In Search Of Rama’s Setu At Dhanushkodi

The sea seemed to have receded somewhere near the horizon….the rattling mini-bus ran along the deeply entrenched tyre marks on what seemed like an almost dry sea-bed. Sun had begun its westward journey and the skies were clothed in orange hues even as I traveled towards Dhanushkodi.

Mythology says, that it is at Dhanushkodi which literally means ‘end of the bow’ that Lord Rama marked the spot with his bow-end to make a bridge to Lanka. Located at the tip of Pamban Island, it was a bustling town once, complete with a railway station, a church, customs office, telegraph office, medical institution and boat express service to Lanka.

But what greeted me was a ghost of a town…abandoned, forlorn…in ruins. A devastating cyclone in 1964 devoured the villagers, the train passengers and a life they had cultivated there. Dhanushkodi stays uninhabited since then….

Church in ruins

Church in ruins

The ruinous church and railway station tell a story of what must have been. Another barrack like structure further down the beach had breathed its last with crumbling walls and caved in roof. The few fishermen huts seemed to sob in memory of the town’s healthier past.

I walked along the somber beach  under the gradually graying evening. There at Dhanushkodi the calmer waters of Bay of Bengal meet the turbulent ones of Indian Ocean but the sea seemed docile that evening….a facade people said… “Do not venture alone or deeper in sea; it is treacherous”

Deceptively calm...

Deceptively calm…

I wondered how it must have been when Rama decided to build the bridge… Was the sea tamer then? Did the stones really float on sea? Were corals used to make the bridge?

Though neither the historians nor the geologists believe the theory of a manmade bridge connecting Indian soil to Sri Lankan  shores but there exists an array of coral rocks between the two land masses and the sea is shallower along the rock ridge.

But Science can never compete with the faith or belief in God. And with Dhanushkodi being so close to Rameshwaram, where it is believed that Rama prayed to Lord Shiva before going on war with Lanka King Ravana, the story of Ramayana takes deeper roots in hearts of devotees.

And hence it is for this faith and belief in existence of God that people throng to this desolate town to touch the waters of sea, to pray where their God prayed for guidance and to have a glimpse of the mythical Ram Setu.

However, as evening darkened, the bus driver forbade us to linger far off on the beach and I could not search for any tell-tale signs of Ram Setu. The myth is that the new king of Lanka, Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishana, requested Rama to break the bridge after returning and that is what Rama did. I had to make peace with the thought that the said bridge was no more…swallowed up by the tempestuous ocean…

Mystery remains unsolved…if Ramayana was just a story, then the author must have traveled to all such places mentioned in the epic…he must have traveled upon a rock structure that took him to Lanka…he must have seen the sea swallow the rocky pathway…Or there really could have existed a superhuman like Rama who took an expedition to Lanka.

Somewhere there was the Ram Setu

Somewhere there was the Ram Setu

Whatever the truth may be…I felt a calm watching the blue water swish gently near my feet and ebbing away in the gray horizon. I returned as the night fell…my faith in God still firm and belief in story of Ramayana unshaken!

Good to know facts:

  1. Nearest railway station is Rameshwaram. Regular bus service and taxis are available from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi.
  2. At Dhanushkodi, a new road has been completed which is approachable by private vehicle and on foot.
  3. Mini-buses ply from the private vehicle parking till Dhanushkodi charging anywhere from 100 Rs to 150 Rs per head.
  4. It is inadvisable to be alone on the beach late in evening as sea is unpredictably rough.
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The Handmade Tiles of Athangudi Palaces Of Chettiyars

That the Chettinad is more than a chicken delicacy of same name, became evident while I walked around marveling at the old charm of a 150 year old heritage mansion and a sudden moment of realization made me look down on the floor….it dawned on me that the floor was as old as the structure above! And it still shone colorfully bright, felt softly smooth and like a richly woven carpet, lent the air of aristocracy to the whole structure.

Athanagudi Palace Tiles

Athangudi Palace Tiles

I was roaming the corridors of an old Chettinad mansion with its floor covered in the age old Athangudi handmade tiles; bold and vibrant warm colors in floral and geometric patterns.

The Chettiyar community of Tamilnadu were traders with an appetite to increase their business to far off lands. They traveled by boats to foreign lands and amassed not only wealth but also imported products from Italy, China, Africa and more. They brought with them floor tiles to use in their palatial houses built with the newly acquired wealth.

