Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kodaikanal Summer Tour: The Cool Gift of the Forest

Recently, due to excessive urbanization, Bangalore also has started facing summers in March-April. Garden city where there was no need of fan, today, has become the house of air conditioners. To beat this heat, we set out to the "Princess of Hill stations"- Kodaikanal!

Established in 1845 by British as their summer homes, Kodaikanal is decorated with Meadows and grasslands that cover the hillsides. Gigantic Eucalyptus trees and shola forests flourish in the valleys. English countryside bungalows are very common. Honestly, this land of Kurunji flowers those which blossom once in 12 years, I never expected it to be this beautiful and cold(15-20 degree Celsius)!

From Bangalore it is overnight journey to the nearest railway station- Kodai Road. From there to Kodaikanal is 80kms. Dindigul junction is the previous station to Kodai Road(you can wake up at Dindigul station!). Since we were six of us- we travelled to and fro in a travera and an innova respectively. You’ll easily realize the difference in weather, flora & fauna when you travel to hill station from railway station! To put it in taxi drivers one word difference- “Chillness”.

#Kodaikanal Lake is what defines Kodaikanal. Interestingly this is an artificial, roughly star-shaped 60 acres lake built in 1863. We could sight couples spending their honeymoon in rowboats and pedalos at the Kodaikanal Boat Club located in this lake. Even we did boating in pedalos!
There are numerous shops and roadside eateries surrounding this lake. Early morning, we hired bicycles and rode in the 5 kilometres path that skirts the periphery of this lovely lake. The reflection of pines, clouds, drizzling rain, sun and moon in this spacious beautiful lake, can make anyone a poet!

#Coaker's Walk, 500 metres from the bus-stand, was constructed by Lt. Coaker in 1872, is a 1-kilometre paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes. We saw couple of telescope observatories and honestly, were a letdown. Apparently, you can see rainbow in the cloud if the
Sun is behind telescope. Anyways we were not that lucky enough. It was a very scenic walk. We did some shopping here since there were lot vendors selling earrings, eucalyptus oil, homemade chocolates and spices.

#Dolphin's Nose, 8 kilometres from the bus stand, is flat rock projecting over a breathtaking chasm 6,600 feet deep. To reach there, it takes a small trek of 2kms in a trail that steeply descends and might slip as well. You can spot ladies selling short snacks from their individual homes in this trail. Couple of viewpoints makes this small walk interesting- mid way to Dolphin’s nose, there is Mountain valley view and further down Dolphin’s nose, there is echo point. It rained a bit when we were there. Looking down at the symmetric Palani hills is in fact, pure bliss!

#Kodai- By The Lake by Sterling Holidays resort is situated on the banks of the picturesque Kodai Lake and styled on the lines of English countryside to compliment the English styled villages that dot Kodaikanal. In this beautiful resort, we had rented a duplex 2-bhk for a day which came with excellent service, excellent living room and breathtaking views. Nalla irukku!

#Food might be a topic of concern if you crave for spicy dishes. If you love having idly, dosa, rice, rasam and sambar- it won’t be much of problem! We had 2 meals, i.e., breakfast and dinner at the Hotel Eden Park, approximately 20kms from Kodai Road railway station. I can easily recommend this place. At Kodaikanal, previous day lunch at Woodlands hilltop restaurant made us turn to Dominos for the next day. The best part- having Moroccan mint tea while the sun starts to fade behind clouds and mercury touching around
15 degrees Celsius in April. Also, we didn’t miss to grab a bite of roadside bread toast, cuppa noodles, and sandwiches, masala teas with biscuits, vadai, sweet corn, peaches, tree tomatoes, passion fruits and baby carrots!

#Missed places- Pine forest where movie are shot, Pillar rocks, waterfalls due to lack of water and eating at Astoria hotel, highly rated local eatery!

[Thanks Pranita, Aditi, Rashmika, Supraj and Anudeep for making this trip memorable.]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi: Jai Mata Di

Thanks to online flight offers and Ugadi long weekend, I along with my parents planned to do much awaited, always postponed- holy pilgrimage to Vaishno devi at Katra. We started off from Bangalore early on a Friday morning in flight and almost missed the train to Jammu from Delhi in the evening since I had misread the starting station as New Delhi instead of Old Delhi. Those tensed moments in auto to catch the train was a gripping start for a journey to remember!
View of Trikuta Mountains From Katra

Saturday morning, 18 degree Celsius, I had got down from Jammu Tawi station and boarded mini bus to Katra (they ply as soon as they get full).Ours was the first train on time and no train had arrived to Jammu in past 12 hours owing to terrorists firing near Pathankot (major station before Jammu)!

