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Journey into the forbidden valley of Lahaul Spiti

Life isn’t what you really think it to be. The journey you share among the paths you take aren’t always meant to be full of what you crave for. A level of uncertainty brings with itself a whole new world that you might want to always cherish rather than crib about. Travelling on the spur of the moment or travelling with a plan, each have their own trodden paths which you might not want to compare, but when you take the roads unknown and imagine the world without your lens or without the lenses of others, you will find that beauty lies within the experience and not just the photos you click or the videos you make. Sometimes you just have to be in the moment, and accept what’s dished out and move on with your stories to enchant your vivid imagination while experiencing the best travel you could ever. Such was the breathtaking journey into the forbidden valley of Lahaul and Spiti… And I wouldn’t disagree to the fact that there is a reason why this place is the forbidden valley and what makes the entire experience worthwhile.

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Yes, the challenges of the battling conditions, the crazy flowing river by your side ready to engulf you the moment you take your eye off it, the paagal naalas (crazy waterfalls) giving you a quick whiff of what to expect in these landslide trodden areas. But the most beautiful and never to forget experience within this journey has to be the smell of fresh air, the breath of beauty across the Himalayas, the frozen ponds you get to view and the soul searching you end up doing across the pagodas, temples and monasteries even if you don’t believe in the concept of God. Of course, your own journey is sacred. Your own experience is sacrosanct and what you view, dream, believe in is what you get to experience in this journey across the forbidden valley. Riding or driving, both options will churn your body like an urn. While you may find comfort in the luxury SUVs, the ground clearance or for that matter the bumpy twists and turns you experience will add to the memories that are etched out if you’re on a bike or low comfort 4*4s or simpler SUVs like a Tata Sumo.

Rohtang, Manali, North India, Spiti

Foggy Terrain enroute Rohtang pass

The journey from Manali to Kaza epitomizes the beauty of Rohtang Pass and as much as you would like to stay still and explore the vast horizon of the landscape, you know, that there’s a lot more of it where it begins and you keep going on a journey that you feel hungry for.

Rohtang Pass, Manali, Spiti

Horses at Rohtang Pass

Especially if you have travelled into the wilderness of Ladakh, you would know what the Spiti Valley beckons. You would want to get there as soon as possible and explore the beauty of the supreme mountains and the surroundings that shall be part of your memories for your entire life. Add to that, the entire escapade brought in an amazing adventure, thanks to the narratives of our local driver arranged by Amit from HimalayanYatra. It added to our experience and made the journey more exciting, especially his amazing driving and some really off the edge experiences where we were saved by a whisker, not to forget the crazy landslide which we fortunately and thankfully missed by a whiff. 

One of the most enchanting and serene things about Spiti is the terrain and the experience the entire landscape offers you, no matter which part you end up going to. Whether it’s the route to the maddening cold village of Ki-Kibber, or the breathtaking and deeply glorious and spiritual Dhankar monastery, it is full of stories and tales that will cross your paths at the mere view of the place, even if it were through a corner of your eye. Hopefully I shall be telling many such stories in the series of blogs that I plan to write about this crazy place… For now, here’s an encapsulated look at our journey in a simple, yet mind blowing photo essay of sorts… Hope you find the beauty captured in the lenses worth your imagination…

The cold desert enroute Spiti Valley

The cold desert enroute Spiti Valley

The road to Spiti isn't just about barren terrains

The road to Spiti isn’t just about barren terrains

The bridge near a small military camp at Lossar

The bridge near a small military camp at Lossar

Beautiful Terrain as we approach Kaza

Beautiful Terrain as we approach Kaza

Tibetian flags across the mountain

Tibetian flags across the mountain enroute Ki-Kibber

Spiti, Ki-Kibber, Spiti Valley, North India

Beautiful Ki-Kibber village – One of the coldest villages in Asia

A mountain deer on our way to Kibber

A mountain deer we spotted on our way to Kibber

Dhanskar Monastery

Dhankar Village and Monastery

Entrance to Dhankar Monastery

Entrance to Dhankar Monastery

A tower atop the Monastery

A tower atop the Monastery

Local women outside the monastery

Local women outside the monastery

The most relaxed terrace atop the monastery

The most relaxed terrace atop the monastery

Hanging out with the local kids

Hanging out with the local kids

The Golden Buddha viewing the Mountains

The Golden Buddha viewing the Mountains

Chandertaal Lake - The most amazing view in Spiti

Chandertaal Lake – The most amazing view in Spiti

Cruise through Asia…

One of the things that I haven’t yet done and is certainly on my travel bucket list is to cruise! Set sail across the sea and enjoy wilderness into the oblivion like never before. Of course sailing alone would be on the top of that list, however, to begin with a cruise would be the most imperious way to spend a time of my life letting my hair down and relaxing all the way for a week without the hassle of the world. Leaving behind all the worries I’d love to enjoy something that would help me feel rejuvenated again.

So I decided to check out what are some of the best Asia cruises and this is what I’d recommend to be on top of your list.

 

Far East

One of the best things about Asia is that on the Far East cruise you’ll get to see Asia in all its shades. Just last week Cherry Blossom in Japan happened and that is something you shouldn’t miss especially during April. This cruise offers just that. Far East, cherry blossom, buzzing markets in my hometown Mumbai, raving sunsets across beaches in Thailand.

Asia is best known for a wide variety of it’s beauty. The best thing about Asia is that it has diversity to the best of anyone’s reach. There are places that you can’t even imagine and you’d get to cruise among these beautiful views across the sea and cover various landscapes at it’s ports.

If you have trouble deciding where to begin then let size be your guide. Covering an area of more than nine million square kilometres, China has to be a splendid pick as part of their collection of Far East cruise holidays. Certainly beautiful from a cultural stand point too. The country has a history that dates back to more than 4,000 years, making the 15th-century Forbidden City in Beijing an infant as far as the timeline is concerned.

Next in the size line is India, a country of chalk and cheese sights. Anyone with stars in their eyes should head to Film City in Mumbai to perform in a Bollywood movie. Foodies can try a real-deal curry in Madras. Sunseekers, meanwhile, can loose track of time on the beaches of Goa.

Thailand is a smaller country as far as the list of Far East cruise stops. However on the beaches of Koh Samui, the sand is truly white and the water is crystal clear. Then you’ve got Bangkok, a city where twelve-lane motorways and skyscrapers go hand in hand with old ancient temples.

Moving on,  you’ll find Japan. This country has a beautiful mixture of past and the future, ancient and cultural as well as modern and technological. Villagers plant rice in the paddy fields in various perfectures at the same time as cartoon-like Harashuku girls try to out-vogue each other in the cosmopolitan cafes of Tokyo.

Once you’ve ticked off the biggest countries in the Far East cruise collection, you can move onto the more pint sized places. Sip jasmine tea in the teahouses of Ho Chi Minh City and worry the bank manager during a spree at the world’s largest department store in Busan, South Korea. Alternatively, spread yourself like butter over the beaches of Penang in Malaysia.

