Terracotta Adda – Bishnupur

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The first time that I heard of Bishnupur, it did not rekindle any feelings. Yeah, like any other local town in India, this could yet another city. Now, the mind does play tricks and I happened to start reading about this town and what got me excited was that this small The wingstown some 130 odd kilometers from Kolkata has been on the tentative list of UNESCO Heritage sites. That was more than enough for me to make up my plans to travel to this city.

And thus the wings took me off to the “City of JOY” … Kolkata and from there we headed off to the sleepy town of Bishnupur. We had a great cab driver who was quite a chatter box and ensured that we had a lovely time travelling to the Town of RED. Tera HorseThis town today falls in the Birbhum district and was ruled by local kings under the rule of the Gupta Dynasty. Somewhere in the 17th & 18th century, this quiet town was ruled by the Malla Rulers who were followers of Lord Vishnu and had built these elegant structures. There has been a time in history, Bishnupur was the cultural capital of Bengal.

Today stands still to get recognition that it had in the past. The only thing that has got a world recognition is the beautiful Terracotta horse from Bishnupur that stands proudly with the West Bengal Tourism. It has become a symbol of pride from the past.

While heading to this historic place, we enjoyed the “Aaloo Chap” (Potato balls) a specialty from Bengal. It was way different from what we have had so far. One thing to remember is that, if you are heading towards the hinterlands in east, food is something you would have to adjust or carry your own stuff. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ed1
UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ecfYou may not find great restaurants on the way but guaranteed to find some amazing local delicacies in shacks. Offcourse, water is a treasure and do pick your bottles as you head towards your beautiful destination. Not that you may not find them, but just be sure that you have them when you need them.

We rolled down our car and one would tend to have some guides who would reach out and ask. The best part is that these guys are not too pushy here and very reasonable. Our guide asked for Rs 200/- to take us around. You would need one of these guys just to get a understanding of some of the nuances that web may not throw out.

After picking up the tickets, I turned to just be awestruck by the grande of “Rashmancha”.. the base itself is some seven feet high and on top of that is the edifice which to me reminded of the Pyramids.  More than anything, it was the usage of Terracotta and red bricks to build this massive structure. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f7cOn these red bricks, the terracotta slabs depict the life from Ramayana & unadjustedraw_thumb_f82-e1536476895193.jpgMahabharata. Just imagine, to cover such a huge structure how many just blocks would have first been conceptualized and then molded in heat to get the story done in a beautiful sequence.

The “Rashmancha” was made to celebrate the festivity with Lord Krishna. The villages from nearby and far would bring their Lord Krishna & Radha decorated in their finery best. There were places that were demarcated within the “Rashmancha” where the respective deities were kept. It must have been a scene filled with fun and frolic. Bazars must have been filled with delicacies and handmade art work for people to buy and celebrate the festivities.

After this we went to the “Radha Balabha temple,” which is exquisite art work. The temple is small but a lot compactly built. The square structure is proportionately built with door ways exactly the same way. But, each wall has a different inscription and story to tell. The terracotta work will leave you mesmerized and you would tend to spend more time understanding each of these panels.

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Post this we went ahead to see another beauty called “Jor Bangla”.. Which is also called Twin palaces. “Jor” means joint.. There are two identical structures that look to have been joint in the middle. Except the fact that one has got a door while the other does not. The rest of the structure is the same.

UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_faeThe sad part is that people are not allowed to get inside the place. Am sure the exquisite work would have to be preserved.

As we walked around we found that, apart from the red bricks there were laterite rocks that have used to build these palaces. Both red soil and laterites are common to this place. A beautiful usage of what is available in the vicinity.

Then there is the Madan Mohan temple and many others. All these temples that have been created. Many of these structures are fairly identical to one another and grandeur. This is one temple where the lord Krishna resides and the idol is worshiped everyday. We happened to reach there a little late.UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_fcc

Just a furlong down, is the “Large gateway”. It is also made up off Laterite rocks and Bricks. As I walked into the gateway that is still used for smaller vehicles to pass through, one could see the posts that were created for the sentries and Royal army to be stationed. The large dome did make it more spacious.

Each of these places do have something or the other happening right outside. We had a Baul singer, mesmerizing the place. Then you have the tea stall and a vendor selling the local handicraft.

