Lot outside Kerala too to enjoy in March

I talked about Kerala yesterday but there is lot more happening outside Kerala too in terms of events and festivals. With spring in its full bloom, it is riot of colours everywhere- in nature as well on faces! Actually, this is one of the most awaited months of the year because of its festivities- festival of colours- Holi undoubtedly. It is also last of the months of the pleasant weather before the summer strikes. Its already getting hot this time of the year. Don’t spare a chance to be around at any one of these places! As a matter of fact, there are so many happenings this month that instead of usual ten, I couldn’t stop myself from listing eleven this time. Here they go-

Festival of colours in Brij

HoliThough there are many festivals around the world where people throw colours, waters, flowers, mud, tomatoes, oranges and what not on each other, but no celebration can be compared to the fervour of celebrating Holi in mythical land of Krishna. Though Holi is celebrated in almost all parts of northern and central India, but it is the spirit of tradition that draws thousands every year to Mathura-Vrindavan to feel and play the holi as it used to be when Krishna used to play with Radha. In this area, festival of colours starts many days prior to the actual Holi day and continues long after that. It seems that for weeks together, this land has nothing else to do then relive the tradition of playing with colours. From temples to every household, prepares for it and is part of it. This holi is played in all possible ways- with flowers, colours, water and even by women folk beating their male counterparts when men of Nandgaon go to play Holi with women of Barsana, a mythical representation of Krishna going to play Holi with Radha. Tourists from all over the world come to witness this unique festival.

When: 5-15 March, 2017

Where: Barsana, Mathura

Check your Yoga quotient

International_YogaWhen it comes to Yoga, India has many gurus—as many as we have cricket experts. With growing popularity around the world, yoga festivals are the flavour of the season. There are many international tourists who plan their India trip around such yoga festivals. Places like Rishikesh has many of these. One among these with an international repute is the annual International Yoga Festival organised by Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. This year it presents a ‘truly’ International Yoga Festival grounded in the authentic origin of Yoga. Practise and learn from masters from the Traditional Yoga Lineages from India, as well as masters of International well known yoga schools & styles. During this one-week Festival, one will have the opportunity to participate in over 60 hours of Yoga classes from world-class Yoga teachers practicing multiple styles of Yoga including Kundalini Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Kriya Yoga. The International Yoga Festival explores the eight limbs of Yoga and how they apply to human lives whether one considers itself as Yoga student or not.The participants will also be blessed with the presence, satsang and divine words of ‘revered saints and spiritual masters’ from within India. Started in 1999, this is the 16th year for this festival. With more than 400 people from over 30 countries, it’s grown to become one of the largest yoga gatherings in the world.

When: 1-7 March, 2017

Where: Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Harvest festival of Chapchar Kut

Chapchar-KutChapchar Kut is a harvest festival named after bamboo that has been cut, and is drying for burning and subsequent cultivation. The traditional bamboo dance performed by women (while men sit on the ground and beat bamboo sticks against each other), called cheraw, is a big part of the festival. Different styles of tribal dance performances take place amidst symbol clashes and beats of drums. There’s art, handicrafts, concerts, flower shows, and food as well. At the end of February, when winter starts receding, the Mizos prepare the land for fresh planting. There are few days of relaxation before the serious business of sowing starts and that is when the Chapchar Kut festival is celebrated with gaiety and fervour. A spring festival, this is the most important festival and the only one regularly observed during the first week of March in Mizoram. On this day people of all ages, young and old, men and women dressed in their colourful costumes and distinctive head gears and jewelries, assemble and perform various folk dances, singing traditional songs accompanied by beating of drums, gongs and cymbals. They dance in joyous celebration of life, each team displaying the best of its region. These are generally group dances with a lot of bonhomie and courting woven into them. Some dances are strictly martial danced by strong virile warriors with their weapons and trophies. One dance perennially popular is the Cheraw or the “bamboo dance” so called as long bamboo staves are used for this dance. This is the most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos requiring skill and an alert mind to perform. The other main dances performed during Chapchar Kut are Khuallam, Chheihlam, Chai and Sarlamkai. “Khual lam” is an auspicious dance performed by a group of dancers celebrating new beginnings. It is also a welcome dance for guests during community festivities.Exhibition and sale of indigenous Handloom and Handicraft products and other tourist attractions like flower show, food festival, musical competition and different traditional games are also organised during the Chapchar Kut festival

