ART PEACE

tapping the creative 'right' side of my brain

Archive for the tag “tourism”

Nallamala Forest

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us” – Anonymous

A quick getaway is what I needed after zombie-ing in and out of my laptop from 9 to 5 and making the one hour commute to vegetate in front of the TV till I drop dead only to rise and shine again and rinse and repeat.

Heading to the Nallamala forest for this short trip. Nallamala is a dense forest range in the Eastern Ghats of India with multiple tiger reserves and varied flora and fauna. Uranium deposits have been found there now, so before the whole place becomes radioactive – politically and otherwise; let me enjoy the beauty. We had a lovely monsoon season so the forest is going to be lush and alive – hoping to see some tigers on the way 🙂

Entering Nallamala

The first stop is Mallela Teertham waterfalls. We go through a muddy pathway through a village and cotton fields to reach there.

Loved the monsoon clouds which made the entire trip so picturesque. Mallela Theertham is yet again a religious site\waterfall as it is believed that many saints and rishis have performed penance here and Lord Shiva content with their devotion appeared here and blessed them. Some 350 steps in the lush green forest takes you down to the waterfalls. This is also the source for Krishna river.

Meditation is definitely possible in this place. I hope I gathered some energy from here which would help restore my sanity. Next stop – Srisailam – the shrine of Lord Shiva who is in the form of Lord Mallikarjuna with his consort Goddess Bhramarambadevi.

Enroute Srisailem Dam
Entering Srisailem

As it was Navratri and the festivities were on. By the time we reached Srisailam it was almost evening so we decided to take a stroll in the market place rather than relax and I am glad we did that. The whole place was lit up and bustling with food and people of all sorts.

Somewhere in the distance I could hear drums rolls and was just drawn towards it. The procession had just started from the temple. Navratri is the celebration of good over evil. During these 9 nights and 10 days Goddess Durga is worshiped in all her nine forms. Each day the Devi is ornamented in the respective form and brought out for a stroll among the people along with the presiding deities of the temple.

Glimpse of the procession on Youtube

After an evening full of amusement and morning full of worship, time to move into the deeper parts of the jungle.

Some more of the countryside

I wonder what this crop is? These are infact the big leaves from a small tree which they are hanging to dry them up.

Country style homemade food…. as we were crossing villages in the forest area there were very less options for lunch. The best one however was the one below. They had transformed their veranda into a dining area and provide homemade local food 🙂

Next stop Ahobilam – an oldest Vaishnava shrine

Om Namah Shivay!!!

The Kumbh Mela – Amavasya and the Mystics

“Surrender in spite of freedom – is the way of wisemen” – Swami Chinmayananda

I woke up startled with bells ringing in my head. The first thought – “Why am I sleeping, I planned to come here 6 months ago to witness the splendors of the Mela?” I jumped out of bed in a cold Feb morning at 4AM got ready and found myself in front of one of the platoon bridges. That is when it dawned on me that my marathon walk for today has started.

People kept pouring in day and night

I was walking like a white walker but that didn’t stop me. I have to see whatever is left of those processions which started at midnight and have my dip.

These processions are called “Peshvai of the Akhadas”.

Peshvai means presenting. All the saints arrive here in huge groups and a procession is carried out in honor of this occasion.

Akhadas\Akharas are monastic places of practise with facilities of boarding, lodging and training. They follow a Guru-Shishya(teacher-disciple) tradition. In the 8th century Adi Shankaracharya divided these ascetics into two groups: Shastra-dhari – scripture bearers\intelligentia; and Astra-dhari – weapon bearers\warriors.

Witnessing the huge crowds I got into thinking – Why taking a dip during Mouni Amavasya is so important? Let me note down all the reasons which surfaced after my intense research, YES I ended up reading lots of online sources and half of a book to understand this.

— A dip in the river on Mouni Amavasya eternally blesses the soul. The soul is cleansed of all sins and also gives the person mystical powers as it helps them get detached from the infinite cycle of life and death.

— It is believed that a space opens up between our world and the spiritual world at the point of the confluence and taking the dip helps the soul step out of the human body and attain a deeper meaning in life.

— It is also believed that the universe was created on this day, when the Sun and Moon enters the Capricorn sign. A vow of silence (Maun Vrat hence “Mouni”) on this day is assumed to control our senses. Practicing austerities is believed to purify the individual existence and observing a vow of silence (Maun Vrat) is the simplest way to do it.