After  going through the regular tourist spot, we were fascinated by some of the dilapidated structures. One of them was this “Radha Krishna” temple. There were still in sequence next to the village pond. Even though it is a locked and broken temple, people have had kept the space in front of that cleaned for their evening get-together.

A further down was an old house of one of the singers from the “Bishnupur Gharana”. This house is now run down and is beyond use. Only after seeing this place, did we realize that Bisphupur, does contribute to the Indian Classical Music in a big way. Felt sad too that such places and art has not been publicized much.IMG_20180429_124950

What really surprises me the heights and the similarity in layout. One would tend to find a similar layout within each structures. Each of these temples have a Tulsi area, a kitchen area right behind the temple structures.

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The top of all these temples have a very beautiful arch which am sure serves both the ways for keeping the place cool during the hot summer days and also, let’s the water recede faster during the rainy season.

There seem to be an alignment to the Vastu requirements of building a place. The vastness of the temples does talk about the fact that these places were not only built from a worship point of view but also a place where people could get together and celebrate various functions. There is a very forward thinking by the kings who ruled this places.  Importance has been given not only to the architecture but also the society that thrived around them.

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Exploring the kitchen area, my imagination on food had no bounds 😉

We had spent almost three hours in this beautiful historical place and still felt we have not seen enough. Our driver then took us to a place slightly away from the main area. This place was further decorated with many a temples. These temples have been built by the local Zamindars and these are no less captivating.

After another hour of exploring the beautiful red structures and soaking in the past, we went ahead to see one last chapter in the annals of history. That is the “Dalmadal Canon”. This canon was the largest manufactured by the Malla Kings. The canon has been manufactured by layers of alloys stripped together and is quite intact. It has not rusted at all.

IMG_20180429_141955We ended our trip at the “Chindamastika temple”, which was really a peaceful space in front of a rather “Ugra roopa” (Violent image) of Goddess Kali.

By around  2.30 pm we were hungry and our driver took us to the “Bishnupur Tourist Lodge” for a simple Fish meal. Well even if you are a vegetarian, the food is really simple and nice. It was really a nice place to end the trip and before we headed back to Shantiniketan for the next part of our journey to soak in the cultural hub of West Bengal. It was quite a fulfilling journey.

A few things definitely would suggest who would like to go and soak oneself in this beauty:

  • Carry water bottle as much as you can
  • Be ready to walk, as there is much more to explore, a CAP is a must as these are open spaces.
  • Do carry some food with you if you can.
  • Try being there during the non summer season.
  • Take a guide, he will help you explore the place from a different perspective.
  • The place is fairly clean and the Archaeological department has done some great restoration. Help them in the cause by keeping it clean.
  • Soak in the local flavours, you will not regret it.
  • Enjoy the place, it has more to offer.

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Soulful Baul!!!

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A regular Saturday afternoon on the banks of Khoai river, near Shantiniketan is a beautiful setting of the Khoai Hatt every Saturday.  Those tall “Sonajhuri” trees adorned every meter of the ground. Under these lovely trees and as the sun shines right above your head the khoai market gets into a shape. The expanses gets filling up fast with the tribal and the local sellers unpacking and setting up their shops in the regular places. Listening to the argument between two adjacent stalls, I got reminded of the school days when we used to draw a line on the table to say that my neighbour should not cross the border. I laughed as I walked around seeing the various hawkers set up their establishments.

As I walked around, I heard an ektara play, and my head turned as I walked to the direction of the soulful music that played.

It was a hoarse tone to start off with but then the jingling sound of “gungroo” and the UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f6edhol sound mesmerized me as I seem to float towards him. As the man came into view, I was delighted to see the saffron kurta clad man in his own world playing the ektara and singing on…

It did not seem to matter if there were people sitting or listening to him. It did not matter who clapped or not. He seemed to go on with his song, the beautiful baul songs.

As he finished one, he paused adjusted his Gungroo, tightened the ektara sting to the tune he wanted, played with his hairs and beard and clearing his throat went on to sing the next song. I was simply stuck at the simplicity.

As I got up to leave, he did not even bother to acknowledge the only one intently listening leaving. I kept some money and moved on.

It felt as if he was the master here with no strings. I am here to give and do not expect any in return. If you feel like giving, give or else move on.

img_20180428_165439.jpgAs the afternoon moved to evening, had many other Baul singers who IMG_20180428_165521went on with their presentations. One of the them seemed to be slightly modern with CDs of their songs displayed as they kept playing. These artists were more playful with one a banjo like instrument and the second one on the flute while the third one was on the dhol and another couple of them who were busy playing the gungroo. As the tempo went on, I could not stop myself from swinging and dancing along with them. They were so mesmerizing that you will forget where you are. It is one that can only be experienced as it steers your soul.

