The tall, beautiful and a mate for life!


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They are the true ‘love-birds’. Always found in pair and always remain loyal to each other. Hardly we recognise bird species with these qualities but our guide or naturalist- as they liked themselves to be called as, was more than beaming in explaining Sarus Cranes to us in this manner. But it was really so amusing to hear all this, though we had already heard about crane couple ‘singing’ and dancing together and seen some amazing photographs earlier too.

Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur has been one of the favourites to watch this amazing bird, although they can be found in Gangetic plains. There number is decreasing constantly everywhere, including Keoladeo, due to various threats. Hence it was on top of my bucket list while going to this amazing bird sanctuary. Our naturalist cum guide Gajendra Singh told us that there were hardly around six pairs left in the park.

We weren’t that lucky on the first day. We could see a pair but it was quite far in the fields (pic above) and due to a stream flowing in between, there was no way to get closer to them. I was still able to get a slightly closer view through my telephoto and look of its dark orange head was exciting enough.

Its an amazing bird without any doubt. It is the tallest flying bird in the world, standing at six feet (taller than me). Its wingspan is bigger at almost eight feet. How fascinating it would be to watch this bird fly!

Also Read: The giant turtles of Keoladeo National Park

We were luckier next day morning. Early mornings are always the best time to watch birds. Company of an energetic guide helped. What helped more was the fact that we were on cycles and hence were able to go to interiors of the park where a cycle rickshaw or a tonga wouldn’t have been able to. We were able to locate a pair at a distance. I will always suggest to go inside the Keoladeo National Park on a bicycle.

Since it was a dry patch, it was possible to go closer. Another benefit of going to a bird sanctuary is that you can dare to go closer to the birds for nice close-ups. Although there is always a fear that they might fly away, but then that’s a chance you need to take. Something you are not allowed to do in a wildlife sanctuary.

Our naturalist Gajendra Singh was busy telling us about Sarus crane, as how they will mate for life with a single partner. They are always found in pair and rarely in large group. He also told us that if any one in the pair dies, the other one will stop eating food and thus give life too- something which we were not able to corroborate factually, although I have heard of this from various people.

I left others behind and started moving in the field closer to the pair. I was clicking while moving forward and also taking care of the ground below- small pools of water, marshy area, thorny bushes and any chance encounter with an unwanted reptile.

My idea was to get as closer as to get a good close-up shot using my telephoto lens and also not too close to scare them away. They indeed noticed me coming close, but didn’t fly away. Just kept moving further.

For a layman like me, it was tough to distinguish between a male and a female. Another interesting thing about this bird pair is that they both (female as well as male) incubate the eggs for a period of 26 to 35 days.

Sarus Cranes are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list, mostly because of the loss of habitat, i.e. destruction of wetlands due to human population pressure, expansion of agriculture, ingesting pesticides and lot more.

There are said to be 25,000 to 37,000 Sarus cranes globally with there population limited to Indian sub-continent, south-east Asia and northern Australia. It is sad to know about their reducing numbers as they are known for their ability to live in closely with humans. They live in open, cultivated, well watered plains, marsh lands and lakes. Such areas suit them well for foraging, roosting and nesting.

Going closer to the pair and returning back to others and our bicycle took too much of time. But I was still content, wanted to go more and more closer, but didn’t want them to fly away hence marked my limit and turned back.

It wasn’t like I didn’t want to go further, but having spent two hours already and now after watching a pair of Sarus crane so closely, I knew I could call off the visit without any regrets. And in any case, in any wildlife trip you can’t see everything in a single visit. I already had two.

Where: Home to a host of migratory birds and large number of domestic birds, Keoladeo Ghana National Park is located in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. Park is on the outskirts of Bharatpur city. Park gate is right on the Agra-Jaipur national highway about 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra.

Park is open from sunrise to sunset. Unlike other national parks there are no safaris, no motor vehicles allowed inside. We can walk inside the park but that takes too much time and one won’t be able to see big area while on foot. There are cycle rickshaws as well as tongas. Best option is to take a cycle. Also take a guide as they will be able to tell you about the park and its birds. Guides also come with a high powered binoculars to watch birds at far off places. Rickshaws, tongas and guides have per hour rates while cycles can be hired for the day. There is also an entry fees for every visitor.

Also see: Perfect host for a birding trip

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Perfect host for a birding trip


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For many people visiting to a wildlife sanctuary or a national park, what matters most is a good trip to the park, but it certainly helps if you get a comfortable place of stay after a tiring trip to park. Sunbird  hotel at Bharatpur gives many reasons for a pleasant stay.

