Friday, June 13, 2014 0 comments

Royal White Beauty - Udaipur

Khama ghani!!!!

Any guesses where I had been this time??? You guessed it right.... I was in Rajasthan, to be précised Udaipur... I went there for my honeymoon and just fell in love with the splendor of the city.  It is a seductive city with havelis, palaces and temples at every turn, beautiful lakes lapping against white buildings and Aravalli hills closing in to savour the view.

We started our journey on 15th August 2012 early morning. Since we had booked seats on 11.00 am Air India, we had to leave early from home. We reached Udaipur at around 12 noon from where we hired a cab and went to Karohi haveli where we stayed from next 4 days. Udaipur airport is in the outskirts of the city, it took us about an hour to reach the main city. Our hotel was in the old city, we had to pass through small lanes lined by small shops on both the sides. I just loved it. Karohi haveli was actually a residence which was converted to hotel, however the authenticity still can be seen. That day we decided not to venture out and just relax.

Before I start with details of my trip, let me give you all a brief about the city. The city was founded by Maharaja Udai Singh II in 1559 as the capital of Mewar. As per the legend, Maharaja while hunting at the foothills of Aravalli, he came across a hermit. The hermit blessed the king and asked him to build a palace on the spot, assuring him it would be well protected. Udai Singh II consequently established a residence on the site. In 1568, the Mughal emperor Akbar captured the fort of Chittor, and Udai Singh moved the capital to the site of his residence, which became the city of Udaipur.

Udaipur is often called the "Venice of the East", and is also nicknamed the "Lake City". Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar in this city are considered some of the most beautiful lakes in the state.

Haveli had a good hotel on the rooftop and it was awesome to have a candle light dinner with Rajasthani music in the background. 

The next day i.e. on 16th August 2012, we decided to go to Kumbalgarh.  We hired a car to go to the kumbalgarh, which is situated at about 105Kms to the west of Udaipur. On the way we felt like having an proper rajasthani breakfast. Our driver Pradeep took us to Hathi Pol where we had kachori. Believe me when I say that it was the best I ever ate. After breakfast we continued our journey for next 2 hours to reach the fort. My first reaction on seeing the fort was "OMG this is huge". On entering through ‘Ram Pol’ gate I was mesmerized by the massiveness of the fort and its walls.

The fort, built in 15th century by Maharana Kumbha, is known for its great history and architecture. This fort is also the birth place of Maharana Pratap, the great king and warrior of Mewar. Standing majestically on 1180m high ridge and representing the past glory of the Rajput rulers, the Fort also provides a panoramic view of the countryside from the top. 

It is believed that the fort was built over the remains of earlier structure associated with Jaina prince Samprati of the 2nd century BC. Due to its strategic location it was the 2nd important fort of Rajasthan after Chittorgarh. The fort is defended by a series of bastions at regular intervals. Entered through Aaret Pol, Halla pol and Hanuman Pol from the south one can reach Ram Pol and Vijal pol, the main entrance of the fort. 

The fort is surrounded by a majestic thick wall which is approximately 15 kms long.  This wall is second longest only to the 'Great Wall of China'. It's serpentine 15 kilometres long wall is thick and road enough for eight horses to ride abreast.  The wall is a great example of architecture brilliance of Rajput Era. Its architectural brilliance is proved by the fact that in spite of being around 700 years old it is still intact and in a very good shape. This wall is not in a regular straight pattern but it runs through mountain cliffs and valleys. It has steep ascend and descend throughout its length, the wall has stairs and walk way.

This grand fort also has 360 temples within the walls, some of which are Vedi temple, Neelkanth Mahadeo temple, Ganesh temple, Parsvanatha temple and Golerao group of temples.

According to legend, in 1443, the Maharana of Kumbhalgarh, Rana Kumbha, initially failed to build the fort even after repeated attempts. A spiritual preceptor was consulted about the construction problems and advised the ruler that a voluntary human sacrifice would solve whatever was causing the impediment. The spiritual advisor advised building a temple where the head should fall, and to build the wall and the fort where the rest of his body lay. As can be expected, for some time no one volunteered, but one day, a pilgrim /  soldier /  spiritual preceptor  volunteered and was ritually decapitated. Today the main gate of the fortress, Hanuman Pol, contains a shrine and a temple to commemorate the great sacrifice. According to popular folklore, Maharana Kumbha used to burn massive lamps that consumed fifty kilograms of ghee and a hundred kilograms of cotton to provide light for the farmers who worked during the nights in the valley.

Now back to our experience. We decided to explore the temples before visiting the main fort. We started with the Shiva temple, which was the nearest to the right side of the gate. The temple was closed, however we got so mesmerised by the architecture that we ended spending almost 45 minutes in the temple vicinity.

From there we went to Neelknath Mahadev temple (image A) which enshrines a Shivlinga in the garbhagriha. It has an open pillared mandapam all around the garbhagriha.

Next were the Nirandhara Jaina temples (image B) which were built on high jagati having garbhagriha, antarala and mandapa. The temple is rectangular entered through a plain doorway crowned with a domical ceiling which is restored. Again architecturally it was beautiful and jaw dropping.

                                              Image A                                                             Image B

The path leading to these temples were pebbled. The paths were too cute and passes through the canopy of trees.  But as we went to the interior parts we couldn’t see any tourists so we decided to return back after visit the Golerao group of temples. The Golerao group of temples consists of 9 shrines enclosed by a circular wall. 4/9 temples are dedicated to Jaina Tirthankars and rest to hindu gods. The shrines are adorned with beautiful carved sculptures of gods and goddesses on its exterior. 

