December 30, 2016

Let there be light!


Let the rays of 2017 shine bright on you.  Have a wonderful year ahead, full of memorable travels. Happy New Year!

December 29, 2016

5 Historical facts about Udaipur that you did not know

Image credit- The Leela
Udaipur used to be the seat of kings and princes. Today, it retains its old world grandeur with a dash of modern charm.

Udaipur is certainly a scenic city worth many visits. What is great about it is that despite the demands of modern life, it has remained largely intact in terms of its history. If you are looking to get a glimpse of India’s rich Rajputana history today, you would do well to take a trip to Udaipur – and start by booking yourself into Udaipur palace hotel.

Here are some historical facts about Udaipur you may not have known:

1 A friendly capital for the British. Udaipur did not face political upheaval when the British invaded India, and it was in fact made the capital city of Mewar in 1818. However, the local kings were not in favour of the foreigners ruling them, and Maharana Fatah Singh showed open rebellion by not attending the Delhi Durbar held for the coronation of King George V in 1911. However, the Brits remained friendly till the end. Before independence, Maharana Bhupal Singh assented to Udaipur merging with the new Republic of India.

2 A great big lake. The famous Jaisamand Lake in Udaipur is Asia’s second largest, and India’s largest artificial freshwater lake. It is also known as Dhebar Lake, and was built in 1685 by Maharana Jai Singh, while building a dam on River Gomati. It is over 14 km long! Even the dam adjoining it is a massive 1,200 feet long and 116 feet high. It is said that the lake holds seven islands, one of which is inhabited by the Bhil Minas tribe.

3 A palace with a view. The Sajjangarh palace is a derelict site with interesting beginnings. The story goes that this 19th century palace was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh as a site to watch the night skies. Soon it became a palace that offered a beautiful monsoon retreat and hunting grounds. Today, it falls under the aegis of the Indian Government and is in ruins, but visitors still come here to watch the stunning view around and the Sajjangarh sanctuary at its base.

4 The second biggest ‘wall’. We’ve all heard about the Great Wall of China, the largest such edifice in the world, but who has heard of the second largest? You will be surprised to note that the wall of the famous Kumbhalgarh Fort is second to China’s Great Wall, and it is located in Udaipur. The Fort was built by Rana Kumbha from Mewar, and is now included in the Rajasmand District.

5 Welcome to the animal fair! This quaint tradition has been in force for centuries now. It is said that this wonderful animal and handicrafts fair is held to worship Lord Shiva and draws devotees from far and wide. It is held at Baneshwar in February and is mostly attended by tribal people. It was originally meant to be an annual gathering of the Bhil community, but today, many others join in. Apart from the animal and cattle fair, there is live music, magic shows, handicrafts sale etc.

P.S.: This is a sponsored post.

December 28, 2016

Shravanabelagola- 652 Steps to the Colossal Gomateshwara


Covered in a haze of mist, Channarayapatna was just waking up as I breezed past the town and the tree laden road percolating with sunlight to Shravanabelagola, one of the prominent pilgrim centres for Jains. It was a cold ride all the way and the closer I got to Shravanabelagola, I was on the look out for the statue of Gomateshwara. As I squinted, the upper part of the imposing statue atop the hill was visible just before the small town. 

Can you spot the statue?
Shravanabelagola is a typical temple town lined with shops selling a plethora of items, hustling pilgrims and visitors. A cup of coffee later, I stood in front of the first of the 652 steps that lead up on the Vindhyagiri hill (also referred to as Indragiri hill) to the imposing Gomateshwara statue. While I trotted slowly, school children came in hordes and giggled their way up the hill as the teachers tried matching up. Vistas of the town, the kalyani (temple pond) and Chandragiri hill with Jain basadis on the opposite side opened up as the steps led higher. Higher you go, better are the views. Definitely a beautiful sight.The hand rails all through is definitely helpful for the elderly. The sun was yet to go full throttle and that helped the climb without much exhaustion.

Tall climb

View of Chandragiri hill, kalyani and Shravanabelagola town
Vadegal Basadi is the first shrine you encounter after a climb of more than 500 steps. Set on a raised platform, the basadi is supported by numerous stone planks to help it from falling apart. Also referred to as Trikuta Basadi, there are three shrines here, the major one is of Adinatha thirthankara, father of Gomateshwara. The other shrines are of Neminatha and Shanthinatha thirthankaras. Made of black stone, the shrines sit on a platform and has godly sculptures behind them. The inner sanctum also has nice carvings on its ceiling which the priest pointed out to me. Don't be surprised if you find Jain sages sauntering around bare naked here, as it is a part of their unique lifestyle. 