While their singing was soulful, their dressing sense was equally swag. I just fell in love with their representation and deep connect with the roots.

These songs are mostly from what they see life as and are not written down. It is the Guru-Sishya Parampara that enables the knowledge move from the guru to his disciples. While today, you do have CDs and music available to pick up and listen to them but the ambiance and their presence adds to the overall soulfulness to the baul music. Folksongs at its best and pristine form.

It is an experience not to be missed at all if you happened to be there at Shantiniketan on a Saturday.

As I left the hatt, even though I am a distant relative to the language, the music kept playing on my lips and my hands dancing to the tune.

It is Soulful!!!!

Cursed Palace!!

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It was really an eire morning when we finally conjured our thoughts to make it to one of the scariest places in India.

Bhangarh!!! A place that was never on our tourist map and when one hears that it is one of the scariest places on earth it certainly deserves a visit. So what, you hear that you are not allowed post 5 pm to step in.. One leads to another and a simple search to find out about the scariest places in India would certainly through up “Bhangarh’s –
Ajabghar” in Alwar district of Rajasthan on the top of the list.

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Build in 1631 AD by Man Singh-I. The fort has been build at the picturesque Aravali Mountain ranges today bordering the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The curse of the “Black Magician”who wanted to marry the princess Ratnavati, seems to have brought the end of once a thriving palace. Trying to find more about the palace, one hears about the scary stories and deaths that have taken place in that palace.

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Anyway, loaded with all the excitement and suspense we headed off to Bhangarh. The sun shone bright with its heat beating down as we headed on the Jaipur – Delhi highway. The roads are really amazing and one could literally zip through. We stopped in between at a regular local dhaba for some lovely parathas and curd before heading on to our destination. That day the sun went on beating down, at 10 am it was really hot and we could feel energy zapping away. Loaded with my camera bag, bottles of water, hand kerchief and caps..

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We headed off on our exploration. As we entered through the Hanuman gate we were wondering as to where is the palace?? You are welcomed by vast expanses of broken walls, which should have been once a thriving market place and residential places. Once inside you do not have any shop or anything where you could buy water or anything of need. So, it will be great to carry your bottles and anything to munch.

And one thing for sure, that you would be mesmerized by the broken structures that have been well preserved by ASI. The beauty is personified by the rows of market that are all across the pathway. It does say how prosperous that era was.

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As we walked down the path, I felt that I have been here only later to realize that this place has been used for many Hindi Bollywood movies. What ever said and done, it is breathtaking to see and think what this place was at one point of time. It must have

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filled with hustle and bustle of people selling and buying things. So much of life. Some of these houses have a first or mezzanine floor. The city must have had a definite structure and plan. One does feel amazed at how thoughtful and forward thinking India was in its past. There is a lot to learn for us from the past that can certainly have a positive impact on today’s living.

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The Banyan tree add to the ghost quotient

As we walked on, one is welcomed by a huge banyan tree adjacent to the Palace entrance. The palace was still far off. One needs to be ready to walk quite a distance in the hot sun here. And, you will not be disappointed at all.

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The entrance to the palace

That day in particular was a festive day and people were offering food to monkey. If you are more adventerous that us then you could actually feed them too. We being the brave ones 😉 moved on towards the palace. Though broken, one would be in awe with the grande’ and the spiritual presence of temples just in front of the palace.

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The architectural work inside the temples are amazing and has a similarity to the temples in the northern part of the country. Also, one does find local flavours of animal sculptures on the walls like that of camel.

Only one of the temples is functional and that too of “Bhairav baba”. People do come in hordes from the villages nearby and pray there. This temple is today inside the palace.
Did you know that People offer “Cigarettes and Bidis” are prasad (Offerings) to the lord.

The ask is for more power and mental stability. On that day, the drums kept playing at a rhythmic pace calling us to meet them.

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Well as we stepped in, we had a nice steep climb on a ramp before we reached the steps of the palace. Well in today’s context, only two floors are available for us to visit. It is said that four floors have gone down into the earth. There are huge holes that are there but the myth of the spirits did give us a scare to even explore in the daylight. Not to be disappointed, the remaining two floors are no less breathtaking. Even in its dilapidated condition it is a great place to photograph.