Visiting all the temples would take about 3 days as per the guides. On visiting few temples, we decided to have lunch, post which we visited the main place. The palace is a two storied structure. It consists of two rooms, a corridor in the middle and open spaces. The rooms are provided with jharokas and windows in stones. Our entire day was spent there and still we felt that we haven’t seen anything. So you guys now understand how beautiful the place would be. I wish to spend more time in that place so I will definitely go back there to explore how much ever I can. On our way back, we spent sometime riverside. 

On 17th, we decided to hire a bike and visit Eklingji Temple which is positioned at a distance of 22 km in the north of Udaipur, on the national highway no. 8.

Eklingnath Temple is dedicated to the Lord Shiva of the Hindu religion. Eklingji has been the deity of the royal Mewar family since the time of Bappa Rawal, founder of the Mewar dynasty. Ek means 'one' while ling means 'lingum or the life giving phallic symbol of Lord Shiva'.   klingji is a complex   of 108 ancient temples, incised out of sandstone and marble. The temple, built in AD 734, to propagate the blessings of Lord Shiva, worshipped as the Ultimate Reality, the supreme power, and the wholesome one - Parabhrama, is venerated by the Mewar household.

One of the legends relating to Ekilngji is that after killing Vrakshasur, Indra had meditated and prayed to Eklingji in repentance and to be free of the curse. According to another legend, Bapparawa had seen the Shivlinga in his dream when he was in trouble and when the problem was solved, he constructed the temple and later build Mewar.

Though we decided to visit the temple, our luck ran out by the time we reached there. The temple was closed and would open only in the evening. It was difficult for us to stay back there as we would have been got late to reach back to udiapur. So we decided to skip this place and enjoy the bike ride. The national highway was beautiful with luscious green on both the sides of the highway. The ride was pleasant. We decided to go to Nathadwara. But again, hard luck as there was some pravachan happening there and the place was overcrowded.

We returned back to Udaipur and then went to Monsoon Palace.  Perched on the top of a distant mountain range like a fairy-tale castle, this neglected late-19th-century palace was constructed by Maharaja Sajjan Singh. Originally an astronomical centre, it later became a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. I went there, with great expectations, but was disappointed. There is nothing to see apart from empty rooms. However the sunset view is beautiful.

On 18th we visited Ranakpur as we had heard a lot about the place. Also our haveli manager had suggested the place to us. As a result we zeroed on the place and went there. Ninety kilometres north of Udaipur, Ranakpur is another incredible feat of Jain devotion.  Carved from milk-white marble, the complicated series of 29 halls, supported by a forest of 1444 pillars (no two alike), is the finest in Rajasthan, and one the most important in India. The devotion of its builders is encapsulated in the intricate carving. The temples were just breathtaking and jaw dropping, and the story behind the making of the temple is inspiring.

There are 3 jain temples, the main temple dedicated to Adinath, and a small Sun temple outside the temple vicinity. Firstly we decided to go to Parasvanath and Neminath temples. The temples have exquisite figures similar to Khajuraho sculptures. I was quite surprised to see khajuraho sculptures in a jain temple. What i liked about this place other than the scultures and architecture is that you enjoy reflecting deeply within yourself while watching the aravalli ranges, in an cool and quite atmosphere. 

After spending time appreciating these two temples we visited the Chaumukha Temple which is the most important temple dedicated to Lord Adinath, who is the first 'Tirthankara' of the Jains. 

The temple is known as chaumukh as the temple has four gateways which are exactly same architecturally. The temple has three small shrines, twenty four pillared halls and eligibly domes supported by over 1444 marble pillars bearing most exquisite carvings. It is said that no two pillars are alike in the carving. Also, it is said that not even a single person has managed to count the pillars. The four faced image of Adinath Bhagwan also symbolizes the Tirthankara's quest for the four directions and ultimately the cosmos. The image is surrounded by many small shrines and domes. One more range of cells with separate roofs encircles these shrines and domes all over again. The five spires elevate above the walls and around 20 cupolas rise from roof of the pillared hall. Each spire houses a shrine and the largest shrine is the important one that addresses the central altar. The temple ceilings are festooned with foliate scrollwork and geometric patterns.

In the temple there is one beautiful carvings made out of a single marble rock for eg, the 108 heads of snakes and numerous tail with Adinath standing below it. A masterpiece not found elsewhere and in it you will not find the end of the tails and their face is seen pointing in all four directions.

The temple is a masterpiece of architecture and boasts of not less than four additional shrines. It has 24 pillared halls with 80 domes that are supported by 400 columns. The upper and lower parts of the domes are linked by brackets that have deities' sculptures. Above all, you would be amazed to see at a height of 45 feet engraved nymphs playing the flute in various dance postures. Each column is intricately carved and it is surprising to know that no two columns have the similar design.

In the mandap (prayer hall), the two big bells of 108 kg each produce a harmonious sound on the movement. Chaumukha temple is formed like a Nalinigulm Vimana (heavenly aircraft) and provides this whole structure a celestial appearance. Conceivably, it is due to the intricacy of the structure that the temple took approximately 65 years to complete.   