The tiles however were difficult to maintain and repair owing to the distances from where those were acquired from. The locals soon developed a cottage industry and replicated the foreign design making their own hand-made tiles. The local flavor emerged in the use of traditional motifs and selection of colors.

With advent of vitrified tiles, the hand-made tiles which were once a style and status statement of the palaces of Athangudi are left with but a few patrons who still want to lend their homes a rustic ethnic charm. Now Athangudi village in Shivgagai, the Chettinad district of Tamilnadu, has become the hub of these hand-made tiles.

Sand, cement and red oxide are the chief ingredients of these tiles. A colored paste is poured in the design of metal frame mould placed on glass surface which is instrumental in imparting the sheen to these hand-made tiles. The workers pack this mould with clay sand cement and place the assembled tile in sun for three to four days for drying. It is then cured in water for another week and again placed in sun for final drying. The glass surface is removed to reveal a beautiful design on a sun dried clay tile.

Even though there is no oven baking involved, the tile colors and durability is enough to last a lifetime. The tiles however are bulkier and need skilled laborers for laying.

But with no palace or a sprawling bungalow to call a home, I had to leave those colorfully dark floral and geometrical patterned tiles as is. I fell in love with the patterns and had wanted to take one tile of each size to convert into some kind of functional home accessory but the weight of a single tile discouraged me.

The Bangalas lounge with Athangudi Palace tiles

The Bangala’s lounge with Athangudi Palace tiles

May be someday if and when I own a bungalow like this , those ethnic tiles will adorn my floor space too.

Good To Know:

1. The Athangudi Palace tiles cost Rs 32 per piece and border tiles for Rs 22. The labor cost is Rs 2o/sq ft. 

2. The tiles can be custom made and delivered with extra transportation charges. 

3. It takes about a month to custom design and transporting of the tiles.

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Shimla Sojourn

Vacationing in Himachal, was a long overdue plan. Then things fell in place with a short trip to Manali and Shimla. After spending a day in Manali, we decided to drive to Shimla as well with sight-seeing at Kullu naturally fitting in the itinerary.

Nothing could have prepared me for the beautiful landscape that unfolded right before my eyes along that winding road where the sunlight played hide and seek with the tall conifers.

Sun and the Conifers

Sun and the Conifers

Kullu valley, also called as ‘valley of Gods’ or ‘dev-bhoomi’ sits in the Pir panjal range of Himalayas with River Beas gently flowing in the picturesque landscape. It was a princely state with Naggar as its capital for fourteen years.

The royal residence, Naggar Castle, a wooden structure built in 1460 AD by Raja Siddh Singh, still exists in all its splendour. A fine example of Kathkuni architecture of Himachal Pradesh, the palace is a heritage resort. It also houses the family place of worship Jagatipatt temple.

Courtyard of Naggar castle

Courtyard of Naggar castle

Jagatipatt Temple in palace complex

Jagatipatt Temple in palace complex

Another intriguing temple Tripura Sundari temple stood down the road in its grand silence. A strange tradition of offering shrouds of dead bodies to Goddess every baisakh explains the air of mystery around it.

Tripura Sundari temple by the road side

Tripura Sundari temple by the road side

A visit to Roerich art gallery summed up Naggar and we proceeded to Kandaghat Club Mahindra Resort.

Club Mahindra resort at Kandaghat

Club Mahindra resort at Kandaghat

Kandaghat Club Mahindra Resort

A premium sprawling property for family vacations, the resort enjoys the luxury of lap of mountains surrounded by lush greenery and absolute privacy. The resort with its various dining areas allows the guests to enjoy their meals in setting of their choice with a plethora of cuisines to choose from.

The rooms and fun activities are a separate zone and the resort makes sure families have a gala time away from their home. From playroom to craft activities for kids to dance sessions and karaoke, all activities are centered around the single thought of facilitating quality family time for the guests.

Suites and fun zone

Suites and fun zone

Adventure Activities at Resort

I chose to take part in outdoor adventure activities of the resort. The resort offers supervised archery, Burma bridge, paintball and Zip-lining. The resort boasts of longest zip-line in Himachal Pradesh. With trained people guiding all along, the ziplining and archery were a breeze through even for first timer like me.

By the time I had my fill of adventure, I was dead tired and retired to my room as soon as the sumptuous meal satisfied my hunger pangs. To my absolute delight, the room was a cozy retreat equipped with a little kitchenette complete with microwave for that late night or early morning cuppa. What impressed me was that for the families with infants and toddlers, such a thoughtful facility underlines the idea of a home away from home during vacation.