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Today the place is cleared up well and one could access most of the places and would certainly say at your risk. There is no barricading on the roof and that one needs to be careful while being there. And do not forget to shoot as many pics as possible.

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We spent close to two hours in the hot sun and felt mesmerized at the beauty that this place has to offer.
Well is it spooky?? Maybe, but on the festive day, the presence of so many villagers did not make us feel so. And here must add that while leaving I happened to move down an small paved path just outside the palace area which lead to many other temples. That was very quite and maybe of what all one hears the mind plays. The rustle of the wind does tend to send a chill down the spine.

Whatever said and done, it is worth a visit and am sure it will leave a lasting impact.

Few things that one would certainly need to keep in mind while travelling to Bhangarh:

  • Try to go during festive time, you would get to see the local traditions
  • Carry your water bottles in any season.
  • Hats / caps off-course, if it is summer / hot season.
  • Be ready to walk quite a distance.
  • Avoid the monkeys
  • It is our heritage, do not litter it or spoil it.
  • A lot of photographs apart of selfies. Breath-taking views
  • Be ready to spend two hours minimum to explore and enjoy the place.
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The Map of the palace

NH4 Realisations!!!

DSC_3156It’s been a few years since I started exploring this beautiful country’s wilderness and ruins along with my partner in crime who drive me crazy, at time nuts and most of the time just “WoW”
During these travels, there are a few realisations that dawned on me and I think it will be great to share with you all these amazing nuggets that you would certainly connect with.
Realisation 1: When you are going for a long drive, at least spend 10 minutes to download few of your favourite songs. Never depends upon your partner, or else you could end up scratching up your head listening to God only knows what!!
Realisation 2: On the road and especially while exploring unknown roads, you will meet lot of Gyan gurus and local guardians. When they point fingers and start their gyans, better to say sorry (so what if it not your mistake) and just move on. Humbleness is a great weapon.. 🙂
Realisation 3: Do not solely depends upon your GPS blindly. Once in a while check with Human GPS. You have no idea what you could end up with. Mystery is a great thriller.
Realisation 4: Try to keep your co-passengers happy, hydrate and engaged. Please don’t discuss about your home/ personal unless you crave for a “Crocin or any other painkiller”.
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Realisation 5: Try to do few off-road driving. You will end up with discovering amazing and beautiful India. They say, “Learning is at every turn, you just have to peep around with care”.
Realisation 6: Have loads of fun and treasure it. When you look back, they will entice you to plan your next trip with more vigour.
Realisation 7: To explore this beautiful country never miss out on the local cuisine while taking care of  your stomach.
Realisation 8: Always carry soap paper, sanitiser and water. You have no idea when the need for these small things become too big to hunt. (Murphy laws always becomes a challenge at odd hours)
Realisation 9: Try not to be an impulsive buyer while on road. You might end up getting things which you would whack yourself for later. 😉
Realisation 10: Keep your cell phone and camera batteries charged. If not “keep calm and treasure the moment in your mind map”
Realisation 11: Last but never the least…. Enjoy your road not the rage.
You have any, feel free to share and make this a longer list… Till then, Happy exploring your newer places and discovering a new life!!
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Croc Night Walk

NIght croc walk3e1.jpgTwo pairs of eyes that shine!! … Rugged & tough skin… Fangs that slither out to check the air… All this and that is active at night too..

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Well, all this and more at Chennai.. Yes, Chennai!!!.. The Crocodile park  on East Coast Road (ECR) has got a special attraction for both kids & adults to explore the reptilian world at Night. We in excitement had arrived by

6.30 pm for a 7 pm walk. Oh!! one got to book this in advance. It is simple and available on their website too. It is open for night safari all nights except for on Monday.

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Well, the cute fellow at the gate politely said us to wait and we were happy in anticipation sitting at the vacant shops. There was a nice nip in the Chennai air and it was really wonderful.

As we waited two more families joined us and it was great feeling to see that there were more adults than kids. We were welcomed by 7 pm by a young enthusiastic caretaker NIght croc walk3f4.jpgArul. Young chap took charge by giving each one of us a torch and the first thing the he did was for us to shine it on the crocs to see the shining lights. It is something to be experienced. He explains with care as to how to use the torch lights and not to create a nuisance for these beasts who are not troubling us at all.