Outside the rooms said to be two best on the property

Too many plus for a hotel which normally won’t fall into the big brand category. Actually, to my surprise it was few of those hotels which hardly gave any reason to complain or even dissatisfied with. When we checked in, the staff said that we were being given the two best rooms in the property and we couldn’t have disagreed. For a place like Bharatpur, this hotel has one of the best location you can ask for. Property is just five minutes walk from the main gate of Bird sanctuary.

Hotel is located in the area called as Saras circle and most of the hotels in Bharatpur catering to tourists coming to bird sanctuary are in the same area.

Spacious room with an extra bed

We booked two rooms and had asked for extra beds in both the rooms at he time of online booking. To my pleasant surprise, at the time of check-in the extra beds were already in place in both the rooms. My experience so far, even at many five star hotels has been that they will place the extra bed only by late in the evening. But here, they were already in place. It actually helped all of us to immediately stretch ourselves after a long road journey.

A garden right in front of our rooms

Rooms were very spacious, clean and good. Right in front of our rooms was a beautiful garden that constantly gave us a nice cosy feeling of being close to a bird sanctuary. Actually, whenever we stepped out of room, we felt like having a slice of the bird sanctuary. Full marks to design of the hotel in this regard. You might feel like seating outside your room lazily on a chair and enjoy the surroundings or just read a book.

A meeting room in the garden

Actually from outside, you don’t get the feel of the property. You just can’t imagine that it would be so big inside. But once you move inside further from the lobby, you get to see the space. There are four cottages around this garden and four rooms including the two deluxe rooms we stayed in.

One of the cottage around garden

Rooms are neat and clean with wardrobe, study table, a sofa, safe and tea-coffee maker and a 32 inch LCD television, but you hardly feel like switching the TV on in this place.

Another view of the room

Hotel has been aesthetically designed with traditional Rajasthan interiors. Moreover, rooms have photographs or beautiful pencil sketches of various birds found inside the Bharatpur sanctuary. It always gives you a feeling of the place you are in.

Photos and sketches of birds in the rooms

As far as food is concerned, we didn’t have meals here, so can’t say anything about it. But buffet breakfast was part of the tariff, so we had it on all days and was satisfactory. It has to be acknowledged that it is tough for a hotel to manage breakfast when it is so close to a wildlife sanctuary, because most guests will be either having an early breakfast before going to the bird sanctuary or will have a late breakfast after returning from sanctuary. But staff managed it very calmly and kept fulfilling all requirements. But having said that, food is perhaps the only department where they need to improve a bit.

Staff was in general very courteous and forthcoming. Overall stay gave us a relaxed feeling. Surely looking for another visit.

Location: Hotel is located at Saras circle which comes as soon as you enter the Bharatpur city. While coming from Fatehpur Sikri, when you reach Saras circle a road goes straight into the city and another one, the Agra-Jaipur national highway turns left. Hotel Sunbird is just 100 metres away from the circle on this road. Main gate of bird sanctuary is further 200 metres from the hotel.  Fatehpur Sikri is just 20 kms from Bharatpur.

P.S. Bharatpur doesn’t have too many good independent restaurants. Most of talked about restaurants are attached to one or another hotel. We tried to find some independent good food options, but were not satisfied. You need to keep that in mind.

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Water and Fire at the greatest fountain show!

It is indeed one of the most amazing man-made visual spectacles on this planet and certainly the most fantastic fountain show in the world. Its a dancing fountain at Dubai in the Burj Lake right in front of Burj Khalifa- world’s highest building, what forms a stunning backdrop. Spread over 900 feet this fountain shoots water through jets up to 500 feet in air, as high as a 45 storey building. Amazing!

This captivating water, music and light spectacle is one of Dubai’s most favourite tourist attractions. Daily thousands of tourists visit this every day.

Located in the 30-acre Burj Lake Dubai Fountain is the world’s tallest performing fountain. Its length is equivalent to over two football pitches. The fountain has a unique design comprising five circles of varying sizes and two arcs, and features powerful water nozzles that shoot water.

Just imagine the spectacle of 6,600 WET superlights, 25 coloured projectors and 22,000 gallons of airborne water. It is said to be the most advanced incandescent large fountain lights available today. These create a visual spectrum of over 1,000 different water expressions. Total 50 colour projectors provide a full spectrum of colour with a total output of 1.5 million lumens.

Fountain performs to a selection of different melodies ranging from songs from classical to contemporary Arabic and world music.

Burj Lake has Dubai Mall on one side and Burj Khalifa on other side. You have special platforms around the lake to watch this fountain choreography. However it is visible from every point on the lake promenade and from all nearby high-rise buildings.

Another way to enjoy the show is by sailing in a traditional Abra ride on the Burj Lake. The Dubai Fountain Lake Ride is just like having a front row seats to the best show in town.

