Journeysmatter

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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

 

#Amritsar Memories : Attari – #Wagah border and FarmStay #vacations

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The Indian Tri color

Part 1 of my blog on a rejuvenated Amritsar focused on the newest attraction in town, The Partition Museum, dedicated to the pain and suffering endured by millions during one of the largest and most brutal mass migration in history. The museum has since officially opened for viewing and more sections are being opened in a phased manner.

Part 2 focused on the serene Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple), Akhal Takht, Sarovar and its surroundings. I spent a whole afternoon exploring the nooks and corners of the Darbar sahib complex, learning about the contributions made by the Sikh Gurus, ordinary folk, Armed forces, Agricultural community and the role of Punjab in shaping the history of this great country.

In the 3rd part, i share my experiences and feelings about the newly minted precincts of The Heritage street, another tragic memorial from the freedom struggle – The Jallianwala Bagh and finally the humble Guru ka Langar.

In the Fourth part, I wrote about various dishes on offer and also introduced readers to other Vloggers who have been covering the Amrtisar food scene with so much of passion

The final part of the Amritsar experience is rounded off by a visit to the Attari (Indian Side village) – Wagah (Pakistan side village) border and a visit to a Farm Stay, a concept that seems to be catching up and should a huge boost to the tourism sector and thereby incomes in the state.

My visit to the India – Pakistan border which falls between #Attari village on the Indian side and #Wagah border on the Pakistan side was planned a saturday. All previous traveller accounts including those of my wife and in-laws spoke of an exciting spectacle comprising of dances, singing and finally the Beating of the retreat finally culminating in the lowering of flags and slam closing of the gates. I was eagerly looking forward to this experience. The ceremony has almost gone on uninterrupted since 1959 except during periods of confrontation on other parts of the border. While the Border Security Force leads from the Indian side, the Pakistan side is led by the Pakistan Rangers.

The drive from the centre of #Amritsar takes about 45 minutes to an hour. With the ceremony expected to start by 5 PM, we assumed that reaching with an hour to spare would help me get an entry and a seat at the stadium.  We were wrong! From the parking area to the entry point it is a mile and to my surprise i found that the crowds that were pouring in far outnumbered the capacity of the stadium. Since entry was on a first come first served basis, the crowds i was given to understand were pouring in from noon and had occupied the stadium unmindful of the scorching pre-summer sun.

Busloads of tourists were alighting, civilian defence personnel were getting in to the stadium with valid ID papers, mounted #BSF horsemen were keeping a strict vigil and were respectfully requesting tourists to maintain order and of course ice cream vendors were busy attending to tired visitors. When it was finally clear that it was impossible to make it in, the left out visitors had to contend with watching the ceremony on a huge but very unclear LCD screen.

Attari border crowds waiting to enter the stadium to watch the beating of the retreat

Tourists and visitors who were unable to get in to the stadium to watch the beating of the retreat mill around the premises and try to get as close as possible to the gate and the LCD screen

Lesson learnt – On weekdays during the tourist season (Oct – March), it is advisable to head to the border atleast 3 – 4 hours ahead of the start. On weekends, one should head there atleast 5 – 6 hours in advance. Am assuming that such a punishing wait is not required during off season and summer months. Carry water, a hat along with optional sun screen. Entrance to the border ceremony is free and if anyone pretends to sell tickets you will know that you are with a tout.

The excitement however is palpable and hearbeats rise as the BSF guards start marching in to the narrow strip leading to the border. On the other side of the border one can see the 400 feet high pole on which the Pakistan flag is flown and a large portrait of Quaid e Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. Once the ceremonies begin, all the music, foot stamping are drowned out by the raucous crowds on either sides of the border. The LCD screen is blur and does not give a nice viewing experience. I tried to jostle my way up to the barricades amongst young, elderly, children perched on parents’ shoulders but gave up after while. I eagerly look forward to the day when the whole experience could be webcasted on 4K video.