According to the legend, there was a minister in the court of Rana Kumbha named Sety Dharnasha. A devi appeared in Dharnasha’s dreams and showed him the Nalinigulm Viman, a celestial vehicle of the twelfth heaven. From that day onwards, the seth was driven by a desire to build a temple in the shape of that Viman. He hired an architect named deepaka who made the dream of seth come true. He built the temple structurally symmetrical. Instead of earning money he requested sethji to allow him to sculpt a palm size image of himself. He sculpted himself in such a way that he could see Adinath bhagwan all the time. Sethji’s fame touched the sky as a result of which the king got jealous and decided to build a pillar more beautiful and intricately sculpted inside the temple. The pillar never got completed because everytime he decided to build it, the pillar broke.  The pillar now is known as ‘Ardhastambh’  

We got lost appreciating and soaking the beauty and intricacy of the pillars. There is no electricity inside the temple. The temple is built in such a way that the sunlight enters the temple during the day and in the evening the temple is lit up with diyas. After spending time here we headed for Surya temple. The temple has innumerable wall projections with circular structure. The sight of Lord Surya driven in his chariot of seven horses is truly pleasing.

Visiting Ranakpur was the most spiritual and beautiful experience ever.

The next day i.e. on 19th August, we decided to visit City Palace. The palace is enormously big and beautiful. But I must suggest something, please visit city palace before visiting Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur, because the city palace loses its charm. The same thing happened with me as well. After visiting the other two places, I didn’t find city palace very beautifully constructed, although it has its own charm. Located with the picturesque backdrop of rugged mountains, beside the Pichola lake on its shore, the city palace complex painted in gleaming white colour looks beautiful.

The city Palace was built concurrently with establishment of the Udaipur city by Maharana Udai Singh II, in 1559 and his successor Maharanas over a period of the next 300 years. According to the legend, the selection of the site for the palace was done on meeting a hermit whily on hunting trail in the Udaipur hills. The hermit was meditating on top of a hill above the Pichola Lake and Maharaja sought the hermit’s blessings. The hermit advised the Maharana to build his palace at that very spot and that is where the palace complex came to be established at Udaipur.

The palace complex has been built entirely in granite and marble. The interiors of the palace complex with its balconies, towers and cupolas exhibit delicate mirror-work, marble-work, murals, wall paintings, silver-work, inlay-work and leftover of coloured glass.

Erected in the complex, after entering through the main Tripolia (triple) gate, are the Suraj Gokhda (public address facade), the Mor-chowk (Peacock courtyard), the Dilkhush Mahal (heart’s delight), the Surya Chopar, the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of glass and mirrors), the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearls), the Krishna Vilas (named after Lord Krishna), Shambu Niwas (royal residence now), the Bhim Vilas, the Amar Vilas (with a raised garden) that faces the Badi Mahal (the big palace), the Fateprakash Palace and the Shiv Niwas Palace (the latest addition to the complex); the last two have been converted into heritage hotels.

The meeting room and the views are breathtaking. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours inside as there are loads to see. It is impossible to get lost, despite the size of the building, as there are arrows pointing to the right direction and the route is well planned. One thing is for sure, exquisite work of City Palace cannot be bounded in words, one must visit this palace to understand and capture the real picture of the palace.

We did a little shop and returned back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and go to the airport. We visited this place for 4 days and we are craving for more. Very soon we will visit this place again and soak more of this royal tradition and architecture.

Here’s me signing off.. Bubye!!!! Wait for my next travelogue.....

Saturday, September 1, 2012 1 comments

Dainty little village - VELAS


Here am I, back with my travelogue about my latest trip to VELAS… Though I had gone there to attend a workshop, I also managed to explore the place and nearby places.…  Am sure a lot of people reading this travelogue would not have heard about this place, nor did I before I got a mail… Didn’t get it??? Well, read ahead to know what am I talking about ;)

Few months back I had heard about an organization known as Sahayadri Mitra Mandal, whom I had approached for volunteering. Though that time they didn’t offer me a place, but on 22nd December 2011, I got a mail from them, informing me about a workshop they were organizing at Velas… The 2 day workshop was on Marine Turtle Conservation and was scheduled on 15th and 16th October 2011. I grabbed the opportunity immediately knowing that I would start working soon and won’t get a chance to attend such workshops often. I informed Atul and even he agreed to come with me. Ok, enough of flashback let me get back to the main topic – my trip and my travelogue.

To explore the nearby places, I and Atul decided to go to Velas a day early i.e. on 14th October 2011. We decided to take a bus from Panvel to Mandangadh not knowing how to go ahead to Velas. That’s the fun of traveling to new place J.

We left early morning for Panvel by 7.05 am train from Thane. It takes a little less than an hour to reach Panvel. From there we went to Panvel ST bus depot to take a bus to Mandangadh. We got an 8:30 am bus (` 120/- per person) to Dabhol which would go via Mandangadh. It takes about 4 hours to reach Mandangadh; we reached around 12:40 pm. After getting down we enquired about the buses to Velas, but none suited us as we would had to wait at the bus depot for another hour.

If anyone has a query regarding the bus timing and mode of transportation, they can contact me. 

After enquiring further we were told that Trax goes to Velas very often, so we opted for it. One should opt for trax only if he/she is ok with sharing the vehicle with around 12-15 people. Below is the diagram showing how to reach the place from where you can get a trax for transportation to Velas:

Trax normally charge around ` 40/- per person and takes about an hour to reach Velas. The roads are very bumpy but the beautiful surroundings make you forget the discomfort. The roads are covered by dense vegetation on both the sides slowly enfolding its arms to make a way for the serene ocean view. The view makes you fall in love with the place without actually entering the village of Velas. We reached Velas around 2:30 pm and we went to the house where we were to stay. We stayed at Omkar Upadhye’s which was basically a home-stay. Omkar’s house is just 2 minutes away from the bus stop next to Nana Phadnis statue. It’s the only bungalow in Velas, having dormitory which was offered to us where we shared the room with others attending the workshop. It also had separate rooms which are offered to family only.  The charges were ` 250/- per person excluding food. The food was arranged for us at a nearby home, so went for lunch and we rested for a while.