There are daily evening shows every half hour from 6 pm to 11 pm. There are also daily afternoon shows at 1.00 pm and 1.30 pm while on Fridays afternoon shows are at 1.30 pm and 2.00 pm. Light and music accompanying this choreography is certainly an experience to remember.

Except for the boat ride, watching the dancing fountain is entirely free. Boat rides start at 5.45 pm and continue till 30 minutes before the scheduled close. Ticket price is 65 Dirham per person and tickets for this can be purchased online as well.

The fountain can be enjoyed from heights of Burj Khalifa and it is also fascinating to watch the fountain in backdrop of Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building.

You can also watch a video of this Dancing Fountain on my channel by clicking on the link below-

 

 

 

 

Loops of the haunted!


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Its is one of the India’s most popular ghost stories. I wouldn’t say that this story originates at most unlikely of the places, as it is one of the most wilderness of places you will come across. It can unnerve you and mesmerise you, both at the same time. But I will certainly say that I am interested in ghost stories only for sake of reading thrill, not at the point of believing them.

Those who have travelled to Leh from Manali by road will have certainly passed through Gata Loops and would have heard story about it. Now a days those who ride or drive on this road, do good research before hand and hence have a fairly good idea of the place. On Manali-Leh road, after you cross Sarchu, 24 kilometres later you come across a series of hairpin bends or loops popularly called as Gata Loops. These loops take you to a climb of almost 2000 ft upto Nakeela pass.

Also read: Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass

Actually Gata Loops are to Manali-Leh road what Ka zigs are to Shimla-Kaza road. Both are nothing short of engineering marvels. Ka zigs raise from level of Spiti river to Nako through various hairpin bends. Similarly Gata Loops start at 4201 metres or 13,780 feet and 21 loops take you to altitude of 15,302 feet. Both these roads have been created out of nowhere to get human access via road to most improbable of places.

But these loops are also part of India’s most popular haunted stories. Those who have been to this place might be well aware of the hearsay. I am just briefing it for the sake of those, who haven’t heard about it.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chandratal to Keylong

This story is about a truck cleaner who died here a lonely death when the truck broke down in increment weather and the driver walked to nearby village to get some help. Cleaner waited at truck to guard the belongings. But it was late October (as per stories) and no vehicles were passing through as behind that truck the Rohtang Pass  (which provides vehicular accessories to Lahaul & Spiti valleys) was already closed down. Moreover snowfall had blocked all approach roads. Driver got stuck in the village for days. Hence the cleaner was left to fend for himself without an help, food or water which resulted in his demise. Stories say about his ghost still wondering around loops and begging for water to all passerby. Locals have constructed a makeshift temple where lies a human skull and believing the story people leave water bottles at the place.

But as always happens with the ghost stories, there are many versions and another version says about a tanker finding it difficult to climb the loop and driver asked its cleaner to get down and put some stones behind the wheels so as to stop it from rolling behind. But accidentally cleaner came under the wheels and seeing this driver ran away with the vehicle, leaving the cleaner behind left to die.

Nobody knows when these so-called incidents took place. Nowhere I have even read the name of that so-called village where driver went to get the help. There are no accounts to corroborate and it is surprising as by any means story would have been just a couple of decades old. Irony is, now there are hundreds of plastic water bottles scattered at that serene place.

I went biking almost end of the season on this route. I was pretty alone in the sense that I was biking solo and that particular time that stretch was devoid of any other vehicles. I captures whole climb of Gata Loops on video. But I was not able to see or capture anybody or any abnormal activity. Though interesting, it was hard for me to believe that story! I will tell you another thing, while returning back from Leh to Manali I crossed this particular stretch alone in pitch dark as I had decided to take the night halt at Sarchu instead of Pang. But still there was no ghost on the way.

Beautiful landscape around

Well, such stories might keep your travel interesting. But even without this story this particular stretch of road is quite fascinating for the views it gives while climbing up. I will say, it is actually a photographer’s delight to be here. You can just stop at every bend and keep clicking. Its amazing how the landscape changes as you climb, down from the river bed.

Reaching the top

As with every part of this route, it is quite different in different seasons. End of the season in late September or early October would be without any snow but different colours.

Gata Loops actually takes you to a different topography, once you are through, towards what Ladakh is actually famous for.

You can just forget all the ghosts and wonder at this nature’s marvellous creation.

What you see across is actually a view point

You can see a view point in the image above. It also works as a resting point for travellers after all the effort taken to climb the Gata Loops and enjoy some beauty, which they would have missed in all labour to climb up.

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Haunted Fort of Bhangarh- Nothing Spooky about it!