Attari Wagah border images

THe Indian flag flies high. Unlucky visitors milling around the gate waiting for the ceremony to begin. A glimpse of the narrow strip leading to the border. The Pakistan gate is visible along with the portrait of MA Jinnah

On the last day before taking my return flight back to base, i had an opportunity to do a familiarization trip to a farm stay. The farm, owned by a tour operator is located in his native village a 30 minute drive from Amritsar. Within 15 minutes of leaving the city precincts, one is welcomed by lush green wheat fields, swathes of mustard fields identified by the golden yellow flowers, farmers transporting produce on their tractor trailers and local gurudwaras where people congregate. The Farm Stay consisted of a ground level where the guest rooms were located, about 4 of them to be precise, a well laid out dining area offering breakfast and optional lunch and dinner. The owner resided upstairs and the care takers were housed in the staff quarters. Fresh vegetables and milk are from the farm and meat is brought from outside for preparation.

Farm fresh vegetables and villa entrance

Farm stay. Fields with Pea, Radish, Cabbage, Beetroots and just harvested and dried potatoes and peas

It was calming to see the cows lazing around their fodder house.

Cows on the property and the fodder preparation and feeding area

Cows on the property and the fodder preparation and feeding area

Agriculture is Punjab’s mainstay with Wheat and Mustard fields dotting the landscape in and around the farm stay. With the likes of AirBnB allowing holidayers to plan in a jiffy without having to go through the rigmarole of hotels, the concept of Farm stays, if backed up with a clear government policy, could provide tourists with a wonderful option.

Wheat, Mustard fields and a tractor

Wheat, Mustard fields and a tractor

Other attractions in Amritsar include the Gobindagarh Fort built in 1760. It was earlier occupied by the Army but is now home to a museum showcasing Punjab and its glorious history. Be notified of any private events in the fort which may prevent visitors from entering. On the lines of Chokhi Dani in Jaipur, Amritsar now boasts of Sadda Pind, a village themed resort. One could plan a visit to these places based on the interest levels of the touring party. Amritsar is a fabulous Winter destination. An extension to Amritsar is a trip to Chandigarh (5 hours) and further to Dalhousie and Dharamshala. Amritsar on its own is perfect for 3 nights / 4 days.

Getting to Amritsar – Airlines Indigo, vistara and Spicejet fly direct from Mumbai. They also fly direct from New Delhi along with Air India and Jet Airways.

Trains – There are a total of 27 trains between New Delhi and Amritsar. The Journey takes a little over 6.5 hours and one has a choice between day and night time trains. Advance reservation can be done on the Indian railways booking portal.

Go ahead, pack your wollens and head to this fabulous urban destination.

 

 

Discovering Food Trails of #Amritsar

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Part 1 of my blog on a rejuvenated Amritsar focused on the newest attraction in town, The Partition Museum, dedicated to the pain and suffering endured by millions during one of the largest and most brutal mass migration in history. The museum has since officially opened for viewing and more sections are being opened in a phased manner.

Part 2 focused on the serene Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple), Akhal Takht, Sarovar and its surroundings. I spent a whole afternoon exploring the nooks and corners of the Darbar sahib complex, learning about the contributions made by the Sikh Gurus, ordinary folk, Armed forces, Agricultural community and the role of Punjab in shaping the history of this great country.

In the 3rd part, i share my experiences and feelings about the newly minted precincts of The Heritage street, another tragic memorial from the freedom struggle – The Jallianwala Bagh and finally the humble Guru ka Langar.

A trip to Amrtisar is not complete without savouring what is on offer. There is plenty to gorge on in and around Heritage Street but the nooks and alleys offer plenty more. The internet is full of info on eating joints in Amritsar; Kesar da dhaba, Chungi’s kulche , Amritsar fish and tandoori chicken joints and many more are well researched and covered by ardent foodies.

One such Foodie and an ardent fellow travel blogger is Mr Harish Bali of visa2explore. His VLogs on Food Trails across Delhi, Agra and now Amritsar will make you want to follow him on his trails. Apart from detailed videos on the joints, he has provided details of all the joints as notes to his VLog. Here is a link to Mr Bali’s delicious journey in Amritsar.

Kanha sweets, another well documented and frequented eatery is one such place that is worth visiting for breakfast. Seems to be located more for the convenience of college going folks on Dayanand nagar; The DAV college is a stone’s throw away. Great pooris, chhole, Alu launji are enough to settle in to your stomach and provide you with the required energy OR sleep. The pickle seems to be a speciality and one can watch fellow visitors chomp away. A plate of two ghee fried pooris costs 80 bucks. Many of them follow up on the pooris with a plate of Sweet Halwa. Two pooris did me in and i felt my trip almost coming to an end. After this, other joints in Amritsar felt like a distant dream.