The resort is spread over a huge area with well laid out lawns and a small herb garden allowing the guests to indulge in long leisurely walks, solitude for those who seek calm and revelry for the younger families. The guests can also enjoy cultural evenings which the resort organizes time and again.

A day and a half simply flew at the resort and there never seemed any dull moment. Kandaghat resort is comfortably close to Shimla without being in too much proximity of the commercial Mall road. And a trip to mall road was an added adventure in the short stay at Kandaghat. The church, theater, post office and the wide road of yesteryear blended well with the new small and big shops jostling for space and vacationers enjoying the vehicle-free street.

Mall road at Shimla

Mall road at Shimla

The Viceregal Lodge, where the famous Shimla Pact was conceived gave the glimpse of the colonial era with its Burma teak interiors, austere exteriors and academic aura.

Viceregal Lodge

Viceregal Lodge

With two days getting over so soon, I am left wanting for more and why not? The stay at Club Mahindra was of utmost comfort….true vacation with everything taken care of, a completely relaxing two days.

May be I will plan a longer vacation at Shimla next season. It helps to know more about Club Mahindra membership though. And if you want to be pampered on holiday too, why not take a informed decision through Club Mahindra reviews.

My trip to Shimla and its scenic locales was organised by Club Mahindra.

 

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Matheran Nostalgia

It is that time of year again, when the love-struck couples make a beeline to Matheran, the cozy and tiniest hill station in India.

Sun sets in hills of Matheran

Sun sets in hills of Matheran

Located in Western Ghats of Raigad district in Maharashtra, Matheran, a quaint little town, the name of which literally means “forest on forehead of the mountain”,  is Asia’s only automobile free hill-station and is aptly called the ‘pedestrian’s hill-station’. This little town was one of the favored getaway destinations of the British during early Raj days. Like most hill stations developed by British, this too has many scenic view-points named after the officers of East India Company scattered all over the rugged undulating hill-top.

The best thing, however, that Matheran has to offer is the toy-train ride across the winding hill-side from Neral to Matheran. So what if this narrow-gauge train did not make it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site; it still is a heritage worth preserving.

Toy train

Toy train from Neral to Matheran

I remember a short trip on this train a few years ago. We had taken a Spicejet flight to Mumbai for a long vacation with family. Our daughter was just about two-years-old and the toy-train ride seemed like a fun activity for her so off we went to Matheran. A day in the small town riding horses and walking through the street full of shops and eateries made me fall in love with the old world charm of the small place. Since the trip was made on the fly, I had my doubts about the availability of nice hotels in Matheran, but my apprehensions were unfounded. There were not only regular hotels but also some wonderful home-stays to choose from.

Next day, we enjoyed a walk in the tranquil forest and visited few view-points. And though it tired us with a two-year-old child in arms but the short trip also left us rejuvenated. The little town had charmed us and with a promise to ourselves to visit again, we caught the next ride on “Phoolrani”, the toy train from Matheran to Neral.

If you are still contemplating about a visit to Matheran…… Don’t! The town will enchant you and maybe, like those early British settlers, you too will want to make a yearly journey to these hills. Believe me, you won’t regret it!

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Travelling With An E-Visa

If I remember correctly, my exposure to travelling to different locations for tourism began at two years of age when my parents traveled to Goa tugging me along on a cruise. While most kids and their parents traveled to grandparents’ home for summer vacations, my parents introduced a new destination every year.

Travelling to new places has not only opened my senses to new experiences but also whetted my appetite for exploring more far off lands. Soon I was sharing my travel stories with friends who would call me up to find out more about the places where I had traveled.

Two years ago in October 2014 I went for my first international trip to USA. I traveled extensively from east to west coast and visited everything from New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Detroit and Niagara Falls. I keep adding more stories to my Travel Tales From America  .

I remember travelling to New Delhi and waiting my turn for the five-minute interview of visa application! And just for that we had to take leave from our jobs, travel from one city to other, spend on stay, food and travel. Needless to say, our trip was exhausting and hassled.

However its a different story now and many countries have facilitated travel by accepting e-Visa applications. India is a treasure trove of heritage sites which depict the art and culture. The monuments scattered all over the country date back to 10th century(or may be older still) to 20th century, from temple, forts and palace architecture to somber British palatial bungalows, Parliament house, Gateways.

