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Hampi, the soul amidst the ruins

hampi.jpgHampi is a historical site scattered with ruins and excavations in Karnataka. As the capital of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara and was a beautiful city in its prime. Entering the vicinity of Hampi, I saw massive boulders in the largely rocky landscape, balanced on or against seemingly precarious positions. Hampi is a weekend getaway from Bangalore. Its silence can settle into our soul and we can begin to feel its vibrations. I found places of great natural beauty in mountains, seaside’s, plains and deserts. The village of Hampi has one main street Hampi Bazaar, which is closed to all vehicular traffic. The bus stand is just off it on the eastern side. At the western extreme is the Virupaksha Temple and the eastern extreme of the street is the museum at the base of Matangi Hill, run by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. And a few meters from this are the steps that lead to the Achutaraya Temple, which bypasses the Matangi Hill. We hired cycles to ride as it was the best way to see the place. We carried sun creams, for protection from the sun, and carried a picnic lunch and water along. On our first day here and we boarded a car to get the overview of the ruins, however if you are not into affection for history then Hampi is not for you. As there are no pubs, no non veg restaurants, none of the ease of conversationhampi1.jpg one can strike up. The sites were plenty and absolutely not to miss where the Virupaksha Temple, Vittala Temple, Queen’s bath, Loyus Mahal, Elephant Stable, Underground well, Mint and the Watch Tower, Hampi Bazaar, Sule Bazaar, Tungabhadra Dam, Hanuman Temple across the river at Anegundi. Then there was a photo exhibition at the museum situated at the bottom of Matangi Hill. It consists of 60 enlarged pictures of Hampi taken by a British photographer around 200 years ago.While other places boast boat rides across placid lakes and rubber dignity rides on fiery rapids, Hampi allows you to cross the nicely moving Tungabhadra River in what’s look like a coconut shell. This coracle not only depends entirely on the skills of boatman to move it along and prevent it from capsizing, it also requires you to squat on the sloped edges before it can move. There are many Hampi hotels that are starting from Rs. 100 – Rs. 600 per day all over the Hampi Bazaar.


Do not disturb

Shivgiri Trails, Your very own tiger den

Shivgiri is located above Yemmedoddi village in the hoggarekangri Hills, north of the Babu Budanagiri Hills in Kadur taluk of Chikmagalur District. At the Shivgiri Trails in Chikmagalur District the tigers make their way through rich red berries that sprout from the hundreds of coffee plants grow around this over 100 year old estate. I was amazed to see the estate beautifully located atop a remote hill bang in the middle of a tiger reserve in the forests of Yemmedoddi. I felt lonely and left out, however reveled wonderfully in that state. As I drove up the winding mud road, which offers a spine tingling view of the valleys and the forested hills, I noticed that the place is so isolated that nobody except those connected with the estate ever more around in the area.

Shivgiri to me was what god made to make the trekking community happy, disappear into the greenery and don’t return till evening. Omkariah was our knowledgeable guide here. Out trek to Doddabale Siddaragudda was the first thing, which we did. It is a peak to the back of the guesthouse, 5500 ft high. To reach it we had to wend our way through the coffee beans in estate and then through the forest. All along the route, we found droppings of one or the other animal, which was an evidence enough of their happy existence there. The walk was slightly tiresome because of the upward slant of the terrain. When we make it to the top, there cannot be too many sights to behold. I was smothered by the winds that blow cold all the day and at night it can elevate almost physically, if the person is not careful enough to find a grip himself. To the south was the awesome views of the Bhadra River and Lakeville Dam, to the west are the tiny village of the Yemmedoddi, the Baba Budanagiri hill ranges and Madagadakere, a large lake. According to the legend the lakes fills up because of a magic rain, however the locals insist that it is the winds that fills up the lakes, bringing with them tiny droplets of water that the eyes cannot see.

You can hear the birds call over the forest in Shivgiri, from inside branches, from high up in the air, from within the valleys and everywhere. We had armed ourselves with a pair of binoculars and catched a host of them like woodpeckers, finches, sunbirds, mynahs, barbets, babblers and many more.

The Yemmedoddi forests were once favored hunting grounds of the British. They used aim at tigers, wild boars etc. But most of the animals have survived in spite of the old guns. Shivgiri has it tigers even today. My guide and his friends, who have here forever, have counted some of 10 of them, panthers too show up from time to time and they have been even seen walking on the mud road leading up the hill. There are sloth bears, mouse deers and many more. There are many natural caves and a few of them have for long been the house of tigers and panthers.

There was a small Lord Shiva temple, which according to the locals was 400 years old and has a very strong deity.

Shivgiri Trails has a packed price of Rs. 1500 per person per night including stay meals and a trek for 2 days and 1 night.

Igatpuri, more than just a junction

igatpuri-train.jpgIgatpuri has been a railway junction in my mind and mostly in everybody’s mind. But Igatpuri according to me has all the trappings of a convincing weekend getaway from Mumbai. Its cooler than Khandala at a height of 2000 ft all round the year, guarded by tall green hills that occasionally hide behinds lazy mists. I went in the monsoons and at that time its hills and deep river valleys burst into many shades of green.

Igatpuri gave me two choices either I can have a massage, watch others swim and eat or I can walk down curious valleys and fall a few times on the bright green grass, search for unnamed waterfalls and get wet.

On my way to Igatpuri from Mumbai is the Bhatsa River Valley less than 3 km from Manas Resort which is a stunning depth of extremely happy vegetation and rocks that run down a slope off the road, only to rise again majestically far away as proud hills. A river far down was cutting the curve into two to represent a perfect view of a beautiful valley.

After a few hundred feet before I reached Manas Resort there was Ghatandevi Mandir, dedicated to the goddess of the ghats. It was left as I came from and to the right of the highway was the most spectacular sights in this region- Camel Valley. I would have missed iigatpuri.jpgt out if the locals have not told me as I had to walk over and look down to find a slope that falls over 1000 ft. During the monsoons a waterfall cuts through the rocks in a violent descent. There were few mini plateaus that I walked up to, and which offered their own unique points of view. However in rains, Camel valley is full of waterfalls. Some are big and hard to miss, some have to be searched for. There was a railway track also.

About 6km from Manas Resort is Tringalwadi Fort that has attracted trekkers during the rains. In the monsoon, the farmers of Tringalwadi grow their crops over what is essentially a rough motorway that leads to the base of the fort. So in the rains vehicles cannot travel the last 3 or 4 km towards the ancient fort. However there was narrow pathway for a nice, long, wet walk, down to the calm Tringalwadi lake that looks more beautiful from the fort. A few kilometers away from Tringalwadi lake is Talegaon Lake, created by the small Talegoan Dam. Its worth the trip only if you really adore water bodies and the accompanying sound and smells and sights.

There are many options to stay like Manas Resort, Golden Resort, Hotel Ashwin etc.

Bharatpur, Faithful lover’s return

bharatpur.jpgKeoladeo Ghana Bird sanctuary is full of exotic, foreign winged visitors who migrate here from across the globe in Bharatpur. Spring is the time for courtship and nesting, when all the species become lovebirds. The other seasons also have their own attractions. The rains are for breeding and rearing young, with nests across the parklands brimming with mottled and specked eggs of many colours. Once the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Bharatpur, the scrub, swamps and marshes of the 29-sq km Keoladeo was later turned into a bird sanctuary and now ranks among the most visited in India.

To take in the essence of the park, divide your trips over the different times of the day. An early morning sojourn into the park means being at the main gate by 6.30 am. Get a ticket and find yourself a guide. No motor vehicles are allowed inside and if you do not want to exert yourself then there are cycle- rickshaws and bicycles. There are lots of paths to be explored in the sanctuary, bharatpur2.jpgbut the maximum sightings are on the paths bothering the swamps. Make a particular route for yourself for the morning trip like reach the main tank, Sapan Mori, and then turn right towards the Keoladeo Temple. Along this route you will be delighted by encounters with the star visitors, the Great White Siberian Cranes, if it’s winter.

Post lunch trip is the time to catch anything in the bright sun and one of the most spectacular sights is not of birds, but the pythons. Head for Sapan Mori again, this time going left towards the pythons sunning ground. Keep silent and soon you will see these majestic creatures lazily lying around in loose coils near their holes.

The Mansarovar and Hansarovar marshes and the swamps and lakes of Bharatpur constitute one of the most important heronries in the world. For this Keoladeo is a World Heritage Site. The park guarantees good sightings of purple heron and several other species. You will see long- toed jacans walking magically across the water and large flocks of pelicans and flamingoes fishing in the deeper water.

At the tourist reception center boat rides can be booked if there is enough water in the lakes and boating season is on. This is a unique experience, as one can get much closer to the birds and is an ideal opportunity for keen photography.

Lohagrah Fort was built by Raja Suraj Mal in the 18th centaury, is a flamboyant amalgamation of Mughal and Rajput architecture over the years. There is a government museum in the Fort, which exhibits the art and culture of the region, including various inscriptions and sculptures.

bharatpur-laxmi.jpgMost of the places to stay are along Dr Salim Ali road, which runs from Bharatpur to the entrance of the park. You can stay at Laxmi Vilas Palace, Kadam Kunj, The Birdies Inn and many more. There are many restaurants like Hotel Sunbird while Nightingale is a good option for a tandoori dinner. However Sunbird can also organize dinner with a born fire, even if you aren’t staying there

Jaisalmer, The Alchemist’s Fort

jaisalmer-fort.jpgJaisalmer, one of the most beautiful city of Rajasthan, evokes a cluster of associations in the minds of travelers, a golden fort, golden desert sands and elaborated carved havelis. It is a wonderful place to visit in the winter. The city is divided into two nearly equal haves, the town at ground level and the fort upon Trikutta Hill, both of which provide plenty of visual vision pleasure. Rawal Jaisal built the Jaisalmer fort in 12th Century. The fort can be accessed by a ramp winding through five massive gates. There is a large courtyard known as Dussehra Chowk, from where you can view the Royal Palace, or Raj Mahal. Inside the fort is a complex of 7 Jain temples built in the 15th and 16th century. The Parshvanath temple is the most impressive of these. It has finely carved torana and the ceiling of the sabha mandapa, which supports a demonic looking head surrounded by five bodies. And as we walk around the Mandapa the head seems to connect, in turn which each of its bodies. Another highlights of the complex are the poky little basement called the Gyan Bhandar, under the gaudy coloured dimly lit Sambhavanath Temple. The other major monument in the fort is the Rajmahal, the erstwhile royal residence, which is now converted into the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum and Heritage Centre.

There are three 19th century havelis at the ground level foremost between which is the Patwa Haveli. This is also known as the Patwon- ki- Haveliyan, because there are actually five different houses. These havelis are perhaps, the last truly great Indian buildings constructed without a trace of European influence. Two of these Patwa havelis are government run.

Not far from the town centre is the Gadisar Lake, formerly, which is also the Jaisalmer’s chief water source. It is a charming picnic spot. To get it to it, we crossed an imposing gateway called Tilon ki Pol. there’s a domed pavilion in the centre of the water. You can also do boating, as the paddleboats are available. The Jaisalmer Folklore Museum situated nearby contains a few puppets and traditional items of daily use, the Desert culture Centre and Museum displays fossils, coins and musical instruments. The lanes inside the fort are packed with shops selling fabrics replete with embroidery and mirror work.

You can take a jeep to the Sam sand Dunes, 42 km from Jaisalmer, jaisalmer-sam-dunes-sand.jpghop on to a camel for an hour around sunset and then get back to your comfortable hotel bed or else find a fancy tent to stay in for night. At the other end of the scale, you can ride for days with only a camel driver for company and the most basic provisions. The best option for reasonably hardy travelers is a 2-day safari with one night spent under the immense canopy of the desert sky. Lying under the open sky at night, with a dune entirely to you.

Pushkar, The Flower child

pushkar-ghat.jpgI visited Pushkar long time ago. Its origin lie buried in antiquity. It is the only place in the country where the devotees from and wide would throng to worship the creator of the universe. Some of the local people residing there briefed me with the tale behind its uniqueness. According to the Padma Purana, Brahma was in search of a place to perform a yagna when the lotus he was handling fell from his hand and landed in Pushkar. He resolved to perform the yagna there and then itself however his wife Savitri failed to join him, so he married a local damsel, Gayatri and completed the formalities. When Savitri arrived, she discovered Gayatri, and enraged, ticked off Brahma saying, that Pushkar would be the only place where he would be worshipped in.

We visited the ghats and temples, offered prayers at the lake while trying not to get ripped off by the local priests. We dipped in the holy Pushkar lake and had a bhang lassi which was awesome. Pushkar holy lake was created by Brahma by combining the waters of the four places of pilgrimage sacrosanct to Hindus- Badrinath, Jagannath, Rameshwaram and Dwarka. The lake is hugged by 52 ghats, teeming with sadhus, devotees and tourists. Most of the ghats are no older than 300 years and have innumerable small temples. Offerings made at the Brahma, Gau and Varaha ghats, which are the oldest, are considered to be most auspicious.

There are temples of Brahma, Varaha and Aptaeshvar which are the oldest and also considered as the most sacrosanct. We checked out the four faced icon of the Lord accompanied by his shy bride, Gayatri and the silver turtle in front of the shrine’s entrance at the Brahma’s temple.

At the Varaha Temple, while taking a round we saw different layers of it . At the Aptaeshvar Temple a lingam was installed.

The next day was the Kartik Purnima which was also the day of pushkar-mela.jpgthe famous Pushkar cattle fair which is exploded in Rajasthan and is the most exuberant and colourful festival, for which it is widely renowned. The fair is a weeklong fiesta with competitions and state sponsored entertainment programs. We found storytellers, hypnotists, snake charmers, magicians, short skits, folk songs and monkey trainers.

Many shops in Pushkar sell pooor quality embroidered shoulder bags, cushion covers, bangles and block printed pyjamas, skirts and tops. There are many small budgeted hotels and ashrams available in Pushkar with only one luxury hotel on the lake Pushkar Palace.

Alwar, a tiny package of surprises

alwar.jpgAlwar was part of the Matsya Desh Kingdom according to the Mahabharata, but modern Alwar began as a capital of the Macheri Kingdom that was recognized in 1774. The best time to visit is to be between October and March, but my visit during the end of the monsoons was quite an eye opener. The area was a luminous green.

The beautiful 18th century City Palace is now the headquarters of the Collectorate. It was built by Maharaja Vinay singh and blends Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture. It has no stairs, only gently inclining corridors that lead to the upper floors. It was divided into three dusty, moth- ridden rooms. The first was the mixture of furniture, clothes and an enormous stuffed tiger.neemrana-fort-alwar.jpg There was also a long dining table made of silver, which is believed to have water gurgling in silver channels down its length. The museum also has a fine collection of Mughal and Rajput paintings and ancient manuscripts. There is also a tomb of one of the Shah Jahan’s ministers named as Fateh Singh ki Gumbad.

The Bala Quila Fort was built by the city’s oldest inhabitants, the Nikumbha Rajputs, and played host to Babur and Jahangir. It is a forbidding structure with 15 large and 51 small towers and 446 openings for musketry. You require taking the permission of the Superintendent of police to visit the fort.

Purjan Vihar is a picturesque garden in the centre of the town. A centre of this garden was built by Maharaja Mangal Singh in 1885 which is also called as Shimla because it always has a cooler than prevalent temperature.

Moti doongri or Lansdowne Palace is situated on an isolated rock on the town’s outskirts. It was the main residence of the Maharaja of Alwar till 1928. But Maharaja Jai Singh dismantled it with the idea to build a better palace, but the ship bringing raw materials from Europe sank. So the palace compounds with high walls all around and the remaining are barren.Vijai Mandir Palace overlooks a beautiful lake. There is a Ram and Sita temple, which attracts a number of devotees especially during Ram Navami.

There are many hotels to stay in Lawar like Hotel Alwar, Circuit House, Hill Fort Kesroli and etc. You will also find Rajasthani cuisine available on the local markets of Alwar.

