July 29, 2015

Allahabad- Places to Visit and Things to Do



Allahabad evokes a sense of sanctity and conjures up images of rivers, temples and Mughals. Also referred to as Parayag and Illahabad, it is well known for Sangam (the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswathi), which plays a significant role in Hinduism. Prayag is one the four spots where Kumbh mela, which is considered to be the largest religious gathering in the world is held. The city is well known for its numerous temples which are strewn across its various streets and corners. While it was under the rule of Akbar, the city was rechristened as Illahabad from Prayag and got its present name, Allahabad, when British took over. Allahabad is equally soaked in history as much as it is in mythical stories, and is well known for its cultural tourism, historical buildings and monuments. Mughals and the pre- independence era has brought the city a lot of limelight that it holds a very special place in the historical books. Long rule of the Mughals has made the city popular for its delectable mughalai cuisines as well.


Soak in the ambiance of Kumbh Mela 

The largest religious gathering in the world is held at four locations across the country and Allahabad happens to be the most prominent one. This is one huge festival spread over a few weeks and is held at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi. The mela area has hundreds of tea stalls, numerous pontoons to cross over to the other bank, confusing intersections, shops selling everything from blankets to temple paraphernalia, hundreds of camps, thousands of tents and lakhs of visitors. This magnanimous religious gathering is an electric synthesis of pilgrims from world over and is a must visit. Kumbh mela happens once in 12 years and Ardh kumbh mela takes place once in every 6 years. The last Kumbh mela at Allahabad was held in 2013. An annual Magh Mela is also held in Allahabad around the Sangam areas in the month of January.  




Attain salvation with a dip at Sangam 

The confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mystical Saraswathi is known as Sangam, where millions of pilgrims take a dip every year. The holy bath of pilgrims signifies their faith, belief and the quest for salvation. Though many take a dip near the bank, the actual confluence is away from the bank and  can be approached only by a boat. It is well recommended to take a dip at the exact confluence, rather than near the banks. 



Enjoy a boat ride on Yamuna

An early morning boat ride on Yamuna is an ideal way to begin the day in Allahabad. Wrapped in the early morning mist, Yamuna looks serene and the frames are delightful. Catch the morning rays as the boat wades past the fluttering gulls, the numerous ghats and the intimidating Allahabad fort. At the confluence one can easily discern the green Yamuna from the brown Ganga. Yamuna joins the Ganga and then they flow together eastward.



Soak in the essence of the city with a cycle rickshaw ride

Allahabd is best explored on a cycle rickshaw, as slow as you can. As you ride, take in a whiff of the city, capture frames from the streets and enjoy the local delicacies from food stalls. The best places for a ride are chowk area and old city. During Kumbh mela, it becomes quite vibrant with colours, people, stalls and much more. 

Get charmed by the Gothic Cathedral

This Gothic structure, popularly known as Pathar Girja in local circles is one of the oldest churches in India. All Saints` Cathedral was designed by William Emerson and construction of the same began in the year 1877. Intimidating as well as beautiful, it has exquisite stonework in both white stone and red sandstone stands. This magnificent structure which also has marble lavishly used, stands amidst a grass compound at a major cross road which makes it visible from all directions.



Gaze at the wonderful architectures of Khusro bagh

Named after Khusro, the elder son of the Mughal emperor, Jehangir, Khusro Bagh is well known for its gorgeous tombs in mughal architecture. There are four tombs here which are Khusro's, his mother's, his sister's and Bibi Tamolan's. Built in early 17th century, the walkways and tombs are wrapped in mughal inscriptions, artworks and paintings. With a well laid out garden and tombs adorning exquisite mughal architecture and frescoes, Khusro bagh is one of the most recommended places of visit in Allahabad for history and architecture lovers. 



Immerse in the historical Azad park

Chandrashekar Azad park  also known as company bagh is a huge serene park which houses the public library and Allahabad museum. The huge museum has numerous galleries with a plethora of displays which includes terracotta paintings, wood work, handicrafts, metal and armoury from pre-independence and medieval period. This is the park where freedom fighter Chandrashekar Azad shot himself before the British could capture him. The park is steeped in history and is an ideal place to soak in the stories from British era.







