Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

November 8, 2022

Agra – The Capital of Mughal Empire

Filed under: India — jani @ 8:17 pm

About Agra: It is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Agra’s golden age of the city began with the Mughals and it was the capital of the Mughal Empire under Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Under Mughal rule, Agra became a centre for learning, arts, commerce, and religion, and saw the construction of the Agra Fort, Sikandra and Agra’s most prized monument, the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite empress. After Independence, Agra has developed into an industrial town, with a booming tourism industry, along with footwear, leather and other manufacturing. The Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Day 1: It had been my wish to visit Taj Mahal for a very long time, however this had been kept delaying. Finally during the Diwali holidays, Sur and myself decided to visit Agra as we were there in Noida for the holidays. We were informed that 2 days are more than sufficient to visit Agra and Friday is not recommended as most of the monuments are closed on that day. So we decided to travel on a weekend.

We started at 6 AM and within 3 hours we were in Agra. It was a pleasant drive and then we decided to go to Taj Mahal first. We got introduced to the guide Mr. Aman Jain through one of the Auto Rickshaw person and from then onwards the guide was there for both the days to guide us through the entire trip. We purchased the entry ticket and then the shoe covers which is needed to wear before entering the mausoleum. In the morning as we entered the campus of Taj Mahal, it was a beauty to behold, and it was all the more worth it. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died on 17 June that year, while giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. In 2007, it was declared a winner of the New 7 Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. It took the efforts of 22,000 labourers, painters, embroidery artists and stonecutters to shape the Taj Mahal. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the Jasper from Punjab, Jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the Carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Along with being a renowned symbol of love, the Taj Mahal is also a symbol of Shah Jahan’s wealth and power, and the fact that the empire had prospered under his rule. The building appears to slightly change color depending on the time of day and the weather.

Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife. It has been pointed out, that the minarets are designed to tilt slightly outwards to prevent them from crashing on top of the tomb in the event of an earthquake.

Then we strolled down in the garden and then headed for a little shopping near Tajganj where we picked up few souvenirs made from the same kind of marble used in Taj Mahal. Since the renovation keeps happening, the smaller marble pieces which are discarded have been used to make souvenirs. Also we visited precious stones stores where you can purchase star sapphire, black star stone etc and then we headed to UP handicrafts art and handloom centre where we found sarees made from Pineapple, banana and bamboo fibre. The prisoners make this and then its sold in these stores. We also found shoes and belts and specially belt made in Deer leather. We were curious as how did they procure deer skin when India has banned deer hunting. Then we were informed that the skin is taken post the natural death of the deer as there are quite a few spotted deers roaming near these monuments.

Then it was time to try the Agra famous Petha (pronounced as Petta) which is a translucent sweetmeat made with cubes or cylinders of ash gourd (white pumpkin), first soaked in slaked lime (chuna) and then slow cooked in Sugar and Kewra water (Distilled from Pandanus flowers) is added later for flavour. We were informed this particular shop uses honey instead of sugar and they also had interesting flavours like Coconut, Chocolate, Butter scotch, Paan and fruit based. We picked up few and left for lunch.

We were recommended to go to Pinch of Salt restaurant, where Sur tried the Paneer and mixed vegetables and I tried the lamb curry and the butter naan. We enjoyed the food and then we headed to the next visit of Agra Fort

Agra fort is a historical fort in the city of Agra and also known as red fort. It was built during 1565-1573 for Mughal Emperor Akbar. It was the main residence of the rulers of Sikarwar clan of Rajputs until Mughals occupied it and then the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as the walled city.

Realising the importance of its central situation, Akbar made it his capital and arrived in Agra in 1558. His historian, Abul Fazl, recorded that this was a brick fort known as ‘Badalgarh’. It was in a ruined condition and Akbar had it rebuilt with red sandstone from Barauli area Dhaulpur district, in Rajasthan. Architects laid the foundation and it was built with bricks in the inner core with sandstone on external surfaces. Some 4,000 builders worked on it daily for eight years, completing it in 1573.

It was only during the reign of Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, that the site took on its current state. The fort was the site of a battle during the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India, and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.

Four gates were provided on its four sides, one Khizri gate opening on to the river. Two of the fort’s gates are notable: the “Delhi Gate” and the “Lahore Gate.” The Lahore Gate is also popularly also known as the “Amar Singh Gate,” for Amar Singh Rathore. Indian military (the Parachute Brigade in particular) is still using the northern portion of the Agra Fort, hence the Delhi Gate cannot be used by the public. Tourists enter via the Amar Singh Gate.

Then we headed to Akbar’s Tomb. It is the tomb of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It was built in 1605–1613 by his son Jahangir and is situated on 119 acres of grounds in Sikandra, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Akbar’s cenotaph inside the mausoleum, the real grave as per traditions lies below it.

In the garden there were quite a few very healthy monkeys, peacocks and deers and we enjoyed the greenery around.

Then we headed to Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Agra where we had booked for the night. This is a budget hotel and it was good. We checked in and crashed for the night as I was too tired.

Day 2: We woke up with much needed rest and then we headed for breakfast. It had limited options. We had a toast and omelette and headed for checkout. Then we met our guide and we headed to Fatehpur Sikhri to see the Tomb of Salim Chishti. This is atleast 1.5 hour drive from where we were. The Tomb of Salim Chishti is famed as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India, built during the years 1580 and 1581, along with the imperial complex at Fatehpur Sikri near Zenana Rauza and facing south towards Buland Darwaza, within the quadrangle of the Jama Masjid which measures 350 ft. by 440 ft., It enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478 – 1572), a descendant of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, and who lived in a cavern on the ridge at Sikri. The mausoleum, constructed by Akbar as a mark of his respect for the Sufi saint, who foretold the birth of Akbar’s son, who was named as Prince Salim after the Sufi Saint and later Jahangir succeeded Akbar to the throne of the Mughal Empire,

As you enter inside, there are mini buses to take you to the top where the tomb is. When you enter the building, make sure you wear clothes which are below the knees. Also you are not allowed to wear the footwear inside the campus. This tomb is believed that if you wish anything and pray to the saint, then the wishes are granted. The descendants of the saint still live there and also they run a school for the local children. We said a prayer for everyone and left from there.

This place being outside the city limits, we were also informed not to go alone or venture alone without the local guide. There was a case of one of the foreign tourists mishandled by the locals and the couple were in ICU for a week or two. Also there are lot of children who come and ask for money and we were asked to just ignore them to avoid any problems with the locals. Since we had the guide throughout, he made sure to arrange local guides in each monuments and they also made sure to purchase the tickets and be ready so it saved our time as we missed the queue as well.

On the way we went to Gopal Das Petha Shop in MG Road for the plain Pethas which are very famous. Then we headed to Taste of India for lunch, it was average and then we headed back to Noida with the great memories.

Stay Safe.

I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list……………………..

 

 

.

 

 

June 30, 2022

Rameswaram – The Island of Temples

Filed under: India — jani @ 6:34 pm

About Rameswaram: This island is located in Ramanathapuram district, the town is a part of Pamban Island also known as Rameswaram. This is one of the four pilgrimage places for Hindus (Char Dham of India). This Island is being associated with the legendry temple Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple, built in marvelous Dravidian style of architecture. Situated at the very tip of the Indian peninsula, the island is connected with Indian mainland by Pamban Bridge on Pamban Channel in Gulf of Mannar. Rameswaram is said to be the Varanasi of South. Rameswaram is believed to be the place from where Lord Rama started his journey to get his wife Sita back from Ravana and he was helped by ‘Vaanar-Sena’ army of legendary monkey-humans and served by Hanuman, Lord Ram’s paramount devotee.

Day 1: After a very stressful week, I needed a short break and the moment I told Sur, he was all ready to go on a break to help me destress. For some reason I was thinking the monsoon has started so the only place I felt comfortable to travel was Rameswaram. This has been in my bucket list for a very long time, however since Sur cannot handle the heat, this has been getting pushed further and further. This time as we ran out of options, Sur reluctantly agreed for Rameswaram.

We started our journey as usual by 6 AM sharp, however it had unusual traffic. After few hours, I was very hungry so we were looking for a place to stop for breakfast, finally found Adyar Ananda Bhavan, near Hosur Industrial Complex and I enjoyed the mini breakfast which had Idli, Dosa, Pongal, Kesari and soft fritter (medhu vada) and a nice filter coffee, while Sur enjoyed the masala ghee dosa. Once we loaded our energy we hit the road back and it was a pretty good drive. We just had to do a quick stop for fuel and then we headed back to the road again.

We were looking for a stop for lunch and we found Ammachi mess, near Kottangulam. It was ok for just a quick south Indian veg meals. Then we hit the road.

On the way we stopped for few minutes in Pamban bridge. This is a railway bridge which connects the town of Mandapam in mainland India with Pamban Island, and Rameswaram. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge, and was the longest sea bridge in India until the opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010.

Then we reached the Daiwik Hotel. We checked in to the room and freshened ourselves. We were too tired to step out for dinner so just ordered some tea and chilli cheese toast, as I realized later this hotel was a pure Veg hotel so I didn’t have other options. Thankfully the chili cheese toast was good. I ordered a cup of tea but I got 4 cups of tea instead. I was trying to finish the whole tea as I didn’t want to waste it and Sur was laughing looking at my plight of tea overdose. Then we dozed off.

Day 2: Woke up to a beautiful day and went for the breakfast. The buffet spread was decent and then headed straight to our first stop Dhanushkodi, this town is believed to be the place where Lord Rama had ordered Lord Hanuman to build a bridge which could carry his army across to Sri Lanka, where Demon King Ravana had kept Sita captive. As ordered, Lord Hanuman had obliged and it was here that the Ram Setu was built by the Vanara Sena.

We went straight to Arichal Munai. It’s a Coastal lookout marking the end point of the Indian mainland, popular for viewing ocean sunsets. We enjoyed the beautiful view of the beach, there were quite a lot of crowd and then came to the Dhanushkodi town, which most of the people call it as a ghost town as this was completely destroyed in Cyclone in 22-23 Dec 1964. There is only a church entrance wall standing and a little bit of altar. Otherside the railway station is completely destroyed and you could see skeletons of post office, school and railway station. Even though the Pamban bridge was rebuilt but the town was never rebuilt as this town after cyclone was considered unfit for living. There are few shops and very few houses with a small hindu temple.

On the way back we visited Kothandaramar Temple. The temple is the only historical structure to survive the 1964 cyclone that washed away Dhanushkodi. The temple is estimated to have been constructed about 500-1000 years ago. Rama, the main idol, is depicted as having a bow (Kothandam), and hence this temple is called Kothandaramar temple. The temple has the deities of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman and Vibhishana. The temple is believed to be the place where Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, asked Rama and his vanara (ape men) army for refuge. According to this tradition, after the abduction of Sita, Vibhishana advised Ravana to return her to Rama. However, Ravana did not listen to the advice, which led to Vibhishana fleeing from Lanka and joining Rama’s army. It is also said that after the slaying of Ravana, Rama performed the “Pattabhishekam” (ascension to king of Lanka) for Vibhishana at this place. The story is depicted in painting across the walls inside the shrine.

Then we headed to Jatayu Theertham which is closeby and this is also considered one of the important shrines in Rameshwaram. The road is pretty narrow with thorny trees on both sides of the road. This place is nice to stop for a group lunch/family outings etc. This temple is dedicated to Jatayu, considered to be the King of birds, who was an ardent and loyal devotee of Lord Rama. According to the religious beliefs, when demon Ravana had kidnapped Goddess Sita, Jatayu had helped Lord Rama by fighting the demon. During the fight, Jatayu’s wings were slashed because of which it fell down and died. Afterwards, Lord Rama had buried the Jatayu body at the place where a temple stands now and is dedicated to Jatayu. it is said that the entire place where it was buried, turned into vibhuti, which is the holy ash that is obtained after the yagnas by the saints. It is also believed that Jatayu also helped in getting herbs from mountains to save Lord Rama’s life. We said a prayer there and then headed to the famous temple of Rameshwaram which is Arulmigu Ramanthaswamy Temple.

This Arulmigu Ramanthaswamy Temple has the longest corridor among all Hindu temples in India. It was built by King Rebel Muthuramalinga Sethupathiy. The temple, located in Rameswaram, is considered a holy pilgrimage site for Shaivites, Vaishnavites and Smarthas. Mythological accounts depict the presiding deity, the Lingam of Ramanathaswamy (Shiva), as having been established and worshiped by Rama, before he crossed his bridge to the present-day island of Sri Lanka. Ramanathaswamy Temple Theertham (holy water bodies) is very special. There are 22 theerthams in the form of a pond and a well. These 22 theerthams represent the 22 arrows of Sri Rama. It is said that every devotee should bathe in these 22 theerthams before going to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. You are supposed to stand in front of each theertham and the temple folks will take the water from the holy well through a bucket and pour the whole bucket of water on you. We were not at all prepared for this, so we asked the guide to pour the water in the hand so that we can splash a little water on the head instead of getting fully wet. We completed all 22 theerthams, the final one being called Ganga theertham and then we entered the temple to pray. The floors are completely wet and very crowded, so be prepared for that when you plan to visit.

Then we were looking for a place to have our lunch, unfortunately I didn’t realize until then that most of the restaurants are vegetarian as this being temple town. I came with the expectation to enjoy the seafood as it’s a coastal town, to my disappointment, there were mostly vegetarian restaurants.

The two seafood places we identified to try for lunch. First we went to Coral Casita, after spending almost 45 minutes of drive in a small lane, we realized the property didn’t exist. Then we thought we will give a try to Ocean Paradise Beach Resort & Sea Food Restaurant, after another hour drive and wading through the sand a bit we were informed its only for the house guests. So finally we had to return back and Sur now has given up helping me find my food as he was hungry. So I reluctantly agreed to go to a vegetarian restaurant.

The worst part was Sur wanted to try the lunch in JKR Resort & Spa. Imagine my plight, I would have been totally fine to go to restaurants like A2B and order a south Indian veg thali which I love, and I would have been totally ok with it. But going to a high end restaurant for a vegetarian buffet that I couldn’t handle. With all the complaints and grumpy face that I had till I came out of that place, Sur realized never take me out to a high end pure vegetarian restaurant especially while travelling. You don’t want to face me in that situation, I am sure Sur can vouch for that.

Talking about JKR Resort, this place ranked top while we were searching for a place to stay, however every review in the last few months had been negative. Even though the rooms and views are good, the service was pathetic, that’s what we read about the reviews online. That’s why we didn’t book this property. However Sur thought at least will try their food and see the experience by ourselves. The food at JKR for the veg buffet was decent and Sur enjoyed, while I loved the paneer and papads as I didn’t have an option. Then we decided to try some of their drink in the menu like buttermilk etc. The waiter said chef is not available as he stepped out for shopping so only drink available was butter milk, which also might get delayed. This was during peak lunch hours so we kind of understood the level of hospitality at this high-end premium resort.  We also had a family sitting next to us ordering A la carte, they didn’t get their food on time, finally when the food came, there were no plates, for few minutes waiter was not available as he was busy with other customers.The lady lost her patience and started lecturing the waiter.

I had no interest to be at this place any longer, so we quickly left from the place and went to House of Kalam. This is the childhood home of India’s beloved former president, late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Not many know that late Dr Kalam was born and raised till his teenage years in the temple town of Rameswaram. The House of Kalam was established as museum in 2011.

Then we headed to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam National Memorial in Rameswaram. Here you cannot carry a mobile phone, hence ensure don’t carry any things when you go to visit. The one person I always admire is Dr. Kalam, he  is the epitome of simplicity, powerhouse of knowledge and an inspiration to every person specially the students. So I felt so good and was very glad that I visited this place. Looking at the statue of Dr. Kalam, I felt I was meeting him in person and my heart was filled with respect, love and admiration. We had to hurry as it was time for closure, so quickly went around the museum and then we headed back to the hotel. As usual we ordered for the tea and chill cheese toast and dozed off.

Day 3: We had a good rest, had our breakfast and left to see more of Rameswaram. We also had few places to visit which was few kms away from this town. So our first stop for the day was Hanuman Temple (Sri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stones) which is the five-faced Hanuman Temple. It is said that Lord had revealed his five faces here, The five faces of lord Hanuman are of Lord Varaha that faces the north, Lord Narasimha facing the south, Lord Garuda facing the west, Lord Hanuman facing the east along with face of Lord Hayagriva that faces the sky. In 1964, after the cyclone in Dhanuskhodi, the idols of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita was brought to this temple and placed here.

Another major attraction of this temple are the ‘floating stones’ that have been kept at the temple for the devotees to see. These floating stones were used for building the floating bridge named Sethu Bandhanam, from Rameshwaram to Lanka so that Lord Rama, Lord Lakshman along with others could go to Lanka to rescue Goddess Sita and put an end to the brutalities of demon Ravana.

