I have so much to write from my trip to Europe last year. I have just scratched the surface of it. A month and half was a good amount of time to understand their culture to some extent. However, the long distance cycling & camping nature of my trip has also left me quite wordless. So I thought of putting up at least a few picture posts where I can tell some stories via the pictures…. Here is a glimpse of my 5 days in Budapest,
Quick trip to Ujjain for the Simhasth Kumbh Mela happened in early May. I had traveled to Nashik for my first Kumbh Mela experience in 2015 and I deliberately went on the non-Shahi snan days. I was concerned about the crowds and overall facilities.
This time for Ujjain I went impromptu on the 7-8th May weekend. I left on Friday 6th May by an overnight Volvo – a company called Ashok travels. Surprisingly it actually started on time and was quite decent. I reached Ujjain the next day, before noon. Continue reading
One of my first Lighthouse visits was the Kaup Beach Lighthouse near Udupi in Konkan Karnataka. I took a local bus from Udupi going towards Mangalore and got down at the small town. There was this Mariamma temple opposite the bus stand,
As I have mentioned earlier in my Berlin to Copenhagen cycle story that from Stubbekobing to Stege was the maddest day in the entire cycling trip! I wanted to cycle 70-80 km that day but managed a very hard 25 km. It was too windy! Later when I checked the weather, I figured the winds had been 45km/hr that day. This windy meant that if I put my cycle on the stand it will topple, if I am cycling at the side of the road I get pushed into the middle of the road, when going downhill I need to peddle, peddle hard!
At all times the wind was pushing at me from every direction. There are no glass windows like in a car or a strong helmet with a screen in a motorbike. It is just me and my cycle. #Phew that was one hard day but also awesome – I had never experienced nature in all its magnanimity. 🙂Continue reading
It is odd that this blog of mine hardly has anything about Mysore, considering that it was my favourite city to visit for years… so it is only fitting to write about it now in my Unexpectedly Awesome place series. In the first post I wrote about the Western Ghats and here I will write about the Mysore Lakes – the two most unexpectedly awesome spots in Mysore.
Everyone has heard of Mysore, so I am sure you would have too. 🙂
Usually people talk about visiting the Mysore Palace or the Vrindavan Gardens. But there’s more,Continue reading
It is fascinating to visit a place and find it unexpectedly awesome! Old thoughts, old expectations, understanding of the land, all get questioned. A new respect and appreciation for beauty grows in my heart every time I come across such a place. So here is a series of posts on the lesser known places which turned out to be one of the best places I have visited.
The ‘Ghats’ had always been an unpleasant word for me as it meant hours spent in a vehicle that keeps going around hilly bends in the road leading to nausea and motion sickness. Now a days that I am traveling out of passion this motion sickness has become much more bearable, as I am so excited about the place I am going to.
The 3 lovely days I spent at the Kumbh Mela in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik were a truly unique experience. I was thinking of going with a few friends but they were busy with some work, so went on my own. Usually I travel solo but for the Kumbh Mela I was a bit concerned. Not concerned about safety, but Indian religious activities are not very supportive of single people. For eg: None of the older religious ashrams would give a room to a single person – guy or girl.
The auto driver I was chatting with said that there have been couple of stories where single people came to stay and they committed suicide. So everyone is scared to give rooms to single people. I hear such stories at many different places – I don’t know how true they are. What is sure is that most older religious organizations won’t give you a room if you are a solo traveller.
So as I got off the government bus at Trimbakeshwar in pouring rains and cold winds, I knew finding accommodation would be a challenge so I had already looked up a Kumbh Camp with a female dormitory online and had confirmed vacancy. So I was walking in the general direction of that camp and in a very short while I was completely drenched. All of a sudden from behind comes a voice like that of an old friend,
Voice: Which standard are you studying in? (in Marathi)
Me: Ehhh… huh?
The couple: You are in college or school?
