Friday, July 13, 2012

Kashmir - a preview

Kashmir "the paradise on earth" stands proud worthy to its name..I consider myself blessed for this chance to visit Kashmir..Kashmir is beauty personified in every aspect..Embodiment of scenic charm and picturesque grace,beautiful flowers adorning the meadow..I wanted to stay there forever....There are many places in India brimming with nature's exquisiteness but Kashmir stands apart...At one end palatial grren has dove white clouds caressing the mountains , while at other end there are snow crowning them....Cascade of crystal clear water gushes through river, rills and spring...Silhouette of Shikara (row boat) on Dal lake...Tulips, daisies, roses, orchids ornates the majestic Mughal gardens...Calm maple, pine orchard bedeck the country roads..There are apple orchards too...Dainty saffron to dry fruits , every bit of Kashmir is alluring...Age old traditions and rich heritage makes Kashmir a tourist's retreat...Ignore the terrorists unrest time and again, this place is an ideal place what we would describe as frozen beauty defying time.......all together paints a rainbow of colours in heart..
To me Kashmir was like a dream journey of my life..Stay in houseboat is something I treasured for eternity..The journey was en route Trichy-Chennai-Delhi -Srinagar...In the capital city too I got a chance to visit few places.. Until I post my sojourn to each place, enjoy the pics..

Gliding above clouds

Mughal garden..

Smiling bloom

Caressing clouds..

Standing tall..

Snow cap

Shikara (row boat)

Gushing brook

Another smile...

More snow..

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Raja seat- coorg , Karnataka

Raja seat is in western end of Madikeri...It started drizzling and stopped abruptly to everybody's relief..The air around the place carries an aura of soothing calmness..Raja seat, which means seat of Raja has always been associated with the King of Kodagu as they used to spend their evenings with queen or at times after a stressful day of royal duties.. Sitting on one of the benches overlooking the western ghat with soft breeze, I knew what the king might have felt.. We spotted Buddhist monks relaxing too..

There is a Gandhi mantap,and a well maintained garden..There flowers in all colours and shades ..The view point is the best part especially the sunset.. I am sure the sunrise would only be equally good...There is an entrance fee of rupee five, opposite to the park there is a mini train that goes around the place.. It was so much fun riding the mini train with all its staged station and dummy signals.. I saw people of all age giving it a try.. The ticket to the train is also rupee five..

There ends yet another journey close to mother earth, I am taking back home beautiful memories...

If you are planning for a one day trip start very early with Talacauvery ..The best time to be there is by 6:30 am to 7 : am ..Descending down and moving onto Madikeri to Bylakuppe to Kushalnagar which opens up for the visitors at 9 :30 am..You do need some time to go around to get the hang of it..Next would be to Nisargadhama to Dubare Elephant camp..Post lunch you can head to Abbey falls (if its a monsoon) or to Madikeri fort finally for a sunset at Raja seat..
Where to eat:
Its better to carry something for breakfast as all restaurants open up very late in Madikeri..
Lunch - I would recommend East end hotel, Madikeri.. Food is decent and the place well maintained, only thing its a bar attached restaurant..But this time unfortunately I couldn't find a good restaurant that served authentic kodagu cuisine..Better luck next time..
Feng- shui  artifacts to tibetian handicrafts are available for a reasonable price.. Apart from that throughout Coorg honey, coffee and tea powder are attractive part..

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Harangi dam, Dubare elephant camp - Coorg,Karnataka

Ahead of Dubare , we headed onto Harangi dam which is 6km from Nisargadhama..Harangi Dam  buit on river Kavery, is a grand water reservoir....Since it was closed for some maintenance all we could was happily sit and relax with no hustle bustle of the crowd...There is a statue of  goddess kavery near the reservoir...The road towards the dam is deserted and its a relief from the highway road that we left behind...

