2

Why You Shouldn’t Skip Patnitop After Visiting Vaishno Devi In Jammu

If you have visited Jammu seeking blessings of Mata Vaishno Devi, the shrine of the Hindu Goddess Mahalakshmi, here is a reason you should stay another day in the city of temples.

Tall and sturdy Deodar and Blue Pine trees guarding the green meadows, houses of wood that complement the lush with their color, clouds swirling within your arms length brushing the cool damp air against your face and breathtaking view of the valley below—when I think of Patnitop, these scenes rush through my mind like a quick slideshow.

IMG_20170811_152928845_HDR

IMG_20170811_154539090

IMG_20170811_165225420_HDR

Patnitop was originally called Patan Da Talab, which translates to Pond of the Princess. It is believed that earlier there existed a pond amidst the meadows, where the princess of the local ruler used to take bath.

However, the name was noted down as Patnitop when the Britishers were creating a record of the places in India. This distortion in name is often accredited to the misunderstandings they developed by wrongly pronouncing the words from Indian languages.

IMG_20170811_143203178_HDR

People come here to escape the scorching heat, which can surge up to 46 degree Celsius in the planes of Jammu.

Jammu, the winter capital of J&K state, is just 1073 feet above the sea level as compared to Bangalore, which exists at an elevation of 3000 feet.

People often mistake Jammu to be a place where the weather is always pleasant and it snows in winters, just because it is 260 kilometers away from its peer, Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K state.

IMG_20170811_141506436_HDR

Patnitop is a famous tourist location in Udhampur district. It is more like a picnic spot where you can go to have a hearty meal in the most tranquil and natural locations and lie down on your back to see clouds rushing past you against the backdrop of blue sky and tips of the Deodars and Kail trees.

IMG_20170811_152953973_HDR

IMG_20170811_170208976

Patnitop’s elevation is 6640 feet and it snows here in winter months of November, December, January and February.

How To Reach Patnitop

You have to cover a distance of around 106 kilometers to reach Patnitop if you are starting from Jammu city. It will easily take you 3-4 hours by car.

It is a hilly area—the roads are snake-like with hairpin turns and sudden inclinations. Prefer hiring a skilled driver (the one who has driven in that area) than driving by yourself.

If you prefer a train journey and are coming from Delhi or any other part of the country, get down at Udhampur railway station (it is the closest to the location) or Jammu Tawi railway station and hire a taxi from there. The closes airport is Satwari Airport in Jammu city.

IMG_20170811_094859439_HDR

IMG_20170811_094942459

IMG_20170811_100316791

The scenic beauty on the way to Patnitop is a treat to the eyes. The road takes you through many tunnels cut through green hills, which funnily resembles human nostrils— at least to me.

IMG_20170811_094719656_HDR

The Chinani Nashri Tunnel

On the National Highway NH1A, which connects Kashmir to rest of the country, lies the Chinani Nashri tunnel.

The drive through the longest road tunnel in India with a whooping 9 kilometer long stretch is no less than a thrill.

IMG_20170811_113407255

The tunnel is around 13 meter in diameter and well lit by orange sodium lights. Those lights are sure to have a magical effect on you as you pass the never-ending tunnel in echoing silence.

If you pull the wonder of cars and stick out your head, feel the cool winds running against the length of the tunnel. The massiveness of the tunnel is equally scary and exciting—the journey feels so long that you get accustomed to the darkness inside and feel that this moment, here, now, is never going to end.

What To Do In Patnitop

Eat and sleep in a serene and picturesque place—make this one a priority, you will know why.

That and these things are what you can do at Patnitop. There are other beautiful areas to explore around the place like Kud and Sanasar—keep that for the next day.

1. Climb On A Horse’s Back

Horses will take you places. Horse owners will be charging around 300 per head, however, you can bargain and bring the prices down to half. It is a 15-20 minute ride amid the large Deodar trees.

IMG_20170811_144155064

IMG_20170811_150950720_HDR

In between, they will halt at a beautiful garden with apple trees, rose and Dahalia in full bloom. The fee is 30 rupees per person and the place closes at 2 pm.

appletree

IMG_20170811_150603803_HDR

IMG_20170811_150533323

IMG_20170811_150439339_HDR

Avoid looking down and thinking if your horse will make through the sloppy much. You won’t fall until you keep looking around.

2. Wear Kashmiri Dress And Take Pictures

IMG_20170811_164011501_HDR

You could wear a traditional Kashmiri dress, which is the ethnic wear of Kashmiri Muslims. Wear an ever vibrant and colorful ‘pheran’. Adorn yourself with artificial silvery jewelry, which includes necklaces and and the headgear ‘kasaba’.

kashmiri dress1

Hold onto a flower basket or an earthen pot and feel that you belong here. Get a great picture clicked and receive them in less than 10 minutes developed and in your hand.

The photographer charges around 100 per picture.