Me: I have a business in Mumbai
The Couple: Ohh which business
Me: Online Marketing
Husband: My wife is also looking for a job
Me: Uhh…. So are you getting a job? Or no? (Addressing the wife)
This was a couple from Mumbai. The husband was a police officer who had come down to Nashik for duty as part of a 10,000 strong force called in for Kumbh management. The conversation then turned into a banter about how the husband refused to help his wife train and get a job in the Police too. I chipped in my advise to the husband that “yes, you should train her, after all she is your wife” 😉
These kind of crazy things happen while traveling. Then the couple suggested me some places to stay. A Gajanan ashram. They probably didn’t know that these ashram types don’t give accommodation to single people. I later checked out the Gajanan ashram – which is a lovely place to stay with a clean bhojnalaya but No Solo Travellers Please! If going with family this may be a really good option, it is right opposite the city bus stand.
So onwards – I thought of checking out other ashrams just in case they have a different policy for the Kumbh. Surely single foreigners have come down to witness this religious fare! Anyway visited Swami Samarth ashram – they promptly told me they were full and confirmed to me that no ashram will take in single traveller. He also said that female dorm is probably quite unsafe, better you take a hotel in the town.
Used to these kind of conversations I just trudged along – more than completely drenched but so excited – I was at the Kumbh Mela!
As I was walking two saffron clad babas came my way and one of them welcomed me to join them. I had no idea why. He started a conversation,
Where are you from?
Our akhada is also from Mumbai. In Nalasopara (or something). What do you want to see here?
Acha … our swami from so n so akhada is also going to the temple. You can just join us. You won’t have to stand in Q n all. We have cars. Indica, Alto…
Err…. Currently I am going elsewhere…
Arey don’t worry. It is all safe. You stay with our Maas n other ladies. It is no problem.
Err… I am going on my way now… will contact you later
Ok. What is your number?
Err… (gave number)
Some more banter and I left the fellow.
Later the baba gave me 25 missed calls that day. I messaged and told him ‘Don’t call me’. He didn’t reply to the message but the next day he gave me another 8 missed calls.
I have absolutely no idea what that was about.
I had a good laugh on it with my dorm roomies. Yes, I reached the dorm and it was good – a lot more basic than I anticipated but manageable and really safe. Overall a better experience in many ways to a private room in a hotel. Staying with the other women in the dorm added to my Kumbh experience. They were attending the nearby Swami Nithyananda Shibir and I got to know quite a bit about that path by the end of the 3 days. Listening to these people reminded me of my days when I stayed at an ashram too. The conversations within different spiritual paths are very similar, just different jargon. I went with them for Dinner to the Gajanan ashram bhojnalaya. Very clean and hygienic place.
Day Two: Explore Trimbakeshwar!
The next day I explored Trimbakeshwar! It is a really small town, and I enjoyed strolling around. The management had done a really good job and most places were clean. The crowds were only at some spots – around the temple and main Kushavrat ghat. The other lanes and places were not crowded at all.
I went and saw another Ahilya ghat, which was completely empty but so picturesque with the western ghats in the background. Lovely place to take a dip on a non-important day.
From there I walked to the Panchayati Nirvana Akhada. Yes, I had put that whole missed-call-baba incident away. So I visited this akhada and another baba this one completely coated with ash and dreadlocks welcomed me. He invited me to some food and water in the bhojnalaya if I wished. He explained it was because all guests are always welcomed, Atithi devo bhav. This was a good time for me to ask lots of questions to him about his path and all but my mind went blank – this is a very common phenomenon with me. Some other baba in some other place had told me this happens when people with a higher level of awareness are near. Maybe. I don’t know.
I visited their temple. Nice, quiet place with many other babas with long hair sitting around. It was all very intriguing. I have had previous such interactions but otherwise just the fact that these ash smeared babas with dreadlocks are actually well educated and speak impeccably can be a huge surprise by itself.
Finally headed back to my dorm to see what the others were upto. There one lady who had taken up bhramacharya as a trial (her path had that option) had some work. So my dorm friend and me helped her out with her work. I asked her about various aspects of bhramacharya. Does the organization pay the expenses of people who take up “trial bhramacharya”. What happens if a committed sanyasi quits & so on. I find these details about different paths very interesting.