Then we went to Ram temple and Ram Tirtham, we said a prayer and left.

Then we headed to Agni Theertham, this place holds a significant place among Hindu Devotees, who visit here to offer their prayers to atone their sins by bathing in its holy waters. It is also visited by devotees to pray for the peace and moksha of their ancestors and to perform rituals after the demise of their loved ones. We didn’t step in the water as it was crowded.

Then we headed to Ram Padam (Ramar Paadham – Ram’s Feet). It is situated in the sandy hillock named Gandha Madhana parvatham (The village where this temple is located). The word Parvatham Literally means Mountain. The feet of Lord Rama is engraved in a stone chakra in this place. The Ramar paadham is the highest point in the Rameswaram, one can see the full panoramic view of Rameswaram island by standing on the top of this Temple. It is said that one can view Sri Lanka by standing on the top of the temple. There is a stair on the side to go upstairs to have the view. It is said that Lord Ram Stood on this place and planned for the bridge, Before he built a bridge (Ram Sethu) across the sea.

Then we headed out of town to explore few places of interest which were close by. First it was Ramanad Palace. This palace is in the midst of the busy main road so we didn’t find the place to park the car. When we asked few people around,  they just said to park it outside and go. We were still worried of getting towed away as this was a busy road. Once we went inside the gate, we realized there was bigger space inside to park. The Gatekeeper then assured that car will not get towed away and it’s safe to keep it out, so we were relieved and went inside.

The entrance had a sign in Tamil (Ramalinga Vilasam). Ramanathapuram or Ramanad Palace is the home of the Sethupathy kings who ruled this region in the 17th century and were considered the guardians of the Sethusamudram near Rameshwaram. Pilgrims and travellers were protected by these rulers. The kings ruled parts of Southern Tamilnadu for more than 300 years and it is believed that some parts of the palace complex precedes even that era. This palace portrays the past glory of King Sethupathi. The mural paintings with natural dyes picturing the historical days of King Sethupathi are still intact. The palace also holds complex weapons which were used by King Sethupathi on various wars. The paintings were not just about the gods and goddess but also about the peace treaties with kings and queens from different countries. There is also idols of Ram, Sita, Hanuman & Lakshman. Then as we stepped out, we also saw few houses inside which we assumed they are the descendants of the royalty and we left for our next destination.

Our next stop was Navapashanam temple (Nine Planets Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to Navagrahas, the nine planetary deities, located in Devipattinam, which is 70 Kms from Rameswaram. The legend is that Ram before undertaking the journey to bring back Sita from Lanka, said to have performed prayers towards Navagraha (9 planets) in this place, installing all the deities by his own hands. Here the temple is located close to the sea and you have to walk through a bridge. Since you have to remove the footwear out, be prepared to walk on the bridge barefoot in the hot sun in order to see the nine deities. There were people taking holy bath where the deities were there as this is the only temple where people are allowed to touch the deities.

Next we went to Darbhashayanam Temple, in Tiruppullaani which is located near Ramanathapuram. It means the sacred forest abode of Pula Maharshi. Ram, took rest on the sacred grass during his penance, for three days and nights, in this particular place. There is a shrine of Lord Rama in the Darbasayana pose, signifying his resting here and invoking Varuna for help in crossing the ocean, enroute to Sri Lanka in search of Sita. Pullaranyam was a marshy land full of grass and Sri Rama chose a bed of Darbha grass, which is held very sacred by all the Hindus. The grass is used on all sacred occasions during the performance of propitiatory rituals in honour of Gods and one’s ancestors. Since it was lunch time, the temple was closed and I also had few work calls to take. So we went around and found few trees where we got a nice shade to park the car as the weather was hot and then attended my work calls. Then we headed to the temple however the sanctum was closed. So just stood out, said a prayer and we left.

Then we headed to Uthirakosamangai Temple (Mangalanatha Swamy Temple). The place got this name Uthirakosamangai from the fact that Lord Shiva taught Parvati the secrets of the Vedas. It is located in Ramanathapuram District in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the most ancient Shiva temples, Sethupathi Maharaja family is the hereditary trustee.The antiquity of the temple is also evident from the fact that the name of Mandodari, wife of Ravana (Emperor of Sri Lanka) is engraved on the wall of the temple. This temple is the place where the world’s first Natarajar appeared. The temple has the Emerald Nataraja Statue (Maragatha Natarajar). The famous Mughal King Alauddin Khilji, who ruled Delhi in the year 1300, found out that there was an emerald Natarajar statue in Uthirakosamangai and tried to loot it but he did not succeed in his attempt. It is also believed to be the first temple in the world.

When we reached the place, temple was still closed. Since I had few work calls to be done we parked in front of the temple and then by the time I finished the call, temple opened. So we were relieved and went inside the temple. First we went to visit the Natarajar temple on the right side which was outside of the main temple, prayed and then came to the main temple. Then on the left was  goddess Parvati temple. Since this is the auspicious place for weddings we did see few newly wedded couples who just finished their rituals in the temple. Then we headed out to our next stop.

We reached Erwadi Dargah which is in Erwadi village in Ramanathapuram District. It is the holiest place for Islam. Here they have the grave and the shrine of Qutbus Sulthan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed Badusha Radiyallh Ta’ala anhu, the then ruler of Madinah Al Munawwara. The four dargahs were built here to commemorate Seyyad Ali Sulthan Ibrahim Shahid, His mother Fathima, wife Seyyad Ali Fathima & son Abu Thahir who migrated from Saudi Arabia and were considered messengers of God. Seyyad Ali performed lot of miracles, hence the King Sethupati gifted this land (6000 acres) as a token of appreciation. After King Sethupathi, Vikrama Pandya ruled this place and he was not in favour of him as the Hindus were converting to Muslims, So war broke out and except son, all of them lost their lives during the war. Here people bring mentally ill patients as they believe, God can cure them as Seyyad Ali had perfomed lot of miracles here. This is also a place of religious harmony which King Sethupathi patranised and that bond between hindus and muslims still continues till date.

It’s near the main road and we went in the afternoon so this was also closed and we saw it from out and left. Then on our way near the junction where we needed to head to Rameswaram, there was a juice vendor, we enjoyed the local drinks like kulukki sharbath, sugar cane juice, kulukki soda etc and then returned to the hotel, had our usual tea and chilli cheese toast and hit our bed.

Day 4: We woke up after a good sleep, had our breakfast and then it was time to check out. Had a lovely drive. We didn’t stop much as we wanted to reach Bangalore as quickly as possible. When we had to stop for lunch, we tried to look for a non-vegetarian place as I was complaining of eating veg food for the last 3 days, however we missed as usual. Then we gave up our search and settled for whatever was available. We found a new restaurant KMH Veg Restaurant near Velambadi. Sur loved the chilli mushroom manjurian and I ordered the south Indian veg thali. The place was very clean  and the food was good. Then we headed straight to Bangalore and reached home by evening.

For me the whole trip looked like a penance but it was worth visiting this place. For all the seafood lovers, Dhanushkodi has few seafood restaurants, since we went in the morning just after breakfast, we couldn’t enjoy it. Once you are in Rameswaram town mostly you have to be prepared for a vegetarian meal.

Until our next trip, please stay safe and wear the mask. Sending all the blessings for world peace and harmony…

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 10, 2022

Sikkim – The Mystic Beauty

Filed under: India — jani @ 11:17 pm

About Sikkim: Sikkim is a state in Northeast India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kangchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim’s capital and largest city is Gangtok. Sikkim is also home to glaciers and thousands of varieties of wildflowers.

It was time for another break after our exams and time to check out another north-eastern state and this time it was Sikkim. We were supposed to start on a Saturday, however as usual my exam got postponed to Sunday so had to miss those two days and we joined the group on the third day.

Day 1: Due to exam schedules, we couldn’t get any sleep and we did the last minute packing and we rushed to the airport early morning. It was unusually crowded in Bangalore before we boarded the flight and then finally we reached Bagdogra. The driver picked us up and we were on the way to Simtang, before we started to Dzongu as the remaining group members had reached there after they spent 2 days of the trip in Gangtok and they had indulged in shopping and cable car rides. It took 3-4 hours since it was raining as well. Since we were too tired and didn’t sleep for the last two 2 nights, we just dozed off. Driver took a short tea break as we didn’t want to step out and once he was back we were almost closer to Simtang.

Then we switched cabs which had permit to go to Dzongu. In the meantime, the other group members also were travelling from Gangtok to Dzongu in a different route. On the way it started raining heavily and had few landslides on the way. So we had a jam, had to wait for almost 45 minutes to clear one by one before we could continue our journey. This seems to be their daily situation for the people who live there, huge respect to them for the patience and discipline. No one tried to overtake, they all waited in line and once the debris were cleared from landslides, we continued our journey. Sometimes travelling to such places makes you introspect the luxuries that we take for granted which is available in the cities. My respect and love for these people grew and also it also makes you think that how much grateful that we need to be for all the luxuries that we enjoy in the city rather than complaining for little things.

Then we had to stop at Mangan checkpost to collect our ILPs (Inner Line Permit), this seems to be required in every region, so we had to pick up multiple ILPs throughout our journey while we travelled to different places in Sikkim. When we reached the Mangan checkpost, the cops said, our group had already picked up for us so we proceeded towards Dzongu. The paths were too narrow, it was too scary to drive on these roads due to rain as there were landslides, some of the roads had disappeared due to rain, sometimes we had to get out of the car as the road was too narrow and it could topple to Teesta river due to our weight which was flowing in full strength due to continuous rain. It also gave way for lot of rainfalls which we enjoyed on the way. We were also praying that we reach the destination at the earliest before it gets dark as these hilly terrains were very risky to drive in dark.

It was difficult to locate in google maps the Lepcha Home Stay which we were staying for the night as google map had no roads registered in the system so finally we called the homestay folks and they guided. Finally we found the homestay. Then when I had to pay the driver, I had offered few hundreds extra after seeing him drive through such hard terrains, that made him and myself happy. Then we reached the homestay and we met the other group members who had reached just half an hour before than us. Since it was still raining all that we could do was sit in the homestay. We were 8 of us plus the tour lead Santosh, so we were 9 of us who were part of this trip. We had Tasneem, her spouse Shabbir and her mother Rashida, then Chaitanya, Saniye, Neha, Santhosh, Sur and myself. We met each other and we introduced each other. It was nice to meet Tasneem whom we met earlier in Bhutan and of course Santosh, It’s always good to travel with him.

This homestay was run by a Lepcha family and we got served their authentic Lepcha cuisines. The Lepcha are among the indigenous peoples of the Indian state of Sikkim and Nepal, and number around 80,000. Many Lepcha are also found in western and southwestern Bhutan, Tibet, Darjeeling, the Province No. 1 of eastern Nepal, and in the hills of West Bengal.

We got the lunch which had cheese soup, it’s an acquired taste so I just took a sip and passed on to Sur who loves cheese and he seemed to enjoy that. We also had some fried rice which was good. After sometime they prepared tea and pakodas and then we also tasted the local Guava wine which was really good and then Santosh tried Tongba (Tongba is a Limbu millet-based alcoholic beverage found in the eastern mountainous region of Nepal and the neighbouring Darjeeling and Sikkim. It is the traditional and indigenous drink of the Limbu people as well as people of other Kirati communities and many other ethnic group of Nepal). It was served in a bamboo container and with a organic straw, you have to sip the drink and have to keep pouring hot water as the drink gets emptied. It was pretty interesting and we all tried a little.

Some of the group members ventured in the rain to go to the closeby monastery but we remained indoors as we wanted to avoid the leeches and the stairs to the monastery were slippery too. Then we joined for a dinner which was authentic Lepcha cuisine. They had dal, roti, chicken, one of the local fern Ningro that was cooked. We enjoyed the meal and then we chatted with Santosh and Chaitanya for sometime as we were staying in different block and then we dozed off.

Day 2: Woke up to a rainy day and I had an encounter with leech when I went for shower which was outside, somehow my mini perfume bottle helped to give the leech the scented burial (in the words of Santosh) for the leech so I didn’t have to donate my blood. But it was a bit annoying and worrying about leeches as we had to step out every time since the rest rooms were away.

Then we headed to our breakfast with dumpling soup and millet parathas which was ok and then we started our journey to Lachung. On the way we stopped near Toong bridge as it was closed for few hours for repair work, had a tea and maggi break, while the drivers had their brunch. We also picked up some local wines and watermelon flavoured breezer since I never found this in Bangalore. On the way we crossed the Theng tunnel which was amazing. Even though it was raining, we enjoyed the scenery inspite of jams, landslides due to heavy pouring of rain. The one thing evey roadside that you see is hydrangea flowers all over and with the variety of colors. That was so beautiful to watch.

Then we reached our next stop Wonderhill Inn in Lepchang. We also realized we didn’t pack enough for the cold weather and we had no other option than to manage somehow. Here it was not just raining and more colder, we also didn’t have power in the entire area and that continued even for the next day. Once we reached and refreshed ourselves in the cold water, we went in for a nice lunch. We had the best and tastiest food here. Most of them were Bengalis, the thali had a bit of Bengali influence. We had rice, potato vegetable made in a Bengali way, chicken curry and vegetarians had paneer and egg curry etc. We enjoyed the lunch and had to stay indoors as it was still raining. Chaitanya and Saniye went to closeby monastery in the rain however we remained indoors.

In the late evening, rain had stopped a little so we walked around to pick up the neck warmer and hats as it was too cold here, so we walked further and also I found Shaphaley When I saw this on the board I asked the lady what was it and she said it’s a non-veg and I may not eat, so I asked her to tell me which meat is that and she said it was Yak meat. So I told her that I will come back in the evening with Santosh to taste as I went with all the vegetarians. So after some time Santosh and myself went back to enjoy the Shaphaley ((Shabhaley, also known as sha phaley, is a Tibetan dish of bread stuffed with seasoned meat and cabbage, which is then fashioned into semi-circular or circular shapes and which according to regional variations is either deep fried) which was done with Yak meat and it was so delicious, so we ordered more and enjoyed the lemon tea post that. We also found Sikkim Old Gold, which is an Indian single malt made at the foot of the Himalayas. This is presented in a khukri-shaped (traditional Nepalese sword) bottle. we only picked up because of the shape of the bottle which was fascinating. Then we headed back to the room. Since there was no power and were not sure when will it be back, we got a candle in the room and then dozed off as others went for dinner, chatted and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: Thankfully we woke up to a sunny day for a change and we were glad that finally we could step out and do some sightseeing. We rented boots and jacket which came in handy as we were heading to Yumthang Valley and Zero point. Thankfully the neckwarmer, hats and handgloves that we purchased a day before helped a bit and we headed towards Yumthang Valley. It was at a distance of about 26 kilometers from Lachung.

Yumthang valley is situated at an altitude of nearly 11800 feet with the river Lachung Chu flowing through the valley and where the tree line ends and the cold desert starts. On the way there was a hot spring but we didn’t step out and also we saw beautiful Rhododendron flowers all over enhancing the beauty of the place. Even though this was not the season but still few bloomed, for us to see and we were glad for the picturesome view of those flowers everywhere. Then we stopped at Yumthang Valley, this was one of the best picturesome location and the water was freezing cold as those are from glaciers. There were Yaks all over and some of us took the pictures and then we headed to zero point.

Since Neha was not feeling well, she waited in the valley itself as we headed to Zero Point. This is Located at an altitude of 15000 ft, the place where Zero Point lies is known as Yume Samdong and it would take you around 1.5 hours to reach from Yumthang. The place is called Zero Point because this is where civilian road ends and civilians are not allowed to go beyond this point. I had a mild symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This happens as a result of reduced oxygen content in the blood, owing to low atmospheric pressure at high-altitude areas. If you feel a bit dizzy and lethargic at times or experience a mild or severe headache, these are symptoms of AMS. The driver suggested that when you step out of the car, don’t get down immediately and also don’t walk fast. So that helped me as I sat in the car for some time and slowly walked to the roadside stalls for a coffee, maggi and Rhododendron flowers wine. It was too cold to be out for a longer time, so I quickly got into the car and then we came down to Yumthang valley, went for a quick lunch break, did a bit of shopping for some warm clothes and then Neha joined us back as we headed back to the place where we were staying. Still there was no luck on the power and Santosh and myself went to taste the Shaphaley again and this time they had beef instead of Yak. We enjoyed and as we came down we saw slowly power was getting restored in some places. Finally little late night we got the power just before we dozed off for the night.