3. Roll Down In Giant Inflatable Ball

IMG_20170811_170148497

The rolling inflatable ball is a recent attraction. Confirm the charges and bargain a little before you opt for it.

4. Explore The Jungle

IMG_20170811_164527400_HDR

Patnitop is like a labyrinth amid the tall deodar trees. Run free athwart the vast meadows and amidst the trees and you will feel a wild Adrenalin rush inside you. Walk through the serenity and please your eyes with green all around. The place is magical.

IMG_20170811_164328427_HDR

IMG_20170811_164708892

Explore the jungles, the roads and grassy slopes intertwine at different points and you get the feel of trekking in a jungle.

IMG_20170811_173630593

The serenity of the place, the tall trees, baritone of crickets and the cool of the wind makes it a dramatic experience.

5. Visit Nag Devta Temple

A little far from Patnitop is a quaint old Nag temple or Snake temple. The temple complex is small—you can’t go inside, but can circumvent the sanctum. Females are not allowed inside the temple, so if you are with a female, promote equity and skip this one.

5. Trek To The Waterfall

There are various trekking routes around Patnitop, one of them leads to a small waterfall. It is at a distance of 2 kilometers from the Nag temple. There are no direct roads to the place, neither are tourists told about it—though it is written on the sign board once you enter the park.

Take the help of locals, especially the horse owners, who know about it and can safely guide you to the place.

6. Shop For Shawls

IMG_20170811_154743160

If you find yourself attracted to the shawls and stoles sold by the locals in the area, go ahead and buy a piece for yourself. The vibrant winter-wears are warm and cozy and worth a buy. You can always bargain on the price.

7. Lie Down Quietly And Look Above

IMG_20170811_153527016_HDR

That is all that should be said. When you are there, lie down and absorb the peace of the place and stare at the sky. It is an enchanting experience.

Must-Follows When You Are At Patnitop

1. Start early and reach there by 9 or 10 am—so that you have more time to enjoy. The place starts getting darker and cooler towards the evening.

IMG_20170811_154415767_HDR

2. Staying at the wood houses or nearby hotels is an experience in itself. Spend a night there.

IMG_20170811_173608152

3. If you plan to return, start early. You won’t want to drive down those hilly roads and sharp turns at night.

IMG_20170811_163952653_HDR

4. Don’t venture out alone—the place is quite a vast stretch of meadows. For security reasons, Indian army soldiers have been dispatched in and around Patnitop. Be responsible for your own safety though.

Winter Treat

IMG_20170811_173626467

Patnitop gets covered under the layer of snow during the four prime winter months. The excitement only manifolds if you visit here during that time.

Snow offers the opportunity for sledging, skiing and many other fun activities. I plan to treat myself with the visit again in January—when the white of the snow replaces the green of the flora, turning it into a spectacular location. What about you?

Advertisements
Image
0

Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks – Part 2

 

The skeleton of the ancient city of Hampi expands over a vast area—as far as the eyes can see.

hampi 1

Walking the passages cut through the dangerous crevices between huge boulders, we were now heading towards the banks of the Tungabhadra river.

Though October to March is considered the best time to visit Hampi, the winter sun of December continued to shine mercilessly on us.

The scorching heat and the dust make a nasty combination of sweat and dirt on your skin. However, if you are with friends, don’t worry, you all will appear equally tanned and covered with the red sand.

Keep your gear ready with these essentials—2 bottles of water per person, a cap/hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, good pair of shoes, some snacks.

We had rented cycles, from the locals—they had set up a small corner, renting two-wheeler on a small lease rate, for the whole day. The cycles did help us on the long stretches of roads linking different stone monuments. The cycles were hired at rupees 150 per person.

Cycling is the most favourable way to discover places in Hampi though you won’t be able to reach all places or trek up dragging a bicycle along with you. Walking on foot comes second, but could be tiring and time-consuming. You could even hire a bike or taxi otherwise. You would still have to walk or trek to see few places that are on the hilltop.

hampi16

Things changed quickly. It wasn’t a pleasant experience walking over a massive stretch of rock and carrying our cycles instead of riding them. We parked them in a corner with the hope that nobody would steal them and continued on foot from there.

The labyrinth through the gigantic boulders somehow opened into a stretch of a rock base that descended decently and not steeply into the river.

hampi3

Tungabhadra River, Hampi  Picture Credits: Akshayrajsinh Jadeja

Laying our feet in the refreshing and cool muddy water on the slippery and rocky banks of the river, I released a breath of relief. The calm ancient breeze that flowed closer to the water along its ragged banks welcomed me in its territorial land.

hampi4

Coracle ride along the banks to ferry you across the river

There was an upturned coracle (a huge circular boat, which has a framework of bamboo sticks, reeds, and plastic sheets)—waiting for its passengers to be ferried to the other side of the river.

The charges for the coracle ride was 500 Indian Rupees per person.

