July 19, 2018

Rainbow Guest house, Tiruvannamalai- Review


Away from the highway and nestled in one of the nondescript bylanes of Tiruvannamalai, Rainbow Guest house is true to its name with all the bright hues on its façade. Surrounded by more colourful low rise buildings, green fields and facing the hills, the guest house has an excellent location and is a short walk away from all the ashrams and temple. While most of the rooms face the hills, the common areas offer lovely views of the surroundings and are an ideal place to read a book or sip some filter coffee. The place offers rooms with single beds, twin beds, deluxe rooms and a large apartment. All the rooms have attached baths. The rates start from INR 600 per day and come with all the basic amenities. They also offer Wifi in common areas and parking facility.




What I loved:

Location: Location is definitely one of the highlights of this guest house. The serene surroundings is apt for a relaxed stay.

Rooms: The rooms and baths are clean and well maintained.

Common areas: The corridors have hammock chairs and the views are absolutely lovely. They also have an open terrace on top.

Hosts: The hosts who stay on the ground floor are extremely friendly and always ready to help the guests.


What I did not like:

Kitchen: The guest house lacks a kitchen and hence does not provide breakfast, short eats or beverages. However, there are restaurants nearby.


Address:

Rainbow Guest House,
27/28, Lakshmanan Nagar,
Perumbakkam road, Tiruvannamalai,
Tamil Nadu, India- 606603

Ph: +91- 9443886408 / +91- 9047733742

July 17, 2018

Mahabalipuram: Sculpted along the Coast



A major seaport during the days of Pallava dynasty, Mahabalipuram is carved in stone with innumerable sculptures and ancient temples. It was in the 7th century CE that the Pallava ruler Narasimha Varman-I made this small town his capital. Known as Mamallapuram earlier, the temples here are mostly monolithic (carved from a single rock) and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. As almost all the temples were built during 7th and 8th century, most of the sculptures have been windswept over the years due to its location by the Coromandel Coast. Though the town has moved on from the times of Pallavas, a stroll through Mahabalipuram’s alleys would throw up sculptors chiseling away on stones to create magnificent sculptures.


Standing strong against the harsh salty winds over centuries, the Shore temple is located close to the sea and hence gets its name. Built by Narasimha Varman I in 7th century and rebuilt by Narasimha Varman II in typical Dravidian temple architecture, this protected monument has a two tier wall lined with numerous sculptures of Nandi. There are two shrines here- Kshatri Simheshwara and Raja Simheshwara, dedicated to Shiva. Between the two shrines is a huge carving of Ananthashayana (form of Vishnu) in reclining pose on the walls of the main shrine. While the main shrine with a shiva linga in the inner sanctum has a five tier stepped pyramidal tower, the smaller shrine in the front has a three tier tower. Both the shrines have been extensively embellished with carvings, most of which have been eroded over the years due to the salt laden winds. The premise also has a small tank, a dilapidated entrance gate, a few more shrines and numerous scattered sculptures of nandi. It is believed that there are more temples and shrines here which have been covered in sand and remains underground. The narrow lane that runs parallel to the shore temple goes past numerous shops selling a plethora of stone works and leads to the beach.




Dating to the 7th century, Pancha rathas in southern Mahabalipuram are a group of five temples in the form of chariots dedicated to the characters from Mahabharata- Pandavas and Draupadi. Built from monolithic rocks, these temples have elaborate carvings on them and sculptures of animals such as nandi (bull), elephant and lion can be found outside them. The first ratha on the left is dedicated to Draupadi and the one next to it is Arjuna ratha. There is a sculpture of nandi behind Draupadi and Arjuna rathas. The ratha dedicated to Nakula and Sahadeva stands in front of the Arjuna ratha and has a large sculpture of an elephant adjoining it. Bhima ratha is the largest ratha here and is also the most beautifully carved one. Dharmaraja ratha is at the southern end and has a square structure with a pyramid shaped tower atop. The premise also has a few rocks with unfinished works which says that there were more temples and shrines that were planned here during the times of Narasimha Varman I.