Poetry in stone at 11th century stepwell

Poetry in stone at 11th century stepwell

And the good news is that India has started offering e-visa. Citizens from more than 150 countries who wish to travel to India for periods up to 30 days can apply online for their tourist visa. One important thing however to remember is that of the 26 international airports in India only 16 airports offer e-Visa facility, namely: Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Trivandrum, Tiruchirapalli, Varanasi. Arriving on Indian soil via other airports, by land or by sea calls for a visit to Indian embassy and get the correct type of visa. This e-Visa is ONLY for airport arrivals.

e-Visa Applications for Tourists

One of the best implementation from governments globally is that you can now apply online for your tourist visas instead of applying at their embassies. You simply get an email with a PDF and the visa will be electronically linked to your passport. Off course there are some requirements but they are easy to meet. These requirements might include, passport copy, digital passport photo, travel itinerary, return flight uploads etc.

This is a of course great news for all those travelers who live far from the major cities where all the embassies are located, its saves you time and money!

Diverse countries like Cambodia, Australia, India and Kenya all offer e-visa applications online. You can check online to see if you qualify for the visa online by visiting iVisa today!

Other Countries that offer Electronic Tourist Visas

Argentina
The Rep of Argentina has a Reciprocity Fee that has to be paid BEFORE ARRIVAL by all Canadians and Australians. Argentina also implemented an ETA payment online for all Chinese Citizens. They no longer have to go to an embassy, they can simply pay online. 

Photograph courtesy iVisa.com

Photograph courtesy iVisa

Australia

The Australian ETA (Electronic Tourist Authorization) is not available to all citizens but depending on your nationality you can get your tourist visa online in as few as 15 minutes. With this visa you will be able to stay for maximum of 90 days and you can do business and tourism related activities but not work.

Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain also offers e-Visas to tourist from more than 100 countries. The visa application can take  anything from 3-5 business days to get approved so you should plan ahead for any delays.

Cambodia 

Most international tourists can apply online for the tourist visa. With this visa you will be able to stay for up to 30 days in the country.

Canada

If your country is part of the Canadian Visa Waiver then you HAVE to pay the Canadian ETA before your arrival by air. You will not be allowed to board your flight to Canada without this document in hand. You can apply quickly here in case you want to travel there. You can visit iVisa to know more about the e-Visa.

Kenya

International travelers can apply online for the Kenyan tourist visa. Be prepared for long waiting times as the approval can take up to 72 hours.

Photo courtesy iVisa

Photo courtesy iVisa

Malaysia

The Malaysian tourist visa is available ONLY to Chinese and Indian passport holders and can be paid online here.

Myanmar

If you visit Myanmar for less than 28 days, then you can apply for your visa online.

Sri Lanka

Every visitor to Sri Lanka is required to get a Sri Lanka ETA online prior to their arrival.

Turkey

All tourists can apply for the Turkey tourist visa online by completing the simple form online.

United States of America

The US ESTA program is an entry requirement for visa-exempt nationals who will arrive by air. The document must be obtained online before you arrive to the United States.

Vietnam

Here you do not apply for a tourist visa, but a visa approval letter (also called a pre-approved visa on arrival) that will allow you to enter the country so that you can get your Vietnam visa on arrival.  Help is at hand with iVisa.

How can one apply online for this type of visa?

You can apply online from the comfort of your home in 3 simple steps.

Step 1: complete your application online.
Step 2: wait to receive your confirmation email. After the confirmation email you will receive another email with the visa. Print the visa document. Tip* Check your spam folder in case you did not get a confirmation email after 24 hours.*
Step 3: Take the printed document with you when you travel and show the visa at the airport check-in desk, and finally to a border or immigration’s officer.

It’s that simple. So next time, you come to the “Astonishing India” or the countries that offer e-Visa, don’t forget to apply online.

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Meandering Through Manali

The inky blackness swallowed up all that came in its way…..the deep valley was dark and eerily silent as our lonely car trundled up the winding road…tired and desperately wanting to crawl into a warm bed,  I still sat alert clutching at the door, fearing the worst as the midnight crept upon our car on that hill-side.

I was traveling to Manali from Chandigarh. It was well past midnight when I reached White Meadows Club Mahindra Resort at Manali. The cozy room with earthy tones of wooden floor and a warm bed beckoned me; a day long journey gave me enough reason to quickly accept the invitation.

The bright crisp morning brought with itself a promise of a beautiful day ahead and I was eager to soak my senses in the natural vistas of Himachal. Manali is a little hill town in the Beas River Valley nestled in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas. The town is named after Sage Manu who made it his home “Manu-Aaalay” (Manu’s abode) and recreated life from his ark post a devastating flood. I wonder if the ‘pralay’ or a flood really happened because there is this similar story of Noah’s Ark in Bible.