Day 4: Woke up to a beautiful Sunny morning, had a quick breakfast of aloo parathas, they were really good and then we headed to Gangtok. We had to hurry as we didn’t want to get stuck when the bridge closes for repair work for few hours, so we rushed and we made it just on time before the bridge closes. Then we checked in to Griffon’s Nest in Gangtok. By then we were hungry, since the chef was away for shopping, we had to step out for lunch. Neha had suggested we try Nimtho Restaurant for lunch as we were looking for authentic Sikkimese Thali. So we went to Mahatma Gandhi Marg Road and went to Nimtho. We ordered for Sikkimese Thali and Thakkali Thali (Thakkali is one of the ethnic communities of Nepal, so this is one of the Nepalese Thalis). Both of them were almost similar. It had rice, dal, vegetables, fermented soya vegetable and spicy chutneys.

Then we wanted to do some shopping in Lal Bazaar, which was closeby. Then we got to know Thursday is a holiday and none of the shops were open. So we did the shopping in Mahatma Gandhi Marg itself as they did have shopping places. After an hour of shopping, we went to a Baker’s Café which Saniye has been raving about which had the best Pancakes so we went for a coffee and pancakes. Their banana pancakes were good, I wanted to try the Kashmiri Kahwa as I heard this name very often. To my surprise it was almost like a green tea with dried rose petals, honey and saffron. Even though it was good but I would have skipped this for a nice coffee instead when I had pancakes for the side. Then we headed back to the room. We tried the local wines that we picked up in Lachung and tried the Sikkimese Whiskey and the watermelon flavoured breezer and then we headed back to sleep.

Day 5: We woke up, had a bread toast and omelette and headed to Zuluk to explore the Eastern Sikkim. We waited for the permit to be picked up and then headed to Zuluk. On the way we stopped for a nice view and for a cup of coffee, however it was very foggy. So we took a coffee break and headed to Tsomgo Lake, also known as Tsongmo Lake or Changgu Lake, is a glacial lake in the East Sikkim at an elevation of 3,753 m. Apparently this lake remains frozen during the winter season. It was too cold and some of us felt slight dizzy due to AMS so we didn’t climb all the way for the view. We strolled around the lake, walking very slowly, that kind of helped to get acclaimed since the oxygen is less in these regions. Then we also wore a Sikkimese traditional costume for the photos, there were lot of Yak rides which I avoid as I don’t like to ride on animals.

Then we headed to Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple Memorial & temple honoring Indian army soldier, folk hero saint Baba Harbhajan Singh. Located between Nathula and Jelepla pass at an altitude of 13,123 ft, Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple is a unique destination mainly due to the legacy attached with it. It is believed that his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high-altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. He was a soldier of an Indian army. On October 4, 1968, while he was escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters to Donguchui La, Harbhajan Singh suddenly slipped and fell and drowned in the glacier. Strong water current carried his body for about 2 kms from the site of the accident. He was searched with all efforts, but his body went missing. On the fifth day of his missing, his fellow roommate Pritam Singh had a dream, where Harbhajan Singh himself informed him of his tragic death and he also mentioned that his body is lying underneath the heap of snows. Harbhajan Singh also expressed the strong desire to have a samadhi made after him. However, Pritam Singh did not pay much importance to his dream. But later, when Harbhajan Singh’s body was discovered at the very place, which he had mentioned in the dream, all were taken aback. And, to honor his wish, a samadhi was built near Chhokya Chho at an elevation of around 4,000 meters, which gained popularity as the Old Baba Mandir. This samadhi is less visited by tourists. Visitors need to climb 50 stairs to reach the bunker, the site where the samadhi has been built. This was the place where Baba was posted during his service period in Indian army. It is further believed that during the event of a war between India and China, Baba would warn the Indian soldiers of any impending attack atleast three days in advance. It is said that he did continue to serve the nation even after his death. This folklore has been very popular not only among the Indian soldiers but also to the Chinese side as well. In fact during flag meetings between the two nations at Nathu La, the Chinese would set a chair aside in honour of Harbhajan Singh who has since come to be known as “Saint Baba”.

It is believed that Baba Harbhajan Singh guards the international boundary between India and China, over the last three decades and he is accomplishing this task alone. Even the Chinese army also confirms that they have noticed a human figure, guarding the border at night, riding on a horse. It is also said that Baba Harbhajan Singh foretells any dangerous activity on the border through the dreams of the fellow army men and safeguards the force.

The personal room of Baba is on the right side which harbours different essential articles for day to day use and a clean properly arranged bed. Even the tidy uniform and well-polished shoes are kept, according to the legend the boots became muddy by evening and the bed sheets were crumbled in the morning.

Baba Mandir The old one has been built at the site of the bunker, where Baba Harbhajan was posted during his tenure in the Indian Army. The new one has been built at close proximity from Changu Lake. The salary of Major Harbhajan Singh has not been stopped and he is also granted his annual leave.

I had read about this story when Indo-China tension started a year or two back. I had no clue that this was the place where the memorial was. I was so glad to have visited this place and my respect and love to all the army men who is guarding our borders at such difficult terrain.

There is canteen close to the mandir where Army runs the café, we chatted a bit with the soldiers. they come down here to do voluntary service in the café etc. They had served prasad (kesari) and that was delicious. Then we went to the café and enjoyed the maggi. They didn’t have power and still they were making our maggi and coffees in the stove. Also they informed they serve food like langar on Sundays, so he asked us to come. Unfortunately we were leaving that day. All our love and respect to soldiers for their sacrifice to guard the borders at such altitude and it was not at all a pleasant place to be there because of that altitude. I had to stay down due to AMS, slowly my body got used as I didn’t climb the stairs for the mandir upstairs. Looking at every soldier coming and giving a solute to Harbhajan Singh, you can’t explain that love and respect in words. Please go ahead and experience this place in person. Be prepared to carry enough warm clothes, including hand gloves, neck warmer and a really good jacket.

This was the most enriching experience in the entire trip. If you are in Sikkim please don’t miss out. This is not just his memorial, this is also a reminder to show gratitude to all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in protecting the borders, not just the front line but every support staff involved in this.

Then we headed further close to Dolchem Pass which also had lot of flowers on the way, enjoyed the view and the cold weather which was not so pleasant and then we headed towards Zuluk. Zuluk was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. We wanted to stop near Thambi View point however it was so foggy so we didn’t. We were lucky we had couple of view points before that just before the fog started covering up. Then we headed to the homestay in Phadamchen. We were hungry so got nice tea and pakodas and then the group was playing cards while I got busy with work calls. We also were served the dinner early since we missed the lunch and it was delicious. We also had few leeches visiting Sur and Santosh while they stepped out as it had rained a bit. Sur escaped but Santosh was donating blood to leeches every time. Then Santosh, Chaitanya, Sur and myself chatted over a drink and then we hit our bed.

Day 6: We woke up to a foggy day, and then we headed to Siliguri. On the way we had the view of lot of birds like Asian barred Owlet, Himalayan Bluetail, Buff barred Warbler, Golden Bush Robin, Small Niltava, Pheasant and Oriental Turtle Dove. We didn’t stop much on the way and we reached Hotel Swatik Residency in Pradhan Nagar, Siliguri. We freshened up and came for lunch at their restaurant. Since it was little late, they had limited options. Santosh and myself enjoyed the chicken biryani and others had ordered their veg dishes and it was good. Then we headed out for a quick shopping. First we went to Hong Kong Market, it’s a good place for shopping and be prepared to bargain before you buy it. Then it looked like it was going to rain so we headed to Planet Mall but it had very few shops, we found Worth the Hype Café and we thought we will try something there. The food and Sangria were good and then we headed to Baisakhi Mela as we happened to notice this on the way. Even though Sur was not keen, since all others were excited to see what was there, he also joined us. They had lot of shopping stalls and food. We straight away went to Pani Puri stall, then tried chaat, then Sur, Chaitanya and Saniye went to almost all the rides. Neha and myself did a bit of shopping and then we enjoyed the Bombay Falooda. After that we all of us did little more shopping and then headed back to hotel. We went and crashed after having so much food at the mela.

Day 7: Woke up little early, It was time to leave for Bagdogra airport and then we were worried as we had a little extra baggage, somehow that got ignored and we were glad. We reached the airport, it was crowded as well, had a sandwich at the airport which was not very great and then it was time for boarding and we boarded the flight back to Bangalore. It was another great experience with Exotic Expeditions and all the credit goes to Santosh for all his efforts.

April 6, 2022

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Filed under: India — jani @ 12:20 pm

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Hyderabad is the capital of southern India’s Telangana state. Its historic sites include Golconda Fort, a former diamond-trading center that was once the Qutb Shahi dynastic capital. The Charminar, a 16th-century mosque whose 4 arches support towering minarets, is an old city landmark near the long-standing Laad Bazaar. Now this city has become a major center for the technology industry.

The city of Hyderabad is known for Nizams and pearls. There were 7 Nizams who ruled Hyderabad from 18-20th Century. Hyderabad was the largest and most prosperous among all the princely states. The famous mines of Golconda were the major source of wealth for the Nizams, with the Kingdom of Hyderabad being the only supplier of diamonds for the global market in the 18th century.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad state, Mir Osman Ali Khan crowned in 1911, had been the richest man in the world in his time. The Nizams developed the railway, introduced electricity, and developed roads, airways, irrigation and reservoirs; in fact, all major public buildings in Hyderabad City were built during his reign during the period of British rule in India. He pushed education, science, and establishment of Osmania University. Since the Nizams had their origin in Persia (now its Iran) Hyderabad’s food and culture had an influence of Persia. The Hyderabad city was the first city in Southern India to be electrified.

Day 1: It was time for a short break before we both get busy with another exam and crazy work schedule. The visit to Hyderabad had been cancelled earlier pre-covid time, when Sur fell ill just a night before our travel. So this visit had been pending and when we only could spare a few days for a vacation, my first thought was to visit Hyderabad. Like most of them, Sur also had the same question – What is there in Hyderabad? Most of them cannot think beyond biryani and pearls which Sur anyway is not interested. So finally I had to dig up a little research and tell him there is lot more than Biryani and Pearls. Then we finalized the itinerary and asked our travel partner, Sailani Tours to book Sitara Hotel in Ramoji Film City and Mr. Inayath (+91 9845085649) took care of the booking part of it and he also gave some inputs to plan the itinerary. Since it was a very short trip of 2 nights we thought we will stay at the same place even though Inayath recommended to stay in a city limit while doing city tour and stay in Sitara when we needed to do a Ramoji Film city Tour. However we didn’t want to move since the trip was too short. So we booked for 2 nights in Sitara. As we were planning the itinerary we realized we needed an extra day so we asked Inayath to extend another night at Sitara.

We were planning to start early morning but we were up late night the previous day due to work, so we couldn’t open our eyes in the morning. So we decided to sleep for few more hours and started our trip only in the early afternoon. It was almost 9 hours of drive and the roads were pretty good. We saved some time as we didn’t stop for lunch as were not hungry. Only in the evening, we needed to stretch our legs for a bit so we decided to take a break as it was tea time and we stopped in Sri Priya Darshini Family Restaurant, which was in NH 44, bypass, Bangalore – Hyderabad Highway. We ordered for some onion pakoras and tea. Sur got some energy drink, they took almost half an hour to get the snacks and when it came it was over fried almost at the verge of semi burnt stage. We informed the waiter, he obliged to replace but we didn’t have another half an hour to wait as we didn’t want reach the destination late night, so had the quick tea which was drinkable. Thankfully the waiter didn’t charge for the pakoras, paid the bill and started our journey back.

It was almost 9.30 PM that we reached the hotel Sitara after a beautiful drive in Nehru outer ring road. We checked in and went to the room, we had heard quite of lot about this hotel as it’s in Ramoji Film city. But it kind of didn’t meet our expectations. First of all rooms were not well maintained, you could see dirty sockets in the room and corridors. Also we were given the room, where there was an adjoint room and there was no sound proofing done to the room. We could hear literally every conversation the guests were having in the next room. They had a kid as well and so we couldn’t sleep due to the constant noises. But the service at the hotel and the food were good. Then we also found that Friday is a holiday in Hyderabad where all the monuments are closed so we had to change our itinerary to do the visit of Ramoji Film city on Friday.

We were slightly hungry, so we decided to order a chicken sandwich and Sur ordered a paneer pakora and fresh orange and pineapple juice. I asked the in Room Dining team not to toast the sandwich bread and make the sandwich in a plain bread. When I got the sandwich, Sur started laughing as I had toasted chicken sandwich and along with it came 2 plain sandwich breads and I was not sure what to do with it. We just laughed. We needed to plan for the next day tour. We found a Full Day Sightseeing Tour of Hyderabad through Trip Advisor, we booked it and then we dozed off.

Day 2: We had to wake up early, had a quick breakfast and then we had a car picking us up  from the hotel for the tour. The driver (Mr. Sashi – +91 9701988808) picked us up and then we started our city tour. On the way, we picked up our guide for the private city tour (Mr. Srinu Arvapalli – +91 9347239648/srinu_tourism@rediffmail.com).

First we visited the Golconda Fort. This was the place for Diamond mining until diamonds in Africa were discovered. This fort has 360 steps and it is another wonder that our country has. Lot of credit goes to the last Nizam – Mir Osman Ali Khan (7th Nizam) who inspite of being a Muslim was secular and every person in the state irrespective of religion loved him. The Nizam was the highest-ranking prince in India, and was one of only five princes entitled to a 21-gun salute, held the unique title of “Nizam”, and titled “His Exalted Highness”. When he died, his funeral procession was the biggest non-religious, non-political meeting of people in the history of India till that date and it was almost 1 million people came to pay their respects and it was a day of mourning. Respect and love to the Nizams who built this city and contributed for various welfare activities and worked for the upliftment of the people.

This fort also has Jagadamba temple which is very close to the oldest mosque which was used by the Nizams for prayer. Kancharla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasu or Bhadrachala Ramadasu, was a 16th-century devotee of the Hindu god Rama, a saint-poet and a composer of Carnatic music and he was imprisoned for almost 12 years in the fort and later was released.

Then we headed to the The Qutub Shahi Tombs which is located in the Ibrahim Bagh, close to the famous Golconda Fort. They contain the tombs and mosques built by the various kings of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, some of them being renovated now. These are beautiful monuments which is a must visit.

Then it was time for a visit to Charminar, a city monument designed in the Qutub Shahi architectural style that’s known as one of the most famous sights in India. The Charminar constructed in 1591has become known globally as a symbol of Hyderabad and is listed among the most recognised structures in India. It has also been officially incorporated as the Emblem of Telangana for the state of Telangana.

Then we headed to taste the Iranian Chai at Nimrah Café & Bakery. We enjoyed the chai and the cookies which were different and were delicious. We picked up few assorted cookies and headed back to the car. There is Laad Bazaar or Choodi Bazaar is a very old market popular for bangles. It is located on one of the four main roads that branch out from the historic Charminar. Laad meaning lacquer is used to make bangles, on which artificial diamonds are studded. In this 1-kilometre (0.62 mi)-long shopping strip, most of the shops sell bangles, saris, wedding related items, and imitation jewelleries.

Our next stop was to Chowmahalla Palace (means 4 palaces) which is usually the ceremonial palace of the Nizams like coronation etc. Looking at the majestic palace gives an idea about the lifestyle of Nizams and their luxurious life.

Hyderabad is known for Biryanis and we were recommended the following places for an authentic biryani. Paradise Restaurant, Shadab Restaurant, Bahar café, Barwachi Biryani and Nayab Restaurant. Since we were not hungry during lunch or dinner hours we missed to taste from these places.

Then we headed to Ambica Pearls and Jewellers, Lower Tankbund Road for a pearl set before we got dropped back to the hotel. Since we were not hungry, we just ordered the sandwiches, had a quick bite and slept.

Day 3:  We had a good rest and delicious breakfast and started our work. We had booked Heritage Walk with HiTea at Falaknuma Palace from Trip Advisor in the afternoon. By afternoon Mr. Shashi had picked us up from the hotel and we left for Falaknuma Palace. Perched 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad is the Taj Falaknuma Palace which is a jewel amongst the clouds. Built in 1894, it is the former palace of the Nizam and richest man in the world at one time. Overlooking the twinkling City of Pearls, this enchanting palace hotel in Hyderabad exudes romance and grandeur that take one back to when the Nizam ruled Hyderabad. As you enter the palace, its all about Royalty and the historian who seems to have worked with one of the Nizams’s family, had explained about the history of the palace. We saw the place where Nizam used as an office, where you had the painting of the last Nizam. The speciality of this painting was when you look at the painting in any direction, you feel like the Nizam is looking at you. Then there is Durbar Hall where there are Belgium chandeliers which if you look at the mirror, you feel there is infinite number of chandeliers. Then we headed to the Jade Room which was a tea place for Nizams. It houses the massive 101-seater dining hall bedecked with Belgian chandeliers which is the longest dining table in the world. It has a paining of the menus from which the Nizam orders it. Then there is indoor games place, one of 2 biggest billiards table, hookah bar and beautiful gardens. It was a Royal splendour and elegance. Then we went to Celeste for high tea. Taj properties always have earned that respect for their excellent hospitality and this was the best experience and you were treated like royalty. Good that we didn’t have lunch as we were warned by our city guide the previous day, since there was lot of food. The staffs here treat you like royalty. We were served with the fresh juice and there were few varieties of mini sandwiches, one of them was pan flavoured, another had salmon and another chicken. There were tarts, muffins, macarons, mousse and cakes. Sur had the similar one with Vegetarian items. We were also served vada pav, chilli pakora, cheese balls and tava fish fry and Sur had veg cutlets. It was too much food, so we just tasted few and enjoyed the royal high tea experience. Then we realized we needed to enjoy this palace experience at least for a night so we asked Inayath to book for a night and so our stay got extended for another night. Finally we ended the high tea with a nice masala tea and Sur settled for lime soda.