Something worth doing especially if you are in love with Asia! What say?

Is India a good travel destination?

Answer by Srinivas Kulkarni:

Yes! Yes and Yes!

Before I begin the answer from a travel enthusiast perspective, just some insights to share about Asia and India in general, might give you some perspective pertaining to the question you have asked.

Travel Facts – Asia & India

Some interesting facts about the travel Industry in India & Asia in general.

Over the next few years, Asia — mostly China and India — and Latin America will drive world economic growth, contributing up to 75% of global GDP from 2010 to 2012.

The 2012 outlook for Asian outbound travel is positive.  6 to 8% increase in this year’s expected 14% growth.

In particular India appears to be set for strong growth with 43% planning more outbound travel next year. IPK’s travel confidence of India is at a high 113 points.

Incredible India – Travel Galore

I began exploring India truly about five years ago and I’d say despite traveling to a lot of parts, I hae hardly touched 1/4th of the country so far. An endeavor that makes me want to go on and on till I have set foot across each and every state at least. One of the reasons why I enjoy doing so is cause of it’s geographical and cultural diversity with of course significant historic and mythical relevance to various places. Adds to it’s mystery in its own way. To such an extent that every different place that you travel to within India is a completely different landscape and a cultural expose of sorts. There is a great sense of encompassing travel experience that yuo get when you explore various parts of India. From the beautiful mountains in the Himalayas to the amazing temples and the beaches down south. From the most diverse religious and cultural places across the four corners of the country to the much modern and very well built cities in various metropolis. From the multiple Indian languages spoken in different parts to the very familiar tour guides or audio guidebooks that you’ll get at various heritage sites to help understanding places in the country much better for yourself. India has it all. If you are the type who loves adventure and mountain climbing then you can explore various destinations across the Himalayas which span across the Indo-Nepal-Tibet and Pakistan border you’d love every bit of it. There are practically every kind of geographically diverse landscapes in Leh and Ladakh. If you are interested in culture and meeting new people of ethnic and traditional origin then a trip to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and some remote villages in Harayana, Punjab and some parts of South India would do the trick.  Archaeology fans might really enjoy The Ruins of Hampi, various parts of Gujarat and some across India-Pakistan border where Indus valley civilization ruins exist and of course Madhya Pradesh for it’s beautiful terrain and charismatic caves depicting ancient lore of Kama Sutra and love in Khajurao. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore are the metropolis you might want to go to, best serve as connectivity to various different parts and mostly flights to any place in the world or other part of the country are available here. South India give s you a lot of insight on the Hindu cwith it’s various temples and also a great escapade towards nature in God’s own country Kerala will enchant you with it’s beauty. The North East has it’s own charm with various landscapic mountains, monasteries, Buddhist culture and an eye awakening spirituality towards nature and this planet. Then there are the beautiful islands of Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar which are a place in itself. Secluded from most parts of India they lie within the terrains of water a world within their own these places must not be missed. And last but not least, there’s no place like Goa! If you come to India, Goa is a must visit for….

Of course there are pitfalls when it comes to hygiene, beggars, lots of crowd, the  problem of communication at times in certain parts. The potential risk of being duped by locals or overpriced at various destinations are certainly there… But if you are aware and well educated about your destination with some planning and research, yo can get along well with any of those situations. Plus that in itself is an experience for you so to speak. Overall, India tourism is trying to create infrastructure and overall awareness for its tourists and travelers. You’ll find a lot of information on this website and also if you carry the India Travel Guide book, which most tourists and travelers from the world carry with themselves you should be good to go. In most places local authorities, police are quite helpful, sometimes you may have issues with the bureaucratic ways of the cops and local authorities, but if all your paper work is good then mostly there are no worries.

So overall I’d say, India is certainly a good travel destination. One thing I’d recommend to watch before you start your journey to India is an interesting six part documentary series by BBC and Micheal Wood called ‘The Story of India.’

You can also check out my Travel Blogs to give you some idea of what places to visit across India Travel Tales… (srinistuff.com) & Tumblelog Travelogue (tumblr.com)

Lastly here are some of the places that I’ve visited and shortlisting them for you to show you what I really mean when I wrote this answer. For the detailed answer refer to this:  What are the must-see travel destinations in India? (qr.ae) Would give you quite an answer to your question and my explanation to why India is a good travel destination :)

P.S If nothing else, there’s the Taj Mahal to come to India for! ;)

What are the Places to travel to?

Trek towards Valley of Flowers and  Hemkund Saheb (Glacier may not be always there…)

Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand HImalayas

Paragliding in the Solang Valley

Spiritual Quest at the Dalai Lama Temple in Dharamsala/McLeodganj

Shey Palace in Ladakh

Shanti Stupa in Ladakh

Leh Palace in Leh, Ladakh

Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Disket Temple in Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Ride a Bullet to Khardung La in Ladakh *Highest Motorable road 18380 ft

Alchi Gompa – Oldest Monastery in Leh, Ladakh

Indus River Valley in Ladakh

Pangong Tso Lake across Ladakh and China Border

The serene Om beach in Gokarna

Rameshwaram Temple and it’s 1000 Pillars

Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort. Kochi

Boat to Allepy from Kottayam in Kerala

Buland Darwaaza of Fatehpur Sikri

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

Jain temples of Jaisalmer

The Vintage car museum in Udaipur

Matri Mandir in Auroville

Pondicherry & Auoroville Beach

The Garden City – Bangalore

Visit the Ruins of Hampi – A must visit if you are a fan of archaeology and historic ancient culture.

Stone Chariot in the Vittala Temple

Hazara Rama Temple – Carvings from 10th-13th century of Rama

Lakshmi Narsimha statue

Krishna Temple

Lotus Mahal in Zennana Enclosure… Ancient air conditioned palace

Monolithic Bull, carved out of one Stone

Mythical Lions called Yalli inside Krishna Temple

View the Marina Beach Sunrise in Chennai

Conquer the Mahuli fort during rains in Maharashtra – The Sahayadaris

Charminar in Hyderabad

The Buddha Statue in Lumbini Park in Hyderabad on the Husain Sagar lake

Be part of the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai

Lenayadri Hills in Maharashtra – One of the Ashtavinayaka Temples

Ajanta Ellora Caves in Aurangabad

Badrinath Temple in Uttarakhand

Mana Village and Vasudhara Waterfalls – The last indian Village on Indo Tibet Border

Haridwar for it’s cultural and spiritual expose.

Lakshman Jhoola and the Parmarth Temple in Rishikesh

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Banks of Ganga – Kashi, Prayag, Gaya

One of the most amazing trips to self discovery are the trips that you take without any rhyme or reason and just keep wandering and walking across the horizon! But once every while comes a trip that you have to take… The aboriginal walk if I may say so… Such trips have a way of shaping themselves within their journeys and make for one of the most enchanting experiences of your life. Some spiritually enlightning, some full of incidents that open your mind to new dimensions and some full of introspective self provocating thoughts that keep you wondering, how far you’ve traveled on this road, a journey that you began years ago and where you are right now.