Dubare forest reserve is 10 km from Harangi dam.. Dubare elephant camp is managed by the forest department of Coorg..Take a left turn from the highway driving towards Madikeri and you’ll find   yourself through narrow country road with coffee and cocoa plantation with sprinkler.. Most house had a look of farm house at the outset , there were traditional houses too…On both side of the road are either occupied by coffee plantation or traditional homes… I felt like going through my native except for the coffee plantations..
Driver told us that the river Cauvery and the climate has made the land very fertile for all these plantations and flora to flourish…When our vehicle had to pave its way to the approaching vehicle both drivers had to work to avoid any kind of clash…
Dubare elephant camp has been a taming center for elephant from the days of Maharaja of Mysore..This elephant camp now also functions as an information hub... To reach the camp we had to cross the river in a raft.. Rafting is another top attraction especially during monsoon…. Tucking in life jacket we were guided to the raft with few instructions from the raft guide and commands to be followed , I had my basics of rafting done and slowly rowed through the river, it was fun to move right under the low tree branch crouching , lying flat, rowing fast, turning slow, sitting still enjoying the beauty around etc etc…There are two options for rafting, one is of 8.5km and another 12km..The 12km is alluring during the monsoon (june to september)when the water levels are high with a strong downstream current..The best time to visit Dubare camp is at nine in the morning if you are interested to take part in the elephant camp activity.. Like Nisargadhama there are elephant safaris but costlier and shorter than Nisargadhama.. Apart from elephant camp there are options for fishing and for short trekking ..River Kanake and Sujyoti merges here with river Kavery making it great for fishing, there is a back water (forgot the name)near by which is also known for its fish resources only thing one has to obtain a permit from Coorg wildlife society , Madikeri..But fishing is not realy my kind of thing, waiting patiently with rod,reel, angler at the mercy of fish, I still wonder how come I had so much fun in school during monsoon getting away from the prying eyes of teacher sneaking away with friends...Experiencing elephant  at arms distance was exciting...To get the most out of the experience morning nine is the prime time when the elephants are taken for a bath, tourists are allowed to get involved in scrubbing, oiling and every steps, do watch out for the calf 'the most entertaining' part , watching it move along the herd enjoying the water, splashing water all around, I couldn't help but smile reminded about human kids, this of course made this day great just like my last day at Kushal nagar...After bath visitors can also feed the elephants with their everyday dose of jaggery, banana etc...How cool isn't.. Ironically the elephants are so tamed they appear completely out of their natural way of life...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nisargadhama, Coorg, Karnataka

Nisargadhama Nature Park is 3 km from Kushal Nagar. If I had a chance to meet the brain behind this park I would certainly go after that person for an autograph for such a brilliant idea….Its an island formed by the Cauvery River. A nature park and I would say a unique sanctuary…Entry fee Rs 10 for adult....To enter the park one has to cross river through a hanging bridge , there is a new stronger version  build, since it was under maintenance I was forced to use the old shaky one somehow i felt at ease over it . As I crossed I could see paddle boats fleeted  all set for a ride…

Bamboo forms the major part of the park though I could see few teak here and there. All plants and trees are named with their common and scientific names for the benefit of the visitors and there are sign boards every where leading to River, Deer park, Ayurvedic spa, Elephant ride, cafeteria ,public toilets and shops which sold honey and handicrafts (don’t even think of buying them for they are atrociously costly)   … 
There are cottages available for tourists for stay...There are tree houses swings and bamboo shelter all over to sit relax and enjoy the nature ..I could spot deer and rabbit though not other animals listed in the notice…Though the sun was scorching the walk was enjoyable...

There were stone pavement to walk around…When I couldn't spot animals sitting on one of the tree houses everything seemed artificial….Elephant safari is  the highlight of the park they charge a nominal Rs25 per person,which lasts for 10 minutes around …
Deer in the park seemed quite used to the visitors..There is a shop adjacent to the deer park selling tender cucumber,roasted groundnut..I saw many of them buying tender cucumber to feed the deer..You can feed the Elephant too. The place is extremely well maintained.