Then we headed to Charminar to search for the perfume place as our city guide had recommended. There is a place called Hyderabad Perfumers in Pathergatti Road in Mir Chowk close to Charminar, we had a walk a kilometre from Charminar by foot as its way too crowded so driver said, its better to walk by foot. So we found the place picked up few attars from different scents and returned back.

Finally how can I forget the delicious and spicy Andhra pickles and Kandi Podi (gun powder – dry roasted lentils with other spices to give a nice aromatic fragrance and spiciness to eat with idly and dosa) and Pappu Podi (lentils powder – this powder is mixed with ghee and eaten with Idli or rice as well), so the guide recommended to go to Swagruha stores near LB Nagar and I picked up Gongura pickle (Sorrell Leaves), Tomato pickle, Red Chilli pickle, Kandi Podi and Pappu Podi. I was so happy to get the authentic pickles and powder and we got dropped at the hotel. We hit the bed and dozed off.

Day 4: We woke up after a good sleep, went for a quick breakfast and started our Ramoji Studio Tour. Ramoji Film City is an integrated film studio complex  and spread over 1,666 acres. it is the largest integrated film city in the world and as such has been certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest studio complex in the world. It was built by Telugu film producer Ramoji Rao in 1996. It is also a popular tourism and recreation centre, containing natural and artificial attractions including an amusement park. Here there are film sets, theme parks, amusement rides, etc The film city also has 6 hotels inside it, 47 sound stages and permanent sets ranging from railway stations to temples for film shoots. This film city also has the set used for the films Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, all the statues and props used in the films can be seen here.

We had booked the star experience ticket which makes you to skip the queue for the rides and you travel in an AC car. We got picked up at 9.30 AM from the hotel lobby and got dropped near the ticket counter to pick up our tickets, star experience stickers, chocolate box, water bottle and coupons for the whole day tour. 9.45 AM is the studio opens with a beautiful welcome dance and then the team welcomes you a step further with another western dance to welcome you. Then we had a small act near cow boy set and we were given around 30 minutes to do rides. Since we were not into rides, we waited near the guide Mr. Kranthi for the day before we boarded the bus to the next destination. The guide was very helpful. Then we went to the butterfly park and birds park. First we enjoyed the butterfly park and then headed to birds park. It was so beautiful to see various birds from Crowned Cane, Waffled Crane, Hadada Ibis, Shoe bill, Ostrich, Horn Bill, Carolina Duck, Australian Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, White Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Black Necked Swan, Whooper Swan, Trumpetor Swan, Lorikeets from Yellow Bibbed Lory, Red collared Lory, Green Naped Lory, Swainson Lory, Blue Crowned Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Lady Amherst Pheasant, Golden Phesant, Shamrock Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Blue Gold Macaw, Green Winged Macaw, Blue throated Macaw, Military Macaw, Toco Toucan, Keel Billed Toucan, Channel Billed Toucan, Black Necked Aracari, Lady Ross’s Turaco, White Cheeked Turaco, Galah Cockatoo, Black Palm Cockatoo, Moluccan Cockatoo, Blue headed Pionus, Rubino Rosella, Blue Fronted Amazon, Barrabanda Parrot, Sun Parakeet, Branze Winged Parrot, Lilac Crowned Amazon and there were many more. Then we went to the cave, there were some historical artifacts of Gods were there. Then we had a shooting spot tour and Mr. Rao had such an amazing commentary as he took us through different spots used for shooting like airport, hospital, railway station, prison, European street, the spots where various movies were shot etc. It was hilarious and fun as the guide had excellent sense of humor to make us smile.  Also we got stopped near Golden Temple, Jaipur location sets etc. It was pretty interesting. Then we were taken to Bahubali Movie set. Apparently the director Mr. Rajamouli stayed in Ramoji for 600 days and the set is kept intact for the viewers. It was amazing to watch. Sur was getting bored since he doesn’t watch much of regional movies even though I was trying to explain as much as I can. Then we headed to Super Star Restaurant for a buffet and the food was really good. We always know Andhra Food/Telangana food it can’t go wrong as they are spicy which we both love. After the lunch we were supposed to have some shows but unfortunately I had a work call and had to return back to the hotel. So we informed the guide and we left. This is a perfect place for Children and also who enjoys the movies and loves to take selfies as you have enough beautiful spots for the same. So we returned back to the hotel, got back to work. We ordered some masala papads, it was good but was a little salty for our palate. Then we dozed off.

Day 5: We woke up a little late as we were free of work calls today, had a quick breakfast and were ready to check out. As we tried to open the door, some family entered the room with their key cards. Thankfully we were getting out but this was completely unacceptable as the team should not have given to other guests the room key card when the guests have not checked in. We had immediately escalated saying , it would have been worst, if a guest was in the shower or changing clothes. We informed the reception to be more careful next time and they apologized. We checked out, thanked for their hospitality and drove to Taj Falaknuma. After an hour drive we reached Taj. We parked the vehicle and from that gate we were taken in a horse carriage till the reception. That was a beautiful experience. As we entered, the staff took the picture and then there was another guard who accompanied us to the reception. It was how the Nizam’s were welcomed so they hotel tries to give a similar experience. As we climbed the stairs to the reception, there was a shower of rose petals. Then we entered the reception, they had everything ready and they just asked us to sign and we were also informed they had given us a free upgrade to Royal Suite Room. Then the staff explained the activities and then we reached the room. We were allotted Shah Jahan Suite and it was beautiful. We were prepared to get ourselves pampered for the day. Sur ordered for Dahi Kebab which was delicious. So we immediately booked their signature spa – Nawab-e-Khas (Regal Splendour) which is 2.5 hours session of steam, scrub, massage with a detox drink in between and after some fresh cut fruits and juice. It was good. By the time we finished we missed the palace tour which starts at 5 PM. Then we just roamed around the property enjoying the peacocks, there were almost 100 of them. Then we headed to the restaurant for the dinner. This time they recommended for a open door seating and we were happy to be seated there. Finally I wanted to taste the biryani which I missed it, so I ordered for the Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani and Sur ordered Chilli Garlic Naan with kofta curry. It was super delicious, ordered the tiramisu and I couldn’t have it as it was too sweet for my palate and local Rasmalai dish recommended by the staff which we both enjoyed. Then we rested in the royal suite, we were too tempted to extend then we realized we had work and we needed to be in Bangalore on Monday. So we just dozed off.

Day 6: Woke up to the noise of the birds and peacocks and then headed for the breakfast. I recommended Sur to try the Pesarattu (Dosa with Green Gram batter), even though I have tasted enough number of times while living in Andhra, here it was so thin and delicious and with 4 different chutneys (coconut, pineapple, tomato and garlic) it made all the more interesting. I wanted to try a local dish which I have not tried so the staff recommended paya and kheema paratha, even though it was good I regretted it because I am not a paratha fan so instead would have loved the dosa/idli better. As we entered the room we saw the staff brought a cake to say good bye but unfortunately we couldn’t even taste as we just came out from breakfast and we could have carried it for our journey but we didn’t have anything to carry. I did feel sorry that we couldn’t taste the chocolate cake but we completely appreciate the love and effort that went into and the gesture. While we checked out we also got a album stand with our photo with the horse carriage which they had taken the precious day. That was a sweet surprise. We just wished we had another night to spend, however if you are in Hyderabad please make sure to experience this Royal experience ad its worth every penny. We would recommend, at least minimum 2-3 nights to experience such beautiful experience.

With such beautiful experience we started our long journey back, since we didn’t stop for lunch, we could reach within 7.30 hours and during the last leg, we just stopped for a quick tea break in Apoorva Multi Cuisine Restaurant and it was good. Then we headed back home and finally we reached home sweet home after a long drive.

First credit is to our travel partner Mr. Inayath and the Sailani team for helping us with the trip

Then to the city tour guide Mr. Srinu, he was very helpful and would recommend for others. I have shared already his contact details.

Then Mr. Sashi, the driver who took us around and patiently been taking us to places wherever we needed to.

Sitara Team for their hospitality and support

Thanks to Trip Advisor through whom we booked the full day city tour and then hi tea at Taj. Everything was excellent.

Last but not the least to the Taj Falaknuma team, each time we stay in Taj, the respect and love for this group increases multifold. It was excellent in every sense, from the security, reception, F&B staff to each and everyone working there. Big kudos and thank you for giving us such a beautiful experience.

Whether its Telangana/Andhra, for me it’s always Andhra as I cannot differentiate these two, visiting this state always brings back old memories and it still is a 2nd home for me. I would always cherish the warmth and love of the people from this state always.

Love you and Keep smiling, Until we meet next time…………..

 

January 14, 2022

Thally – The Little England of Tamil Nadu

Filed under: India — jani @ 6:41 pm

About Thally:

Thally is a town in Denkanikottai Taluk in Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, India. It is named as “Little England” by the British during their regime mostly due to its cool weather.

It was just a speedy getaway to spend the New Year night with close friends. So when one of the friends was planning to his friend’s farm house and he asked if anyone was willing to join for the new year, we all jumped in as it was just 2 hours drive from Bangalore and it was a perfect quick getaway. So Sumathi & her son, Vinodh & Sandhya, Shilpa & her 2 kids, Sur & myself along with my friend Suresh joined for the getaway.

We had an early start as Vinodh needed to go to the farmhouse to hand over the key, to tidy it up since it was left abandoned for some time and it was unused. We thought since it was a weekend, if we liked the place, will extend for another 2 nights so we packed extra for the same. So we started our drive and stopped on our way for a quick breakfast and headed to Thally. It was a nice drive and towards Thally the place had a perfect weather and it was great to drive. As we entered we saw there were quite a lot of Brick making plants and admired the greenery all around.

As we reached the place, we were in shock to see the rooms were dirty, toilets didn’t have door and it was disgusting. Literally we wanted to run away, but some of our friends joined later, so we had to wait for them, as they reached only late evening. Now we needed to distract ourselves from this place, so we decided step out for lunch. We found a Dhaba within a kilometre from the place that we stayed. We had a decent lunch and we came back.

The staffs were still not helpful as the place remained as dirty as ever. Since we knew there was no hope now, we just gave up on them and decided to enjoy the moments with the great friends around. So for some time, we killed it by walking around the property as it had lot of greenery around and for sometimes we tried playing badminton with the damaged cork as we didn’t have any other choice.

Later in the evening, we headed for the barbeque as the staffs arranged for it, thankfully that was great. As we started enjoying the food, the power went off and added to our disappointment, they didn’t even have a single candle or emergency light. We tried to use our mobile torch for some time and slowly everyone’s mobile’s battery was dying. Then we had to look for a place to sit until the midnight. Since none of the rooms were usable, we needed something to spread on the floor to sit it on it. Thankfully Sur had tarpaulin in the car, So that came in handy. We spread the tarpaulin and we all fitted ourselves in that. It was more than 3-4 hours and power still didn’t come back. Finally, Suresh had an idea, to use car lights. So he brought the car close to the hall, switched on the headlights and that helped us with some light.

We were just wishing that the power comes, at least to celebrate the new year. Thankfully just 15 minutes before midnight the light came as a ray of hope and we were overjoyed. So we wished everyone a happy new year, cut the cake and then started playing cards. We stayed till dawn as new card game taught by Vinodh was interesting. We also were waiting for the sun rise, to run away from this place as quick as possible.

Another interesting and disappointing thing was, this property had water fountains and swimming pool which looked beautiful in the night with the lights, but they were equally very dirty, filthy and full of algae. Now the staffs who were trying to add more water in the swimming pool forgot to turn off the pipe in the night, so the water started coming to the hall where we were sitting. This time Sumathi’s pet dog was unlucky as his bed became wet due to the overflow of water.

Another funny and scary incident was, there was one toilet which was near the hall for us to use for emergency, which had a rat in the room where this toilet was. Every time we needed to answer the nature call, we wished we didn’t see the rat and we tried our best to avoid going to the toilet itself.

As soon as the sun rose, we picked our things within few minutes and were ready to leave as we had not unpacked our bags in this place after seeing the situation here. So it made is easier to just get up and leave. Just before heading out, we had a quick photo session. As we were planning to leave there was a rat, getting drowned in the water fountain close to the entrance. Sandhya said it was the same rat which was in the room, even though we wished it was dead, we couldn’t see it getting drowned. She was too scared to touch the rat to help, nor Sur as he didn’t succeed as well. Finally I tried to save it with the dust pan which was lying around and am sure rat would have been overjoyed that we extended it’s life time before it was getting shortened. Then it was time to just get out from there.

After two hours of drive, finally it was a sigh of relief once we were back home. In spite of being the worst place, we had fun as we had an amazing group of friends. We knew all of us were annoyed and upset but we all together tried to forget that and created the best of memories for each other.

One hell of an adventurous New Year getaway came to an end, but it gave few biggest lessons for all of us.

  1. Whatever the shittiest situation is, you can still turn around and make it beautiful…
  2. It also matters most is whom you are with….
  3. Having good friends will make every negative emotions disappear.

We were glad that we had the best friends around and that’s all we needed to start the new year fresh and with best memories. Even though, this place was not even worth a penny but the FRIENDS made this new year every worth the visit with greatest of all memories.

Stay Safe…. Please get yourself vaccinated….

January 8, 2022

Mahabalipuram & Kanchipuram – Southern Treasures

Filed under: India — jani @ 10:02 pm

About Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is a town in Chengalpattu district in the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, best known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of 7th- and 8th-century Hindu Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram was one of two major port cities in the Pallva kingdom. The town was named after Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who was also known as Mahabali. Along with economic prosperity, it became the site of a group of royal monuments, many carved out of the living rock. These are dated to the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram is also known by other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. The term ‘Mahabalipuram’ means city of ‘great power’.

Day 1: This was impromptu trip as we were looking for places for a very short trip as our international trip had to be postponed due to my exams which never happened and got cancelled at the last minute. Since Sur had not travelled to Mahabalipuram, we finalized this place. We were supposed to start early morning but we were too tired to wake up so early. So we started a little late around early noon.

We stopped at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) few kms from Bangalore for a brunch, enjoyed the Ghee Dosa (Ghee Roast), had a nice filter coffee and we were energized to start the drive. It was a good drive. In the evening, in Kanchipuram we stopped for another Ghee Dosa and Tea before reaching our place of stay. By evening we entered Mahabalipuram. The city had an entry fee, which was something new. We paid and headed to Chariot Beach Resort as this was recommended by our travel partner as it’s the 2nd best property in this town, First being Radisson. Our first choice had been Radisson which had the best reviews, but they had a wedding group so the rooms were not available for the first night. So we settled for the 2nd best.

We reached the resort little after 6 PM and we were in a great shock about the way we were welcomed as it’s expected in a 4 star category. There was no welcome drink, not even a glass of water provided and there was no valet service. Sur had gone to park his car by himself. Once we checked in one of the staffs came and handed over a garland made of small sea shells in our hands. I was like what is happening at this hotel, is it a 4 star or we ended up paying a 4 star resort cost to a lodge. Then we were escorted to the room which was in the first floor. As we climbed down the stairs, I was surprised a 4 star property which had such a dirty stairs as if it had never been cleaned. We both were looking at each other and we were scared what else awaited in this place. Then we entered the room, it had dirty linens, toilets had all the fittings rusted, one of the toilet roll handles came off. The sofa cushions were so stained and dirty, that we didn’t feel of sitting in those. I was feeling disgusted and angry that we had booked this shitty place. It was too late to take it up with the management and I just didn’t want to stay in this place ever. We just decided will manage for the night and will check out first thing in the morning. I wonder, did people who reviewed this place online, did they do it a decade back or did the management deleted all the negative reviews so the property showed 2nd best in the guest reviews. Being in the travel industry myself where you are little more understanding and sensitive towards the hospitality professional this was the height of shame and an example for the worst hospitality and the dirtiest resort that I have ever stayed.

Since it was frustrating to stay in the room, we headed out for a walk. The property is huge and has lot of greenery and you also have beach, which kind of made us to forget the frustrations. We sat for some time near the beach, enjoyed the nice breeze under the moon light and then headed for dinner.