You can see the video of my Gata Loops ride on my channel by clicking on the link below-


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Melon Headed Whale rescued in Florida


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Rescuing any animal is a tough task, tougher is to take care of it and return it to its natural habitat. Few have got the commitment to do that. SeaWorld Orlando’s Animal Rescue Team is rehabilitating a rescued melon-headed whale that was found stranded on the west coast of Florida. The 320 pound, 8 and a half foot adult male melon-headed whale was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) on October 13 and transported to SeaWorld Orlando.

A melon headed whale

Upon arrival, he was placed in a quarantine rehabilitation pool where the Animal Rescue Team and veterinarians provided immediate treatment and care including, fluids and antibiotics.

Over the last three weeks, the Animal Rescue and Veterinary Teams have monitored him round-the-clock tracking his vitals, appetite and swimming activity. Based on those tests and observations the whale is facing a lot of challenges, including a likely case of pneumonia, but the teams are working day and night to give him the best chance for a successful rehabilitation.

Although he is still in critical condition, the Animal Rescue and Veterinary Teams are working toward the ultimate goal of returning him back to the wild. The next step in his rehabilitation is a hearing test conducted by SeaWorld zoological experts and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hearing specialists to ensure that hearing loss was not the cause of the stranding.

While melon-headed whales are found widespread throughout the world’s tropical waters, they are not often seen as they are a pelagic, deep water, species.

You can see the video of rescue here-

SeaWorld Orlando’s Animal Rescue Team is on call 24/7 to save and care for injured, orphaned or ill animals. In collaboration with the government and other members of accredited stranding networks, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment operates one of the world’s most respected programs to rescue ill and injured marine animals, with the goal to rehabilitate and return to the ocean. SeaWorld animal experts have helped more than 31,000 animals in need – ill, injured, orphaned and abandoned – for more than five decades.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is a leading theme park and entertainment company providing experiences that matter and inspiring guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The company is one of the world’s foremost zoological organisations and a global leader in animal welfare, behavioural training, husbandry and veterinary care. The company collectively cares for what it believes is one of the largest zoological collections in the world and has helped lead advances in the care of animals. The company also rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The SeaWorld rescue team has helped more than 31,000 animals in need over the last 50 years.

P.S. Footage was produced by SeaWorld under the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Mammal Health and Response Program.

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13 states, 20 festivals… you just can’t beat this November month!


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You just can’t beat month of November, not just because it is the month of my birth (just kidding!), actually because this is one of the most happening month of the year. Just imagine, every other Indian state has some kind of a festival this month. And, what a range… from music to dance to nature, flowers, cattle, fairs, religion, mythology, culture… and what not. This month has every aspect to relate with. Hence for all those with a penchant to travel just for any reason, here are plentiful to do that.

Even weather generally remains clear and winter is yet to make some ground. Many people even like to travel to hills during this month to have some good views of snow-clad peaks in blue skies. So the month had events and festivals lined up from states as far as and as diverse as Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur. And actually I am pretty sure that I am still missing a few other happenings from same states or might be other states. But isn’t this more than enough!

Well, I am already late to suggest as it is Guru Parab today, birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikh religion. Hence it is the most auspicious day of the year for Sikhs around the world. But it is also Kartik Purnima today, the full moon day of the month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar. It again is one of the most important day of Hindu calendar. A day to take holy bath in the rivers around. So many festivals are organised around this day.

All those who can’t go to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to pay homage to Guru Nanak at his place of birth, still find solace at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The celebrations usually commence with Prabhat Pheris, the early morning processions that begin at the Gurudwaras and proceed around the localities singing hymns.

Kartik Purnima  is also the day of Dev Deepawali at Varanasi which is culmination of five day Ganga Mahotsav, which started on 31st October this year. Ganga mahotsav is a festival only once of its kind, certainly doubles the attraction of this city of temples, Ghats and traditions. As classical music fills the atmosphere, a mystique seems to envelop the environs awating a mood both celestial and soulful. On the final day (Poornima), which coincides with the traditional Dev Deepawali (light festival of the Gods), the ghats on the Ganga River glitter with more than a million lit-up earthen lamps. The trend of celebrating the Ganga Mahotsav in the Holy city of India, Varanasi, tends to keep the importance of the Varanasi as a cultural, religious and traditional capital of the India. At this occasion, pilgrims celebrate the event by performing an Indian classical style music and dance.

Chandrabhaga Fair

Chandrabhaga Fair (3rd to 5th November) at Jhalrapatan in Rajasthan is also linked to Kartik Purnima. It is held at every year at Jhalrapatan (6 kms from Jhalawar). The River Chadrabhaga runs here and is considered holy by the people residing in this part of Rajasthan. On the full moon night of ‘Kartik Purnima’, thousands of pilgrims take a holy dip in the river. The fair, held on the last day of Kartik, attracts devotees who bathe in the holy waters at this spot which is known as Chandravati. A big cattle fair which blends religion with commerce is held here. Livestock like cows, horses, buffaloes, camels and bullocks are brought from distant parts for sale. Ramganj Mandi is the nearest Major Railway Station (25kms), however local train between Kota and Jhalawar also available at Jhalawar railway station. Another world famous cattle fair in Rajasthan, Pushkar Fair also concludes on Kartik Purnima with a holy bath.