When: 3 March, 2017

Where: Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. Also Lunglei and Saiha

Goa’s version of Holi- Shigmo

ShigmotsavGoa’s biggest spring festival, Shigmo, is the state’s version of Holi. It’s a Hindu festival that’s filled with bright decorations, singing, dancing, and colors. One traditional dance that’s often performed is the Ghode Modni martial arts horse dance. Shigmo parade is a street festival where vibrant colours and overwhelming celebrations lift the spirits of the entire state. It’s an experience you cannot afford to miss. This religious Hindu festival is filled with colours, music, dance and floats. In true meaning, it depicts the life of a Goan in elaborate folk performances by local men and women who dance tirelessly in huge processions along with the parade. Traditionally it was celebrated as spring’s biggest festival which honoured the homecoming of the warriors who had left their homes and families at the end of Dusshera to fight the invaders. Traditional folk dances and enactment of mythological scenes is the major highlight of this parade. Shigmotsav as they call it, is similar to Holi but it’s celebrated for 14 days in Goa. It is also a farewell to the winters. Traditional folk dances like Ghode Modni and Fugdi are performed on streets in massive troupes along the procession, showcasing the tradition of Goa. The shimmering floats with extensive lighting and sound effects move along with the parade gripping the attention of a huge crowd that aligns the streets of Goa.

When: 24 March-7 April, 2017.

Where: All over Goa, particular evenings in Panjim where a huge street procession is held with floats depicting Ramayana and Mahabaratha scenes, drums, and folk dancing. Celebrations are more authentic in rural areas. Expect plenty of authentic Goan cuisine and fenni (local alcoholic drink).

A festival for Olive Ridley turtles

turtlesNow that’s unusual. Spend a time at beach to show the commitment towards conservation of an endangered species. See newly hatched, endangered Olive Ridley turtles take their amazing march into the sea at the annual Turtle Festival. As well as this, you’ll get to sample traditional Indian village life by stopping over at local home-stays in the area (dormitory rooms only). Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) is a leading non-government organisation (NGO) in India, engaged in conservation of, education about and research on nature. In the year 1992, SNM started its work in the pristine region of Konkan on the western coast of Maharashtra state in India.Sahyadri started ‘Home Stay’ to host metro tourists at Velas in 2006 as a part of ‘Turtle Festival’. Turtle festival is an opportunity for metro-tourists to bid best wishes to the newly born sea turtle hatchlings while crawling towards their home. To ensure longevity of the project, Sahyadri also helped locals to form ‘Kaasav Mitra Mandal’ (Turtle Friends). Over the last 6 years, ‘Home Stay’ has received excellent support and guidance by locals, Gram Panchayat and the Forest Department. Sahyadri empowered villagers by starting Velas Homestay to host the tourists visiting during Turtle Festival. There is no fixed date and people organise different tours during the hatching time of turtles in February-March.

When: March, 2017

Where: The turtle village Velas in Konkan region is almost 225 kms from Mumbai and around 120 kms from Chiplun. Its also 6 hours bus journey from Ratnagiri. Chiplun and Ratnagiri are on the Konkan railway main line.

Myoko Festival, Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

MyokoOne of the most impressive festivals of the Apatani in Arunachal is Myoko. It is celebrated in spring. In it age-old beliefs in the possibility of attaining and directing fertility to the fields and the people are interwoven with methods of strengthening family, clan and inter-village ties. The most important day is the day of the great pig sacrifices. It is believed that on this day the gods and goddesses will bless the place. At 2 o’clock the pigs are brought to the sacrificial place. From 4 o’clock onwards the priest starts reciting prayers which last for many hours. With the sunrise the freshly married women appear in their festive attire and sprinkle rice flour and rice beer over the dozens of pigs lying on the ground. At the same time the assistant priest sacrifices chickens on an altar on the sacred ground. After the main Myoko priest has been chanting his prayers for several hours, selected pigs receive special rituals before sacrifice. That part of the festival might not be for the weak-hearted. The Apatani tribe living in the Ziro Valley are keepers of folklore and legends, and customs so different. Bringing together all the Apatani tribes is their most important festival, Myoko, when the tribes renew their relationships, and pay homage to ancestors and nature for its gift of life and means of sustenance.