We went to the buffet, it had more than an hour for closing the buffets. Still half of the items were not refilled, some of them had the items name display but it was empty. staffs were coming and checking but no one refilled the few items that were there in the name of buffet. After looking at very few items, I went and asked how much were they charging the buffet and they quoted a 4 star price even though there was hardly any items. I settled for a soup, rice and fish curry while Sur being vegetarian didn’t have much option and he ended up having a spoon of masala peanuts which was part of the salad section. It was a clear waste of money for Sur. Since rice and fish curry were my comfort food, even though I didn’t have more options, I had no complaints as I enjoyed it which tasted great. In the coastal town, I am sure, they can’t mess up the fish curry and I was glad they didn’t mess up that. Then we were back to the room, which was a hell, we just didn’t want to think more about and spoil our sleep, so we just crashed for the night.

Day 2: Morning we woke up, thought will have an early breakfast so that we get to see the sightseeing before the sun scorches us. Unfortunately, breakfast was not ready at 7 PM which is the time communicated by the staff. They said, it will take another hour since the manager was absent. So we had to wait and we killed the time by walking around the garden which looked good.

Finally the breakfast was ready. We entered the buffet area and we see that the door to the entrance was so dirty, you also could see some finger prints, which we could notice now during the day. During covid times, when we need to be extra cautious and more hygienic, we were sure you could get covid just by visiting this place. If any health inspectors visited this place, this would have been shut by now.

Table didn’t have knife along with other cutlery, Sur was asking the staff for the knife to butter the toast and the staff was confused for a second. Then Sur has to tell him how will I butter the toast, then he got the knife. Also the serving plates had dust on it and my quarter plate had a very small dead cockroach on it. I just wiped off the plate as we had just given up on these folks at the property. Sur had a watermelon juice, bread and omelette and I settled for some idli and coffee and then headed out to the room.

As we were packing our stuffs we had another surprise, we just noticed about the bed linen which had a big stain (looked like a old blood stain), and it was so disgusting looking at it and that was ultimate that I couldn’t keep my stuffs here for another hour. It’s all the more frustrating, that we were spending more money to stay in a high end resorts keeping in mind the covid situation, so that more care is taken in terms of hygiene but here was the total opposite. I had to call my travel partner immediately, send them all the room pictures and asked them to book us to Radisson as this was not worth for a penny to continue to stay here. By then F&B manager had got the cake which was a surprise from Sur who had ordered it the previous night as it was my birthday. I was in no mood to celebrate anything as I just felt of throwing that cake in the dustbin. We showed the F&B manager the broken fittings, rusting in the room, dirty linen, dirty sofa cushions etc and feedback about the buffet. He apologized and informed us that he will make sure the service will be improved. Then we realized he didn’t bring the knife to cut the cake, since I myself was no mood for the cake, I just took a little to taste with the fork that was there and we returned back the cake. Thankfully cake which had a straw berry flavour, tasted good. Then we headed out for sightseeing. This town is very small and we realized most of the sightseeing are close by and can be completed in a day if you have a good guide.

We headed to Five Rathas (Pancha Rathas) which is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram which was hardly 10 minutes drive from the resort. We were looking for a guide since these are historic places and we needed a professional guide. Mr. Balakrishna (+91 9176858037) came voluntarily asking us if we needed a guide and we were glad we found one. In Mahabalipuram, there were no physical entry tickets, we had to go to the Tamil Nadu Tourism website to purchase tickets online and had to show the QR code to the security, it was followed everywhere, which was impressive. We entered Five Rathas complex, Mr. Bala guided us inside the complex to explain the history behind it. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture dating late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith of granite. Though sometimes mistakenly referred to as temples, the structures were never consecrated because they were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I (630-680 AD, he is also called Mamalla meaning great warrior). The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame. In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha. The first ratha that is located right by the entrance gate is Draupadi’s Ratha. It is shaped like a hut and is dedicated to the goddess Durga. Next comes Arjuna’s Ratha. This one has a small portico and carved pillar stones and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are no carvings inside this temple, but many are on the outside. Directly in front of Arjuna’s Ratha is the Nakula Sahadev Ratha. This ratha has some huge elephant sculptures included that are a huge draw for the Five Rathas. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra. The Bhima Ratha is huge. The pillars there do contain lion carvings even though the rathas as a whole is incomplete. The largest of the Five Rathas is the Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Ratha and it’s dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Then we headed to Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, this place has an Indias’s oldest lighthouse. It was built around 640 AD by Pallava king Mahendravarman I and it also has Olakaneeswara Temple which is dedicated to lord Siva. A granite roof was constructed atop the temple to keep the light from 1887 to 1900. Mahabalipuram was a busy port under the Pallavas as early as the 7th century AD. Bonfires were lit on rocks even at that time to aid the mariners. The British first used the temple atop the Mahishasuramardini cave as a light. When you climb the stairs to go to the cave, it has an amazing view of the Mahabalipuram town.

There is a modern lighthouse which is adjacent to the old one and is functional.  This was commissioned here in 1887. The lighthouse, with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone, became fully functional in 1904. There were also enough monkeys around the complex and as we exited out, we saw lot of stone carvings and we stopped at Manjula Art Gallery. The gentleman there who owns the gallery is also a professor there teaching Sculpture in Government College of Architecture and Sculpture. So he was explaining the stone carvings and sculptures done by interns and experts like him. There was a beautiful cobra carving done on a black stone, but we didn’t have space to buy that and that was a carving which doesn’t get out of my memory as it was so beautiful. In and around Mahabalipuram, you will see lot of stone sculptures from small ones to huge ones and that itself is a sight to behold and I thanked the gentleman for keeping the tradition alive and teaching the younger generation the old craft which is slowly dying out. We also saw few students sitting outside who were working on and we wished them luck. We picked out few souvenirs and stepped out from there.

We headed next to Arjuna’s penance. It is an enormous rock-cut relief, one of the largest in the whole world. It is also known by the name Descent of the Ganges, it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site. The sculptures carved in the natural fissure that divides the cliff not only depict a cosmic event of Ganges descending to earth (a popular narration and depiction in the iconography of Shiva) at the command of Shiva but also shows the event being watched by scores of gods, goddesses, mythical figurines of Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also wild and domestic animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene. The total number of carvings are probably about 146.

Another prominent scene is that of a temple to the right of the cleft at the lower end of the panel. This temple is simple and small and has Vishnu as the deity carved within it. The temple roof is patterned on the style of Draupadi Ratha. A sage is seen sitting in front of the temple giving sermons to his students. In the seat below this scene, a lion in his den and below this a pair of deer are carved. A tortoise is shown next to the temple indicative of water in the near vicinity.

Then we headed to Krishna’s Butterball (Vaan Irai Kal meaning Stone of Sky God) which is a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE) also made a failed attempt to move the boulder. The Indian Tamil king Raja Raja Chola (985 and 1014 CE) was inspired by the balance of this massive stone boulder and it led to the creation of never-falling mud dolls called Tanjavur Bommai (Tanjore Dolls)  which having a half-spherical base tends to come back to its original position every time one tries to make it fall. In 1908, then-governor of the city Arthur Havelock made an attempt to use seven elephants to move the boulder from its position due to safety concerns, but with no success. This boulder seems to float and barely stand on a slope on top of 1.2-meter (4 ft) high plinth which is a naturally eroded hill and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years. There is also a small temple enroute this boulder. We sought God’s blessings and headed out.

We headed to Shore temple (c. 725 AD) which is a complex of temples and shrines that overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. It is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India. Marco Polo and the European merchants who came to Asia after him called the site Seven Pagodas. One of these is believed to be the Shore Temple and other six temples remain submerged in the sea. The tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. The shore temple is one of the most popular temples in Mahabalipuram. Excavations in early 2000s have revealed new structures here under the sand. The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva, as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is dedicated to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The temple walls are surrounded by sculptures of Nandi.

Then we had to head back to the hotel to check out, by then our travel partner had escalated the issues to the management with the resort and they upgraded to the pool view cottage and they insisted they will ensure we get a better service. So we decided to stay and moved our things to the cottage and then we headed out for lunch. My favourite place for food was The Moonrakers, which is the best place for Seafood, this was the only reason I used to travel with friends to come to Mahabalipuram a decade back while working in Chennai. Since Sur cannot take the smell of sea food and smoke, I had to skip it which was a greatest disappointment. So we thought to try the lunch at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay. We had an amazing time and now we know why this is one of the best resorts in Mahabalipuram for their excellent hospitality and service.

Then we headed back to our sightseeing to Tiger Cave, which is a rock-cut Hindu temple complex. It gets its name from the carvings of tiger heads on the mouth of a cave which forms a part of the complex and it also has a temple. We admired the carvings and then said a prayer and headed out to The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, which is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station. Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday so we had to skip that.

Then we headed to Dakshina Chitra (Picture of the South). It is a living-history museum dedicated to South Indian heritage and culture. It opened to the public on 14 December 1996, the museum was founded and is being managed by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The MCF was established in 1984. Deborah Thiagarajan, an Indian art historian of American origin, governs the museum. The museum is built on 10 acres of land. Developed as a heritage village, Dakshina Chitra has an array of displays and relocated originals of dwellings depicting the life pattern of people in the states of southern India. The exhibits portray the architecture, art, folk performing-arts and craft of South Indian traditions. The amenities include a research unit, crafts bazaar, playground, an area to hold religious functions, stone workshop, and souvenir kiosks. This needs an entire day to go through each exhibits, since we reached an hour before closing, we had to quickly go through the place, picked up few local souvenirs and then headed out as everyone was shutting down the place.

Then we headed to India Sea Shell Museum which is open till 8 PM. Mr. Raja Mohammed, the brain behind this museum, devoted 33 years of his life and his hard earned money in accumulating sea shells from small to large and from the ordinary to the exotic and established this exclusive sea shell museum. It is the largest seashell museum in India and It houses over 40,000 specimens of rare and unique seashells and Minerals which offers visitors an amazing visual treat and a unique perspective on conchology. His idea was to unearth marine treasure of the world and share the knowledge so gained with the rest of the world. Hats off to him for his efforts and huge respect for his hard work and passion.

Then we headed back to the resort, this pool view cottage looked good, ordered room service for the dinner and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, went for the breakfast. This time the staffs were extra hospitable as the F&B manager was there personally to make sure we got the better service. I ordered for Poori and Sur had a bread and Omelette. Finally ended the meal with nice filter coffee which was good and then headed to Kanchipuram which was a close by town famous for its temples. Our guide had recommended it the day before as we had an extra day for sightseeing. Kanchipuram, also known as Kanchi. It also called a city of Thousand Temples, is an ancient city in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Considered a holy pilgrimage site by Hindus, it is home to many temples. Our guide wanted us to visit the 5 famous temples here as that would take a whole day by itself.

First we headed to Varadharaja Perumal Temple which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu completed in 3rd Century. It is one of the Divya Desams, the 108 temples of Vishnu believed to have been visited by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars. This is one of the most sacred places for Vaishnavites. It seems to have taken almost 65 years to bult this.

This temple is also called Golden lizard temple. As per one of the legends, the disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become lizards. They resided in the temple and were relieved of the curse by the divine grace of Vishnu. Two gold-silver plated lizards are seen in the ceiling of the temple, which has the auspicious power to lift all the lizard related doshas (curses) or any other doshas, as curses can cause negative impacts in one’s life. So on touching these lizards from head to tail, it is believed that all the doshas that you might have will be relieved.

As we entered the temple complex, On the left hand side, there is 100 pillars Mandapam which has sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. It had taken almost 32 years to build, and each pillar is a masterpiece of art. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single tone. It is a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture.

You also have a temple tank which is called Anantha Theertham in the temple complex. Atthi Varadaraja Perumal (Atthi Varadar), the 10 feet deity image, is made of the Atthi or the fig tree, and is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank which is called the Anantha Sarovaram/ Anantha Saras. It is brought out to worship for 48 days after every 40 years. It is worshipped in the Vasantha Mantapam, which located in the south-west corner of the temple. The Aththi Varadar is worshipped in sleeping posture (Kidantha Thirukkolam or Sayana Kolam) in the first 24 days, followed by standing position (Nindra Thirukkolam) in the next 24 days. The icon, which was the presiding deity earlier, was hidden in the 16th century to protect from invaders; however replaced by the current stone central icon when the wooden icon could not be traced. In 1709, the icon was accidentally rediscovered when the temple tank was emptied; thereafter the tradition of worshipping the deity once in 40 years was established.

Our 2nd temple visit to Ekambareswarar (Lord of Mango Tree) Temple (Ekambaranathar Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Shiva. This vast temple is one of the most ancient in India having been in existence since at least 600 CE and was built during Chola Dynasty. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas (Five Shiva Temples), and specifically the element of earth, or Prithvi. Shiva is worshiped as Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar, and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Prithvi lingam. It has 108 lingas in different sizes. The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 192 ft, making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.

It also has the Sacred mango tree which is 3500 years old where Parvati, consort of Shiva did penance under this tree. At present the main trunk had been destroyed due to flood and after that four branches started growing from within. The mango fruit from each branch seems to taste different and devotees are not supposed to pluck the fruit or leaves from this tree unless it has fallen down as the tree is considered very sacred. Locals believe that if anyone whose marriage is not getting materialised or any couple who are childless, when they come and pray to this temple, their wish is granted within few months.

The temple celebrates dozens of festivals throughout the year. The most important of these is the Panguni (or Phalguni in devanagari) Brahmotsavam that lasts ten days during the Tamil month of Panguni, between March and April, concluding with the celebration of Kalyanotsavam. The festival is the most popular of all the temple festivals in Kanchipuram. On the concluding day, Kalyanotsavam (marriage festival) is held when the marriage of Ekambareswarar is enacted. During the day, many unmarried people get married irrespective of their caste along with the deity. The event is witnessed by thousands of people every year.

Our 3rd stop was The Kailasanathar temple (Lord of Kailasha), also referred to as the Kailasanatha temple, is a Pallava-era historic Hindu temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is one of the oldest surviving monuments in Kanchipuram and also is in one of three “Kanchis”, the Shiva Kanchi; the other two Kanchis are, Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.

Temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities under Hinduism. The temple was built around 700 CE with additions in the 8th- and restorations in later centuries. It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II (Rajasimha), and who is also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the gopuram (tower). According to local belief, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible. It is believed that Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE) visited the temple and drew inspiration from this temple to build the Brihadeeswara Temple. Unlike most other Dravidian temples, the Kailasanathar temple is constructed out of sand stone and slowly it is eroding which is sad. There is also small meditation cells around the inner complex walls which was used by Alwars to sit and meditate.

By then it was almost lunch time and temple shuts and opens only by 4 PM, hence we headed for the lunch. The guide recommended Star Biryani, I was not very eager to visit this place as this chain is known for Ambur Biryani which had been a disappointment when we visited Ambur. But guide insisted that this is the best place for lunch in Kanchipuram where we get the Non-Veg food so we went in. It was a great surprise as the food was too good. Even Sur enjoyed his Butter Naan and mushroom gravy. Our guide and myself enjoyed the chicken and mutton biryani with Mutton Sukka and fish fry. The Ambur biryani is usually very bland, so it had an accompaniment of brinjal (eggplant) semi gravy with raita (curd, onion and green chilies). That combo was super delicious and I overate. After a heavy lunch we needed to kill the time, so we had asked our guide to recommend good place to purchase Kanchivaram Silk Sarees as this place is famous for that as well.

These sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk thread. The pure mulberry silk and the Zari used in the making of Kanchipuram saris comes from South India. The mulberry silk is procured from Karnataka and woven in Kanchipuram. In a genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saris tear, the border will not detach. That differentiates the kanchivaram silk saris from the others. Here the Saris are distinguished by their wide contrast borders. Temple borders, checks, stripes and floral (buttas) are traditional designs found on a Kanchipuram saris. The patterns and designs in the kanchipuram saris were inspired with images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals. These are saris with rich woven mundhi showing paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kanchipuram saris vary widely in cost depending upon the intricacy of work, colours, pattern, material used like zari (gold thread) etc. The silk is also known for its quality and craftsmanship, which has helped earn its name and its usually worn during special occasions like marriage etc…

Hand woven ones takes time as one saree takes 15 days to complete by hand. Due to huge demand, for commercial purposes its also  machine woven now. Since we wanted to get a hand woven one, our guide took us to Sri Varadha Silk House, they had hand weavers in house and the gentleman showed us where people were hand weaving the sarees. We picked up few and left for the next temple visit.

Our 4th temple stop was The Kamakshi Amman Temple which is an ancient Hindu Temple dedicated to Kamakshi, the ultimate Goddess Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari. The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the Akilandeswari temple in Thiruvanaikaval near Tiruchirappalli and this Kamakshi temple are the important centers of worship of Goddess, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Temple was most probably built by Karikala Cholan and it took almost 65 years to build this temple.

