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Welcome to Banteay Srei, #Cambodia

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THe Banteay Srei Temple

In my previous post, I wrote about Kabal Spean, The valley of Thousand Lingas, situated close to the temple city of Siem Reap. On one’s way back from Kabal Spean, we get to visit the temple complex of Banteay Srei. The complex houses remnants from the Khmer empire during its glorious Saivite period.

Said to have been completed in 967, Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built for the king; instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarman’s counsellors, Yajnyavahara. The construction is said to have begun during the period of RajendraVarman (assigned the title Sivaloka upon his demise) and completed by his son Jayavarman V (assigned the title Paramavirataloka upon his demise) The temple was primarily dedicated to Shiva (the southern buildings and the central tower were devoted to him, but the northern ones to Vishnu). It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei 25 km (15 miles) northeast of the main group of temples, where the capital of the time (Yashodharapura) was located. It remained in use at least until the 14th century. The town of Isvarapura was centred on the temple.

The temple’s original name was Tribhuvanamahesvara — “great lord of the threefold world” — named as usual after the central image (in this case a Shaivite linga). The modern name, Banteay Srei — “citadel of the women” or “citadel of beauty” — is generally taken to refer to the intricacy of the carving and the tiny dimensions of the architecture.

The temple was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when André Malraux stole four devatas in 1923 (he was soon arrested and the figures returned).

Banteay Srei entrance, Walkway, moat and sandstone ruins

The Banteay Srei Temple complex was said to have been constructed during the 10th century . Construction is said to have begun by Rajendravarman II and said to have continued and completed under Jayavarman V

Banteay Srei’s style is a mix of the archaic and the innovative. It is built largely of red sandstone, with brick and laterite used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. Although Banteay Srei’s coloration is unique, sandstone of other shades was later to become the norm.

The Plan view of Banteay Srei Temple

Map representing the layout of Banteay Srei temple. THe Moat surrounding the temple helps maintain the water table and ensures that the temple structure is not damaged

Pediments are large in comparison to entrances, in a sweeping gabled shape. For the first time whole scenes appear on the pediments(the triangular upper part of the front of a classical building, typically surmounting a portico), while the lintels (A lintel is a structural horizontal block that spans the space or opening between two vertical supports) with central figures and kalas on looped garlands look backwards. The guardian dvarapalas and the colonettes are also old-fashioned. Decoration covering almost every available surface is deeply sculpted and figures rounded. Like most Khmer temples, Banteay Srei is orientated towards the east.

Two Monkey or Va-Nara resembling door keepers

THe Dwarapalakas near the southern library portion of the temple. Curious to see the Dwarapalakas in the form of Va-Naras. Well built, fantastic in posture and gaze fixated in a common direction, the figures epitomize discipline

Stories galore

The temple, like any other temple in India seems to have been a place for learning of art and forms, language, texts etc., and serving as a place for meditation, rest and prayers. Apart from the above, the pediments are filled with stories, many of them which have been told across the lands of India and SE Asia.

Ravana shaking Mount Kailash

The sculpture is very beautifully carved out in four tiers, each representing different categories of creatures – from the four legged in the fourth, half-human/half animal in the third, Rishis in the second and Shiva and Uma on the top-most pedestal, all of whom look petrified other than Lord Shiva.

The Supreme God sits majestically oppressing Ravana’s strength with his toe and one cannot take his/her eyes off Shiva’s consort Uma/ Parvathi – created with a fear filled jerk.

Ravana shaking Mount Kailash where Lord Siva and Parvati are seated

A famous piece in Banteay Srei. The depiction of Ravananugraha or a favour being shown to Ravana.Ravana was trying to get Siva’s attention by shaking Mt Kailash, abode of Siva. The lord trapped Ravana under the mountain by bringing the mountain down with his feet. Trapped, Ravana sang the praise of Siva for over 1000 years till he was blessed by Siva with a Sword and a powerful Linga for prayers

Krishna killing Kamsa

In the eastern facing part of southern gopuram. Krishna dragging kamsa by hair and killed by a dagger. In the bhagavatha purana it is said that Krishna killed Kamsa by sheer force of his weight. THis in response to Kamsa’s orders to arrest krishna’s adoptive father, confiscation of the wealth of Gopas and ordering the death of vasudeva and ugrasena, the king of mathura.