Visit the temples

Being a spiritual town, Allahabad is well known for its numerous temples. Mankmeshwar temple is situated by the ghats which lead to River Yamuna. Shankar vimana mandapam with 3 floors has a South Indian style architecture and a nice panoramic view of the mela area. This colourful temple has Kanchi Kamakshi, Tirupati Balaji ad Shivalingam on each of its floors. Bade Hanuman Mandir next to Shriram Janki mandir is another popular temple in the town. The  lete Hanuman (Lying down position) attracts quite a crowd during the day.



Explore Allahabad Fort

Built in the year 1583, by Akbar, Allahabad fort is situated near the confluence. It is one of the largest forts built by Akbar and has undergone numerous restorations over the years. At the entrance of the fort is a 35 feet high Ashoka Pillar made of stone. Akshay Vat or the undying Banyan tree is another point of interest inside the fort. Only a portion of the fort is open to public due to security reasons.




Visit Anand Bhawan and Swaraj Bhawan

This is where the inquisitive history lovers would want to head to while in Allahabad. An ideal place to learn and the struggles of independence. It also houses many galleries and personal belongings of the Nehru family. 

Relish the Mughalai cuisine

Allahabad is well known for its mouth watering Mughalai delicacies. Before you leave this historic town, explore the best of the cuisines in the crowded Loknath area.


Facts:

Lucknow- 204 Kms
Varanasi- 122 Kms
Closest Airport- Allahabad airport (12 Kms from city)
Closest Railhead- Allahabad junction

Best time to visit- All through the year (Summers might be harsh).

June 10, 2015

Villas in Goa


 Goa is one of those places where going off beat or away from the maddening crowd is quite a tough decision. The lure of the beaches and shacks is very high. But after innumerable trips to Goa, the shacks might seem monotonous. Villas are a good way to break away from that.

There are numerous villas in Goa and the ideal place to hunt for them is at Goa Villa, a villa rental company which has numerous villas catering from budget to luxury villas across popular destinations in Goa. This does not by any means make the properties secluded and away from action. They are very much in proximity to the beaches, shacks and other activities. Many of the villas, like the ones in Anjuna (Astra Apartments), Palolem (Rose Cottage), Candolim (Maroon Age) and Cavelossim (Grand Boutique) are very close to the beaches and a short walk away.

Baga is one of the most frequented places in Goa with the ever popular Baga beach, nightclubs and flea markets. Goa Villa offers Johanna Garden, a wonderful villa in Baga with 4 bedrooms, a sitting area, dining area, kitchen, swimming pool, a lawn and a terrace. Away from the crowd but not short of action makes this an ideal place to make your stay in Baga a memorable one. 


Johanna Garden, Baga
Villa Hill Crest in Bambolim is an ultra luxury villa with five bedroom and modern facilities. An added feature is that the villa offers breathtaking vistas of the Arabian Sea. Grand Boutique in Cavelossim has a different attraction, and that is the uninterrupted views of the serene Sal River which flows beside the villa. If your concept of holidaying includes lying on huge verandas and reading your favourite travelogue on a lazy afternoon, Villa Oliva in Calangute is the place to head to. If travelling in groups or with large families, the luxurious Villa Lyon Age in Colva is a wonderful option to choose from. Beach Villa in Candolim is a unique villa amidst Old Portuguese villas. This secluded villa is built in Portuguese style with all modern facilities. The icing on the cake is that it has a direct access to the beach. Now, who would want to miss that? Villa Arabella in Morjim with just two bedrooms and all the basic amenities is an apt one for the budget travellers.

Villa Hill Crest, Bambolim
Goa Villa provides a host of services to their clients, which includes a shuttle from airport to the villa, local mobile SIM cards for foreign nationals, personal assistant for tours across Goa, all necessary facilities within the villa and much more. For families who are travelling with toddlers, a baby cot and baby stroller is also provided. In case the guests require more services such as a chef, a driver and internet, Goa Villa is more than willing to facilitate them.

With a wide range of options to choose across locations, budgets and facilities, rental agency Goa Villa is a wonderful service provider to check out your place of stay while holidaying in Goa.



 Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, however all opinions are my own.

May 13, 2015

Kabini- Serene Wilderness...!!


A few kilometers before the Kerala border, a sign board showed up with the direction to Kabini River Lodge. From the well paved asphalted road that made its way through villages and farmlands bordering the Nagarhole forest, the sudden detour led to an undulated mud road. Slowly, green vistas made its presence and in a while Kabini showed up. Blue, expansive and serene, Kabini reservoir looked like a humungous blue amoeba floating amidst brown hills and patches of greenery, albeit only a portion visible.