The Britishers who found the climate and the natural beauty soothing and refreshing, escaped the sweltering heat of plains in India to the climes of Himachal towns and introduced the cultivation of apples and breeding of fresh water fish Trout.

With only a day in hand, we left for Solang valley. Beas river tamed by the Pandoh Dam gurgled along the road tempting me to dip and dangle my feet in its icy waters. Few enthusiasts indulged in river rafting…I reveled in its beauty from afar content to hear it flow noisily…

River Beas

 Solang Valley

The hills rose in succession…layer by layer along the way; some piercing the cottony clouds; peaks of the farther ones obliterated by mist and the closer ones proudly displaying an array of pines, deodars and firs. We passed many apple orchards…trees laden with red skinned fruits waiting to be plucked!

Fresh snow on farther hills of Pir panjal Mountain range

Fresh snow on farther hills of Pir panjal Mountain range

Soon we arrived at the rolling giant slopes of Solang valley, some 14 kilometers from Manali. As winter approaches the gentle snow-covered slopes of the valley attract skiers while in summer zorbing, paragliding, parachuting and the newly installed cable car rides are the popular adventure activities.

I was keen on paragliding but the breeze did not seem to have any intention of letting me have the experience. By the time we had our fill of beholding the view of picturesque Himalayan range and finished our cable-car ride, the paragliding team had wrapped up their equipment depriving me of the thrill.

Slopes of Solang valley

Slopes of Solang valley

Sailing above the world

Sailing above the world

Temple of Hidimba

Next on itinerary was the temple dedicated to Hidimba, wife of Bhima of Mahabharat. Revered for her sacrifice during Mahabharata and considered to be a reincarnation of Goddess Durga, her temple dates back to 1553. Constructed by Raja Bahadur Singh, it is a pagoda style wooden structure in typical kath-kuni architecture of Himachal Pradesh.

Set among the tall conifers, it seems a perfect abode of the giant mother and her son Ghatotkach.

Hidimba Temple in the heart of forest

Hidimba Temple in the heart of forest

Ghar aaja pardesi....

Ghar aaja pardesi….

But what made me linger a little longer in the temple complex was not the ancient structure but a street artist who created popular Hindi film music and nursery rhymes on his ancient styled stringed instrument.

The day seemed to be almost  over by the time visit to Solang and Hidimba temple finished. Famished and fatigued we preferred to return back for rest and recuperation. White Meadows is a premium Club Mahindra luxury resort sitting pretty on the banks of River Beas with a sprawling layout.

The club boasts of accommodation ranging from studios to duplex, three functional bars, private party zones, family fun activity areas, Svastha Spa and well laid out lawns for private as well as common use. With the privacy and comfort taken care of in the premises, the vacationers have ample time to relax and spend quality time with family over a game of carrom or pool table or grooving to the music by a disc jockey!

The resort believes in nurturing relationships and strives to give facilities to its members so the families bond together without bothering about boarding and lodging issues on a holiday.

I am all for experiencing local food of a region as long as it’s not something weird like chocolate-coated-grasshoppers.

Himachal Cuisine

Himachal Cuisine

To my pleasant surprise the resort had arranged for an authentic Himachali cuisine. The piping hot fare complete with Siddu(lentil stuffed fermented dough ball), Khatta Murg(Chicken cooked with dry mango), Pahadi Maas(Lamb stew), Meetha chawal(sweetened rice with fennel flavor) whetted my appetite no end.

All that food and residual tiredness brought a fitful sleep post the lunch. Well-rested I spent a peaceful evening in the well-laid out lawns, my hot cup of coffee and no one to disturb my reflective mood.

Later in evening after a few failed attempts to hit a ball or two on pool table over a glass of wine, a mouth-watering  fried trout and invigorating discussions on aliens, myths, legends and life sciences I learnt about the various choices of Club Mahindra Membership and the concept of vacation ownership. It was good to know that the Resorts encourage the vacationers to take an informed decision of becoming a member by going through the Club Mahindra Reviews of existing members.

The evening stretched beyond midnight again, but so engrossed were we in our conversation that it took a deliberate decision to retire for the day.

After all the trip had just begun…

My trip to Manali and its scenic locales was organised by Club Mahindra.

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Kath Kuni Architecture: Heritage Of Himachal Pradesh

Heritage, as defined in the dictionary means “an inherited property such as historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generation and are worthy of preservation”. The intangible heritage includes the traditional knowledge and practices relating to the natural surroundings that have been handed down by preceding generation.