Image of Krishna holding Kamsa by Hair and piercing him with a dagger

The stories at Banteay Srei seemed to cover all the Yugas. Krishna is said to have emerged towards the end of the Dvapara Yuga and with Mahabharata he is said to have seen the transition in to Kaliyuga, the present times we live in. Here, he is seen slaying his Uncle , dragging him by hair and killing him with a dagger. In the bhagavatha purana it is said that Krishna killed Kamsa by sheer force of his weight. THis in response to Kamsa’s orders to arrest krishna’s adoptive father, confiscation of the wealth of Gopas and ordering the death of vasudeva and ugrasena, the king of mathura.

Siva burning Kama who is attempting to shoot an arrow at him

Kamadeva readying to fire an arrow towards Lord Siva

Kamadeva in the process of trying to disrupt Siva’s meditation gets burnt. While he was just doing the biding of the gods who coaxed him to the job so that Siva is attracted to Parvati, Kamadeva is burnt to ashes leaving his grieving wife Rati behind.

The Travel of Karaikal Ammaiyar, one of the 3 women among the 63 Nayanmar’s (Poet saints) of Siva. One of early Tamil Literature’s greatest figures, she is said to have lived during the 6th century. The Chola period of Tamilnadu which began during the 9th century is believed to have had a large sphere of influence across South , south east of India and South East Asia. Researchers from the team of varalaaru, a respected Tamil historical publication state that, ” Political Non-turbulence at home, Cordial Diplomacy abroad and Economic Affluence beyond high seas are indeed factors to prove that overseas Tamil Trader Settlements would have played a quintessential part in Religious Acculturation of the Southeast Asian Kingdoms they were living in.”

Dancing Siva or Nataraja and Karaikal Ammaiyar

Cultural Influences of India were found absorbed in the nooks and corners of Cambodia. The dancing Siva with his ardent lady Devotee – Karaikal Ammaiyar, a 6th century saint from TamilNadu, India. THe Image on top is courtesy of http://www.varalaaru.com; Below is a representation of Ammaiyar, an ardent devotee of siva and finds a place among the pantheons of 63 Nayanmars (saint poets)

Indra, a vedic deity for the Hindus, Guardian deity for the Buddhists and King of the highest heaven in Jainism is depicted across the Bantey Srei complex

Indra on Airavath

One of the first images that greets you at the entrance from the East corridor is the image of Indra the god of heavens on his vehicle or vahan, Airavath his elephant. Carved in sandstone, the Elephants are sheer delight. Indra with large ear holes are typical of Khmer architecture.

Another pediment shows Indra creating rain to put out a forest fire started by Agni to kill a naga living in the woods; Krishna and his brother aid Agni by firing arrows to stop the rain.

Indra creating rain to put out the fire started by Agni

On the north library’s east pediment, Indra creates rain to put out a forest fire started by Agni to kill a naga living in the woods; Krishna and his brother aid Agni by firing arrows to stop the rain. The photo on top is courtesy of Angkorshafie.com

Lord Siva with his consort and Yama

Lord Siva with his consort Parvati on his faithful Nandi

Lord Siva with his consort Parvati on his faithful Nandi. Around him are Siv Gans, his attendants

Lord Yama on a Buffalo

Lord Yama, the god of death on his vehicle, the Buffalo

A crucial point in the epic Ramayana where Rama vanquishes Vali

Rama, Lakshmana, Vali and Sugreeva with other Va-Naras

A beautiful depiction of a turning point in the Ramayana. Vali and Sugreeva fight while Rama and Lakshmana wait to strike. Here, Rama can be seen striking Vali.

Other pediments with stories of Bheema killing Jarasandha and Lord Narasimha killing Hiranyakasipu the demon. Also featuring Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Kartikeya.

What is a Siva temple without his trusted vehicle and attendant, Nandi. There are many snanadronis which dot the landscape of the temple. The main Nandi faces the sanctum which housed the main deity.

Nandi and two snanadronis

Starting from top left, Nandi the bull without whose consent one cannot not enter the altar of Lord Siva. Often people can be found whispering their prayers and requests into Nandi’s ears. Snanadronis at Banteay Srei which would have contained lingas

Kabal Spean with Bantey Srei will keep you immersed for a day and will leave a lasting imprint on your mind.

Getting to Siem Reap – Siem Reap is served by major Flag Carriers who also service india. Regular services from major Indian cities to #Bangkok (Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways), #Kualalumpur (Malaysian) and #Singapore (Singapore/SilkAir) will get you to Siem Reap with just one halt. The Visa facility too has been eased with the introduction of e-visas. Hotels are in plenty and one can find hotels to suit one’s budget with the assistance of an excellent ground travel agent. Travel agents offer excellent service right from suggestions on hotels to suit budgets, tying up with a registered guide, park tickets based on the interests and other add ons like a visit to the magnificient Tonle Sap lake.