We rejuvenated ourselves with a hot cup of sugary tea in small tea-shop built under the shades of a huge tree.

hamp6

After regaining our strengths, we braved the sun to watch the ruins of Hampi, which is scattered over an enormous stretch of the land, belonging to the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire.

Kings_Balance_Hampi

King’s Balance, source: wikimedia.org

We crossed the famous King’s Balance—of what remained only two gigantic 15-foot tall pillars. The balance was weighed with gold, silver, rubies and all precious things equal to the weight of the king who would sit on the other end of the balance. This was distributed among the priests and the people of the kingdom.

Vitthalla Temple

IMG_20161224_124641373

One of the entrance gates at Vitthalla temple

IMG_20161224_140031728

A closer look at the art

hampi7

Vitthalla Temple Compound

hampi15

Our next stop was the majestic compound of the Vitthalla temple that was surrounded by stone walls on the four sides. We covered a little over a kilometre on foot.

hampi20

Temples supported by stone pillars embellished with beautiful carvings. Below, these abandoned temples probably held sculpture of Gods and Goddesses which are nowhere to be seen now.

 

On our way, we saw lifeless ruins covered with dust and vegetation cropping from the unattended corners and gaps of the structures that seemed to be the places of worship in the ancient times.

When we reached the remains of the Vitthalla compound, the area was brimming with people while the architecture lulled us to the huge entrance gate.

We couldn’t take our eyes off the remarkable brick and stone work that offered a glimpse of the life of people who would have at one time lived peacefully under the roof of these ancient structures.

The Stone Chariot

hampi11

Vitthalla temple holds in its compound one the most iconic piece of Indian stone art—the Stone Chariot. It may look like a monolithic structure—cut out of a single piece of rock. However, Stone Chariot has been built using blocks of granite rock placed over one another with such dexterity and skill that the structure attracts attention in a single glance.

The Stone Chariot is an imitation of the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa that inspired Vijaynagar’s famous king Krishnadevaraya to build a similar structure in his own empire.

The 16th century stone architecture hosted Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu—but the sculpture is nowhere to be seen today. The chariot rests on a granite base, about 1 feet above the ground with life-size wheels and axle carved out of rock with perfection.

IMG-20161226-WA0019

hampi13

Picture Credits: Akshayrajsinh Jadeja

Architectural structures have innumerable stories depicted on its walls—the chariot temple and other structures in the Vitthalla temple compound have scenes of war engraved on their walls.

The stone elephants sculptures in the front of the temple that seemed to be pulling the chariot were built to replace broken horse sculptures that stood there before—the remains of their rear including tails can still be seen.

There is a stone ladder in between them, which was used by the temple priests to reach the sanctum for offering prayers to the Garuda.

hamp12

The Stone Chariot

It is believed by the people of Hampi that if the chariot moves from its place the world will come to an end. We can just hope that the stone structure stands remains intact and static, as a remnant of the ancient Hampi.

hampi14

hampi8

hampi9

hampi10

There are various stone structures around the chariot in the same compound of Vitthalla temple—it may take you around 2 hours to visit each of those in the periphery.

If you wish to know the stories associated with each of these structures and want to go into the depths of the time, you can easily hire guides to show you the place along—these are official tourist guides and have ample knowledge about the magnificent history of the place.

hampi17

We have reached the end of this ancient world, next to the Vitthalla temple compound

From here, you could either retreat or move ahead to the remains of the Queens’s Palace, where you could relax and enjoy the evening sun. Oh! and how could we miss mentioning about the Archaeology museum, the treasure house holds the collection of old photographs of Hampi and valuable remnants from the past.

Keep a separate day for the basement of the Queen’s Palace, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables including the museum.

Want to know where to begin when you reach Hampi? Here is your tour guide for the first day. 

0

The Tragic Comedy In Bodhgaya, Bihar: Best Friend’s Wedding Part 1

Gaya Junction is a small station that is a part of Eastern Railway zone of India. Like any other railways platform in India, we envisaged it to be brimming with people, walking to and fro and waiting eagerly for their trains. The station was unexpectedly both clean and empty in the early morning hours when we arrived.

Know how to reach from Bangalore To Gaya, via the second largest city of India, Kolkata.

gaya junction1

Our friend’s brother had come to receive us at the station. Miss Annu, the bride and our best friend was at home, playing badminton and holding onto every opportunity to shed a few grams of fat before her wedding day.

Gaya reveals its deepest side in the narrowest lanes of the city. In quick successions of a few left and right turns, we crossed a market place that was just waking up from slumber and took a final left to enter into a lane. The houses hugged each other side to side—the road was empty yet carried a plethora of sounds coming from adjacent households. The three-storeyed house stood tall—the back of my head touched my neck as I stared at what we would be calling it for the coming days—home.

