Sunday, May 15, 2016

India Gate, Humayun's Tomb and Akshardham Temple, Delhi

India Gate : After Jantar Mantar, we headed to India Gate located near Rajpath. The 42-meter high arch is built in memory of 70,000 Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British army in first world war. You can also see the names of the soldiers who lost their lives on the walls of India Gate. Amar Jawan Jyoti, located below the India Gate reminds us the spirit of Indian soldier. This was added after the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 with Pakistan. Visiting this war memorial is a proud moment of any patriotic Indian. This memorial is guarded by men from Indian Army 24 x 7. 
India Gate, Delhi
India Gate, Delhi
Amar Jawan Jyothi, India Gate, Delhi
Amar Jawan Jyothi, India Gate, Delhi
Humayun's Tomb : It is a monument, built in 1565 in memory of second Mughal emperor, Humayun. This is a fine example of Mughal architecture in India.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Beating the summer heat, the North-East way!

Planning : The mystic Himalayas have always intrigued me. Finally in the month of March 2016, I started planning for the coveted trip. I had tough time finalizing the itinerary. Northern Sikkim is a must visit, said my friend Sandeep. But I could find only few trip packages, which included it. After some deliberation, I finalized the package, exactly a month before the tour!

Escaping the heat:  Bengaluru had already crossed 37 degree Celsius in the mid of April. I was going to beat that heat by going to one of the coldest places in India! But during the packing of warm clothes for the trip, I ensured that they were minimal, so that luggage stays light. Visiting various places within a week, carrying lighter baggage is always better. Following was my itinerary visiting Sikkim and Darjeeling

Itinerary :
Day 1 (21 April 2016) : Bengaluru to Bagdogra, Transfer to Gangtok
Day 2 : Changu Lake, Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir
Day 3 : Journery to northern Sikkim, Lachung
Day 4 : Yumthung Valley, Zero Point and return back to Gangtok
Day 5: Gangtok Sightseeing, Transfer to Darjeeling
Day 6 : Darjeeling sightseeing
Day 7( 27 April 2016):Bagdogra to Bengaluru

At 8 am, on 21st April 2016, I boarded the cab, which would drop me to the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. Since it was morning, I could reach the airport within an hour to catch the Indigo Airlines flight to Bagdogra, scheduled at 10:35. It feels good to reach the airport in short time, avoiding the city traffic on the way.

Arriving at Bagdogra, I met my travel representative, who briefed me about the proceedings that day. I boarded Toyota Innova to begin my journey to Sikkim. After a while, the driver stopped at a restaurant in Siliguri, where the lunch had been arranged by the travel agent! That was a surprise, as it was not mentioned in the package. I also met my co-travelers in the restaurant. After lunch, our travel agent briefed us about north eastern part of India – its weather, people and gave us some travel advice.

