Re-imagining our Museums

Re-imagining our Museums

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

To help us realize the above statement, we have two wonderful assets in the form of the National Museum in New Delhi and the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Formerly The Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai. It was heartening to visit the flagship museums of our country. Yes, things are getting better with plenty of opportunities for innovation.

Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum
Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum

The teams at both the museums have started engaging visitors by including audio guides, brochures, guide books, audio visual shows and other theme based events like the International day Yoga. The counter staff are knowledgable about the exhibit areas,  conduct themselves very professionally and regularly seek suggestions from the visitors.

  • Both the museums begin their tours with an introduction to civilizations of the world. Busy charts, maps and a few artifacts crowd out entire floors. How relevant is it to showcase a bathing area, ritual pots and pans without an accompanying audio visual show talking about how people lived in those days? Digital enhances the visitor experience. The same can be made available through a museum website for people outside of these cities to get a virtual walk through
  • Our governments still own our museums; This strength should be used to rope in more Thematic content like the one organized during International Yoga day for example. With India’s excellent diplomatic relations with UN Member countries, a bi monthly showcase with one such country can help our fellow country men know the country and its people a lot better. This can be a physical exhibition plus a digital feature as well. How about a Japan month to start with? The Museum of Tribal arts and artifacts in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa is a brilliant theme based exhibition of Orissa’s Tribal roots. The staff in the museum are extremely knowledgable about their own and explain their culture with a truck load of passion

 

The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!
The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!
  • There are sections within museums which deserve to be re-imagined. The coinage gallery in the National museum for example. Who in current times will get excited with a dour exhibit which does not have any interactivity. How about a small game helping visitors understand how coinage has evolved in India
The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors
The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors
  • The stone and Bronze sculpture galleries detail the art across various empires of India . It will be wonderful to see some of India’s stolen and recovered sculptures being showcased. An interactive digital gallery which explains making of sculptures and explaining the significance of symbols can excite the visitor to delve deeper in to our country’s rich past
The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes
The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes
  • Both the museums take pride in the collections of their paintings, especially the miniatures and European art collection in Mumbai. I don’t understand western art. How can we help the average visitor understand and appreciate art? Can the website or a Kiosk help enhance the experience and get the visitor to better appreciate art? We have numerous art schools and am sure many of them would love to hand a summer project to their students in this area
  • The Mumbai museum has a well curated Textile section which i think is a real crowd puller. Similarly there is a lot to be explored across
    • Agricultural history and evolution of Irrigation in India
    • Maritime Trade history of India
    • India’s forces and a light and sound show – Army, Navy and Air Force
    • India’s space history and accomplishments
    • Indian Railways – Engine of growth for the country
    • Wars fought by India and where we were involved like the II world war
    • Using global visual archives to help the visitor understand India’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts across the world
    • India’s victories to keep its borders secure
A textile map of India, Prints of various states of India, Child dresses, Parsee Saree
The Textile Heritage of India showcased within the precincts of the Mumbai Museum
  • The Mumbai Museum has actively engaged children and adults with small craft workshops, making ones own pre-historic tile and printing on paper and cloth. This is a good beginning
  • Both the Museums have in-museum stores and have stocked up on a good collection of take aways that are reasonably priced and of good quality. Key chains with miniatures, Coffee table books, pen holders, bags and other interesting gifting ideas

At the same time, important to be mindful of the facilities  like being disable friendly, providing ample sitting areas, restrooms at every level, water fountains and cafes. Without these it is a bit cruel to expect the Old, children and the infirm to visit our Museum.

Safety is another aspect of our Museums which have made news for all the wrong reasons. A fire or a deluge can wipe out decades of painstaking curation efforts. It can be heart wrenching to lose precious artifacts. Digitizing them offers an option apart from mandatory safety mechanisms.

Museums tell stories and we and our children have and will grow up with stories, isn’t it?

Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan – Jodhpur & Ranakpur

Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan – Jodhpur & Ranakpur

Rajasthan is a popular destination India that gets extensive coverage in foreign countries. Palaces, Desert Camping, Festive colors, Safaris, Fairs, Religious circuits; the state packages everything that ‘The Land’ has to offer. Rajasthan has one of the best road and air connectivity in the country and tempts many in to taking road trips across the state. The blog below, authored by my daughter Rashmi, seeks to capture the beauty of Rajasthan through her eyes and words. The trip was organized towards the closing stages of the tourist season in the month of March. The weather is warmer than usual during the day but the evenings are pleasant with the hangover of winter. This road trip across Rajasthan was done over a period of 7 Nights and 8 Days.