If anyone needs the contact number of Omkar or any other home-stay in the village, feel free to contact me. 

In the evening we decided to explore the village but unfortunately, it started raining. So we stayed back and had a nice informative chat with Omkar who would be our age. He told us about the crops that grow, how people spend their time, about their festivals and also about the monsoon. Let me share it with you; hope I can do the justice J

Let me start by saying that one should really venture the Konkan coast. I really wish to explore the konkan coast and that to by road.  The konkan coastline spreads along the Southwest side of our country solely in the state of Maharashtra. The coast is dotted with pristine, immaculate, sandy white beaches; most of them being virgin beaches are a heaven for travellers like me and probably you too. Some of the beaches are so secluded and breathtaking that one would never want to say goodbye.

Velas is one such place, which is unspoiled and undisturbed by tourists. It’s a tiny village, situated around 210 kms from Mumbai and 36kms from Mandangadh.  The beach is a tiny one stretching only 2 kms in length.  This quiet, virgin beach is abounding with white, grainy sands, dead corals lining its shore, marine turtles and plenty of crabs loitering around forming coconut tree formations. If you are a wildlife enthusiast, this is the place to be. Will come to that a little later. Let me start with the village first.   

Velas is a tiny village with a population of not more than 1000 people; around 200 families. The village is divided into different sections (Aali), where the houses are built on either side of the road/aali. Velas is the birth place of Nana Phadnis, one of the great prominent personalities in Maratha history. Due to the sea-shore Velas is an existing place and is situated near Bankot Bay. There is an old temple of Shri Bhairi- Rameshwar and in this temple all twelve months water is made available taking the benefit of favourable geographical conditions. The village also has a  Mahalakshmi temple just next to the bus stop. 

The main occupation of the people of Velas is agriculture, and the main crops grown here are rice and of course AAMRAI (mango trees). The people working in farms get up around 5 am, finish their work by 3 pm or something and lazy out the rest of the day. The roads become empty by 5 pm in the evening. The electricity supply is not regular, so some of the people who have given their home for home-stays have to rely on generators. The monsoon here is quite heavy, raining continuously 7 days in a row, what the villagers call the ‘Satari’.  One of the important festivals celebrated in Velas is Golkulashtami. The celebration goes on for 5 days, where they arrange the dance competitions between different ‘Aali’, procession of the god (Rath-yatra), people from other village come to Velas for lunch/dinner and vice-versa. The festival sounded very tempting to attend. Hope a ever get a chance to be there for the festival.

As stated before, that if you are into wildlife conservation or an enthusiast, then Velas is the place where you would want to head. Velas is also one of the popular breeding sites of Olive Ridley, which is an endangered species of turtle. The hatchlings are heading towards the sea from the shore now-a-days. And we have at least 80% chances to see the emergence of these little new born turtles as I have a talk with organizers. Also the village is known for another kind of festival being celebrated here - The unique Marine Turtle Conservation Festival.  The festival is aimed at conservation of marine turtles, mainly Oliver Ridley Turtles.

After a brief chat with Omkar, we headed for dinner post which all 3 of us (Me, Atul and Omkar) went for a night walk. Omkar took us to a rocky shore near the road heading towards Bankot. Though it was only 9 pm, it was pitch dark and it was so quite that I could almost hear my own breathing. It was very soothing to hear the sound of waves.  We sat there for almost an hour soaking the serenity and calmness the place offered before we headed back.

The next morning, i.e. 15th October, we decided to explore Harihareshwar and Srivardhan. Though I had been to these places before, but it was fun trying to figure out how to reach these places, travelling by bus and most important I had a good company (Atul) who loves to venture placesJWe started early morning to catch 7 am bus (`14 /- per person) from Velas to Hanuman Tekdi. This is the place where you have to get down to catch a ferry to Bagmandala. Once you get down at Bagmandala, one can see steps on left side to get to the jetty. The steps slowly and beautifully passes through dense vegetation in an serpentine way. The surrounding is breathtaking. The ferries (` 10 /- per person)take about 5 – 10 minutes to reach Bagmandala and is available every 30 minutes. 

Bagmandala is a lovely small village 4 kilometers from Harihareshwar. We got into a shared auto (` 20 /- per seat) which takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Harihareshwar.  Harihareshwar is known for its tranquil and picturesque beach and is also famous for the temple of Harihareshwar. After getting down from the auto, we took a small kachha rasta on the left side of the road to go to Harihareshwar temple.

This 16th century temple is also known as ‘Dakshin Kashi’ has an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Temple complex has deities of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh along with the temples of Kalbhairav (lord of all manthrasastras) and Yogeshwari. It is said that the temple was constructed in Shivaji’s reign, but was reconstructed by 1st Bajirao Peshwa in 1723.

What I enjoyed about the temple is the cool breeze from the adjoining beach which makes the temple premises a nice place to relax. We then went on to the beach, which is just stone throw’s away distance from the temple. Though the beach is dangerously notorious as it lures the people into the water and most of the time kills them, still the gentle winds, soft sand and the inviting waters make the beach irresistible. I was really tempted to get in the waters but knowing how dangerous is can be I couldn’t go ahead. I just sat there enjoying the view of the Harihar hill enclosing the natural beauty in its full glow.