— This all made sense to me but why would lakhs of ash cladden sadhus from the Himalayas come down for just a dip? The Sadhus or the holy men perform austerities\penance to attain a higher self and this takes a lot of years of practise and discipline. To make the body live long (longer than 100years) they turn to alchemy which is one way but they end up utilizing a lot of their energy in this process. The other easier way is to take a holy dip on Mouni Amavasya when the Sangam water itself turns into Amrit – nectar of immortality. This way they get to retain their energy for a higher purpose.

View of the Sangam from ghats

Moving on to the Mystics I met in Kumbh. This was the only trip for which I didn’t know what to expect, the only planning I did was to book a funny room for 4 days, apart from that I had no idea what we were going to do but everyone I met there had contributed somehow to my soul searching.

The boatman (resembled Modi-our Prime Minister) who knew so much about the history of Prayagraj and remembered the names of every ruler. The 1 hr boat ride was filled with stories.

The boatman on Yamuna river

Bob Miller and Golu – We met Bob Miller fondly known as Baba Miller, in the camp where we were staying. I met him over breakfast one day and we got into talking about meditation and how it helped in his evolution. Till now I had only read about all these techniques and experiences and here he was – the one who had gone through those processes and experienced it all. It felt as if the Universe was conspiring against me and asking me to resume my meditation practise which I did – taking Bob’s advice and started doing the 20 mins of Cat and Mouse Hole Meditation. It definitely helps in overcoming the distractions and in keeping the monkey mind at rest.

Bob Miller and Golu

Coming to Golu, the kid in the picture. Golu and his family are the caretakers of this Someshwar Temple to which Bob visited one day and made friends with Golu. Golu showed Bob an old American dollar coin. Bob thought it was an antique coin which could help Golu get some money so he took some pictures of the coin and sent it to his friend in US. Turned out it was an imitation coin. By this time Bob had grown fond of Golu so wanted to give him some money but Golu and his family didn’t understand Bob’s New York English and neither did he understand Hindi. So this is when he came to me so that I can be the translator for him and make them understand why he wanted to give the boy $50. We went to Golu’s home and sorted out everything and came out all smiles.

This got me thinking about the karmic debt we all had – that one person had to fly all the way from US to give this boy some money and I had to be the witness for this transaction. Everything is connected – all we have to do is meditate to gain that higher conscious to understand the connection.

Naga sadhu of Juna Akhada

The Naga sadhu who signalled and called me and told me not to be afraid. He blessed me with Vibhoti. I wondered if he saw through my inner fears?

The hippie sadhus, I wondered what the symbol on his chest represent. Did some digging on internet to find out that the symbol was used to represent alchemy mainly the philosopher’s stone. Philosopher’s stone was one of the sought after stone in ancient times, believed to turn any ordinary substance to shining gold. However as per the esoteric science Pholosopher’s stone represents the golden light of the soul which slowly transforms the lower self into a purified instrument of divinity. Circles often represent the spiritual because they have no end. The triangle is a representation of the union of body, mind and soul. And the four corners means to see equally in four directions – up, down, in and out – and to be whole, complete and free.

And there I was thinking it was the sign of “Deathly Hallows” from Harry Potter … 🙂

And then there was Swami Sarvamukhanandaji from Belur Math who said that all the austerities mean nothing if we again got into the race of achieving something in this material world because all we should strive for is to free ourselves from them.

Swami Sarvamukhanandji

I never thought I would exchange numbers with a Swamiji but that is what apparently happens @ The Kumbh 🙂

Rudrabhishekam @Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram

For a glimpse of Rudrabhishekam Mantra chanting @Maharishi Mahesh Ashram: click here & here

Time to get back to the material world and try to implement whatever I have learnt\gained here.

Beautiful paintings @Prayagraj railway station

Some more ….

I am definitely coming back after 6 years but in the meantime I am also looking forward to the Kumbh Mela – also regarded as “world’s greatest theological symposium”, only this time @Haridwar in 2022.

Om Namah Shivay !!!

The Kumbh Mela – Yoga and Akharas

” It feels good to be lost in the right direction”- Anonymous

The Kumbh Mela @Prayagraj, the biggest congregation of spiritual pilgrims. Prayagraj hosted the 2019 Kumbh Mela from 14th Jan 2019 till 4th March 2019 at the Triveni Sangam – the confluence of Maa Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.

