September 26, 2008

Sky Watch Friday: VoF

Sky Watch Blog

Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand, India - July 2008

The Valley of Flowers is a high altitude Himalayan valley renowned for its diverse alpine flora, meadows and natural beauty. The highest point of the Valley of Flowers National Park is Gauri Parbat at 6,719 m above sea level is covered with clouds in this photograph. Located in the upper regions of Garhwal in Uttarakhand, the Valley is inaccessible through much of the year.

Last week's SWF is here.

September 21, 2008

A Morning Stroll in Haridwar and Religious Zeal

I boarded the Mussorie Express from Delhi a little before 9 pm. In the air-conditioned compartment of the train, I chatted with my fellow travellers and co-passengers until around midnight and then caught up on a few hours of sleep on the berth in the solace of pillows and blankets provided by the railways. Before long, I was in Haridwar, the place believed by every pious Hindu as the ‘Doorway to the House of the Lord.’


I am in enchanting Haridwar. The scenes I come across captivate me. I am aware that Haridwar is a place of congregation of pilgrims, yet I did not expect as large a gathering. My fellow travellers who have passed through Haridwar on previous trips explain that such a large crowd is because of the Kanwarias season.

I have to be patient and need some skill to make way through the crowded and dismal streets lined with shops on both sides. I walk along with locals and pilgrims - both young and old - and in that pandemonium, I find a cow being given solemn attention.

On another road near the bridge, I come across people being transported on all types of vehicles, many in packed buses, more in tuk-tuks, a few on scooters, and some more on moving trucks filled with cargo, and through it all, I espy police mounted on horses. Many more cover the distance by foot, and I find some eating and relaxing at road side eateries.

When compared to pilgrims, the tourists are far and few and I can recognize them easily. My slightly jutting-out elbows and backpack help me a wee bit to get a little extra breathing space as I walk through the streets with the huge mass of moving bodies. It gets more crowded as I approach Hari-ki-Pauri.

Upon reaching the ghats, I am taken aback at what I see. The ghats are bursting with bare feet pilgrims. At the Hari-ki-Pauri, I am now a witness to the ghats being witness to the most number of dips in the Holy River. I get the feeling it is not the old temples but these people who contribute to the spiritual essence of the town. In the dream-like enchanting scene unfolding before me, I do not feel am a mere bystander, instead I become a part of it.

Some recently painted while other ancient towers line the banks. Through these, I view stupefied at the sheer mass of so many human bodies conglomerated together in one place early morning.

To witness the fervor of the pilgrims is amazing. To learn about Kanwarias and their aspirations itself is a surprise to me and then to think that some of them undertake the long arduous return journey home bare feet, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles, is another thing.

I watch in astonishment as a few pilgrims go through a continuous motion of prostrating on the ground, stretching their arms as much as they can, while their partners walk alongside assisting them by marking the point where their stretched fingers reach with a wooden stick. The pilgrim then starts from the marked point onwards for the next round in the same way. All this through the thronging crowded streets. What a painfully difficult and slow journey it is!

I am more surprised to learn that this slow motion journey repeats for days, sometimes weeks, until they cover several miles traversing this way right up to their homes. Because of the drizzle, I find the ground is mucky, yet they journey home horizontally, with exceptional perseverance and steadfastness. Their voluntary doggedness is unbelievable. Their actions speak volumes of their religious zeal and devotion.

I find pilgrims in every nook and corner moving from one holy site to another. It is drizzling now but I do not bother to take cover, nor do any of the pilgrims collected there. After all, they have travelled all the way for a dip in the Holy Ganges to seek absolution.

I notice the strong flowing current of diverted section of the holy river, Ganga. As they wade into the waters, most bathers hold on to sturdy chains bolted to the concrete walls. There are a few brave souls who dare to swim! Many undergo the rituals in reverence: praying, prostrating in obeisance, dipping themselves and drinking from the holy river.

A few people are there, who have come to perform last rites of their dearly departed. Then there are some, with saffron robes and long beards living there, having broken free from the bondage of a worldly life.