Journey to Gangtok : Then began the five hour journey to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok. When I reached my hotel at Gangtok, first thing I got served was a hot cup of black tea. It was very refreshing in the chilling cold night at Gangtok.
Changu Lake, Sikkim
Changu Lake and Harbhajan Singh Mandir : It was my first day of sight-seeing in Sikkim. I never expected to find snow. But to my delight, I could see the indications of snow fall on my way to Changu lake. Driver suggested visiting the lake on our way back as we had to go to higher altitude to reach the Harbhajan Singh Mandir. Crossing the lake, negotiating the sharp curves, we stopped at a place, where we could see Changu lake clearly from above! For our amazement, this place was full of snow! I was seeing such a place for the first time in my life! We came out of our vehicle and played with the snow to our hearts content. After a while, we headed to Harbhajan Singh Mandir, built in memory of Harbhajan Singh, an Indian soldier. Its close proximity to Tibet-China border is what makes the visit thrilling. It is also a place, where one can purchase souvenir items of Sikkim.
Snow covered region just above Changu Lake
Tashi View Point, Kabi Long Stock and Seven Sisters Waterfalls : Next day, I along with three co-travelers, headed to Lachung located in northern Sikkim. On our way, we visited several tourist spots, which made the five hour journey interesting. Tashi View Point is just outside Gangtok town, where one can find the panoramic view of the hilly region. But I was interested in getting the view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. But sadly, I did not find it. Moving ahead, we then stopped at Kabi Long Stock. It is a historically significant place, where Lepcha’s and Bhutia’s owed blood brotherhood, setting aside their differences. Stone statue erected based on this event is the attraction here. Then, we visited the famed Seven Sisters waterfalls. This waterfall is beautiful with its three tiers. One can also get the traditional Sikkim dresses here, to pose in front of the fall! Further on our way to Lachung, we witnessed the pristine beauty of the Himalayas with its mountains, streams, gorges and of course, narrow and dangerous roads! That was an experience in itself!
Golden Peaks at Lachung
Lachung, Yumthung Valley and Zero Point : In the evening, at about 6 we reached Lachung. After checking into the hotel room, I came to the balcony to witness something truly amazing. Three giant mountains, facing the whole Lachung town, making the town look so tiny! I was instantly, reminded of the Machu Picchu mountain of South America! I thought it would be wonderful, just sitting in the balcony, viewing the magnificent beauty of nature! But we had some other plans next morning. I woke up at 5 am next morning to witness one of the beautiful sights in the Himalayas. Sunrays were kissing the tip of snow capped mountains, which were invisible when reached the evening before. Mountain tips were now glowing in golden color – a fascinating sight indeed. At 6 am, we went to visit Yumthung valley. We stopped here to rent jackets, gumboots, gloves to tackle the extreme cold at much higher altitude (14540 feet) of Zero Point – where the civilian road ends. Commuting along the 26 km stretch to Zero Point was exciting too. Snow capped mountains, trees and houses greeted us! When we reached Zero Point, it was already filled with tourists and I could see the enthusiasm on their faces. I joined party too witnessing snow all around me and sun right on top! The place was landlocked by snow capped mountains. A stream ran through breaking the icy ground. I ran and jumped only to get tired quickly because of the low oxygen there! Then, I kept clicking my camera till I exhausted. How can one capture the entire beauty of nature? After spending an hour there, we were back to Yumthung valley. It was a calm and serene place, filling positive vibes in me. Though I wanted to be there in northern Sikkim for some more time, we had to return to Gangtok as per our plan. So, that day evening we reached Gangtok.
Me at Zero Point
Gangtok Sight-seeing : City sight-seeing does not excite me much. But I was curious to visit the Buddhist places of worship in Gangtok! But at first, we went to the flower show in the city. But it was way smaller than the ones, I had seen in Bengaluru. But orchids in the show, caught my attention. Our next stop was at Directorate of Handicraft and Handlooms center. Photography is not allowed here. I bought few things from the sales emporium. Then, we visited Dro-dul Chorten(a stupa). Moving the prayer wheels at the Stupa was like becoming one among the local Buddhists. Then, we visited Research Institute of Tibetology, learning the aspects of Tibetan culture. By noon, we were on our way to Darjeeling encountering steep and sharp curves. By evening 4 pm, we were at Darjeeling.
Japanese Peace Temple, Darjeeling
Darjeeling : One unique aspect of Darjeeling is that it provides panoramic view of the Himalayan range including Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest, on a clear weather day from Tiger Hills. This got me excited during the plant of the trip itself! So, at 4 am next morning, we began our journey to Tiger Hills in a Mahindra Xylo. But it was disappointment for the huge crowd gathered, as it was misty that day and we could not get the glimpse of the mountain range! Then, we visited Japanese peace temple. It was a place of serenity. With my keen interest in Buddhism, it was a place of tranquility for me. Episodes from Buddha’s life depicted on the walls of peace pagoda were both beautiful and educating. Then, we were back to our hotel and had our breakfast before heading to Himalayan Zoological Park. First, we visited the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute inside the park, to witness the memorabilia of mountaineers. I was ecstatic to see a floor dedicated to Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. Equipments used during the climb and flags planted at the summit were awe inspiring. Then at the zoological park, we spotted the red panda feeding on the bamboo. It is an endangered species. So, it was great to witness one of the rare animals on earth! After this visit, at 1 pm, we were at Darjeeling railway station to board the train which runs through the roads of the Darjeeling. We had some snacks – momos in particular just before our boarding time. It was awesome riding the heritage train which runs parallel to roads of Darjeeling. Then we reached Batasia loop at the high altitude which provides very good view of the town! Train briefly stopped here and I went on photo clicking spree! When the train reached Ghoom, we got down. Then, we roamed around the colonial city of Darjeeling. Chowrasta, the vehicle free part of the city was great of a stroll and some purchase. By evening, we were realizing that our awesome vacation was coming to an end.

Back to Bengaluru: Next day at 7 am, we headed to Bagdogra to catch the Indigo Airlines flight at 12 20. We reached our home in Bengaluru at 6 pm, ending an exciting trip.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Jantar Mantar, Delhi

Next day, our first stop was at Jantar Mantar. Good thing about ASI monuments is that their entry is open from sunrise to sunset. So, one need not wait for some precise time for the monument to be open and make the trip plans accordingly!

Construction : The observatory was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur following the order of Delhi's Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah in 1724. It was early in the morning when we entered the place and nobody else was there. So, we could stroll around the green lawns of Jantar Mantar and take photos at will! Built primarily to estimate the times and movements of sun, moon and other planets, Jantar Mantar at Delhi is not the only such observatory in India! But it was the first one to be built. You can also find the observatories in Jaipur, Varanasi and Ujjain built by Jai Singh himself! Interestingly, there is no telescope in these observatories built by the Maharaja!
Misra Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Delhi
Misra Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Delhi
Yantra's : There are 13 different yantras inside the Jantar Mantar complex. To elaborate on few, Misra Yantra  was designed to determine shortest and longest days of the year. It was the only instrument not invented by the Maharaja Jai Singh.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Delhi Metro, Chandni Chowk and Birla Temple