The first glimpse

Kabini reservoir has been carved out of the river by the same name, which originates in Wayanad. Being a part of the Nagarhole national park, which teems with wildlife, the shores of these backwaters offer numerous exciting sightings. Earlier well known as the hunting ground of Mysore King and British Viceroys, Kabini now has quite a few resorts offering breathtaking vistas of the gorgeous backwaters. Mesmerised at the first glimpse of Kabini, the car trudged forward to one of the best properties of Jungle lodges and resorts. This hunting lodge of the erstwhile Mysore maharajas has been creatively converted into a beautiful resort overlooking the serene Kabini reservoir. Kabini river lodge charms its visitors with its explicit woodwork and beautifully maintained interiors amidst the serene surrounding. The tall ceilings in the rooms and the plush wood furnishings in bar area which takes one back to the maharaja's era gives it the royal charm.

Jungle Lodges and Resorts
I strolled around the campus, captured the exquisite hunting lodge, the colourful tress and the encapsulating vistas of the Kabini reservoir from the pier. A hot cup of sweet coffee later, wrapped in orange life jackets, boarded the boat and it motored its way sending ripples in all directions. Kabini lay ahead like a femme fatale, spreading itself out along the boundaries of the forest reserve. Beyond the buoyant waters lay expansive stretches of greenery with withered trees and small open grasslands. Summers had just set in and the lush greenery had slowly given way to the brownness in patches.  Protruding wooden stumps emerged from the waters at many places, and quite a few black cormorants perched themselves on them to gaze at the expansiveness of Kabini in oblivion.

Kabini reservoir

Cormorants
Kabini is home to more than 200 species of birds. A wide range of avian fauna such as herons, storks, cormorants, ibis, lapwings, kingfisher and many more languorously strolled by the shores. Some waded along the shallow edges of the reservoir, while a few flew in different directions in search of another location to perch. Many lenses came out and the shutters clicked many a time to capture the avian fauna and the gorgeous landscape. There were numerous deer, both spotted and sambar which nonchalantly grazed along the fringes of the reservoir, not buoyed by the noise of the motorboat.





Kabini is well known for its elephants and leopard sightings, and though many wished to see a feline quenching its thirst, the frame remained elusive. A while later, the motorboat went silent and all spoke in hushed silence as a lone tusker rattled some bamboo by the bank to satiate its hunger. Never once did it turn around to stare at the boats, nor were the deer nearby perturbed by the presence of the pachyderm. A couple of mongooses made a quick dash amidst the many wooden stumps on the bank while a peacock languidly strolled past the deer to make up for an ideal wild setting. The boat stood still for long as the picturesque wild frame amidst absolute serenity was captured both by the lenses and the souls who stared in oblivion.

The tusker
Wild boar
The boat motored its way once again into the expansiveness of the enchanting reservoir which seemed more like a placid lake with its verdant green background. There were more deer, peacocks, cormorants, wild boars and a few langurs that loitered along its bank as the boat stopped again at the sight of another lone elephant which was semi hidden amidst bamboos. The sun had mellowed and the gleaming reservoir looked all the more gorgeous as the boat made its way back to the pier. As the boat moored, the setting red sun going down the horizon was indeed one of the best frames captured during the day. The day wound with a wildlife video which was an insight into the lives of the wild beings and their survival in a world encroached by humans.



Jeeps packed with visitors left the resort premises early next morning on a safari ride into the Nagarhole national park (presently known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park). Enthusiastic wildlife lovers with tucked in cameras and bleary eyes peered in search of anything wild as the jeeps lunged forward into the wilderness of Nagarhole. The forest was still wrapped in the morning mist, and the brown muddy road meandered its way through the tall withered trees. It looked more brown than green due to the onset on summer. A sambar was the first sighting which gave a glance before it sauntered away. Wild boars, spotted deer and langurs sprung up many a time as the jeep surged on the mud trail. Avian fauna was a delight to watch as numerous colourful birds fluttered all over. Indian roller was the frequently sighted one while others included hoopoes, kingfishers, parakeets, indian robins, emerald doves, jungle fowls and many more. A lone serpent eagle stay put on a tall branch lost in the amazing vistas from the top. Further high on a different branch was perched a brown owl which was only partially visible.


Sambar
Lapwing
Indian Roller
Hoopoe
Serpent eagle

Though there were a couple of alarm calls, all were false ones and despite the wait at a few junctures like waterholes, the felines remained elusive. I have always believed that sighting the wild is sheer luck and the only tiny factor other than that is having good guides who know the jungle well. Despite the guide's good effort and the constant information that passed on while the jeeps crossed paths,  I will have to come back to sight a wild cat in Nagarhole national park and Kabini. After a long wait at a waterhole, the jeep stopped at another, where a lone tusker quenched his thirst. The jeeps and human presence did not deter him from his act and he nonchalantly strolled along the edges of the waterhole to drink more water. This sighting did satiate the eagerness to spot a wild being to an extent and the jeep drove us out of the park, past more deer and peacocks en-route. 

 




A sumptuous breakfast awaited the wildlife enthusiasts at the resort, post which it was a drive back to Bangalore along the fringes of Nagarhole national park. Kabini is undoubtedly a wildlife lover's delight with the serene reservoir and the national park, which teems with wildlife. 

Signing Note- Lose yourself to the wilderness of Kabini...!!

Route- Bangalore- Mysore- Hampapura- HD Kote- Antarasanthe- Karapura
Distance-235 Kms

April 14, 2015

Submerged...!!


A shrine lies semi- submerged in the expansive azure waters of River Krishna. 
Korti- Kolhar, Bijapur, Karnataka. October 2013.

March 26, 2015

That Distant Rain...!!


An evening shower drenching the town of Bijapur, as seen from Gol Gumbaz. Bijapur, Karnataka. October 2013.

March 4, 2015

Sarnath- Buddha Land...!!



Saffron had a subtle change in colour and the beards and long braids disappeared as the autorikshaw rode through the crowded dusty road from Varanasi to drop me off at Sarnath. Such a drastic change within 13 Kms. Sarnath, though geographically close to Varanasi is quite contrasting and does not possess the exuberance of its more famous neighbour. It is relatively peaceful, has many Buddhist temples, stupas, sculptures and excavations of ruins. After attaining enlightenment, Gautama Buddha travelled to Sarnath and preached his first sermon to his five companions at the deer park here. This stage in Buddhism is known as 'Dharma Chakra Pravartana' or 'the turning of the wheel of law'. Sarnath forms one of the four major pilgrim destinations for Buddhists, the others being Bodhgaya, Lumbini and Kushi nagar. Buddhism and the preachings of Buddha flourished in Sarnath until it was attacked by the west asian rulers in the 12th century. The place remained abandoned till the 18th century when the ruins were re-discovered.


A few guides approach to show me around the stupas and temples of Sarnath, but I ignore them and walk away with my guide book and a self made list of places to visit. I walk into the premises of Mulagandhakuti vihara, a Buddhist temple built by Anagarika Dharmapala, a Sri Lankan Buddhist follower in early 20th century. He is also the founder of Maha Bodhi society of India. A nice garden with lined trees and school children welcome me as I walk in. The famous deer park is behind it. Along with seated Buddha statue, the insides of the temple has beautiful mural paintings depicting various scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha by Japanese artist, Kosetsu Nosu. Also nearby is a bodhi tree, which has grown from a cutting of the Bodhi tree in Gaya. As I walk close to the tree, I see huge statues of Buddha giving sermon to his disciples. The huge bell with intricate works and the surrounding inscriptions of the sermon along with colourful prayer flags fascinates and takes me closer to it.


Mulaganandha kutir





Beyond the trees and the garden, I see the huge Dhamek stupa dwarfing everything else in its vicinity. As I walk towards the 31 meter tall and 28 meter wide imposing structure, am dumbstruck by its magnitude. Built by emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C., the real name of the stupa is Dharma Chakra stupa. A few visitors light candles in front of the stupa while some circumnavigate it, not quite similar to the way it is done in Hindu temples. The followers take a couple of steps, then lie prostrate on the path and then keep repeating it as they navigate the majestic structure. Remnants of gold foil are seen on the outer of the stupa. Though prohibited from pasting the foils, pilgrims still press the foils hard onto the structure. The stupa also has wonderful geometrical designs and floral carvings on it.