One such trip I took about six months ago. It was when I decided to celebrate the death anniversary and perform rites of my departed father along the banks of River Ganga in the most revered destinations across the country. The holy land of ganges! While I did that I also had some time to follow my passion for travel and come back with stories of the land of enchanted. My trip started off with Banaras and my first ritual was at Kashi, then at Gaya and finally at Prayaag.

The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. These few lines by Mark Twain say it all: “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. (Varanasicity.com)

Ganges is said to have its origins in the tresses of Lord Shiva and in Varanasi, it expands to the mighty river that we know of. The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years. With Sarnath, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment, just 10 km away, Varanasi has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts have all flourished here for centuries. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar.

Some pictures from my journey in Kashi/Banaras:

The famous Banarasi Paan

The famous Banarasi Paan

Vishwanath Temple in BHU

Vishwanath Temple in BHU

Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Ji

Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Ji

Koyla Bazaar

Koyla Bazaar

Next up was the second ritual at Gaya.  Gaya is 100 kilometers south of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. Situated on the banks of the Phalgu (or Niranjana, as mentioned in Ramayana), it is a place sanctified by the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Jain religions. It is surrounded by small rocky hills (Mangla-Gauri, Shringa-Sthan, Ram-Shila and Brahmayoni) by three sides and the river flowing on the fourth (eastern) side. The city has a mix of natural surroundings, age old buildings and narrow bylanes. Since I was there only for a day or two, we couldn’t explore a lot of it, but we made it a point that Bodh Gaya was visited.

Some pictures from Gaya:

Streets of Gaya

Streets of Gaya

Adrak waali chai

Adrak waali chai

A potful of Lassi

A potful of Lassi

Kullad Lassi

Kullad Lassi

Surya Kund in Gaya

Surya Kund in Gaya

Vishnu Padh Gaya

Vishnu Padh Gaya

Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya

Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya

Tibetian Monastery

Tibetian Monastery

Japanese Temple

Japanese Temple

Buddha Statue in the Japanese Temple

Buddha Statue in the Japanese Temple

Eyes of the Buddha Statue

Eyes of the Buddha Statue

Mahabodhi Temple

Mahabodhi Temple

The Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree

The final stop on this journey was Allahabad, yes the most famous of all! Prayaag and Triveni sangam was the place where we did the final rituals. As enchanting as it may look, it has great facets of its old Hindu and Indian culture that still is integral part of Prayaag.  The city’s original name—Prayaga, or “place of sacrifice”—comes from its position at the sacred union of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. It is the second-oldest city in India and plays a central role in the Hindu scriptures. The city contains many temples and palaces. Allahabad is located on in the southern part of Uttar Pradesh. It is bounded by Pratapgarh in the north, Bhadohi in the east, Rewa in the south and Kaushambi in the west.

Some pictures from Allahabad/Prayaag:

Cycle Rickshaw in Allahabad

Cycle Rickshaw in Allahabad

Banks of Triveni Sangam

Banks of Triveni Sangam

Panditji counting money

Panditji counting money

 

This trip was certainly quite memorable because of the root cause but also overall the journey to the three spiritual destinations across North India was something that gave it a deft touch a touch of a journey unknown and yet beautifully spiralled into something more meaningful.

My Egypt Bucket list

One of the most enchanting destinations for me was always Egypt. I’ve always been fascinated with History and archaeology in general. But one of the most amazing things and striking about Egypt is it’s beautiful rustic and yet very enchanting ancient culture and heritage  was always inspiring to me. Besides the historic significance and it’s age old mystical nature that one sees in movies and read in books, there is always a fascinating awe to the place especially when it comes to the way people lived back in the olden times. And that is something I always found fascinating.   A lot of times I randomly search for places and try to find offers to various destinations in case any plans of travel happen sometime soon. That’s when I stumbled upon Holiday Hypermarket while looking for Holidays in Egypt

And as aptly mentioned on the site, “A holiday in Egypt simply can’t be beaten, with its world-class diving, an incredible history and golden beaches. Whether you’re walking down the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, cruising down the Nile, diving in the Red Sea or lazing on the beach, Egypt promises an amazing holiday.”

Having that in mind I’ve decided to make a bucket list for myself for the places I should visit in Egypt whenever I do go ahead and decide to take that trip. :) Here’s what I came up with after a little bit of research and this should be quite a trip whenever I do decided to go there.

1. Cairo: The capital of Egypt and the largest city in the entire Arab world, offers way too many things to present in a nutshell. This city is not just a concentration of people; with its old town showcasing what is left of the cities that were previous capitals, and The Egyptian Museum  having an endless stock of the country’s antiquities, Cairo is a concentration of culture. Not to mention, its proximity to the pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza.

2. Mastaba of Seshemnufer 4 - The Pyramids of Egypt are famous all across the world but The Pyramid of Seshemnufer IV still lies as an offbeat among it. Lying on the way from the main office to Khufu’s pyramid, this particular pyramid consists of several rooms, a pleasant sanctuary and an underground burial chamber. There’s no long waiting period as most tourists don’t take the time to explore these ancient chambers.

3. Pyramids of Giza: The Great Pyramid of Giza is oldest and the largest of the three pyramids. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World. This pyramid was built for Pharaoh Khufu. This pyramid was the tallest man made structure for over 3,800 years, at 146.5 metres. It is the only pyramid which has ascending and descending passages.

4. Khan El-Khalili Market - This market was built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili. This largest market is situated in one corner of the triangle of markets. Prices are lower in area north of al-Badistan and to the west. One will find here great deals on Gold, silver, brass and copper. Besides shopping, this market is also famous for its historic cafes.

5. The Hanging Church: (Located in Shar’a Mari Girgis) is one of the oldest Coptic Churches in Egypt. and still in use. This ancient church is adorned with beautiful wooden ceiling, marble columns and ebony as well as ivory screens. While you are here make sure to look down through the plastic viewing ports which gives one the feeling of being suspended in air!

5. Luxor: One of the most popular Egyptian destinations among international tourists is Luxor, because it features the ancient city of Thebes. The area is widely known as the world’s largest open air museum because of the incredible concentration of massive monuments, temples, and tombs. The great Nile flows through, separating the modern city of Luxor (East Bank) from the ancient Thebes (West Bank).  The Tomb of Pabasa belongs to the 26th dynasty priest, with beautiful views of agriculture and self-indulging activities such as hunting and fishing. Entry Tickets are available at the ticket office of the Deir al-Bahri Temple. Here’s a link for more information

These are some of the items on my immediate checklist…  If there are some better, let me know which ones?

What are the must-see travel destinations in India?