The Image of the main Deity, Kamakshi, is seated in a majestic Padmasana, a yogic posture signifying peace and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose. Goddess holds a sugarcane bow and bunch of five flowers in the lower two of her arms and has a pasha (lasso), an ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. There is also a parrot perched near the flower bunch. There are no other Goddess temples in the city of Kanchipuram, apart from this temple, which is unusual in a traditional city that has hundreds of traditional temples. Shakti Peethas are divine temples of Adiparashakti. The cause of the presence of Devi’s presence is due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi. The naval part of Sati Devi’s body is believed to have fallen here. There are 51 Shakti Peeth linking to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Our 5th temple stop was The Vaikunta Perumal Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. Vishnu is worshipped as Vaikunta Perumal and his consort Lakshmi as Anandavalli. The temple was originally built by Pallavan, with later additions from the Chola. The temple is known for the inscriptions indicating the democratic practises of electing representatives for the village bodies during the regime of Parantaka Chola (907–955 CE).

Vaikunta Perumal temple covers an area of about 0.5 acres. The sanctum houses the image of Vaikuntanatha in seated posture with Sridevi and Bhudevi on his either sides. There is an assembly hall 2,500 sq ft. The roof of the temple rests on the walls and there are no pillars. The inscriptions from the Chola period are made on the walls of the assembly hall. Kulothunga Chola is believed to have built the roof of the assembly hall that made it an assembly hall along with the temple. As per another view, the entire structure was originally an assembly hall and it collapsed during the regime of Kulothunga Chola. He rebuilt the assembly hall along with the temple housing the image of Vaikunta Perumal in it. Some of the inscriptions also read that the village was planned as per Agamic texts with the assembly hall in the centre of the village and the temples of the village built around it. The inscriptions of the temple indicate that the villagers requested the rulers to allow them to choose their own representatives. Parantaka Chola readily acceded to their demand and instituted the Kudavolai system (ballot) of democratically electing the village representatives. The rules of electing and the eligibility of the representatives and voters are described in detail in the inscriptions. The villagers assembled at a common place and wrote the name of their preferred representative in a palm leaf and put it in a pot. kudam in Tamil is pot and volai means the palm leaf, leading to the name of Kudavolai. Only people in pilgrimage or senescence were exempt from voting. The eligibility of the candidates were prescribed with minimum age, educational qualifications and property. There were strictures for the candidates should have built their house in their own property, should not be part of any other committee and be between 35 and 70 years of age. The voters had the right to call back their candidate for failing their duties. The inscriptions also specified strict punishments for the corrupt like disallowing their next seven generations to contest if found guilty. The institution was dismembered along with the ending of Chola regime during the 13th century. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was inspired by the system after paying a visit to the temple and insisted on improving Panchayat Raj, India’s system of local bodies in villages. This temple is also a place where people come to pray for long life.

That came to the end of our temple visits in Kanchipuram, I asked for a place to stop for a nice tea and we ended up back in the Sri Varadha Silk House, as they volunteered that they will make the best tea, so went again, picked up some samosas near by and we all along with their staffs and us enjoyed the tea. Then I found some sarees similar to Kerala saris which is made by the local women from a nearby town in Elampillai and they were selling it. We picked up one and thanked the staffs and we left.  We reached the resort, ordered some food and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We got up late and it was almost close to the buffet closing time for breakfast. So as usual most of the items were empty, somehow they got some pooris which I requested for, but it was cold and over fried, probably the left overs from their kitchen. Sur didn’t feel of having anything for breakfast. We checked out from the resort finally. On the way for lunch we stopped at Junior Kuppana, Sur settled for Ghee dosa with mushroom gravy and I ordered Non-Veg thali. It was great. We then headed back home with great memories and lots of lots of blessings from temple visits….

Meghalaya & Assam – The North-Eastern Beauties

Filed under: India — jani @ 7:21 am

About Meghalaya & Assam:

Meghalaya & Assam are states in north-eastern India. Meghalaya (It means abode of the clouds) was formed by carving out two districts from the state of Assam: the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and the Garo Hills. This is also known as Scotland of the East.

Assam is known for Assam tea and Assam silk. The state was the first site for oil drilling in Asia. Assam is home to one-horned Indian rhinoceros, along with the wild water buffalo, pygmy hog, tiger and various species of Asiatic birds, and provides one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant.

Day 1: We six of us (Ayush, Akanksha, Shahrukh, Himanshi, Sur & myself) went for the trip organized by Santhosh from Exotic Expeditions. This was my first trip to North East which I have been wanting to do for a long time and I was glad we could do that. So we began our flight journey to Guwahati.  We reached the airport, the local officials checked for our vaccination certificate and then we were allowed to exit the airport. We met Santhosh near exit gate who was waiting to receive us and we met the other four members (Karthik, Denesh, Leena and Deepti) who joined this trip along with us.

We got in two different cars and started our journey to Meghalaya. We were hungry by now and we didn’t find any decent place for lunch. We were too hungry to wait, so we just stopped in one of the roadside restaurants Tit Bit Hotel in Jorabat for a quick lunch. Vegetarian Thali (set meal) was available which had rice, dal and potato along with Non-Veg items like Chicken and Fish. Some of them ordered curd, we ended up getting a sweet curd which was equally sour so no one enjoyed that and we realized that’s how the curd was served here, so people stopped ordering post that. The food was average and then we headed to Meghalaya.

We reached the Meghalaya check post. We had to get the pass from the officials there before we could enter the state. We wasted a bit of time there since we were not informed about this process. One by one we had to install Meghalaya Tourism App, upload the Aadhar copy (front and back), fill up the stay details in Meghalaya, Vehicle Details, Number of days that we are staying here in Meghalaya and the vaccination certificate. Once we submitted, we had to show the acknowledgement, then they verified and then we were handed the pass for each vehicle.

On the way we stopped at Umiam lake which is a manmade lake which had an amazing view. By now it was getting darker and cold. So we just spent half an hour and then drove to our homestay Latei Ville Inn, Shillong. The weather here confused us. We thought it was around 9 PM when we reached the property, but when we saw the time it was only 6 PM. Since we had some time to explore the city, we freshened up and headed out for drinks and dinner.

So we went to Tango RestoBar and Lounge which is in the basement of OB Shopping Mall, Shillong. This place had good drinks and food and we had an amazing time. We spent quite some time and then we left around late night, reached the homestay and then crashed for the night.

Day 2: Woke up to the beautiful sight of orange trees with the fruits, had our breakfast which was bread and omelette. We got to know there is no separate breakfast items as people eat the same meal of rice and pork/chicken curry for breakfast as well. For guests, they ended up serving bread and omelette for breakfast in most of the places. We had our breakfast, checked out and drove again. On the way our first stop was Elephant Falls. This is 2 tier waterfall and on the way there was a small cave sized area where we could take some pictures. While we returned back, we had a place to wear Khasi tribe costume for photographs. Sur and myself immediately went and changed and got the lovely pictures, after that Ayush and Shahrukh joined us. After taking those beautiful pictures and a hot cup of tea there, we started our drive back to Sohra (Cherrapunji). Enroute we saw a place for bunjee jumping, some of them wanted to do that and they headed to do it and we chilled in a small local shop and we enjoyed the soupy maggi noodles and omelettes. However they had to return without doing it as there was a long queue. SInce we were delayed already, we had to skip that and started back our journey.

Then we stopped for Arwah Caves. This is a Sunken chamber leading to caverns known for limestone walls with fossils of fish & crustaceans. We had to walk a kilometre or two to reach there. We went and enjoyed the caves and then rushed back as it was getting foggy and cold. Then we started back our journey, we then stopped for lunch. Had our usual thalis for a meal as that’s the staple food there and then we were supposed to go to Noahkali waterfalls but it was too foggy to see anything so we decided to do that later. Then we stopped near the local market where we saw a huge football statue, which we got to know later, that was used as on observatory place and not allowed for visitors.

Then headed to Sohra Plaza for our stay for the next 2 nights. We checked in and Sur and myself got a separate cottage which was little outside the property, so we used that extra space in the room to catch up with the group to chill out. Then we had ordered for our dinner. Everything was great and the staffs were so friendly and nice. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up after a good rest, it was way too cold here as this town is in high altitude. For a change we had Aloo Paratha along with bread and omelette for breakfast. This was the day of trek and we headed to see the living root bridges which this town is famous for. We had an hour of drive before we reached the place to start our trek, then we realized the weather was pleasant and then we started our trek to the living root bridge which are made from rubber trees. Be prepared to climb down 2000 stairs for the same. All of our knees started wobbling after some time, but its good to not to stop midway as there is a chance that you can fall down so just keep going until you see a little plain terrain, so that your legs gets stabilised a little. While we were climbing down the stairs with much difficult we also saw people climbing down with cement bags, children carrying groceries etc. Respect to the local people there, as this is how the hard life they have to ensure everyday, they have to climb this place multiple times in order to get the essential items. We stopped at the Single root bridge, respect and full credit to the locals because of whom we could see this. We also saw closeby, locals are making another single root bridge, which is yet to get ready for us to walk as it’s new.

Then we headed to Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge” is located in the village of Nongriat. For which another 1500 stairs to be taken up and down. Sur decided not to come as his knees were too shaky to take those stairs again. We quickly stopped there in a local shop for fresh lime juice which was very tangy. So Sur took a break there and we headed to the double decker. On the way we crossed a bridge and saw the blue lagoon. It was a sight to behold to see the blue colored water. Then we started our climb to the village. On the way, our guide Richard and myself were in the front who happened to see the black cobra. As per the guide, it was on the stairs and he just pushed it with the chappal that he was wearing. Luckily it ended up on the right side where there was a rock and I had that beautiful sight of that cobra. Thankfully it was small but it looked like a black stone statue with a drawing of the hood as the head was turned opposite to us so we saw the beautiful hood. I had never seen one in person and guide asked us to wait till it leaves as it’s very poisonous. Once we lost sight of the black cobra, we started climbing to the village for the double decker root bridge. There were lot of children around and their beautiful smiles and the hard life of the locals made us forget all the pain that we endured to reach those 3500 steps. We then enjoyed the double decker root bridge and there was a small fall nearby, so we sat for the natural fish pedicure as there were lot of fish and tadpoles. Then we had a quick lunch of Maggi and Omelette. Further there was also rainbow falls. But we didn’t have time to do that as we were already late and we needed to climb those 3500 steps back which looked like a marathon. We headed out to start the hard climb back and I didn’t have much energy left. Karthik was so kind enough to give his bamboo stick to help me climb and Ayush lend his hand to carry my backpack. Then we reached the half way near the single root bridge, met Sur and had a short break and then with much difficult climbed the remaining 2000 stairs back, this time Sur was there to help me around, even though his knee also was giving him trouble. Thankfully climbing up didn’t pose much problem for him so he was there as usual the rock support to pull me through. Almost when we reached back, we stopped for a quick break for another tangy local fresh lime juice and I also ended up seeing a cup cake with vanilla cream inside. It was really good and something new, got for everyone, enjoyed that and reached back to the parking lot to head back to Sohra Plaza. I have no idea how I climbed up and down those 7000 steps, but my love and respect to the people who live there and for them this is way of life. Looking at the way how hard their life is we forgot the pain that we had to climb those 7000 steps.

Then we headed back to the hotel. We reached the hotel, had tea and snacks and then some of the friends decided to light the bonfire inside the cottage as there was chimney, but they didn’t realize the opening was closed. By the time I informed there was chimney, the smoke already had engulfed the room. We all had a laugh, then we doused the fire. After few minutes the smoke disappeared. Then we headed for our delicious dinner and just crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had a quick breakfast and we headed to watch the Nohkalikai Falls which is the tallest plunge waterfall in India. They also had good places for shopping and we picked up the pickled Bhut Jolokia also known as Ghost Pepper which is the hottest chilli peppers in the world.

We picked up some of the local souvenirs and then headed to the Mawlynnong which is cleanest village in Asia. We stopped there for quick lunch and walked around the village to admire the locals efforts to keep the village clean and then we headed to Dawki and drove close the Indian-Bangladesh Border.

Since it was too late to go to the border as they have time limit we decided to go the next day and headed to Umngot River, which is the cleanest rivers in India. This river flows through Bangladesh and boat in the river looks it’s floating on glass crystal surface. We went for a 45 minutes boat ride, enjoyed every minute of it and also we saw that here, people didn’t need refrigerator to cool the soft drinks, it was kept near the river bank, for a natural coolant. Then we ended up snacking on dried Indian Jujube fruit which the vendors were selling there and then headed to our tent for the night.

Our guide forgot to let us know that car cannot reach the place where the tents were as it was close to the same river, so we had to carry all our luggage in the night in the suspension bridge and we were really not happy about. It made it worse, since it was late night and we couldn’t see anything as it was dark, somehow we managed to go to the river bank where our tents were. We had a delicious dinner of rice, dal, chicken curry, okra, chilli chutney and potato fries. We enjoyed the food and crashed for the night.

Day 5: I had to get up early in the morning for a cold water bath before others wake up as we didn’t have separate rooms to freshen up. We had a quick breakfast, we walked back to the parking lot by crossing the suspension bridge. Now we were enjoying the view as the river below the bridge was beautiful and the view was too good.

Then we headed to the Bangladesh border area in Dawki, we went to the border area, took some pictures and then started our drive back to Kaziranga which was a long drive. On the way we stopped for late lunch in Santoshi Dhaba in Nagaon and we enjoyed the Thalis with chicken, pork, duck and Small Fish Fry (Xaru Maas Vaji).

After a long drive of more than 10 hours we reached the Kodom Bari Retreat, Kaziranga, which was our stay for the night. This property looked amazing, and the rooms had a glamping set up. We freshened up and had our dinner. Unfortunately, the non-veg dishes were let down specially the Pork dishes and we finally managed with chicken which no one could go wrong. Then we enjoyed the bonfire for some time and crashed for the night.

Day 6: Woke up to the beautiful morning with a great garden around. Had a change of breakfast here, they had Puri/Poori and whole yellow peas curry which was good, Sur ordered bread and omelette as he didn’t want to eat Poori. Then we walked around nearby temple and spent some time around watching the dogs, goats, turkeys and Guinea Fowls.

Then in the afternoon we went for the Kaziranga National Park for the safari. That was amazing 2 hours of trip as they had picked us up from the hotel. We saw the famous one horned rhinos, elephants, swamp deer, hog deer, sambar deer, Indian Muntjac and water buffaloes. Also there were lot of birds like black necked stork, White-fronted Goose and Asian Openbill stork. Most of the park was filled with Tall elephant grass which made a great place for the animals movement and also lots of Indian jujube trees with fruits. I wished it was outside the park, so we could have enjoyed few from the tree.

After enjoying the great safari we stopped for lunch at Maihang Ethnic Restaurant in Kohora, Kaziranga. We ordered our usual thali and we did see the menu card of pigeon meat, however since we were late, we couldn’t get it, so we settled the usual pork, chicken, and fish. There was a special Assamese fish curry with the tangy taste (Masor Tenga) which was really good.

Then we headed in the evening for the cultural program in Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park.  This is a must visit as this promotes various dance forms of North Eastern states. For example, there was Bihu dance which is a folk dance of Assam (Harvest dance), Cheraw Dance (Bamboo dance) – which is a folk dance of Mizoram, Baguramba Dance which is a folk dance of Bodo tribe in Assam, Chalo Dance (Harvest dance) which is a folk dance from Arunachal Pradesh and there were other dance forms too which was from different tribes of North East. Most of us from other parts of India are ignorant of their culture, hence I would recommend this place and this is a must visit. My respect and love to all the people who are ensuring to retain the local culture and all my wishes for their efforts to ensure we get to see these and starts appreciating the beautiful cultures of our own brethren from this part of our country. After enjoying the lovely performances we left for the hotel, had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After a good day rest and a quick breakfast it was time to check out. We started our journey and on the way we stopped at Maha Mrityunjay Temple. It has world’s largest 126 foot tall Shivalinga which is a newly constructed temple. Then we went to Santoshi Dhaba again for the lunch and then drove to Guwahati.

We reached Riverview Guest House in the night, the property was disappointing, not well maintained, bedcovers and blankets were so dirty, we didn’t even feel of sleeping there. Since it’s just one night somehow we just managed. We had some time in the evening, so we stepped out and went to Fancy bazaar. This is a good place for shopping and street food. Since we reached late, we just had chicken roll and pani puri. It was good and then we returned to the guest house. We waited for the midnight to wish Himanshi birthday and then we crashed for the night.

Day 8: We woke up and we were served with the usual bread and omelette. Then we headed off to the Guwahati airport. We checked in and then went to the lounge, it was disappointing to go there as it was not worth, so we just picked up a water bottle and then went to the gate for boarding. We flew back to Bangalore with great memories and looking forward to explore other North Eastern states as well.

