December 24, 2010

Colourful Gods of Madurai...!!


On my way back to Bengaluru from Kanyakumari, we had two pit stops. The first being Thirunalveli, to have a taste of the mouth-watering halwas. The second stop was at Madurai, the big town of yesteryears. Though compared to those times, Madurai has slowed down a bit, but it still attracts pilgrims from all over the country and is quite crowded during day time.





Madurai was, is and will always be known for the famous Meenakshi temple. The temple with its huge colourful gopurams looks a stunner even from a very long distance. The beautifully carved sculptures on the gopurams would make one feel that it must have taken many years in the making. There are 12 such wonderful gopurams around the sanctum, of which 4 of them form the four main entrances. Various shades of red, pink, green, blue and yellow have been extensivley used on the sculptures and this makes it astoundingly beautiful. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati. There are also differenet shrines with various deities near the main temple.






I kept gazing at the magnificent  works for a very long time even as pilgrims walked briskly past me in order to have a darshan. The lovely temple pond, Porthamarai (Pond with the golden lotus) is situated inside the temple. I found the corridors around the inner sanctum to be very broad with huge carved pillars everywhere. After the darshan  I moved towards the very famous thousand pillar hall better known as Aayiram Kal Mandapam. All the pillars shows extensive dravidian architeture and have been well maintained by the Archeological Survey of India. Towards one side of this hall lies the musical pillars. When struck, each pillar produces a musical tone different from the other. My curiosity made me strike many pillars and I listened to some lovely music. This hall also has an art museum which showcases coins, drawings, ivory works etc which are centuries old.







After a photoshoot with the cute temple elephant, we browsed through the many shops selling paraphernalia. Various celebarations and festivals are held at this temple througout the year and in full pomp and glory it would be a sight to behold. Being one of the popular temples of South India, Meenakshi temple at Madurai is definitely worth a vist for its fabulous carvings and the colourful gods.



Signing Note:  Witness Gods at their colourful best...!!


Route: Bangalore- Hosur- Krishnagiri- Salem- Dindigul-Madurai
Distance- 440 kms

December 19, 2010

December 13, 2010

Kanyakumari- The Tip of India...!!


There are very few places on this beautiful earth where one can witness both the sunrise and the sunset over the horizon. One amongst them is Cape Comorin which is the tip of the  Indian mainland. Cape Comorin which is better known as Kanyakumari is the place where the three humungous water bodies namely, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal meet up.


After travelling for about 2 hours from Thiruvananthapuram, we reached the tip of India. It is a crowded little place with shops and hawkers selling shells of various shapes and sands of different colours. A small boat ride from the mainland took us to the famous Vivekananda rock, where the great philosopher had meditated. There are a lot books about his teachings which can be purchased. Next to this stands the massive statue of Thiruvalluvar which has been constructed on another rock. These two are infact the main tourist destinations in Kanyakumari. On the way to these rocks we saw many rocks protruding out of the sea. It could possibly have been a part of the mainland many ages ago.






The beach was our next destination and witnessing the lovely sunset, the intention. The beach is covered with rocks at quite a few places and many tourists including myself climbed on to it to enjoy the colourful horizon and stare at the dipping sun. We kept gazing at the darkening horizon and enjoyed the moments of solitude. Having witnessed numerous sunsets and a few sunrises, I definitely feel that a sunset is more spectacular than a sunrise. Period...!!




Another interesting attraction at Kanyakumari is the 3 different colours of the 3 waterbodies that you can see at one particular location. Shortage of time forced us to leave the same night back to Thiruvananthapuram and miss the next day's beautiful sunrise. I would definitely like to come back to Kanyakumari some time soon and witness both the visual treats.

Kanyakumari is not a typical beach town as it has a rocky seafront. Travelers head to this lovely place to witness the spellbinding sunrises and the breathtaking sunsets. It is infact a photographers paradise as it gives them the opportunity to capture the different shades of the sky as the sun rises and sets over the horizon.


Signing Note: Witnessing the rising and the setting of the sun makes up for a serene holiday.

Route: Thiruvananthapuram - Kanyakumari
Distance : 85 Kms

November 29, 2010

Athirapilly- Fall of the White Water...!!