From Harihareshwar we started for Shriwardhan which is about 20 kms and takes approximately an hour to reach by shared auto (` 40 /- per seat). We got down at the ST bus depot to enquire about the buses to Mumbai.  Once that was taken care of we went on to the beach. It’s a commercialized yet secluded beach with sun kissed sand and abstract designs on the sand made by crabs. We strolled on the beach soaking in the beauty of the pristine starch of the beach and appreciating the creativity of the crabsJ. After spending some time on the beach, we walked through the rustic town to find a place for lunch. Hotel Prasad is a good place to have food. After lunch we went to Shivajinagar from where we got into an auto (` 40 /- per seat) to bagmandla to catch a jungle ferry. Jungle ferry (` 20 /- per seat) is the fastest way to reach the other side, taking just 5 – 7 min.

Once back in velas we rested for a while before joining Omkar to tell us more about the village.  On this day, to be precise at 9:00 pm we (Me, Atul and other members of Workshop) gathered in the Grampanchayat office to start out 1st day of the workshop. The workshop was organized by Bhau Katdare, the founder of SNM (Sahayadri Nisarg Mitra Mandal) and Kasav Mitra Mandal. 

SNM is the first organization to take an initiative towards the protection and conservation of Marine Turtles. In 2002, SNM started a conservation programme for marine turtles in Velas. In its first year, SNM undertook protection of nests in one village and successfully protected 50 nests. Within a short period, SNM has spread its protection activities to the entire coast of Maharashtra: about 720 km. In the last five years, SNM has protected 214 nests and released more than 9000 hatchlings.

Bhau was to show us a documentary on the conservation projects, but unfortunately due to power cut we couldn’t see it. But we had a general discussion about the initiatives of SNM in the conservation of Marine Turtles. Then we were introduced to the forest department personnels, members of grampanchayat and some of the key people were felicitated as well.  This was followed by the introduction of all the members of the workshop. I was really surprised to see so many people of different age groups, different fields and from different places gathered here in a small village because of one common interest – conservation of marine turtles. Introduction was followed by brief information about Oliver Ridley Turtle, how and why and when they come on the shore, factors affecting the decline in number and also how to conserve them. We were informed that we were to meet the next day at Velas beach at 7 am sharp and then the meeting was adjourned.

Again in the night, me and atul joined Omkar for a walk to the rocky shore near the road heading towards Bankot. 

On 16th October, early morning the workshop was to be held at Velas beach. It is one of the serene beaches I have visited. I would have loved to leave the hectic world behind to laze around on golden sands listening to the music of the waves. The beach is extremely remote and isolated from the village. To reach the beach, one has to take the only road from the village, walk till you reach bridge and take a small opening on the right at the end of the bridge. After getting down, jump over a wooden barricade on left and take a narrow footpath following a narrow stream on your right. You will come across one more barricade, jump over and walk till you see Ipomea forest. Walk through the forest to reach the shore. It takes about 20 – 30 min to reach the shore.  The view is breath-taking. It’s a virgin beach untouched by the flocks of people and ideal place for turtle nesting site.    

As per the schedule we reached the beach at 7:00 am. Our workshop started with information on how to spot the turtle nesting site, once spotted what is to be done, how to dig the site to collect eggs and transfer them to hatchery site. This was followed by demonstration of the same. Later the forest rangers and the people from grampanchayat addressed us regarding what they expect from us and also about schedule 1 (wildlife rule). After breakfast, we gathered at grampanchyat office to resume the session with views and ideas from the workshop members and how can we help the conservation of turtles. I was really very happy to learn that SNM is seeking volunteers to help in beach patrolling and monitoring of nesting sites in between Vasai and Dahanu. Immediately mumbaikars volunteered to help the cause.

All in all it was a good learning experience and learned a lot from the workshop. In the evening me and atul went back to beach for a walk.

Sad to think that we will have to return back to Mumbai L
Saturday, November 12, 2011 1 comments

Biking Trip to Mhad and Khopoli


Here I am one more time with travelogue of my one day biking trip to Mahad Ganpati (my choice) and Shri Chaitanya Gagangiri Maharaj Ashram (Atul’s choice) with Atul. 

Till the morning of our trip i.e. 15th September 2011, we weren’t sure as whether we would be travelling by car or on bike. But on contemplating a lot we decided to take a bike, the reason being the weather. The weather was really enjoyable and lovely. Although it was a tiring trip, all the pain was worth it.

We started off from Dombivali, took Manpada road to Kalyan Shilphata road. From there we headed towards Panvel via Kalyan Shilphata road and then Panvel Phata. From there we headed towards the Mumbai-Pune Express way. From there we took a slip road onto old Mumbai-Pune Express way towards khopoli, took Panvel Bypass road to join NH4. We took an exit on the right to Varad Vinayak Temple. It took us about 2 hours or so to reach the temple. 

The temple is situated in the Khalapur taluka of Raigadh district and enshrines ‘Varad Vinayak’ (the one who fulfills all the desires and grants all the wishes). Mahadcha Varadvinayak is considered to be one of the most revered places of worship and is one of the Ashtavinayak temples of Maharashtra. The temple looks like an ordinary house, so don’t get confused when you reach there and don’t see a authentic templeJ. All the corners of the temple have pairs of elephants and its sections covered in gold. The idol is a ‘Swayambhu’ and faces east with its trunk pointing left. The consorts Riddhi and Siddhi can be seen on either side of the idol. The most distinctive thing about the temple is a lamp that has been burning constantly since 1892 AD (so says the legend).  