We wanted to experience the Delhi Metro while exploring the city. So, boarded the metro train from Kalkaji to Chandi Chowk, one of the busiest business places in the national capital. We strolled down the road to spot Gowri Shankar Temple. At the end of the road, we could see the Red Fort, for which the entry was closed for the day. It was already late in the evening and we had to jot down the plan to visit other tourist attraction before our flight to Bengaluru in the afternoon.
Kalkaji Metro Station. Delhi
Kalkaji Metro Station. Delhi
We hired a taxi from there, who would drop us to the hotel and would drive us through Sri Lakshmi Narayan Temple(Birla Mandir) and India Gate.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Qutub Minar and Iron Pillar of Delhi

While coming back from Varanasi to Bengaluru, we flew to Delhi and covered prominent landmarks of the national capital. The trip was jam packed as we had a day's time before we our departure to Bengaluru the next day.
Qutub Minar, Delhi
Qutub Minar, Delhi
Qutub Minar : Our first stop was at Qutub Minar. 75.1 meter high monument was visible from a great distance. Even before we entered the Qutub complex, we had a glimpse of it from the bus we were travelling. It was dusk when we reached the place. Nicely paved path amidst green lawns, lead us to the UNESCO world heritage site.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

New Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi

Next day morning, we made a plan to visit Banaras Hindu University(BHU). It was exciting to visit BHU as we had read about it in history textbooks. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Dr. Annie Besant were behind the establishment of one of the top residential universities in India.
Entrance of Banaras Hindu University or Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay. Varanasi
Entrance of Banaras Hindu University or Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay. Varanasi

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Ganga Aarti - A Visual Spectacle at Varanasi

The Worship of Rivers : In Temples in India, Aarti is offered to the presiding deity. Aarti, a ritual rooted in Vedic culture is a pooja(worship) to the image/statue of the deities. But have you ever observed the worshiping of a river? In Karnataka, I have seen the river Kaveri being worshiped in Talakaveri. It is worshiped there in a small shrine. Thus, worshiping of natural forces is one of the central aspects of Sanatana Dharma.

Ganga, The Eternal River : Ganga, the 2,525 km long river is worshiped throughout its course, especially at important pilgrimage centers in northern part of India. I had witnessed Ganga Aarti for the first time couple of days ago in Prayag. Ganga Aarti, a visual spectacle, is not to be missed if you are travelling along the course of river Ganga. Waving of light emanating from the multi wick brass lamps with rhythmic ringing of bells and chants forms one of the spectacular shows on earth!
Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi
Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi
Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat : Ganga Aarti is performed at two sites in Dashshwamedh Ghat simultaneously. Soon after Ganga Snan, we were near one of the sites of performance. Usually Aarti is performed at the ghat near the steps leading to the river Ganga. As the river had flooded the shores, alternate arrangements were made.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Ganga Snan - Taking A Dip In The River Ganga

Back in Varanasi : We came back to Varanasi after visiting Sarnath on that day. River Ganga (or Ganges) had flooded the ghats(shores), with some temples submerged in Dashashwamedh Ghat. Locals told us that no one would be allowed to take a dip in the holy river. We came to know the seriousness of what they said only when we arrived at the shore near the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Boats made the barricade for anyone venturing the act and there was more to it – the Jal Police! Jal Police or water police – I was hearing it for the first time in my life. Jal police from UP Government was keeping an eye on the adventurers. On the other hand, three among us were keen to take a dip. I was hesitant after reading about the polluted water in the river. You can also see the Clean Ganga posters all over Varanasi!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Sri Digambar Jain Temple, Simhapuri, Sarnath

Sri Digambar Jain Temple at Sarnath is of historical significance. It is at this place, which is also called Simhapuri, 11th Tirthankara of Jainism, Shreyansnath was born in the Ikshvaku dynasty. Yes, Lord Ram of Ramayana was also born in Ikshvaku dynasty.
Sri Digambar Jain Temple, Simhapuri, Sarnath
Sri Digambar Jain Temple, Simhapuri, Sarnath
Till we reached Saranth, I was assuming it to be a Buddhist site. But after seeing the Jain Temple, I thought it must be a Jain pilgrimage center too. But the temple was constructed in the 19th century in 1824. Jain Temples are always abode of peace, symbolic of the non-violent religion. In fact, Thousand Pillar Jain temple in Moodabidri near Mangalore is one of my favorite places to unwind. Just sitting in the temple corridor relaxes the mind!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Trip to serene Sarnath, A Buddhist Site

I believe not many are aware that Sarnath, the place where Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon is very close to Varanasi. Neither we were aware of this, when we visited Varanasi in August 2013. We came to know that Sarnath is just 13 km away, when we were returning back to our hotel after visiting Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the morning. Ganga Aarti, a must watch spectacle in Varanasi was later in the evening. So, we made a quick decision to visit Sarnath, with a resolve to come back before Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat at 6 pm!

Tranquility : We hired the same auto rickshaw to drop us to Sarnath. First impression of Sarnath was of a serene place, quite a contrast to chaotic Varanasi! Only thing which was preventing us from enjoying the tranquility of the place was the scorching heat! Giant statue of standing Buddha caught our attention immediately. It was the statue of Buddha at the Thai Temple in Sarnath.
Archaeological Museum(ASI Museum), Sarnath
Archaeological Museum(ASI Museum), Sarnath

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