I can see many elderly pilgrims. In spite of their frail health, they have undertaken a journey to their holiest place – a place they consider as the most auspicious of all lands. After all, it is the place for them where they believe Vishnu first manifested in this world. For many pilgrims in Haridwar, just being present there is a fulfillment of one of their most cherished desires. They are there to carry out their last wish to visit this holy site. Some of them are not even sure if they are capable of a return journey home. At times, death at the ghats is taken in the right stride, as if dying at the banks of the holy river is as good as dying at the doorway of Hari, as the name implicates.

The vigor and enthusiasm that I discover in the pilgrims astounds me. I watch religious fervor infusing new energy into their fragile bodies and filling them up with a certain vitality. The spirit of devotion is so visible in most pilgrims and in some, it is in abundance!

Haridwar is enigmatic!


Haridwar is accessible through air, rail and road. The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant in Dehradun, 35 kms away. It is well connected by trains to almost all major cities in India. The Mussorie Express and Jan Shatabdi train services run regularly from Delhi to Haridwar. National Highway 45 passes through Haridwar which is about 215 kms from Delhi.

Some recent related posts:

September 19, 2008

Sky Watch Friday

The Sky Watch Blog can be found here.

A pilgrim after a dip in the Holy Ganga

Haridwar is a place located in the Himalayan range through which The Ganges (River Ganga) flows. To pious Hindus, it is an auspicious place where penitent pilgrims bathe in the holy river and in doing so, believe in absolution of their sins.

September 16, 2008


At the Badrinath Temple

Seize the day, and put the least possible trust in tomorrow.
- Horace

September 14, 2008

Gastronomic Delights

Street Food near Juma Masjid, Delhi

During my last trip to India, I had some yummy food and that included Bisi Bele Bhaath, Vada Pav, Pav Bhaaji, Kesari Bhaath, Holige (Puranpoli), Kaju Barfi, Pedas, and add to that delicious thick sweet Lassi.

Journeying through just Karnataka and Maharashtra, I was able to relish Delhi style Chole Baturae, Punjabi Dal Makhani, Keralite Fish Curry, Sikkimese Momos, Madhya Pradesh type Daal Baati, Gujarati Dhokla, and Tamil Nadu style Sambhar.
And a lovely way to end each meal with either Bengali Mishti Doi, or Marathi style Shrikhand.

At Karim's

Indian cuisine varies from place to place. It reflects the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse subcontinent. The beauty of India is that a person does not have to be in one particular state or region to enjoy the cuisine of that state. A variety of food is available almost in every town and city.

What is your favourite of the above food items?

Dining room of the Scindias, Gwalior


Recent Posts:

September 11, 2008

Monsoon Magic

Continuation of my post titled:

Lonavala, and Karla Caves

2. Valvan Dam

Hardly 2 kms away from the heart of Lonavala is the area from where it is a peaceful walk to the Valvan Dam. The huge Dam is fed by the Kundali river. The large water body has a beautiful greenish-blue tinge to it. Photography is not allowed.

On one side at the bottom is a neatly kept garden adorned with a wide variety of colourful flowers and other plants. The Khopoli power station sources a major portion of its water from this Dam.

3. Whispering Woods and Shivaji Udhyan

The Reywood Whispering Woods with a park has sprawling gardens, tall trees and spacious open spaces. It began to rain as I reached these woods. Without an umbrella or any rainy wear, I got partly soaked in the showers. For some reason, I decided to cut short my walk in the Whispering Woods.

4. Bushy Dam

Pulling off my sneakers, it was fun wading uphill to the Dam through the overflowing waters of the Bushy Dam but it was not easy to walk bare feet through the stony paths. Though swimming is not allowed at the Dam, a few did manage to pass through the barricade and jump into the deep waters for a swim.

Soon it started raining cats and dogs. The downpour revived many memories of rainy days of the past. It was a pleasant time listening to the blissful sounds of the rain with a good cup of tea in a nearby shack.

At one point, even though the showers were continuing relentlessly, I decided to walk back fully aware I’d be drenched in no time. I liked the feel of the rainfall on my face as I lifted it ever so slightly, and shortly I was fully soaked in it like parched earth does after a long summer drought. At times, rainfall can be celebratory and the feeling of getting drenched in it is sublime!