That evening roomie and me decided to visit the temple. As we figured the temple line was small at the time. The police outside said it would take about 1 n half hour. We were in for a shock because the line seen from outside was about 1 and a half hour but there was a whole other section inside which was way longer. So we ended up standing for over 4 hours in the line! Finally we made it inside just when the temple aarti was starting. It was a truly enchanting experience because that temple is really incredible and with the aarti going on, it was an enthralling experience.
What really touched me was that standing in such a packed area in a line with people from completely different backgrounds could have been an unpleasant experience. But somehow we all bonded with each other. There were some conversations and smiles and empathy passed around. By the time we reached the temple sanctum sanctorum it was a close knit group. This meant so much to me. While it was difficult the long line and wait – it really didn’t feel that much at all. In other circumstances I would have gotten claustrophobic and left midway but to experience such a situation with love and kindness – I attribute this to the Trimbakeshwar Temple energy!
We exited the temple only around 10pm, had a quick dinner and wrapped up for the day.
Day 3: Ramkund & Tapovan, Nashik
My dorm roomies left early next morning. I went to the temple for another visit, early at 6.30am. At this time there was only a 1 hour waiting. Again an ethereal morning spent in this beautiful temple. I even got to sit in the garbhagriha for a few moments. So powerful.
After that, I wanted to attend the Swami Ramdev Shibir which took place everyday from 5.00 to 7.30am. But it was too late for that. So I took the government bus back to Nashik to explore the ghat there called – Ramkund.
This Kumbh Mela is unique because it gets split up. The shaivites are at Trimbakeshwar with the incredible temple but smaller ghats. The Vaishnavites are at Ram kund – a huge ghat and many other temples. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time at Trimbakeshwar, I now wanted to see the Nashik part.
There were some people at Ramkund taking dips and doing pooja, but considering that the ghat is really huge it was mostly empty. At about 11am the loud speakers on Ram kund crackled on and they started reciting the Bhagvad Gita in Hindi. It was lovely to sit by the Godavari river and ponder on the Bhagvad Gita. Only the river was quite dirty but overall everything was way better than I expected.
From there I headed to Tapovan. Apparently there were “many temples” to visit there. I didn’t really see any temples but strolled around in the park which is supposed to be the remnants of an historically important ‘Dandakaranya’ forest. This is where Rama, Sita and Lakshman spent time in their vanvaas. There is a confluence point of Godavari with river Kapila here. Sadly it was utterly filthy.
The vaishnav akhadas camped in the Tapovan area but I didn’t see much of their camp. Maybe it was somewhere else. There was another ghat area here at Tapovan. So taking a dip in Nashik would be a much more relaxed experience. They had really prepared well for this big event.
Having overall gotten an idea of the Kumbh Mela I took my leave of the place and headed back to Mumbai. I am really looking forward to being part of another one, probably the next one that is happening in 2016 in Ujjain & Haridwar. Now I will gladly plan to go during the important shahi snan days too. I just hope it will be as well managed.
In case you are planning to go to a kumbh mela and are looking for tips, this other blog I have written especially for solo travellers would help.
Today October 2nd, 2015 is the 146th birth anniversay of Mahatma Gandhi. Here is a quick photo post on my visit to the Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad earlier this year. This was Gandhijis home from 1917 to 1930 and a central hub of the Indian freedom struggle
I had been wanting to visit this place for a while and was so glad to get a chance. Surprisingly the ashram was a lot on the lines of what I had imagined – quiet, serene and earthy.
Spend an afternoon here. Gandhiji is an iconic Indian. What he achieved via non-violence is remarkable. Looking into his thoughts and life stories can be inspirational.
For Mumbai-kars Matheran is a household word. At home, the talk of a short getaway from Mumbai usually starts with Lonavala or Matheran. So when my family decides to go to Matheran during a long weekend this Summer, I was quite skeptical. I presumed there would be crowds and I wasn’t sure it would really be much cooler than the utterly HOT & humid city. But since everyone was majorly excited I succumbed.
Surprise, surprise but Matheran was not just deliciously cool but quite low on tourist traffic. We got rooms easily at a well placed resort at decent rates – 1800/- per person, per night incl food – and the market wasn’t too crowded either. So I must say, I really enjoyed this Summer weekend in Matheran and as usual I could spend a lot more days here just gallivanting around. 😉
To the uninitiated who haven’t been to Matheran before (probably you aren’t from Mumbai… or are living seriously under a big rock in Mumbai) the charm of Matheran is in many experiences. Walking on the unpaved, hilly paths amidst lush forests. The natural laterite (red) mud that sticks to everything you are wearing and your shoes needing a serious wash when you get back. The entire town being a No-vehicle zone so your transport choices are either horses, hand carriages or your own feet. Being wary of the truly, aggressive monkeys all the time – they may just jump on you and snatch food from your hands – literally.
I find that apart from the Mumbaikars, there is surprisingly less chatter about people from afar visiting this place. Considering this is Asia’s only vehicle-free hill station, and so charming a place, I feel there needs to be a lot more buzz about it. Even for those of us who have frequented this place often, here are some interesting activities that help us see this quaint and charming hill station in a whole new light.
Get lost in the red Earth, forest roads
Matheran has a lot of ‘points’. Louisa point, Sunset point and so on. Go on a walking trail on your own… try reaching some of these points as you can. But don’t worry about getting lost in these trails. If you get a weekend that is not crowded, as I did, then you can really get lost in these woods. The sign boards are non-existent. So you may choose to wait at a crossroad for someone to come by, who can guide you or you can just pick a direction. This actually happened to us and was really fun. We went off in another direction for a while… but then realized this didn’t seem right, so turned back.
Usually if you keep following a random track either you find yourself at some “point” or you find yourself back in the market, through some small red path that you had never noticed before. It is like all roads lead to the Matheran market 🙂
Spend a quiet evening in the Bazaar & Observe the local culture
As we had a quiet weekend with hardly any crowds, the bazaar was very enjoyable. I specifically tried out a few Maharashtrian dishes.
What I had not noticed on my earlier visits was that, there were so many religions hodgepodged into that little market. There is a big Hindu temple and quite nearby is a Mosque. Then down the lane is a Jain temple. There is also a Parsi market. I found it all very interesting…
Another piece of culture in Matheran are the chappal sellers. Apparently these chappal sellers of Matheran used to make leather chappals as their family craft and these chappals were well known. Now however no one wants to pay for them… every one wants the cheaper outside chappals. Also there are way too many chappal shops in that market – that can’t be good.
So observing and listening to the people can really bring up so many stories of peoples lives.
Find out Local stories
The market place as I described earlier is chock full of interesting matters. Strike a conversation with the locals and find out some stories! Knowing the stories, legends, realities and myths of a place can helps us know and understand it better.
Here is one such story that I found out,
The Matheran market is called ‘Pisarnath market’ after the local deity Pisarnath. People from all over the area come frequently and worship at this Shiva temple. It is the village deity. The temple is located at Louisa point, on the banks of Charlotte lake. As the story goes, a person was roaming around the forests of Matheran and he came across a natural linga – often known as swayambhu or self-forming linga under a grove of Pisar (Marathi name) trees. So he started taking care of that linga and worshiping it. Slowly this deity became popular amongst the other people in the village. I guess due to some miracles and such that may have ensued, people started believing in this deity.
In the shops of Matheran you will forget that Chikki is typically made of Jaggery and Groundnut. There is a whole gamut of Chikkis here – different colours, different texture, different flavours and a wide variety of ingredients. So go to these shops and try out a few. 🙂
Try out a new Look
Travel is a chance to be a whole new person. Matheran somehow always incites me to try a new look. There are a whole bunch of hats and caps available. Even horse riding attire and gear is available and commonly worn by people who are seriously into horse riding. So try out a new look!
Hiking & trekking
There are many trekking routes in Matheran. I have personally never trekked as usually I am there with family but you can search around. There is a trekking route from Neral to Matheran – I have wanted to do this for a while, but not got a chance yet.