On a recent trip to Manali and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, I was disappointed to see concrete jungle covering the entire hill-side and traditional construction techniques losing ground. What seemed like little twinkling stars at night had turned into hideous houses so closely placed that it looked more like a hill made from houses stacked atop each other.

Though the village still had a few traditional houses but there too, brick mortar seemed to replace vernacular architecture. Town had hardly any typical houses, built from local materials that respond to the local topography and climate of the region. Some of the structures that reflected the traditional Kath-Kuni architectural style of Himachal Pradesh were mostly temples and the historical Naggar Castle.

What is Kath Kuni Architecture?

The traditional architecture makes use of locally available wood of Deodhar and Kail trees with the stone. The Kath Kuni construction technique allows the structure to rise up to as high as seven floors but a typical house rises up to two or three floors. Typical features:

  1. A sloping pent and gable roof made of slate stone shingles. Stone shingles prevent strong winds from dislodging the roof.

    Slate tiles for roof

    Slate tiles for roof

  2. Stone and wood walls without any cementing material. Alternate layers of wooden beams and stones are stacked to create strong long-lasting strong easily constructed walls. 

    Alternating layers of wood and stone in walls

    Alternating layers of wood and stone in walls

  3. Overhanging projecting wooden balcony with large openings to allow most sunlight and warmth to penetrate the structure.

    Overhanging wooden balconies supported by wood rafters

    Overhanging wooden balconies supported by wood rafters

 Why this Intangible Heritage needs to be preserved?

The traditional knowledge is always perfect for the region it originates in. This  unique construction technique has its advantages which needs to be preserved and taught to next generation because:

  1. The absence of cementing material makes the structure non-rigid which dissipates stresses developed in the structure during earthquakes thus preventing large-scale destruction and loss of life.
  2. The thick walls have air trapped in the spaces between stones and wood which acts as insulation layer and keeps the interiors warm during colder temperatures of the region. This also results in easy and cheaper maintenance.
  3. All materials are easily available and do not deteriorate for long time thus saving on wastage and resources.
  4. Construction is faster than slow setting mortar and the locals can construct their own house without external help.
  5. The materials being biodegradable, there is no harmful synthetic trash accumulation. 

Trikuta Mata Temple

While driving towards Shimla from Manali I happened to see this structure on a sloping side road that led to a village somewhere. A perfect example of traditional architecture it had all the elements of Kath Kuni construction technique; the slate shingles for roof, stone and wood walls and projecting wood balcony. The wood beams and rafters were decorated intricately and showed off the artistic skills of the Himachali people.

Trikuta temple by the road side

Trikuta temple by the road side

Hidimba Temple

Set amidst Deodhar trees is this ancient pagoda style temple constructed in 1553 in kath-kuni architectural pattern. This single story structure built atop a small cave has stone and wood layered walls that has stood the test of time.

Hidimba temple

Hidimba temple

Naggar Castle

This ancient castle was built by Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu in 1460. Converted to state-run rest house, the castle with its intricately carved interiors still survives in its original grandeur. A fine example of traditional construction style it has a temple inside the complex with beautiful wood-art.

Inner courtyard of naggar castle with jagatipatt temple on left

Inner courtyard of Naggar Castle with Jagatipatt temple on left

The survival of such ancient structures is proof enough that for a region that has much seismic activity and a whole range of weather conditions, the traditional construction is the best practice.

India is a treasure trove of tangible and intangible heritage….all that is needed is a passion and zeal to preserve it and hand it down to the future generation.

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Romancing The Rain: A Trek To Bhimashankar

I have never been keen on getting wet in the rain…so much so that when a few years ago, darling husband had very romantically suggested a motorbike ride to Lonavala in thick of monsoon I had, with an equal ardour, convinced him to cozy up at home instead of getting wet and cold in the rain!

But a few weeks ago, I decided to join a group of young trekkers from Pune and trek to Bhimashankar temple in the Sahyadris Hills of Western Ghats and that too in pouring rain!! Aim was to find out the romance of the rain…

Though the scheduled departure was planned at six but travelling in a group you always end up being late. And so we set course at seven in morning from Pune. The cool morning breeze and an overcast sky were signs of a pleasant day ahead. Meandering down the road I waited for the mushrooming concrete jungle to taper away…

Soon the bus was cruising along  lush green fields of paddy swaying in the gentle breeze. Have you ever smelled a Paddy field? I never knew that it smells like the cooked rice…reminds you of the warm food at home!