He started the story by leading us from one to the other and the passion does tell his amazing love and connection with these gentle giants. He showed us how the crocs would respond when they are irritated with the lights flashing on them for long. we walked around to hear and understand these gentle slithering giants.

 

 

 

Oh!! it was interesting to hear the flock of birds trying to sleep at their homes and as we flashed the torch lights, you could hear a big flutter when Arul suggested to switch off the lights or else we may have an air raid of poo from the frightened birds. It seemed to have happened once earlier. NIght croc walk3fa.jpg

We happened to go underground to see the crocs and turtles swimming around in calmness. By the way, did you know that the female tortoise happens to be much larger and bigger than that of the male tortoise. 🙂

 

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It is really interesting to see these beautiful creatures in darkness and that too with an amazing guide like Arul. As we packed off for the evening, delighted to know that there are night camps and you could also participate in feeding these awesome creatures during their lunch time.

It is a great learning program and with people like Arul and private firms like “Crocodile Park” it is a delight to learn about these gentle giants.

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My Nahargad

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Mighty, Lavish, Majestic, grandure and adjective would be short and less to describe this magnificent fortified Nahargad palace. The palace built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734. A man who has built some of the finest architectures in the pink city, Jaipur.

MayaOur guides, had stated a sad affair of saying nothing much to see but added that it would be great to see the overall city and that too at evening. Well the last statement did make a good relevance to us and we happened to reach Nahargad by around 4.30 pm exhausted after the fun & exploratory walk at Jaigarh. One thing for sure, that do pick your food pack and bottles of water unless you really want to explore.

Well, hey we were there for some fun and exploring and the fort did not disappoint. Off course like any of the forts in Rajasthan, the entry is through the huge doors and it then opens up to the huge courtyard… wow!! awestruck would be an understatement.The courtyard

The colours of the walls are nostalgic and does take you to the realm of past and the lavishness tagged to it… As you move from the courtyard to the various rooms, we are into the beautiful alleys of rooms and arches. Jaipur-394

The walls are so so smooth that one could see their reflection in it. Must say, the archeological department is doing a great job in maintaining it. Inspite of so many people walking around, you can happily sit down and get some amazing photographs. Now I understand why these places could be a photographers paradise.

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One lead to the other and started climbing the stairs. The most amazing aspect was the roof of the palace. A must place especially in the evenings. The breathtaking view of the whole Jaipur city below to that of the setting sun against the backdrop of the architectural domes.

Do make sure that you spend time on the roof and see the sun setting against the magnificent domes. A good place for some quite time as the breeze hits you along with the last brightness… Jaipur-443

Well I wished that the time never stopped. It had to when we heard the hart whistle of our khakhi dressed policeman man pushing every one to move down as it was almost 6 pm.

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As we stepped down and came back to the courtyard, I waited for all folks to leave and then requested the security for a few more minutes, they obliged and rather helped me. It is really nice of them.

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My last shot

There is a beautiful restaurant for those who want to spend the evening after the sun goes down. And we chose to move on and spend the day..

It was indeed a great decision to not miss this lovely piece of history, I wished I had more time to spend and explore this beautiful palace…

Indeed Incredible India and #MyRajasthan…Jaipur-493

 

The LASSI

“Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi”

When Gertrude Stein in 1913 wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”.. she might not have thought that people across the globe would use it for any article that could suite them..

Sweet white LassiWell not every Indian would add and agree to that statement with Rose and the “Quintessential Lassi”… When the world talks about the white sweet lassi, one place in Bhubaneswar, says Nah!! we do not like it white, let’s make it brown. Why should every thing from curd be white.

Well, welcome to “Lingaraj Lassi centre” . A bustling city space right in the heart of the city at Shahid Nagar (Near Durga Mandapa). Bhubaneswar being a foodies delight, this place adds to the flavour and it is very difficult to resist not going there and gulping down a glass of chill Lingaraj Lassi.

Having heard about this lassi, we happened to head out to have this beautiful sweetened

34493708331_9668a6c207_olassi. At first, the place being crowded makes you think about the popularity and fan following. There was ample space to park our car though slightly away, but the pull was strong for a nice walk. I struggled to first understand what to be done because of the crowd. Then we slowly made our way to see the whole jamboree of activities that happen right in front of you.

On the left as one enters, there was one who was scraping heaps of coconut, while right in front was a small cemented space to hold big blocks of ice which was being broken and taken for mixing it up with the lassi. As this was happening, what caught my fascination was the four huge furnaces on which there were huge pots of Khoa (Milk Product) was being made. The lassi here is made different with loads and loads of Khoa (Another milk product), which is basically what gives it the brown colour and the sweetness that it brings.  It is fascinating to see that there was this one man who kept staring the pots to get the right thickness and flavour to Khoa. Once this was done, curd along with sugar and Khoa was put in a mixer and served. There were close to fifteen mixers kept just for this purpose,

There are close to three people manning the serving area but one held the money and was mouthing the instructions while he himself went on serving. The coordination was so smooth that, only when the money was paid the glasses were held out to the customer.   This gentleman held a thick wad of money in his hand, explicitly saying he is the cashier without even having a board.

The prices were economical, a large glass (Approx 500 Ml) is priced at Rs50/- while the small glass (Approx 300 ml) was priced Rs 40/-. Now one can have a sugar free lassi too, but then when you have so much sweetness in Khoa, what is sugar free?? 2ecff44b86293d926068010b3c6f176d

 

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What ever said and done, once the liquid flows down the throat, there is a sense of peace 34624310715_a28409af3d_oand pure bliss. Well the only caution that it is really a sweet concoction and could hit you really heard, so choose your glass accordingly.

And.. if you are in Bhubaneswar, you could place an online order too..

Having said so, will always say.. “If in Bhubaneswar during summers (Available only in summers), never ever miss this heady Lassi”

Oh!! you can check their humble space on facebook too but not that active, it just says that the focus of these guys on the product and not on publicity. It is truly for its loyal customers like me to do.. 🙂

 

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My first book.. Maya. Do pick up a copy at Amazon or Notionpress.com

 

 

 

Blessings!!!

It was a beautiful day when we decided to head towards the Satapada side of the beautiful Chilika lake. Little did I realise that I was in tryst with history and spirituality. Well yes, I was aware that I would be going down the Srikethra road, Puri but the knowledge of the heritage and that too of this small places was absolutely unknown to me. That is when the elders and people in the locality share their expertise. As we took the outer road bypassing puri, we got onto the road to Chilika, Satapada. 20161006_091244I was surprised with the quality of the road that we drove on. The Odisha government seems to have really maimage031de the roads comfortable & driver friendly. The drive on these beautiful road is flanked by coconut trees and lush paddy fields. It was that time of the season when the paddy fields were filled with lily. They gave the place a beautiful combination of white and green.

A drive of 20 kms from the Shree Jagannath temple, we came up to a small
bustling Odisha village of Bentapur at Brahmagiri. The main road divides the village of Bentapur and the hoarding will guide you to the temple. The temple which is hardly a 300 meter drive  of the main road, through a small lane enough for two small cars to pass through.

The narrow lane opens up as we come close to the entrance of the temple which seems to have been bathed in white. The architectural design is similar to that of the Shree Jagannath temple at Puri. One could say this to be a miniature version of the main temple.

I parked my car and paid Rs 30/- for parking in front of the temple. There is not much space though to park anywhere there.

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There is a folklore which takes us back to “Satya yuga” where Lord Brahma prayed for Lord Vishu on top of a hill. Being mighty pleased with the way Lord Brahma worshiped and prayed, Lord Vishu asked him to build a four armed idol made of single black stone carrying his four symbols.. Sankha, Chakra, Gada & Padma (Conch, Disc, Mace & Lotus) and since Lord Brahma prayed on this hill top, it came to be named as Brahmagiri (Hill of Brahma).

There are many mixed stories that have emerged with regard to the name and establishment of this temple. One speaks of its connection with North of this country, which brings Rajasthan down here all the way to Puri as the rulers of Alwar, Rajasthan who are supposed to have built this temple and hence the name, Alwarnath or Alarnath.

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While there is another that talks about the high priests from the south, prior to Shri Ramnujacharya, known as Alvars had come down to perform the puja and hence the name Alvar-natha or Lord of Alvars.

This temple as per records was built by King Madan Mahadev in 1128 AD.

It is said that, when Lord Jagannath goes into Anavasara (Two weeks of rest when the lord gets high fever) and is not accessible to anyone. This happens just after the annual bathing ritual (Snana yatra) during the months of June / July every year. During this period, the devotees go to “Alarnath Temple” and get his blessings. The crowd really swells up during those fourteen days.

31280812052_ff353db71f_oOnce you get into the sanctum, one would be mesmerised by the beautiful four handed pitch black Idol. When the crowd is less, the priest also does talk about the folklore of the lord having burnt his thumb and some places on his chest as hot rice milk pudding (Kheer) had fallen on him while HE was trying to have it. It had slipped and fallen over HIM. The priest did remove the flowers to show us the spots. Today the Kheer is the prasad that one could get in the morning and evening hours.

It is said that this idol has resemblance to that of Lord Krishna except that this idol also signifies aggression and protection at the same time.

30618118693_fbf4c089a3_oThe expanse around is beautiful and quite. There are some old stone carvings that seemed to have fallen off. The sculptures do talk about the beauty and grandeur of architecture and craftsmanship of that era.

There is a Goddess Lakshmi temple inside the same compound. It is said that the idol was dug out by a local priest from a nearby place and placed within the same compound as 31425511925_79714a23be_oShe being his consort. The idol has a very peaceful look and one could be mesmerised by being in its mere presence.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being a great devotee of Krishna and that of Lord Jagannath, has a temple next to Lord Alarnath’s sanctum. It is said that when Sri Chaitanya lay down to pay his prayers, the stone below him melted by his sheer power.

As we stepped out of the temple, on the left is Brahma Gaudiya Math. It houses Lord Chaitanya, Sri Sri Radha Krishna & a small idol of Alarnath. There is a cow shed which is managed by the ashram too.

As we left the place after a couple of hours being there, the idol and the mesmerising aura stays with you for a long time…

I was counting my blessings to have had another opportunity of pure Bliss!!

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Fort Art!!!

“Expect the unexpected!!”

fortkochi-1The word fort raises so much expectations and imaginations of what could be there. I too had an imagination of huge walls, fortification, palatial place … Well, all that was about to happen when we stepped into the ferry to go to Kochi Fort, a small island off the mainland.

As we stepped out, we were welcome by the beautiful Chinese nets that adorn the shoreline of Fort Kochi island. They seem to be a symbol of Kochi, standing there fabulous against the beautiful cloud cover and the ever present Arabian Sea… As we walked further into the fort area the realisation dawned in that there is no more of a fort existing and there are only remains of those classic era in the form of few monuments spread across the island. Today there are many beautiful shops and restaurants that cover the expanses of the island.

As we walked further, I was stunned with what caught my eyes. It was an expression offortkochi-2 love, emotions, life and most important to me was.. an expression of freedom… All that was spread and beautifully captured on the walls of various houses and shops. Letting people and artists use these empty spaces to express their feelings and emotions in an open public canvas. It was just not one wall that was let to get decorated rather there were walls all through out the space that we walked around.

fortkochi-3On one where there was the expression of freedom and free thinking, there was another talking about an emotional connect. Some showcased the modern trend of love to that of just geometrical graphic designs to express the elephant inside.. There were more of metaphorical connections that one could think off as we walked across the streets and feel awe around.

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Free Birdie

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Life and Fun

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Get those colourful wings on..

It is a delight to see how beautifully these walls have been used as a form of expressions. I had never expected Fort Kochi to be a such a beautiful treasure-house of art work in an open frame… It was like peeking through the Veil..

Such an incredible place and incredible art… Imagination flew along with me as we caught the ferry back to the main land..
What mesmerizes me is how do people get such beautiful creative ideas to express.??

Chausathi Jogini – Mahamaya

Sixty and four are the instruments of enjoyments that tempt the individual soul (jiva). Sixty and four are the divisions (kalas) within jiva; Sixty and four are the chambers of jiva’s chakras; Sixty and four; where Shiva-Shakti reside.”

– Thirumandiram V. 1418

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India has been and am sure will continue to be a land of radical thoughts and beliefs. It is a country that has been a confluence of beliefs and existence of them in different places and almost at similar times. Many had emerged, caught onto the believes of peoples and with the advent of a newer system, many of ancient traditions went away into oblivion until they were researched and practiced in pockets.

Odisha, the eastern state of India has not only been an historical place but also a place where the cultural and religious beliefs have come into existence. Buddism, Saivaism, Jainism, Shaktaism and later Vaishnavism have been prevalent for many years here. It is well known that the worshiping of Mother Goddess is an integral part of the Hinduism, but  it also branched off into Shaktaism for its uniqueness and Tantric practices. The cult was prevalent from the 9th century AD to 12 century AD and flourished well as people started to look out for different ways to connect with the all mighty. To me, it does symbolise the diversity and the openness to not only believe but also practices of different cultures was open and accepted.