Answer by Srinivas Kulkarni:

India is one of the richest places to travel to when it comes to culture, people, places and beautiful landscapes. There is a rich heritage and culture with diversity across various geographical and social plains in India. I’m a travel blogger  blogging about my Travel Tales… (srinistuff.com) while I’ve been travelling across the country for over five years now and have tried to cover a lot of destinations across the vast geographical plains of India. No matter how much I traverse across the various different parts of the country I feel there’s a lot more to see. With the exception of North East, Jammu & Kashmir, some parts of MP and Gujarat I’ve traveled to a lot of other parts including the famous Himalayas! Here are some of my favorite locations that are must see and one must visit for sure…. These are the places I’ve visited and of the lot, these are my favorite in no particular order :)

Trek towards Valley of Flowers and  Hemkund Saheb (Glacier may not be always there…)

The actual Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand HImalayas

Camp in the tents near Keylong

Paragliding in the Solang Valley

Rohtang Pass enroute Manali

Dalai Lama Temple in Dharamsala/McLeodganj

Shey Palace in Ladakh

Shanti Stupa in Ladakh

Leh Palace in Leh, Ladakh

Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Disket Temple in Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Ride a Bullet to Khardung La in Ladakh *Highest Motorable road 18380 ft

Alchi Gompa – Oldest Monastery in Leh, Ladakh

Indus River Valley in Ladakh

Pangong Tso Lake across Ladakh and China Border

The serene Om beach in Gokarna

Rameshwaram Temple and it’s 1000 Pillars

Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort. Kochi

Boat to Allepy from Kottayam in Kerala

Buland Darwaaza of Fatehpur Sikri

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

Jain temples of Jaisalmer

The Vintage car museum in Udaipur

Matri Mandir in Auroville

Pondicherry & Auoroville Beach

The Garden City – Bangalore

Visit the Ruins of Hampi – A must visit if you are a fan of archaeology and historic ancient culture.

Stone Chariot in the Vittala Temple

Hazara Rama Temple – Carvings from 10th-13th century of Rama

Lakshmi Narsimha statue

Krishna Temple

Lotus Mahal in Zennana Enclosure… Ancient air conditioned palace

Monolithic Bull, carved out of one Stone

Mythical Lions called Yalli inside Krishna Temple

View the Marina Beach Sunrise in Chennai

Conquer the Mahuli fort during rains in Maharashtra – The Sahayadaris

Charminar in Hyderabad

The Buddha Statue in Lumbini Park in Hyderabad on the Husain Sagar lake

Be part of the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai

Lenayadri Hills in Maharashtra – One of the Ashtavinayaka Temples

Ajanta Ellora Caves in Aurangabad

Badrinath Temple in Uttarakhand

Mana Village and Vasudhara Waterfalls – The last indian Village on Indo Tibet Border

Haridwar for it’s cultural and spiritual expose.

Lakshman Jhoola and the Parmarth Temple in Rishikesh

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What is the historical significance of Hampi and which places do I visit there?

View of Hampi from Anjaneya

I’m in love with this city and this is going to be my pilgrimage destination forever! I have a love for it’s ancient archaeological structures and it’s association with the mythological references of Ramayana. That apart, there is this beautiful aura about the place that mesmerizes you to the core. That is why I make it a point that I visit this place every year. Also, my great grandfather from my mother’s side was a great Late Shri. N.S Rajpurohit, was a famous historian who has a lot to do with the excavations of certain parts which marked significance to Hampi / the Kingdom of Vijayanagara.

Pampa River

Hampi is called Hampi cause of the river Pampa now the Tungabhadra. Pampa was an ancient name for Hampi. According to legends, Pampa the daughter of Bramha did penance to please Lord Shiva. Impressed with her devotion Shiva married her and took the name Pampapati. On the banks of the river (Tungabhadra) there are numerous shrines of Shiva being worshipped.

History of Hampi

History of Hampi dates back to the chalcolithic and the Neolithic era… Could be proven from the ceramic and handmade pottery found from those ages. Also from the 2nd and the 3rd century there are rock edicts of the asokan empire found here…

Rulers of Hampi

Pre-Vijayanagara era it was ruled by many rulers primarily Chalukyas of Badami, Hoysalas, Yadavas and others. But the main founders of this empire are primarily two kings Harihara and Bukka raya. Also known as Hakka and Bukka who were disciples of Swami Vidyaranya…

Around the 14th century when Mughals made inroads to South India, they captured most part of Hampi and the Kampili chiefs Hakka and Bukka were prisoners… But soon they overthrew the Mughal empire after they were assigned to govern under Mughal Sultanates and retook Hampi… They then gave the name Vijayanagara (Land of Victory) also dedicated to Swami Vidyaranya so it’s also referred to as Vidyanagara.

Over the years Vijayanagara (hampi.in) (popularly called as Hampi) developed a unique style of architecture, came to be known as Vijayanagara (hampi.in) Architecture

That was mostly during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya under whose rule this empire saw its peak! He was abig fan of architecture and also was open to various styles of architecture Indian and Islamic… He also was a good ruler and had diplomatic relationship with the Spanish across the east coast and hence Hampi was quite open to trade with Europeans and usually gems and stones were traded for cotton and spices which were abundantly available here.

However after his death and during the reign of Ramraya Hampi faced a gruesome destruction. His son in law Ramraya was captured and killed during the battle of Rakkasatangdi after which the empire was left undefended when the Mughals ransacked this place, destroyed many buildings and later it was left abandoned for a long while for it to become a jungle and ruins remained. It was later on because of the curiosity of many western archaeologists and authors to great books namely Robert Sewell and A.H Longhurst that this place gained significant interest across the world. UNESCO’s World Heritage Site was conferred to Hampi in 1986.

Mythological Association of Hampi

There’s also a mythological association with Hampi. Locals and folklore has it that this area was the mythical Kishkinda Vanara kingdom from the Ramayana and this is where Rama and Lakshmana stayed before they headed off to Lanka in search of Sita. There are a couple of mountains and places which are believed to be the places where Sugreeva, Vali, Hanuman and Ram stayed back then…

Hazara Rama Temple

Which brings me to the Hazara Rama Temple. Hazara Rama… 1000 Rama? Cause of the 1000 inscriptions / sculptures of Rama on the walls of the temple? Well no… actually Hazara Rama comes from the word Hazarumu which in telegu means Entrance Hall This place has one of the most beautiful and intricate carvings lot of them describing what happened back in Ramayana and some of them depicting various Vishnu avatar. It was also a private temple of the royal family.

Stone Chariot in The Vittala Temple

The stone chariot is one of the most amazing structures in Hampi… If you get around clicking photographs of this monument, you wouldn’t just stop… its so beautiful. It’s made of big granite blocks and even though we may think it’s a monolithic structure it actually isn’t. The big granite blocks get covered cause of the intricate carvings on the chariot.

