2011-03-29

Halebid-Belur:living with past


It has been a long time that we ventured on NH-48; last time we visited Shravanabelagola in 2009. From then on it was always in discussion to visit Belur-Halebid known for its hoysala architecture. This time we covered both Belur-Halebid along with Chigmanglur on 3 day trip.  We started at 7.10AM from our parking lot and reached Halebid by 12 with two breaks - breakfast at Hotel Mayura and at Hassan for ATM.
Compared to 2009 road was far far better and journey was smooth. Still there are many parts where road work is going on and it is not yet divided 4 lane highway and around Kunigal there are some bad pot holes. On reaching Halebid we hired a guide for 200 INR which was in-fact must to know the details and history. The whole architecture is made of soap stone. He carried small mirror to reflect the sunlight in order to explain intricate details of temple.
Halebid’s patron God is Shiva and the temple was built by the minister in honour of the King and the Queen. This is an incomplete construction where 3 generations of workers have worked but in many places you will notice ‘works in progress. It has suffered most damages amongst the three Somnathpura, Halebid and Belur. Today Helebedu in Kanada literally means ‘an old town’ to reflect its neglected past.   It is unique with its two gigantic figures of Nandi (sacred bull) - One of them houses Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleshwara (King) and the other Shanthaleshwara (Queen). The bulls are decorated in distinct male and female ornaments to reflect whom they belong. The temple walls are covered with figures of men in battles, dancing women, Hindu deities, birds and animals. A stone platform is there at the centre of the hall where queen used to dance for the Lord Chennakeshava. Temple stands in the middle of a peaceful park by the side of a lake.
Our guide enlightened us with an interesting tale that many sculptures were stolen and taken away by the British when they left India and those idols are now gracing homes in England and elsewhere. It takes at least two hours to take a round of the temple exteriors. There is so much to see in just one temple that we completely lost track of time here.
Jain basadi is very near to Hoysaleswara temple which are equally rich in sculptural detail they are famous for its pillars, which are highly polished almost resembling mirrors. First is Parshwanatha basadi- this complex consists of three temples. Famous is the Parswanathaswamy Temple, which has a 14 ft high figure made of black stone. A seven-headed serpent has been imprinted on the head of this figure. Adinathaswamy (central mandir) and Shanthinathaswamy are the other two temples here.
At road end there is Kedareshwara temple but there was no one except us visiting the temple.  Though it shares same architectural elements with its neighbour it is a miniature of the former.
From here we went to Belur at just 16 km apart it is a living town. Entrance to both the Hoysaleshwara temple and the Chennakeshava temple is free. The Chennakeshava Temple in Belur is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and active worship still goes on in this temple while Halebid temple, though open to the public, is no longer in use for devotional purposes. Like the Hoysaleshwara Temple, the Chennakeshavatemple is star-shaped and stands on a platform. Elephants, episodes from the epics, sensuous dancers nothing was left without being carved. Forty-six pillars support the extensive hall, each of a different design. The Narasimha pillar is worth watching.
The sculpted inner & outer walls of the temple tell a tale of dedication and sheer hard work by the craftsmen. Each figure is carved to perfection and straining to come to life any moment. The celestial beauties depict the lifestyles of that time showing dancers, shringar, feeding the pets etc. The walls of the star-shaped temple are literally covered with sculptures in stone that depict the various events in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The star design starts from the platform and goes all the way up the walls and up to the top of the shikhara.
We skipped lunch in order to cover this area and can reach Chikmaglur before dusk. A day is enough to explore both sites if you think you are not too bored with sculptures. In Belur we didn’t hired guide which we regret later.
P.S.  As mentioned by Mr.Bhat the worship continues in Halebid temple.