My last visit to Athirapilly waterfalls was more than 20 years ago and my memories of the famous waterfalls were faint. Off late the urge to visit them have been on the rise and to fulfill it we started our drive from Cochin to Athirapilly on a lovely bright morning. After taking the deviation at Chalakkudi, lovely winding roads took us through a lot of greenery to one of the hotspots of Kerala. Enroute we passed numerous plantations and small creeks before reaching the waterfalls. A long queue of kiosks, which sold various items awaited us at the parking area. The falls is located amidst the thick sholayar forests near tamil nadu border.



A small walk of 100 odd steps took us to the top of the waterfalls. The majestic falls have been formed as a result of the free flowing Chalakkudi river tumbling down over a few rocks. The view from the top is of the river flowing and then plunging down 80feet to form the magnificient Athirapilly waterfalls. The force with which the water gushes down the rocks is tremendous and it looks milky white in colour.




To have a better and clearer view of the falls, there are steps from the top which takes you down to the base. Even though the steps have not been well carved out, it is worth trekking all the way down to gaze at the mighty falls crashing on to the rocks below. The chances of getting wet are very high even if you are nowhere near the falls as the white water sprays travel quite a distance. Tourists are not allowed to go near the base of the falls for safety reasons. Just sitting on the rocks and staring at the water falling at amazing velocity is a sight which will remain etched in your memories forever.



 Being a hot and humid day, the climb up was quite strenous. With monkeys for company and numerous thirst quenching options available, a memorable trip came to an end with some photoshoots. 5km ahead of Athirapilly lies another famous waterfalls known as Vazhachal. Though not as attractive as Athirapilly, Vazhachal is beautiful and has numerous tourists visiting it everyday.


Athirapilly waterfalls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country and a visit to the same is worth  every single penny. A visit during the monsoons would surely be a visual treat.

 Signing Note: Get yourself sprayed to a mindblowing experience.


Route: Cochin- Chalakkudi- Athirapilly
Distance: 82 kms


November 20, 2010

Yelagiri- A Quaint Hill Station...!!


A beautiful sunday morning ride took me to Yelagiri, one of the less explored destinations in South India. We were a gang of three on two bikes and left bangalore at 6 in the morning to this little hill station in Tamil Nadu. It was a lovely ride with wide splendid roads all the way till the start of the ghats. The ghat roads were also good inspite of them being not very broad.

After a climb of 14 hairpin bends we reached our destination. Near the 12th hairpin bend there is an observatory from where we had some lovely views of the plains below.



Yelagiri is quite different from the normal hill stations for the reason that there is nothing much to do over here. A couple of villages join together to form Yelagiri. There are hardly a few shops, a couple of restaurants and almost nil tourist traffic. However the charm of this place lies in the same.

The main attractions of Yelagiri are Punganoor lake and Swamimalai. The Punganoor lake has been well maintained to attract the tourists. We also had a boating session in the lovely lake. There is a small park next to the lake where the refreshments are available.



Swamimalai is a trekker's delight. A two hour trek leads to the top of the hill from where you get fabulous views of the valley. To undertake this trek it is best advised to start early in the morning and reach the top before the sun is completely out and over your head. However we were forced to miss out on this trek as we reached Yelagiri only by 11am. Also since we visited the place during the month of may, we didnt want to take on the burning rays of the mighty sun. 


After a lot of roaming around in search of a place to visit, we gave up and came to the consensus that there is nothing else to see in Yelagiri. This place is famous for jackfruits and home made honey. We infact had to be happy with a few mangoes and berries as we didnt have much of an option to carry the jackfruits and honey back home. After a lazy lunch at one of the reastaurants we headed back to Bengaluru.

This is the ideal place to visit if the intention is to just relax, smell the fresh air, ride up a few hairpin bends, enjoy the climate, stare at the lovely plains below and call it a blissful day. The best time to visit Yelagiri would be between November and January when the climate is pleasant.


Signature Note: The best way to relax is to absolutely do nothing.

Route: Bengaluru- Hosur- Krishnagiri- Bargur- Ponnari- Yelagiri
Distance: 165kms.