Musical Pillars of Hampi

Another very interesting thing in the vittala temple are the musical pillars in the photo shown above… Check out this video… to see what I mean

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIdGQ8P49l4

Well now if you go there this may not be possible as it has been restricted as there were incidents of damage to the structure in the past.

King’s Balance

Just outside the vittala temple, you’ll find the Kings Balance… I belive this custom still exists and it existed back then of course. The kings were kept in the balance which was put on this structure. Weighed against gold and jewellery which was then given away to the priests and the needy.

Lotus Mahal Complex

The lotus mahal and the elephant stables are one of the most intact pieces of architecture in Hampi… This temple was in a Zenana enclosure was believed to be a recreational area for the women folks of the royal family. There are hooks to tie up curtains and you’ll also find these terracotta pipes which are on the ceiling of this structure. They were filled with water from the well besides it and they acted as ventiatory ducts which provided cooling due to the breeze. Ancient air conditioning so to speak. The elephant stables are symmetrical set of stables with central one them being the biggest. These are unlike any other pieces of architecture as they are a mixture of Indo Islamic architecture.

Octagonal Bath

Octagonal public baths are something you’ll find. These are probably one of the oldest bathing structures which are still properly maintained… They weren’t just made out there. The stepped stones were assembled block by block after being made somewhere else. Very beautiful sight to your eyes.

Underground Shiva Temple

The underground shiva temple is in shambles… The most you can do is go and visit it from the outside. It’s completely dilapatated inside a cave filled with stench and loads of black water. There were a 1000 lingas inside, but since I’vent gone I wouldn’t know… After a point it becomes very eerie. The queens bath is a small structure, much like a swimming pool of the ancient times… or a humongous jacquzi if I may say…

Queens Bath

This is the first ruined structure you would see when you enter into the Royal center from the Kamalapura (hampi.in)-Hampi main road. For some mysterious reasons this was called as the queen’s bath. But in all probability this was a royal pleasure complex for the king and his wives. It’s a bit an assuming plane rectangular building from out side. But when you get inside, the story is different.The whole building is made with a veranda around facing a big open pond at the middle. Projecting into the pond are many balconies. An aqueduct terminates in the pond.The balconies are decorated with tiny windows and supported by lotus bud tipped brackets. The whole pool is open to the sky. This brick lined pool is now empty. But it’s believed once fragrant flowers and perfumed water filled this bathing pool. At one end of the veranda you can see a flight of steps giving access to the pool. The domical roof of veranda is a spectacle itself.

The Krishna Temple

The Krishna temple is one temple that was commissioned by Krishnadeva Raya and the architecture is significantly his. Interesting and very beautifu carvings such as that of the Mythical lion called the Yallis and the beautiful Gopis can be found here…You can also see carvings of 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and as soon as you enter the temple you’ll find a tortoise there… Like in temples of Halebeid and Belur.

Lakshmi Narsimha Statue

The Lakshmi Narsimha statue is probably one of the most damaged yet magnificient and huge creations. It’s the largest statue of Hampi. Narsimha is seen sitting on a coil of giant seven headed Snake. Shesa. It originally had Goddess Lakshmi sitting in his lap. However when the mughals raided Hampi they hugely damaged it thinking there would be gold and jewellery hidden inside the statue.

Badava Linga Temple

Right next to it is badava linga temple. A monolithic Shiva Linga believed to be carved by a poor woman (badava) in order to praise shiva

Sasvekalu Ganesha & Kadalekalu Ganesha

The Ganeshas of Hampi are well revered. Sasvekalu and Kadalekalu Ganesha. They are named because of the resemblance of their tummies to Mustard Seed and Bengal gram respectively. There’s a story behind the Sasivekalu ganesha. Once Ganpati was very hungry and he ate so much that his tummy burst.. He immediately found a snake nearby and tied it across his tummy and that is what is depicted in the sculpture. Both are monolithic statues.

Monolithic Bull

At he foothills of the great Matanga parvat / Matanga hill near the Hampi bazaar you’ll find this Monolithic bull, much similar to the one in a temple in Halebeidu. You trek for an hour or so you get on top of the Matanga hill from which you can get the most spectacular view of the city and it’s beautiful just before Sunset! A must visit.

Coracle Ride to Other side of the River

One of the best experiences is a ride in the coracle / boat to the Anjaneya hills The place revered to be the birth place of Hanumana. There’s also a cave where Sugreeva hid before he fought Vali to get him killed.

 Virupaksha Temple

Last but not least the most famous Virupaksha temple of Hampi which also is the only functioning temple in Hampi since the 14th Century which also makes it the only functioning temple in India. Among all temples this is the only one which the Mughals never attacked. Why? Cause of the insignia or the emblem of a pig on the door of the temple. During the Hampi Festival, this is quite the place to go, in fact during Diwali as well this place has a lot of festivities and is totally decorated. One thing to look out for is the Local Elephant inside the temple… He’s always there been there for many years now…

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Hampi – Revisit to the ruins…

This is my Photo Essay featured on India Untravelled

I visited this land of the lost… a couple of  years ago. That time, it was at the onset of my journey as a travel writer. After two years and many a miles covered on the road, I decided to revisit these ruins to enchant myself, only this time I decided to stay in here longer than I did the last time around. While it was a weekend trip and the entire place could be covered in a couple of days, it isn’t much fun if you don’t let the atmosphere and the beauty of these ruins sink in to you. Doesn’t really make a lot of point if you don’t enjoy the beauty of the Tungabhadra river, maybe take a dip or two in it… Doesn’t really give you peace of mind, unless you perch atop the Matanga hill, the very same hill where Sugreev lived… Besides discovering and rediscovering a lot of things from last time, I felt truly close to the place, especially since I took a good 3 to 4 days of time to explore the village and it’s ruins, while at the same time and here’s what I had to discover.

A little about Hampi

Hampi is situated within the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Before the city of Vijayanagara, it still is  an important religious centre, housing the Virupaksha Temple, as well as several other monuments from the old city. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as the Group of Monuments at Hampi. As rustic as it may look, this city is beautifully known for its ruins and a grand heritage of ancient archives of a lot of archaeological madness that can only be found out here. You will but obvious enjoy every site without having to worry about what you know or do not, for such is the aura of this enchanting place that it’ll consume every bit of you and make you feel different in an aspect of life. Be it taking a dip in the Tungabhadra river, which I did almost everyday, or be it taking a walk around the village and just meeting people who like you are fascinated by the beauty of this place. Or for that matter, hanging out near the outskirts of the city or taking a cycle down to the ruins of various parts within and outside the town… Every moment has its own variety and charm to it. From the various historic sculptures, the monolithic bull, the Narsimha statue carved out of one stone, the Shiva Linga underground caves or be it the queen’s public bath, the pushkarni… Every monument and every rock in this town has its own story, a story that can’t be depicted without its own style and eternally discoursing philosophy…