The swayambhu idol was found in 1690 AD by Shri Dhondu Paudkar in a lake. The idol was kept in a nearby goddess temple for some time. In 1725 AD Varadvinayak temple was built by Peshwa Ramji Mahadev Biwalkar and he gifted the temple to the village. 

More or less all the worship places have one or the other legend associated with it. This temple is not spared as well. As per the legend, a rishi by name Vachaknavi was visited by a ruler by name Rukmangada, and during the visit the rishipatni Mukundaa expressed her attraction to the king. The king turned her down leaving her seething in anger. In the meanwhile, Indra, the king of the Devas came down to the earth in the disguise of Rukmangada and accepted her romantic moves. An illegitimate son Grutshmadha was born out of their union. The son, learning of the story of his birth was grief stricken, and prayed to Ganesha in Bhadrakavana for purification of his soul of the sins of everyone concerned. His prayers were granted by Varadavinayak of Bhadrakavana (now Mahad).Hence the name Varadvinayak.

From Varad vinayak we went to visit Shri Chaitanya Gagangiri Maharaj Ashram, Khopoli. One has to head towards Khopoli highway and then on to NH4. You will come across Khopoli bus stand on you left, after going some distance take a left and you will see the Ashram on your right side. It took us about half an hour to an hour to reach there.

The Ashram is quite peaceful and is situated between the lush green mountains on all the sides. The environment is spectacular with Patalganga river leaping and frolicking by its side. The ashram halls are open so one can enjoy the openness of the ashram. In the main hall, Gagangiri baba seats on a flower bedecked swing with an imposing altar with sculptures of faunal life. 

Gagangiri Maharaj had severed his hands and legs when he undertook penance in water. Here his limbs were injured extensively due to attacks by fish; as a result he was unable to walk. He used to be carried on the shoulders of his disciples wherever he wished to go. His teachings are been followed not only by Indians, but also from people across the globe.
Though I am not a big fan of visiting ashrams, but what I liked about being there was that it offered me the quietness which mumbaikars require after being in a city which does not sleep. We spent some time here and then headed for lonavala for lunch 

As soon as we left from ashram, the weather became amazingly pleasant. Felt really good once we took Khandala Ghat road. After about 45 minutes we reached Kamat Hotel where we halted for lunch. While returning back we decided to go off the road and explore the interior roads to Mumbai. 

On our return journey, it started raining heavily… all the roads were covered with fog so we had to halt for sometime… The weather was really beautiful and enjoyable… We chose to go off-track discovering the rural beauty. We then were on the same road back towards Mahad. Without deviating towards Mahad, we continued towards Kalyan shill road. Approximately, after 7 km from Mahad junction is a right turn towards Matheran and Neral via Karjat. This road is unlike urban cemented roads. However, it connects you to the farms, mountain ranges, scenic silence and rural life. It is real beauty to see farm houses. Now this does not mean the “farm house” that we know. The farmer actually stays close to the farm and completes farming tasks. We crossed small villages / hubs like Dolavli, Kelavli, Palasdhari and then Karjat. Each station is separated by 5 – 7 km rural routes / roads.

The road then leads us to Karjat junction from where the Karjat station is at a distance of few yards. We continued going straight towards Neral and then badlapur and then ambernath and then to Kalyan Shilphata road, reaching dombivali wrecked ;)

We were extremely tried by the time we reached home but as I said earlier, it was all worth it. Would go on a long biking trip if given a choice……  
Friday, June 10, 2011 3 comments

Karnataka - Architectural Wonders

My first ever trip alone!!!

Astounded??? Well, that's the common reaction of all the people I have come across in this trip. Was never so excited and nervous at the same time... Support from my family and my loved ones made this trip success.

This time I went to Karnataka. I don’t know if everyone would agree, but this state changes your entire perspective on the spiritual and architectural front. The state has it all, right from the city lights to wildlife to the hill-stations. The major aspect of the state for which Karnataka is famous for is its wildlife and architectural wonders.

I started my journey to Bengaluru on 21st May ’11. The Bengaluru airport is really far from the city. One has to take City Bus Shuttle to reach the city. I intended to keep the city as my base to roam to other places. I was put up at my sister’s place for next couple of days. The next day my sister and jiju took me to MTR for breakfast. It's a very interesting place for food if you wish to experience the authentic south Indian food.

MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room) restaurant, founded in 1924, is located on Lalbaug road. This is the place where the word authenticity is not written anywhere but can be experienced everywhere. If you don’t mind waiting in a queue, this is the place to be for south Indian food. Khara Bhaat (Upma) and Kesari Bhaat (Sheera) is delicious. The food here usually overflow with ghee, but the taste amuses you… Well must say, that you get more than what you have paid for.

After heavy breakfast, we went to Lalbaug Botanical Park which is just almost opposite to MTR. Never seen garden, so well maintained and so beautiful. The Park, commissioned in 1760, is a lush green paradise with an area of 240 acres in the heart of the city. The garden has over 1000 species of flora some of which are rare species brought from Persia, Afghan & France. Huge old trees
with their canopy of green foliage interspersed with flaming red flowers of gulmohar can be seen everywhere. The park is also home to various avian species like black kite, brahminy kite, kingfisher, herons, cormorant, etc. A binocular is must, if you are a bird watching enthusiast. The park truly is awesome where you can sit by the lakeside and reconnect with the nature.

On 23rd May ’11, I visited Shravanbelagoda, Belur and Halebid. I had booked a seat in the tour bus by KSTDC. It’s a one day tour costing Rs. 935/- wherein the bus picks you up at 6:30 am and drops you at around 10pm.

Our first stop was Shravanbelagoda, which is about 157 kms from Bengaluru. Shravanbelagoda is well-known for its religious and spiritual sanctity. It’s a Jain pilgrimage destination, wedged between two hills – Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri. Shravanbelagoda is famous for its colossal statue of Gommateshwara, also referred to as Lord Bahubali. The statue is located on Vindhyagiri and one has to climb bare-footed about 600 -700 steps to see the splendor of the statue up-close. The steps are steep at few places and it gets hard to climb. You forget how tired you are once you see the imposing 17 meter high statue, carved out of monolithic stone. The statue is beautifully carved with absolutely accurate body proportion. Eyes exude the serenity and calmness. His face shows calm expression with a little hint of smile. Just looking at the lord, takes you miles away from worries. There is an anthill in the background which signifies his incessant penance. From this anthill emerge creepers which twine artistically and beautifully around his legs and his arms. The Digambar (Nude) form of Bahubali represents the complete victory over the earthly desires and needs which distracts you from attaining the divinity. On the either side of the lord stand two majestic chauri bearers in the service of the lord. One of them is Yakshi and other is Yaksha. The bearers are richly ornamented which is absolute contrast to the nude form of Bahubali. Mahamasthakabhishek is performed once in every 12 years, and the next will be held in 2018…. I would want to be a part of it. So fingers crossed!!!!

Our next stop was at Belur. Belur is about an hour and an half drive from Shravanbelagoda. The temple was built in 1116 AD by Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his victory over the Cholas. The presiding deity of the Belur temple is Lord Channakeshava. The temple is architecturally rich with carvings of intricate design and decorations. Every inch of the temple is filled
seductively with the human figures, gods and demigods and animals. Each and every sculpture of the Madanika, carved skillfully and beautifully on the brackets of the columns, are unique creations. Their curvaceous body, their jewelry, their poses, each and every part of the sculpture including the eyelashes just takes your breath away. There is this Darpansundari, sculpture of a lady holding mirror and completing her shringar. The other figure that comes to my mind is that of a lady squeezing out
water from her hair after bath. Other being that of a lady being harassed by a mischievous monkey. Would love to tell you more about each and every sculpture, but cannot as the travelogue would be too big to read. The temple is star shaped with a pair of Hoysala symbols in the form of a man attacking a tiger. The elaborated arches on the entrances show a mythical creature known as Makara. This motif can be seen in all the temples belonging to Hoysala Dynasty. The makar a is a result of combination of attributes of seven animals (eyes – monkey, wide mouth – crocodile, tail – peacock, limbs – lion, trunk – elephant, ears – cow and body - pig). The temple is full of pillars and each pillar is unique. There is a pillar in the courtyard of the temple complex which stands without any support. One can even see the gap between the pillar and the platform on which it stands on one side. I was able to spend just an hour at this magnificent place which I felt absolutely inadequate. You require atleast a day to appreciate the splendor of these beautiful temple, which is the evidence of our rich heritage.

Later we headed for Halebid. It is situated about 17 kms from Belur. This magnificent piece of work is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the largest of the Hoysala temples. The Construction of this temple started in 1121 and got completed by 1207. One visible hallmark of temples built during the Hoysala regime was their star shaped structure and also the dome less top. The temple is divided into two identical temples, one on the northern side is Shantaleshwara (after Shantala Devi, beloved wife of Vishnuvardhana) and the southern one is the Hoysaleshwara temple.
Thousands of intricately carved sculptures depicting scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Prahalad, etc adorn the walls. As one goes around the shrine, some of the finest sculptures can be seen – Krishna Leela, Battle between Arjun & Karna, Lord Shiva as Natraja, the Dashavtars, Ravana lifting Kailash Parvat, Abhimanyu chakravyuha, etc. The temples are preceded with a huge statue of Nandi adorned with beautiful ornaments. The interiors of the shrine are equally impressive with ornately carved pillars and exquisite bracket figures of madanikas. I was able to see the reflection of the artist’s mindset in the carvings and the whole experience of being in this temples and witnessing this rich heritage is so overwhelming.

My next destination was Hampi. I started for Hampi on 24th May ’11. Trains and buses are
both available but I preferred the overnight train. The train stops at Hospet from where you can either take a bus or auto (max 120 `) to reach Hampi. Hampi is around 14 kms from Hospet.

Hampi was the 14th century magnificent capital of Vijayanagara Empire, one of the greatest empires of the world. It is protected by the Tungabhadra River on the north and by rocky granite ridges on the three sides. Covering an area of about 26 kms, the ruins are situated in the midst of a rugged landscape.