When: 20-30 March, 2017

Where: Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

A garden so exclusive!

mughal-gardenIt can be called as one of the biggest private gardens in the world at one of the biggest private residence in the world. Nearly 10,000 Tulips in vivid colours are be the main attraction of annual ‘Udyanotsav’ which President Pranab Mukherjee recently threw open at Mughal Garden for public. The iconic Mughal Gardens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is open for the public from February 5. The beautiful lawns, comprising the spiritual garden, herbal garden, bonsai garden and musical garden, will remain open from till March 12 (except on Mondays which are maintenance days) between 9:30 am-4:00 pm.) So you still have time, if you have not already gone there. President Mukherjee inaugrated the gardens, as part of the ‘Udyanotsav’, on February 4. Entry and exit for people to reach the Mughal Gardens is from Gate No 35 of the President’s Estate, close to where North Avenue meets Rashtrapati Bhavan. Visitors are not allowed to bring any water bottles, briefcases, handbags/ladies purses, cameras, radios, transistors, boxes, umbrellas, eatables etc. Such articles, if any, have to be deposited at the entry point. Arrangements for drinking water, toilets, first aid/medical facility and rest rooms for senior citizens, women and children have also been provided. There will be special visiting days too as the gardens will open exclusively on March 10 for farmers, differently abled persons, defence/paramilitary forces and Delhi Police personnel. They can visit the gardens on this day between 9:30 am-4:00 pm and the entry will be through Gate No 35. The tactile garden will be open for visually impaired people on March 10 from 11:00 am-4:00 pm and the entry can be made from gate No 12, situated on Church Road (next to North Avenue). The garden has more than 120 celebrated varieties of roses who have their prime bloom is in February-March. The special roses include Green Rose and Angelique. Nearly 40 fragrant varieties include Belami, Black Lady, Double Delight, Eiffel Tower, Granada, Jadis, Mr Lincoln, Sadabahar and Taj Mahal. The Gardens include roses named Mother Teresa, Arjun, Bhim, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jawahar and Dr BP Pal besides international celebrities with names like John F Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, Mr Lincoln and Montezuma. Other rose varieties worth mentioning are Christian Dior, Happiness, Century Two, First Prize, Kiss of Fire, Iceberg and Granada. Unlike other gardens which grow a limited variety of roses but in large masses, the Mughal Garden features a large range of rose varieties in one place.

When: 5 February-12 March, 2017

Where: Mughal Gardens, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi

Gangaur at Jaipur

Gangaur-jaipurOne of the most important festivals in Rajasthan, Gangaur is all about honoring the goddess Gauri. In some form or the other it is celebrated all over Rajasthan. “gan” is a synonym for Lord Shiva and “gauri” or “gaur” stands for Goddess Parvati, the heavenly consort of Lord Shiva. Gangaur celebrates the union of the two and is a symbol of conjugal and marital happiness.This festival is predominantly for women. Colorful processions of bejeweled images of the goddess Gauri wind their way all over cities and villages, accompanied by local bands. In Jaipur, traditional procession of Gangaur commences form the Zanani- Deodhi of the City Palace, passing through Tripolia Bazaar, Chhoti Chaupar, Gangauri Bazaar, Chaugan stadium and finally converges near the Talkatora. The procession is headed by a old palanquins, chariots, bullock carts and performance folk artistes.

When: 29-30 March, 2017.

Where: All over Rajasthan, however the festivities in Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Nathdwara are the most notable

Mewar Festival at Udaipur

Mewar-FestivalThe Mewar Festival welcomes the arrival of spring. It coincides with the festival of Gangaur in Udaipur, and has a unique charm about it. The women folk gather to dress the images of Isar and Gangaur and then carry them in a ceremonial procession through different parts of the city. The procession winds its way to the Gangaur Ghat at Lake Pichhola. Here, the images are transferred to special boats amidst much singing and festivity. Once the religious part of the festival is over, it is time for cultural events where Rajasthani culture is portrayed through songs, dances and other programmes. The festival culminates with an impressive fireworks display. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see a range of traditional musical instruments being played.