In Part 1 of the road trip, we covered Udaipur. Udaipur to Jodhpur is a 260 Km (161 miles) drive via NH8 and NH65 taking approximately 4 hrs and 30 mins. Jodhpur is the “Sun City”, second largest city in Rajasthan and served as the seat of the erstwhile Marwar Kingdom.

Day 3 – The Drive to Jodhpur

We started off early by saying bye to the Ramada resort, and drove down from Udaipur to Jodhpur. It was a 5-hour drive which was long yet comfortable because of the smooth and single roads along with the good highways. It was easy also because of the 3 stops we had in-between.

Our first stop in-between the journey to Jodhpur was DevShree in Deogarh. It is a boutique homestay. Owned by Mr Shatrunjay Singh and Mrs Bhavna Kumari, this is a small yet elegant property with currently 7 rooms. Inspite of a small amount of rooms, this homestay provides top-class facilities with excellent and spacious rooms. It is an amazing place for a mini getaway. The environment here consists of a lake, trees, birds including peacocks. You can eat food that feels like its home-cooked and experience a heritage stay. In today’s generation, such home stays are coming up rapidly and they are a must-visit. We had lunch here and spent time chit-chatting with the owners who have a charming personality as they were related to some of our old friends.

Devisree Deogarh, Mosaic corridor, The Haveli
Devisee Deogarh. A Heritage Home Stay with views of the Mehrangarh Fort
The Lounge, Dining area and luxurious seating
The interiors of Devisree Deogarh
The royalty, a Stuffed Owl, Water boiler and hot snacks
Interesting artifacts and snacks, of course

We next had a short stop for a property visit in Rohetgarh. This is also a nice place which is a heritage garden resort, situated in the outskirts of Jodhpur. It has got a very rural and rustic flavor and serves as a good base for travellers in the outskirts of the Jodhpur city, wanting to travel in the city.

Handwork and Garden seating at Rohetgarh
The Home Stay – RohetGarh in Ranakpur

We finally ended our drive by arriving into the city of Jodhpur and staying for 2 nights at a heritage homestay know as Ratanvilas. This place may be small and simple but the staff are extremely warm and helpful. The food here is simple and delicious. The property also includes a swimming pool that is set in a garden surrounded by a number of plants and flowers. It is a very peaceful place providing all facilities except for the wifi in rooms but in the common area. It is a very good choice for a short stay of maybe 2 nights in Jodhpur..

Ratanvilas
A Well laid out Meal to end the day

Day 4 – Exploring the Sun City

This was the second day of our stay in Jodhpur. Again, a fresh new day with good breakfast and a day full of hotel visits and city sightseeing.

After breakfast, me and my mother first went to the Mehrangarh Fort which is one of the largest forts of India. It was built around 1460 by Rao Jodha and is made up of thick and strong walls. It is also very high. This place is a very good place to know about the ancient Rajput period.

Mehrangarh_1
Entrance to Mehrangarh – Welcome by Lord Ganesh

 

This place displays a variety of artifacts, paintings and royal objects obtained from the Rajput period. There are several galleries in this fort, that give us information on different things in the empire. One of them was the “Palanquins”- royal means of travel, usually used for the queens and princesses of the royal family, to travel from one place to another. They are also known as “palkis”. Another gallery displayed the armour used in the Rajput period by the soldiers and the kings. They look amazing, as they protect the person (who is wearing it) from being injured by any kind of explosive or harmful objects used by the enemy.

Jodhpur from above Mehrangarh fort
The external Facade of the fort and view of Jodhpur

Another gallery displayed the different paintings made by the nobles and other people during that period. They are fascinating and may be better than the paintings of today’s generation, as they are intricate and display moments that took place in the royal court. Each painting here displays a story or function taking place. This gallery also displays pictures(or I would say real diagrams) showing, how the brushes and paints were made during this period. There were many such more galleries in this fort displaying the other artifacts of this period. This is a wonderful place to visit and it is clean and well maintained. You can also view the “blue-city” from here and buy souvenirs in the Mehrangarh Fort Shop, having mugs, t-shirts and other interesting things related to the royal family of Jodhpur.