The legend behind the Kumbh Mela dates back to medieval Hindu era when due to a curse by sage Dhurvasa the Devas(gods) had lost their powers. They went to Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva who directed them to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then instructed them to churn the Ksher-sagar(ocean of milk) and obtain  Amrit(nectar of immortality). Thus advised by Lord Vishnu the Devas made peace with Asuras(demons) and started churning Ksher-sagar. Mount Mandara was used as a churning rod and Mahadev’s serpent Vasuki offered to serve as the rope for churning. Lord Vishnu himself had to take an avatar of the Kurma(tortoise) to help in the process. At first came the halahal(poison) which was consumed by Lord Shiva. Subsequently whatever came was divided between Devas and Asuras as per agreement. Finally came the Amrit in a kumbh(pot). Devtas didn’t want to share Amrit with Asuras hence Garuda took the pot and flew away. Meanwhile Devas and Asuras fought for 12 days. (12 day of Devas = 12 year for humans) During this war Amrit spills on earth in 4 places – Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. The story ends with the Devas drinking the Amrit and defeating the Asuras. According to the legends during the Kumbh mela time due to the planetary positions of Jupiter, Sun and Moon the water in the respective rivers acquire certain mystical powers. It is believed the waters of these rivers turn into Amrit during this time.

The Sanskriti Gram entrance @Prayag Kumbh Mela depicting the Samudra Manthan

Millions of people come here to Triveni to take dip in these holy waters – to wash off their sins, to attain moksha or for a healthy and long life – and I was one of them…

We reached Prayagraj on the Feb 2nd and were greeted by a colourful and artistic town with clean roads. We had a smooth traffic free ride from the airport to the camp which we had booked for the next 4 days. And I thought all this talk about traffic jams and millions of people on the roads was just a hype but boy… was I wrong!!!

A casual stroll to the ghats as it was already evening. The Ghats were reverberating with sounds of drums and mantras from the opposite side of the river – where the Kumbh Mela was set up.

The view of Sangam from Arail Ghat

Braving the cold weather people had already started taking their holy dips.

Day 2

While strolling yesterday evening we came across a signboard which said Swami Ramdev would be conducting free yoga camp. So we decided to go there first. We reached by 7AM for some early morning yoga with Baba Ramdev.

It is so exhilarating to listen to anything he has to say. He even managed to get some follower to join him.

After a refreshing yoga, some hot tea and a light breakfast it was time to start the kumbh journey 🙂 We walked till the ghats in the quest of finding the Mahatma’s. Took a boat from Arail Ghat which dropped us at the Triveni ghat.

Boat ride on the Yamuna river

Prayagraj Red Fort in the backdrop

Triveni Ghat is where our marathon started. We went in search for the Akharas, Naga babas, Sanyasis or popularly known as The Mahapurushas. One true thing about India – ask atleast 5 people for the route but still make your own decision. Google maps is also not a bad idea but in places like the Kumbh Mela not sure how much it will help. After wondering for about an hour in the hot sun we got to the Triveni Marg platoon bridge.

Platoon Bridge

It was not only the humans who had flocked to Prayagraj but also the Siberian Seagulls who had travelled all the way from Siberia flying over Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet and over the Himalayas. Their presence in the Ganga basin was mesmerizing.

Finally we were near the Akharas…. to finally get some blessings from the Mahapurush themselves.

You could see pilgrims approaching the babas and sharing their life troubles or ask for health remedies or seek spiritual guidance or simply seek their blessings. The four major categories of sadhus that come to the mela are: Nagas, Vairagi, Udasi and the Nirmala. They are further organized into different “Akharas”. All the babas had a name, only if I had knowledge enough and a notebook to note their names down. There were many babas who had a strong aura – I dared not take their pics, I did take some just from the side. Some of these head crown weigh upto 45 kilograms.

