Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail, Taipei 

When I explored the Taipei Google map the Elephant Hiking Trail seemed on the outskirts of the city. But as I rode towards it I found that it is amidst a whole lot of tourist attractions including the skyrise Taipei 101, city hall and Dr Sun Yet San  Memorial.

This hill right by the town is called Elephant mountain due to a protruding section which reminds people of the elephants trunk.

(sorry for the large watermarks. I am writing many of these posts on the road from my mobile, so often don’t realize if the watermark looks too big or if the formatting is off until I sit on a desktop somewhere)


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Biking Australia, Ride 3: Back To Atisha Buddhist Centre (Bad Weather)

It was really tough to take the decision of turning back. I kept wondering if I was chickening out. But I realized one thing very clearly – I don’t have gear for cold and wet climate. That’s all. That was the main reason I turned back.

To give you a synopsis the weather became really wet. It rained – a lot, and the reservoirs, rivers all across Victoria were flooding or close to flooding. Moreover in Inglewoods I saw a rain shower that lasted only for 15 minutes but it was so hard!! Like some sort of cloudburst. It freaked me & that shower brought water into my tent as well, luckily I pulled out my sleeping gear just in time and rushed into the caravan that the motel owners thankfully gave me for no extra cost. I stayed in the caravan for 2-3 days. Part of those days the roads were closed, and no one could say what would happen as this weather was just very unusual for this region!Continue reading

Budapest In 15 Snapshots [Photos]

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,

Budapest
A view of the city divided by the River Danube. Pest on the right side and Buda on the left. These two cities were merged to form the Hungarian capital Budapest. 

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Kumbh Mela: Ujjain Simhasth, May 2016, Photos

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

Fanefjord Church on a Really Windy Day! #Berlin2Copenhagen

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

Unexpectedly Awesome Places in India #2: Mysore Lakes

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

Unexpectedly Awesome places in India #1: Western Ghats

westernghatsIt 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.

WESTERN GHATS

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.

Yet I had not particularly noticed them – the brilliant Western Ghats. The beauty of these Ghats hit me to the core only at this secluded spot in the forest at Dandeli,Continue reading

Travelogue: My Kumbh Mela Story @ Trimbakeshwar, Nashik

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.

Trimbakeshwar
Temple at Gajanan Ashram.
Maharashtrian Breakfast
12 INR for Poha and Tea breakfast at Gajanan ashram bhojnalaya, Trimbakeshwar

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?
Mumbai
Traveling alone?
yep
Our akhada is also from Mumbai. In Nalasopara (or something). What do you want to see here?
Err…. Temple
Which temple?
Jyotirlinga
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.

This is how crowded it got. Quiet manageable & I went to other ghat areas which were quite empty. So would be a lovely experience to take a dip in quiet and solitude.
This is how crowded it got. Quiet manageable & I went to other ghat areas which were quite empty. So would be a lovely experience to take a dip in quiet and solitude.

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.

Trimbakeshwar
Ahilya ghat, amidst the beautiful western ghat hills. The rains made it all the more ethereal!

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.

Trimbakeshwar
Visiting the Panchayati Nirvana Akhada Bada Udasin – Temple
Kumbh Mela
Well managed, clean streets of Trimbakeshwar
Trimbakeshwar, Nashik
A mosque nestled amongst the trees

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!

Kumbh Mela
Long line to enter the temple. If you go early morning till about 8am the lines are a lot less!
Trimbakeshwar Temple
The lovely Trimbakeshwar Temple!

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.

Trimbakeshwar Temple
Trimbakeshwar Temple early morning

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.

Kumbh Mela
Ram ghat, Nashik

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.

Ram Ghat, Nashik
Hanuman idol at Ram Ghat, Nashik
Kumbh Mela, Nashik
A mural depicting the story behind Kumbh Mela. The Asuras & Devas churning the ocean for a pot of Amrit or elixir

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.

Tapovan, Nashik
Panoramic view. From the left flows the Kapila while Godavari meets it from the right. It is a nice place and river confluences are interesting to explore. Too much filth though.
2015-09-22 11.34.17
A pooja going on at the Tapovan Godavari-Kapila sangam point

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.

2015-09-21 09.12.01
The only real ‘baba’ photo I took. I am a really reticent photographer. And I asked their permission before clicking, they were happy to oblige. 🙂

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.

Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati – Photo Essay

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.

Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad
The iconic quote by Gandhiji that inspires us to live true to our values and inspiration so that even our lives can be the message of what we truly value!
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
Hridayakunja – Gandhijis house. A very earthy, traditional Indian cottage. Clean and spartan.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
An event was taking place when I went there. One of the older and prominent Gandhian had passed away a few days back. This was the prayer assembly for him.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
Pigeons, mynas and squirrels create a nature-friendly environment. There were a lot of people when I went there and the prayer event as well, but on a quiet afternoon it can provide solitude
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
The lovely Sabarmati river promenade in the Gandhi Ashram. The river flowing placidly by the ashram gives the place a serene ambiance.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
At the entrance.

 

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.