A Travellerspoint blog

India

AHMEDABAD

A city of sweet food and vibrant fabrics

Ahmedabad as a city was introduced to me in a classroom as I read in history textbooks of it being the epicentre of the non-violent movement for India's independence. But a quick visit to the city introduced me to the multitude of charms this 600 year old walled city has to offer. From being an important hub of the textile industry to the incredible architecture of its forts and mosques, from the bustle of the narrow lanes in busy chowks to the vibrancy of Navratri festivities.

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Listed are a few snapshots from my hurried yet lovely visit:

SABARMATI ASHRAM

If on your trip to Ahmedabad you wish to visit a place where you can find a complete peace and steeped in history, the Sabarmati Ashram would make for a perfect pit stop. Situated approximately 5km from Ahmadabad city center and located on the banks of the river Sabarmathi, the ambiance of whole ashram can be described in one word – serene. At the home of Mahatma Gandhi where he resided between 1917 and 1930 which has its own place in history as being the place the Dandi March, one can find complete details of this historical man known as the Father of the Nation.

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Apart from a spectacular collection of photographs and memorabilia from Gandhiji's life, the ashram evokes memories of times gone by. The simple room with a spinning wheel and a floor cushion where discussions were held giving birth to the Indian freedom movement is a must see. A peaceful reminder of non-violence in a violent world.

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ADALAJ VAV - The favourite part about my visit to Ahmedabad.

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Step wells or vav in Gujrati are an amazing display of ancient engineering that has narrow steps built on three sides of the wall in perfect symmetery that lead down to the well. Step-wells are usually a part of a complex that include a temple and rest-stop. The entry to this almost 500 year old historical site is surprisingly free. The moment you enter it, you feel the reduced temperature. The well is a 5 storied structure with stone carvings adorning it's base and arched alcoves fashioned to last centuries. We visited fairly early in the morning, around 10 AM. Most of the people there seemed to be art students who were sketching the well. The entry structure has sculpted motifs and is very pretty to look at.

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I found it to be a unique place. The site does not seem to have any timings or even security nor is there any artificial source of light. If it is raining outside, the steps could be slippery. The steps are not disabled friendly by any stretch of the imagination and will pose a challenge to couch potatoes. Going down and then coming up the flight of stairs will mean that many unused leg muscles will be announcing themselves very loudly. Well worth a visit.

Manek Chowk

Budget shoppers paradise. By day a jewellery square situated between the tombs of the Shah and the Queen (visit both, since they are extraordinary examples of Gujarati Islamic architecture), the place is teeming with dry fruit vendors, silver jewellery and merchants selling reams of bandhani and block print cotton material that can be fashioned into kurtas, bedspreads and myraid of other options. After sunset, the entire space is transformed to a vegetarian outdoor eatery with a variety of Chinese/Indian/Gujarati food served in the various stalls.
Do not fear the crowd and enjoy the experience. Finish diner with the best kulfis in town from Asharfilal and go for a stroll in the nearby streets. Ahmedabadis truly deserve the fame of being foodies.

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Amdavad ma aapnu swaagat che.

Until next time.

Posted by Ceej 04:10 Archived in India Tagged ahmedabad adalaj_stepwell vav vaav sabarmati_ashram Comments (0)

LANDOUR

a place over-run with simple and pure joys.

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Landor is a perfect getaway for anyone seeking solitude from the heat and hustle of the cities. This gorgeous part of the world offers breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayas and allows endless opportunities to experience all the virtues of a hill town – gorgeous views, rambling walks, happy people, hot chai, delicious food teemed together with a constant urge to literally stop and smell the flowers.

Situated about 5 kilometres away from the chaos of Mussoorie is its twin - the quaint hilltop town of Landour which was a British cantonment during the days of colonial rule in India and as such came under the Cantonment Act of 1924 which has had a far-reaching ecological impact on the region. This law in particular has prevented deforestation and as a result, Landour remains green in comparison to Mussoorie. Another clause in the act, which terms all non-governmental and non-military buildings post-1924 as “illegal” has saved the town from rampant construction. Only repairs of the existing old houses are allowed.

Just passing through both these towns could very well be considered a study of contrasts - in terms of tourists, carbon footprint, real-estate development and noise levels. Landour, named after Llanddowror a small village in the southwest of Wales calms and relaxes you and nourishes creativity. Just being here amidst the tall deodars and the hills, surrounded with the air thick with the sounds of the naughty whistling schoolboy makes you feel like you have somehow slipped into the world between the pages of a Ruskin Bond novel.

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A beautiful trail called the Chakkar winds through these hills and if find yourself here in early April as I was, it offers the opportunity to walk along a path dotted with rhododendron trees bursting in crimson bloom welcoming spring and cutting through the dense pinewood cover. The walk allows for some brilliant birding opportunities with beautiful sights along the way. Some of the highlights of this walk are:

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Catching the sight of the Himalayan range from Lal Tibba: On a clear day the walk through the chakkar trail is broken by glimpses of silver peaks glistening at a distance, which is a preview of the uninterrupted sight that can be viewed from Lal Tibba. The view point itself is an unadorned two-storeyed commercial structure with no character and fitted with a telescope for viewing the peaks. There is a helpful mural on the wall identifying the various peaks in the part of the Himalayan range visible from this viewpoint.

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St. Paul's Church is a beautiful pause on one end of the Chakkar trail. It was commissioned as the house of worship for the serving officers who came up for recuperation to the hills and for the missionaries who were posted here. Built in 1839 high up in the mountains, this church has seen its share of history. I heard a local say that the Jim Corbett’s parents Christopher and Mary Corbett were married at this very church in 1859. The largely wooden frame of the church also houses tall arched windows framed with beautiful stained Belgian glass windows.
With the backdrop of the setting sun, the beauty of church revealed itself with breathtaking contrast bringing into sharp focus all the details of the dark wood and the altar bathed in gorgeous light only made the contrast of the deep shadows along the pews seem conspicuous.

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Landour Language School is yet another lovely stop on the Chakkar trail. It is an almost-100 year old institution housed in the Kellogg Memorial Church complex established with the idea of teaching the Hindi language to the missionaries who cared for the sick soldiers who would come to the hills for recuperation. Even today the language school admits large number of foreigners who visit the school in order to learn Hindi and it is not an uncommon sight to see a person of foreign origin having a conversation in halting Hindi with the locals.

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One evening I went down the hill to the heart of Mussorie and dove straight into the chaos of Mall road, I found the entire experience over-rated and exhausting. The whole space is filled with shops hawking everything from woolen wear to Tibetian artifacts and is packed with tourists and honeymooners. I admit it offers a great opportunity for people watching while sampling the many food offerings, but honestly the only reason I undertook this exercise was to meet my childhood hero and one of the best authors of all times. The Cambridge Book Depot on Mussoorie's Mall Road hosts a meet and greet session with Ruskin Bond most Saturday evenings. My ultimate fan moment came when Mr.Bond signed my battered 20 year old copy of Rusty and proceeded to engage me in a conversation about Coorg and anthuriums.

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Stepped out of the bookstore to find the Mall road bathed in twilight and the brisk weather prompting me to wrap my scarf a little tighter around my neck. The evening atmosphere of the entire area was such a clash to the tranquility I had experienced for 3 days that I found myself rushing back to the serene twin town. The more distance I put between myself and the hustle and bustle of Mussorie, I came back to the presence of fantastic views of the cloud covered Doon Valley broken by picturesque little houses and the sight of locals going about their business — kids climbing uphill with school backpacks on their wiry frames, teenage sweethearts stealing glaces of each other from balconies, housewives returning with vegetables from the local farmers market and men gathered around small shops that sell tea discussing the days events - all while birds filled their air with their last songs for the day.

I stayed at the beautiful 175 year old heritage property - Rokeby Manor with its stone and wood architecture, balconies, tea gardens, rooms with views overlooking the Doon valley and its very English aura. Spent the stormy evening exploring a charming private library named "Wilson's Chamber" sipping a cup of brilliant masala chai to the sound of rolling thunder.
The walls of this property are decorated with ample sayings oozing with classic British tongue in cheek humor. The walls of Emily's houses some of the best, I particularly loved one that read "Harassing the cook will definitely result in smaller portions" and another that asks you to sleep in the kitchen if you want breakfast in bed.

Char Dukaan a group of 4 shops is a landmark at Landour. You'll find the shops selling different varieties of pancakes, omelettes, Tibetan food and cheese maggi. On that note, the more I've travelled I've come to realise that a hot bowl of maggi and a cup of chai at one of the mountain highway stops is all the refreshment you need to make a hill station experience in India complete. I still remember wolfing down a bowl full of steaming maggi at Rohtang pass and feeling blissfully satiated.

Landour has got to be one of the best birding destinations in the world as it offers a perfect setting for the migratory birds travelling across continents to break their flight. The air is rife with the sound of grosbeaks, finches, tits, sunbirds and flycatchers. In my opinion, birding on the Chakkar trail in the morning is a must do not just for enthusiastic birders.

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Life up in the cloud bank is shrouded in mist and rain, broken by beautiful spells of sunshine peeking from in between the tall ancient deodars. If you are the kind of traveller who is travelling with an agenda of visiting a ton of places on a 3-4 day getaway, Landour is definitely not for you.
Landour is where you go to when you just simply want to “be” — be amidst the sparkling air and the towering deodars all in the constant presence of the Himalayas that spring into view on a clear, bright day.

I would go back in a heartbeat, to views of pure majesty and trails lined with fallen pine cones.

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Till next time,
Sowmya

Posted by Ceej 04:36 Archived in India Tagged bond landour mussorie paul's_church kellogs_church ruskin chakkar Comments (2)

Temple Diaries

BHUBANESHWAR

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If there ever was a part of this expansive and colourful country that was worthy of the term “Temple City” – the beautiful Oriya city of Bhubaneshwar would be it. With almost a 1000 temples dotting the landscape of this part of the world that was once the seat of the Kalinga dynasty, it represents the magnificence of a kingdom that ruled millenniums earlier. As you explore this city, you quickly discovered that most of the heritage places in this city are concentrated in the “Old Town” area.

I had once made a hurried day visit to this quaint historic city on work and explored a fraction of its breath-taking expanse and had vowed to one day return. My second visit spanned 4 days and this is a brief travelogue of the beauty I saw.

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The Mukteshwar Temple built in the 10th Century AD is one of the smallest temples rising to a full height of just 35 feet but it is also one of the temples with the most detailed and ornate craftsmanship. The decorated archway in front of the main temple is a significantly differential feature in comparison to the architecture of the rest of the temples and it also holds some of the most ornate carvings of tales from the Panchatantra on the sides. The Siddeshwar temple, where both Shiva and Vishnu are worshipped is also present in the same complex and was a beautiful addition to this entire experience. The annual Mukteshwar Dance Festival in hosted in January every year and I was lucky to watch a dancer perform in the deserted courtyard just for herself and God making the beginning of a hectic week seem so tranquil.

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The entire Old Town area is criss-crossed with narrow lanes and hidden jems. I stumbled upon artisans creating palm leaf engravings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Also nestled in these bylanes was a worshop producing beautiful tribal and bastar art works. I managed to pick up a few pieces directly from them which I am pretty certain I would have had to pay anywhere between 5 to 10 times if I had picked it up at an emporium.

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The Lingaraj Temple which is one of the largest and most celebrated temples in the region is not written about here since my visit turned out to be a harrowing experience due to the harassment by the pandas in the temple who are just looking to making a quick buck in the name of devotion and destroy every bit of the faith that brings people to holy place. To the extent where I later heard that people are pointedly avoiding paying a visit to the Lingaraj Temple as it has already gained an infamous reputation due to the pandas notoriety.

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Constructed in 650 AD, the Parasurameswara Temple is widely considered the oldest temple in Bhubaneshwar and was commissioned by the Shailodbhava Kings. I visited this temple on a Monday morning and found myself alone except for the priests in the temple courtyard. Most of the temples in the area are dedicated to Lord Shiva – the patron God of the Kalinga empire, but Parasurama temple is dedicated to an avatar of Vishnu. Among many other stories, it is said that Parasuram at some point decided to do devout austerities to please Shiva and Lord Shiva rewarded his devotion by granting him an axe. I had never seen a temple dedicated to the Parasuram avatar of Vishnu (actually I did not know that they had temples dedicated to Parahsuram), so it turned out to be a good occasion to understand more about the mythology related.
Also, the Parasurameswara temple was one of the few temples that used to house Devadasis.

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20 kilometers outside of Bhubaneshwar in the middle of rice-fields filled landscape lies the beautiful, roofless, circular Chaunsath Yogini Mandir which is a sight shrouded in mystery. The temple dates back 1200 years and was lost for generations until it was rediscovered in 1953 according to the Archeological Survey of India plaque at the entrance. This perfect example of tantric worship which involves the five elements of nature - fire, water, earth, sky and ether and reflects the role of feminine power, is one of only four hypaethral temples in the country. The visit to the temple was fairly brief but once done, you can spend some sitting on the platform facing the temple and take a walk around the temple which has paddy fields and beautiful water bodies.

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Set in a garden and peaceful surroundings, I managed a brief stop over at the Rajarani Temple which is named a temple but was actually a pleasure resort for a king and a queen. I heard another version for its unique name that it was derived from the kind of sandstone that was used in its construction. There are no idols here and the architecture is delightful.

As my cab whizzed passed the temples dotted landscape on my way to the airport, I remember thinking to myself that this city is truly a heritage wonderland.

Safe Travels!!
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 22:13 Archived in India Tagged temple city 64 mandir mukteshwar yogini mukteswara parasurameswar parashurameshwara chaunsath bhubaneshwar Comments (0)

COORG

An ode to the land of my forefathers

all seasons in one day

Every time anyone meets me and then it is revealed to them that i hail from Coorg, invariably the conversation shifts to discussing the land of my forefathers. Though I was born and raised in Bangalore, the calling that this part of the world map holds is undeniable. People always seem to have so many questions regarding Coorg , the people , what activities they can pursue when they visit the place,etc. So I decided to catalogue some helpful things about Coorg.

Coorgs are a martial race inhabiting Karnataka’s picturesque hill district Kodagu, in the Southern part of India about 250 kilometers from Bangalore, the IT Capital of India. It was nicknamed as "The Scotland Of the East" by some of the officials in the East India Company most notably by Sir Erskine Perry. The history of this race has always been shrouded in mystery and no Coorg is not just about coffee.
Coorgs or Kodavas as we are known in some parts are a different kind of people as compared to others in the country. Unlike other Hindu communities, Brahmins have no role in any of our ceremonies: be it marriage, death or festivals. The birth of a male child is announced by a single gunshot fired in the air, but the death of a family member is made known by firing gun shots in the air. Drawing a parallel between the character of Greeks and Coorgs it is noted that, “Like the Greeks, the Coorgs have an instinctive hatred for servility or being obsequious. A Coorg will never show more than the obligatory respect to a man in the higher orders of officialdom unless he positively respects that man.”

There’s plenty to do and see in this stunning part of the country, but after careful thought I've finally come up with seven particularly interesting or different things to do in Coorg that will add more to your trip.

1. Help an elephant take his daily bath
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Near Kushalnagar there is a natural island with 11 acres of land, covered in trees and surrounded by a wonderful wreath of water. The Dubare Forest is maintained by the forest department, who also run an ‘Elephant Training Camp’. The island is reached by a 20 rupees motorboat ride. Tourists visit to witness the daily routines of tamed elephants. These huge mammals are used to the attention, moving through the river water and lying down while visitors pat and clean them. Tourists enjoy scrubbing the ears and backs as the elephants throw water on themselves through their trunks, if you are in the vicinity you are definitively getting soaked :) Once they are given a bath visitors can serve ‘raagi balls’ made especially for them by the forest department. The cool and gurgling waters of the Cauvery River create a pleasant and refreshing atmosphere.
You can get back to the mainland either by the same motorboat or by following a natural stone path through the river.