Naga Sanyasi – Barfani Baba

This baba has kept his hand at 90 degrees since 15 years

Naga Sadhus – the baba in the middle has his hand in air since 3 years

Display of arms at one of the Akharas

Snake charmers entertaining the naga sadhus inside the Akharas

To read more about the Naga Sadhus – Click here

The plan was to stay the night and see the Naga Sadhus take their dip at the sangam but my body had already reached its limits. After much contemplation we decided to head back to the camp and try our luck the next day. We had walked almost 15 kms by now and it was just another 12kms ahead of us to reach the camp… 😐

Pilgrims taking a dip at the designated bathing ghats

Airavat Entrance of the Kumbh Mela

We dragged our self to the camp – ate and called it a day. Again with no plan of when we want to start the next day. Tomorrow is “Mouni Amavasya” – one of the main bathing dates. The sadhus are here for that, the sanyasis are here for that, crores of people are here for that and me too. But I had to rest this body for today.

Chalo Kumbh Chale …

Om Namah Shivaya!!!  

Restoration

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” – John Muir

Trips like these restore my hope for humanity. There are abundant trees to produce oxygen and abundant rains to fight water scarcity. So no worries !!!! Chasing the monsoons we decided to go to the Wettest place on earth, that is Cherrapunjee or locally known as Sohra. This is one place with only one season- monsoon ranging from high-medium to low. The surroundings are mostly dotted with towering Khasi hills and valleys beyond your horizon.

Guwahati Airport

The 3 hr long flight dropped us in Guwahati from where we took a shared taxi Rs 500/per person to Shillong. The roads start winding from here itself and our driver wasn’t going any slow. I kept hearing tires screeching and kept praying the whole time. Whoever said Bangalore has the worst traffic should visit Shillong. It took us 35 mins to make a U turn.

Shillong traffic

Looks like they are just getting started on women empowerment…

We reached Cherrapunjee by hiring another taxi from Shillong. And the winding roads continue…

As soon as we meandered towards Sohra the mist started following us, we were at the mercy of the mist now, we see what it feels like revealing.

I was out of words witnessing the lush greenery and the misty landscape.

And then it started raining….

The day ends early here, so we had lunch by 7pm and called it a day. It was raining the whole night.

I guess they don’t even know what pollution means or even heard of it…

Time for being the tourist and do some sight seeing, there is almost no public transport so you have to either walk or hire a taxi. I would have preferred walking but it was pouring like hell so we hired a cab and I am glad we did. Why? The time to do sightseeing in Cherapunjee is when it is raining, as soon as it stops raining the mist take over and blocks your views and plus we could throw some extra clothes in the bags which were helpful later.

The Nohsngithiang Falls(can’t pronounce) or popularly called the Seven Sister falls – our first stop

The Seven Sister Falls

Before the misty curtains drop on it we managed to enjoy the beauty of these falls. It is 315m\1033ft. Some say it gets its name because of the seven streams of falls but our driver Kynpham – again a name I can’t pronounce… well said it gets its name because of the seven steps in which they fall.

Next stop – Mawsmai Caves

Nature at its best

It’s all dark in here and I loved the fact hey kept the sanctity of it by not lighting up the place.

There are stalagmites and stalactites, its dark, and wet and slippery and you will be drenched as water falls from everywhere. Its a 15-20 mins long dark cave, the experience was nerve racking in a fun way. And finally some light….

Where do you think these steps lead to? Maybe to a yogi’s ashram or hideout of somebody like Bigfoot. There were many of these in the woods….

Next stop : Nohkalikai Falls

This beautiful falls has a gory story to tell.

Story:

Ka Likai was a Khasi tribe woman and wife of a porter. The porter died at work one day and left Ka Likai to fend for herself and her daughter. With her daughter being an infant and no source of income to fend for herself, Ka Likai herself became a porter and remarried. Ka Likai used to spend most of the time with her daughter after work which made the husband jealous of the daughter to an extent that he started hating her.

One day when Ka Likai was at work the husband overcome by sheer jealousy kills the child and serves her as food to Ka Likai on return. Ka Likai is not surprised to see the child at home thinking she must be with some neighbor as usual and heartily devours the food.

Later when Ka Likai realized what she had unknowingly done, she went into a fit of rage and sadness. Ka Likai ran to the cliff  of the waterfall and jumped to her death, thus the name, Nohkalikai – “Noh” meaning Jump, Jump of Ka Likai. 

If you looked closely at the falls… every drop seemed like a wailing white ghost was jumping from the top. Maybe it was the effect of the spine-chilling story I just read but there was such sadness in this beauty.