Content Credits

http://www.varalaaru.com – Images of Karaikal Ammaiyar, talking points about Banteay Srei temple especially the content regarding dancing nataraja and Karaikal Ammaiyar. Map of Banteay Srei temple

http://www.cambodgemag.org – Images of Indira creating rains

http://www.angkorshafie.com – Descriptive content regarding the Banteay Srei temple

 

A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1- The Partition Museum

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Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple as it is known worldwide, The Akal Takht, Jallianwala Bagh and Attari – Wagah border are the regular attractions in a 1N2D itinerary of Amritsar. Now, all that is set to change and a rejuvenated Amritsar is inviting you to stay a little longer and explore.

Amritsar is part of the Indian state of Punjab and just before the local government elections held in December 2016, the state authorities threw open the Heritage Street, starting from The Town Hall up to The Golden Temple. Though it didn’t prove to be sufficient for the incumbent party to return to power, the Heritage street has enough in it to bring in more tourists as it has breathed a new life to this stretch, which i last heard was chaotic and disorganized.

The Town Hall is a 140 year old Heritage Building and until recently housed the local civic body. One if its newest residents is “The Partition Museum”, set up by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust , a not for Profit NGO.

Town Hall entrance and Partition Museum entrance

The 140 Year old Town Hall of Amritsar and the Partition museum located within its precincts

Seventy years have passed since the traumatic events of partition that lead to the birth of two nations; but until “The Partition Museum” was conceived, there was no memorial, no designated space and no commemoration of any kind to document the migration that led to the creation of the two countries of India and Pakistan.

The Partition museum is dedicated to victims of the event, its survivors and, lasting legacy. Apart from original Newspaper clippings, the museum has reproduced moving images by Margaret Bourke White, the legendary photographer and documentary film maker of LIFE magazine. Bourke white went about her assignment in an unfazed manner, unmindful of the chaos of a newly divided subcontinent. The images are part of her work, Halfway to Freedom.

Margaret Bourke white, a Life Photographer in a White spree and Lee Etington, edit reporter

LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White (L) w. LIFE edit reporter Lee Eitingon, posing in beautiful Hindu saris. Courtesy of TIME archive and Getty Images

April 5th 1947 was Lord Mountbatten’s last ditch attempt to persuade Mohammed Ali Jinnah for a united India, citing the difficulty of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establsihing a separate Muslim State. With the British Government having granted in principal approval to grant independence quickly, things moved quickly leading to August 14/15, 1947.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a talented barrister who had no knowledge of India and had never been to India before, was tasked to head the Boundary commissions of Punjab and Bengal, which would draw the line across these provinces along religious lines. In two months, little must he have imagined that this drawing of borders would lead to Twenty million people migrating to a new homeland in one of the greatest and most painful upheavals of contemporary History.

Lord Mountbatten and Sir cyril Radcliffe

Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India and Sir Cyril Radcliffe a Barrister at Law. The architects of India’s partition

The Partition Museum captures these gripping and unfortunate moments in a section with the aid of newspaper clippings and a recounting in chaste Punjabi by Kuldip Nayar of his interview with Cyril Radcliffe in the year 1971. Radcliffe is believed to have told that Pakistan is lucky to have got Lahore; Pakistan was understood to have been upset over losing Gurdaspur.

Also reproduced is the poem by WH Auden titled “Partition” which sums up Cyril Radcliffe’s pressures and state of mind.

Generous patrons have donated preserved letters that were exchanged with their friends and loved ones after the borders were drawn up, letters to authorities on either side enquiring about their properties and holdings and many more gut wrenching communication. Amritsar and Lahore are just 30 kilometers away but for those torn by the events, the line in-between must have made it feel like a few light years away.

The museum is adding more sections by the day and in 12 – 18 months time hopes to complete them and add a wealth of information to one of India’s darkest chapters of History.

The Partition museum is also creating a digital platform by documenting oral histories of partition survivors and their families.

Spend a good 3 hours in the museum and expose yourself to this bit of history which changed the fortunes of this sub-continent.

Getting to Amritsar – Amritsar is served by an International airport that has direct flight connections from New Delhi and Mumbai. Currently Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways, Spicejet and Vistara service Amritsar. Plenty of trains ply between New Delhi and Amritsar and it takes between 6 to 7 hours for the 465 kilometer journey. One can even drive on the NH 44 in order to reach Amritsar.