 I  stepped into the shallow river..It was so cool looking around on the bank of Cauvery every looks picturesque….I think weekend might get crowded.. Every thing right from the hanging garden made the place such a pleasant treat…My next destination - Dubare Elephant camp…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trip to Tibetian settlement Bylakuppe, Kushal Nagar ( karnataka)

Nature treat is what I would call this trip, for this trip is to Kodagu or Coorg which is known as the Scotland of India.. Though I couldn’t cover all the places, I tried to visit the main destination… I started at four in the morning contrary to my otherwise holiday schedule….But I was sure that it’s going to be all worth it…Kasargode was still warm and the air condition rendered some life… Jalsoor which is Kerala –Karnataka border and as thr journey moved from Sulia to Madikeri through the still dark blue sky I suddenly realized that there was fog (in April???? Well I was in awe),Even at seven sun was still reluctant to throw his heavy beams, but now there was enough light for me to enjoy  the  lush green all around, I wanted to come back to this place in December already. Madikeri 150 km from Kasargode, as I expected in Coorg famous for its coffee, there were loads of coffee plantations (I even saw Nescafe’s plantation along with other known labels), Cocoa plantations, pepper vines and trees trees and loads of trees. Now don’t think I am all urbanized to talk like this..I live in a place surrounded by coconut palms all around.. Coconut palm don’t count on as tree for me yet (I know I may sound silly but I need loads of branches and sub branchesto be termed as a tree remember the banyan tree’s picture back in kindergarden???)…Madikeri to me felt like a sleepy town where time just slowed down abrubtly, there were people clad on woolen sweaters and scarves at 8 in the morning .The air condition inside the car was warmer when compared to the chilly air out. We had our breakfast at a restaurant..We chose it because that was the only one open….Taste of food depends on your hunger prangs. For me it tasted heavenly , like I  said that I was super hungry.. But the vada were crispy…Karnataka’s food in general do not appeal me rather I have never been able taste some authentic good food…

The first destination Golden temple in Kushal Nagar which 26 km  from Madikeri town .If you are travelling by bus from Kasaragode to Golden temple get on with Mysore bus and get down at Koppa take an auto to the Golden temple..On the way I saw Nisargadhama on my right which would be my next destination..As we took right turn to Bylakuppe few kilometer away from golden temple there were colourful Tibetan prayer flags all over…

Bylakuppe is about 4 km from Kushal Nagar, and it has one of the first Tibetan settlements Lugsung Samdupling in India which dates back to 1961 followed by Dickyi Larsoe.Some history about this place enlightens me with the fact that , during 1950s, Chinese took over Tibet, worsening relation between Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities, which led him to seek India’s help. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru extended his assistance whole heartedly; and to settle down the refugees in a place were the climate was cooler far away from Tibet.. Now that answered my question why of all places Kushal Nagar so far away far awayfrom Himalaya..
It seems there were plans to settle those fled to India, till a time when they can return to Tibet ... But as we see that never happened (lucky we) even after decades.. Refugees kept pouring in transforming the camps settlements and further to larger ones as we get to see it today.

The Buddhist Monastery was re-established in 1972. The
monastery is home for ­­­5000 (as per records but I would like to settle down to a more
 fathomable figure) lama (nuns and monks both are called lama, I didn’t know till know how
ignorant) of Sangha community. I could see many monks all ages and nuns going about their work and worship..A kid or monk okay now let us settle down to kid monk in maroon and yellow robe (about 10 -12 yr old) busy rolling a dosa and trying to get it all in a gulp winked at me as he passed by only to startle me later flinted a smile across my face too, after all kid would be a kid with all unharmful prank and not a kid Buddha…. Old monks gathered outside the monastery compound some with rosary some just chatting away.. Group of young monks were even chatting over mobile phone (oooh!!!!) did I just say mobile???  Oh yea I did..  There  are
monks not just from Tibet but also from Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim…It houses five monastery of Lugsung Samdupling settlement of which Namdrolling monastery is the most famous other monasteries are Sera monastery,  Nyingma monastery,Sakya monastery, Nyingma monastery. There are two monastery of Dickyi Larso settlement.. There’s also a religious college known as shreda and hospital.