The Best Friend’s Wedding

Warm hugs and smiles welcomed us. It was a pleasure everyone in the family who had been expecting us since so many days—Aunty (our friend’s mother) called us for breakfast, something we had really been waiting for. We gorged on the food, satiated our hunger and went upstairs to our friend’s room for the ‘talk’.

Annu_wedding6

Trying our friend’s Jewelry – Things To Do At The Best Friend’s Wedding

annu wedding 7

Me: “There is no stopping to the drama, Ok! ”       Shalvi: “This thing in not fitting in my nose”

Our best friend was getting married and like all girlfriends we were super excited to make the best out of these moments—we were the bridesmaids!

The Mehendi

annu_mehandi1

Henna design in the Making

Applying mehendi or henna on the hands and feet of the bride is not just a traditional embellishment to make the bride look more beautiful.  The lesser-known scientific reasons that back the practice are the cooling effect mehendi has on the skin. A wedding includes a series of customs that are performed one after the other. Mehendi provides a cooling sensation and releases the stress build from the whole day’s events.

 

 

We had to feed our friend, while her hands and feet were being dyed with the rich-smelling herb. It was a tedious 4-5 hour long process, which the aunty who had come to apply her mehandi completed without a sigh of exhaustion.

Our girl was ready, but we, her best friends made sure that her hena design was perfect and took the cone, much to the reluctance of the mehandi-wali-aunty, added a few streaks of wet mehandi giving it a final touch up.

Annu_wedding4

Annu_Wedding5

The Final Outcome

The act was completed after dabbing a solution of lemon and sugar on the dried mehandi to churn out the color.

The Sangeet

Adjacent to the Falgu river, on the Bakraur village road, almost 14 kilometres from Gaya, stood the famous Mahabodhi temple—the place known to have been an abode for Gautam Buddha, where he meditated for seven weeks at a stretch. Across the river, only 1.7 kilometers away stood the Mahamaya Palace Hotel, where the wedding was to take place.

In the late hours of the previous night, we had arrived with all our luggage at the majestic hotel in a slumber. With our eyes almost giving away to sleep, we made a way to our room and unloaded ourselves. The calm vicinity and light summer breeze of July allowed us to settle down with ease and brought the sleep quickly.

DSC_0147

The ceremonies had begun early the next morning when we were still snoring in sleep. The commotion in the room stirred us awake—we squinted, looking at our friend who was busy getting dressed up and ready for the occasion we had no clue about.

Our friend had to change about half a dozen saris for the ceremony.

Annu_weddimg6

Our beautiful lady in Red – Hugs and Kisses

Rubbing our eyes, we saw the bride in a beautifully embroidered brilliant red sari. We were still in our bed in our nightwear, while a number of unfamiliar faces poured in the room much to our embarrassment. As girls in their mid-twenties among aunties clad in saris and traditionally intact, we got some sheer glances from top to bottom. We were being excused as friends from Bangalore by our friend who was by now completely transformed under the shades of makeup and traditional wear.

 

We witnessed a series of wedding rituals including the Haldi. Our friend had to change about half a dozen saris, one for each ceremony. We helped her get ready every time, to change the jewelry, sari, footwear and a touch of makeup.

DSC_0188

Our best friend and bride to be.

The whole scenario of the bride coming to the room and quickly changing into a new piece felt more like an Formula 1 race pit stop—where the car comes to a halt in between the race and gets a tire change, fuel refilling, mechanical adjustments and hurriedly speeds up to join the race once again.

IMG_20160707_095001605_HDR

Please excuse the expressions – We were basking in the summer morning light.

Evening was as fantastic as it could be. We dressed up in ethnic wear and came down to the banquet hall that was equipped with a wide stage and speakers blazing with party soundtracks—our happiness had no bounds! We both were shy at first, but on repeated insisting we took to the dance floor and then there was no stopping.

Then, it was just two of us, the stage, the light and lots of vacant chairs to see us perform.

The Party

The songs auto-played dance numbers one after the other and we couldn’t hold ourselves shaking a leg to each of them. The guests started retreating to the dinner table but we were still dancing on the stage with a few other people.

Those people then got off and we were left to dance with small kids. Then, it was just two of us, the stage, the light and lots of vacant chairs to see us perform.

Our friend asked us to come down, but we were high on adrenaline and pulled her along.

Shalvi aayi bglr 🙋🏻💃🏼🃏 20160824_162324

The Three Musketeers sharing the spotlight.

When only we two were left on the empty stage, the famous Indian number Kajra Re started playing, we couldn’t stop ourselves and kept performing the signature step until they put off the music.

“What do you think, we will back off if you put off the music?” We asked the cousins that sat cornered in their chairs at the far end of the banquet hall.

Undeterred, we started singing the lines of the song and finished the show.

The curtains fell with grace.

 

0

The Old Lady In Blue Sari

I was walking back home from the bus stand. A long day I must say, plus the honks of traffic and the bustle of the vehicles clearly didn’t make things any better.