Unlimited Chhole, Alu Launji, Onions and a sweet n Sour pickle

The Poori Breakfast at Kanha Sweets – Unlimited Chhole, Alu Launji, Onions and a sweet n Sour pickle

They also have a sweet stall right up front selling dry sweets, Bengali sweets and fresh rice firni.

Dry Sweets, Bengali sweets, Rice Firni and a Glass of Lassi with loads of cream to top up

Kanha Sweets – At the store front, Dry Sweets, Bengali sweets, Rice Firni and a Glass of Lassi with loads of cream to top up

Staying on DAV college road, once the street lights come on, a roadside joint comes to life. Made from mango pulp, sugar and sundried, this is a joint that virtually stretches the mango to an all year delicacy. The most interesting part is the variety that is on offer – a sweet variety, a sour variety and when served with a variety of spice powders (chilli, coriander, fennel, black salt) and a dash of lime, it elevates the taste and introduces you to a completely new set of possibilities. Watch people buy by the kilo for their homes and gatherings. A must visit; Dont mind the mosquitoes though.

The Roadside Aam Papar Shop outside DAV college, a take away sour Aam papar with spice powders and a Dash of Lime

The Roadside Aam Papar Shop outside DAV college, a take away sour Aam papar with spice powders and a Dash of Lime

A meal was something that i could not have handled. On such occassions, one can settle for a chaat – many light snacks without feeling light on oneself and the pocket. Brijwasi chats near Crystal chowk on Cooper road is a popular joint. A great place to hangout with friends and share multiple plates of Chaat. Begun in 1958, the second generation seems to be doing a fine job of handling the quality of offering.

Aloo tikkis, bun tikkis and Dahi Bhallas are popular chaats in the North of India

Aloo tikkis, bun tikkis and Dahi Bhallas are popular chaats in the North of India

Spaced out, one can taste them all and enjoy the fares on offer.

Coming up – A failed visit to the Attari – Wagah border and an opportunity for Farm Stays.

 

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 →

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2

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After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Part 1 of this blog explored the journey from Chennai to Kanadukathan, explorations within Visalam and its Gastronomic delights. In the second and concluding part, she explores the rich sights and sounds of Chettinad replete with audio visuals. Here she goes….

Good Morning! What better than going for a swim to kick start your day. I got up by 7a.m, went for a nice swim, had some simple yet delicious breakfast, and gave a kick-start to my day!

As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed towards the reception, where we would meet our guide, who would take us in and around Karaikudi. Infact, the hotel itself provided us with a guide, who is a member if their staff. So basically, the guide wasn’t outsourced from some other hotel or company.

We started off our sightseeing by visiting the RAJAS’S PALACE- A huge, traditional Chettinad Mansion in Kanadukathan district. We got a glimpse of that mansion from it’s exteriors itself as we didn’t want to spend too much of time on the history of that place because we had many other interesting things to see and know about. The mansion had beautiful exteriors. It had been recently painted and beautified. There were these splendid carvings on the walls of the mansion of Gods and Goddesses, which added more glitter to the beauty of the mansion. Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy in their blog write, “The massive residence belonged to Chettinad’s most famous luminary Dr. S.Rm.M. Annamalai Chettiar, founder of the Indian Bank and Annamalai University. For his philanthropic efforts, he was made Diwan Bahadur, conferred with knighthood and given the hereditary title of Rajah of Chettinad by the King of England in 1929”.

The Raja's Palace front view

The Raja’s Palace in KanaduKathan, Chettinad

Next, we headed towards our guide’s house. The guide was pretty eager to show us his family’s house, so that we could get an idea of Chettinad architecture. It comprised of vintage Athangudi tiles, High Roofs, Vintage Clocks on the wall and, pillars connecting the ground of the house to the roof, and an open courtyard in the center , known as the “Mittam”, which is usally used for weddings and other family ceremonies.

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or "Thoons", Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or “Thoons”, Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

Once we thoroughly looked around the house and the guide, with complete interest, finished explaining the history to us, we headed towards a #Handloom and weaving centre where we we saw Cotton #sarees being made by manually made machines, with dyes and threads of various colours.

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials like colored threads, Hand weaving instruments like Charkha and loom and finished products

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials, Hand weaving instruments and finished products

We were told that it takes about one and a half to two days to complete one spree. Watch the accompanying video where the Weaver begins the process of weaving his magic

The process is quite long and tedious as it involves the shifting of threads, placement of the lever and other equipment, in order to get the right pattern on the spree. Watch in Part 2, the handloom process.