Bhubaneswar or Ekamra Khetra (as it was known earlier) has been a seat for Devi (Goddess mother) and Tantric Pujas. The evidences can well be seen in some of the temples that were created and the idols prayed.

One such symbol of Devi puja is the “Chausathi Jogini” (64 Jogini) temple on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar at Hirapur. A temple dedicated to the “Women who possess magical  Powers”. It is well said that, a true Jogini is one who is an enlightened woman possessing exuberant passion, spiritual powers and deep insight.

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In India there are close to 12 such temples that have been discovered and ASI has taken over to protect it. The one at Hirapur is the smallest of all. All the Jogini temples are circular in nature and do not have a roof (hypaethral). They are open in nature.

I had spent my childhood at Bhubaneswar but never knew about this place, it was only while researching about some other locations, I accidentally stumbled upon this beautiful open temple. They say, “when the lord calls, you visit”. It was exactly that, after close to 2 years of planning to visit this place, I visited “Chausathi Jogini” temple. It had poured the previous night and as we started for the place. The place turned out to have had a good wash and ready to receive us. We crossed the small bridge over the Kuakhai river and entered the paddy fields.

The directions are very clearly laid out and the roads are very good though narrow. The temple is surrounded by some lush green paddy fields. It was as though guarding the temple from outsiders. The smallness of the temple took us by surprise but once you enter the temple you would largely be struck by the beautiful sandstone sculptures.

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Betal

The entrance would be 5 feet in height and has a small vestibule guarded by two Betals on either side. On the inner sides as you enter the place you will find 64 Yogini sculptures. The temple would be around 30 feet or so in diameter with a square mandap (Platform) in the centre.

 

Each sculpture is so so different from one other. They not only seem to represent the various avatars but are so feministic in their nature. Some have beautiful faces while some have taken up animal faces. The hairdos and the ornaments are also unique to each one, wether it is the armlet, anklet, bangles necklace or even the earrings. All the avatars are standing on top of either an animal or a musical instrument. Each symbolising a significant nature of the avatar. Some of the avatars are Rudra (Ferocious) while some are calm. Some faces are human whiles some have animal heads.

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The 31st idol is “Mahamaya” which is the main idol and is prayed daily. She is the only one who is ten armed goddess among the 64 idols. During the Dusshera Puja there are special rituals that are done here. On the Dusshera day, even today there is a sacrifice in this temple but that is of a Fish. A symbolic of appeasing the goddess. Interestingly at Yogini 61, there is no idol. It seems to be the same one at some of the other yogini temples too. I felt it depicting that “No Form” is also a “Form”… I have seen such earlier at Belur and some other temples in southern India too.

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Puja performed for Mahamaya

At the centre of the temple is the mandap is also called the Chandi mandap or yogini mandap. It is said that there was a lord Shiva idol as Nataraja which was worshiped in the centre. This image of Lord Shiva is also called Moha Bhairav. There are four Bhairavs at the four pillars of the mandap. This is also considered as the seat for Tantric puja & rituals.

 

The outside of the temple is guarded by two dwarapals and on the outer wall are the nine Katyayanis. The Katyayani are standing on a smiling severed human head. Some have swords while most of them have an umbrella cover held by one of their helps.

One could feel the goosebumps with the energy that this place could generate. The power of women in its urga or ferocious form is a testimony of the times when women power and its importance was way significant that what it is now.

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Once you step out of the temple area, you are welcome back to the peaceful quite village banyan tree and the pond. As if all the energy source is stabilised by it. We tried to leave the place twice but every time there was something there that held us back and we returned into the temple. What could have been a fifteen minute exploration and prayers, turned out to be more than an hour.odisha-412

I am a novice into spirituality but I am really mesmerised by the bold acceptance of that era to depict and present a different aspect of life. An era where equality might not have just been stated but would also been practiced and respected.

We left the place with lots of peace and bliss. It also taught me what acceptance of different beliefs could do to human beings. It would help in exploring the non existent me within me for sure.

Odisha offers one so much to explore that, the more I discover.. I realise how less I know about this beautiful eastern state of India… Really Incredible Odisha and certainly Incredible India!!!

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