Descent of the Ganges which is also referred as Arjuna’s Penance is one of the outstanding works in Mahabalipuram and is considered to be one of the largest rock reliefs in the world. Inscribed on a large rock, it showcases scenes from Mahabharata including that of Arjuna performing a penance.  There are numerous other mythological characters that are carved on this relief. The carvings depict the story of Arjuna’s penance to get a weapon during the war and also of the descent of river Ganga from heaven to earth. Adjoining the rock relief is the Panchapanadava mandapam with carved pillars and stone works on its facade.


Krishna mandapa is another cave temple near the rock relief which has carings on its façade and also on its walls. The wall carvings are huge and depict stories from the life of Krishna. Here he is shown holding aloft Govardhana mountain to protect his folks from rain. There are also carvings depicting cattle, people milking cows and other daily chores during those days.


The main hilock in Mahabalipuram overlooks the town and has numerous cave temples and mandapas strewn across it. Krishna’s butter ball is a landmark structure in Mahabalipuram and a favourite with photographers as the large boulder precariously balances on the slopes of the hillock. The cave temples here have wonderful carvings on them depicting various gods, mythological characters and stories from mythology. Ganesh ratha which was earlier a Shiva temple and later converted into a Ganesha temple has wonderful carvings on its tower. This ratha looks similar to the Pancha rathas and has sculptures inside too. Varaha mandapam is dedicated to the boar form of Vishnu and has large panels on its inner walls. Thrimurthy cave nearby has three shrines dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Mahishasuramardhini cave temple at the southern end of the hillock has sculptures of Durga and also magnificent carvings depicting mythological stories. Atop this is the beautifully carved Olakkaneshwara temple. Ramanuja mandapa and Kotikal mandapa dedicated to Durga are the other popular temples here.








At the northern end of the site is a huge unfinished entrance gate which has intricate carvings on its inner walls. Opposite the Mahishasuramardhini cave temple is the lighthouse which was built in 1887 CE. The lighthouse offers magnificent panoramic views of this heritage town. 





The streets of Mahabalipuram are a delight to walk in the evening with innumerable shops selling a plethora of items including stone works and shells. The sea shell museum here is an interesting one and the beach is known for its rough tides.



Mahabalipuram throws you back to the times of Pallavas who were passionate about temple architecture and showcases a display of the same through innumerable carvings and sculptures across the town. 


Travel Tips:

  • Head to the sites early in the morning to avoid both the harsh sun and the crowds.
  • Be a responsible traveller and avoid touching and leaning onto the sculptures and carvings.

Navigator:

Located along the coromandel coast, Mahabalipuram is 65 Kms south of Chennai. The nearest railhead and closest airport are in Chennai. There are frequent buses from Chennai to Mahabalipuram.

Food and Accommodation:

There are both vegetarian restaurants and cafes serving western cuisines across the town. Othavadai street has numerous cafes such as Moonrakers and Le Yogi. Mahabalipuram has a wide range of options to stay from guesthouses to luxury hotels. I stayed at Rajalakshmi guest house on Othavadai cross street which is well recommended. 

July 13, 2018

Places to visit in the Western Ghats during monsoon


Monsoon is that time of the year when the weather is unpredictable, people prefer being indoors and is often referred as off season. Many destinations receive very few visitors and numerousresorts and hotels remain shut. However, there are certain places in India which are ideal to visit during the rains. Western Ghats that spreads itself from the southern end of Kerala to Gujarat cutting across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra is best explored during the months from June to September. This is the period when hills are wrapped in lush greenery, waterfalls gush through the forests, colourful flowers bloom and the whole ecosystem comes alive.

Below are a few of the places to visit in the Western Ghats during the rainy season. These are not located far from the big cities such as Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kochi, and there are frequent cheap flights to these cities from other parts of the country.

Malshej Ghat

Located in Maharashtra at height of more than 700 meters, Malshej ghat slowly turns into a land of lush valleys, mist covered peaks, fresh mountain air, beautiful flora and avian fauna during the monsoon. Known for its numerous waterfalls and trekking trails, this land turns into a picturesque frame with myriad shades of green. Apart from the numerous flamingoes that flock to the Pimpalgaon dam here, there are a few other attractions such as Shivneri fort, Malshej falls and Harishchandragad.