Kolayat Fair

Another fair in Rajasthan, the Kolayat Fair of Bikaner (2nd to 4th November) concludes today on Kartik Purnima. This fair holds great importance for the locals who eagerly await it. Tourists also experience a great time as the fair is celebrated on an expansive scale. It is also known as  ‘Kapil Muni Fair’. The pomp and show of the fair is not its only attraction as it also possesses great religious significance. A large number of devotees visit the fair to take a holy dip in the Kolayat Lake. It is believed that a holy dip can absolve them of all their sins.

Bundi Festival

Similarly Bundi Festival (6th to 8th November) starts immediately after Kartik Purnima. It includes several spiritual and traditional activities. It is a remarkable cluster of traditional art, culture and craftsmanship and visitors are left charmed by its magnificence. The program includes a colourful Shobha Yatra, arts & crafts fair, ethnic sports, cultural exhibition, classical music & dance program, turban competitions, bridal clothing, musical band competitions, and a sparkling fireworks display. Early in the morning, after the full moon night of Kartik Purnima, women and men clad in attractive colourful costumes light diyas or lamps on the banks of River Chambal and seek blessings.

Matsya Festival

Rajasthan also has another festival to its credit this month. The Matsya festival (25-26 November) of Alwar held in November over two days is the foremost of all fairs and festivals of Rajasthan. It is celebrated to glorify the prosperity, traditional values and colourful customs of the region. This festival is renowned for its colourful processions, cultural performances, an array of sporting events and impressive artistic exhibitions. The magnificence of Alwar’s numerous palaces and forts, lakes, hunting lodges, archaeological sites and thick forests, make it a delightful setting for a flamboyant celebration.

Sonepur Fair

But then there is another one of the most important and historical fairs of India, which commences in line with Kartik Purnima.  The annual Sonepur Fair (2nd November-3rd December) gets underway on the auspicious Hindu holy occasion of Kartik Purnima, when pilgrims take an early morning bath in the river, and continues for around four weeks.  Apparently, the Sonepur Fair has ancient origins back to the rule of India’s first Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who used to buy elephants and horses from it for his army. The fair also commemorates the intervention of Lord Vishnu to end a great curse and long fight between elephant and crocodile in Hindu mythology. The elephant was saved, after bathing in the river and being attacked by the crocodile, by Lord Vishnu. Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonepur. However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonepur. Since Sonepur is situated at the convergence of the sacred rivers Ganges and Gandak, it is regarded as a holy site. Traditionally known as a cattle fair, while still wonderfully off the beaten path, the Sonepur Fair now has a more commercial focus with the aim of attracting both domestic and international tourists. In order to facilitate this, Bihar Tourism took over its organization, including tourist accommodations, in 2012. While the Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan is famous for its camels, it’s the elephants that are the star attraction at the Sonepur Fair. They’re decorated and lined up on display in rows in an area known as the Haathi Bazaar (Elephant Market), and reportedly even raced. The special thing about it is that you can go up to the elephants and touch them, and even feed them. Sonepur is easily accessible by Roadways and Railways. Moreover, it is only 25 kilometers from Bihar’s Capital Patna, which is well connected by Airways, Railways and Roadways to the other parts of the country. During the time of Fair, BSTDC also organizes Ferries from Patna to Sonepur.

Moving further east from Bihar, Majuli island in Assam celebrates Majuli festival (21-24 November) every year in month of November. Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, nestles in the lap of the mightly Brahmaputra. This is where the 15th century saint and fountain head of Assamese culture, Sankardeva, first established a Satra or neo-Vaishnavite monastery, born of insightful discourses with his spiritual successor, Madhabdeva. The island is about 200 kilometers east from the state’s largest city, Guwahati.  Majuli is enveloped in lush greenery and the flora, fauna and the natural scenery found there is breathtaking. The Majuli festival is one of the most popular festivals and is celebrated on the picturesque banks of the river Luit situated 1.5 kilometers from Garamur, the sub divisional head quarter of the island. It is celebrated during the month of November keeping in mind the climatic conditions of the region. The celebration takes place for 4 continuous days. The Majuli festival is an enlightening celebration where various the cultural aspects of the different communities living there are revealed and honored. This is the one place where the artists of such different communities gather to celebrate their unity amongst this diverse gathering.  Majuli is 20 kms fom Jorhat town. Buses ply regularly from Jorhat town to Neamati Steamer Ghat, the main ferry boarding point for Majuli. The entire journey takes about three hours, involving a half hour bus ride to Neamati Ghat, which has a few tourist information booths, lodging facilities and food stalls catering to transiting ferry-goers, and ferry ride to the southern tip of Majuli island. Though Jorhat remains the principal entry point, Majuli can be approached through Lakhimpur on the north and Dibrugarh on the east.