Long walks and hikes as I also mentioned earlier are easily possible. You can take any of the forest paths and keep walking… even after frequent visits there will be more paths to discover. 🙂
I asked another traveller from Mumbai, Deepika Gumaste to share some of her thoughts about Matheran. She visited Matheran quite recently, just one weekend before me in fact. 🙂
Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, there are a lot of weekend places I have traveled to. One that always scared me was Matheran, only because of the notorious “too touristy” tag that it has earned over the years. But eventually, I took the leap of faith, just because I had exhausted all my weekender options and it turns out that Matheran is fun, if tried in some other way than the usual ones, otherwise it’s just too crowded and not enjoyable. The best season to visit Matheran off course is the rainy season, but because I wanted to do something different, I went there before the onset of monsoons. The touristy greens were yet brown and prudish. I hiked from Dasturi to Matheran. All along the healthy horses, rustle of dried leaves and the toy train keep you great company. – Deepika
Thanks for your thoughts Deepika! Matheran is definitely a lot of fun, especially when doing something a bit different!
How to get there?
So to get to this awesome-schmosome place, you need to get to Neral. A little town about 2 hrs from Mumbai. Local Central Line trains are easily and frequently available from Mumbai & I guess Pune also. I have never traveled here from Pune. Once you reach Neral you can get the iconic toy train – but you need to book well in time otherwise it may get full. I have been in the toy train few times before, but it gets too packed, so I rather prefer taking a car or hiking up. There is a also a trekking route that takes you from Neral to Matheran.
If you take a vehicle it takes you up to Dasturi. From Dasturi you need to buy a ticket into Matheran and then you can take a hand-carriage or horse to Matheran. I suggest you just walk it up from Dasturi to Matheran – it is a lovely 20 mins walk through the lush green forests, near the toy train tracks. Just take care not to carry foods openly – cause it is sure to attract the monkeys.
If you have taken the toy train, then it will drop you right at Matheran town so no awesome walk from Dasturi to Matheran for you. 😉
And don’t forget….
The laterite red Earth of Matheran will inevitably leave its marks on you 😉 Every time we return from an outing to Matheran – all the clothes and shoes are rounded up and washed separately from anything else because they leak Red dirt. So pack clothes that let you enjoy with out worrying about spoiling them.
Also the monkeys were really aggressive. So keep foods inside the bag at all times. You won’t know when they are near and will grab it from your hand.
Re-looking at our history is one of the things I love about traveling. So many little nuances of places strike you when you are actually there. Like I may not have imagined the pride of the Hoysala kingdom without going to the Belur & Halebeedu temples. Imagine finding ruins of Kishkindha from Ramayana stories in present village of Anegundi near Hampi!
So, when I first went to Mysore, I was very excited because it was Tipu Sultan’s city. I had grown up watching Tipu Sultan on television and remember his valour and courage against the British tyranny, and how he finally got betrayed. Yes, TV ends up influencing way too much. Anyway much later I realised that Mysore was actually ruled by the Wodeyars – who apparently were fairly good rulers, even though they were allies of the British? While Tipu Sultan’s main city would be Srirangapatna just 15 km away! The whole history of Mysore & and its surrounding areas is worth a good read and I still don’t understand half of it. Apparently the true kings – the Wodeyars were just puppets during Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan’s reign? But again like I said need to read more on this.
When I went to Mysore for their famous Dasara (or Dussera festival) celebrations in 2013, I took the chance to visit Srirangapatna. This was one tiring day – I was on my feet for over 10 hours, by the time I reached back to my hostel I could not stand anymore and just collapsed on the bed, truly!
Srirangapatna is unique as a ‘Fort City’. This means that the entire city was built inside a fort… so as you enter you are first greeted by Fort walls, canons and other old military fortifications. Even the ruins of these fortifications are quite impressive. The area inside is decent, clean and green albeit a little confusing as there are some ruins and then some newly made constructions so I am not clear what is what.
Sorry for the photo over exposure. Often as I am traveling I just stop clicking pictures as I am absorbed in the place….. this is one such trip – most pictures haven’t been clicked and the ones that are, are over-exposed. 😉
So I will actually source pictures from elsewhere so you get an idea about the place.