Where to Stay – Amritsar is home to International chains like Westin, Holiday Inn etc., and Indian chain hotels like Taj whose newest property Taj Swarna has kicked off its operations. Finding a hotel to suit your budget is never a problem. Offbeat Farm stays have also picked up and give you an even more authentic experience.

Margaret Bourke White and Lee Eitington Image Courtesy – Time Magazine Archives/Getty Images

Facts concerning the Partition Courtesy – The Partition Museum

Continue Reading →

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 2

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Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. We spoke about health requirements and transit points here.  Now to understanding the people and their lives.

It is very well know that workers, traders and merchants of Indian Sub-continental origin found their way to Kenya and Tanzania and set up businesses that are a major source of employment. But, the region and its Indigenous people through their unique skills and diligence continue to make huge contributions to their countries’ progress.

The People of the Region 

It is important and interesting to know more about the country being visited and its indigenous people. Kenya (Kamba, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Maasai, Ameru, Samburu, Swahili)

Tanzania (Chagga, Maasai, Makonde, Swahili, Hadzabe, Sukuma, Mbulu/Iraqw people in the great lakes region).

All indigenous people have contributed to various aspects of their respective nations’ progress be it politics, sport, diplomacy, freedom struggle, human rights, agriculture or conservation. The Tea-growing Kalejins comprise the legendary long-distance runners of Kenya, The sukuma tribe who mainly fish in the Lake Victoria are among the most able bodied men and enlist in the Tanzanian military in large numbers. Thanks to tourism and the consequent establishment of lodges, many indigenous people have found year long employment. An example is the decision of Tanzanian government to call for a halt on constructions near the Ngorongoro crater and shift all lodges near the town of Karatu thereby providing meaningful employment. Karatu is dominated by the Mbulu tribe, a large farming community.

There are the big cities of Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, Arusha but it is the countryside with its small businesses – trading in coal, sweet potato, banana and other fresh fruit etc., which captivates you.

A municipal council office near Isabania, Coal sacks, finished earthen pots and butcheries

Small Business rules across Kenya and its countryside

Wildlife has opened numerous opportunities for the people across the service industry, knowledgable driver guides and as in-house naturalists at many safari camps. James, from the Kichwa Tembo is a much loved and respected in-house naturalist; He conducts awareness sessions for guests where he talks extensively about the Masai Mara ecosystem and human-beast co-existance.

The Masaai tribe cultural session on a cold evening at Kichwa Tembo, Masai Mara

At the Kichwa Tembo camp, James (in the front) from the local Masaai community introduces guests to their culture and also doubles up as the In-house Naturalist

Skilled craftsmen too sell their wares on highways at the fringes of safaris and cities. Your bargaining skills will be put to test as you set your sights on masks, shukas and other collectibles. For the art collector, a lot of these stores also sell oil-on-canvas landscapes.

Shukas and Masks on highway curio shops

Curio shops dot the highway.Bargain hard.

The Impact of Mobile Money

Many households in these parts also have a family member working in any of the big cities and supporting them. Mobile Money has become the newest symbol of empowerment for people across the society.

M-Pesa, Airtel Money – These are the most visible brands;Infact much more popular than CocaCola i reckon. The concept and resulting service has empowered the people of the region and is acknowledged universally. Every small town is serviced by the corner M-Pesa cum general store thereby overcoming the tyranny of distance, often cited as a challenge when it comes to providing banking services. There is an untold trust that has developed as a result of this system.

The service is designed to work on all types of phones. Overseas remittances, money transfer from the husband working in the city, pension transfers etc done over this network can be collected as physical cash at M-pesa centers or paid for via M-pesa money.

If you are running short of cash to tip your service personnel, dont worry, M-Pesa is there!

M-Pesa shops across East Africa

M-Pesa mobile money shops dot the landscape of East Africa. Convenience and Empowerment

Aga Khan contributions to Kenya and Tanzania

As you travel across Tanzania and Kenya, the sight of women and children carrying jerry cans for potable drinking water is unmissable. Access to clean water still remains a huge challenge in many countries in Africa. It is here that the Aga Khan Development Network, part of the Aga Khan foundation runs many programs and diverse institutions to effect social and economic development in Kenya and Tanzania.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Emirates, Dubai and Etihad, Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

Hotels & Homestays of Rajasthan – Nagaur

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Map 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.