Time to move on …. now that the rains had stopped we have to rely on our luck. Mist will now claim the region and if you are lucky it will reveal the beauty of the hills.

Next stop: Arwah Lumshynna Cave

Ok now this was an insane one. Arwah Cave is now the world’s longest sandstone cave at 24,583m with fossils from upto 30 million years ago. Only a small part of it has been opened to tourists though. A small rocky road take you to the caves and then you have to walk 1km or less to reach the cave.

On our way we saw two sign boards; 1) Pleasant Path and 2) Rugged Trail. We took the rugged path 🙂 … and after climbing the dense forest hill for 10 mins we realized there is no path… 🙂 but we kept going on.

The thick foliage was turning out from being creepy to dangerous. What if a snake bites me or if a jaguar or fox comes out from the bushes, with all these thought we kept going on…..

Some beautiful flora…. I am glad I didn’t see any fauna else you wouldn’t have no post to read.

Oh some steps going down … finally I am reaching my destination….

Still no destination …. I discovered a waterfall 🙂 and this was the dead end. We were in no mood to retrace and go back so we decided to follow the waterfall and see where it takes us…..another crazy decision….

It did lead us to civilization but it wasn’t a fun ride down …. 🙂

Somehow we reached the cave entrance with some people laughing at us and with some looking at us with suspicion ….. you know the way we tumbled down to the pleasant path.

Arwah is a long, peaceful and dark cave. I have used some Photoshop techniques to lighten the image.

No more rugged trail going back….. this is the view we missed by not taking the pleasant path.

Next Stop: Bri Ki Synrang Park popularly known as Mawdohnud (feel free to pronounce them as you like, for me it was a park filled with small waterfalls)

Known as Ka Bri Ki in the Laitmawsiang village, this area is a combination of Caves ,Waterfalls and rock/stone formations. You reach the park going through the village which is quite interesting

The village has a huge playing ground and sports center but the kids are happy playing their marble game ….

From inside the Asdad Falls

Some more waterfalls…. I don’t remember those tongue twister names anymore… but one thing I know, there is enough water for everyone one of us 🙂

The day ends very early here as the clouds take their position and its time for rains again.

Most of the businesses here are run by women as tourism and some government jobs are the only source of employment for the locals here so most of the men migrate to cities for a livelihood. You find strong, charming and ever smiling Khasi women in all the establishment.

A vegetarian paradise – Orange Roots and below is the final waterfall on our way back to Shillong ..

This is called the Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew (or “Three Steps Waterfalls”) popularly known as Elephanta falls– the name given by some British who obviously couldn’t pronounce it.

One of the cleanest places I have see with easygoing and smiling Khasi people. I wish I had some more time here or I wish I was born here where everything moves at a snails pace. I wish I stayed naive as the kids in the below snap, this place felt like the home I always wanted to have…..

Khublei (farewell) Sohra!!!

Diversity Trip-Jammu

I am referring to this as diversity trip as we visited three places this Diwali to witness three different cultures which we so so different from each other. Ranging from the devout Hindus to the slow moving peaceful Tibetan Buddhists to the feisty Sikhs.

Let me again remind everyone reading this, Global Warming is a true thing, it was Diwali time (October time) and we went to Jammu, the northern most state in India which is known for being one of the coldest parts in India buttt…. it was no less than an inferno. In my anticipation of the cold climate I packed all my woolens and hauled it throughout the trip. Hmmm…. next time I am not getting afraid of the cold anymore, don’t think its cold anywhere in the world anymore!!!

Our first stop was the disputed land of Jammu Kashmir, as Kashmir is currently occupied by Pakistan, we are left only with Jammu.  I presumed Jammu to be like Switzerland, cold and snow peaked mountains in every direction but as I said it is all hot-hot-hot. The best part of the 3 hours we spent in Jammu the fascinating differently shaped Shiv Linga’s (no photography is allowed inside the temples so you just have to believe me) in the Ranbireshwar and Raghunath temple.

The weird looking tasty-tasty pani puri, Kavadi kulcha (if you have to taste authentic street food in India – you should turn a blind eye to the hygiene) and the beautiful shawls and sweater in the markets. Living in south I don’t need shawls yet I ended up buying two of them.

From Jammu we took a bus and by late in the evening reached Katra – this is the place from where our actual 35 km journey begins. The markets were bustling with tourists and shops selling dry fruits among other things.