Wangala Festival

Farther in Meghalaya there is  Wangala Festival (8-10 November) – a festival of 100 drums. The Wangala is a Garo post-harvest festival that marks the end of the agricultural year. It is an act of thanksgiving to the sun god of fertility, known as Misi-A-Gilpa-Saljong-Galapa. A nagara (a special drum used for calling the people on solemn occasions) is beaten. The Wangala is an age-old practice by the ‘Songsareks’ or non-Christian Garos in all the villages of Garo Hills. However, the time and mode of celebration varies from village to village.  This is the most popular festival of the Garo Hills, and is held in November, the precise date being fixed by the headman. The men and women dance in mirthful gaiety with the beating of drums, blowing of the buffalo horn trumpets and bamboo flutes. The men wear dhotis, half-jackets and turbans with feathers. The women wear colourful dresses made of silk, blouses and a head-wrap with feathers. The highlight of the festival is when 300 dancers and 100 drums descend on the field in all their splendour in celebration. Festival happens at Asanang village which is 18 kms from Tura in Meghalaya. Tura is in the western part of Meghalaya which is quite close to the Bangladesh border. Main mode of transport is by road, there are no railways or any scheduled flights from Tura airport. From Guwahati, it is 221 km, through the National Highway 51. Day time Sumo and overnight bus services are available form Guwahati. There is a 3-days-a-week helicopter service available from Guwahati and Shillong, run by Pawan Hans. Capital Shillong is more than 320 kilometres away.

Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival

But capital Shillong is home to another landmark event this month. The second edition of India International Cherry Blossom Festival (8-11 November). It is not just India’s only cherry blossom festival but it is also said to be world’s only autumn Cherry Blossom Festival. India has a cherry blossom festival, this itself might be a big news for many across the world, but north eastern states are busy planting cherry blossoms and very soon, India will well be on world Cherry Blossom tourism map.

Manipur Sangai Festival

Something more from the north east and this from Manipur which celebrates Manipur Sangai Festival from 21st to 30th November every year. The ‘Festival’ is named after the State animal, Sangai, the brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur. It started in the year 2010 and has grown over the years into a big platform for Manipur to showcase its rich tradition and culture to the world. The festival is labeled as the grandest festival of the state today and helps promote Manipur as a world class tourism destination. Every edition of the festival showcases the tourism potential of the state in the field of Arts & Culture, Handloom, Handicrafts, Indigenous Sports, Cuisine, Music and Adventure sports of the state etc.

Thiksey Gustor

Moving back to north, there are two important monastic festivals from monasteries of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.  Thiksey Gustor is held on the 17th, 18th and 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan lunar calendar (6-7 November) . It is a traditional ceremony conducted in the monasteries of Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. During these  days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of Gods and Goddesses. Thiksey Monastery is located 19 kilometres from Leh. It is situated on a hillock overlooking the Indus Valley with full view of the magnificent Stok range. It is located right on the main road towards Leh.

Also read: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Chemday Wangchok

Then there is Chemday Wangchok, the most famous festival (16-17 November) of the Chemday Monastery. It culminates with sacred mask dance (Chams) and a great variety of rituals with amazing Vajrayana skills. Wangchok is dedicated to the protectors of the truth. Devotees pay homage here to Jakpa Melen, a protector of the Drukpa lineage and of many Ladakhi families and villages. Large thangkas unfold only for the festival. They are not painted but were created from silk, with garland of pearls and corals, under Gyalsey Rinpoche the Precious Prince of Ladakh, around 1770. Devotees pay homage to the Mandala (Khyilkor) of Mahakala (Gonpo Nagpo), the lord of the Wangchok Festival. This monastery is 40 kms east of Leh.

Mannarasala Ayilyam

Quick jump to down south and we have three festivals from God’s own country Kerala. Mannarassala Ayilyam (11the November) is one of the major festivals in the Mannarassala Sree Nagaraja Temple, a unique temple dedicated to serpent Gods with over 30,000 images of snakes along the paths and even among trees. The major festival in this serpent shrine is the Ayilyam festival that falls on the Ayilyam asterism in the Malayalam month of Thulam, which roughly corresponds to the months of October / November. The festival which sees thousands of devotees visiting the temple from far and wide is celebrated with much grandeur. One of the major highlights of the festival is the ceremonial procession in which all the serpent idols in the temple and the sacred grove are taken to the illam (the Brahmin ancestral home) that manages the temple. Unlike other temples, here the head priest is a woman. The chief priestess will carry the idol of Nagaraja, which is the presiding deity of the temple. Special prayers and offerings are performed at the illam. Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple is at Harippad in Alappuzha. Harippad railway station is just 3 kms from the temple while Cochin International Airport is about 115 km away.