Lush paddy fields

Lush paddy fields

Brimming seasonal rivers flowed exuberantly, small water bodies, bridges and small dams rolled past but the hills draped in layers of variety of greens remained our constant companions soothing the eyes and filling me with general sense of well-being ….no matter how much the terror-spreaders and skewed-brained people tried to destroy, the world was beautiful and I was alive to experience it, to breathe in the fresh air, to see the beautiful colors, to smell fragrances…

Sahyadri hills of Western Ghats draped in greens

Sahyadri hills of Western Ghats draped in greens

Brimming rivers

Brimming rivers

Three hours drive through beautiful countryside later, we arrived at the foot of the trek-trail. The group leader Mukund Kale and Wild Trek Adventure organizer Prasad had forewarned us to carry rain coats, umbrellas and salt to fend off leeches. Armed with all rain gear and cameras we began our trek to Bhimashankar temple.

Bhimashankar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas and a popular pilgrimage. According to the mythological stories, Lord Shiva was invoked by all other Gods to defeat and end Bhimasur, the son of Kumbhakaran of Ramayana’s fame. While the war was on, Lord Shiva’s sweat fell on the ground and River Bhima was thus formed.

No sooner had the bus left and we began the gradual hike did the skies decide to come down on us in an incessant drizzle that would last us for the entire trek. Out came the rain coats and umbrellas from the backpacks and in went my camera, extra lens and all!

The terrain soon turned into slippery squishy muddy trail testing and teasing me. Weighed down by the heavy lenses and camera on my shoulder I stumbled along the slippery rocks. Though the slope was very gradual but I found it cumbersome in continuous rain. An hour later when I was on verge of giving up, the terrain flattened out much to my relief.

Small and big crabs peeped out of their holes and scurried past. Little rivulets streamed down the ground. Freshly formed small waterfalls gushed along the trail. The young trekkers despite being soaked in rain splashed in the waterfalls drenching themselves to the bones. I however looked on….trying to find a foothold on the slippery ground and protecting the camera from getting wet.

The perpetual rain had not particularly pleased me but the excitement and revelry of those fifteen year old trekkers was infectious and I had gradually begun to enjoy the journey. The breathtaking beauty was growing on me…the greenery calmed me.

Somewhere along the trail a shallow seasonal river had sprung up with clear gurgling water rushing in great abandon…dancing over every stone and rock…a picture perfect view!

Shallow seasonal river along the Bhimashankar Trek

Shallow seasonal river along the Bhimashankar Trek

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

That was the time when I fell in love again…with the unadulterated beauty of nature. I  understood what it was that made poets write paeans on rains… And from that point forward, rain stopped bothering me…I let it drip down my neck,  squelch under my shoes and  chill my finger tips.

After seven long kilometers trek we reached the footsteps of the Bhimashankar temple wading through another deeper and fiercer stream. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the temple and was replaced by thick white veil of mist obstructing view beyond a few meters.

I was wet, cold and shivering but I had my share of romance with the rains and loved it….

Good to know facts:

Reaching there:

  • Bhimashankar is about 110 km from Pune and a popular destination for pilgrims as well as adventure seekers.
  • Treks to Bhimashankar vary in degree of difficulty. There are treks for more adventurous to the Bhimashankar Forest Reserve, Bhorgiri Fort, Buddhist caves Amba and Ambalika and to the origin of River Bhima.
  • Trek trips from Mumbai, Mahabaleshwar, Matheran are quite frequent during monsoons.
  • State transport buses and private commercial vehicles ply from nearby areas to Bhimashankar.

Stay:

  • Cheap lodges and dormitories that serve basic local food are available near the temple.
  • Nearest resorts for accommodation are in Matheran, Alibaug or Mahabaleshwar.
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Festivals of Goa

There is more to Goa, the most favored destination for fun-loving travelers, than just sea and surf or sun and sand or overflowing spirits for that matter. Mere mention of Goa conjures up the images of colorful gaiety, exuberance, festooned decorations, merry revelers, foot-tapping music and joyous vivacious dances and for me….most definitely the caricature art depicting local life of Goa by Mario Miranda.

Mario Miranda's goa

Image courtesy Pinterest

While, India as a country is essentially a land of festivals. But festivities take a new dimension, when it comes to celebrations in Goa. All through the year, Goa remains in a phase of continuous celebrations.

Festivals:

With Bonderam festival and Chovoth(Ganesh Festival) just around the corner, Goa is just getting ready for being decked up for the festival of lamps, Diwali in October and the glitzy glamorous International Film Festival of India in November.