We will be trekking this tomorrow

Day 2

This day is going to test our patience and perseverance, have a 35 km trek ahead of us which we decided to complete in a day . Bought ourselves walking sticks and started the climb to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine.

The other options

Look at their rhythm

The journey to the Shrine cave of ” Mata Vaishno Devi “begins with the blessing of Mata. It is not only a belief but also a strong experience of one  that the godly Mother sends a call or Bulawa to her devotees. And once you get the Bulawa\call all you need to do is start the journey from the Trikuta foothills and Mata will make sure you reach her abode and grant all you wishes.

Every step of the way is filled with stories, click here to read the full story of Mata Vaishno Devi.

Our final destination

I always wonder when going to such places, is the journey more important or the destination. Even though you start your journey with full vigor after a certain point your mind totally calms down and you end up thinking more than talking. I find many answers to questions which have been bothering me for a while. At the end of such journey’s I come out with a renewed commitment list.

One of the best part of the trek apart from the trek was the music coming out of those Bose speakers –  the valley is filled with tonnes of them and makes your trek all the more spiritual.

The way back was filled with dry fruit shops and many more collectible shops but I am exhausted to even take pictures.Can’t explain in words how exhausted I was after 10 hrs of walking and we still had 4 more hrs ahead of us.

It’s time to get back, bought some lovely Kashmiri pashmina shawls and beautifully embroidered tops – again exhausted to take pics and plus I was walking like Frankenstein.

The dry riverbeds – Global warming again!!! I wonder how these would look like in rainy season.

Next destination: McLeod Ganj – Dharamshala

Varanasi

The world is becoming noisier and heading towards global warming and I have been a witness to both this year. This year has been the noisiest year for me so far. The apartment we moved to in the city – feels like I am living in a subway station, even all the places we visited this year – there was so much honking, drilling, hammering and pounding. So this year for me is – Noisy @ 16 !!!

We wanted to visit Varanasi during this Diwali but as the flight charges were sky rocketing we went there after Diwali, I had packed most of my woolens as after Diwali northern India gets really cold, but to my surprise it wasn’t cold at all, we witness a pleasant temperature – good for us; but this made me realize that global warming is for real and we have to do something about it -if we can.

We landed in Varanasi and took a cab to the main ghat areas where we had booked our guest house, our cab driver Mr Pintoo not only made us feel safe but also told us where we should go, what we should do and not do and finally we ended up booking him for the rest of our trip. We were dropped at a point some 500mts away from the ghats as no motorized vehicles are allowed near the ghats. We entered the famous gallis (alleys) of Varanasi, they do look creepy – some of them so be cautious but its exciting as well.

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A labyrinthine set of galli’s(alleys) landed us near our guest house – Sita Guest House

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My first thoughts – “where is the guest house, I could only see the water in the ghats”

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So this is front face of the guest house and the one marked in blue was our room with the Ganges view. There is no lift and yo do have to climb those steep stairs to reach the room but once you reach there its all worth it.

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Early morning boat rides and swimmers – this was the best part of the day for me, waking up to a sunrise right across the river – the cool breeze and happy people enjoying their baths/rides.

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Varanasi is a spiritual city, where Hindus go to pray, wash away their sins and honor their dead on the banks of the Ganges. Dying in Varanasi is seen as auspicious, as it ends the cycle of rebirth.

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The morning visitor – (kingfisher probably, not sure??) who fearlessly sat along with us enjoying the sunrise.

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The famous Dashashwamedha Ghat

The walk along the ghats revealed the artistic side of the city.

graffiti

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painters

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The collectible shop – Assi ghat

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Itihaas cafe at Assi ghat where the food is good and so is the ambiance.

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Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat

We actually took a boat ride in the evening and while coming back he stopped the boat in the middle of the river so that we can see the aarti from the riverside and that was heavenly.

Most of our day 3 morning went into finding an ATM with cash in it, because of the recent demonetization in India there were fewer ATMs with cash and in Varanasi most the businesses don’t accept cards.

 We spent the entire evening relaxing at the BHU Vishwanath Temple which is a replica of the main Kashi Vishwanath temple – a little or far bigger in size 🙂 and a marvel in marble.

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The walls are inscribed with illustrations from the scriptures and their explanations – which caught my attention.

birla-temple

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Market outside BHU Birla temple.