Kalpathi Ratholsavam

Then there is Kalpathi Ratholsavam (14-16 November). Kalpathi is a traditional Tamil Brahmin settlement in Kerala. The temple dedicated to Lord Viswanatha or Shiva is believed to be 700 years old. The annual chariot festival usually falls in the month of November. During the festival days the entire Kalpathi will be teeming with devotees and visitors from near and far. Vedic recitals and cultural programmes render a unique ambience for the place. On the last three days, the three elaborately decorated huge temple chariots take the attention of all. Devotees would then gather to draw the chariots through the streets of Kalpathi village. It will be just one chariot that will be pulled on the first day, followed by two on the second and three on the last day of the festival. Sree Viswanatha Swamy Temple is at Kalpathi in Palakkad.

Sabrimala Mandala Pooja

There is also one of the most famous pilgrimages of India. The Sabarimala temple is located in the Sabari Hills, towards the east of Pathanamthitta District. The divine incantation amid the lush forests and grasslands and the thousands of people that visit this temple, irrespective of caste and creed, make it a very unique pilgrim destination. Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity here. The annual pilgrim season to Sabarimala (15th November-26th December) begins with the Mandalakala season, which commences usually in the months of November-December followed by the Makaravilakku season during December-January. The temple at Sabarimala can be accessed via many traditional routes. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. As per tradition a dip in the sacred river Pamba cleanses the pilgrims off sins and after that they proceed to the sannidhanam or the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa. A truly riveting spiritual experience in the lap of pristine nature, Sabarimala has become a major destination of the faithful in India. Lord Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala is in Sabari Hills in the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district.

Then there are two long season festivals. One among them is the Rann Utsav at Kutch from 1st November to 20th February.  Rann Of Kutch is the most amazing tourist destination to travel to, with friends as well as family either on short weekends or on long sojourns. The Spectacular site of a glistening White Rann under the full moon along with various glimpses of Kutchi Culture, Handicrafts and outdoor activities make this desert carnival a perfect holiday destination. The variety emerges from the enchanting terrain that provides a perfect backdrop to an extra ordinary fair.

Jal Mahotsav at Hanuwantiya

Taking leaf out of Rann’s book is Madhya Pradesh by organising Jal Mahotsav at Hanuwantiya. On the lines of Rann Utsav of Kutch Madhya Pradesh tourism has dared to do the unthinkable of bringing tourists to a location as remote as Hanuwantiya with nothing to lure them. Now Hanuwantiya is a hub for air, land and water adventure activities. Jal Mahotsav is in its third year now and gradually increasing its time span. For ten days two years back, it increased to one month last year and now 80 days (15th October-2nd January). The main attraction of Jal Mahotsav is water sports in its huge reservoir which will often look like a sea.  But there are aero activities too, like paramotoring, parasailing and ballooning. Swiss tents have been put up for the tourists at the Jal Mahotsav. There are houseboats as well. An exhibition focused on Narmada river besides food zone, craft bazaar is being organised. This year Jal Mahotsav specially targets the year-end tourists. Hanuwantiya is in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh close to reservoir of Indira Sagar Dam. Nearest airport is Indore around 130 kms away. It takes around four hours to reach Hanuwantiya from Indore. Nearest major railway station is Khandwa which is 48 kms from Hanuwantiya.

Kalidas Festival

There are two more cultural extravaganzas. First is the Kalidas Festival at Nagpur. After being discontinued in 2010, the much awaited Kalidas Samaroh was revived two years back. Although controversies haven’t stopped following it. A tug of war continued over organising the festival between Nagpur and Ramtek. Kalidas was a great Sanskrit poet and dramatist, famous for his historical drama, Shakuntalam, and for the epic poem, Meghdoot. The Kalidas Festival brings back memories of the golden period of the Vidarbha region. Ramgiri, or Ramtek as it is popularly known today, is the place that inspired Kalidas and its beauty features predominantly in his literary work. Every year, in November, some of the greatest exponents of music, dance and drama performed in the picturesque setting of Ramtek, celebrating its glorious heritage over two exciting days and nights. The festival aimed to recall the golden period of Vidarbha region. The celebration of Kalidas Festival is a tribute to Kalidas and his eternal contribution to the field of poetry. But then there was a decision to shift the festival to Nagpur. Now after lot of hue and cry this festival has been split between two cities. Nagpur is going to organise the event in name of Kalidas Festival from 17th to 19th November this year while Ramtek will organise Kalidas Lok Mahotsav on 27th and 28th January. Kalidas festival this year has been dedicated to two legendary vocalists of Hindustani classical music, Kishori Amonkar and Girija Devi, who passed away recently. Ramtek is one of the important pilgrim centres and tourist attractions of Maharashtra State. It has both mythological and historic importance. It is about 45 kms from Nagpur and is well connected by road and rail. Nagpur has direct flights from all major big airports. Trains ply on a regular basis between Ramtek and Nagpur