Few things to note: Since these are in the hilly terrain, be prepared to sit in the car longer than your sightseeing hours and if you have motion sickness be prepared to carry the medicines. These are simple people, living a hard life and they do not have the luxury that we enjoy in the big cities. The stable food is Thali which has rice, dal, potato dry and non-vegetarians can enjoy the pork, chicken and fish. Meghalaya is known for pork dishes and Assam for fish. Local people eat the same rice meal for breakfast as well. So for guests they serve bread and omelette. Maggi also is available in most of the small shops. If you are lucky you might find some restaurants which might serve roti etc but most of the smaller places may not find. So be patient and adapt to the local situation so that you don’t stay cranky and make others in the group miserable too.

This trip was an eye-opener that we take lot of things and luxuries in the city for granted after seeing such hard life of locals in the hills. I fell in love with their simplicity, happy faces and simple living that just made me fall in love all over again to North East.

See you soon in another North Eastern State….Please stay Safe……….

October 10, 2021

Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) – The Forgotten Town

Filed under: India — jani @ 9:49 am

About Tranquebar:

Tharangambadi, formerly Tranquebar, is a town in the Mayiladuthurai district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on the Coromandel Coast. Tranquebar was established on 19 November 1620 as the first Danish trading post in India.

I came across an article which brought to our attention of a town named Tranquebar, now it’s known as Tharangambadi (means – Place of the singing waves), which was a Danish colony for sometime. We have always heard about Pondicherry which had French influence. The sad part of it was not many knew about this small town and when I enquire, most of them were never heard of this town. Sur and myself decided to explore least known places of our country, visit and then write about so that others also can travel to such places. So we were glad that we found this town. Multiple times, we were trying to book for a weekend trip. Unfortunately the only good hotel recommended was The Bungalow on the beach – 17th Century, managed by Neemrana Hotels and it was always fully booked. So once Covid situation improved and we were fully vaccinated and ready to explore, first thing came in our mind was Tranquebar and thankfully this time it was available. We also had Kiran and kids (Kaavya and Vihaan) joined with us that made all the more fun.

Day 1: As usual we started our trip by 5 AM to avoid the traffic. On the way we stopped for a breakfast in Aananda Bhavan Delight which is in Bangalore Salem Highway, Omalur, Tamil Nadu. We had stopped earlier at the same place for lunch and had their vegetarian meals which was really great but the breakfast didn’t meet the same expectations of that but was ok. They also have cleaner rest rooms which makes it the ideal stop for a break.

Then we headed straight to the property, as we enter the main street of Tranquebar, there is a Town Gate and then we reached The Bungalow on the beach after 8 hours of drive. We had to wait for an hour since the rooms were still not available as the guests were just checking out. So they gave us a room on the ground floor to freshen up. So we decided to do the lunch first instead of waiting for an hour. For the lunch table was set in an open area near the garden. The property seems to be in an ideal location as all the sightseeings are around the property and also it’s very close to the beach. Only concern was there were too many house flies and it was a little annoying for all of us while having food. We ordered local Tranquebar fish curry, rice and white penne pasta. The fish curry all that I could taste was just the tamarind, rice was very sticky and pasta was just average. Everything went wrong with the food. Finally Kiran asked for curd and somehow they managed to eat a little curd rice. So we didn’t have the best of first impression and we were like how are we going to spend 3 nights here.

Post lunch, our rooms were ready and we headed to our rooms Prince Christian and Princess Louise. It’s a heritage property but not well maintained. The beds were shaky and the bed bars were lose etc. The staffs tried to fix it but it was not at all worth for the money the property charges for. Since not many properties around, didn’t have much choice as well. We freshened up and took siesta since all of us were tired after a long drive. We woke up in the evening, ordered for tea, coffee and snacks. They had French Fries and Onion Pakoda and it was good. We were little scared to try dinner after a disastrous lunch, so we decided to skip dinner as we didn’t have energy to venture out and look for options outside the property. Kids managed with the snacks that we carried for our journey for their dinner and then we crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a good rest we went for breakfast. They had bread, omelettes, dosa and Upma. So we ordered bread, masala omelette and Dosa. Had a cup of coffee and then we headed for our sightseeing. We thought we can see the local sightseeings later as they were all close by and decided to visit the nearby places which are worth visiting. So we chose to travel to Velankanni which was just 1.5 hours from Tranquebar. We enjoyed the lush green fields, palm trees, coconut trees and cotton fields on the way. We reached the Velankanni Church, which is the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Sanctuary of Our Lady of Velankanni, is a Marian shrine located at the small town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, South India. The Roman Catholic Latin Rite Basilica is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health. Devotion to Our Lady of Good Health of Velankanni can be traced back to the mid-16th century, and is attributed to three separate miracles at the sites surrounding the Basilica: The apparition of Blessed Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the healing of a handicapped buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a deadly sea storm. Initially, only a simple and modest chapel was built by the Portuguese sailors who washed ashore safely. More than 500 years later, the nine-day festival and celebration is still observed and draws nearly 5 million pilgrims each year. The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni is also known as “the Lourdes of the East” because it is one of the most frequented pilgrimage centres in India.

Since this is based near coastal area, the weather was really humid and hot. As usual except myself no one was enjoying the weather. This is a huge area with multiple chapels, churches and grottos. We went to the chapel which is built on the spot, where the handicapped buttermilk boy was healed, and then visited the adjacent grotto, old main church and then headed to the church which was built in memory of the golden jubilee of the old church. Then we stopped for an ice cream break and then headed to the main church which was under construction and it was on the opposite direction. Be prepared to walk in the scorching sun, but visiting the church was surreal and divine. Then we headed to main church, the ground floor was under renovation and the mass (prayer) was going on in the first floor. So we couldn’t go inside, we stood outside, prayed and left the place. There is also a beach close by but others didn’t have my enthusiasm to visit due to the heat as they all wanted to get inside the AC car. So we walked back to the parking lot, got in the car and drove back to the hotel. Since none of us were hungry, we skipped lunch, had siesta and then woke up to order some tea, coffee and snacks. They had sandwiches which had both veg and chicken option. The chicken sandwich was really yummy and we enjoyed the snacks and then went around actually to see the Tranquebar sightseeings that were closeby.

We went to see the Danish fort which was right across the hotel that we stayed in. We had to rush since it closes by 5:30 PM. Fort Dansborg called Danish Fort, is a Danish fort located in the shores of Bay of Bengal in Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Fort Dansborg was built in the land ceded by Thanjavur king Ragunatha Nayak in an agreement with Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde in 1620 and acted as the base for Danish settlement in the region during the early 17th century. The fort is the second largest Danish fort after Kronborg. The fort was sold to the British in 1845 and along with Tranquebar, the fort lost its significance as the town was not an active trading post for the British. After India’s independence in 1947, the fort was used as an inspection bungalow by the state government till 1978 when the Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu took over the control of the fort. The fort is now used as a museum where the major artifacts of the fort and the Danish empire are displayed.

There is also The Zieganbalg Museum Complex which is a private museum opposite to the fort, however it was closed since we got delayed. This seems to have many interesting articles, the most important one being the first printing press of India. The first book, a bible printed in Tamil was printed here.

Then there was The Masilamani Nathar Temple which is an interesting piece of architecture, the Masilamani Nathar temple is a mix of Chinese and Tamil architecture, built possibly to attract Chinese traders to Tranquebar and it is 700 years old. This was closed when we reached there, so went to another new temple closeby and we were right on time for the evening Aarti and we took the blessings and came back.

At the entrance of Town Gate we also The New Jersalem Church which houses tombs date back to 18th Century. We didn’t stop over as we were crossing this multiple times and also there is another church named Zion Church, which was the first protestant church in Tranquebar and one of the oldest as well.

Then we headed to the beach, The beach in Tharangambadi has been identified as the one of the most Ozone-rich beaches in the world by various studies conducted by the Danes in 1960s and Indian researchers. The ozone content in air is said to be high between April and July. The presence of rich Ozone (O3) content helps in absorbing the hazardous ultraviolet rays coming from the sun which remains an unknown fact for most of the locals. We cannot get into the water since this area is dangerous due to high tides and there were lot of cops to watch over to ensure people comply with the instructions for their own safety.

After enjoying the beach, as we were returning back, we saw a local vendor selling Sukku Coffee (pronounced locally as Chukku which means dry ginger) or Sukku Malli Coffee (Malli means coriander seeds), but there is no caffeine in it and not sure why is it called coffee, but this dry ginger concoction is one of the best home remedies used commonly in Tamil households. It aids in digestion, helps reduce cough, cold and headache and as Dry ginger is supposed to have a lot of medicinal properties as well. This drink is best for the winter/rainy season as it helps with cold and cough. (Preparation: 100 gm of Coriander seeds, 50 gm of dry ginger, 1 teaspoon of pepper corn, 5 pieces of Cardamom and 2 small pieces of Cinnamon Sticks. All of them are roasted and grounded and this powder can be stored for a longer duration. When you are ready to prepare the drink, you have to just boil 400 ml of water and put 4 teaspoons of this powder and add Palm Candy to sweeten and your drink is ready. (Palm Candy/ Panakarkandu in Tamil) is produced from the sweet “Neera” from Palmyra. Palm Candy is a nutrient rich, Low Glycemic Crystalline sweetener; it is completely natural. Palm Candy It has a number of minerals, vitamins, calcium, iron& phyto nutrients including zinc and potassium.

After enjoying the healthy drink, we walked back to the hotel and kids and Sur were tired so they all skipped dinner and crashed for the night. Kiran and myself used this private time to catch up with each other in the balcony area. We ordered some starters like tawa fried fish and chicken fry. The staffs were very helpful and they ensured this time the fish was made well. The chicken was little over fried and rubbery. But we forgot about that since the fried fish was so good. Finally we had something best and we ended up ordering thrice. We had one of the best evening with the sound of wave, great food and some music which Kiran played. After few hours, we called it a day since we had another long drive next day and we crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, had our usual breakfast, then headed to Pondicherry. Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry) is the capital and the most-populous city of the Union Territory of Puducherry in India. The city is in the Puducherry district on the southeast coast of India and is surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu, with which it shares most of its culture, heritage and language. Since Kiran and kids had not been there, we thought we will drive down as it’s jusy 3 hours from Tranquebar.

We enjoyed the scenic view enroute. Kiran didn’t feel great that day, so we were scouting for Patanjali store for Kutajarishta which helps with upset stomach. We had to take a detour and found a shop near Cuddalore (pronounced as Kadalur) which was near the railway track. Once we reached, we found it was closed permanently and was not updated online.

We found few ladies chatting nearby along with a gentleman whom I asked for other Patanjali stores close by. They suggested one near the temple a km away. Then the gentleman volunteered to take us through in person. So proud to meet another such kind hearted soul, helping us out. May God bless him and his family. Then we reached the store and they informed that medicines are not available in Cuddalore and we might find only Pondicherry. So we had to come out of that small roads and finally hit the road back to Pondicherry.

Somehow we couldn’t locate the Patanjali store in Pondicherry which was close to Aurobindo Ashram. We took 2-3 turns in the car but there was no luck. So we decided to go to the Himalaya Pharmacy which was on the main road to buy the tablets. Kiran and myself wanted to check for one last time, if the pharmacy person could help with Patanjali store before we purchase the tablets. He guided us which was in the next lane. It was not available there as well as this particular product had to be pre ordered. So we returned back to the pharmacy, purchased the tablets and left from there.

Next door we saw the ice cream parlor, so we took a break from the scorching sun for an overload of ice creams and we got to taste new flavour rose petal ice cream and which we all enjoyed.

Then we hit our roads to reach Auroville, that was the place we needed to visit if we had just a day. So we reached the Auroville. Auroville (City of Dawn) has it’s origins in the French language Aurore (Dawn) and Ville (City) is an experimental township in Viluppuram district, mostly in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, with some parts in the Union Territory of Pondicherry in India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as “the Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity. We parked the car and went to the reception area, saw a small video about Matrimandir and then got our free passes to go to Matrimandir. It’s shaded area for a Km to walk in order to see the Matrimandir.  This was conceived by Alfassa as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection”. Silence is maintained inside the Matrimandir to ensure the tranquility of the space, and the entire area surrounding the Matrimandir is called the Peace area. Inside the Matrimandir, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred to as “a place to find one’s consciousness”. But visitors are not allowed to go inside, so we have to see from a distance from the view point. Matrimandir is equipped with a solar power plant and is surrounded by manicured gardens. The firangipani trees, polished rocks, varieties of butterflies and banyan trees, makes the walk very interesting to Matrimandir.  Then we came back to the reception and there are few places for shopping and food. We had snacks and then thought will go to the beach. As we were close to the beach, the kid wanted pizza, so we stopped at Celine’s Kitchen and ordered pizza. They had the best pizzas specially the Indiana Pizzas. It was already dark and we didn’t have time to go to beach by now, so we drove back for 3 hours to reach the hotel. As it was drizzling, there was traffic and we reached the hotel, pretty late. While others went and crashed, I caught up on my work and then caught up on my sleep.

Day 4: We had our usual breakfast and then checked out. We were in a shock to see the bills. They had charged for water which was given in the room, for the bad lunch and snacks which was supposed to be complimentary. When we brought to their notice, management immediately rectified and charged only for our dinner and waived off others. Even though the room rate is unreasonable and overly priced, the staffs were very helpful and went out of their way to help.

We checked out of the hotel and then headed to Bangalore for another 8 hours drive. As soon as we started it was drizzling and then started pouring, it took few hours for us to get out of that heavy rain. As we hit Salem, it was just drizzling and was better. So we stopped at Radisson, Salem for lunch. This is the place, we end up visiting often while on this highway. For some or the other reason we miss their lunch buffet. Last time, due to covid, we didn’t want to try as it was so crowded. This time we reached after 15 minutes of buffet closure. So we ordered the chicken dishes, biryani, and burgers. First the chicken gravy was served without chicken and when we informed the staff, we got those chicken pieces back in the gravy. We loved their chocolate dessert and were back to the road. Almost after 9.5 hours of drive we reached Bangalore and it was worth the drive and a good break for all of us.

The good news is that all of us are fully vaccinated, and I do hear few are reluctant to get vaccinated. I request all of you please get yourself vaccinated at the earliest and stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

July 30, 2021

Hampi – The Forgotten History

Filed under: India — jani @ 2:32 pm

About Hampi:

Hampi is an ancient village in the south Indian state of Karnataka. It’s dotted with numerous ruined temple complexes from the Vijayanagara Empire.

After 3rd Covid lockdown ended, we needed another quick break and we booked Evolve Back, Hampi to explore the historic monuments and ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire.

We had to postpone the stay for a week as the resort was still in lock down and then finally when we got a go ahead, we prepared for our historical trip to Hampi.

Another USP of Evolve back was it’s Vaidyashala, which makes us to visit Evolve Back again and again. However the sales person who confirmed our booking forgot to inform us that Vaidyashala was yet to be opened. So we had a disappointment when we asked Ms. Gayana (our local contact at the property) to pre book the slots. Then she informed us, it was not functional during our stay there. However she informed us that  inspite of that set back, she would try her best to ensure that we will have a great memorable experience. Yes, she did her best to make our stay memorable and kudos to her.

Day 1: We started by 7 AM and headed straight to Hampi without a break due to Covid and reached by afternoon after our GPS decided to take us to the forest office close by instead of Evolve back. Then the officers asked us to go little further and then we saw the stone which had the Evolve back name and we entered. As you enter, you will also see a similar palace themed building, which seems to be staff quarters and then as we went further we saw the beautiful Evolve back looking majestically like a royal palace as per their theme. So finally we were at Evolve Back, Hampi.

Ms. Gayana and other staffs welcomed us with a warm smile, refreshing towel and a welcome drink Pancharasa, which is made with Basil leaf, Mint leaf, Curry leaf, Lemon juice, Jaggery syrup and garnished with Chiya seeds. Our check in was smooth and we were checked into our beautiful Zenana room. We could see from the day one, that Ms. Gayana went extra mile to ensure we had a memorable experience. We got the best room and with a best view. This room had jacuzzi in the middle of the room and when you go to the balcony it had an amazing view and a nice breeze which just makes you to stay there for ever and ever without tiring you. We ended up chilling out in the balcony enjoying that cool breeze and the view and we never got tired of it and enjoyed the architectural beauty of the property which is palace themed. We had to give a miss to Jacuzzi as we had our day packed with outdoor activities and didn’t have time to enjoy the jacuzzi as we know we might doze off in the water which we didn’t want to do that.