October 19, 2010

Taj Mahal- The Symbol of Love...!!


History speaks for itself and I suppose everyone who has seen this mesmerising monument would agree to it. I am also sure that I need not discuss history here as everyone knows in detail the reason behind its creation and the stories attached to it.

On my visit to New Delhi last year I made sure to add Agra and Jaipur into my itinerary. However, due to lack of time I had to cut off Jaipur, but didnt want to miss The Wonder. The first view that I had of the breathtaking marble structure made me spell bound. The closer I went, more visible were the beautiful works all over it. Passages from the Quran have been used as decorative elements all over the spectacular stucture.




This wonder of the world which is also a UNESCO World heritage site has been beautifully set up in a huge garden area, and with the river Yamuna in its background, I must say that this is the most beautiful monument I have ever seen in my life.With a mixture of Persian, Islamic and Indian architecture this stunning mausoleum is definitely and truly a man made wonder.


This is what Emporer Shah Jahan himself had to say about The Taj :

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.

 

The green pastures, the blue sky, the tall minarets, the beautiful white tomb and the unbelievable carvings surely makes Taj Mahal the most beautiful creation by man-kind. No wonder the emporer himself and his eternal love rests peacefully inside his own creation.

No reccomedations or suggestions are required to visit this wonder of the world and one need not be a history buff or an architectural enthusiast to admire a fabulous monument. As I sign this off, the great words by John Keats runs into my mind... A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever...!! 


Signing Note: This symbol of eternal love is truly a stunner...!!


Route : New Delhi- Faridabad- Agra

Distance: 205 kms





October 4, 2010

Hogenakkal- The Smoking Rocks...!!



All work and no play makes Niranjan a dull boy. This was quite true in case of my office team as we needed a much refreshing break. After a lot of discussions we decided that Hogenakkal falls would be our rejuvenation destination. We were five of us and left on a sunday morning at 8 in a car. The roads were smooth from Bengaluru to Dharmapuri. The road from Dharmapuri till Hogenakkal was a winding one with green pastures all around.




Hogenakkal in Kannada can be loosely translated to Smoking Rocks ( Hoga meaning smoke and Kal meaning rock). Hogenakkal is the place where the Cauvery river meanders itself through a lot rocks. As a result of water falling on the rocks, it creates a smoky ambiance and hence the name. There are numerous falls all around ranging from as small as 5 feet to more than 20 feet. These lovely falls have been formed as a result of Cauvery river gushing down the rocky gorges.

Being a weekend, it was quite crowded with kids, families, weekend trippers etc. all over the place. After a couple of photo-shoots on the slippery rocks, we took the steps down that lead to the coracles. A coracle ride on the Cauvery waters is a must for all the visitors as it takes you closer to nature and gives a feel of the surroundings and the environment.





After a lot of haggling with the coracle guy regarding the rates, all of us jumped into the bamboo tub and got ready for a ride down the disputed river. Our boatman explained that one bank of the river was in Karnataka and the other in Tamil Nadu. That was a lovely piece of geographical information for all of us. He took us under a couple of waterfalls and we got drenched while still sitting in the coracle. That was an exhilarating experience.  It is believed that the Cauvery water in these areas are therapeutic. Hence we found a lot of people taking their medicinal baths in the river.




Another thing that enthralled us was the jumps by boys aged 10-12 years from top of a rock at a height of more than 20 feet, into the waters. They then swam towards us to collect their charges for the same which was a mere Rs.10. They entertained us with their continuous jumps and we were stunned at their brave act. Being a tourist place, even the Cauvery was not spared from commercialization as we saw a couple of coracle-shops selling everything that a normal kiosk would. The boatman sold biscuits, wafers, water bottles, tetra-pack juices to the people passing by in other coracles.

It was past noon and our boatman pulled up to one of the banks. We had a good oil massage there for about an hour. The masseurs were the locals who did it in a very professional manner. After that it was time for a dip in the free flowing Cauvery. Hungry tummies were crying out and we had a lovely meal with fried fish. The fishes were caught and instantly prepared by the ladies on the banks. Must say that it was one of the best fried fishes I had ever gorged on.