Dhamek Stupa
In the near vicinity lies the excavations of monasteries, other stupas and ruins. I meander through the brick remains, more lush green gardens, saffron clad meditating monks, a swarm of tourists and school children who are spread all over the premises to reach the Ashokan Pillar remains. Only a cylindrical shaft remains here, well covered and away from the reach of visitors. Built during the times of emperor Ashoka, this tapering monolithic pillar made of sand stone displays Mauryan architecture and was first installed here. It once surmounted the four headed lions, The Lion Capital of Ashoka which is also the national emblem of India and is securely displayed at the site museum.  

Ruins

Ashoka pillar remains
I walk amidst the excavations envisaging the life of monks in the monasteries that existed a many centuries ago. In the distance I see the Dharmarajike stupa, with monks praying peacefully atop it. Dharmarajike stupa is one of other popular stupas built by emperor Ashoka to enshrine the relics of Lord Buddha. Only the base remains of the once existent stupa which was pulled down during the 18th century by the King of Benares to exploit various materials. A small crowd of monks is seated below the stupa and all I can see is meditation everywhere. The place is serene and my mind wanders into the lives of the monks again as I gaze at them from a distance. While I frame my subjects clad in saffron with a green background, a mild fog envelopes suddenly only to disappear within minutes. 


Dharmarajike Stupa
I leave the huge premises even as the monks continue their meditation. The red ruins turn feeble and hazy to my eyes as I walk out in search of Chaukanthi Stupa. Located a short walk away, this huge stupa made of bricks was built during the Gupta period in A.D. 5th century to mark the location where Buddha met his disciples while returning from Bodh Gaya. Atop the stupa is an octagonal brick structure built in Islamic style to commemorate the visit of Humayun, the mughal emperor. I enter the gates of the stupa and saunter towards it. There is no other soul in the vicinity as I gaze at the massive structure before me. I walk around its corners and from nowhere appears a group of buddhist monks who have just finished their meditation and are about to leave. They are absolutely nonchalant about this lonely visitor and do not even spare a glance. They gather their belongings in hushed silence and leave the premises as I still gaze at the stupa and walk around it. A close look reveals that the base of the stupa has interesting patterns and unlike now, must have been quite attractive when it was built. Sun has inched closer to the horizon and I am asked to leave by the guard who calls out from the road.

Chaukanthi Stupa
On the way back I pass the Wat Thai, which is a Buddhist temple which has a huge statue of the lord himself. I take a close look at the intimidating statue and go past it towards the Archaeological museum located next to the excavation site. Photography is prohibited and for a change I do not rush and explore the intricate inscriptions and works on the half broken sculptures and antiques displayed. With five galleries and two verandahs, the site museum at Sarnath has a plethora of displays ranging from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. which were discovered during the extensive excavation. This is a wonderful museum where visitors need to spend time, read the plaques and enjoy the unearthed art works and antiques. I loiter around until the authorities say it is time to close. 

Wat Thai
Numerous temple such as Chinese Buddhist temple, Tibetan Buddhist temple, Japanese Buddhist temple etc adorn the lanes of Sarnath. I walk into a couple of them and most of them are enveloped in serenity and peace. Well decorated Buddha statues with the country specific architecture and decorations adorn the insides and exteriors of these temples. Japanese temple is the last in line and surprisingly there is a small function with drum beats and hymns with a small crowd enjoying the beats. I too become a part of the evening ritual which ends shortly with chocolates being distributed.


Japanese temple

I go past the numerous vendors sell various buddhist paraphernalia on their push carts and small shops by the road to my final place of visit in Sarnath. Along with Buddhism, I add a tinge of Jainism and visit the Digamber jain temple before leaving the serene Sarnath for the chaotic Varanasi. Sarnath is also a pilgrim centre for Jains as it is the birth place of Shreyansanath, the eleventh thirthankara of Jainism. Its quiet, dark and peaceful inside the small temple. Without loitering around much, I leave the premises in search of an autorickshaw.

Jain temple
 The sun has gone down, visitors have left the roads of Sarnath deserted and it's become cold again. I get a glimpse of the excavations as the auto-rickshaw passes its gates. There are a few monks wrapped in saffron walking swiftly to their abodes. I look back for one last time at the land where Buddha gave his first sermon before the driver speeds past the lanes of Sarnath to the saffron land, which is far less serene.

Signing Note- Immerse in the serenity that prevails over the stupas, temples and excavations of Sarnath...!!

Location- 13 Kms from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh


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