When: 30 March-1 April, 2017

Where: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Taj Mahotsav at Agra

Taj-MahotsavNormally this festival is held every year in February, but due to elections in Uttar Pradesh, it was postponed this year for a month. This 10 days long carnival is actually a vibrant platform that gives you information of India where you can find India’s rich arts, crafts, cultures, cuisine, dance and music. Taj Mahal is the most beautiful historical place of India which tells about incredible India. Taj Mahotsav is organized by UP Tourism and it is a source to increase Indian Tourism. This cultural bonanza was started in year 1992 and since then its grandeur has reached to greater heights. One of the objectives of this craft mela is to provide encouragement to the Artisans. It also makes available the magnificent work of art and craft at the most reasonable and authentic prices that are not inflated by high maintenance cost. About 400 legendary artisans from different parts of the country get an opportunity to display their exquisite works of art. To name a few among them  are the wood/stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, Bamboo/cane work from North East India, Paper mash work from South India and Kashmir, the marble and zardozi work from Agra, wood carving from Saharanpur, brass wares from Moradabad, hand made carpets from Bhadohi, Pottery from Khurja, Chikan work from Lucknow, silk & zari work from Banaras, shawls & carpets from Kashmir/Gujarat and hand printing from Farrukhabad and Kantha stitch from west Bengal etc. Apart from the exquisite craft work you can experience the majestic and magnetic performances by artistes from every walks of life. The soul-stirring performances will engulf you to the extent of casting a spell. Throughout the Mahotsav, one can experience a profusion of folk & classical music & dances of various regions. Besides the folk, the Mahotsav also exhibit the performance from the world renowned artistes from classical, semi-classical and popular art forms. Beside being the right destination for the arts & crafts, the Mahotsav is also a delight for the connoisseurs of good food as it is the ideal place to pamper the taste buds of the visitors with endless varieties of scrumptious dishes. Some of the oldest exponents of the cuisine-art prepare the lip-smacking dishes. One can also relish the typical preparations from the interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Funfair is the biggest attraction for children in the festival. It is a complete family entertainment which offers thrill and amusement for every one. Teenagers and adults enjoy various rides and roller coaster while children are happy with small ride such as merry-go-round, Train-rides and Ferris wheel.

When: 18-27 March, 2017

Where: Shilpgram, Eastern gate of Taj Mahal, Agra

Oracle tradition of Ladakh at Matho 

matho-nagrangTough to say to go to Ladakh at this time but there is no barrier for those who are keen to enjoy the fun. Each year, in the small village of Matho, the people come together to celebrate a part of their mystical heritage. The Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival is held each year in Ladakh, India during the first month of the Tibetan new year. It is believed that two oracles, or Ronstang, inhabit the bodies of two specially chosen monks in order to predict the future of the village and of individual villagers. Matho itself, just 26 kilometers from Ladakh, is named after the Matho monastery, which means “many happiness.” Due to its location, the monastery does not get many visitors outside of the annual Winter Festival of the Oracles but has a great deal to offer. It is the only monastery of the Sakyapa sect in Ladakh – one of the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Sakya sect dates back to the 11th century and practices esoterism, or tantra, as its foundational teaching. The monastery also houses a museum with centuries old Thangpa. A Thangpa is a painting done on silk tapestry. Buddhist deities or mandalas are usually depicted and the Thangpa are used as teaching tools in the Buddhist tradition. Also in the museum are the colourful silken robes and ceremonial masks worn by the monks during the festival. The costumes are worn during dances that depict Buddhist history as well as the history of the village. The festival begins much earlier than the two public days of festivities. For the monks who serve as the vessels for the oracles are chosen every four years.

When: 11-12 March, 2017

Where: Matho monastery, Ladakh

 

Ten festivals to soak in Kerala this March

Kerala is always serene, always worth and always enjoyable. It remains almost same all the year round. And every time you can find a reason or two to go for a trip there. But this March there are not just one or couple, but ten reasons to go to different parts of Kerala. Apparently, there are perhaps more, but I have shortlisted ten for you. These are all temple festivals of Kerala. Temple festivals of Kerala are not like ones in the north. They are more elaborate and ritualistic. Most of them have elephants involved, which make them very beautiful. A great ensemble of Kerala’s culture. Choose yours…

Parade of offerings to Bhagavathy

chettikulangara_bharaniOne of the most vibrant festivals of Kerala, the Chettikulangara Bharani offers arresting visuals and showcases the cultural richness of the state. An annual event held at the Chettikulangara Temple during the Malayalam month of Kumbham (February-March), the festival is dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathy. The highlight of the festival is the spectacular Kettukazhcha where vibrantly decked up structures are taken out in a ceremonial procession. The therus (chariots) and kuthiras (horse motifs) as well as huge icons of Bhima and Hanuman, two Indian epic characters, are flaunted in front of the temple from the 13 karas (region) near the temple on the festival day. Kettukazhcha is an offering of the people to the deity. These majestic structures are architectural marvels and are a testimony to the architectural and aesthetic expertise of the people of this region. The parade of huge brightly decorated structures, with the bigger ones assumed as horses and smaller ones as chariots, produce a highly surreal visual and the joyous crowd accompanying the pageant is sure to leave lasting impressions on spectators.