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Away from the ghats, the streets are busy, crowded and dusty. You get to see a lot of diversity in this place, with boys playing cards near the ghats, people washing clothes on the ghats, people praying at the ghats, boat riders constantly offering you a boat ride – not free of charge of course, women preparing local delicacies on the doorways in the galli’s, restaurants serving Italian, French, Spanish and German food, priests performing puja, foreigner’s looking for spiritual experiences, foreigner hippies looking for ….(you know what I am saying), cows here and there, hordes of old people on the streets who have come here and are waiting to die here so that they can attain moksha,  people carrying dead bodies to the ghat, burning corpses, floating corpses in the Ganges.

Varanasi is a very special place. It is the oldest city in the world located along the banks of the River Ganges which is dripping with history and spirituality. This is one of the main holy places for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

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The 80ft, Buddha statue in Sarnath

And finally the famous Blue Lassi shop, I have never had such mixed feeling while enjoying a mere lassi. This is a small shop in one of the galli’s near Manikarnika ghat (usually where the dead bodies are burnt). So I have my lassi in my hand and I am thinking UMMMM….. and right then I see some people taking a dead body to the ghats for cremation , which made me feel guilty about enjoying something – I try to shred the thought and again UMMMM……and there goes another dead body. Finally after seeing 4 of those I quickly finished my drink and shot out of that place.

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And then again there is this early morning sunrise which makes you forget everything and you fall in love with this place all over again.

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Om Namah Shivay !!!

Himalayas – Kedarnath

So it’s the festival season in India, with Dussehra and Diwali coming back to back we decided to plan trips bag to bag.

The first one was to Gujarat – which I have already bragged about, the next one was to Garhwal, Himalayas which was a very spontaneous trip as we booked all tickets on the go…. during this trip we used all possible modes of transportation – flights, trains, local buses, luxury buses, three wheeler autos, rickshaws, ponies and our legs.

First stop Delhi, the capital – there is lot going on in the capital but the only thing that caught my attention was the sad plight of the birds as a result of the urbanization and deforestation.

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Delhi was just a stop over for change of trains after which we headed to Haridwar from where our actual journey begins to the magnificent Himalayas. We started from Haridwar to reach Sonprayag by evening, the whole 250 kms stretch is through the ghat roads – winding roads, meandering rivers, green hills and beautiful landscapes.

We will be going towards the source of the many rivers which fertilize the farmlands downstream.

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Shiva protecting the town of Haridwar

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Garhwal, Himalayas

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Devprayag– where the river Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet to become Ganga

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This is the famous Dhari Devi temple in the middle of Alaknanda river – the local lore is that it houses the upper half of the body of the goddess Dhari which changes its appearance during the day from a girl, to a woman and by evening to an old lady. We didn’t stay to witness the transformation but enjoyed the beauty of the nature and took some amazing shots and pushed off.

OK, before I go any further I feel the need to mention one thing, this was more of a pilgrimage cum tourism tour for us, the whole area which is also known as Devbhoomi(place where gods live – and the locals do believe that they still live here in the mountains) is filled with so many temples and significant sites full of legends and folk lore that it was hard not to stop at each of these spots to admire its beauty and listen to the stories. I’ll be sharing a few of them with you too 🙂

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Rudraprayag – confluence of rive Alaknanda and Mandakini

I couldn’t get a better shot here as there was a group performing final rituals for somebody who had passed away, so we just went to the temple near by and moved on from there. Story related to this place – Narada meditated and learnt music from Shiva.

We end the day with some sumptuous meal and went to sleep early.

One tip that I can give your here is: eat less while driving on ghat roads, the continuous movement of the car along the curve roads can be nauseating.

Day 2

Today we will start from Sonprayag to reach Kedarnath, fabled to be the abode of Lord Shiva. , this is a 18 kms trek. We were getting ready to trek but due to the cold climate and snow in the mountains opted for a pony ride.

The 4 hour long pony ride … Ouccchhhhh……..it still hurts my back when I think of it.

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This is what we- I mean the pony and me  🙂 had accomplished after 2 hrs.

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Looking down upon the rocky slope, I could hear the sound of the flowing and emerging waters which filled me with a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time.

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The final destination is somewhere there …. !!!