Lucknow Mahotsav

Another is celebration os Awadhi culture at Lucknow. Lucknow Mahotsava is a celebration of the Awadh culture (the culture of Lucknow of the yesteryears). The festival is organized by the state government and continues for ten days. Colorful processions, traditional dramas, kathak dances in the style of the famous Lucknow gharana, sarangi and sitar recitals along with ghazals, qawalis, and thumri are the prime attractions of this festival. The Fascinating city of Lucknow has ever been associated with a rich tradition of hospitality, exotic cuisine and architectural grandeur. Lucknow attained unparalleled heights of excellence in art, craft and culture during the period of Nawabs. Lucknow Mahotsava is organized every year in the month of November / December to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Lucknow. Mahotsava provides an opportunity to hundreds of awarded artisans from more than 20 states of India to display their exquisite handicrafts. The Mahotsava also provides a platform to upcoming talented artists and venue for sportsmen to revive traditional sports and events like Kite competition, Ekka Tanga race, Vintage Car rally etc.

Geeta Mahotsav

Last but not the least is a very recent addition to the north India’s cultural scenario- Geeta Mahotsav at Kurukshetra, celebrated from 17th November to 2nd December this year.

So, you see, as I finish writing, I have already compiled 21 festivals. And then, I have probably missed out Vijaya Utsava at Hampi (3-5 November), Food truck festival in Delhi (11-12 November) and probably few more. Include all of them and we are already pass 25 festivals for 15 odd states.

Do you still think you can beat this month?

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The giant turtles of Keoladeo national park

Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur has been the earliest and most popular of bird sanctuaries in India so much so that until few decades back whenever plans to visit a bird sanctuary will come in mind, name Keoladeo used to prop up almost instantly. But this park, popular for its cranes and once a critical wintering ground for endangered Siberian cranes, is also known for its giant soft shelled turtles. Park has seven species of turtles.

The number of turtles is very good, in few hundreds. There are many myths and folklores associated with these turtles, but indeed there lifespan is very good. In that sense many turtles here are said to be living here for more than couple of hundred years. Now the catch is that this park doesn’t have perennial source of water. It depends lot on monsoon rains and water sourced from near by reservoirs through canals. So when water gets dried up, turtles move towards a pond located besides a historical temple situated right at the second barrier of the park.

Watching turtles at this pons is an exhilarating experience. There is a temple complex, an ashram adjacent to the pond.

Temple complex
There are big numbers of monkeys in the complex as well

There are stairs going to the pond from the temple side. The caretakers of the temple often feed turtles with wheat flour in attempt to bring them towards the stairs for exciting tourists to see them. In return, tourists will pay them tip for their efforts.

Temple caretaker luring turtles with wheat flour

Its fun to watch this lovely creature coming up to the stairs to get some quick food. They are different in age and sizes. Often more than one will come to the stairs.

Three turtles on the stairs

For me personally, it was first time to watch these turtles so closely and it was very exciting to photograph them. Monkeys around the temple often bring a twist to the tale, when they loot the bounty meant for the turtles. Its thoroughly entertaining.

Looting the bounty
Keeping a close eye on the proceedings
Filled in both hands… still looking for more

But despite these side-artists, the main character is still the turtle. Here comes one :

Swimming towards stairs
Gets his food and pulls himself back

Getting some close shots was fascinating, like this one-

…and this one too:

Putting its neck back into the shell…

A closer look of feet and the eyes:

Here comes another turtle to give an audience and also gives a glimpse of its size-

…same way to retreat back, what a power nature has given to this creature-

Holding its food in the mouth…

Neck looks so decorated…

You can spot turtles in the national park at many other places as well. You need not essentially go to the pond to see them…

Enjoying some sun
A bigger one…

In other water bodies of the park..

So, next time you go to the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur don’t forget to give some of your time to this lovely creature as well.

Where: Keoladeo Ghana National Park (erstwhile  Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary)  is located in Bharatpur city of Rajasthan. Park boundaries almost touch the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border. Park is just 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra. Park gates are located right on the  Agra-Jaipur National highway. The turtle pond, as it is famously known is just a kilometre from the park gate and left of the second barrier, which actually is the entrance to the park.

 

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