metaverse soon someone will develop a skipping stones game and make it a super hit especially if the challenge can be merged with “gamification” challenge such as crossing a digital river on a quest. The upcoming meta worlds may make skipping stones one of the world’s most popular games!

The beauty of the Polo Forest is breathtaking. Surprising because I had never expected that there would be a forest nestled in a valley with Arizona-like mountains around just 3-hours by road from Ahmedabad. The name is derived from the word “Pol” meaning “gate” in the local language and signifying the place as a gateway between Gujarat and Rajasthan (this is important to explain before some folks take their horses and set off to the forest assuming it’s a place for playing “polo”. No, Gujrati’s do NOT take to Polo!). If you are from this area, I would strongly suggest you visit the Polo Forest!

As Maulik and I trekked through the forest our guide showed us some amazing Hindu and Jain temples. We noticed that the places were surprisingly deserted of tourists. Almost every single temple was devoid of Gods too including the Shiva Panchayatam Antarsuba (group of five shrines from the 15th century) and the Jain Temple Sadevant Savlingana Dehra (a cluster of four Jain temples also from the 15th century). Our guide told us fascinating stories that over the past millennium the Gods had been removed from the temples for a variety of reasons (another tale!).

As we discussed Maulik’s 5 skips, I thought of describing my five big takeaways from this trip:

1. The magical arches of Polo’s Shiva and Jain temples are the gateways to a timeless world of ancient temples, deserted of Gods and people. However, the cracked pillars, the intricate carvings in the broken stones, and scattered bricks still appear to hold the essence of divinity, providing remarkable vibes as we walked through these temples. This feels lost in modern-day temples which are bustling with people and rituals.

2. A method of keeping Polo in a continuous restored state using the Metaverse and NFTs seems plausible to test. Traditional site restoration and maintenance are dependent on government funds and private property ownership. Taking Polo’s ancient temples to the metaverse can extend the life of the physical temples by making them accessible to the world and also reduce the footfall to the physical sites that would otherwise be needed to maintain the area as a tourist spot. NFT’s and Air Drops accessible through physical visits can ensure the physical site remains attractive in the real world and provide millions more access to Polo. There could be no better place for our Avatars to meet (pun intended!).

3. The Spirit of Local People was remarkable. Polo is a tribal town, and full of vibrant multifaceted folks ranging from people who are both tour guides and guards, ladies who are selling “tamarind” as well as “Maggie” noodles. Everyone seemed to know everyone and while the small stalls were selling the very same products, the bonhomie I saw amongst the village tribals was remarkable. I was chatting with a kid (Nirav) who would not have been more than 10 years of age running a “cigarette and noodle” stall when he saw a tourist family in a 5 series BMW drive by. With remarkable clarity of thought, Nirav turned to me and commented that the owner could have built a big holiday house at the Polo Forest for the same price as the BMW and had more fun. This kid will go far!!!

4. The Fern Sattva and Polo Forest’s hotels seemed full of people who migrated from other parts of the country to have a chance at prosperity in their lives. The spirit of these people was certainly evident as cooks from Uttarakhand, servers from West Bengal appeared to be managing the hotels. The highlight was a boy from Uttarakhand who was lighting a bonfire for us on a cold night. I never got his name, but he was telling us this was his first trip ever away from home and he was seeking challenges to make himself a man. This boy was lighting fires for us during a cold winter night, but it seemed like each bonfire he lit made his personal inner fire burn even hotter.

5. Our guide Mr. Chauhan was remarkable. He knew every path, every twist, and every local at each temple. He took us inside the dense forest and amazingly was able to find his way out when we were feeling like we were in an infinite loop. His knowledge helped us stay away from the Leopards, Hyenas, Bears, and Poisonous snakes that are all found in the forest. In fact, we found Mr. Chauhan while looking for another guide whom we had tried to call but learned that had died during one of the tours from a snake bite (yes — something to watch out for!)

Life is full of stories. My friend Maulik’s five skip’s, the spirituality even in abandoned temples, tamarind sellers, Mr. Chauhan the guide, Nirav the Cigarette seller, the bonfire boy, death from a snake bite — all eventually leading to the Metaverse. We live in fascinating times as we bridge the ancient with the modern! Once Upon a Time….

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