Mahabaleshwar

Mahabaleshwar is one of the popular hill stations in the Western Ghats and is a short drive away from both Mumbai and Pune. Apart from its numerous vantage points, green hills and valleys, Mahabaleshwar is known for its strawberries. Kate’s view point, Needle point, Arthur’s seat, Elphinstone’s point, Wilson point and Venna lake are some of the attractions that offer scenic views.


Satara

The district of Satara in Maharashtra is home to the gorgeous Kaas plateau that comes alive as the monsoon comes to an end. The plateau is a UNESCO world heritage site and sees a bed of flowers blooming during this season. Kaas lake, Shivsagar lake, Thoseghar waterfalls, Sajjangad fort and Windmills of Chalkewadi are the other major attractions in Satara.


Sagara

In the hinterlands of Karnataka lies the nondescript town of Sagara, which is a short drive away from Jog falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the country. Monsoon is the time to see this falls at its glorious best. Covered in mist, this is the second highest plunge waterfalls in the country. Apart from Jog falls, Sagara is also known for Linganamakki dam, adventure camp at Honemardu and Sharavathi wildlife sanctuary.


Agumbe

Often referred as the Cherrapunji of the south, Agumbe is located in Shimoga district of Karnataka. Known for its numerous waterfalls such as Barkana falls, Onake Abbi falls, Jogigundi falls, Koodlu Theertha falls and Sirimane falls, Agumbe receives incessant rains during the monsoons. Agumbe also has a rainforest research station and a conservation centre for king cobras. The place is also home to numerous fauna and flora species.

Valparai

Located in the Annaimalai hills, Valparai remains a delight during the rains. The sprawling Aliyar dam, Monkey falls and the gorgeous vistas are the major pit stops as you snake your way up this hill station in Tamil Nadu. Undulating tea gardens and meandering roads greet you at Valparai. The vantage points offer magnificent views of mist wrapped hills and valleys here.


Vythiri

Engulfed by mist and intermittent rains, Vythiri turns into a surreal land during the monsoon. The hills and valleys turn lush green in this tiny town in Wayanad. The lakes such as Pookote and Karalad swell and Soochipara waterfalls look gorgeous.  Add to that the breathtakingly beautiful views of Thamarassery ghats and what Vythiri offers is sheer delight during the rainy season.

Nelliyampathy

Numerous small waterfalls greet you as you wind your way up to Nelliyampathy in Kerala. Tucked away deep in the Western Ghats, this is a fairly less explored hill station and its charm lies in the same. The vantage points such as Seetharkund and Keshavanpara offer magnificent views of the valleys, Pothundy dam and green hills.  The place is laced with both tea and coffee plantations.


Vagamon

A short drive away from Kochi, Vagamon is one of the pristine destinations in Idukki district. Vagamon doesn’t offer a list of things to see or do. Instead, the place is ideal to take in the fresh mountain air, walk through the mist, gaze at the hills and stroll through plantations.  Monsoon is the right time to enjoy this windy and misty hill station.


P.S.: This post is in collaboration with Cleartrip.

July 12, 2018

A Nine Year Old Frame!


The road ahead looks exciting and beautiful. As I look into the rear mirror, I can see an equally beautiful frame full of travels, writings, experiences, interactions, motivations and memories. This canvas which puts together my last 9 years of travel blogging is probably the best photograph I have clicked. Thank you all for helping me frame it.

July 6, 2018

Popular Temples in Kanchipuram


Once referred as the town with a thousand temples, Kanchipuram hasn’t changed much over the years despite the number of temples drastically coming down. You are still likely to spot at least one temple or a shrine on every road and alley of this temple city. The sculptures and carvings in the temples which showcases Pallava, Chola, Nayak and Vijayanagara architecture have eroded over the years due to natural calamities and invasions. Prominent during the historical times as a place of learning, Kanchipuram is also one of the seven sacred cities to attain salvation as per Vaishnavism (A type of Hinduism which follows Vishnu). The place is also a revered place for Shaivaites (Followers of Shiva). While there are numerous temples across the town of Kanchipuram, here are a few of the prominent ones which you must visit in this holy land.

Vaikunta Perumal Temple:

Dedicated to Vishnu, Vaikunta Perumal temple is more than 1200 years old and is also known as Thiru Parameswara Vinnagaram. Built by Nandivarman II of the Pallava dynasty in the AD 8th century, the temple has undergone moderate changes in its architecture during the rule of later dynasties. Vishnu is worshiped as Vaikuntanathan here and the main shrine is a three storeyed structure with Vishnu in standing, sitting and reclining postures. The passage around the main shrine is lined with carved pillars and magnificent sculptures on the wall panels. This is one of the oldest temples in Kanchipuram.





Kailasanathar Temple:

This is the most prominent and the oldest temple in Kanchipuram built by Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty in AD 8th century. Built in Dravidian architecture, Kailasanathar temple has extensive carvings and sculptures of various mythological characters on the outer wall of the main shrine and along the circumambulatory path. The inner sanctum has a large shivlinga along with carvings on its walls. Apart from the main shrine, the temple has 58 small shrines here dedicated to Shiva. The whole temple is built out of sandstone except for the foundation, which is made of granite. Despite the elaborate carvings, the temple doesn’t look ostentatious and is tucked away from the busy alleyways of Kanchipuram.





Kanchi Kamakshi Ambal Temple:

Though this temple was first built in AD 11th century during the Pallava reign, most of the present structures were rebuilt later in the 17th century during the rule of Vijayanagar empire.  The main shrine which has a golden topping is dedicated to Kamakshi Amman who can be seen in a seated yogic posture. The temple premise also has a pond which is known as Pancha Gangai and Vasanatha Mandapam which is a raised hall with numerous carved pillars. Kanchi Kamakshi Ambal temple is one of the Shakti Peetams in the country and is among the most revered temples dedicated to Amman (Goddess) in Tamil Nadu.





Ekambareswarar Temple:

Also known as Ekambaranath temple, it was built in the 9th century by Chola dynasty and is one of the most popular temples in Kanchipuram.  Here, Shiva is worshipped in the form of earth (one of the five elements- Pancha Bhootas) and the main shrine has a large Shiva lingam. Vishnu too is worshiped here as Nilathingal Thundam and there are numerous other shrines too. Spread over 40 acres, the temple has an 11 storeyed magnificent Rajagopuram (entrance gate) with impressive carvings and a large temple pond. The temple has long corridors with pillars that are extensively carved. The temple complex also houses numerous halls, the most prominent being a thousand pillar hall, most of which were built during the Vijayanagara rule. A mango tree inside the temple is believed to be where Shiva and Kamakshi got married, and is apparently more than 3000 years old.







Varadaraja Perumal Temple:

This mid 11th century temple was first built by the Cholas and then later many additions were made by the Vijayanagara kings. Dedicated to Vishnu, the temple has two large Rajagopurams (entrance gates) with carvings and is built within a small hillock. The temple has three precincts with 32 shrines and numerous pillared halls. Varadaraja Perumal temple has extensive works and is adorned with carvings, sculptures, carved pillars and mural art. The temple pond is within the premise and is known as Aanantha Theertham.








Within the temple complex is a large mandapam (raised hall) with innumerable sculpted pillars. The pillars have been exquisitely carved with yalis, mythological creatures, scenes from war and various other stories from the bygone era. This hall is on the left as soon as you enter through the rajagopuram.




If there is anything that garners more popularity than the temples in Kanchipuram, it has to be Kanchivaram silk sarees which are synonymous with the town. Apart from shopping, one would also get to see the weaving of these colourful Kancheevaram sarees at a few of the stores. Typically it takes anywhere between 20 to 30 days to weave a Kanchipuram silk saree.  Gandhi road is an ideal place to buy these sarees.



Travel Tips:

  • There are areas within every temple premise where photography is restricted. Do check prior to clicking.
  • All the temples are open from sunrise to 12 noon and then from 4 PM to 8 PM.

Navigator:

Kanchipuram is located 74 Kms from Chennai. The closest airport is at Chennai (63 Kms). There are regular buses and trains that connect Kanchipuram with Chennai, Madurai, Trichy etc.

Food and Accommodation:

Being a temple town, most of the restaurants serve vegetarian fare. Enjoy some delicious dosas, idlis and filter coffee. Kanchipuram has a wide range of hotels catering to the requirements of visitors.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...