These sarees are sold to various cities in western India and North India, where there is a hughe crowd for all of these handmade stuff.

The next and most exciting place, which was the place where #Athangudi tiles are made.The preparation of Athangudi tiles is something that makes Chettinad famous.

Athangudi tile making workshop, Mud, coloring process, tile making and finished product

The Making of #Athangudi Tiles

Athangudi tiles are prepared in a unique process in which local soil, along with cement, baby jelly and synthetic oxides are used. The main colors that you shall find on these tiles are black, white, red, yellow, olive green and deep orange.

The tiles are cast from the locally available clay that is first burnt and then glazed. These tiles are special because they are sun-baked, which takes about a few days. But the whole process of getting the design on the tile and moulding it takes only about 3-5 minutes.

These tiles are used for flooring, wall cladding- in both interiors and exteriors. We were very happy to see the entire process of making a single Athangudi tile- from colour mixing to shaping and putting the glass. These tiles are exported to various countries, from where officials come and place orders.

Once we left from the Athangudi tile-making site, we headed toward a place where we got the real “sweetness” of Chettinad. We headed towards a house, where there was an “All Ladies” group preparing traditional Chettinad Sweets. such as “Adhirsam”, “Thenguzhal Murukku”, “Mahizhampoo Murukku”,”Mullu Murukku” and “Seepu Seedai”.

Women working the Bakshanam in a hot cauldron of coconut oil, finished Bakshanam

Ladies Self Help group in the business of making #Bakshanam. Time to sample Adhirsam, Thenguzhal, Mullu Murukku and Seepu Seedai

Made entirely of Rice Flour and using coconut oil, these snacks are prepared fresh everyday and are completely sold out by close.

Many of these groups also supply to stores across Tamilnadu where there is demand throughout the year. The best among all of them was the “Adhirsam”. I considered it as the ultimate sweet due to it’s taste, texture and flavor which included jaggrey, and coconut oil as well. So its pretty obvious that we can’t leave Chettinad whithout buying packets of these delicacies prepared by the lovely hand of these women, who do it passionately and carry on the family business with tons of confidence and courage.

Once we bought everything, we headed towards a vegetarian restaurant, where we quickly packed some lunch , which we would have once we headed back to the hotel. In between, we made a stop at a Saree Shop where we found a variety of cotton sarees, from simple and elegant to glittery and attractive. Since we all were starving, we quickly drove back to the hotel and reached by 2p.m and had some good lunch that we had packed on the way, and had a nap. The evening was quite free as we had completed most of the sightseeing during the day. So we decided that we would chill by the lawn in the evening, with a cup of tea and some of the snacks that we had bought earlier in the day. We didn’t really step out anywhere in the evening and had a light and simple dinner.

Phew! That was a long day… Good Night!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 1

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After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Here she goes….

Chettinad, the unexplored part of South India and Tamil Nadu. It is a place which contains the real essence of Tamil Nadu, where one shall discover the glory and heritage of ancient mansions built decades ago and opens us up to understand south Indian culture and their business instincts.

I recently went on a Short holiday to Chettinad in the month of December along with my family, and if you ask why chettinad, it’s because we all our bored of doing the same old Tirupati, Navagraha temples, Madurai, Kodaikanal and etc…So for a change, we decided to explore an unexplored part of Tamil Nadu which is Chettinad.

Chettinad itself feels like a small state like Goa, which is surrounded by serenity, nature, beauty and warmth. We drove down from Chennai to Kanadukathan, which is a district in the Chettinad region itself. It took us about 6 hours non-stop to reach Kanadukathan, where we stayed in a heritage property known as Visalam, which is managed by CGH Earth Group of hotels, which has over 10 properties across India, mainly in Southern India. So we decided to stay there for 2 nights and 3 days and personally I feel that even after spending 2 days in such a small region, I never felt like leaving Chettinad because anyone who ever comes here, gets settled in the homely atmosphere of Chettinad.

So as soon as we entered the district of Kandukathan, we immediately drove to our resort Visalam, where we were given a very warm welcome by the staff, who welcomed us in the traditional south Indian way along with refreshments and bangles for the ladies and angavastra- which is a part of the traditional south Indian costume for men worn like a dupatta.