In Part 1 of the road trip, we covered Udaipur. In Part 2 of the road trip, we covered Jodhpur and Ranakpur. Part 3 of the road trip was the experience from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Our next destination was Nagaur en route to Jaipur. The distance between Jaisalmer and Nagaur is about 325 Kms to be covered in a duration of 5 hours. A Haveli homestay was our primary attraction and we made it a point to experience the stay.

Nagaur – A city that finds mentions in the Mahabharata

It was another day with the start of a drive from Jaisalmer to Nagaur, which is a stop between Jaisalmer and Jaipur. Since the drive from Jaisalmer to Jaipur is almost about 10 hours which is very long, we broke down the journey at Nagaur which is halfway between Jaisalmer and Jaipur.

We started off our day with a hearty breakfast at Suryagarh, in the restaurant, which serves authentic Rajasthani delicacies. There are a few items that are mostly present at every hotel for breakfast like eggs, paranthas and a lot more things…This place also had the traditional sweets of rajasthan and the authentic Dal Pakwaan which is is also known as lentil crackers..We had a yummy breakfast and headed to the reception to check-out.

Parathas, Dal pakwan, Sweets and a masala tea making session

The Well set buffet breakfast options

We had a last few glimpses of the spectacular resort and finally left the property with a vote of thanks to all the staff who work hard day and night to keep their guests happy.

Next, we had a drive from Jaisalmer to Nagaur which was about 5-5.5 hours. We didn’t have any stops in between our journey..We straight away went to our resort which is a part of a fort that has been restored into a resort. Our resort was Ranvas at nagaur, which is a decent 4 star property.

Ranvas Welcome card, Swimming pool, Courtyard and the reception area

The Haveli at Ranvas at Nagaur

The environment is filled with plants, bushes, birds and trees. During our stay, the resort seemed to be quite empty but it had a vip guest staying, Mr Amit Shah, The president of the nation’s ruling party BJP. He had come for some program to Rajasthan, hence, a few of his people were also staying at the resort. It was almost afternoon by the time we reached our resort. We rested in our room for the resort of our afternoon, which was large and very spacious. Our room was built in a typical earthern style with all modern amenities. The place is filled with a long history and rooms form havelli’s here. There were like 2 rooms sharing a common garden with a big swing , to form a haveli. Our haveli was known as “Shekhawat Ji ki Havelli”. The rest of the afternoon was spent in relaxation, surfing and freshen up services given by us to ourselves! We then went out and roamed around the resort, at aroun 6 pm and took some wonderful pics. Check them down below!

Entrance to the Haveli, Peacocks in the garden, Open courtyard

The Aesthetically marvelous Haveli

Living area, Bedroom and relaxing chairs

The luxurious interiors of the Haveli

We also got a chance to see some beautiful peacocks in the garden, with their royal colurs and sweet voice. It was also a coincidence to meet the manager of the resort who was on rounds. He was the one who told us about Mr. Amit Shah staying in their resort. We had a little talk with him and just saw the whole property which also included the fort, a part of which was under renovation, and also the resort store, which was unfortunately closed for the day.

Then, we just sat down around the restaurant and chit-chatted and did some surfing on the net and then had dinner in the restaurant, which was facing the front of the property. The restaurant was empty except for some people who came a little later, by the time we had finished(9pm). For dinner, we ordered some lime juice to drink, tandoori roti, ker sangria(desert beans), Peas pulao and some dal makhni. Our dinner was light and filling. It is always a habit to give a bowl with water and a slice of lemon in it at the end of every meal, at an indian restaurant. But in terms of this, the restaurant was pretty unique. They did not serve the above but got a bowl of water for each of us and added a capsule like thing into it in front of us, which immediately turned into a small sized towel that could be used to clean our hands. This really surprised us and we appreciated the hotel’s thinking for such a unique idea..

Structures within the Haveli area

Twilight at the Ranvas Haveli, Nagaur

Then, we headed back to our room and got lazy..Me and my grandfather watched our missed episodes of our favourite tv programs on the ipad, and then talked a litte & dozed off for the rest of the night! Gotta early start tomorrow!

Getting there – Nagpur can be accessed easily from Jaipur which has a well serviced airport.  Jet AirwaysAir India, Indigo and Spicejet are airlines offering connectivity to Jaipur.   Nagaur also has a railhead and Indian Railways offers convenient trains from Jaipur.