The Golden temple

The golden temple was completed in the year 2000.Even a person like me completely ignorant about architectural styles could say that it was a beautiful blend of contemporary and traditional styles...I entered the temple through a gigantic red door and i stopped ubruptly stunned to see three large golden statues of Lord Budha (in the middle), Buddha Amityus(on his right) and Guru padmasambhava(to left). Budha Amitayus means, the Budha of limitless light, Guru padmasambhava was the Indian pandit who took the Vajrayana teachings to Tibet 1200 years ago, before Indian Budhism was destroyed by invaders..The altar was colourfully decorated with flowers and incense.. In spite the grandeur Lord Budha seemed all calm and serene untouched by the magnificence around..The statue of Lord Budha is 60 ft. in height (from base) while the height of the other two statues(Guru Rinpoche and Budha Amityus) are 58 ft. They are made of copper, plated with gold.Inside the statues are scriptures, relics of great beings, small clay mould stupas and small statues that symbolizes body,speech and mind of Buddha...It is believed that getting to see these statues,venerating them, circumambulating and making offering s generates faith,peace,wisdom,loving kindness and compassion in ones's mind cleansing from unwholesome thoughts and action..(all this I learnt from the notice inside the temple)...
About Lord Budha and he renouncing his throne in search of wisdom and life itself is all well known isn't what I didnt know was was about Guru as per Budha's prophecy Guru Prinpoche was born 12 years after the passing away of Budha, by lake Dhanakosha, in the land of Oddiyana (present day Afghan-Pak border).He is considered to be an emanation of Budha Amitabha who excelled in the exoteric teachings of Vajrayana Mahayana Budhism. In the eighth century, the thirty eighth King of Tibet, Trisong Deutsen, invited him to Tibet to establish Budhism. Through his immense compassion for the people of Tibet, Guru Rinpoche not only gave various exosteric and secret tantric teachings during his time, but also concealed many treasures for the benefit of the future generations. As such,all Tibetans conside him to be very kind and revere him as the second Budha. Budha Amityas chieved Buddhahood countless eons ago but his activity remains connected with granting long life..

He resides withe consort Bhadrapalika, son Chandraprabha and a huge retinue of immortal teachers in the pure land of limitless virtue..According to Buddhism, the life of all people becomes short and they die prematurely due to committing non-virtuous actionsWhosoever hears the name of Budha amityus, will have his/her lifespan extended...I wish I could go near the statue but alas the guests are limited to certain perimeter…There were cushions for guests..I didn’t dare to make any noise for the fear for ruining the aura the place  carried.. And for once I saw all tourists following the theme of silence…
The walls were full of colourful mural art depicting Lord Budha's life... I must say they were magnificiently alluring also reminding me of many temple kerala with mural art..The painting on both sides of the statues depicted the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche who attained high realisations through the practice of Dzogchen Teachings. On the walls behind the three statues were theGoddesses of Offering.. The painitings on both sides of the thirs floor show the life story of Lord Budha and the twelve great teachers of Dzogchen..Those on both sides of the second floor represent the eleven throne holders of the Playul tradition and the great scholars and masters of Nyigma tradition. The mural on the first floor mainly show the various deities of the three roots namely Lama, idan and Dakini.
There were deities painted in expression of wrath, male and female deities in union. According to Tantric Budhism, peaceful deities wear silk garments and ornaments of precious metals and stones whereas wrathful deities wear the skin of living being and bone ornaments. To understand their significance, one has to study Tantric Budhism in detail.
What I picked up from studying the small notes at the temple was that Budha appear in wrathful form or in union with the female deities in order to harness human as per degree of mental stature..Budha's union with their consort represent the need for the union of compassion and wisdom.Without which there would be no enlightening.
Adjacent to the golden temple there was a prayer hall, for few minutes I was held back mesmerized in the hypnotic chanting gongs, pipes and conch shells all playing to a mystic rhythm… It was as though all transcended to another world all together. I went around the smaller monasteries as well…Gardens were impeccably maintained..One interesting part were sparrows all around.. I haven’t seen them in a long time… I sat and listened to the monks chant their Mantra's while others played long hornpipes and Conch shell. Huge drums beat hypnotic beats to the chanting. It is a kind of experience one will never forget…
In addition to the Golden Temple, Namdroling has temples devoted to Vajrakilaya (the wrathful manifestation of Buddha's purity), Tara (the female Buddha of compassion and action), and several others. Namdroling, the largest monastery of the Nyingma school is magnificent to look at too. It had three storey…Namdroling has 2000 monks and nuns and provides education from early grades to the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist studies (Khenpo). The main lama at Namdroling is Penor Rinpoche. Few meter down the road there’s the nunnery ani gompa. Its temple can be entered by women, men can enter only with special permission..I got into a classroom when the class was on a break and was excitedly going about it looking at the classroom artifacts…
There was a canteen with Tibetan cuisine, I saw monks and nuns taking their bites and drink... Guess it was like a college canteen for them.. Monastery is inspiring by every word. There was a miniature model of monastery in Tibet..
There is a book shop with books on Budhism and history of the place..
There is shopping complex across the road near to the cark parking…fI had my share of mini shopping of fenshui things ..In the parking lot I came across Coorgies and that was the first time I got to see them live errrr , I meant I have only seen them in television, women with their saree pleats from back…From a trans –Himalayan trip im slowly descenting to ground level zero..
My next destination Nisargadhama..

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thirukarugavur – Punainallur

Being home includes temple visits. Tamilnadu is an ideal place for that reason , there are “n” number of temple with long standing history ,myths and believes attached to it. I love the history part of the temple that allures me to it..One of them is the temple of Sri Garbarakshambigai in Thirukarugavur, 28km from Tanjavur railway station. For me it was a journey from Trichy to Tanjavur  from then onto  Thirukarugavur. I set of early  in the morning, waking up at 4:30 am ( your not allowed to look surprised ,mom woke me up)..I took a passenger train from Trichy to Tanjavur at  7:10am as I missed the train at 6:00 am. I bought idly and vada, man you get amazing idli at Neethus kitchen at Trichy station.. It was Jan 14 Pongal day, there was quiet a rush in the station for the train.. Another great part I lodged myself  into the moving slowing train to get myself  a window seat…Plugging onto my favourite music with the local people getting to their home and family for the festival as great. The journey took me through the outskirts of  Trichy with not many dwellings …Fields had painted itself into many colours, light green to darker to golden yellows to brown tinted yellow…Many species of strokes were happily flirting through the shrubs and bushes..It looked as though I was on a safari through a miniature sanctuary…

I reached Tanjavur station at 8:20 am. I was planning to take a bus  to the temple. An auto driver came to me asking  if he could help me with anything , upon enquiry about distance and things he offered to take me to the temple and back to station for 300 bucks and since I was new to the place and had no knowledge about the bus frequency I took that option.. Upon few clarifications and questions I started off.. And indeed I opted for an auto because  I didn’t come across even a single bus to the place till I got back…Till the road takes a left turn to the village panchayat ,  NH  in a very bad state….Jumping few inches from the seat every few seconds, I was reminded of the fevicol ad of few years back… About 7 km from the temple,  Pongal celebrations were at its peak ..Rangoli with wishes were all over the roads and houses. Temporary  natural stove made up of three bricks smeared with cowdung were all set to cook pongal .. Vendors selling bunches of sugarcane, turmeric saplings and all necessities for the festivities were busy with their last minute sales.. All  cow, ox  had their horns painted in vibrant colours …Sounds like a Bharathiraja’s movie frame isn’t ,I felt the same.