Kabini, Pachyderm Palaces

kabini-elephant.jpgKabini is the place famous for the greatest elephant shows in Asia. This is an arena where you have 200 or 250 elephants doing the star run in just one evening. It has the existence of a mind-blowing 60 sq km of static water inside the forest precincts, the result of a dam build across the river at Beechanahalli. The water bifurcates the national parks of Nagarhole and Bandipur, but unites a spectacular on its shore. Kabini have all types of animals like mouse deer, chital, spottable tigers, and bear however then again Kabini is all about elephants and more elephants. And according to Project Elephant reports there are 5,500 to 6,000 of them in the contiguous stretches of forests comprising Nagarhole, Bandipur, Mudumalai and Biligirirangana sanctuaries.To go on a safari in a jeep through the roads of Nagarhole we reach at the edge of the thick bamboo jungle and drive through a gargantuan collection of pachyderms, which according to me was one of the greatest wildlife experiences in Asia.

The jungles around have a primeval touch to them. Tall trees, huge bamboo brakes, remote ponds, hillocks and above all the backwaters. We hoped a jeep early morning the next day. kabini-lodge.jpgWe were able to see the jungle walking up, the leaves and shrubbery washed clean with dew. We were lucky to see the peacocks, the grey langur having their breakfast high up on the branches. Large herds of the chital were hanging around by the side of the game road. And in the evening the sun was busy playing a round of hide and seek from within the cluster of the trees. The elephants started to assemble by the backwaters including other animals also.

After that marvelous view we went to see the water source in the Sunkadakatte area named Tiger Tank for the frequent sightings. The beautiful Bisalwadi Kere Lake with its watchtower was another good point to spot both the spotted and striped varieties of big cats. We also did a boat ride along the river with the thick jungles all around us, we were able to come close to various herbs of animals on the shores. We also drove over to the Sunkadakatte forest and ride at the top of an elephant. We stayed at Sunkadakatte Guest House while there are other options also like Kabini River Lodge and Water woods.

Bordi, Chilling out in chikoo country

chikoo.jpgBordi has suffered from an identity crisis long ago. There was heavy rush of tourist at Dahanu, Daman and Umergoan near to it. Bordi is famous for its chikoo shake. People used to stop at Bordi to drink its chikoo milkshake on their way to Daman. However now Bordi is famous for its lean white beaches, the quite response and the calm beauty of the place. It is still a self-contained big village that became a town. It has a long stretch of nice beach scattering of Parsis who have floated downstream from Sanjan and Udvada and lush orchards of juicy chikoos. There is only one place to visit in Bordi, which is the beach. The 17 km of virtually unspoilt beach is Bordi’s mainstay and the reason tourists come here. Most of the beach is canopied by casuarinas trees and on the other side of the road behind the beach; chikoo orchards make a scenic backdrop. Here you can safely lie on your towel and turn the pages of your novel without a balloon seller or a candyfloss man in sight. There are no lifeguards but the stretch is relatively safe and accidents are extremely rare. Asavli Check Dam, has formed a green lake surrounded by bordi.jpgmountains and on other side, near the spillway are fields. It was manually built much in the manner of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. It is also a great place to picnic. There are mountains that contain Bahrot caves. Then we drove down to Depchari Dam and reservoir, which is a tranquil lake, much bigger than the lake at Asavli. It was also peaceful and quite with no soul around as Asavli. We also visited the Kalpataru Botanical Gardens in Umergoan, which is 10 km from Bordi. The famous Vrindavan studios are also in Umergoan, where much of the TV epic Ramayana was shot. After sight seeing we went for exploring its markets. We buyed fresh vegetables and chikoo as it grows some of the best chikoos in Maharashtra. We also picked up chikoo products such as chips, vadis, chikoo powder and pickle from there. Bordi has few places to stay like Tapovan Retreat, Anand Resort, and Gool Khush Reosrt, which are near to beach and many more. We visited Bordi post monsoons so we were able to get some seafood. The surmai was the best, the also had pomfret and Bombay duck washed down with cold sol kadi.