Experiencing Varanasi……Part 3

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The Sarnath deer Park

Varanasi continues to hold your attention. It just urges you to keep walking and looking. Our day time stop on the 3rd day was the famed Banaras Hindu University,  one of India’s oldest seat of learning established way back in the year 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a lawyer, thinker, freedom fighter and one who emphasized the importance of education in National awakening. He was recently posthumously conferred India’s highest civilian honor – The Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). The sprawling campus of 1300 acres welcomes you with an idol of Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of learning). The campus land was a donation from the Maharaja of Kashi Prabhu Narayan Singh. The campus architecture is semi-circular in nature with intersecting roads laid out in radii or arcs. Apart from Medical, Technical streams, the visual arts faculty is one of the most sought after ones by students. When we were there in December, there was a open air exhibition cum sale of art works done by students of the visual arts. There were live sketching sessions for a fee and wonderful paintings of various sights of varanasi were up for sale. Check out on the schedule of the exhibitions and invest in some good oil works, charcoal sketches and posters. It is interesting to note that when Malaviya established the university and started a series of lectures by eminent personalities, Gandhi delivered his first public lecture in India at the BHU. Spend time, walk around the campus, interact with the students and snack with some roasted peanuts and a hot cup of coffee….All campus favorites

IT BHU

Another place of significance for Buddhists is Sarnath which is about 8 miles (13 kms) from Varanasi. This is said to be the first stop of Buddha after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. It is at the Deer Park in Sarnath where Buddha is said to have first taught the Dharma. Sarnath along with Lumbini (Nepal, 190 miles from Varanasi), Bodh Gaya (155 miles from varanasi) and Kushinagar (144 miles from Varanasi) are holy to Buddha’s followers.  The Ashoka Pillar houses the Ashokan lion capital and became the National emblem of India and National symbol on the Indian flag. Though the pillar was broken during the Turk invasion, the base of the pillar remains where as the portion containing the emblem is housed in the Sarnath museum nearby. Groups from Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and buddhists from other countries assemble at Sarnath and practice buddhist chanting and meditation. The museum and park have an entrance fee while children under 12 are free. You can avail the services of a qualified guide right before the entrance. Charges range from 150 – 200 Rs and it is advisable to fix up before beginning the tour. A good 2 – 3 hours will set you up for a wonderful evening.

Sarnath Deer Park

Sarnath

Before hitting the food trail, pay respects to Lord Hanuman at the Sankat Mochan (reliever of troubles) Hanuman Mandir. It is said that Tulsidas (Author of Ramcharitmanas, an Awadhi version of the sanskrit epic Ramayana) had a vision of Lord Hanuman at the place where this temple stands currently. Walk on the carpeted pathway to the temple (helps you beat the heat and cold alike) and watch out for the monkeys. They jump around on the asbestos sheets lining the temple precinct and some of them may end up hassling you for food in case it is visible in your hands. There are hundreds of Hanuman Chalisa books (40 verses in praise of Lord Hanuman), prayer beads, prayer notes hung on the walls of the temple. The devout pick up a book, say their prayers, prostrate, place the book back and walk back after the day’s meditation and prayers. Spend time, speak to the priests, the flower sellers and others about the historical significance of the temple. It is important to note that the idol of Hanuman in the temple faces Lord Ram whom Hanuman dutifully serves.

The food scene in Varanasi is tantalizing. The restaurants in the hotel where you stay can offer you a few options but the streets offer you unlimited options Start with the Thandai on offer at Godowlia chowk; there are atlas 500 shops selling this concoction (several dry fruits, seasonal fruits, milk and essence) in Varanasi. Vendors beckon you to their small outlets and give you an array of options to choose from. For the adventurous few the shopkeeper ventures to ask you if he can add a small ball of Shivji ki Prashad (offerings to Lord Shiva) which you may know as Cannabis. Extremely popular during the day of Maha Shivratri (Lord Shiva’s night). A few metres from Godowlia chowk lies Kashi Chat Bhandar, a dinghy and crowded storefront selling mouth watering chaats (short spicy eats) and fresh sweets (usually Gulab Jamoon and Carrot Halwa). The chuda mutter (peas and flat rice), aloo chaat, papdi chat, Palak chat, mutter chaat and the Pani puri will ensure that you head directly to your room and not the restaurant in the hotel. Have a light lunch to ensure a heavy evening snack….Malaiyo is another morning delicacy which one must savor in the winter months. Once you are done at the Kashi Vishwanath temple walk back to your vehicle or meeting point via Kachori Gully and drop in at the first shop selling Malaiyo. What is this thing? It is milk that is frothed overnight in winter and is mixed with saffron, sugar and pistachios. Me and my daughter went mad eating this stuff….

