Konark – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

25.06.2017:

Odisha is popular for its architecturally celebrated temples like the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneshwar, Lord Jagannath’s shrine in Puri and the Sun Temple at Konark and many more sacred shrines and heritage monuments along with the famous Odissi dance, fairs, festivals and exotic handicrafts. The first thing that comes into everyone’s mind when heard of the state’s name is either the famous Rath Yatra or the Konark Sun Temple. This itself proves that how heritage has become an integral part of Odisha!

As I reached the entrance, I could see the Kalinga architectural marvel standing as a living sonata in stone! This 13th century temple dedicated to the Sun God, is built in black granite during the reign of King Langula Narasimhadeva – I of the Ganga Dynasty around 1250 AD. This is one of the most important temples dedicated to the Sun God in India and is a leading Hindu pilgrimage centre. This place is now under the maintenance of Archaeological Survey of India and the entry fee is Rs. 30/- per person.

There was a queue of tour guides behind us by the time we entered the temple complex and we politely rejected their services! 🙂 The first structure we encountered upon entering the complex is the Natya Mandir (the Dance Hall) where the temple dancers once performed. A stone staircase flanked by seated lions led us on to the platform from where we can get a better view of the Sun Temple. Once upon a time, the temple dancers used to perform here as a ritual offering to the God, but now this ritual is no more!

The Natya Mandir had exquisitely carved pillars with various mythical figures, floral motifs and human creatures etc. I can imagine how the musicians might have seated there with their drums and other instruments and the temple dancers performed in front of the God here 🙂 , would have been good if I got back to those days 🙂 . Nevertheless, we can have the same experience now too; by attending the annual Konark Dance Festival which is held in every December, dedicated to the classical Indian dance forms. Why late, grab the tickets now! 😉

We walked towards the main temple which is visibly in ruins, corroded by time and sea air. Yet the temple shares the brilliance and dazzle of the sun with its fascinating architecture, exotic sculptures and intriguing social history of Odisha; which was also a beacon to mariners in medieval times. Konark has got its name from two Sanskrit words – Kona, meaning corner and ark implying the sun. And this temple which was dedicated to the worship of the Sun God holds the sun as the soul of whole manifestation, primal cause of this universe and its different cycles of manifestation and annihilation. The Suryopanishad – a scripture on the Sun God asserts that the Sun is the creator, protector and destroyer.

Though in ruins now, this place retained its rustic charm and serene aura. The mighty sculptures, beautiful lawns and gardens around the temple attracted me the most and I instantly fell in love with this place!

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Elephanta Caves – History’s Hideout

12.11.2016:

11.00 hrs – We reached the “Gateway of India” from where we have to take a boat to the Elephanta Island, situated in the Kolaba district off the coast of Mumbai. The Gateway is more crowded than the other day. The tickets for the ferries are being sold by the ticket agents and a to and fro trip is of Rs. 180. It was only at the time of buying the tickets did we realize that we were running out of the few 100 rupees notes we are left with and made a point that we should withdraw money from some ATM after return from the Elephanta.

11.30 hrs – Caves can be dark, mysterious and, at times, frightening, but surely adventurous and a window to the eras gone by. These natural passages are also where history meets myth and legend. Elephanta caves are one of the most heard after the Ajanta and the Ellora caves in Maharashtra. And finally we were into the ferry which carries us to the island. Though we opted to sit in the deck, we dropped our plan as it was too hot that day and remember you have to pay an extra ten rupees if you want to sit there :-p . The journey was a bit boring though we get a chance to watch some giant vessels carrying out various tasks on the Arabian Sea. It took us almost 75 mins to reach the island. We bought the tickets for a toy train ride to the caves 🙂

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12.40 hrs – We started walking towards the caves. There are lots of shops along the pathway selling soft drinks, snacks and food. The staircase leading to the caves is also full of vendors selling various kinds of crystals and souvenirs. Be careful if you are carrying some food or drinks as there are lots of monkeys here and they don’t mind in snatching the things that were there in your hands. The climb was tiring and we decided to have our lunch before we start going around the caves. There are many restaurants here run by private vendors and also a restaurant that is being run by the Maharashtra Tourism Dept. The dining hall is spacious and food is good here 🙂

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14.00 hrs – Bought the tickets and reached the Cave 1, also known as the Great Cave known for it’s great architecture. Dating back to as early as first century BC and artistically built over a few centuries, its caves have an extraordinary appeal and aura. Nestled in the formidable Sahayadri Mountain Range, these caves have been home to monks of different religions. Most of the caves are viharas (hall) and chaityas (pillared religious caves) and showcase fine art heritage of India. A visit that will induce a sense of discovery, of the self and of the divine.

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Elephanta island, located 11 km from Mumbai, have beautiful carvings, sculptures and a temple of Lord Shiva. The main cave has a 7 mt high bust of ‘Sadhasiva’ that represents three aspects of Shiva, the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. It also has other forms of Shiva like the Ardhnarishwar – The ultimate union of Shiva, the Lord of the universe, with his consort, Parvati. Parvati (Shakti or Uma) is the embodiment of grace and beauty, self-sacrifice and love. Also there is the “Trimurti” idol which is said to be so unique that we can find such ones only at these islands and another one in Nepal. There are 7 caves in total, but there is not so much to see in the other caves than Cave 1. These received the status of a World Heritage Site in 1987.