Murals of the Goddess
The Devi Murals at Mehrangarh

We then visited a luxury resort-Raas Haveli, a 5-star resort facing the Mehrangarh fort. This place has a romantic setting and is extremely peaceful, unlike the other rajasthani hotels who have cultural performances every evening and are very lively. This place is having a natural environment and is very calm. The staff are very kind and willing to serve and this place is most visited by foreigners. You will not find any board throughout the property, including the entrance, because the owners want their guests to feel as if they are staying at their home and not any hotel or resort.

Luxurious RaasHaveli, Swimming Pool, A Rickshaw and views of the fort
RaasHaveli of Jodhpur

After that, we bought some kachori and lassi in a famous snack shop on the way, and went back to the hotel, as it was getting very hot and I got a slight headache. After a short break in the afternoon, we went out to explore the local markets of jodhpur. These markets are extremely lively, as they are selling all kinds of things, which are bought by the locals at all times of the day. The markets are very long and never ending! You will find the saris, kurtas, western dresses and the traditional suites having the “ghotapatti” (glass like work on cloth materials) work on them, in a separate side. The crockery and cooking utensils are sold on another side of the market. These markets are crowded and big, but they are worth visiting!

Getting there – Jodhpur too is now connected via Air. Currently flights to Jodhpur originate only from Mumbai. Jet Airways and Air India are the only airlines offering connectivity, often with a hop at Udaipur or Jaipur.  Jodhpur also has a railhead and Indian Railways offers convenient overnight trains from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.

Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan

Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan

Rajasthan is a popular destination India that gets extensive coverage in foreign countries. Palaces, Desert Camping, Festive colors, Safaris, Fairs, Religious circuits; the state packages everything that ‘The Land’ has to offer. Rajasthan has one of the best road and air connectivity in the country and tempts many in to taking road trips across the state. The blog below, authored by my daughter Rashmi, seeks to capture the beauty of Rajasthan through her eyes and words. The trip was organized towards the closing stages of the tourist season in the month of March. The weather is warmer than usual during the day but the evenings are pleasant with the hangover of winter. This road trip across Rajasthan was done over a period of 7 Nights and 8 Days.

Udaipur – The City of Lakes

This trip to Rajasthan has been a much awaited trip for me. Scheduled to take place after the stressful exams, this trip infused in me a lot of excitement. The day of our departure to our first destination, Udaipur, was a wonderful one. It started of pleasantly, by taking a flight to Udaipur as that is the only way. Udaipur, an extremely lively city that is filled with hotels and resorts having people who are commited to serve. Rajasthan is known for its people who have a charming personality and a willingness to serve their guests with warmth. Maharana Udai Singh of the Sisodia clan of the Rajputs,founded this city in 1553 and moved his capital from Chittorgarh to Udaipur. It remained the capital city till 1818 till it became a British Princely State. We(me,my mom and my grandfather) stayed at the Ramada resort and spa, which is a good four star resort. It has spacious rooms with good amenities and the staff here are very kind and helpful. The resort may be a little far away from the airport but it is the perfect one for a short stay of 2 nights.

Ramada Udaipur
The Ramada Resort & Spa, Udaipur

The main purpose of this trip was to explore various high quality boutique and luxury resorts, palaces converted to hotels and heritage homestays to help my mother know more about them, their rooms, service and standard, to recommend them to her clients as per their requirement and affordability. Our first day was a cool and relaxing one as we had just arrived into the hotel. We were invited by some old friends to Hotel Inderprakash, just to meet and greet and spend some time together along with snacks. This place is an oyo premium hotel and is excellent for budget travellers.Later, we went to the Garden hotel for dinner which is located within the vintage car collection. It’s a small restaurant that serves delicious Indian Thali’s . You may not be able to find food upto your taste but good Indian Thali’s are easily available in Hotel Garden and Hotel Natraj.

Vegetarian Thali
A simple vegetarian Thali in Udaipur

There are a lot of sightseeing spots in Udaipur. This is a city that is super-clean and is ranked as the 20th cleanest city in the Swachh Bharat (Clean India)rankings.The Pichola lake makes this city look the prettiest by the night along with the night lighting. In Udaipur, you can visit the City palace which is a majestic palace standing on the eastern bank of the Pichola lake. This wonder was built by Maharana Udai Singh and it has various towers, domes and arches,which add flavor to this heritage site. It is wholly built on marble and granite and is a must-see site. You can also visit the Jag Mandir, which is an island palace in the middle of lake Pichola. It has some striking carvings including a row of elephants that look as if they are guarding the island. This place can be accessed only by boats. The crystal gallery is another fascinating place which contains a breathtaking collection of crystals, that have been collected from the past from antique pieces and artifacts. Here, you can see crystal dressing tables, chairs, crockery, table fountains and also the regal beds.

 

Day 2 – I could officially call this day the beginning of our trip because on this day we started visiting all the palace hotels and resorts which was the main purpose of our trip. We started off by having our breakfast in the resort which was included in our package. We then visited the Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace, which is a high end luxury palace hotel. It is located in a beautiful location that is surrounded by greenery and is set in a former royal palace and a lakeside hilltop. This is a very good place for high end travellers and it is surrounded by a very peaceful environment. It has rooms facing the fort and rooms facing the lake. The suites here provide an amazing amount of luxury.

Laxmi Vilas palace exteriors, views of the lake and mosaic corridors
The Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace of Udaipur has an Imposing presence
Maharaja's Painting, an antique clock and a Royal Carriage
The Antiques at the Laxmi Vilas Palace and Hotel
Shrinathji, Candle stand, Wooden Dolls made from Doodhia and cloth paintings on the wall
Shrinathji graces almost every residence and establishment in Udaipur
Marble figurine of a courtier, coat of arms of the Maharaja and an ornate ceiling
Wooden Toys and figurines are made from a wood called Doodhia and are popular buys in Udaipur

We then visited the Leela Palace, Udaipur which is a spectacular boutique property with the majestic location of the Lake Pichola and the fabulous view of the Aravalli mountains. It is beautifully designed to reflect the surrounding styles and influences and wonderfully displays the beauty of crafts and décor,for which leela is known. The rooms are large and well designed and is suited for foreign travellers and couples. The environment here is peaceful and charming and the staff are very kind and helpful.

Portrait of Arvind Singh Mewar, A Ravi Varma, Shrinathji, Floral arrangement, Rajasthani Artwork and Wooden toys of Udaipur
Arvind Singh Mewar Custodian of the Mewar Dynasty and first family of Udaipur and his regal presence
Boat Jetty at Leela Palace, Lake Nichola Vies, Lobby with Musicians, Buggy for transport
The Jetty to transport guests, luxurious interiors and captivating views of Lake Pichola
Ornate candle lamp, Living area, Balcony and bedroom
72 Luxurious grand heritage rooms facing the lake and 8 suites adorn the Palace hotel

Then, we visited the world famous Oberoi Udai vilas Resort which is a place that cannot be described in words. It is a place that has to be visited. The beautiful cultures, intricate Thikri work(traditional rajasthani glass work) and paintings on the walls, will leave any person awestruck. This place is so famous, that many film shoots and advertisement shoots take place here. The suites here are so comfortable and royal that no person would feel like leaving the place on the day of his/her checkout! The staff and the environment along with the lake make this place the best, for a romantic getaway…. Visiting these places literally took a whole day..Seeing the staff, the property and the rooms takes time and makes a lot of difference.

Palace Hotel, Corridors, Domes
The Palace hotel stands on a 200 acre hunting ground and is spread over 50 acres

 

The Palace hotel lawns, lobby and eye catching ceilings
Walkways and Domes of the Udaivilas stream in sunlight in plenty. The Thikri glasswork are spread across the property

After visiting the resorts, we took it easy and relaxed in the evening in our room and got some simple dinner from Hotel Natraj.. We parceled some rice, Khicidi and Kadi which is an all time favourite..That indeed was a long and tiring day!

Getting there – If you are starting your journey in Rajasthan from Udaipur, do note that only the Metro cities and international gateways of Mumbai and Delhi offer convenient connections. Jet Airways, Indigo, Air India and Spicejet all offer direct flights in to Udaipur. Udaipur also has a railhead and Indian Railways offers convenient overnight trains from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.

More to come…..

Dwarka & Somnath…..Spending a few days in Gujarat 1

Dwarka & Somnath…..Spending a few days in Gujarat 1

Amitabh Bachchan, India’s universally loved movie star in his endorsement for Gujarat Tourism, humbly requests “Kuch Din to Guzaro Gujarat mein…..”(Please come and spend a few days in Gujarat). Such messaging accompanied by rich imagery has spurred the tourism industry in Gujarat.

Dwarka and Somnath offer the perfect opportunity to spend a few days and sample the hospitality of Gujarat. Rajkot is the nearest air-head and for now one can get here comfortably from Mumbai. There are 6 flights out of which 4 are operated by Jetairways and one by AirIndia. The early morning flight out of Mumbai at 510 AM is punctual and gets you in to Rajkot by the crack of dawn. This sets you up perfectly and will ensure that you get to your first destination Dwarka, a distance of 4 hours/225 kms right at the stroke of lunch. Rajkot airport almost feels like a quiet neighborhood and one can expect to bump in to nearby residents who have set out for their morning walks. Our tour was planned with Narmadaholidays. We set out to Dwarka via the Petro-chemical refinery town of Jamnagar, made popular by India’s biggest conglomerate, Reliance industries Ltd. A good SUV (Toyota Innovas are extremely popular), supported by roads of excellent quality make this ride an absolute pleasure. There are trains which take you straight to Dwarka, but with roads of high standards the itinerary flexibility is completely in the hands of the traveler. Drivers (chauffeurs) in Gujarat are fluent in Gujarati (local language), Hindi (spoken widely) and if you are lucky a smattering of english. However, the fellows are friendly and pro-active and will make all the efforts to understand you.

Gujarat - The route along the coast
Gujarat – The route along the coast
The Rajkot Airport - Morning hours
The Rajkot Airport – Morning hours

TIP – Before setting out it will be good to ask your Tour Planner to brief the driver on your itinerary, your preferences, likes and dislikes and what you really want to experience. A good briefing followed by regular calls from the Tour planner to the driver helps iron out any inconsistencies in service. Get a good Data plan (foreign nationals) before setting out from your home country; Helps you be in touch with your Tour Planner and stay connected with your loved ones.

The highway is lined with Neem trees. If you find a nice highway restaurant, break for a cup of tea, feel the breeze hit you and refresh you with the goodness of Neem. A veg puff goes well with a cup of tea on a pleasant morning. Toilets are average in terms of cleanliness so it is advisable to prepare yourselves for the ride before exiting the airport at Rajkot.

90 minutes is all it takes to enter Jamnagar. The city and its businesses surged when Reliance opened the world’s largest refinery in the year 1999. The refinery has a processing capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day. Other refiners like Essar and Gujarat government companies have set up their facilities in the outskirts of Jamnagar. The closest port where these companies have their oil terminals is called Vadinar and is on the coastline of the Gulf of Kutchh. As you head out of Jamnagar on to National Highway 947, the huge entrance gates to the Reliance refinery are on your left. People from all over the country and world work in this refinery and all of them have been comfortably housed in the Reliance integrated township “Reliance Greens” on the opposite side of the highway. The township houses approximately 2500 employees and is fully equipped with schools, Hospitals and shopping amenities. We had the opportunity to tour the township as a guest being hosted by a reliance employee.

Reliance Township and Petrochemical complex
Reliance Township and Petrochemical complex

Gujarat is a textile haven and one should not miss an opportunity to catch a glimpse/purchase cotton fabrics manufactured at Jetpur or Virpur. This circuit offers you these opportunities and you can plan with your tour planner to help you organize.

Cotton Dress Materials - Made in Jetpur
Cotton Dress Materials – Made in Jetpur

Interesting – Speed limit inside the township is 30km/hr. Vehicles caught speeding by the Control center inform the employee and question him on the violation!

Another smooth ride gets you in to Dwarka right at the stroke of Noon. Dwarka has the honor of being one of India’s 4 Shakti Peeth’s (centers for learning- 800 AD) set up by Shri Adi Shankaracharya, one of India’s foremost philosopher and Theologian. The Dwarkadish temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna is the magnet for millions of devotees from across India and the world. The local economy thrives on tourism and production of pulses, ghee and fishing. The temple is over 2500 years old and has withstood invasions till it was rebuilt in the 16th century.

Numerous hotels cater to tourists across price points. We checked ourselves in to the Lord’s Inn, located right on the Dwarka beach promenade. The welcome in the hotels here is not by the reception but by the in-house priest who can help plan your visit to the temple. Basic amenities and cleanliness are met and ensure a comfortable stay.

The temple (history) is said to have been constructed by the grandson of Lord Krishna, Shri Vajranabha way back in 400 BC. The construction is from limestone (able to weather the sea), spire reaching up to 78 meters with the whole structure being supported by 72 pillars. The flag atop the temple is changed 5 times during the day and always has the insignia of the sun and the moon. Facilities at the temple are run in a streamlined manner by the temple management (controlled by the Government of Gujarat. Opening hours are between 6AM – 1PM and 5PM – 930 PM.

Before you get to the temple, weather permitting plan a walk along the promenade which drops in to the steps along the banks of the River Gomti. This point where the river meets the sea is called the Sangam. Peep a little further to get a glimpse of the temple situated on the banks of the river. Mornings are busy with Devotees and cows jostling for space along the banks. Vehicles drop you off about 100 meters away from the temple entrance. Security and facilities to keep your footwear are efficient. Foreigners are allowed entry as well. Special queues and general queues are available for devotees to view the main deity. A lot of Photographers roam the temple precincts and they are super efficient. Armed with instant printers, they dish out family photographs with the temple in the background, branded with the temple logo for a nominal fee of Rs 20. Go for it!

The Dwarkadish Temple - Shakti Peeth
The Dwarkadish Temple – Shakti Peeth

Head to the sunset point to get fantastic views of the vast expanse and prepare to capture the riot of colors that ensue. A sandy promenade abutting the sunset point offers camel rides, ice candies, spicy bhel and other snacks. If you are concerned about the steel plates ask the vendor to wrap it in a paper cone which makes for easier disposal as well. Loiter around till it is time for dinner by soaking in the salty winds. The devout also make a mandatory visit to the Rukmini temple (Lord Krishna’s consort) located about 2kms from the Dwarkadish temple.

Life at Sunset Point in Dwarka
Life at Sunset Point in Dwarka

Submerged city – Way back in the year 2000, archeologists discovered ruins of the ancient city of Dwarka, thought to have been long submerged. Ancient manuscripts are said have indicated the presence of such a city on the river gomti, respelendant with as much as 70,000 palaces decked in precious metals and gems. The ruins are located 131 feet below the surface and are now collectively called the Gulf of Khambhat cultural complex. Quiz your driver or any elderly priest about this city and light your imagination!

Other places of interest near Dwarka include Beyt Dwarka and Nageshwar. Beyt Dwarka is an island 30kms away from Dwarka and is a short ferry ride away. The island houses a temple which is considered to be the original abode of Krishna and his consort Rukmini. Tourists also gather to spot dolphins, marine life and go about picnicking. The Nageshwar temple is considered the first Jyotirling (devotional object representing Lord Shiva) and the main deity has the serpent standing guard over the linga. References to the jyotirlingas are found in the Shiva Puran (Ancient text which guide the devout on the worship of Lord Shiva). Relish some cucumbers sold outside the temple premises followed by a tall glass of sugarcane juice.

Dwarka Beach front and the Nageshwar Jyotirling
Dwarka Beach front and the Nageshwar Jyotirling

Food in Gujarat is a delight! Restaurants in Dwarka are simple and are in the business of serving Thalis (complete meal with Carbs, proteins, fats and other ingredients that meet your nutritional needs). Simple , fast service and relatively clean these Thali restaurants serve fresh food as they open specific hours and have very high footfalls. The rotis (flat breads) are hot and smeared with ghee, the dipping gravies keep getting replenished. Do ask for unlimited butter milk to accompany the meal. The Damji Hotel serves such a thali for Rs 120/- per head. Other establishments cater to people with various budgets. A short walk near the Dwarka beach promenade and one can find carts selling fresh and hot Indian fare, chinese, Dosas, Parathas and of course lot of Ice creams, Sherbets, Faloodas and Kulfis. Carry a bottle of water with you if you want to venture out. The seating is on stools and you can watch the furious pace of preparation and delivery of food to your table. Gujarat is one of india’s largest milk producing states; A hot cup of masala milk will set you up for a good night’s sleep and prepare you for your long drive to Somnath…..

The Gujarati Thali in Dwarka
The Gujarati THali in Dwarka

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Bande Utkala Janani……I adore Thee, O! Mother Utkal…..

Words written by Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra, when Odisha (www.odisha.gov.in) (Orissa till 2011) became independent on the 1st of April 1936.

Odisha’s etymology is “Odda Visaya” dating back to 1025 AD. It was historically also known as Kalinga which was conquered by Emperor Ashoka and also led him to take up a pacifist approach and ultimately embrace Buddhism.

Is Odisha the topmost travel destination in the country? Well, not at the moment but it is getting there. With Odisha tourism (www.odishatourism.gov.in) rebranding Odisha as a Scenic, Serne and Sublime destination, the state seems to be getting in to the “must visit” list of every discerning traveller. Mention Odisha and two things come to mind – The Jagannath Puri temple and the Konark Sun temple. Odisha offers a generous mix of religion, architecture, art, wildlife, food and of course a lot of beautiful beaches. Let us head to Odisha….

Bhubaneshwar is the capital and the most important Railhead on the east coast and a well-serviced airport. September was a pretty good month to visit Odisha; The scorching summer had abated and there was rain in good measure. Mumbai is well connected to Bhubaneshwar and preferred to take the Indigo connection. They had a morning service that would take us to the doorstep of our hotel, Trident Bhubaneshwar in time for a check in at 12 noon. The Bhubaneshwar airport is fairly large and quite clean. Our tour was planned by Narmada Holidays in collaboration with a local partner for logistics. We planned a visit spanning 4 nights and 5 days; ‘Longer duration trips can take you to the tribal hinterlands apart from the main highlights. Our vehicle for the next 5 days was a Toyota Innova which is a spacious SUV which can seat 5 people and yet have ample space for all the luggage. The ride to the city was on wide and extremely clean roads; comfortable and enjoyable at the same time.

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Day 1 – Check in done, it was time to get a good lunch for ourselves. Odiya cuisine offers excellent options for sea-food lovers and meat eaters alike. Being a coastal state the catch is among the freshest. For vegetarians, there is nothing to sweat as there are plenty of delicious options still around. We preferred a Santula (A vegetable stew with cumin and chillies) to go with our rice and Indian bread. A few hours rest and we were ready for our tour

Our first stop was the historical Udayagiri (sunrise hill) and Khandagiri caves. These caves are situated near Bhubaneshwar; Partly natural and partly artificial, the caves are of archeological, historical and religious importance. The archeological survey of India maintains the monuments; There are tickets to be purchased for foreign nationals whereas entry is free for Indian and SAARC nationals. There are a total of 33 caves within the precinct of the hills. The most important among these are the Ranigumpha (Rani – Queen, Gumpha – Cave) in Udayagiri, which is a double storeyed monastery and Hathigumpha (Hathi – elephant). The top of Khandagiri cave is a short climb and it offers fine views of Bhubaneshwar from its summit. Spend a couple of hours here refreshed with the cool evening breeze and a magnificent view of the setting sun.

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Evenings in Bhubaneshwar are either spent shopping or eating roadside snacks. A popular snack that we sampled was a cup of sprouted pulses, spiced up and garnished with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lime and coriander. Cheap and nutritious, this one was quite a filler and gave us the energy to move around. Our guide got us to the Market Building shopping area which houses a lot of handloom and handicraft showrooms, book shops and other assorted shops. The local Handicrafts and handloom are promoted by a government showroom called Utkalika which has branches across the state. Priyadarshini, another handloom organization promotes traditional handloom of odisha – Tusser, Sambalpur and Ikkat. We window shopped and made enquiries to our hearts content. September is when the country celebrates Ganesh Chathurti (Festival of the Elephant god – Lord Ganesh). The streets were lined with finely decorated pandals housing the idols of the Lord. We were in time for the evening prayers following which Prasad was distributed among all the devotees. The Harekrishna Restaurant in Kharabela Nagar offers simple and excellent vegetarian fare, which helps keep you light before retiring for the day.

Day 2 – The nandankanan Zoo or The Garden of Gods houses a Zoological park and a Botanical garden. Located about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar, the Zoo is a great outdoor experience for all ages. The park is well maintained and is a plastic free zone. We hired the services of a park ranger who was able to articulate the details around history of the zoo, the animals who are being reared in captivity and recent additions. The park ranger gave us valuable insights in to animal behavior, especially of the captive lions and Tigers. The Safari is not to be missed and one has to keep a watch on the timings for the same. Half a day well spent! Don’t forget to munch on a spicy cucumber sold on push carts outside the Zoo. Lunch on day 2 was at a place called Dalma, which offered local Odiya veg cuisine comprising of Dalma (lentil dish), vegetables, Indian bread and of course, Rice. Delicious and economical, it filled us up after a good 5 hours spent at Nandankanan on a hot and humid day.