2011-03-19

With elephants @ Dubare


This year we didn't celebrate Aarush B'day as we moved to our own apartment. Being new to complex we hardly knew anyone to invite.So decided to celebrate his B'day at school which he of-course didn't like much as he didn't receive any gifts and top of it he has to give return gifts to his school mates….which he did so with heavy heart.
We decided to  take him to Dubare elephant camp. We booked for jungle lodges...although bit pricey but worth every penny of it.  Everything is done on time and there are naturalist for every activities as mentioned on their web site. No doubt, Jungle Lodge rocks as they pamper with their services and hospitality.  It was unexpectedly cold in the night for which we were not that well equipped but rest all was too good. Aarush enjoyed and made frienship with Mehul ; he had good time there.  We did spotted some deers and small wild animals and the documentary on Indian Tiger on th evening was too good.
One thing I would like to add is that as said that visitor can give bath to elephants ; its definatley something to experience but elephants do potty as they get into water so it was bit unygenic feeling which didn’t allow me to give them bath with same enthu.
Links

Chokhi Dhani- Jaipur


Last day at Jaipur, today we have kept ourselves more or less free for shopping. Had breakfast at hotel lawn for the first time. The buffet breakfast at Hotel Madhuvan worth only when you have time to enjoy it. We met one Indian family who were travelling from Gujrat for the Diwali weekend to Jaipur and wanted to join us at Chokhi Dhani later in the evening. Around 10 we left for shopping with Mr. Singh. Many shops were closed on account of after Diwali mood but still we managed to hop from one shop to another - Rajasthali, blue pottery shop etc. Then we tried the famous Ram Chandra Kulfi (Indian Ice Cream) in Tripolia Bazaar on way back to hotel for a siesta and left for Sanganer & Chokhi- Dhani around 5ish.
We took Jaipur-Tonk Highway and did more shopping at Sanganer famous for its block printing, screen printers, blue pottery and hand made papers. According to Mr. Singh many store/small factories do not let Indian inside as these stuffs are bit expensive for common Indian and mostly for export.
Choki Dhani basically gives picture of rural life of Rajasthan a miniature theme park. Bit expensive but worth going for the dinner alone. This resort is divided into two sections, one for daily visitors while the other for overnight stays. The first section charges an entrance (350 INR) fee that includes authentic veg Rajasthani dinner with traditional floor seating arrangement and allows the visitors to enjoy traditional rural activities such as tightrope walkers, camel cart rides for minimal fees. There is also an A/C section for food which charges around 700 INR.
Ram Ram Sa!!! Was first thing to hear. First we had dinner there which was wise decision as crowd was getting thicker with time. According to the ticket schedule our dinner time was 10 PM; but as it was around 8 there not much crowd and we got a seat quite easily. The elaborate Rajasthani thali have many varieties of Chapaties (bread) and vegetables which is served until you ask them to stop.
Took few rides to give Aarush exposure of all those village life; different type of Rajasthani folk dance and songs were performed live. The whole place is lighted with modern days lantern but as they are not very bright you get a feeling of going back in time. Over all had nice time and then we were back to hotel around 11.00pm
Next morning had flight back to Banglore in the morning. A bientot!!!!

2011-03-18

Maro des “Rajasthan”


The first thing that struck me about Rajasthan was its roads when I last went in 2000 with my parents. Rajasthan roads are amazing; and they are very well connected interms of bus, train, private cars, even one can hire cars to drive around between different places with in state. This makes travelling in Rajasthan quite safe and less tiring. With good road conditions you can also explore the interiors of Rajasthan.
This fact remains same even today when I visited with my family on oct. 2010. The time from Oct to December is considered ideal to visit Rajasthan, though its high tourist season. One major drawback is they will make feel Indian tourists discriminated infront of westners as they get Tips in foreign currency.
Rajasthan is full of great eating out options from the regular highway dhabas to the most luxurious hotels in India. They have very rich culture interms of dress colour, turbans- they have more than 1000 types and styles of doing the turban, the variations depending on the region, casteand creed  in the society. An array of instruments such as sarangiektara, dhol, chang etc are used to create melodious tunes  as well as variations in folk dances. Camel safari is “must do”  depends if across Thar then its a great way to explore the vastness of the desert. Once you like the culture you feel like pluging deeper and getting mesmerised.
Being  one of the tourist hub it is highly commercialized in almost every aspect of its existence. There are many remote areas mostly nomadic villages, where entertaining the tourists is the only form of livelihood that can be thought of. Also, all tourist attractions charge for photography and videography which is worth but surprising thing is difference in prices for foreigner and indian tourist.
Another thing which I like about this place is they know business very well. If you go for shopping and think that certain thing may have to pay extra at airport then ofcourse you can opt for their courier service which they will do for free. But be aware, certain times complain are there that they send defective piece or change the fabric which you have opted for after it's INDIA where everything can happen.
Santanu is so impressed that he wants to travel again to Rajasthan but with different route probably - Bikaner, Mt.Abu ,Udaipur, Chittorgarh,Kota,Bundi, Ranthambore, Agra back to Jaipur. One thing I would like to add here is with no. of days we have spent there we could have easily covered Bikaner.