Varanasi Food Trail

Varanasi Food Trail

The list never ends. Breakfast of Pooris with potato curry, kachoris and Jalebis are extremely popular in Varanasi. Walk in to Madhur Jalpan near Kodai Chowki to sample the above. Watch the preparation and dig in to a few plates. More popular haunts with familiar sounding names – BurgerKing; No, not the ones we are used to but a BurgerKing which is a vegetarian delight. Try the Sattu ke Parathe (Pancakes made from a protein rich gram flour) and a plate of kadhi pakodi with Rice (friend gram balls in a buttermilk gravy); Absolutely delicious. As said again, savor these small helpings and reserve yourself for more chaat haunts.

Deena Chaat Bhandar is located just about 250 meters from Godowlia chowk. The huge cast iron frying pans constantly simmer with delicious potato patties, chholey etc., The service is swift but finding a seat may take some time. Don’t miss the pani puri at Deena and nourish yourself with some hot gulab jamuns towards the end. Hygiene takes a backseat so carry your own water when in these restaurants.

Finally, as a tribute to the traditions of this city, The Taj Nadesar Palace (10 rooms only) serves the Satvik Thali, a thali which consists of dishes made without using Garlic or onions. Savor the food and enjoy the Taj Hospitality.

Varanasi Food Trail

Varanasi Food Trail

As we made our way back to the Babatpur airport, we feel like sparrows being pulled by gentle strings back to Varanasi. We promised ourselves to be back in varanasi.

Experiencing Varanasi……Part 2

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Continuing our Varanasi experience with Narmada Holidays…. The 7 km arc starts when the Assi river meets the Ganges in the south and ends with the Varuna river meeting the Ganges in the north. 87 Ghats  dot this 7 km arc; The ghats are stone embankments with flights of stairs providing unhindered access to the Holy River. Devotees pour in from across India and the world and the facilities at the Ghats help them complete their Bathing, rites for the departed soul, religious rituals and in select ghats, facilities to cremate the dead. The lure of varanasi and the Ganges, transcends generations and borders. The Assi ghat was the first site in Varanasi from where the Clean India Mission a.k.a Swacch Bharat Abhiyan was launched by the Hon’ble PM of India. The Assi ghat houses numerous restaurants and cafes where one can spend an entire day in leisure gazing in to the openness of the Ganges. Walking along the 7 Km arc is perfectly possible except in few ghats where a lot of clothing is washed and final rites for the dead are being administered (Harischandra and Manikarnika Ghats). There are drop off points from where walking the maze of alleys will lead you to each one of these 87 ghats. The Kedar Ghat catches your eye for it is painted in white and vermillion an indicator of its South Indian origins. People from South of India make arrangements for themselves in the temple and facilities that are on the banks of the Kedar Ghat. Priests help them conduct rituals in a way they can comprehend. Spend time, watch life on these ghats, observe humanity and take some time time to check out the hole-in-the-wall eateries that dot these alleys. The Manikarnika ghat leaves you with a Cathartic experience….whatever the person, it all ends here. Watch the unending stream of dead bodies coming in…..some of them from far off villages and cities. We saw a few being transported in vans where the dead body was tied to the baggage carrier on the roof of the vehicle….Reminded of the Verse from Bhaja Govindam by the peerless Adi Shankara

yaavatpavano nivasati dehe
taavatpRichchhati kushalaM gehe .
gatavati vaayau dehaapaaye
bhaaryaa bibhyati tasminkaaye .. (6)

When one is alive, his family members enquire kindly about his welfare. But when the soul departs from the body, even his wife runs away in fear of the corpse.

Images of the Ghats

The Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of the 12 jyotirlingas (object representing the Lord Shiva) is a famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located on the western banks of the Ganges. The temple opens its doors at 4 AM and stays open till 11 PM. Many narrow alleys lead to the doors of the temple. The most prominent access is by getting down at Godowlia chowk and walking straight to the entrance situated on the road to the ghats. Many shops line this narrow alley called Vishwanath gully where you can indulge yourselves in trinkets, small idols, bangles, items for worship and other curios…..Prior to visiting the Vishwanath temple, the devout make it a point to offer salutations at the Kaal Bhairav temple, Bhairav being a more ferocious form of the Lord Shiva. Many get a black band tied on their hands or around their necks after the priest waves a few peacock feathers and utters a few lines of a prayer. This, many believe is said to keep evil spirits at bay. Security is quite stringent and one is expected to keep all valuables like phones, purses and any jewelry with a trustworthy person or the hotel locker before heading out. There are plenty of pujaris (priests) aligned with the shops lining the gully, who will take you to the temple for a fee and help you conduct your prayers. The shops are the last point where one can have their shoes or slippers on….Hygiene is ok and improving by the day so, stay positive and enjoy the experience of traversing the gullies and the temple.