We were hungry, so we refreshed quickly and went for lunch to Tuluva – Multi Cuisine Restaurant. Sur ordered the Pottagodugu Kura (Fried mushrooms tossed with chilly, onion and curry leaves) and Farmer’s Pie (Layered seasonal vegetables with tomato compote and mashed potato) and I ordered Vijayanagara Non Veg Thali (based on the spirit of north Karnataka’s regional cuisine). We both didn’t enjoy so much the food as it was too bland for our palette. But the chef later ensured from the next meal that it was customized as per our taste and we did have the best of food experience. We had also ordered their signature cocktails (Jewel of South, Matanga Hills & Pushkarni), somehow the alcohol overpowered the drink so we didn’t enjoy that as well, so we stopped ordering the cocktails and settled it with good red wine and fresh lime juice later part of our stay.

Then we went to plan our outdoor activities for the next few days that we were staying, so met the guide Mr. Santhosh to take us to the history trails since we were left only with two more nights of stay, we booked all the four historical trails and did two trails in a day one in the morning at 8.30 AM and one in the late afternoon at 4 PM as every trail takes approximately four hours to complete.  Once we finalized we had our tea which was not great but the French fries were good and Sur enjoyed his watermelon juice. After a mini walk around, we went for a quick dinner to Tuluva restaurant. Sur ordered Greek Salad and I went for Paya Shorba (Infused with Indian spices lamb trotter soup) which was satisfactory. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great sleep, went for a quick breakfast. I enjoyed their Idly and various chutneys which are too good and Sur went for a toast and an omelette.  Don’t forget to order a filter coffee which is good and then we rushed for our first historical trail with Mr. Santhosh. I had been to Hampi earlier and I did visit but if you love history, you need to do it with Mr. Santhosh and the Evolve team here. We started our trip with Vitthalapura Walk. Hampi had many suburbs or puras. They were self-sufficient settlements centered around a temple and an attached market denoting two of its core activities – worship and commerce. We explored the Vitthalapura Bazaar that lead to the famous Vijaya Vitthala temple considered by many to represent the pinnacle of temple architecture in India. This temple is renowned for its musical stone pillars and a chariot carved in stone. Here every stone and every painting has a story behind. Also this temple courtyard has a few hundred year old Firangipani tree (temple tree) which has a fragrant blossom which is used for the worship since this is considered pure as it doesn’t have any nectar so it’s not polluted by the bees. So it symbolises purity and offered for worship. The musical pillars and the architecture will make you awe of our forefathers and our rich heritage. There are multiple temples close by, the bazaars and also the sad plight of lack of awareness that we have of our own rich heritage and culture. My admiration and love grew multi fold after hearing about the history from the experts of Evolve Back. I fell in love with my country, for our rich culture, heritage and architecture marvel. Thanks to our guide and the Evolve Back Team.

Then we reached back to the resort for a quick lunch of Penne Pasta and ordered Walnut brownie. I loved so much the brownie that every time I had a meal, I ordered a brownie as well. The Walnut brownie was the best one that I ever tasted as it just melted in your mouth. I was planning to ask the chef to pack a few when we checked out but I completely forgot about it. Next time I am sure am packing a few extras as we are planning to visit again to continue the pending historical trails again.

We went for a quick shopping situated inside the property, we picked up few souvenirs and then started the second trail. Even though it was little packed schedule but the love for our rich history gave that enthusiasm to explore as much as possible during our short stay there.

The second trail was Raya Trail, this trail takes you back five hundred years and gives you a privileged peek at the life and times of the Rayas (Maharajas) of Vijayanagara. We learnt about their lifestyle, culture, the unique social and political dynamics of the period and the magnificent structures of the royal city. We visited Royal audience hall, Lotus hall, Elephant stable, queen’s bath, watch tower, queen’s palace, water tanks, museums, Hazarama temple and Ranga temple. If you want know more about it, please do visit this place. Few lines about the place will not do any justice to the grandeur and rich history of this place. I wish our children get to learn more about this as many of us have never heard of these places and it’s richness.

We came back with so much love and energy to know more about our history after just a day and we were looking forward to the next two trails to know more about. Then we enjoyed little time in our balcony and then headed for dinner to Bahmani Restaurant which is a specialty restaurant, and it was pre booked by the staffs. I ordered Murgh Akbari Shorba (Mint infused chicken soup) and Jhinga Gulnar (Prawns spiced with caraway seeds, chilly and garlic, cooked in a tandoor) and Sur ordered his vegetarian dishes Dastan-e-Paneer (Cottage cheese flavored with pudina, malai and achari) and Paneer Lababdar (Cottage cheese cubes slow cooked in a rich tomato onion masala finished with fresh cream and a hint of sun-dried fenugreek with butter naan). The food was great and yes, I finished it with Walnut brownie again even though this was not in the menu at this restaurant, staffs brought it from Tuluva restaurant. I am grateful to them.

After a great meal, we rushed back as it was raining and then crashed for the night.

Day 3:  After a great sleep, our usual quick breakfast of Idli and varieties of chutneys that I enjoyed and Sur back to his omelette and orange juice. Then we rushed for our third trail which was Virupaksha Trail, this trail begins with a leisurely walk up the Hemakuta hill, which opens up a treasure trove of pre-Vijayanagara temples, statues and the wondrous stories surrounding them. It will also serve delightful views of the rock strewn landscape of Hampi with its glorious sunsets. Then we strolled down to the centuries old Virupaksha Temple at the base of the hill, the holy temple of the early Kings of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century. Another architecture marvel and this trail was like a pilgrimage. The end of the trail is marked by the exquisite Krishna temple and the huge monolith of Narasimha. After such a spiritual journey, we then returned back for lunch.

Sur ordered his Butter naan and Shahi Dum Aloo (Stuffed potatoes cooked in a spiced tomato gravy laced with shahi garam masala) and I went for Charmaula rubbed sear fish (Sear fish marinated and grilled, served seasonal vegetables) We enjoyed the food and yes, had my walnut brownie for the dessert.  Then went and freshened up and then were planning for a final trail. As we were in the lobby, the GM (Mr. Joydeep) was telling us about the new place (Hire Benekal) that they did a recce and were planning to add that as part of the historical trail. Then we were curious and asked if we could do that. But then we had to extend a night stay, so we reached out to Ms. Gayana for help and in turn it went to the sales person. We were informed that the current category of rooms was completely sold out and only Nilaya rooms were available. After few hours of tough calls and negotiation as the sales team were involved and local team couldn’t do much on this, finally our stay got extended since the sales team was quoting a higher price of what we booked earlier, inspite of not getting the same room category. Somehow after few hours of uncertainty, the room was confirmed finally by the sales teams in Bangalore.

So we gave a go ahead for the next day recce of dolmens and then left for the final trail Tungabhadra Trek, where Mr. Sarath (Associate Director of Conservation & Experiences) accompanied and also wanted a feedback about the experiences. it’s an offbeat evening trek that took us through giant boulders, the ruins of the Achyutaraya Temple and the famed ‘Courtesan Bazaar’. There were splendid view of the setting sun behind the boulder hills as we walked along the banks of the scenic Tungabhadra River.

We also took a coracle ride and we were in for a special treat since there was some shoot happened with a coracle decorated with flower petals. As they finished the shoot, we entered so the coracle staffs offered that particular coracle for our ride in the river, and we enjoyed that unexpected treat of coracle filled with flower petals. During the coracle ride, there were some of the temples which were submerged in water and had lot of Shiv lingas, so went to see those and couple of old paintings and carvings and then enjoyed the coracle ride back. As we returned, we stopped at an empty ground (it was gymnasium during the royal period) and staffs surprised us with a little fruit champagne and snacks. I was never a champagne fan as it’s too dry for my taste but I just loved this fruit based one and we enjoyed the snacks while listening to the peacock’s mating calls. After such a lovely experience and surprise treat from the staff, we headed back as it was getting darker.

Staffs had booked us again in Bahmani restaurant for the dinner since we enjoyed the food here and Sur ordered  Nargisi Lahsooni Palak (Indian vegetable fried dumplings topped with garlic and served in a spinach curry with butter naan) and I went for Gosht Ka Marag (Spicy mutton broth infused with spices and enriched with cashew & cream) and Pomfret Nawabi (Tender whole white pomfret marinated with hand pounded fresh red chillies and a special chef’s signature garam masala). After enjoying my walnut brownie again, we crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had to start early by 6 AM, staffs packed sandwiches for our breakfast and packed our luggage as the staff had to move our luggage to another room, so gave the key to the reception, informed Ms. Gayana and we left for Hire benakal with our guide and Naturalist Mr. Vinay. This was approximately 1.5 hour to Koppal Taluk and other side of Gangavathi river. We enjoyed the views, greeneries, boulders and we reached for the spot to start our trek. This was an easy trek and on the way we did miss a sloth bear whose fresh potty we found. Sloth bears do not have a great eye sight, so if it feels threatened it will attack, so we were informed prior that we need to talk and stay in groups, so that if the animals senses there are humans coming their way, they might go the other way so we do not have animal-human contact as we are in their territory. That was a learning how to avoid an attack from Sloth bear. Then Mr. Vinay who was an enthusiastic historian explained the cave paintings that were on the way. Then we climbed to the site of dolmens which are at least 3000 years old. There were more than 490 but got destroyed and finally only 200 are left. Also we enjoyed watching Agamas, Skinks, various coloured butterflies, six spotted beetle and giant millipedes.

After finding another hidden treasure, we stopped near the base for a quick brunch, had our sandwiches and started back our journey. We asked our guide if we can stop for a nice tea since I was missing a good tea in the resort. He stopped on the way and all of us enjoyed a great cuppa of tea and then we reached back to the resort.

Ms. Gayana ensured we got a great room and then both of us were escorted to the new room. Sur then went for a quick siesta and I went with Mr. Vinay for a nature walk in the evening. We spotted Mangoose, wild pigs, pea cock, sandgrouse, laughing dove, red-vented bulbuls, Plover and just before we finish the walk we saw the wild hare. Then it started drizzling and we rushed back to the resort.

We freshened up and then went for the dinner at Tuluva restaurant. I ordered Cajun-spiced grill prawns (Garlic and homemade Cajun spice marinated grilled prawns served with mixed lettuce salad) and Chicken and leek broth (Slow-brewed chicken and leek broth served with garlic toast) and Sur went for his Garlic butter naan and Paneer butter masala. After tasting my final walnut brownie for the stay, we crashed for the night.

Day 5: We didn’t want to checkout the place as the GM had recommended lot of other unexplored places which we could do, unfortunately we couldn’t extend due to work commitments and had to reluctantly check out to come back for a week stay later to finish the unfinished places that we missed out.

The GM, Ms. Gayana, Mr. Santhosh, Mr. Vinay and lot of other staffs came to bid farewell and we returned back with a memorable experience and checking our calendar for our next visit soon.

This would be incomplete if I don’t talk about few staffs who went extra mile to ensure we get the best experience and I have already informed the GM that another week stay is due to complete the unfinished places of historical importance that we missed out

First and foremost a special thanks to Ms. Gayana, she was the first person to be connected from the resort. She ensured that we had our memorable experience and the credit goes to her for doing that from the first connect to the check out with a lovely smile. Our special thanks to you.

Next our guide Mr. Santhosh, the historical trails that he accompanied us, I would not have fallen in love doing more if not for his information that he shared and how he explained every story behind the marvels of our history. Thanks Santhosh for helping us appreciate our own rich heritage.

Mr. Sarath, it was so good to hear your travel adventures and for curating those experiences at the resort. Very well done and we want to hear your experiences more.

Mr. Vinay, accompanying for that Hire Benekal – Dolmen visit, even though it was not planned, you took a risk of taking us at the last minute and your enthusiasm and passion spread to us during that trek and thank you for that.

Mr. Joydeep (GM), he was the main reason we extended our stay since he tempted us with that recce they did in Hire Benekal. He was the man behind guiding the staffs, to provide the guests with a great memorable experience and excellence in hospitality. All the credit goes to him, he was the man in action, who ensured to meet us almost every day in the lobby and gave us all the activities that we could do, asked for daily feedback and made our stay all the more worth staying for.

We enjoyed the food and that credit goes to Mr. Vaibhav Verma, the Chef. He also paid us a visit very often at the restaurant, customized as per our taste since we love our food to be extra spicy and also recommended to try something new. Once he knew our taste, we didn’t inform the next time. Whatever we ordered, the food came as per our taste and we enjoyed every meal there at the property. This would be incomplete, if I don’t mention about the walnut brownie, that I was having at after every single meal. After a very long time, had the one of the best brownies ever which just melted in your mouth. Please be prepared that we might pre order few next time when I visit.

F&B Staffs at the restaurant, Almost all the staffs were friendly and once you order something, they knew next time when you are at the restaurant what we requested earlier. For example, a simple thing like Sur loves to have ice cold water and myself hot water to drink. We just said once and we never had to repeat that for the entire stay there. Little things that they remembered mattered the most. I just remember Mohit’s name and other staffs as well, everyone whom we met. My apologies for missing out your names. You all did an excellent job and we are so glad that we will visit again to enjoy your hospitality.

This place remained most memorable because every single staff that we met, provided a great service with a greatest smile. I don’t have enough words to thank you but a big thank you to every single staff at Evolve Back, Hampi. You deserve every appreciation.

The historical experiences that you curated was something I would specially make a note here, that made us fall in love with our country and love to know more about about our rich culture and history. Thanks to your team.

Another week of stay is overdue for the experiences that we missed, am sure will reach out to your team to relive those memorable experience and create new memories.

During the Covid times, when we were not sure of the place to stay keeping all our safety protocols in mind, only solace was Evolve back. First in Coorg, 2nd in Kabini and 3rd in Hampi. The two years of Covid nightmare was forgotten because of the break that we had at Evolve back, once the lock down was lifted. So thanks to all at Evolve for the memorable experiences that you provide.

We are looking for our 4th stay in Hampi again soon when our calendar is free for a week….Until then please stay safe and continue to do the good work of providing an excellent hospitality experience ever……….A big Thank You to each and every one at Evolve………………..

July 5, 2021

Huliyurdurga

Filed under: India — jani @ 7:20 pm

Now that the 2nd wave of Covid in India was nearing it’s end, we wanted to take a short break which would allow us to travel outside our house where we had been under lockdown for over three months. The blessing of being in Bangalore is there are quite a lot of places for sightseeing and treks around Bangalore. Due to Covid we were unable to for any treks and were missing them quite badly so we wanted to do a short trek that we could finish within a day and reach home before 7 PM as we had a weekday night curfew in Karnataka and a full weekend curfew due to which we couldn’t travel over the weekend.

Sur had found few options for us to explore and as usual we had to decide the location as Akanksha, Ayush and Shashank were fine with whatever we chose. So Sur finalized Huliyurdurga, which is hardly a 2 hours drive from Bangalore and the trek itself would take less than 2 hours to complete, which meant that would return to Bangalore by afternoon, as we wanted to avoid trekking under the scorching sun in the afternoon.

We started from home around 7 AM and reached the Huliyurdurga police station within 2 hours since we didn’t stop anywhere on the way due to covid. When traveling by car you should enter the Huliyurdurga Police station as the destination. Once you reach the station, there is a narrow concrete road right before the station on the right side which you need to take. This will take you through a cemetery on the right and you need to keep going straight. A few minutes drive will bring you to a fork in the road and you need to take the road on the right. This will take you through a narrow road between houses and you should keep going straight till you hit a dead end and you will see stairs going up. Park near the stairs and then proceed.

We parked the car close to the stairs and we started climbing. It took hardly 15-20 minutes to reach a small temple midway and then we had to follow the trail on the left to go to the top for a good view. We tried to sneak in and went close to the rock, from where we had to climb a little before we got a  great view, however due to non human activity for few months, there were quite a lot of plants have grown on the trail and blocked the path and some of them had thorns which was hard to ignore as they were very strong. So we had to discontinue midway and reached back to the temple.

Sur didn’t want to give up and thought we will try the right side of the trail, there we could only walk for 5 minutes which had an amazing view and we couldn’t go further as there was only place to crawl in the trail which we didn’t want to take a risk. So we stopped on that little rock and spend few minutes enjoying watching a chameleon, different colors of butterflies and lots of different birds. Still we were disappointed since we couldn’t complete the trek, however we were a little satisfied that we had a break and some fresh air amidst the greens. We had complete silence there since we went on a weekday and there was no one there except the 5 of us.

Then we came down the stairs as we were trying to find a place to sit for few minutes to have some snacks, we found a old temple ruin, which were getting renovated. So we sat in front of the temple and spend about 30 minutes relaxing and had some snacks. Except me none of them wanted to explore more since it was too sunny. Everyone started complaining about the heat and I couldn’t convince them to go around even though we could see few more old buildings around.

So we had to start back and due to covid we didn’t want to stop on the way, we headed straight home and reached back home by lunch time.

Even though this was micro trek, we were glad, we were just happy that we got some fresh air and few hours of drive outside after being locked in the house due to covid. We all are just waiting for our 2nd doses so that we feel more confident to travel further and explore more.

Until then please get vaccinated, stay safe and look out for your loved ones….

 

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress