Byadgi Chilli

dsc_8536 (2)Chilli, Red and spicy… one of the major ingredients for any preparation in India. The mere thought of Red Chilli sends one in an imagination of a Red or deep Orange coloured shriveled crescent moon structure filled with capsaicin seeds.

Chilli as such is not a native of India but rather an origin from New Mexico, Guetamala, Peru and has been domesticated in an around 5000 BC. Columbus was the one who img_20181223_172012brought these beautiful fiery fruits to Europe and from there this has moved to Asia. It came to India in around 1584. It was initially used as a crop to protect the crops from the birds but today is a main crop as such. I was largely aware that Chilli production happens at Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan but never knew that Maharashtra, Odisha & Karnataka are also major contributors. While Assam’s city Tezpur produces one of the spiciest chilies the world has, Naga Jalokia, the rest of the country produces chilli that are used in food and cosmetics (which was a surprise to know for me!!).

Well the other big surprise were the chilies being produced in Karnataka. I never knew about its Chilli producing capability and the variety that it produces. One of the largest producing areas is Byadgi region, near Haveri. The chilies from Byadgi are known for their red colour enhancement in food and less on the spice content. They are also exported for usage in cosmetics especially Lipsticks.dsc_8547 (2)

We happened to be travelling from our visit from Galaganath to Haveri and thanks to our GPS, it took us through some of the most lovely interior villages of north Karnataka. As we were crossing the village of Agadi, I pulled over to the sides of a paddy field on the sight of red chilies being dumped in the fields.

I had never seen harvesting of Red chilies and the sight was really exciting. We got down and literally ran into the fields with excitement. In a large clearing of the field there were close to 9 people working in sorting and packing the chilies in sacks. There was an air of excitement in them when my partner started talking to them.

She had no clue of Kannada and they had no clue of any other language. Actually, my partner amazes me all the time in the way she communicates with strangers and has good laughter with them.

Our broken discussions lead us to discover that this variety of Chilies that were produces was to be shifted to Byadgi which is the central zone for all Chilies production in the region. Here they were drying, sorting the chilies based on the colour and then packing them in sacks.

Chili Bugs

It was interesting to see the bugs in the chilies. They reminded me of the bugs from “Mummy” movie.

We took photos and videos of them doing the various activities on the land. The laughter that they had was coy and their simplicity was just contagious. It was a time that tells one that the heart of India is in its villages truly.

As we left from the farm land, we did manage to pick up some chilies for ourselves too, off course we paid them for the generosity. It was a beautiful evening to spend time in the rural part of this beautiful country.

Few lovely travel tips:

  • Always be on a look out for the beauty as you drive to your destiny.
  • Travel is for your pleasure, so pause when you feel or find something special.
  • Speak to the locals even though you may not know their language. The heart knows best to connect.
  • Request the people before you would like to take their photos or videos.
  • Carry a simple empty bag, just in case you would like to buy local things.
  • Keep change, it will always be handy as the rural side does not have many ATMs or swipe machines.
  • The last one, just soak in as much as you can.. ūüôā
Sunset

India is beautiful

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Ankalagi Caves (Chandravali)

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80ft below the surface, a thought that can send shivers and goosebumps.. many channels to one room can confuse but at the same time, can also be a safe bet.

The Ankalagi caves, at Chandravali is a delight to be. We had driven all the way from Chennai and reached there by 2.30 in the afternoon. The sun was bright enough even on a winter afternoon. Wondered how hot this place would be in summers.

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The place was ambiguous as we parked our car and walked. All the sign boards were in Kannada and it was a struggle for a stranger like us. We asked people here and there who directed us towards the caves. As we reached the spot saying Ankalagi caves, we were not sure if the caves were the same as Chandravali, only to realize later that this place has a relation to the saints of Belgaum from Ankali Mutt. A flight of stairs under construction took us to an opening of the well structured rock place.

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A team of so-called guides seated there suggested they could help us and the moment we stepped into the cave we realized why. One could get lost in the darkness and the many chambers without a guide.

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Salutations as you enter the cave

Chandravalli caves have a huge significance as they seem to have covered times from Pre-historic to the Hoysala dynasty. These caves have been known for the sages who had visited this place for meditation.

From a Geography point of view, these caves are in the valley between three mountains, the Kirabanakallu, Chitradurga and Chollagudda. There is a lake right before you enter the caves that adds to a beautiful sight. There are rock structures that would make you feel like you are looking at Elephants at the water body.

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Elephant drinking

Now, as the guide took us in our biggest challenge was that of language. Most of the guides are Kanada speaking and they speak in broken Hindi. Our guide got inside and went on a ramble. We had to stop her many a times and reiterate what we understood. There is so many more things that one needs to soak in the darkness down there. The only that helps is the torch lights.

As one steps in one does realize that, the place is airy and not stifling at all. The heights of the passages are quite short may be around 3.5 ft so one has to be watchful. With the clean shaven head, I had to be more careful. ūüôā

Secrecy and escape routes were of paramount importance. As we entered down a flight of stairs, the space opened up into a meditation center with the entrance being adorned by two elephant like structures. Then we moved into the sleeping and the bath chambers of the caves. Even though we were in the cave, the bathing chambers had a space for rain water harvesting and ensuring that the water was let out properly. There were spaces for keeping the Diyas which was the only source for light in the caves in those times.

We also happened to walk through smaller passages to reach a space where the king and his key members along with the sages had discussions. That space was so dark when the lights were off that, if there was any emergency they could escape quickly without anyone knowing. There is also a belief that there were underground passages connected to the Chitradurga fort. These caves also were used to store the treasures of the kings (It is so believed).

What really was breath taking to observe was the carvings and sculptures that were created and still available for us to see after thousands of years. Just imagine, how those fine artisans would have sculpted just using the light of diyas. What a craftmanship it was during those times. The walls are adored with creepers, designs and idols. A treat to the eyes even in such darkness.

Lord Shiva seems to have been a prominent deity to be prayed to. There were too many a sculptures and graphic images that adorned the walls too.

As we came out it took time for the eyes to adjust to the light. Once out, you could see the other structures that were built on top of the caves, though mostly in broken condition.

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After we left the guide, we took time to just soak in the feeling of a history that was not only mysterious, historic but also architecturally brilliant. As we left the place, it felt there is much more than what we saw and the place needs more time for art and architecture lovers.

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The lake in front of the caves

Few points definitely to note.

  1. The road leading to caves is not that great.
  2. Ample parking space to park your vehicles.
  3. Do take a guide as you step in or else you would get lost inside.
  4. If you are not from Karnataka, negotiate well with the guide before getting in.
  5. Torches are the best, not cell phone ones. Carry them. (We missed to get ours ready).
  6. Take your time, if you like something. The guide would ask you to hurry up all the time as they are running their own agenda.
  7. Stay at the place before you leave, breath in the freshness of the place.

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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 ūüėČ 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.. ūüôā
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. ūüėČ
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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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

 

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

‚ÄúSixty 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‚Äôs¬†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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Sublime ecosystem – Chilika

 

odisha-325Chilika, the shallow brackish lagoon on the south eastern part of Odisha, today is an integral part of the state. A distinctive landmark that is not only well established from tourism perspective but also is well know for its “Tiger Prawn” cultivation worldwide. A landmark¬†that was once a maritime hub with¬†a rich history, today largely remains a source of livelihood through tourism and prawn cultivation. This pear shaped lagoon stretches 64.3 Kms across¬†Puri, Khurda & Ganjam districts of Odisha. Apart from being a support to the human livelihood, this natural beauty is a mother to the 225 species of fish¬†ecology and it hosts 160 different species during peak migratory season.

This was my second visit to this beautiful lagoon. My first trip was some 11 years ago from Berahmpur side. The vastness was what pulled my interest. This time I was more excited as I wanted to see the beautiful lake from the Puri side. Also, this part of the lake has the lesser known Irrawaddy Dolphins. The fascination drove us down to visit the place once again.

Well, how much early that I think of starting, still ended up leaving only by 7.30 am from Bhubaneswar. The newly laid outer ring road is very smooth to drive and is a toll road today. The stretch of 135 kms took us 4 hours with some stops in-between for breakfast and at Alarnath Temple on the way.

It was a beautiful drive, also which cut off from the Puri main road. on our way we could see the great Jagannath temple. The Puri РSatapada road is filled with lilies on both the sides. It was a sight to see, awesome will be an understatement.

As we entered the Satapada area, we were almost chased down by a biker. He waved his hand vigorously and wanted us to stop. I slowed down the car to a stop, as I rolled down the window I realised that he was one of the local guys trying to get people for the boat rides. If one is not careful you could actually end up paying a higher price. The IMG_20161106_214234.jpggovernment owned boards are much cheaper and better which is near the lake boating point. We left him and trusted on the GPS to guide us to the spot. We were welcome by a small toll booth who showed us the way forward. We finally happened to reach at the lake boating area by 11.30 am. As we happen to get down there were a bunch of fishermen odisha-213community guys got hold of us positioning their deal for a boat ride. Though hesitant to pick it up we managed to get a good deal for three hours, which included Dolphin viewing, Rajhans island and Muhana (The lake mouth meeting the sea). We stacked up our ration of water, juices and snacks and went ahead to the boat designated for us.

After having exchanged the pleasantries our boats man pushed the boat into the main water. It was really unexpected of us that we would see the Dolphins within five minutes into the lake. It was a family of three that came up the surface and then ducked into the water. They were swift and moved very rapidly. Catching them on camera once needs to understand the patterns in their movement. Finally I managed to get their bums shot. It was an real beautiful experience to see them.

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Irrawaddy Dolphins

These dolphins are so different from that of the regular ones that one sees and reads about. According to a census in 2010 there are only 156 dolphins in Chilika. Hope the number have gone up now rather than nose diving.
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After our beautiful rendezvous with these mammals we headed off on a solitary trip to Rajahans Island. Chilika being spread over such a huge water space, there happens to be many small islands and water ways are a very strong mode to move from one island to another, as well as connecting it to the main land. One would also see the intricate spread of fishing nets either for catching the fish or prawn. These nets also become a good hunting ground for birds to get their hunger satiated.

20161006_123044By the time we reached Rajhans island it was already 1.00 pm and we were exhausted odisha-296because of the sun heat and the water around. But the breeze happened to be a good solace in the whole drive.

Rajhans was a small beautiful island, in-between the lake and the sea on the other side. The heat was really strong and the Akashiya shade was a real solace. Oh must say, the beach gave a feeling of odisha-298peace and was an amazing place for doing some great photo shoot. We spent close to 20 mins there before we headed back to our boat for our return. For the heat and the hunger that had caught us by now, we decided to skip the lake mouth. The sea shore at Rajhans was reassuring enough for the day.

We reached back at the shore in another 45 mins and that was a killer of time. Exhausted and parched. Was wondering how our boatsman managed to stand in that hot sun all this while and we the delicate lot even under the tarpaulin sheet were feeling the heat. Well nature has its own way of balancing it I suppose. The cool breeze made us to catch up with couple of winks before we reached our destiny.

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Lunch stop after the ride

The hungry souls finally got satisfied with a feast on awesome fresh sea food catch. You name it and it was there and the food was of local flavour which was finally topped up with some delightful pan (beetle leave).

Though the journey back was in the cool air condition of the car but the heart was left behind in the pristine waters of Chilika, as if it beckoned us to come back again and be a part of that wonder….

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Some experiences:

  • Avoid the touts trying to lure you in for a private trip.
  • Cover you head with caps and wear loose cotton clothes.¬†
  • Carry loads of drinking water while on the boat.
  • Carry fruit juices and not aerated drinks. You could juices near the boating area.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the boats.
  • Try to get a covered boat
  • There are no proper restrooms around
  • Food for vegetarians could be a challenge
  • Swatch Bharat… the place is relatively clean, try and keep it that way.

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Chuk Chuk…

A traveler am I and a navigator, and ever day I discover a new region within my soul
– Kahlil Gibran

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The multi wheel carriages running on two tracks carrying many dreams, ambitions, sadness, love, apprehensions and what not that a human being could go through has always been a fascination for me even in this flight era. Someone recently at office asked me as I shared that I will not be at Office for the following week,

He: oh!! so you are flying off on Friday??
Me: No.. Catching the train in the evening..
He: Really, it is a long journey.. 20 hours.. It will be tiresome. You should have caught the flight, save time.
Me: (Smiling) Oh, I did not think it that way. Yeah it would take time but I would love every moment of it with my family. It is full “FAMILY TIME!!”.

He was not sure, what to say after that and we both had a good laugh..

It’s really a treasure trove for me every time I get started with¬†my train travel plans.

Right from the moment, I book the train tickets, the wait and the anticipation is on the rise. Anticipation for the remembrance of childhood memories, a sense of freedom and a desire to meet and talk to strangers.

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The Indian Railways, is one of the longest and the most complicated rail networks of the world. From the first train that got launched in 1853 when am sure, people would have been looking at it with awe and admiration then to the latest high speed trains that are getting experimented from Delhi to Mumbai and many. The awe and admiration still remains the same. The network today runs over 115,000 Kms across carrying millions of passengers daily. There are many known and unknown interesting facts that the Indian Railways throws up.

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Technology todays has helped us avoid the jammed up railway ticketing counters but the fight to booking the tickets still runs high. Can’t complain when you have more than 13 lakh tickets being booked in a day through IRCTC portal. Just imagine the amount of traffic that IRCTC would be facing for these bookings.

As I have grown over the years the accessibility to AC coaches have become a part of life and the travels are becoming more and more comfortable. Having said so, I do miss those lovely moments when I would wake up to the sound of a chia wala (Tea vendor) or the smell of a hot snack at any railway platform. The beauty is that, each station has its own brand and popularity. I remember once catching a local train from Sambalpur to Bhubaneswar years back, and the train stopped at Boinda station. People jumped off the train as it came to a halt to have the very famous local bara and Aloo chop (Vada & Potato balls). (I am already  salivating as I share this.) This station is a junction and people literally have their breakfast in the morning as the train halts for 15 Р20 mins. Post the breakfast is the hot cup of tea on those small clay pots which are now very common in the Eastern part of the country.

Or the Bread Omlet at Vijaywada station as the train to east from Chennai halts in the morning hours. Am sure, each of us have a wonderful connection with many of these stations. It makes you feel closer to home.

Well, the pantry services is no different experience which one goes with. Now the services have improved and are way better off, though a long way to go. Train journeys tend to become gastronomic journeys too. Remember my childhood days when my mom would pack up tiffin boxes and snack packs for the travel to last for 18 hours. The moment the train leaves the station, there is an auto trigger for the hunger to kick in. So what, if I had had my breakfast or lunch or dinner just before we left home. ūüôā

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Enjoying the breeze

The longer the journeys is towards home, the more the impatience as the destination¬†gets closer. I tend to move myself away from my seat and stand at the door. The fresh breeze hits harder as the train chugs along. My mind pushes the train¬†harder to fly on those lovely tracks as the rice fields fly past me. During this month’s travel, I was standing with my son at the door (who was there for the first time) and I could see the excitement in him and the nostalgia that it created for me. Off course one needs to be cautious and careful but this today has become a part of life no matter if the train is long distance or local train. The freshness that this experience¬†leaves is heavenly.

As a child going in the sleeper class coach during rainy season was a delight. I would be chasing the rain drops as they would crash against the shut glass window pane and run down to meet the other water droplets. Dreams get created and smiles tend to appear at the corner of the lips.. then and even now it does so, no matter how old one gets.
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Indian Railways, with what ever shortfalls that it has.. it does not matter once you are on the train. Someone rightly said and I have seen it happening, “It is a beautiful journey where strangers meet and become friends to part again and may be to meet again”.

There are so many stories that one can go on and on. There is an unending list one shares in these journeys with not only the passengers but also the caterers, the TT, vendors at the station. All hoping to have a moment of fleeting emotion to be shared with.

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Train Bridge over River Godavari

Rightly said and with all love, I do connect with the same tag line of Indian Railways,
“Lifeline to the nation”

Every journey is worth living for!!! … Can’t wait for the next trip….

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