Vadegal basadi

Adinatha thirthankara
There are numerous writings and inscriptions in various Indian languages on the rocks. Went past more small shrines and carvings on rocks as I walked up to Gomateshwara. The outer courtyard has a couple of inscriptions on stone plates, Siddhara Basadi dedicated to Sidda Bhagawan thirthankara and a small mantapa with pillars and sculpture of an old lady with a Yaksha image on top. This mantapa is referred to as Gullekayi Ajji mantapa. I had the first close glimpse of Gomateshwara from the outer courtyard as his head towers above everything else. The entrance foyer has beautiful sculptures of figurines on either side of the door.

Inscriptions

Carvings
Inscriptions on stone

Entrance foyer
At more than 58 feet, Gomateshwara also referred to as Bahubali stands tall and intimidating, but with a pleasing facial expression. Built during the Ganga dynasty by Chavundaraya in the late 10th century, this colossal sculpture is all about magnificence and architectural excellence of the sculptors. Gomateshwara stands naked in deep meditation and has detailing such as ant hills near his legs and the creepers around the body. Carved out of grey granite, this is the tallest monolithic statue in India. There are inscriptions in Kannada, Tamil and Marathi at its base. I gazed at this masterpiece for long until the devotional songs broke the silence that prevailed.

Gomateshwara
I was in at the right time as the daily offerings and prayers were performed by the priests shortly. A few jains joined and they chanted along as the ritual continued for a while. Mahamastakabhisheka is the grand ceremony that takes place here once in 12 years when the statue is anointed with holy water, milk, honey, curd, coconut water, ghee, vermilion, turmeric, sandalwood and much more. This spectacular ceremony is undoubtedly an enthralling experience. The next one is scheduled for 2018. Presently only the feet are washed everyday with holy water, milk and vermilion.

Offerings and prayers
There are more sculptures in the surroundings, two on either side of Gomateshwara and many thirthankara images in the enclosures on three sides. These were erected during the rule of Hoysalas and is of great importance to Jainism. The prayers were done, the selfie clicking children had left and silence again prevailed as I walked out. The views from the outer courtyard of the unending horizon, the blue sky, the meandering road and the tiny town are absolutely captivating.

Sculptures of thirthankaras



Panoramic view from the outer courtyard
The walk down was much faster and after a quick breakfast, I headed to Chandragiri hill for another climb with more school students. Apparently a smaller one with lesser number of steps, the hill is known for its numerous jain basadis dedicated to fifteen thirthankaras. There are more inscriptions on the rocks en-route the basadis. It is believed that Chandragupta Maurya of the erstwhile Mauryan empire lived on this hill during his last few days and there is also a basadi dedicated to him, built by emperor Ashoka. Apart from the basadis, there are two manasthambhas which are tall pillars with carvings on it. 

Up the Chandragiri hill
Chavundaraya basadi, Kattale basadi and Parshwanatha basadi are the major and elaborate ones with carved pillars. Chavundaraya basadi has an upper floor which can be accessed through a precarious climb. Parshwanatha basadi houses a tall statue of fourteen and a half feet high Parshwanatha. Many basadis have Adinatha as the deity and most of them have sculptures of Yaksha and Yakshi Kushmandini Devi beside the door to inner sanctum. 

Chavundaraya basadi

Chavundaraya basadi

Chavundaraya basadi
Kattle basadi

Parshwanatha basadi

Parshwanatha basadi
The other basadis are Shanthinatha basadi, Sidhantha basadi, Bhandara basadi, Suparshwanatha basadi, Chandranatha basadi, Savatigandhavarana basadi, Sasana basadi etc. The hill also has inscriptions on stone plates and also a unique mutilated statue of Bharata.

Savatigandhavarana basadi

Sasana basadi

Chandragupta basadi

Bharata statue

Inscriptions of Shanthaladevi 

Though Shravanabelagola is more known for the imposing Gomateshwara statue, the numerous other basadis on both the hills too are a delight to explore in this temple town. 

View from Chandragiri hill
Shravanabelagola can be made as a one day trip from Bangalore. One can also club it along with Belur and Halebidu making Hassan as the base. 


Location:

54 Kms from Hassan (Hassan- Channarayapatna- Sharavanabelagola)
155 Kms from Bangalore (Bangalore- Kunigal- Channarayapatna- Shravanabelagola)

Closest rail head- Hassan
Closest airport- Bangalore

Food and Accommodation:

There are numerous small eateries at the base of the hill, most are vegetarian. Stay options are limited and it is recommended to make Hassan or Channarayapatna the base as both have mid range and budget hotels.

December 26, 2016

Shettihalli Rosary Church, Hassan


The lonely road from Hassan was rarely interrupted by a gazing cattle or a farmer in the distance. I rode on, and without a cue the dilapidated church popped up on the frame, in the middle of nowhere. The Rosary church at Shettihalli looked very much like an abandoned structure from a distance. As I took the narrow trail that led to it, my assumption was reconfirmed. With a few church walls, columns and arches remaining, this church intrigues people with its crumbling state that is presently in.   