2011-03-14

Ajmer-Pushkar

Early morning reached Jaipur from Jaisalmer by train. This time our cab driver from hotel (Madhuban) was waiting and on reaching hotel relaxed  for while.   Before leaving for Jodhpur, we have fixed with Mr. Singh (our reliable cab driver) for this trip to Ajmer-Pushkar. As usual, he was there on time; left hotel room around 8.00am. Had our breakfast on way at small neat and clean dhaba. Road being 6 lane; had very comfort drive and was hardly crowded.
We went first to Kishangarh fort, with Phool Mahal Palace, a heritage hotel along side and Gundalao Lake on the front. This heritage hotel was previously the residence of the Maharajas of Kishangarh. Major part of lake bed is now converted into verdant fields. Area is quite famous for miniature paintings. But being holiday we could not visit any art gallery. Took few snaps and headed towards our next destination.
Soniji Ki Nasiyan at Ajmer is a Digambar Jain temple. The main chamber, known as the Swarna Nagari (City of Gold), has several gold-plated wooden figures, depicting characters in the Jain tradition. The main prayer hall is a separate complex.
From there went to Dargah Sharif of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Being a Diwali day and Friday it was overly crowded. We had to leave camera and shoes outside with a  flower stall and head covering was mandatory. After paying our obeisance we asked for the way to Adhai Din Ka Jhopda, a Vaishnav Hindu temple constructed in 1153 and later converted into a mosque by Qutubudin Aybak in  1193. We went there by walk through a small lanes which are full of small eateries and sweet shops. If you are hygiene freak you might want to skip this part of Ajmer.
Mr. Singh took us to Anasagar Lake, man-made lake to relax and to take a break. It was really refreshing and helped us in gaining our breath break after all those pushing and Ochlophobia in-around Dargah.
Ajmer and Pushkar are two side of common mountain range and distance between them is only 15 KM. We first went to Brahma (the creator of the universe) temple at Pushkar. The best irony of Hindu mythology is Lord brahma is only worshiped in Pushkar in the whole universe as he was cursed by his 1st wife. Two temples of his two wives are at the top of two separate mountain tops and in between is his temple next to Pushkar lake.Unlike dargah, there was hardly any crowd here.
Finally, went  to Pushkar lake where all the house next to lake are painted in blue  to symbolize the Brahmin owner.  Just opposite to lake there is one resto where we had scrumptious Pasta (which was awesome) as lunch. On way back went to see Chota Pushkar nearby and by early evening we were at Jaipur city to celebrate Diwali.  Took a walk on residential area nearby our hotel  and had dinner thereafter.This was Aarush's first hand experience of Diwali in North India where sounds from crackers are louder compared to South.