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16.00 hrs – We made a move towards the Canon Hill, which is like a 20 mins hike from the entrance. There is an old canon placed on top of this hill and it is said that this had been used to protect the sea from the pirates. And one can get a good view of the sea and the mountains surrounding these islands from here. Nothing more to see! 17.00 hrs – We were back in the ferry to be carried back to the Gateway of India. The return journey was more refreshing as we watched the sun set and also some sea birds strolling behind our moving ferry 🙂

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P.S – For more info on the Elephanta Caves, please visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/244

A walk around the iconic monuments of Mumbai..

11.11.2016:

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18.30 hrs – We started walking towards one of the most iconic monument of Mumbai, the Gateway of India. It is a world heritage site that is perpetually frequented by tourists and the locals alike. Built to commemorate George V and Queen Mary‘s visit to Mumbai, this compelling structure by the Arabian Sea is a ‘must visit’. The foundation was laid in 1911 by Sir George Sydenham Clarke, the then Governor of Bombay and the architectural design in the Indo-Saracenic style was fashioned by architect, George Wittet. The structural design of this monument is constituted of a large arch, with a height of 26 m. The monument is built in yellow basalt and indissoluble concrete.

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We walked around the structure and sat on a beach to watch the Arabian Sea with boats and cruises and the tourists and locals clicking selfies or getting instant Polaroid pictures with the iconic monument, and some returning from their visit to the near by Elephanta caves. There are also those Victorian style horse-driven carriages that are available at the Gateway on which we can hop and have a joy-ride. I don’t want to try one as I already tried it at the Victoria in Kolkata 🙂 . Also adjoining the gateway is another landmark of Mumbai, the Taj Palace hotel. One says that there is an interesting story behind the construction of this hotel.

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It is said that Jamshedji Tata (a pioneer Indian industrialist who founded the TATA group) built this hotel after he was refused entry to Mumbai’s grandest hotel then, the Watson’s on racial grounds (since he was not of white skin). It was then that he decided to build a hotel which would give stiff competition to the Watson’s and allow everyone (no matter what the color of the skin).  The original Indian architects were Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza, and the project was completed by an English engineer, W. A. Chambers.

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This hotel has numerous elements that were a first in India then – the main dome is made from the kind of steel that was used in the construction of Eiffel Tower, it had a  steam elevator, imported American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers. And today also, it still remains one of the most grandest hotels of Mumbai. There came a new wing of this hotel called the Taj Mahal tower just beside the Taj Mahal Palace.

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19.15 hrs – Time to relax! What else could be more relaxing than a cool off at the beach? After a long day of journey, shopping and sightseeing, it’s time to sit and enjoy a evening snack 🙂 . We asked the cab driver to leave us at yet another place in Mumbai that reveal its stunning coastline. It’s the Marine Drive – the ideal antidote for sore legs, watch the marine drive transform itself into the ‘Queen’s Necklace’ at night and have a seat while listening to the claiming rhythm of the sea. We walked along the promenade which was occupied by couples, friends and the evening walkers. We also took a seat and watched how the promenade arches into a semicircle of shimmering lights creating a sight that is called the ‘Queen’s Necklace’.

The Splendid beauty of BELUR

10.09.2016:

We started off to our next destination “Belur” which is located at a distance of about 22 km from Halebidu at 3.30 PM. We stopped at the Angels Multi-Cuisine Restaurant, to be frank it’s a Bar-cum-Restaurant, but one can only see the board – Restaurant. It was 4 PM when we entered the restaurant and we ordered our food. Food is a sort of ok, but the service was very slow. I would recommend this one 🙂 🙂

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After a good meal, we resumed our journey and reached Belur which was built by King Vishnuvardhana commemorating his victory over the Cholas at Talakad in 1117 AD. Located on the banks of the river Yagachi, Belur, earlier referred to as Velapuri was the early capital of the Hoyasala Empire.  We walked towards the Raja Gopura (main entrance) and entered the temple complex. The Chennakesava temple or the main temple is situated in middle of the complex facing the east. The temple almost resembles the Hoyasala temple in Halebidu, though it is not overly decorated like the latter. This 500 year old temple which took 103 years for completing its construction is made of soapstone and is made of interlocking components giving it a structural integrity.

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This temple has three entrances with doorkeepers carved on both sides and is pretty dark inside. While the Hoyasala temple at Halebidu doesn’t have much of inner architecture, the Chennakesava (a form of Krishna) temple at Belur is famous for its inner architecture. It is said that the temples were built by the famous sculptor Amarashilpi Jakkanna. There are multiple intricately sculpted pillars supporting the roof and each of the statues on those pillars is different from each other. While one is said to Mohini, the other statue is that of a lady holding a parrot while the other pillar is called the Narasimha pillar. But what attracted me the most is the finely carved ceiling in the main temple hall infront of the sanctum where the Lord Chennakesava is seated.