If you are energetic and have an entire day or two you can walk. Or you can hire an auto at Rs. 300 and take a 4-hour tour. I didn’t feel like taking an auto, instead I decided to walk and get the feel of the ruins. For this I had to hire a guide at Rs. 600 (fixed rate by the Hampi tourism). It’s safer to have a guide incase you travelling alone because the monuments are quite far from each other and you have to walk through jungle and huge boulders. More or less I visited all the places from the guide book, but mentioned below the monuments which appealed to me:

1. Vittala Temple
To reach here you have to follow the Tungabhadra River keeping it on your left side. It’s quite a walk, around 2-3 kms from the hampi market. The temple, built in 15th century, is the most extravagant architectural piece of Vijayanagar art. On entering you will see a Stone Chariot. Normally in Vishnu temples you will see garuda stamba, instead a stone chariot was built facing the temple’s sanctum. The chariot is carved with mythical battle scenes. Just behind the chariot is the Maha Mantapa, which stands
on an ornate platform carved with floral motifs and horses. The main highlight of this hall are the musical pillars which emits sounds of instruments. Though it’s not allowed to tap these pillars because of the unmindful curiosity of visitors. The inner sanctum, also known as Garbha-mandir, is devoid of idols. For the pradakshina, one had to access the unlit underground passage. Northeastern hall is known as Musician’s Hall and is carved with sculptures of musicians, drummers and dancers. The ceiling are beautifully carved with patterns of lotus like designs. The northwestern hall is the Lakshmi temple. Whereas the hall on the southwest is the Common Hall and on the southeast is the Kalyan Mantapa. This hall is beautiful with ornated platform in the middle and stories of dashavtar, ramayan, prahalad, etc adorns the pillars of the hall.

2. King’s Balance – A huge stone frame where kings weighed themselves with gems & diam
onds which were then distributed among poor.

3. Achyutraya Temple
Dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha, a form of Vishnu, is off the track and hidden nature of the temple makes it less crowded. The open hall just ahead has some of the finest carved pillars in Hampi. Carvings on the pillars revels themes like Krishna leela. A beautiful yet modern temple as compared to the Vittala temple.

4. Hazara rama temple
15th century temple for the royals, is known for its sculpted friezes depicting Ramayana.

5. Pushkarani
The Pushkarni is a stepped tank in a symmetrical formation, with water being supplied from a stone aqueduct.

6. Ugranarasimha
22 feet huge statue with the serpent’s hood above it. Earlier known as Lakshmi Narasimha because of lakshmi sitting on his lap. But thanks to the invaders, lakshmi has been destroyed and hence came to be known as Ugranarasimha.

7. Badavi Lingam – Monolith linga is 12 feet tall.

8. Sasivekalu Ganesha – 4 armed ganesha is monolith idol which is 12 feet tall

9. Kadlekalu Ganesha – 18 feet tall monolithic idol

10. Virupaksha Temple
7th century temple is the principal temple and one of the oldest functioning temples in India. East facing Gopura leads you the first courtyard of the temple complex. The tower with a pair of cow horn like projections on top is the most prominent landmark in Hampi. The mural panel on the central portion of the main temple hall is one of the few remains of this form of Vijayanagara art. The inner sanctum contains the idol of lord Virupaksha in the form of a Linga. Personally I wasn’t really attracted to this t

Important thing to remember while travelling in Hampi: Carry sunglass , cap, sunscreen and lots and lots of water because the stones and rocks tend to absorb and radiate the sun’s heat.

Hampi has been the highlight of my trip and has left a deep and powerful impact on my mind. Its difficult to put it in words about how splendor is this work of human. You have to see it to believe it.

My next destination was Coorg, Madikeri to be precise. I stayed in Coorg from 30th May till 1st June '11. I had taken an overnight bus to Madikeri bus depot. You can make out that you have entered the district when you start seeing dainty bungalows peeking through the hillocks and plantations. The Coorgis have opened up their homes for the tourists where one can get the feel of the place. I stayed at Madikeri in a similar homestay on the top of a hillock. Mentioned below are the places I visited:

1. Talacauvery
Situated 4,500 fta bove sea level and situated 48 kms from Madikeri, it is from where Cauvery springs forth, only to disappear underground before surfacing again near Bhagamandala. Cloudy skies and mist welcomed me as I made to the temple. Next to the temple is the Brahamagiri hill which you can climb to view the panaromic view of the region. I couldn’t see a thing but a white blanket formed as a result of mist and clouds

2. Bhagamandala
Derives its importance from the temple near the Triveni Sangam of Cauvery, Kannani and Sujhoti, a mythical and mystical river. It is situated 40 kms from Madikeri.

3. Abbi Falls
An exotic waterfall, about 8 kms from madikeri, is located amidst green and dense forest where it’s easy to lose the track of your time. The falls, cascading down from 70 feet height, is not impressive but the untamed surrounding is what makes the place desirable to visit.

4. Namdroling Monastery (Golden Temple)
Situated, about 35kms from Madikeri, in the Bylakuppe district,
the four monasteries are gorgeous, colorful and breath-taking. The most prominent and attractive of all is the Namdroling Monastery. There is a huge bell at the entrance. I was quite taken-back (in a good way) by the enormous nature of the idols. The immense size of the idols, the huge hall and beautiful paintings is absolutely overwhelming. I was in the awe when I saw the golden beauty of the three statues, with Mongolian eyes and long ears. I was lucky enough to hear the chants. The beautiful sound of the Tibetan trumpet, the cymbal and the gong, the chanting and the Tibetan monks with their quiet unassuming presence gave me a unique feeling of peace.

5. Nisargadham
Situated 32 kms from Madikeri is a 65 acres of bamboo jungle, with a picturesque hanging bridge, Deer park (small fenced area with chital and sambar). It’s a nice picnic spot for nature lovers who doesn't mind the eerie sounds of bamboos. It is a unique little place in the contentious waters of the river Cauvery.

I have tried to explain Coorg in words, but the fact is that no words can do justice to describe the essence of the place. As I had stated before you have to see it & experience it to believe it...

This brings me to the end of my travelogue…. I hope that I can write more travelogue about my future trips soon… Till then adios!!!!