The Gyanvapi mosque built in the year 1664 CE by the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb is said to have come up in the place of the original Kashi Vishwanath temple. Security remains strict near the mosque and no photography is permitted. Walk along the streets lining the mosque and you will get to see a lot of Muslim artisans and craftsmen selling sarees, dress materials and other local handicrafts.

Early morning or twilight is the best time for a boat ride on the ganges. Hire a paddle boat or a motorized one to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Ghats. The gulls flock by the dozens and they are fed a diet of puffed rice….we still hope they continue to fish! A paddle boat ride for a couple of hours for 3 – 4 people should cost you about 400 – 500 Rs and i think it is a wonderful way of enjoying the ghats….slow….and if the boatman pitches in with a song for the ride, its double delight….

The Boat ride on the Ganges and the Ghats

Enjoy your day out in the Ghats! Food….more of it in Part 3

The Journey matters as much as the Destination….

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The Rakshastal

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The Kailash Manas piligrimage is the journey of a lifetime for people from all faiths – Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and a Tibetan religious sect called Bon’s. Located in the Transhimalayan region of Tibet, Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar pilgrimage is a tradition dating back to over 1000 years.

The traditional route from India takes the faithful through some rough but extremely beautiful and picturesque terrain of Uttarakhand and in to Tibet via the Lipulekh pass. Over 200 kms of this terrain still has to be traversed on foot; This includes 52 kms of circumambulating the Kailash Mountain. This is where one begins to realise the importance of the journey and what one undergoes in the process of reaching the destination, and most importantly returning safely. A journey of this nature provides a great opportunity to reflect.

  • Living with a group of people (40+) from diverse backgrounds for close to 30 days. With a common cause in front of all of us all barriers including language just evaporated and people just blended in. As the journey got tougher, even the so called obstinate came around
  • Over 10 – 12 hours spent trekking, End of day access to a satellite phone, Electricity for only 3 hours, no access to electronic devices and newspapers – All these led people in to each other’s arms; The word ‘Empathy’ was clearly understood by all

Climbing up to the Lipu Pass

  • Even though the organizing teams and paramilitary were conducting the pilgrimage, the group had to sort out things like finances, baggage, Medical and food all by itself. It sure is a tough ask getting volunteers for such activities that are deemed thankless, given that people have signed up for their personal reasons. Yet, it is possible to find committed folks who know where and how to get involved and switch off without getting too attached to the task. These folks keep the wheels turning without a hitch
  • In a span of 30 days the focus remains on completing every leg, every day successfully without any unforeseen event. In reality however we all know that this is rare. Group Liaison Officers along with volunteers have the responsibility of handling Accidents, Accidents leading to medical evacuations, psychological trauma arising from long stretches of trek and the fright of next day challenges getting bigger and of course death. All of this while ensuring that people start and reach a destination as per a plan. Staying the course without being emotionally ruffled and motivating the larger group is absolutely testing

stream crossing

  • As citizens cross borders they transcend in to becoming Ambassadors. Any improper conduct arising out of political messaging, rude behavior jeopardizes the entire group which is on a time bound mission. We faced an embarrassing situation and were held up by the political authorities for an inordinate period of time. The disciplinary teams had their task cut out and had to ensure that conduct remained uniform and any disagreements/frustrations were sorted out through private one-on-one discussions
  • Sub-contractors, temps and support staff play a huge role in successfully moving a group to and back to base camp. Even though rate cards and rule books have been written, one is always prepared for the unwritten, unsaid and subjective elements. During these times local wisdom always prevails and it is wise to keep eyes and ears open to the same

Kailash Parikrama

  • The journey is not complete till the return is as safely done as the onward journey. The route may be the same but the very thought of the finish line nearing can put anyone off course. If you descended you have to climb and vice versa. All along, nature has a way of helping the focused stay on course. Whether it is stamina, inner strength, religion, dynamics or faith – many routes to take when the goal is set

This amazing journey provided a lot of insights in to nature and people around us.

Yes, it mattered as much as the destination.