I was mesmerized by the Jammu- Srinagar highway. We arrived in Katra, freshened up, after a 46 kms ride through beautiful landscapes, some tunnels, engineering marvels, army personnel in every 2 kms guarding- I promised myself to visit J & K again and now I am convinced that J & K is the real Heaven on the Earth!

Vaishno devi pilgrimage is very well controlled by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. The Holy
The Path to Bhavan
Cave of the Mother is situated at an altitude of 5200 ft. The Yatris (pilgrims) have to undertake a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. At the culmination of their pilgrimage, the yatries are blessed with the Darshan of the Mother Goddess inside the Sanctum Sanctorum- the Holy Cave. These Darshan are in the shape of three natural rock formations called the Pindies. There are no statues or idols inside the Cave.

One needs to buy ticket at the base camp and would go through at least 7-8 security checks. I suddenly made up my mind to go barefoot to the top. The first part of the trek (6kms), i.e, from Katra to Adi Kuwari Devi Temple, is believed to be very strenuous. Take my word, it’s an easy climb with inclination hardly reaching 30 degrees, lot of eateries, colorful shops, ponies and
Heading to Bhairon Nath Temple
other thousand people walking along side you chanting “Jai Mata Di”- you won’t realize the difficulty.

Adi Kuwari Devi Temple to Bhawan(the shrine) is again 6 kms and we chose to go via Himakot, comparatively easier stretch. Route is almost parallel, no major climb during the trek, but it is prone to frequent landslides and stone shootings from the hill. Breath-taking views, frequent helicopters that fly over your head, cool breeze, no sweating- journey is really enjoyable. We took 5 hrs from Katra to reach Bhawan. We deposited mobiles, cameras and baggage in a clock room and headed for Darshan of deity in the cave, which hardly took us 45 min.

It is believed that your Yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi is not complete unless you also visit the Temple of Bhairon Baba that requires a further trek of 2 kms on steep hills. We took pony to climb this stretch and headed down in the same- we took around 4 hours in total. While climbing back, the
Bahu Fort
Sun had turned red and was almost ready to set. Mercury had started falling and views were just awesome. I also spotted helicopter operations at the Sanjichhat Helipad.

After the trek, the feeling was just incredible. Heart was smiling with immense satisfaction. I didn’t have mobile connectivity since J & K has banned prepaid sim connection. It didn’t really bother me since this spiritual connection was with God and fellow trekkers who had come to discover themselves!

After a good night sleep, we headed towards Jammu to catch train back to Delhi. We had 8 hours to kill and we explored Jammu. Jammu resides on bank of Tawi River in the lap of nature. Jammu is also known as “The City of Temples”. I visited the following places-

#Raghu Nath Temple is the oldest/ most famous temple and boosts of incredible spiritual
Aquarium Entrance
ambience. Many chambers for different Gods, Goddess and Sants are the specialty here. Also, you’ll spot 11 lakh Lord Shiva Saligramas(similar to small stones).

#Bahu Fort is believed to be made by King Bahu Lochan, 3000 years ago. Much later, its extensive reconstruction was done by Dogra rulers of Jammu and they also built a mughal-styled garden. Majestic!

#Bawe Wali Mata Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Kali located within the Bahu fort. Goddess Kali is considered to be the presiding deity of Jammu and with whose blessings the town was established and prospered. This temple was constructed in 1822 during the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh. The temple has few other shrines and idols also such as Ganesh, Narasimha, Radha Krishna, Ram-Lakshman-Sita-Hanuman, Panchmukh Hanuman, Shiv Linga and Vaishno Devi.

#Bagh-e-Bahu is the beautiful garden on the banks of Tawi River and just below the Bahu fort. You’ll spot series of beautiful flowers and small fountains on the other side of the walking path, once you have entered in the garden. Also, a small lake is like an icing on the cake!

#Aquarium museum sandwiched between Bahu Fort and Bagh-e-Bahu is the largest underground aquarium of India. The entrance is designed in the shape of the mouth of a fish and the exit in the shape of a fish tail. The aquarium houses a museum where 400 varieties of freshwater and marine fish are on display.

#Har ki Pauri mini Haridwar is fairly new temple built on the banks of river Tawi. Tall idols of Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman are the main attraction. Also, from here, we could get a sight of Bahu fort above our head and burnt palace of Raja Hari Singh across the river.

I continued my trip from here to Delhi and Agra. I have blogged it separately for better clarity. Do visit Agra with me by clicking here!

[Thanks to Supraj for booking tickets and to Sambit for helping with right information]

Trip to Taj Mahal: To Display Thereby The Creator's Glory

After successful pilgrimage to Vaishno devi and Jammu visit, I got 2 days in Delhi, which was surprisingly pleasant with mercury reading around 20-25 degree Celsius. Day one was spent in local site seeing and the day two was spent visiting Brindavan, Mathura and Agra. Note, places below are in the order I visited.

#Birla Mandir aka Laxminarayan Temple indeed boosts of incredible calmness. We visited this place in the morning and atmosphere was truly blissful. This year, i.e, 2014, this place is celebrating platinum jubilee. It was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, was made built by B. R. Birla and Jugal Kishore Birla. Surrounded by beautiful garden, paintings, sculptors, Geetha mandir, tight security
Qutub Minar
and Metro (to travel conveniently) - definitely a must-visit place!

I revisited some of the places which I blogged last time, this time around with my parents- we visited Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Chandini Chowk, India Gate, Parliament House and travelled mostly in autos or metro trains.

#Ranganath Temple Brindavan was a disaster. Numerous “so-called” panditji’s in round-neck collarless tshirt with Krishna print and dhoti- try to pursued you to spend cash on them/on their temples! This place has no doubt lost its religious shine and has turned out to be a place where business is run on the name of Lord Krishna. Panditji also turns to guide here- vomiting out some random spiritual lines from no-where and explaining how much other people have spent in terms of cash/gold/diamonds (Paresh Rawal’s “Oh My God!” was running in mind)! Roads are poor, infrastructure sucks! You’ll see 500 odd temples on the way just like this. Taxi guys get commission paid if he gets a visitor to any of these temples. Panditiji’s loot- creating fear and proclaiming aloud what-happens-if-I-don’t-give ideologies. Krishna if at all descends down to earth, not shockingly will run back after seeing the hell His people have created using His name. My advice- forget visiting this place, let Krishna’s
Birla Mandir
original Brindavan(which we saw on televisions) hold it’s place in your imaginary, don’t kill it!

#Krishna Janma Bhoomi Mathura luckily under archeological dept. was really well kept. It didn’t look like a disputed land to me (you’ll see idgah- Muslim prayer hall structure- built by Aurangajeb next to Krishna Temple), since the white birds and kindergarten kids wearing white uniforms making their way inside temple premises. They really know no differences, no boundaries, no religions, no hatred! The beautiful charm of Radha Krishna idols in the temple on top of prison where Krishna is believed to be have born was clearly reflected on these young innocent faces. Elders were right; we can see God in children!

#Akbar Tomb, Sikandara is really beautiful with masterpiece Mughal architecture which was
India Gate
planned by Akbar himself and was finished by his son, Jahangir. Mughal Greatest emperor Akbar was laid to rest here. I spotted fearless squirrels, free-grazing flock of deer, broad-and-tall wall doors, marvelous windows, lavish gardens, wide spread area, good infrastructure by archeological dept. and last but not the least, at least 25 unmarried couples!

#Taj Mahal turned out to be the gem of this trip, 5 degree inclined symmetric pillars, gardens and fountains, incredible white marble paintings and architecture, river Yamuna romancing this serene heart-warming sensation, I am in loss of words to put the beauty and ended-up saying- WOW! Must must visit once in lifetime. I really wish that the planned black Taj Mahal on the other side of river would have also been completed by the Emperor. Hat’s off to Shah Jahan for constructing this for his wife Mumtaz and as I am still in awe; I am not going to write any lines of my own, instead will repaste Shah Jahan’s words through which he described
the Taj-
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
#Red Fort & Agra Fort, I caught the glance of it from outside. Red fort of Agra is supposed to be replica of Delhi’s historic Red fort. Since the day was hot and Sun seeping out our energy, we gave these two places a skip and were contented with it’s marvellous built from the
Taj Mahal

#Yamuna Expressway, I need to mention this. Had never ever seen such straight and planned roads. Glimpses of fertile land both the sides, extremely huge road, intelligent execution of planning, sight of farmers toiling, quick glance on Budd International Racing Circuit, restrooms and eateries- it was a delight to be on this highway! Who says India is not developed!

[Thanks to Archi for helping in planning and execution]