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Temple time! Bhubaneshwar is a city of temples and there are over 50 of them and most of them are built to honor Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva. These temples are dated between 8th and the 12th century AD. It is said that King Ashoka developed a simple way of communicating with people of his kingdom. Rocks and stone poles were used to communicate his policy of Dhamma through edicts. Travel 5 miles south of the modern city to find a few of them. Standing out among these temples are the Parasurameshwar temple and the Lingaraj temple. The Parasurameshwar temple has stories carved all around it and it is worth taking the services of the temple priest to help you understand the finer details of the same. Make sure that your next stop is the Lingaraj temple, the largest and one of the oldest in Bhubaneshwar. Non-Hindus can take photos of the architecture from a machan like structure erected outside the western wall of the temple. Bhubaneshwar was also called “Ekamra Kshetra” as the deity Lingaraj was originally found under a Mango tree (Ekamra). On the whole, the temple is considered a guardian deity of the city. With enough time left in the evening, head out to shop for leather, handicrafts and other collectibles.

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Day 3 – The Konark temple beckoned us. Situated on the coast, this temple, a UNESCO world Heritage site, is approximately 65 kms from Bhubaneshwar. We had planned a good 2 hours to tour the temple complex with the help of an authorized guide. Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words – Kona (corner) and Arka (sun); This temple thus is dedicated to the Sun god. An umbrella comes in handy during the tour. Make sure that you observe each of the 24 wheels, each telling you a different story. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore says of the temple, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of Man”. The road from Konark to Puri is dotted with pristine white sand beaches and rain trees lining the road. The temple town is one of the 4 holiest of places (char dham) in India and is home to the Jagannath temple and seat of the Puri Mutt (one of the four set up by the Adi Shankaracharya). The temple of Jagannatha is one of the tallest monuments in the entire. sub-continent of India and its height is about 214 feet from the ground (road) level. It stands on a ‘raised platform of stone, measuring about ten acres. It. is located in the hear! of the town and presents an imposing sight. The largest crowd in Puri is seen during the Car Festival of Jagannatha which takes place every year some time in June-July. The idols in the temple are made of the Margosa Tree (Neem) and they are replaced with a new Idol once in 14 years in an elaborate festival called Nabakalabera (New Body); Year 2015 is one such year. There are hotels to cater to every budget in puri and our stay was a comfortable one at the Hans Coco Palms. A good number of them are on the beach front and during heavy showers, the rain just lashes on the windows and doors, just right for you to order some pakoras and tea. The beach front also houses shacks selling fresh sea food and fried snacks. Apart from the temple, the alleys surrounding the temple house shops selling variety of knick knacks, milk based sweets and fresh milk based products.

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Day 4- The Chilika lake, world’s second largest lagoon is a day trip from Chilika. The brackish water lagoon is spread over 1100 sq kms and is home to over 160 species of migratory birds. The Irrawady Dolphin calls this place home and tourists set out in trawlers and catamarans to enjoy the marine fauna. Our trip to Chilika was cancelled owing to a fierce cyclone. Shrugging shoulders we headed back to Bhubaneshwar and planned to stop by at Raghurajpur, home to artisans skilled in Pattachitra. Everyday stories are handpainted on cloth and these families have been pursuing this art since the 5th century. The art has a Geographical indication thus protecting them from fakes. The street in Raghurajpur is lined with families on both sides and they welcome you in to their homes to show you live demonstrations and also offer finished work for sale. A little bargaining can get you some authentic and eye-catching work. More to come, the village of Pipli on the way to Bhubaneshwar is home to the Applique form of Handicrafts. The word Applique has a French origin and it involves placing one piece of fabric over a base layer and sewing it in place. The concept is used extensively in canopies, umbrellas and on the chariots of Jagannath temple. You can plan to pick up exquisitely designed bags, totes, umbrellas and other items, which are a nice gift to take back home. For those of you interested in unique things, pay a visit to the Bhubaneshwar Railway station, an important stop on the line to Kolkata. I am personally a fan of trains and train stations and consider stations akin to a cultural destination, a place where non-homogenous people converge. Retired after a good dinner at Hotel

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Day 5 – We still had one place to visit and that was the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts. Tribes constitute about 22% of the state’s population (9% of the country) and as per last count, there are close to 62 distinct tribes of which 13 of them have been classified as “particularly vulnerable groups”. The local government has done an admirable job in curating arts and artefacts belonging to these tribes and presently house them in the Museum of Tribal arts and Artefacts. This must-do item helps one understand the state and India as a country and how it is trying to balance between preserving indigenous population against the need to industrialize. Hopping over to a few sweet shops to sample a local sweet called Chhena Phoda made of caramelized cottage cheese. With that sweet ending, we made our way to the friendly Bhubaneshwar airport in time for a check in for our flight to Mumbai.

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Odisha has thrown its doors open to the world. Are you next?