Visalam by CGH earth

The CGH Earth property – Visalam at Kanadukathan in Chettinad

Sanjeev Sanyal in his recent best seller, The Ocean of Churn – How the Indian ocean shaped Human History, pays glowing tribute to the chettiar business community of Kanadukathan. He writes, “Tamil chettiar merchants and moneylenders spread across South East Asia. In Malaya the lent to Chinese Tin miners and European platers, and in Burma they supplied credit to farmers. They operated through a system of guild-like firms and agencies, usually run by members of the extended family. One of the largest of these firms, established by Muthiah Chetty in the early 1900s was headquartered in Kanadukathan in chettinad”. It was wonderful to visit a part of history and learn of how well regulated Non Banking Financial Organizations were. He also mentions the role temples played in re-capitalizing some of these businessmen who lent to businesses.

Visalam who lends her name to the property, the courtyard and the sitout

The Courtyard or Miththam within Visalam. Spacious and an airy seating area.

As soon as we checked in, we were given 2 cosy and extremely spacious rooms for the 4 of us and we spent the rest of the afternoon by ordering some simple lunch and taking rest. Next in the evening, when we all got freshened up and had some tea-coffee along with snacks, we got dressed for some photography and a visit to the Pillayar Patti Temple, which was about 15 minutes away from our resort. The temple is dedicated to Karpaka Vinayakar (Elephant headed god, Son of Lord Shiva). It is considered as a very holy temple where hundred’s of people come every day to get the blessings of the lord, who is said to be very powerful. In this huge cave temple, there are rock cut images of Lord Shiva and many other Gods and Shrines as well. As soon as we got a beautiful darshan of the Lord, we headed back to our hotel as it was quite dark and there was nothing much to see after sunset. We headed back to our hotel and went around the property, clicking photographs and discovering chettinad heritage- the glorious mansion, Athangudi tiles on the floor and Traditional vessels for cooking and serving.

Kitchen wares - cooking and serving, Radio and a water boiler

Clockwise from Top left – Porcelain pickle Jars, an antique and working Radio, Water boiler, Brass serving vessels, Brass cups and cutlery and brass storage vessels for water and other kitchen ingredients

We were also told about the history of visalam.

It was originally built by K.V.A.L.M Ramnathan Chettiar for his loving daughter Vishala. Except for occasional family weddings, the mansion was rarely used. CGH earth while renovating have spared Visalam from the stress of renovation and have just breathed a fresh lease of life in to it with restoration. Using original materials like Burmese Teak wood, the new managers have retained the original charm while making rooms, polishing the marble floor and putting up exquisite woodwork.

Next, we had a delicious and traditional south-Indian Dinner, which was served on a banana leaf. It was a complete meal with starters, a main course and of course, a desert too, which were all completely prepared in a south Indian way!

Masala Seeyam, Sweet Pongal, Vellai paniyaram

Starters Left – Vellai Paniyaram OR Deep fried Rice Pancakes with Danker, a Dip of Tomatoes, onions and Tamarind Right – Sweet Pongal made from Rice and Jaggery with Masala Seeyam, a deep friend lentil and rice dumpling with Coconut chutney

Main course - rice string hoppers, idlies, Dosa with a variety of sides

Clockwise from Top Left – Idiyappam with a Curry, Idlies with a Mix Vegetable Curry, Idlies with Sambhar and Dosa with a Brinjal Curry

Dessert and warm milk to end the day

For Dessert – Masala Milk and Kavani Rice, a purple sticky rice pudding, a product of south asian influence

After that, we headed back to our rooms for a sound sleep that we needed, to begin a fresh new day!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

More in Part 2

Hotels & Homestays of Rajasthan – Jaipur

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The Golden Camel

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. Part 4 of the road trip was our experience was a Haveli at Nagaur which is en route to Jaipur.

Day 7 – Jaipur

Good morning! An early start would always annoy me but at the end, I’ve got to accept it! We started off with freshening up, Packing up our bags and heading to the restaurant for breakfast. Our breakfast was pretty early as we thought that if we left early for our last destination, Jaipur, we would get to relax more in the hotel and roam around in the markets more peacefully and be more energetic. We just had a bowl of cornflakes and fruits for each of us. We thought that we could fill ourselves by having some paratha but unfortunately, it took a little longer than expected to serve it to us. We instead asked them to pack them in a small box and give it to us, so that we could eat it during our journey. We then left the resort after breakfast, by checking out and straightaway headed to our car, departing for Jaipur.