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Luxury in the lap of wild nature

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As pleased as I was, my pony was also pleased to have flat ground and turf before them. For us the journey is not yet over, we still have to cover over a kilometer to reach the temple.

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The dry river bed which emerges from the mountains.

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Kedarnath Dham – situated at the started point of River Mandakini

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Lone Ranger – the ranger is carrying parts with which they build houses up in these mountains. There was a better route along the river bank which got washed of in 2013 flash floods, so now until some other alternative is found these rangers carry the heavy wooden parts up the terrain.

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The descent down was another task in itself, it took us 6 hours by foot to finally reach base and God was I happy to see my comfy and warm bed.

OM Namah Shivaya

 

 

 

 

 

Gujarat, India

In this blog we will go to the beautiful, vibrant and culturally rich state of Gujarat, India. I have heard a lot about its growth and development models – which I did witness but apart from that I also witnessed the rich culture that they have held onto which I feel is missing in many other parts of India.

So coming back to the trip, it was a 2500 km drive.

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Pune – Mumbai Expressway goes through the Western ghats, the winding roads which takes you through 4-5 tunnels was a very good start for the trip.

And then came Mumbai – one of the busiest cities in India, we hustled ourselves out of the crazy traffic of Mumbai, best thing about India – you can just honk your way out of the traffic 🙂

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As we were on the border of 2 states – the traffic scene didn’t just end after Mumbai, but now the competitors we the huge trucks, now here you don’t want to piss off the big fellows so you just quietly and articulately make your way out.

Our first stop – Vadodara, it was Navratri festival that day so we had booked tickets for viewing the dance festival.

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Navlakhi grounds

These are all local people who have dressed up for the occasion and not hired dancers.

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And in no time the whole ground was filled with people dancing in sync and in full zeal to the mesmerizing live music.

If interested you can watch a few videos I had taken here and here and here and here and here

taken from my shaky phone (I had no idea how the event would be else I would have at least freed up space in my phone).

Day2 – drive to Dwarika

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Look at those horns, you better not mess with them

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We share the road with everybody 🙂

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The cows in India have the right to be anywhere they want and there is no debate on that 🙂

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Dwarkadhish Temple,

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The point where the Gomati river joins Arabian Sea

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The street hawker who has all the marketing and management skills she needed and the colorful market place.

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And the journey continues

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The bridge we were supposed to cross Vs The bridge we crossed

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The local highway dhaba, this is a kathiyawadi gastronomical delight – all vegetarian (which makes me happy) and authentic taste which you will not get in any of those high priced imitation restaurants in the city and it is dead cheap plus served with smiles :), so I put all my manners aside and enjoyed my appetizing meal.

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There is a small bunch of flamingos in there, Indian bustard – an endangered species, some pelicans, herons and ducks, not much of a bird watcher so just clicked a snap for the record 🙂

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Somnath Temple

Phone and cameras are not allowed inside the temple so will have to do with the long shots. If you go to Somnath you should not miss the evening aarti, the music – the drums beats are so transcendental.

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Gir National forest – 3 hours back breaking safari to see these and a few other of their relatives but no predators(lion or leopard).  We saw some lion poop and on analyzing that our guide concluded that the lion had a deer for his lunch … so yeyyy, I wouldn’t have mind seeing the lion in action – even if it was pooping.

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After a soul enriching trip we headed home.

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I’ll miss Kathiawadi food and hope to see you soon.

 

 

Monterrey, CA

Monterrey, California – One of the most beautiful places on earth. Its been 3 years but I can still feel the beauty and purity of nature in my heart. I just don’t have enough words to describe the feeling.

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I used to just sit there on the beach for hours watching the birds and staring into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

I wish I had a taken more photos, but one thing is for sure- you can not capture everything in a frame :), its the memories and the experience which keep the feeling alive.

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17-mile drive – which is again very scenic- I guess this is a view from pebble beach.

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Fisherman’s wharf

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 Elephant Seals getting a tan on the rock sea wall

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The historic Cannery row

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View from the Monterrey Aquarium

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Guess what’s this???

Parking lot 🙂

PS: Do not miss Carmel Village Valley – for shopping, wine and coffee. I had the best coffee ever in one of those over crowded cafes, most of them are named just after Carmel – Carmel coffee, Carmel Cofe house, Carmel Cofe place ….

so I don’t remember the name, but that was the best dark coffee I ever had.

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