On the way, I saw an old lady walking ahead of me. She carried a jute bag full of clothes—it was her ripened age that made her bend over rather than the weight of the bag she carried. A polythene with a few Parle G biscuits hung loosely from her fingers. She wore a blue sari wrapped shabbily around her petite frame. With her ragged white hair spread carelessly on her tiny head and her hunched debilitating body, she walked at a slower pace. I easily overtook her.

Through the corner of my eyes, I saw her turning into a lane—was it my curiosity or my pitying over her state, I slowed down and started following her.

Her steps were little and her walk was slow. I had to stop to keep up with her—I pretended to be on phone, lest she notices me following her. At one point, I saw her talking to herself, gesturing at the big houses that we were passing.

I realized she might have been not been in the best of her mental health, probably, downtrodden by the rugged conditions of her life . Walking parallel to her and keeping up with her pace, I saw her approach a few street dogs. She sat on the road side, called out to them and started breaking and throwing the biscuits  at them. I was so touched by her act—despite being in a deplorable condition, she was feeding street dogs, who happily waged their tails, feeding on the morsels she had to offer.

I couldn’t hold myself—I went near her and knelled down next to her. I started petting the dogs to make it look like I wasn’t following her lest she might become suspicious or uncomfortable. When she saw me, she started talking to me with vigor, but in a language I couldn’t understand. She talked about the dogs ( Naai in Kannada language ) in the beginning. We engaged in a conversation as if we were casual friends and had met after a long time.

A closer luck at her made me feel sad. Her face was a wrinkled with stretches of lines running athwart the face. Her puckered skin had adjusted to her aging body. Her eyes reflected the pain and turmoil a 75-year old could have gone through.

While talking, her tone shifted suddenly. From the bits of Kannada I knew, I could make out she was talking about her house—her voice wavered and streams of tears started pouring down her cheeks.

She continued speaking and what I understood was that somebody (probably, her family) left the house, leaving her alone. She said she didn’t know where they went. Her lips quivered—grief and dismay poured from her eyes. She spoke in low, cracked voice—though I couldn’t make out single word she was saying then, I listened to her.

I brought my hand near her face and, gently, rubbed off the tears from the creases of her skin. I pressed her hand in reassurance—though she might not have understood my tongue, I consoled her and asked her not to cry. The touch of sympathy made her cry even more—I tried holding back my tears as I felt her pain. She pinched her arms, showing the loose skin that hung from her thin limb. I couldn’t say anything to comfort her, but I offered her grapes that I had purchased that evening and the little money that I carried in wallet at that time.

She folded her hands to thank me, but I persuaded her against it. Refusing to accept her gratitude, I tried to deviate her from the topic by asking her about her home, making the shape of house by pressing together my finger tips. She understood and spoke something, out of which all I could get was ‘Kerela’. We continued talking that way deciphering and responding to each other’s words with our expressions and gestures.

People passing by noticed us and gave us quizzical glances. I thought I could ask someone to interpret the old lady’s language for me, but, then, felt against it. I might invite unnecessary comments and the old lady may get uncomfortable—so I stayed put.

We talked like that for good 15 minutes, after which we both instinctively got up to walk again as if we knew the time was up. She called on those dogs and started feeding them. She somehow explained me the way to her home—inge, ange and asked me where I lived. I couldn’t explain much but she seemed convinced and moved on, talking to the dogs and speaking to herself.

I continued walking towards home contented. Strangely, my heart felt lighter after talking to her.

old woman

Image Source: http://www.shutterstock.com

P.S: I didn’t want to take her picture. Taking and posting her photograph felt like a tool to gain attention online and a disrespect towards her.

0

The Tragic Comedy In Bodhgaya, Bihar: Howrah Special

Bodhgaya, also known as Gaya holds at its heart a place of historical as well as religious importance. This small town in the state of Bihar beats with life like any other, but only time has known better of its past.

I got a chance to visit the land where the great Gautam Buddha received enlightenment—the light of wisdom and knowledge. Though I wasn’t expecting anything similar, I had my own share of experiences that enlightened me with wisdom in the most unexpected and ludicrous ways.

I won’t be called a good friend if I refrain from mentioning that I had the opportunity to witness a traditional Bihari wedding—my best friend was getting married after all.

Not only is it a personal anecdote, it is a story of adventure, experiences and a great amount of entertainment. Buckle up your seat belts friends—we are about to take off for this journey, which starts from the southern bustling city of Bangalore on a pleasant breezy day of July.

gaya

We were flying from Bangalore to Kolkata. From Kolkata, we were to board a train to Gaya or Bodhgaya, Bihar.

5th July 2016; 4:10 PM – Bangalore To Kolkata

bangalore to bihar

Loaded with excitement and energy, we boarded our flight. Attending our best friend’s wedding was what we eagerly awaited. As the steel bird raced on the runway, we couldn’t help clutching our armrest and looking at each other—our expressions were somewhere between a full-stretched smile and a teeth-glaring soundless laugh. The excitement only surged with the gain in altitude.

IMG-20170616-WA0013

We jetted over the Bay of Bengal—one downward glance at the water body and thoughts of crashing into the sea initiated a series of events. I was playing my own death in my head.

Remembering what the flight attendant had told about safety instructions, I cheered up thinking if we really did fall in the sea below and survive, at least I would get to slide out from those air-filled slides into the saline waters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My mind was blurred by my imagination and so was my outside view by the clouds. We descended quickly and the touchdown felt like a milestone completed.

As we moved out of the airport, a gush of humidity welcomed us—Kolkata felt like that sweaty aunty who wants to hug little kids.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport To Howrah Railway Station

We collected our luggage and went out of the airport. A row of yellow ambassadors stretched along narrow footpaths inside the airport area.

netaji to howrah

In Kolkata, be it at railway station or airport, one needs to book a prepaid taxi, which is mostly a fat yellow Ambassador car. The taxi charges between 100-150 Indian rupees for a 16 kilometers drive.

We didn’t know about it, but on asking few people for help, we were directed to the counter where we booked our taxi.

Warning: In between, we wandered off away from the airport thinking that we will get taxis at cheaper rates. However, roaming around anywhere in the world late in the night is not safe. We were suspicious about a man who seemed to follow us. We called our friends to ensure we were doing right by catching the yellow taxi outside the airport. Instead, we were told to quietly return back and book a taxi from there.

IMG_20160705_193256159

Kolkata – The First Impression

After getting into the taxi, we eased ourselves and let the slideshow of the city pass before us. We didn’t remember when the wide clean roads of the airport transformed into congested lanes that took us through a number of red lights. 

On either side of two-lane roads, a row of apartments stood shabbily. Clothes hung on the grilled and brightly-painted windows of old buildings, big banners displayed photographs of local artists, a few buses carried people the through traffic. Our pretty yellow ambassador honked through narrow roads, making space for herself amid the hustle bustle.

19206256_1910689295611736_1126135887_n

Replica of London’s Big Ben originally known as Kolkata Times Zone, Lake Town-VIP Road area. Picture Credit: Shalvi Singh

The archaic structures of the city—towers, buildings, houses, and shops took us back in another era. We were time-traveling, following lane after lane and moving deeper into the city—passing through narrow streets lit by the tall pillars adorned with sodium lamps. 

Few houses had walls with naked bricks peeking from the dull chipping paint, a climber was growing in between the cracks on a building, petite men pulled rickshaws, carrying people with the sole strength of their arms, small shops were cropped up in the tiniest of possible places in the streets. 

Howrah Railway Station

All I can describe after reaching Howrah is a large number of people—being everywhere, going everywhere.

Hand-pulled rickshaws were coming to a halt at the entrance, wiping the trickle of sweat and waiting for the customers to unload. People of all kinds rushed with their luggage towards the main building of the station, dragging their trolley bags through puddles of water. Vendors shouted out to people, selling food items and tit-bits on the footpath. A few beggars waited desperately sitting on the sidewalks, some approaching the striding travelers.

A stench of urine, a stink of drain water and a whiff of fried food had concentrated the humid air—it was difficult distinguishing between the smells.

We entered the platform and saw a train slowing down at the station—the mob that got down the train seemed to put a cluster of ants around a sugar cube to shame. There were so many people around us, moving here and there that we thought we might get drifted away and separated, so we both stayed close.

IMG-20170616-WA0028

Platform No. 9/9 C

The platform number left us perplexed more like Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone, where the protagonist, Harry was supposed to reach platform number 9.3/4. Ours was platform number 9/9 C. With the visible clarity, I assumed we weren’t supposed to run through any brick wall to reach our express train on the other side. But, we were surely going to a magical place for muggles.

19239619_1910682388945760_2032025550_n

Picture Credit: Shalvi Singh

We reached our platform and waited for our train to get shunted onto the main line. Trains chugged in and out of the station, carrying people and goods. We sat there halted yet again in time, waiting and looking at the people, arrive and leave.

Bodhgaya was calling and we were only desperate to leave Kolkata.

3

Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks

Day 1

The burning morning sun and the dust agitated by the passing vehicles made me think if I should have listened to my roommate.

“There is nothing in Hampi. What will you do there?”, She had said.

The First Impression

 

img_20161225_120223947

Virupaksha Temple in the far left corner

 

The only bus stand in Hampi seemed like a parking place for private cars. Rows of temporary shops awaited for their customers desperately. Auto-drivers and locals selling small items came like a swarm of bees towards the honey combs except that we weren’t honey combs — we were tourists—new to the place and almost completely lost at where to begin.

How I Reached Hampi From Bangalore

I booked a bus from Yatra.com, but I suggest you book a bus from KSRTC Official website  There may be a price difference of 200-300, but the service is comparatively better and the buses are always on time.

After a 7-hour journey from Bangalore in the rickety sleeper claiming to be a multi-axle, the bus dropped us at Hospete. I quarrelled with the driver as I had booked the bus till Hampi, and he claimed that the private buses weren’t allowed in there. Only when he assured me that he will provide an auto service at his own cost did I retreat.

No Private buses are allowed in Hampi. You either take a share auto or a local bus from Hospete Bus Stand to Hampi.

Always book a multi-axle bus for a comfortable journey, else you will feel each bump on the road reverberate through your body. 

Luckily, I met my friends at the major bus depot at Hospete. From there, we took a local bus to Hampi, which took us another 30 minutes.

City That Once Flourished

img_20161224_120901433img_20161224_131331511img_20161224_122634270_hdrimg_20161224_121836480

Hampi—an ancient city in ruins—stood before us, silently shouting of its glorious past. People still live there but not as they used to in the 15th and 16th century or even before. There are monumental structures that stand tall and sturdy through the weathering of time, though nobody stays in them. Hampi was one of the richest cities, and a center of trade of horses, gems and arts and culture. If you ever heard of Tenali Raman, and the court of Krishnadevaraya, it was this place where the intelligent Brahmin impressed the king with his witty answers. Under the rein of the generous king, the Hampi, the then city of Vijayanagar under the majestic empire of the same name rose to the zenith.

Hampi is situated in a semi-arid area of northern Karnataka. All you can see in your vicinity are stretches of huge chunks of rocks. Little vegetation has turned the air dusty, and the sunlight scorches mercilessly through the already dwindling shade. The only relief to the eyes is the water of Tungabhadra River that traces a snake-like path between lower rocky terrains. On either side of the river, the intricately cut out rocks have astoundingly taken the forms of temples, gateways, deities, animals, and other innumerable structures. These designs and carvings emanate and highlight the cultures and traditions that would have otherwise been buried with time.

After walking for a while, the sun felt warmer and took a toll on our imagination, wavering it to the wildest corners. We guessed that Hampi got its name from its range of hills that looked like the hump of a camel. Hampi was originally called as Pampi, which was the old name of Tungabhadra River.

IMG_20161224_124205334_HDR

Centuries ago this place would have been pleasant—fed by the swollen river, surrounded by lush with the days much cooler and the sun not so harsh on the people who belonged here. Children would have played amid the rows of tall stone pillars, engraved with pictorial descriptions of wars, horses, courtesans and deities. Women clad in sarees, would visit Virupaksha temple for early morning prayers, with a plate full hibiscus, banana and coconut to be offered to Lord Shiva. Horsemen would stand patiently for the traders, watching sturdy bunch of horses to be bought and sold.

Virupaksha Temple

img_20161225_132955215

We started with one of the giant structures visible around. The Virupaksha temple—which was a prominent landmark in Pampi back in the 15th-16th century—has two huge courtyards with a giant gateway connecting them. This nine-storey entrance gate of the temple was a master stonework of constituting of sculptures at every level. Few of these  figures that stood high displayed eroticism similar to the monuments of Khujrao in Madhya Pradesh. It could have offend any person with staunch believes and an orthodox approach. From a second perspective and the claims of the history and the culture of the place, fertility was considered auspicious and not derogatory .

The Mortals

img_20161224_102738100_hdr

One must walk barefoot inside the temple and pay at the ticket counter near the entrance if they intend to take photographs. The open temple courtyard has pillars on the both sides of the walkway. On the left, they had kept an elephant to amuse visitors. She was trained to collect money from them and pat their heads with her trunk, as a form of blessing. I lost the count of people who took selfies with the elephant, who was mindlessly munching on the eatables they provided to her. I stood there for long and waited for the people to disperse. I stared at the she-elephant and conveyed to her, how sorry I felt for her, to be away from home, here, surrounded by some silly people, asking for her blessings after enslaving her. I thought she might feel grateful that she is not their God—’They’ would have faced torments if ‘They’ lived among us. It was as if she understood me and brought her head closer towards me. I gave the 34-year-old a gentle pat of assurance and wished her a good life ahead.

The Gods

img_20161224_094808753

img_20161224_094717436

The temple hall had stone-carved lions on the outer side of its pillars. One could look up to find the ceilings display rows of beautiful murals—it reminded me of the typical South-Asian gods and goddesses with slender eyes and sensual gestures.
The Shiv-Ling, confined to a small space inside the main enclosure, was barely visible. The walking area around the temple had its roof covered with rock slabs, which blocked the sunlight. It was quite dark and cold inside. While circumventing the temple, when we switched on our cell phone flashlights, we noticed hundreds of tiny bats hanging quietly on the ceiling of the walkway without our knowledge. In fret, we quickly circled the temple in the dim light coming from the cracks between the rocks slabs above us and hurriedly came out from the other end.

img_20161224_133934058

The bright sunlight welcomed us again. There were people and monkeys everywhere. The former offered prayers to the deities at the functional temple whereas the latter got all the blessings in the form of food. We walked further to reach an open space and found a few rock statues silently basking in the sun. There was also to an algae-struck pond, probably a reservoir but, thankfully, it was devoid of any human waste. The rear exit of the temple courtyard opened to a mini market along the Tunghabadhra River. A few people—mostly men—went down the step-way to take a dip in the shallow and rocky waters. Not so far from the river stood few changing rooms for the ease of the visitors though the men didn’t seem to make use of them.

Slightly tired, we sat there under the shade and waited for the time to pass and the sun to relax. Fruits were readily available along with things like jewellery and decorative items —it was sold by the locals along the roadside. I went past them like a raven attracted to their glitter. But, then, I wanted to meet the elephant again and traced my own steps back.

2

Om sans Shanti: Gokarna-> This Way

The famous Om beach in Gokarna is a stretch of coastline that is separated from Kudle beach by a rocky terrain. Somewhere, a trail without a noticeable direction or sign board leads to Om beach. Every time we asked for directions from someone, they pointed everywhere except the sea. There was a ferry to take us there, but we decided to trek and get lost.

We chose a path and started trekking over the hills, to the other side of which lay the Om beach. It is called so because the beach line traces a shape strikingly similar to Om — the spiritual sign in the Hindu religion. After climbing a set of stairs that were in no-so-good condition, we found ourselves in wilderness amid tall trees and dangerous slopes. The sea was always in view—we were walking around a hill to reach the other side.

img_20160313_113318400

 

The beach was spell-bounding! It was more crowded than Kudle, though not too much. No lazing here—people buzzed around—in restaurants, shops, in waters, and on the beach. Many localities were selling hand-crafted jewellery, fruits, and coconut water. Few tourists basked in sun, some in lungis, others in bikinis—the former ogling at the latter. The scene wasn’t a comfortable one I would say—a few people blinded by their surged testosterones, passed lewd comments at the foreigners— they didn’t give a damn, probably because they didn’t understand the language. But, I found it embarrassing and disgraceful to belong to the same place as those pervert men.

img_20160313_113336655
It was quite sunny on that part of the land or maybe we felt it that way. I laid a piece of cloth over the hot sand and took out an Umbrella (thank God I carried one) to sit under it. It was awkward but the shade felt good. I dared not think of entering the water, containing wild animals, in their excited states.

A drunkard came quite close to a lady who was basking in the sun nearby. She was reading a book and in between braving the waters to get some cool. We thought of warning her, about the not-so-safe zone she was in, as the drunk man was muttering something, which even we couldn’t understand. Few other men came to pacify him and engrossed him in a conversation, as we patiently watched what’s going to happen next. She didn’t even budge—the lady continued her routine and after she was content, got up to walk away. All this while, we were preparing ourselves to jump in, if the things went wrong. But, as soon as the woman walked away, we too calmed our nerves and moved to a safer zone to rest. It was sad to witness such a drama.

We found a much descent place to rest, after which I gathered some courage to get into the now ‘safe waters’.

The shore at Om beach steeply slants into the sea. Believe me when I say that ‘the waves took me in’. It was scary! My heartbeat surged as I felt the land beneath my feet incline towards the sea. I am a bad swimmer. Yes, I swim, but only in shallow waters—as much as my height, which is a little above 5 feet, and with no waves in it. As the waves pulled back, I struggled to fixate my feet over the ground. I breathed heavily with every wave. I tried to laugh it out, but my lungs shuddered with the water going wavy above my neck and sometimes inside my mouth and nose. My fear of water came haunting back. The waves were strong and pushed me in the direction of some rocks nearby. The moment I thought I will lose it, I hurriedly flapped my way back to the safety of the shore and breathed air.

gokarna-edit2
It was so warm in the afternoon that I used my towel and my much-loved Umbrella to hide from the sun. Some foreigners who were basking and happily getting tanned in the bright sun, gave us surprised looks.

I wanted to go home to the Kudle beach, after a rough day— The Om sans Shanti (Peace). So, we trekked back but through a different route this time, which was out of the trail.

img_20160313_113330939

On the way, we saw a few hidden restaurants, where two men, who just didn’t seem they were in present, rested in their arm chairs and lazily looked out at the sea. In between some throat-clenching climb caught hold of us. From a high altitude, we could watch the sea almost 40 feet below us, hitting huge rocks with fierce aggression. It turned out to be a tough climb that could send us straight down if a rock wasn’t up there to prevent us from a fall or slip. With our hearts in our mouth, we braved through it but never looked down!

We got a signboard warning us to beware of robbers. It was relieving because that meant we were back on the trail! After a physical and mental adventure, tanned and tired, we reached home—we reached back to Kudle beach. If you want to know more my experience at Kudle beach, here it is.