We didn’t really stop anywhere, but we saw Pushkar on the way. I did read and find out that Pushkar is a holy city and is famous for its Camel Fair held every November. Also, the city of Ajmer is located just about 14 kms (9 miles) from Pushkar. Ajmer town houses the Dargah (resting place) of Saint Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chisti. This Dargah is visited by people of all religions. We didn’t stop in Pushkar because the weather outside was burning hot and we did not want to get more tanned!

We then finally entered Jaipur, an extremely lively city with the metro and various famous monuments and buildings. Our hotel was ITC Rajputana, which is a 5 star luxury hotel.

ITC Rajputana building, Silver door, Reception area and Lobby

The ITC Rajputana, Jaipur

The Lobby, Chandeleirs and a Golden Camel

The Lobby and Lighting at ITC Rajputana

We checked into our hotel and surprisingly got an upgrade to a luxury category. We were escorted to our room which was extremely beautiful and elegant looking. It was almost afternoon by the time we settled down, we ordered some rice to our room because that is the only food that fills us! We also had the parathas(paneer and gobi), which were also delicious. We rested on the bed for a while..My mother wanted to visit the markets in the afternoon to buy some dress materials and gifts for relatives. I was really tired after all the journey and kindly refused to go with my mom, which she happily accepted. While my mom was between the clothes of the market, me and my grandfather had a tiny nap. By the time my mom returned, it was evening and we were scheduled to have dinner with one of my mom’s well known tour operator in Rajasthan. Unfortunately, he couldn’t turn up for some issue but his representative came to our hotel and gave us a bag of sweets and chocolates, on behalf of the head tour operator). That was nice… We roamed around the hotel for a while, saw the paintings put up as an art exhibition by someone on that day and spent some time in the lobby. We finally headed for dinner where we already had our buffet dinner package included. Dinner was super delicious and excellent. We had a slow an amazing dinner time at the restaurant, chit-chatting, listening to the music being played and seeing the people coming and going. Dinner filled us and we ended our long day, finally by getting into comfortable clothes and watching some T.V till late night…Hmm, That was indeed an awesome day!

Day 8 – Jaipur at leisure and Departure

This day was the last day of this beautiful work cum personal trip..The departure day! I was a little sad because I never wanted to leave any of the resorts and the trip was so enjoyable, meeting new people and visiting new places. We got ready and headed for breakfast..   The breakfast hall was full but we had been reserved a table which was very nice of the staff. Breakfast provided a wide variety of different cuisines and juices(including vegetable juices) which was very impressive. We had a filling breakfast and then left the hotel for some sightseeing. We just took a short ride in the city and we also saw the Hawa Mahal, Amer fort which is spectacular and visited the markets to buy some clothes for me with the typical jaipuri elephant print.

Amer Fort and Maota Lake

The Amer Fort, Jaipur

That was just a short ride and then we headed back to our hotel to pack our luggage and get ready to check out in a while. By the time we cam down to the reception with all our bags, it was nearly later than noon. Luckily, we got an extension for our checkout time as our flight was later in the afternoon and nearly evening. Till then, we did some time pass in the lobby and had some beverages in the restaurant. Time just flew and finally the moment came, when I had to finally say bye to the last and one of the favorite hotel of this trip. We left by saying goodbye to all the smiling faces and a goodbye to the city of Jaipur. The airport was about 15km from the city which was not much distance. We came to the airport perfectly on time and bid adieu to our driver, who was extremely good and warm, with a small gift. As usual, we completed all the airport procedures which I don’t think need to be explained! Rajasthan, a place nobody can forget was finally ready to welcome me next time…

Thank you so much to the Government of Rajasthan, which has made the state beautiful and the biggest amount of thanks to the people of rajasthan, who add the essence of love and warmth in the state..Good bye Rajsthan! Hope to see you soon !!

Getting there – Jaipur is well connected by air from all parts of the country. Jet AirwaysAir IndiaIndigo and Spicejet are airlines offering connectivity to Jaipur. Jaipur has excellent rail connectivity and  Indian Railways offers convenient trains from all major metros. Jaipur is just 5 hours driving distance from New Delhi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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