2. Visit the biggest Tibetan settlement in southern India
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Did you know there is an 18,000-strong community of Tibetans living in southern India? Bylakuppe, situated 90 kms away from Mysore city on the Mysore-Madikeri highway, is the largest Tibetan refugee camp, housing thousands of Tibetans in exile. Over 45 years ago Tibetans settled here, creating a ‘mini-Tibet’ in one village.
As you get close, you’ll see Buddhist monks – ‘Lamas’- overtaking you on their speeding motor bikes, their maroon robes flapping in the air. In the market they can be seen wearing Raybans and listening to their i-Pods! ;)
The sense of sudden change as you enter this Tibetan enclave is surreal, with its colorful flags, monasteries and modernised Tibetan culture.More than 7000 monks pursue their monastic education in Bylakuppe’s monasteries, with dedicated veneration to his holiness The Dalai Lama, their supreme master. The Golden Temple, with a 60 ft gold plated Buddha statue, and the recent addition of ‘copper colored mountain’ Zandong Palri it’s an attractive tourist destination.

3. Trek the hills

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From easy to arduous treks, Coorg has varying trails for all kinds of adventure seeker. The best season to plan treks in Coorg is between October and February. The three main mountain peaks in Coorg for trekking are Brahmagiri, Pushpagiri and Tadiandamol. You can trek alone or with a guide. Organisations like Coorg Adventure Club (CAC) organise trekking expeditions from time to time and can arrange the necessary facilities for the interested trekkers. The experience has it all: thick forests, sloping hills, waterfalls, incredible views of this area dubbed ‘Scotland of the East’.

4. Watch the hockey festival
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Hockey is a traditional game of the Kodava community, the ethnic group of this region. The Kodava Hockey festival in Coorg has run since 1997. The principal rule of the festival is that a particular team is represented by members of a specific family. Each year, the festival is organised by a different family who give their name to the tournament. It’s for both men and women and is considered to be of great importance. The festival was initiated to bring the people of Kodava community closer. The opening and closing ceremonies are held with spectacle of various dances and a demonstration of the martial arts of the Kodavas.

5. Tuck into Coorg cuisine
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Even though the people of Coorg are mostly non-vegetarian, they are influenced by the South Indian ways of cooking food. The rich cuisine of dishes use pork, chicken or fish but are cooked with coconut, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and spices like pepper and cardamom.
You have to try it to believe it - try some Pandi Curry with Kadambittu, which is Pork Curry with Rice dumplings.
Yummmmmmm!!!!

6. Attend a Coorg wedding
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A Coorg wedding is very different from other South Indian weddings, with the customs followed more familiar to those of North India. The bride wears a red sari, draped in an unusual manner that involves tying pleats in the rear, taking around the back and pinning of small portion of the pallu (end of the sari) securely over the right shoulder.
Men and women of Coorg are known for their beauty, bravery and intelligence. The men look handsome in
their long overcoats, with a silken sash around the waist. They carry a customary dagger called
‘pechekathi’ tucked on to the right side of the sash. And YES alcohol is served as a customary ritual, and its usually on the house with the food ;)

7. Walk the plantations

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Coorg is densely covered with coffee, pepper and cardamom estates. These estates on the lush and steep hills of Coorg make an interesting walk. You can even stay in one of the plantation properties and learn from the estate owner all about the growth of coffee and important local spices. Not to mention enjoy a piping hot coffee made wish fresh beans as you relax and enjoy the wonderful views.
I leave u with the image of perfect serenity, of misty mountains, lush paddy fields, roaring rivers, gurglings streams, beautiful people and the aroma of arabica coffee tickling your nostrils and the songs of the valley long forgotten.

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Until next time
CJ:)

Posted by Ceej 04:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

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