2011-03-11

Jaisalmer


We reached Jaisalmer early morning around 4.00am.Going from station to hotel is another headache if you don’t have pick-up service particularly at wee hours. We didn't had that service from hotel as it was extra 100INR so on reaching station we found, 10 people surrounded us even they don’t allow couples to talk among themselves.  Finally hired one for 40 INR to go to Deoki Niwas hotel. When we reached, we literally had to wake them up. It’s newly started so spic n span with good service and breakfast.
After rest around 10.00am we went to Satyajit Ray's “sonar kella” - Jaisalmer fort where we hired a guide who took us around.  This palace is made of yellowish sandstone, crowned by several ornate Jain temples. Many of the houses and temples are finely sculptured.  It is only living fort and about a quarter of city's population still live inside the fort. The main attractions inside the fort are: Raj Mahal (Royal palace), Jain temples and the Laxminath temple and four massive gates. It is filled with many artistic structures and monuments of historical importance.
Other then this there are havelis like: Patwon-ki-Haveli is ornate five-storey complex took fifty years to complete. This is the largest, magnificent and the most elaborate of Jaisalmer havelis. Among others are Nathmalji-ki-Haveli, Salam Singh-ki-Haveli, Haveli Shreenath. We covered this havelis by walk as they are very close by. Some of the doors and ceilings are wonderful examples of old carved wood from many hundreds years ago. Some of the doors have brass or iron fittings. Certain facade is a riot of ornamentation: flowers, birds, elephants, soldiers, a bicycle and even a steam engine. These havelis have countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies and some have still lived in by the families that built them.
We had our late lunch near entrance to fort at Little Italy(nothing great). Then in afternoon 4PM we booked for desert safari they took us to Lodhurva. Lodhurva is famous for its Jain temples which are build with same yellow stones. There is a Kalpavriksha or the celestial tree build with metals which replaced the original tree died.  Since we didn’t book for any camel safari beforehand (I mean it was on spot) so kind of they cheated us by stopping quite before the actual Sam sand dune and they wanted us to go by camel. 2-3 KMs before reaching actual point of san dune we saw sun set and on reaching spot it was already dusk I was very depressed being cheated in this way as we went to see sunset only but Santanu-Aarush had nice time with first experience on camel ride.
With heavy heart we returned to Jaisalmer fort and had dinner at 8th July run by an Indian who resides in Australia. The highly personalized service of Mrs. Rama Bhatia ensuring that you get absolutely home cooked food hygienically prepared. Jags has an in-depth knowledge of shayri and old Hindi film music. Although it is slightly expensive but I guess one needs to pay a little extra for clean and tasty food.
Next morning Santanu went alone to see Gadisar Lake as Aarush was sleeping. Then after breakfast leisurely we checked out around 10.30am and went again to fort after taking one round of fort;  went to 8th July restaurant where Mrs. Rama Bhatia was already in work we took the best location with wonderful views of the palace under shade (its Veg resto and offers fresh alphanzo mango juice- tall glass). The restaurant is near Dussera pol gate and opposite the Palace. We ended up having lunch and packed food for dinner and returned to hotel to pick our luggage as he had our tain back to Jaipur at 4.00pm.It was our 2 day one night trip.
TIP: Only one night  is enough for Jaisalmer or or at the most 2 night stay if one likes to stay in sand dunes. Sam sand-unes is highly commercialised. In last 10 years, it has changed a lot. Some suggested  Khuri a village 45 km south west of Jaisalmer as better location for Sand dunes. Train (#4060) does not have a pantry car so please pick your dinner before leaving Jaisalmer.

2011-03-09

Jodhpur-II


We started early morning after breakfast around 8 .00am. But luck is always not in favour we got one nasty cab driver unlike Jaipur. Although hired cab through hotel and asked to take us to Osyian but he insisted on going to majestic sandstone palace of Umaid Bhawan. Before going there he took us to shops for early morning shopping but we didn’t.(they get commission when they take clients to their choice of place). Anyways, on reaching there we found that it was not yet open so we had to wait till it get opened. One part of this palace is converted to 5-star hotel, in second part king stays and third part is museum which is open to public.
From here we asked him to take us to Osyian famous for cluster of ruined brahmanical and jain temples dating from the 8th to 11th centuries. He took us to Sachiya mata temple but insisted to take one guide of his choice which we didn’t like but we had to. They are beautifully designed in terms of architecture. For entering the Sachiya Mata temple complex, there are series of magnificently sculpted arches.Outside walls of temple are beautifully sculpted with different dieties. Along with these there are many small temples around like jain temple, surya temple, vishnu temple, shiv mandir, pippala devi temple and harihara temple. The temples are raised on huge plinths. Almost every space in the temples is sculpted to a great extent. The temple ceilings were conceived by quite an imaginative mind and are decorated with lace like motifs.
Osyian holds a great significance for the Jain community.From top to bottom of temple they highly and beautifully carved-worth visiting this place. It takes almost 2 hrs to cover these area.
It was almost noon when we left for mandore garden which is said to be maiden place of Queen Mandodri, wife of King RAVAN of Shri Lanka.It is highly neglected site but fine piece of architecture. It houses cenotaphs and memorials of many rulers which is worth seeing. The garden also has a baoli and a hall of heroes that consists of 15 carved figures. These figures carved out of single  red sandstone.As it was too hot we had icecream here.
Then went towards Meherangarh fort but again our cabdriver insisted us to do shopping of his choice and took us to 2-3 places then lastly seeing our irritated face he went straight to fort. It is one of the largest fort with massive ramparts built around the edges. We hired a guide here  who took us around showing intricate carvings of moti mahal, sheesh mahal, phool mahal, zenana deodi, chamunda mataji temple, museum having exquisite collection of palanquins, elephant howdahs, armoury, paintings,music instrument,turbans etc. Entry to fort is through many gates like: jai pol, fateh pol, dedh kamgra pol, loha pol. Top of fort gives a breath taking view of  blue city of brahmapur. Basically, those who are brahmins they paint outside wall of their house in blue color. One can see winding roads to and from city. We had late lunch within fort campus as we did not wanted to take our cab-driver to place of his choice. It was almost 5.00pm
Then we asked him to take to Jaswant thada to which he said it is closed as already 5.00  but we also now insisted on going there.Truly, about to close but seeing us coming running they allowed us to which we are highly obliged. It is again architectural landmark made of white marble. These marbles are extremely thin, polished and intricately carved so that they emit a warm glow when the sun's rays dance across their surface.
From here we straight came to hotel as we had already checked out in morning; we wanted to take shower to freshen ourself so on request they gave us one room for 1hr.We had dinner innearby mall at Mc.Donald.Today we had late night train to Jaisalmer.