Though I visited this place with a lot of interest and I’ll make it a point to visit it every year, I feel that no matter how many times you see this place, you won’t be able to forget or not want to be back here again. Not just for the experience of being in a place where supposedly legends from the Ramayana were written or if this place was part of a historic, mythical and legendary city of the vanar sena (Kingdom of apes)  where the great lords Wali and Sugreev, fought their battles and lived among fellow subjects, but for the fact that the heritage that it brings to our culture and India something to be proud of. A place that is etched in history for its most fascinating legends that stood the test of time and the rocks that lived on to withstand the future…

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Stone Chariot at the Vijaya Vittala temple

The Stone Chariot at Vittala Temple

The Stone Chariot at the Vijaya Vittala temple has to be one of everyone’s favorites, certainly is mine. The beautiful construct is a wonder of architecture in itself.  in the Vittala Temple Complex is a shrine built in the form of temple chariot. An image of Garuda was originally enshrined within its sanctum. Garuda, according to the Hindu mythology, is the vehicle of lord Vishnu. It is also a symbol of Karnataka Tourism. This time when I went I saw floodlights have been installed in the temple complex that provide illumination at dusk, thereby adding to the scenic beauty of the architecture.

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Ugra Narsimha Statue carved out of a single rock

Narasimha in his deadly form, this one is a huge Ugra Narasimha, statue of 6.7 meter height in the south region of the temple complex of Hemkuta group which contains the Virupaksha Temple. Narasimha, being half-man and half-lion, is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This gigantic statue is worth seeing. One of the most enchanting things about this statue is that it’s carved out of one rock… Hence it’s part of my top favorites in Hampi.

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Inside the Vijaya Vittala Temple (The Musical Pillars)

The Musical Pillars

Now this is certainly fascinating, if not in today’s day and age, certainly in the times of the Vijayanagra Empire… This unique architecture is a fascinating modern art haven and scientifically very interesting to explore. The musical pillars produce a different sound when tapped at the top side, middle (like a bell) and the bottom side of the pillar. If you tap all pillars at same time, they produce a beautiful melodies of musical note.

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The Monolithic Bull near Matanga Hill

The Monolithic Bull of Hampi

This structure as you walk across the Hampi Bazaar and the police station in the town, you’ll notice, that the more closer you get to it, the more magnificent it gets and when you reach the place where this bull is situated, it’ll make you realize how much grace this statue has within its enchanting eyes.  Locally known as Yeduru Basavanna or Nandi, this monolithic bull marks the east end of the Virupaksha Bazaar. The statue is housed in a twin storied pavilion built on an elevated platform. A heap of gigantic boulders behind the pavilion offers an interesting backdrop. Though partially mutilated and carved in a coarse style, this Nandi attracts visitor owing to its giant size.

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Sunset at the Matanga Hill

Hampi by Sunset at Matanga Hill

This had to be one of the most beautiful sites for me in those 4 days… I always wondered how the town would look at dusk, more than dawn, the fascination of the ruins around dusk brought an aura a golden enchantment to the fact that these ruins now, mean a lot more than just the beauty and the complex stories and architecture that they brought along with it. It stood for a significant lot of history, a history which cannot be told in this blog alone, a history that one has to go through after reading the UNESCO guidebook of Hampi… But all that apart, just the mere sight of the town across the Matanga hill and the beauty of the sunset engulfing this settlement took my breath away. It was as if, it gave me the reason for its mystic nature and truth to the unexplored was brought out, out from the best of all of us… One must explore Hampi to finally realize what it’s true beauty is all about.

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Elephant Stable in the Lotus Mahal Complex

The Humongous Elephant Stables

This is another really interesting piece of architecture that you would really enjoy… And as usual, feel really insignificant, when you look at the housing for a really huge elephant back in the day. Although, built by the islamic architects in the later part of Hampi’s era, this building is very significant from the way its combined it’s architecture and the whole ensemble fits into the current scheme of things when you look at the ruins.  More importantly, it is one among the few least destroyed structures in Hampi and is a major tourist attraction. This long building with a row of domed chambers was used to ‘park’ the royal elephants.

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Lotus Palace or Kamala Mahala

The Air Conditioned Lotus Mahal

Now, this caught my eye, very much, especially because of the interesting architecture and for a reason that it was very cool. I took a look around and decided to investigate why in the scorching heat is this structure cooler from the inside. To my amazement, and of course to a fascination of one kind, I was told by the guide who was around that this was one of the places in the ancient times where queens used to rest and relax, in fact, it had a built in air conditioning system. The structure had in-built terracota pipes and there was a well beside this temple. Water was filled into those pipes and fans were used to circulate the cool air within the palace with drapes around on its gates.

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Ruins of the Hazara Rama Temple

Carvings on the walls of Hazara Rama Temple

Hazara Rama Temple (A thousand Ramas)

One of the most enchanting thing about this temple is its beautiful wall carvings and enchanting structure, even though it’s ruined…The reason it’s called the ‘Hazara Rama’ temple is cause of the fact that the carvings depict comic strips of Hindu mythology, Ramayana in long arrays, on to the walls of this temple. Probably this is the only temple in the capital with its external walls decorated and the temple got its name Hazara Rama (a thousand Rama) Temple because of these Ramayana panels on its walls.

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Off the banks of Tungabhadra River

Off the banks of Tungabhadra River

Now, one of the things I didn’t hesitate to do this time around, in fact I could thank my hotel owner for this, for he recommended me to cool off by taking a bath in the Tungabhadra river. And believe you me, it was quite a fascinating experience. Be free of yourself, enchanting place that it is, give yourself to the beauty of the river that is part of a lot of places in Karnataka, this was just the experience I wanted to make this trip the most indulging in its own sense.  Now the small boats you see are of local fishermen and boatmen, they give you a ride across the river for some 200 bucks to take you to the Anjaneya mountain, one where Lord Hanuman was believed to have lived during the times of Ramayana.

Octagonal Bath in Hampi

Octagonal Bath

This structure, as the name indicates, is a gigantic bathing area made in the shape of an Octagon. The bath shelter is designed with an octagonal shaped platform at the middle and an encircling pillared veranda around it. The circular section between the veranda and the platform is the water (now empty) area. To the west of it you can spot the ruined bases of numerous palaces.

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Sasivekalu Ganesha

Sasivekalu Ganesha

This particular monument and structure would be seen by you as soon as you enter Hampi, that is if you are coming via Hospet by a bus. This statue has a Lord Ganesha with a snake tied around its tummy, there’s an interesting story behind it too…  In Hindu mythology Lord Ganesha is known for his eating habits. Once he ate so much food that his tummy almost burst. He  immediately  caught a snake and tied it around his tummy as a belt to save his tummy from bursting.

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Kadalekalu Ganesha

Kadalekalu Ganesha

This one is also right around the corner as soon as you enter Hampi… This giant statue of Ganesha was carved out of a huge boulder at the northeastern slope of the Hemakuta hill. The belly of this statue resembles a Bengal gram (Kadalekalu, in local language) and hence the name.

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Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple

Last but not least, this one certainly deserves a mention in my photo essay as it was quite a place to be… On the last day when i was about to leave back to Mumbai, I decided to just sit in the shady complex of this temple, and read a book, The Book of Ram, by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik. While the experience in itself was great, thanks to the great book, the whole ambiance meant a lot more… The nice cool shade within the complex with the fresh smell of stone and breathing the air of this mystic town was also an added experience.  Virupaksha Temple is also known as the Pampapathi temple, it is a Shiva temple in the Hampi Bazaar. It predates the founding of the Vijayanagar empire. The temple has a 160-foot (49 m) high tower at its entrance. Apart from Shiva, the temple complex also contains shrines of the Hindu goddesses Bhuvaneshwari and Pampa. It also is very significant during the Hampi festival, where a chariot is taken into procession and stands right outside the temple on other days. Hampi all in all means a lot to those who are interested in archaeology, mythology, photography and of course travel. But more importantly, for the spectacle of array of beautiful art that it stands for, a culture that it had back in the day and something that we as Indians should still cherish and be happy that we are part of this wonder.

Do let me know what you think about this beautiful place and if you have ever been here?

Enchanting South India – A route to rediscovery

“To traverse beyond the limitations of my mind, I travel to look upon the journey within myself.” With these thoughts, I set off on an adventure of a lifetime. A voyage to the mysterious beauties that unravel the most amazing parts of my country. A travelogue to capture the ‘Incredible India’ down South.

My visit to Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala had begun. I had heard from my friends, people didn’t speak anything else but their local languages out there. That made me equally foreign to these lands as anyone else who came from any other country.  To me, this was a challenge, and a trip that would be monumental after I had completed it. With solitude on my side I had decided to explore over 17 superb locations in 15 days. Most importantly, I was going to discover the beautiful culture South India had to offer and document each and every location as a journal on my blog. With a Vernian, inspiration l had to ensure this journey went  down in my books as the best one!

It all started with Chennai. From my helpful twitter friends to the conductors and everyone else warmly responding to my requests, helping me out wherever I went in little or broken English they spoke in. Yet always willfully extending their support without any intent but to help me out. With a sultry atmosphere, one I hadn’t anticipated, I started my journey by heading off to the Marina Beach. The warm, humid air in Chennai bore resemblance to the weather that I was used to during the summers in Mumbai. But, in winter, this humidity came to me as a surprise particularly when it was about 20-22 degrees centigrade back home… Nonetheless my objective was to start off with a beautiful array of sunrise shots to tell a story of this marvel in Chennai! The experience of going to Marina beach, travelling amongst the locals in the train was something I could relate to. Very similar to our Mumbai Locals… Gave me content in the fact that our cities, despite the cultural difference, had a lot in common.

The Marina Beach, Chennai

The Marina Beach, Chennai

Rest of Tamil Nadu was a quest for my spiritual journey across the fortresses and temples of the most majestic kinds in the country! From a  mysterious yet wonderful experience in Kancheepuram, to  satisfying and peaceful tryst with Lord Shiva in Thrichy, every temple had a story of its own. The most appealing temple was of course Thanjavur, unique in its own way and its rustic feel gave a  nice ambience to the story it had to showcase. Different from all the other temples in the state, it had a charm in its own. Ruled by various dynasties from the Cholas to the Nayakas and the Marathas, it gave a completely versatile feel to itself. The grandeur it had was read between the brightness it shone despite the sun setting down upon its face.  Abode to one of the biggest Nandi Statues, the  Brihadeeswara Temple was  an enchanting destination.

Birhadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur

Birhadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur

Then there was Rameshwaram. The same island where existed the famous temple of Lord Rama, the mighty king from Ramayana. This was the same location where an army of millions of apes (vanar-sena) built a bridge made out of floating stones engraved with Lord Rama’s name itself. This bridge built to take the army across the borders of India to the Golden empire of Lanka and wage an epic battle of great proportions upon the demons of this kingdom.

Inside Rameshwaram Temple

Inside Rameshwaram Temple

Something you can’t forget in Hindu mythology. A battle that spoke to us of the triumph of good over evil! A battle that till today is considered as a conquest of moral right over plain wrong. It was quite  an experience, one that I would never forget.

While Tamil Nadu has its own share of spirituality I also enjoyed the beauty, nature and wildlife at the most amazing waterfalls ever… I sat in a small canoe or sort of a paddle boat to take the streams of Hogennakalu Waterfalls. A noteworthy place with  perennially flowing streams of waterfalls. Off the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, one can easily reach this place from Salem by bus and literally take a boat towards the Karnataka border on the disputed Cauvery river. With an aquarium and a crocodile rehabilitation center to its attraction, this place certainly is thronged by children, youngsters and elders alike.

Hogennakal Waterfalls

Hogennakal Waterfalls

Finally Tamil Nadu ended with a short visit to the mystical land of Kanyakumari, popularly known for Triveni Sangam, meeting point of the three oceans that surround the peninsular region of our Incredible India. One that envisages the true feeling of being in touch with the spiritual side of yourself. Known for The Swami Vivekananda memorial rock . A place where the great leader attained enlightenment of sort and  found bliss within himself. Visiting the most beautiful temples in our country to being  overwhelmed by a sense of spirituality my journey across the state of Tamil Nadu truly gave me an understanding of oneness to myself.

Tamil Nadu certainly took a lot of my time and energy due to constant traveling in state transport buses in this rugged sojourn of mine. Whereas, my stay in Pondicherry was one of great relaxation and unwind. A visit that made me realize how time stood still and made me feel like a recluse of sorts in a land of the unknown.

Pondicherry Beach

Pondicherry Beach

Highlight of Pondicherry was tasting delicious food of various cultures dished out at the most amazing restaurants in town. From Chettinad food at the Apache Restaurant to french delicacies at the Le Café, Pondicherry was all about living life with the luxury similar to the tastes of most of the Europeans around. Spending three magical days exploring various parts of Pondicherry on a rented motorbike, places like the French Colony, the museum, Auroville and a lot of shopping streets across various parts of the town gave me the feeling of belongingness to that place. Sipping beer at the beach restaurant at night, listening to the roaring waves in a calm that gave most frenzied thoughts a form of tranquil made me realize what we miss in our caught-in-a-rut kind of a life.

Chettinad Food at Apache

Chettinad Food at Apache

Lastly, being in Kerala, God’s own country was like being in heaven itself. A boat ride in the backwaters of Kerala got me close to nature and  made me believe in what their lifestyle stood for… Very quiet, peaceful and serene… The melodious sound of birds chirping in the background and a real feeling of standstill, told me a lot about how people  loved and lived life in this paradise.

Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

One of the most memorable trips within Kerala would be my infamous boat ride from Kottayam to Alaphuzza. It’s listed as one of the recommended things to do by Lonely Planet Magazine. From the start it was memorable especially after gorging on the sumptuous Malabari Parota with Kadala Curry.

Malabari Parota & Kadala Curry

Malabari Parota & Kadala Curry

What a way to start off a journey across the Venice of Kerala. Going to Venice has always been my dream… Until I get there, I have to make do with this one! A notable thing we did on our way back was to stop by at the very famous RBLOCK Island. We ate some  good food and had local coconut palm beer, also known as Toddy… This Island was manmade by over 5000 villagers led by Mr. Baker. This was done in order to get more land to cultivate Paddy… A fantastic place for you to take  a pitstop and eat some  delicious food.

Lastly, I couldn’t ask for anything better than finishing my trip with a visit to Fort Kochi, a place that will be etched in my memories for its diversity and remarkable beauty, especially with its blend of cultures and religions. The Jew Street and the Paradesi Jewish Synagogue… gave me a mesmerizing  feel of being in a place of some rarity. You will  find a very different setting out here and experience a different feeling while walking on this street. The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. Then there are the Chinese Fishing Nets, with magnificent fixed installations for an unusual form of fishing makes for  great photographs.

Chinese Fishing Nets

Chinese Fishing Nets

The end of my expedition. Travelling around, wandering like a nomad for 15 days. A feeling of bittersweet, told me that my journey was over, just like the setting sun when I left Fort Kochi. Indeed at the end of that 15th day I felt like Phileas Fogg, whose surmounting adventure had successfully come to a fulfilling end. One that I will cherish forever until I come back to soak it in yet again…

P.S This is my writing sample to Glimpse‘s ‘Correspondent Program for Fall 2011‘, Also the shortened version of it is my submission to WorldNomads Travel Writing Scholarship for 2011 which can be read here

© Copyright 2011 Srinivas Kulkarni. All rights reserved

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Belur & Halebid – For the Love of Hoysala Architecture

These have been places that were on my itinerary from the time I’d been researching on Ancient Indian Technology, for my BarCampMumbai talk. Certainly fascinating, this & Hampi… Hampi was last on the agenda, but this place equally fascinating, for it’s wonderful and truly magnificient architecture that it shares with us from the ancient times of the 11th Century… Remarkable in it’s own stature, this has to be a place that is not so pompous and done to death by a lot of tourists, at the same time the places have a significant relevance in Karnataka tourism. Many tourism buses take tours and get people from all over the world to visit this fascinating place of art, history and significant culture. Why has it been so fascinating? Well, this relatively long but enchanting blog post that I’d like to write now, will probably tell you all about it.

Belur

Beautiful Belur, the quaint little town set elegantly on the banks of river Yagachi, amidst lush surroundings was earlier known as Velapuri. It was chosen as the capital of the Hoysalas, after the ascking and destruction of their capital at Dwarasamudra (Halebeedu) by delhi Sultans. The Hoysalas ruled the reigon between 44th and 13th Centuries. They were great patrons of art and architecture and built a number of magnificient shrines during their 300 years reign. The temples and monuments at Belur are amazing with their sculptures and architecture. Belur was revered for its magnificent shrines and came to be known as Modern Vaikuntha. Heaven on earth.

The Hoysala temples are characterised by Typical star shaped ground plan and are usually set on a platform. They are compact structures. Ornately careved shrines indicate the musica and dance were highly regarded by the Hoysalas and used to express religious fervor. The temples of Belur are carved out of soap stone.

Hoysala dynasty is believed to be named after the words ‘hoy Sala’ meaning ‘Strike Sala’, which were called out to Sala, the legendary head of this dynasty. When he was combating a tiger single handedly. Sala killed the tiger and this act of bravery was immortalised in the royal emblem of the dynasty. The Hoysalas ruled the Deccan and parts of Tamil Nadu between the 11th and 13th centuries. They had their origins in the hill tribes of the Western Ghats converted to Jainism in 10th century.

How To Reach:

By Rail: Hassan around 37 kms. And then take a local bus.

By Bus : It’s easy to take a bus to Hassan from Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore. From there take a local bus.

Chenna Keshava Temple:

The magnificent shrine dedicated to Lord Vijayanarayana, one of the twenty four incarnations of Vishnu was built to commemorate the Victory of Hoysalas over Cholas in the great battle of Talakkad. Some believe that it was constructed when Vishnyvardhana adopted Vaishnavism under the influence of the great guru Sri Ramanujacharya.

The construction of the temple commenced in 1116 A.D. at the instance of King Vishnuvardhana, his son and later on his grandson actually completed the construction of the temple. As per historical records, around 103 years to complete this beautifully sculpted temple complex. It is definitely the masterpiece in Hoysala Architecture.

Saumyanayaki Temple

This is another important shrine in the temple complex, it is towards the south west of Keshava temple and is adorned with an elegant Viman a, said to be resembling the vimana atop the Keshava temple, which was dismantled in 1879

Godess Andal Shrine

The sacred shrine in the temple complex is associated with poet saint Alwar. Its outer walls are also decoreated with rows of large image. Other smaller shrines  in the complex are of Ramanujacharya, Krishna, Narsimha, Anjaneya, Ramchandra.

Gravity Pillar

This unique 42 feet high pillar carved out of a single rock and stands on its own weight. The paved compound of the temple complex has a pavilion near the bathing tank. Sculptures of Vishnuvardhan and Krishnaraja Wodeyar can be seen here. Other statues of note are Garudagambha and Garuda, the celestial vehicle of Lord Vishnu.

Halebid

Halebid, the ancient acpital of Hoysala’s was founded in the early 11th century and was known as Dwarasamudra, after a huge artificial lake of the same name, dating back to the 19th century. The flourishing capital city had a small fortress with a magnificent palace. It was fortified with the lake of Enormous boulders and a moat that was connected with the lake. Halebid attained glorious height during the reign of Ballala – II. the grandson of Vishnuvardhan. The Hoysala Empire extended from river Kaveri in the west to Krishna in the east and was enriched by the fertile deltas of the rivers.  It’s prosperity attracted the forces of Delhi Sultanate, who invaded and annexed the town in 1311. Malik Kafur, is said to have taken away camel-loads of jewellery, gold and silver from here. In 1326, it was again attacked by Mohammad bin Tughlak.

After repeated attacks and the killing of king Ballala II, in the battle against the Sultan of Madura in 1342, the Hoysala were forced to relinquish their beautiful capital. The town was then nostalgically referred to as ‘Halebeid’ or old capital. It was never reoccupied again and the Hoysalas shifted capital to Belur. The Hoysala built over 150 exquisite temples in southern Karnataka, but the temples here are considered to be the most outstanding. The most important temple is Hoysalesvara and Kedareshvara, which are considered to be masterpieces of traditional Indian art forms. The figure carving at these temples are larger than any other temples nearby.

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