I didn’t know until I reached the place that, this temple is one of   the five temples which collectively make the “Pancha Aranya sthalam” (temples amidst  forest). Others are Alangudi, Avalivanallur, Haridwaramangalam and Thirukollambudhoor. If one visits these five temples on the same day, in the mentioned order, and offers prayers he is believed to be let of all his sins. And that person would have no rebirth…
Sri Garbharakshambikai temple is situated on the banks of the river Vettar  in Thirukarugavur. Thirukarugavur means the place where foetus is protected. “Karu” means foetus in Tamil. The place got its name because of the story, which is said to have happened hundreds of years ago. It’s about a couple Nithiruvar and Vedhika who longed for a child.  Yearning for a child they set on pilgrimage. They prayed in many shiva temples before reaching “Mullaivanam” known then. Thousands of years back it was a garden of "Mullai" (jasmine) flowers, hence the name "Arulmigu Mullai vana nathar temple ". Vedhika realised that she was pregnant.  Overwhelmed with happiness the couple decided to stay back believing that it was the blessings of Mullaivananathar. One day in her state of pregnancy exhaustion, she failed to take notice of a sage Oorthuvapadhar thus failing from her duty of hospitality. Predictably the sage cursed for death to the child in womb.. Helpless Vedhika ardently prayed for mercy  to Goddess Parvathi who appeared before in  the form of Sri Garbharakshambikai  taking  away all  her pain offering protection to the baby by keeping the baby in a pot till it attained full development…This reminds me about the incubator wherein the premature babies nurture till maturity… Even before science goes for the new findings our tradition had scope for it… Goddess gave   healthy baby to the couple. Vedhika, fell at the feet of Sri Karbharakshambikai and prayed that she should take a permanent abode here for the generation to come.. .  The pond opposite to the temple is supposed to have been dug by Kamadhenu.  This was to provide milk to the child.  This tank is known as “Ksheera Kundam”.  Thus the Goddess then came to be known as Garbarakshambiga or Karukathanayaki. The whole story is painted on the wall of the temple  Driver told me that according to the local villagers there has been no pregnancy related death of the mother or the child. There were no miscarriages either… To get married to the right person unmarried girls seek her blessings. They buy two garlands of flower, ghee and lamps from the office..Ghee is offered to the goddess, its placed on the feet and various mantras are chanted by the priest..Girls draw kolam with the powder provided  in front of deity and pray..One garland is given back which is to be hung back home..It is believed that within six months the girl would be married to the right person…Couple seeking children  offer ghee which is given to them after chanting mantras by the priest ..The ghee should be in taken every night for 48 days…While pregnant ladies are given castor oil which is to be applied over the abdomen for safe delivery..The best part of goddess is she blesses a girl with marriage and child....In temple I saw a couple praying for child, another couple expecting their first baby getting castor oil, girl praying for marriage and finally a couple and family who had come for a

thanksgiving worship after the birth of child..They placed the baby on the silver cradle  of the temple and took the baby for a “pradkakshina” (going around the temple)..It’s another form of offering I was told.. All around me there were different emotions enfolding ..Watching all of it was indeed a human experience close to heart..
Main deity is Lord Shiva called as ‘Mullaivananathar’,the shiva linga is self manifested..There’s no abhishekam done as the linga is made up of anthill mud…  the Linga is merely pasted with a kind of musk called ‘Punuhu.’..It is believed that people with any disease offer Punuhu Chattam will be cured completely..All pradosham days are considered important as in all Shiva temple..
Coutesy:Punainallur temple website
The guy  who gave  me ghee from temple office counter told  me that on full moon day of the Tamil month of Panguni (March-April) moon’s rays falls on the Shiva Lingam…The temple wasn’t crowded so I had a peaceful space of time to pray and move around..Had tender coconut from a vendor outside the temple and started way back On my way driver told me about Sri Mariyamman temple which he said is a Must place to visit. Unlike Mullaivananathar temple this was heavily crowded and many vendors selling things for pooja and other eatery to fancy items for ladies are spread around.. There was a stall which had human organ parts made of mud upon enquiry she said  goddess is believed to cure  a person from all ailments….The deity look very different from any other Amman temple I have come across..I got lamps to light inside the temple and after offering my prayers I started back to the railways station.. After coming home I searched details of the temple…Back in Tanjavur  railway station  Chennai Tirunelveli passenger  at 12:15pm and  back to Trichy at  1:30pm I was in Trichy Junction putting an end to a day which was spiritual…

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