5. Bhaja Caves

The Bhaja caves are also Buddhist caves similar to Karla Caves with the same Chaitya style but on a smaller scale. It was another climb of half hour or so to reach the Bhaja caves through a pleasant drizzle. I understand why people enjoy trekking in the rainy season.

Close to the main entrance are some stupas, few inside and most of them outside the caves. Close by was a small natural waterfall where a group of youngsters were chilling out in the cascading waters.

The view from the top of the surrounding hills that were the stronghold of the erstwhile Maratha rulers is delightful. Far in the distance in the opposite hills, I could see two forts: Visarpur Fort and the Lohagad Fort. A trek to the top of Lohagad Fort and return is something that I have been longing for a while, but for lack of time I had return to Mumbai next morning. So that will be another trek, another day...


The return journey of approximately two hours by a luxury Volvo bus to Mumbai through the Pune-Mumbai expressway was comfortable. Beautiful scenery of green hills and vast fields can be enjoyed all the way back, however, upon reaching Panvel, I felt it was like getting back into the concrete jungle. The spirit of Janmashtami was being celebrated on the streets of Mumbai and they were delightful sights.

Lonavala is not directly connected by Air but it is well connected by Rail and Road links. The railway stations of Lonavala and Khandala have the trains from Mumbai (110 Kms) and Pune (66 Kms). Trains halt at both Khandala and Lonavala. The Mumbai-Bangalore National Highway connecting western and southern India passes through Khandala-Lonavala.

Related Posts:

September 9, 2008

Lonavala, and Karla Caves

Known as the Jewel of the Sahyadhris, Lonavala is at an altitude of 625 m asl while its twin town, Khandala, is slightly lower. The place has cool and pleasant weather through most of the year. Around 1811 the British developed Lonavala and Khandala as hill resorts.

Monsoon paints the Sahyadri region in different hues of green. The scenery everywhere was that of verdant hills and gentle valleys with pristine woods and many beautiful cascading waterfalls.

I caught the evening train from Dadar and reached Lonavala railway station 130 kms away in approximately two hours. A late evening autorickshaw ride reached me to the MTDC resort in Karla.

The resort is spread over quite a large area and has many cottages and a small water park. River Indrayani flows touching the boundaries of the resort. I could not find much of activity at the resort except finding a few people dining at the restaurant and generally chilling out in the lovely weather. I have been to better resorts elsewhere, however, the cottage I was assigned was sufficient for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Prime attractions in Lonavala and Khandala are many. The ones I chose to visit were:

1. Karla Caves

Karla Dweller

The first thing on the agenda in the morning, after a good breakfast, was to proceed towards the historic Karla Caves, about 12 kms away.

Path to climb to the Karla Caves

With clean and crisp air enveloping me, I particularly enjoyed the 40-45 minute climb up the hill offering scenic views of Lonavala and Khandala in the distance.

A scene from atop

Upon reaching the top at Karla caves, the first impression that I got was that the place was not maintained well. I am not sure if part of the mess around was because of the monsoon season.

Entrance to the Chaitya

The rock cut caves built in 80 BC is a good sight but I was kind of surprised to find that the structure was almost blocked at the entrance of the principal cave by a temple named after goddess Ekveera.

Entrance, with Temple to the right

The caves of Karla, being the largest of the Buddhist caves in the country, reminded me of the rock cut caves of Udaigiri in Madhya Pradesh, and those at Petra in Jordan though the beauty of the latter is quite different.

Rock cut art

Close to the entrance of the main hall, Chaitya, stands a huge pillar with lion carvings similar to the ones I found in the Asoka Pillar in Sanchi.


The outer walls of the cave have walls outlined with carvings of couples and elephants.

Chaitya Griha

What I found remarkable about the main cave is its arched roof supported by wooden beams. In spite of it being more than 2000 years old, the wooden roof has survived the onslaught of elements and seemed to be in amazingly good condition. It was a pleasant feeling at the Chaitya because of the effect that natural light created there. The diffused light and shadows created a sense of solemnity to the place.

Main Hall


While descending, I admired the verdant hills and thought of the proximity of this place to Mumbai. Just a couple of hours travel away from bustling Mumbai and it’s so easy to land in a place of rolling hills abounding in peace and tranquility!

to be continued...