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The Belur temple is famous for its large size splendid carvings of various Gods and Goddesses on its outer walls. A temple dedicated to Saumyanayaki, which has a Garbhagriha, surmounted by a tower is located to the south-west of the main temple and the Veera Narayana temple raised on an elevated basement is to the west and this temple has beautiful sculptures on its outer walls.

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The temple which is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List has a Kalyani (Tank) in the north east corner of the complex. This tank is also known as Vasudeva Sarovara and the periodical temple rituals are carried out in this tank. The temple complex also has a well, whose water is used for various activities in the temple and a gravity pillar showing the scientific skills of our earlier days. The annual Ratha Yatra at the temple takes place between the months of March and April.

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We also visited the Panduranga temple on our way to Chikmaglur and it was another 30 min drive from Belur to Chikmaglur. It was cool in Chikmaglur and the roads were buzzing with people and vehicles by the time we reached here. Our accommodation was arranged at F.J.Comfort Inn which was located a bit interior and away from the traffic. The receptionist gave us a warm welcome and guided us to our room. It was clean, hygienic and importantly the washroom is clean enough 😀

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We quickly refreshed ourselves and went out for a walk through the streets of Chikmaglur and had our dinner at one of the veg restaurants located on the M.G. Road. The food is alright and as we were too exhausted we went back to our hotel without exploring much. We quickly decided our next day’s plan and asked our driver uncle to be ready by 6 AM in the morning 🙂

Time to sleep 🙂 😉

Agra – The Monument City

Day 2:

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Agra is truly a fortified city. One can find some sort of palaces or forts everywhere around the city. Sometimes, the houses too look like forts or quarters inside a fortified city. Our next visit is to the Agra’s Red Fort, most commonly known as the “Agra Fort” which was built by the great Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century. The fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, described as a “walled city” is huge with its wall standing at a height of 70 feet. It was still raining when we reached here and entered the main gate known as the Delhi Gate; we bought the entrance tickets at the office which stood by the entrance.

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Somehow, I was more impressed with the Agra Fort than the Taj, I don’t know why though! It might not be as famous as the iconic TajMahal, but it is every bit beautiful. It was altogether a different monument than the Taj. Much bigger, as attractive as the Taj, might be less cared than the TajMahal.. A lot of contrasting things! Soon we passed through the Hathi Pol or the Elephant Gate which leads to the walkways and then to the inner chambers. There are lots of rooms, each of them different, but all of them enormous.

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The extensive women’s quarters, vast open areas perhaps where the rulers conducted the durbars (meetings), indoor water cascades and fountains, massive gardens etc makes up most of the interiors of the fort. There is even an enormous square right in the middle of the fort where the Mughals installed a great deep pool.  To my surprise, there was even a prison sort of thing in the inner chambers and it was said that the son of Shah Jahan allegedly locked him up in a section of this Fort, where he lived for the last eight years of his life watching the TajMahal in a distance.

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This fort is a home to a number of palaces such as the Jahangir Palace, built by Emperor Akbar for his son Jahangir and Shish Mahal which was designed with tiny mirrors in its walls and was often used as a dressing room, the Khas Mahal which is built of white marble built by Shah Jahan for his daughters Jahanara and Roshanara. Also the fort is a place for beautiful mosques, Mina Masjid and Nagina Masjid. The balcony has the beautiful view of the Taj and the Yamuna River. Might be these are all the reasons behind me getting attracted to this Fort more than the Taj Mahal. Perhaps the life in these palaces and rooms once upon a time gave me that feeling of liveliness. Nevertheless, am fascinated by this place.

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We were out by 2.30pm and resumed our back journey. On the way we stopped at the most famous chain of restaurants “The Pind Baluchi” for lunch. I would never suggest this place to anyone as they don’t have many of the items on the menu and the service was poor 😦 . The traffic was still heavy on the roads and we stopped at a small sweet shop on the roadside to have a sweet. And I chose Rasamalai, which is one of the best I have tasted so far. So light, not so sweet and fresh 🙂 🙂 . As I was not so fond of sweets, I didn’t try the most famous Agra Peta.. Might be next time, but for now it’s time to go home!

Adieu Agra!! 🙂 🙂

NEYYAR – A dam within the wildlife sanctuary

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Located about 32 km from Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum, Kerala, is a popular picnic spot with a lake and a picturesque dam site. The lake formed by the dam across the Neyyar river has boating facilities for the tourists. Boating is irresistible since the greenery adds to the lake’s beauty and one will not be ready to lose the chance of boating in it.

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The Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary of which the dam is a part is the habitat of various species of fauna like the Asian Elephant, Tiger, deers etc. A crocodile breeding center, deer park and a lion safari park are also located here. Since Neyyar is not a tiger reserve, nature lovers can walk through it. One can do easy hikes along the foothills.

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The sanctuary is part of the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve that was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sanctuary is open throughout the year. November to March is the most pleasant time to visit. June to October brings heavy rain which makes trekking plans unpredictable. But, adventurists who are interested in Monsoon hikes can definitely try this place.

So, backpackers.. Why late? The monsoon already arrived in.. Move on.. 🙂

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