Surprisingly I was first greeted by a Jain temple. I always find it fascinating to find Jain temples in various unsuspecting corners of the country. So I visited it, drank water, cleaned my feet and looked around. It was an interesting architecture, different from the usual Jain temples. A mix of south Indian architecture and Jainism stuff. Here you can take a look at some of the pictures here – if you know about Jain culture then you will be able to get the very South Indian flavour of this temple.
Further in the city we come to the famous Ranganathswamy temple, this is a Vishnu temple. I looked at it from outside, but I had enough of temples so I gave it a skip. I walked around the town a bit and it is a lovely, quiet little place. Every now and then there are some ruins with placards stating this was so-n-so spot in the reign of Tipu Sultan. There are some wells, and place where his body is found and royal garden and so on.
Interestingly there were two very ancient temples I came to. There were many old people sitting outside – like a typical small town situation where the village elder men come and sit in a spot – gossiping and chit chatting. So I asked them how old is this temple? Most of them didn’t know English…. only one guy knew a bit so he rumbled a lot in Kannada and then went like “800” years. Hehe. I checked online and it seems no one has written about these temples maybe cause they were pretty derelict.
So that was fun. I visited that one temple, also No photography. There were many little forks in the road… so I realised there was a lot to explore in this quiet town. Moreover, there are also many areas to explore on the other side of town …. this is on the other side of the highway. I didn’t go there, instead I went to a bird sanctuary!
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is just a few kms away.
Srirangapatna to Ranganathittu is a fairly easy bus ride. You can get many buses from the Srirangapatna bus stop which drops you at a bus stop which is 15-20 mins from the bird sanctuary. You need to walk from this stop to the sanctuary gates. Some people may take rickshaws from here. I didn’t bother… I like walking. The road passes right by the river and hence quite green.
I wasn’t sure how it might be going alone, as this was my first bird sanctuary on my own. The ticket guy seemed a bit amused when I just walked in (as most people came in vehicles) and asked for one ticket. 😉
Overall, I had a great time here. The place is lush green and cool. There are many nice spots to just sit and enjoy. Probably due to Dasara there were quite a few people here even though it was October, off season for the sanctuary. The best time visit here is March to May. But I love nature and the green environment of the bird sanctuary. There is cafe which serves odd, Indian version of a lot of interesting dishes 😉
There is also a kids area for them to play around. The highlight is a boat ride which takes us closer to the bird and crocodile areas. So we pretty much saw lots and lots of one type of water bird, mainly these white ones,
We also saw crocodiles up close, basking in the sun. It was quite fun… as I have never seen so many of them, just comfortably basking in front of us. The boat took us very close to one of them… was fun…
So after spending a while here… I headed back to Srirangapatna. But here many of the places were closed as it was already evening. The town started getting quite deserted as tourists head back. I seem to have missed out seeing quiet a few of the places here in this sleepy town – so another trip is mandated. 😉
I am anyway a slow traveler, and like visiting places impromptu, I miss out on some good places because of that, but then I end up seeing and experiencing other stuff so I guess that is fine. I also end up spending quite a bit of time on nice spots… like I spent almost 4 hrs in Ranganathittu… part of it just sitting around and observing the the foliage, the birds, animals and the play of nature. 🙂
But there are many places I didn’t explore here…. in fact I could write a whole bucket list of those places.
1) Triveni Sangam: Holy rivers – Kaveri, Kabini & Hemavati confluence is just somewhere around Srirangapatnam
2) Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, Gol Gumbaz – and many other ruins. There were sign boards at the highway… so I guess I would explore the other side of town too.
3) Roam around the city a bit more and explore the various forks in the road I saw. If possible connect with a local to tell me more about it…
Have you been to Srirangapatna? If you haven’t I do recommend it when you are in the area… it is quite enchanting. Ranganathittu – I suggest go in the right season… because people who, really want to ‘see’ a lot of things for their trips to be worthwhile, might not really enjoy here in off season.