St Xavier’s Feast and Christmas, in December truly set the mood for a long vacation and festivities. Every ten years the casket bearing the remains of St Xavier is brought down for a procession through Old Goa and celebrations end with a grand feast. Christmas heralds the busiest time of the year in Goa. New Year’s eve celebrations are must-do for tourists.

January brings in the much awaited Feast of Three Kings when three boys dress as three kings bearing gifts for new-born Jesus. This year Goa will also be the venue for International Kite Festival in January at Colva Beach(20-21 st January 2016) and Miramar Beach (23-24 th January 2016)

Festivities reach a crescendo with the Goa Carnival. Parade floats, dance, live music, local food and culture all defines this four-day extravaganza. Tourists flock in from all walks of life to be a part of this fun-filled event.

Finding Abode:

Vacation, holiday mood and celebrations  are enhanced with just the right kind of stay.  To be a part of Goan celebrations, it is but logical to find a unique abode for few days. With myriad stay options ranging from shacks for a day to luxury hotels to pamper, Goa has much to offer. But while all kinds of hotels are a regular affair for any tourist place, Goa offers affordable stay in gorgeous villas.

Sunsets look ethereal at a beach when the sun-rays get reflected in a golden splendor over the vast sea. Imagine a piece of sun sea and sand away from the madding crowd….

Image courtesy Go villa

Image courtesy Go villa

Goa Villa offers some such cozy villas for a small family as well as lavish sprawling villas for larger groups with their properties spread all over Goa.

And to name a few, Dream Valley Villa is one of such villas which has a direct access to the beach and is slightly secluded from the rush of revelers.

Beach Dream Valley Villa: picture courtesy Goa Villa

Beach Dream Valley Villa: picture courtesy Goa Villa

Villa Caesar, complete with swimming pool and house staff at beck and call is barely ten minutes from much frequented Anjuna beach.

Image courtesy Go Villa

Caesar Villa: Image courtesy Go Villa

So what are you waiting for? Soak in the festivities… Go GOA!!

This is a sponsored post. However the opinion and views are mine.

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When Phoolandevi refused to budge!!

Phoolandevi refused to budge ….no, not the dacoit of 1980s, but the great Indian tusker at the Kaziranga National Park!!

She stood still attentively listening to the sounds that the wind carried and trumpeted loudly, searching and signalling… desperately. She stopped in her tracks and would take us no further.

A mother always worries…and wild beast mothers are no different. Her few months old son ‘Babu’ accompanied us along on the safari. Just like a naughty child, Babu would run off a little ahead to play only to return by his mother’s side at one annoyed trumpet call from the Big Momma. My daughter was quick to observe that the baby elephant behaved much like her (and I didn’t even need to compare!!)

Babu accompanying us on safari...

Babu accompanying us on safari…

All was fun and we enjoyed the little elephant’s pranks who just wasn’t heeding to his giant mother’s little grunts and tugs. He and his friend Rani were happy playing in the grass fearless and carefree…

Babu and Rani playing

Babu and Rani playing

But while we were passing through the tall razor-edged elephant-grass, ‘Babu’ got lost and headed in other direction. We of course were not aware of this little mishap, but a mother’s instincts had kicked in. The big momma slowed down her pace expecting the baby to catch up. The mahout kept prodding her to continue.

The moment we pulled out of the tall elephant grass in to a clearing, Phoolandevi could take it no more. She refused to budge any further! The tusker kept trumpeting loudly till finally a faint trumpet of panicky ‘Babu’ could be heard. As soon as she heard her child’s cry for help she ran towards the voice forgetting about us sitting atop her.

We held on for our dear lives….mahout had no control over the frantic mother. Soon the mother-son duo were united much to our relief. Babu had learnt his lesson and stuck close at his mother’s side for the rest of the safari.

Our safari though delayed was finally, back on track and we proceeded to see many more mother child pairs of rhinoceros and wild boars during the safari.

As the safari ended I realized most of the elephants taking tourists for ride were females one of them had given birth earlier in the morning. The new-born could hardly stand and the mother though quite far from us was not happy at all at our curiosity to see the new-born!

Mommies all...

Mommies all…

How remarkable are the mothers…so easily they take up the task of bearing children and earning the bread for family soon after and raising their kids into responsible adults, all at the same time.

Our safari ride was not only adventurous but also gave a glimpse of the fiercely protective love of a mother in the wild.

 

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