With nothing much to do, we had a longer stint in the waters and played around gleefully till the current got stronger and the skies got cloudy. It started drizzling as we got into the coracle and had a rainy ride back to the starting point. Our boatman gave us a final feel of Cauvery by swirling the coracle at a good pace in the middle of the river. We in fact had to request him to stop his frenzy act. That swirling of the coracle was however the icing on the cake which cannot be explained but only experienced.

The best time to visit Hogenakkal would be after the monsoon, when the Cauvery is at its very best. Also known as the Niagra Falls of India, this is one of the natural beauties that you cannot give a miss.

Signing Note: A natural rejuvenation centre which is God-made and not man-made.

Route: Bengaluru- Hosur- Dharmapuri- Hogenakkal

Distance: 180kms

September 22, 2010

Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Jainism...!!


The last time I had been to Chikmagalur, i missed out on the beautiful Hoysala architectures at Halebeedu and Belur. So with these two lovely heritage sites in my mind I squeezed in Shravanabelakola to make it a lovely triangular trip. With my steed always willing to travel anywhere, I didnt think much and set out on a beautiful heritage ride to the land of Hoysalas. The roads were single lanes for most of the part and with the work for double lanes under progress, my ride was quite a mixed one. Cafe Coffee Days are omnipresent and NH-48 wasnt devoid of them making them my pit stops enroute.

                                

Halebeedu, which was earlier known as Dwarasamudra in yesteryears is known to be the heart of Hoysala architecture. Built during the 12th and 13th century, this beautiful temple is covered with stunning stone carvings. There are 2 temples namely Hoysaleshwara temple and shantaleshwara temple which are joined together by a single platform. The temple has been dedicated to Lord Shiva. With extraordinary carvings, this architectural creation can well be compared to the works in Konark and Khajuraho. The carvings have wonderful tales behind them and each carving has a story different from the next.





Half a kilometer from here is the Kedareshwara temple and the Jain Basadi halli. There is hardly anything else that one can do at Halebeedu other than admiring the amazing works and gasping at their beauty. History lovers can venture deeper into the stories behind each carving with the help of tour guides who are easily available at the temple.
 

32 kms from Halebeedu lies Belur, where the very famous Chennakeshava temple is located. According to history, this temple which is dedicated to Lord Krishna was built to celebrate the Hoysalas victory over the Cholas. The exterior of this temple  is also covered by beautiful stone carvings. There are also a lot of small mandaps around the temple. The inner sanctum has numerous pillars which are well carved out. There are a lot of shops around the temple selling paraphernallia. I bought a small ganesha carved in stone for my table top.
Both Halebeedu and Belur are like twin towns and a visit to one is incomplete without going to the other.



On my way back I took a deviation at Hirisave and headed towards Shravanabelakola. This is one of the most important pilgrimage centres for Jains. The 60feet tall monolithic statue of Gomateshwara is world famous. Mahamasthabhisheka is held here once in 12 years during which thousands of litres of milk is poured over the statue. There are around 600 steps which are carved out on Indragiri hill that you need to climb to reach the statue. However, once you reach the top and stare at the massive Gomatshwara, you would very well say that the climb was worth it.

Hassan would be the ideal place to have an overnight halt for a weekend trip to the 3 places. This also helps one to go in detail with respect to the stories regarding the carvings and also for the  photoshoots. I missed out on Belawadi, which is 13kms from Halebeedu due to shortage of time. This triangular heritage trip was covered in a day but I found it to be too tiring and ran out of time at all the 3 places.

Chikmagalur is just 22 kms from Belur and I was quite tempted to turn my steed after seeing the sign board. All the three places are very famous for their extraordinary works and a visit to all of them is a must for any traveler. Let the landscapings and the waterbodies take a back seat and lets indulge ourselves into a bit of  history and architecture.

Signing Note: These centuries old man made creations are simply breathtaking.

Route: Bangalore- Kunigal- Channarayapatna- Hassan- Halebeedu- Belur- Hassan- Channarayapatna- Hirisave- Shravanabelakola- Hirisave- Kunigal- Bangalore

Distance : Bangalore to Halebeedu- 233 kms
                Bangalore to Shravanabelakola- 160kms


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