2011-03-06

Shravanabelagola - 18th October 2009


Me and Aarush just returned a day before Santanu’s birthday from Durg and he wanted an excuse from strenuous week at IIM-B and we ended up planning to visit Shravanabelagola right after Diwali day. Unlike his earlier trip he just had a casual look at the route map to Shravanabelagola, it is a religious spot, a Jain pilgrimage centre. The place is famous for 58ft. high monolithic stone statue of the Lord Gommateshwara.
Yeshvantapur -> Neelamangala -> Kunigal -> Shravanabelagola
Morning 6.30AM we started; roads were full of potholes from Yeshvantapur with flyover construction still going on till Neelamangala where we lost route after taking 2 U- turns ended up asking locals then got into right road(NH-48) but that was again full of pot holes.We had breakfast at Hotel Mayura on the way, it was almost 11; Aaursh enjoyed their play area.
Then we headed straight towards our destination and reached Shravanabelagola without much problem as roads were marked properly. The two stony hills called Chandragiri and Indragiri on either side with lake in between makes famous Jain pilgrimage center. Just within gate you will find a paid toilet and shoe stand where you have to leave your shoes and climb up this hill by foot. Flight of about 660 steps to the top, cutout in the rock, people of all ages climb these steps. For elderly or handicapped people there is a palanquin transport service available to avoid the strenuous hike. These rough rock cut steps are steep at places; we had socks on our feet as the rock gets hotter as with days. We began the climb and stopped in-between to get our breath back and took some pictures. It took  around 30 - 40 minutes to reach the top. On the way up, we found breathtaking views of the Chandragiri temple and the lake in-between.The huge statue of Bahubali and the view around is stunning. It is carved beautifully from a single block of rock with accurate sense of proportion and expression. All the 42 Tirthankaras carved figures are there in the corridor around the quadrangle. The Downhill was more enjoyable, as you had to court gravity and slope.It is equally steep so better be careful !!!

Took about 30 mins to reach the base of Vindhyagiri.There are numerous homely Marwari / Jain food available in the nearby lane on left side while you enter from the gate I strongly suggest you plan your lunch either here in one of these since its a different experience OR best is to have free lunch at Official  bhojanalay. Small by-lane next to gate on inner side along the office goes straight to Dharamshala with a big gate where after giving donation you can have lunch which is served to you in rows umpteen times.

After having lunch here, we went to the place where Chandragupta breathed his last named Chandragiri (Chikkabetta) hill. It is a small hill is located just opposite to the Vindhyagiri hill. It has memorials to numerous monks and shravakas who have meditated there. Steps have been cut out in this hill and the ascent is not different from Vindhyagiri. After spending there till 4.00pm we started our journey back home via Mandya. Aarush went to sleep as soon as car started to roll. The road via Mandya was better as there was not much traffic and not those potholes even. Aarush woke up next day around 9AM a record which we still recollect.
TIP: Carry pair of socks to avoid buying there so that if needed one can use it as with sun's brightness rocks tend to become hot making it almost impossible to climb bare feet.

Day 3 - Rishikesh

The weather looked gloomy with an overcast sky as we woke up. We had breakfast at the hotel and decided to visit Rishikesh today. Again we...