Built by French missionaries for Britishers in 1860 CE, the remains of the church stands desolated amidst an open land by the backwaters of Gorur dam. Marred by graffiti all over by visitors, this European styled church was abandoned when Gorur dam was constructed and backwaters of Hemavathi river flooded the area, forcing the then villagers to relocate. 



There are certain destinations which you need to visit during different times of the year and the Rosary church at Shettihalli is one such place. This  ruined church gets semi submerged during the monsoon in the backwaters and creating a gorgeous frame. After the rains, the church resurfaces allowing visitors to walk through its interiors. During the monsoon one can go on a coracle ride with the locals as the water levels rise. The setting sun over the backwaters creates wonderful frames and would keep the shutter bugs engaged. 


Travel Tips:
  • The church is 18 Kms from Hassan town.
  • There are no shops or restaurants nearby.
  • Do not litter the place and carry back your trash (It was quite littered when I visited).
  • Visit during ear;y morning or evening to avoid the sun and for beautiful captures.

December 16, 2016

A Day in Mussoorie


Nestled cosily on a ridge and overlooking the Doon valley, Mussoorie, once hailed as Queen of the hills during the British rule still emanates glimpses of the colonial era. Though the tourist inflow has grown multi-folds over the years, especially during the summers, Mussoorie still holds a charm with its unending vistas, valleys, hills and the salubrious climate.

With a day to explore, I decided to visit a couple of places outside the town before hitting the popular mall road trail. Sainji village more popularly referred to as corn village lies away from the town of Mussoorie. The serpentine roads with views of the brown hills and the deep valleys kept me engaged as I took in the fresh mountain air. The vehicle took a detour to go down to Sainji village, which at first glimpse seemed like one of those secluded villages on the mountain slopes which I had spotted on the way. A big welcome board next to the local school greets people to this village where numerous corns are hung outside each home. Though this practice is done to dry the corns, it doubles up as a home decor for an outsider like me. Imagine hundreds of corns outside your home as a decoration, similar to the stars and balls hung during Christmas. Looks absolutely quirky and attractive at the same time. This small village of 35- 40 families have gained some amount of attention from tourists due to this, though their intent was never that. Though they sell the corn outside, this is not their only means of living. While the men go out for work, women work on these dried corns. Women chatted and kids played around as I walked through this beautiful corn village. Contemplating whether to chat or not, I gave half smiles while capturing their attractive homes.






En-route Sainji village, the cascading Kempty falls showed up from a distance. A popular place of interest in Mussoorie, Kempty falls looked like water flowing amidst an array of multi coloured structures from a distance. A perfect example of what excessive commercialization can do to a place. With more resorts and hotels under progress in the already cramped hill, this falls is definitely not a beautiful sight.


It was a refresher to be at Happy valley, a delightful place known for its Tibetan settlement. An apt name with chirpy school children and smiling monks strolling around. Mussoorie was home to the present Dalai Lama when he fled from Tibet as a refugee. It was later that he moved to Dharamshala. Happy Valley has ever since had a significant Tibetan settlement with a Buddhist temple, schools and homes. Shedup Choephelling temple with its colourful walls and interiors is a major attraction here. With panoramic views of valleys, fluttering prayer flags and a serene ambiance, the place is definitely a happy one.






The mall road is probably the biggest attraction and also the most crowded place of interest in Mussoorie. After a scrumptious lunch at Clock Tower Cafe, walked down to Kulri bazaar, which is one end of the mall road. Mall road is basically a long stretch lined with bazaars, numerous shops, hawkers, restaurants and churches along with beautiful vistas of the Doon valley. The winding and intermittently steep mall road ends at the popular Library bazaar, which gets its name from the 19th century Mussoorie library located here. While I liked the Kulri bazaar for its curio shops, Library bazaar was too crowded for my taste. A cable car ride takes you further up to gun hill, which offers more vistas. Despite the crowd what I loved about the mall road are the charming old cycle rickshaws, quaint lamp posts and beautiful benches which are a throwback to the colonial era.




 





The day ended with a captivating view of Mussoorie's famed winter line from Library bazaar. If you would like to stay away from the crowds, Landour which is soaked in serenity and colonial charm is a short drive up from Mussoorie.


Location:

Mussoorie to Sainji village- 19 Kms
Mussoorie to Kempty falls- 14 Kms
Dehradun- 35 KMS
New Delhi- 290 KMS

Food and Accommodation:

Mall road has a wide range of restaurants and food stalls. Chick Chocolate known for its variety of chocolates and Lovely Omelette Centre on mall road are well recommended. Being a popular tourist destination, Mussoorie offers a wide range of stay options.

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