Related Post: Singing in the Rain

September 5, 2008

24 Hours Are Not Enough

Have you heard anyone say they are bored? Or come across people who have the audacity to think you are expected to entertain them because they do not know what to do with their free time?

If so, have you tried advising them to go ahead, scratch themselves, even if nothing itches. Or give them a choice to imagine they are robots and walk down the street with mechanical movements, adding zzttaclung sounds with each motion. Or better still, tell them to blink wildly and then close their eyes very tight for an interesting light show. Haha!

If I had a choice and freedom from certain responsibilities, guess I’d have gladly retired from office work right now and I’d still not get bored. I can think of a zillion things to do to keep myself busy. Right now, I have much on my plate that keeps me busy. And some people say they are bored!

Okay. Enough of raving...


When I get a comment to write a post on a particular travel destination, it does feel good because it makes me feel that interest is shown in what I have to say but at the same time I feel a tinge of sadness about perhaps not writing enough, or at least not as much as my readers would have liked to read.

I have lately travelled more than I could possibly write about on my blog here. Some of my recent travels that I have not written in detail about are:

August 2008

Mangalore, Karla, Lonavala, Khandala, Mumbai

July – August 2008

Garhwal Trip from Delhi to: Haridwar, Rishikesh, Rudraprayag, Joshimath, Auli, Govindghat, Valley of Flowers, Hemkund, Pandukeshwar, Badrinath, Mana village.

March 2008

Trip to Jordan including: Amman, Jerash, Ajloun, the Dead Sea and the Petra.

The Treasury at the Petra

February - March 2008

Kumaon Trip from Delhi to: Nainital, Bhimtal and around, and Corbett National Park.

December 2007

Then there was the tour that included Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Jhansi and some of the places I went to in Madhya Pradesh including Gwalior, Datia, Orchha, Khajuraho, Panna, Bandavgarh, Bhedaghat, Jabalpur, Pachmarhi, Bhojpur, Bhopal, Bhimbetka, Udaigiri, Sanchi, etc. I have written posts until Khajuraho, and have more photographs to upload and to write on my experiences in the other places as well.

July 2007

I had never got around to completing my writing on my jeep safari from Manali to Leh and my travels to the rest of Ladakh, but in this case, I’ve put up at least some posts here and there about them. That was the time I had just about started blogging.

Other trips

There are other journeys made last year to parts of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra in addition to my travels to Cambodia and Thailand in January 2007 prior to my blogging days. I had meant to write about them but it seems time is slipping through, and I may not be able to catch up.

Need to Focus and Welcome Distraction

I am presently pursuing my studies and have a few papers to answer in January 2009. So, in addition to a full time office job besides domestic chores, a part of my time these days is spent on preparing for those exams. In the meantime I can’t help but get distracted by dreaming of more travels and it is true that a few plans are in the offing!!

Seeking Your Views

My dear reader, I would like your advice on what would be the best approach of presenting my travel experiences. Is anyone really keen to read my post with details or would it be sufficient to simply upload some pictures? How about to begin writing from my recent travels and then if time permits to continue with the rest? Do you have a good suggestion?

I’d love to hear from you, so please do drop in a line or two.

September 2, 2008

Singing in the Rain

Following a little more travels and just having recovered from a bout of flu, I’m here. I wonder if the flu had anything to do with getting soaked in the rains in Lonavala? Oh, but the feeling of getting drenched in the showers was exhilarating and definitely worth it. Certainly so for one who is presently tolerating temperature in the range of 45 to 50 degrees Centigrade these days, but thankfully in the sanctuary of air-conditioned surroundings!


I travelled this time to Mangalore, Mumbai (I still miss the byname Bombay) and a few places in the Sahyadhri range of the Western Ghats.

The range is home to hill stations like Matheran, Lonavala, Khandala, Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Amboli Ghat within Maharashtra, some of which I've been to. It
brought back few memories of my last year’s summer trip to Matheran and earlier visits to Lonavala-Khandala but I find monsoon is a fine time to enjoy the Sahyadhris. More details in posts to follow.

Here’s a coup dóeil:

Mangalore serenity

Smooth sands at dusk

On the way to Karla caves

Bushi Dam

Ascending to Karla Caves

Rock-cut caves