Where: Chettikulangara Bhagavathy Temple, Mavelikara, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Mavelikkara, about 6 km away while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.

When: March 3, 2017

‘Mela’ of alephants at Paripally

paripally-gajamelaParipally Gajamela forms part of the annual festival at the Kodimoottil Sree Bhagavathy Temple dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali. The event witnesses parading of as many as upto 50 caparisoned elephants. Further, a host of cultural programmes are staged as part of this event on the temple premises. The elephants are paraded on the last day of the ten-day festival. Head off to Kodimoottil Bhagavathy Temple in the month of March to attend the Gajamela festival.

Where: Kodimoottil Bhagavathy Temple, Parippally, Kollam. Nearest railway station is  Kollam Junction, about 22 km away from Paripally while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 45 km away

When: March 5, 2017

Elephant race at Guruvayur

guruvayur_temple_anayottamYou might have had goose bumps watching Usain Bolt running his way into the pages of world records. But ever seen a race where the participants are not the two-legged human beings but the four-legged giant jumbos, each weighing some 12,000 pounds? Now here is a chance for you to witness such an event. Guruvayur Anayottam (elephant race) as it is called in Malayalam marks the beginning of the annual Guruvayur festival, celebrated in the month of Kumbham (February-March) at the Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple in Guruvayur, district of Thrissur. The Guruvayur Temple is one of the most renowned and oldest of all temples in Kerala. Though the winning elephant will not get a gold medal, he will have the honour to carry the Thidambu (the replica of the idol of Guruvayoorappan) on all special occasions for one year.

Where: Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, Thrissur district

When: March 8, 2017

Pongala for Attukalamma

attukala_pongalA festival like no other, Attukala Pongala, the largest congregation of women in the state, is celebrated at the renowned Attukal Bhagavathi Temple in Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. The festival entered the Guinness records for being the largest single gathering of women for a religious activity. Only women are allowed to participate in the Pongala ritual. Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of a sweet dish consisting of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. The pongala is offered by the devotees in the belief that the presiding deity of the temple – the Goddess – popularly known as Attukalamma will be appeased. As the festival sees a huge influx of devotees, the crowd spills over to the major roads in the city and the festival has a whole city revelling in festive splendour.

Where: Attukal Bhagavathi Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram railway station is about 3 km away while Trivandrum International Airport is about 5 km away

When: March 11, 2017

Procession of tuskers

chinakkathoor_pooramA grand procession of a fleet of 27 tuskers bedecked with caparisons- this sight of the gentle giants in richly ornate attire is the highlight of the Chinakkathoor Pooram held annually at the Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple in the district of Palakkad in north Kerala. The Panchavadyam or traditional Kerala orchestra and pandimelam which accompany the Pooram add the much-needed fervour to the festivities. Various art forms like theyyam, poothanum thirayum, kaalavela, kathakali, kumbakali, thattinmelkoothu are also performed adding to the festive spirit. For those yearning to watch this visual splendour of colours and art forms, Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple is the place to be.

Where: Chinakkathoor Bhagavathi Temple at Palakkad. Nearest railway station is Shoranur, about 20 km away, while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 103 km away.

When: March 11, 2017

Annual festival at Thirunakkara

thirunakkara-arattuThe annual 10-day festival at the Thirunakkara Temple draws to a close with the Thirunakkara Arattu ceremony. Usually nine caparisoned elephants take part in the Arattu procession which begins in the afternoon. Folk arts like Mayilattom (peacock dance), Velakali etc, are presented in the temple compound in the evening. A major attraction is the all-night Kathakali performances on the third and fourth days of the festival.

Where: Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple, Kottayam district

When: March 15-24, 2017

When men are dressed up as women

kottangkulangara-chamayavilakkuA very unique festival. A gender bender of a festival where men cross dress, the Kottangkulangara Chamayavilakku celebrated at the Kottangkulangara Devi Temple in Kollam stands apart from the rest of the festivals in Kerala with this unique flavour. This novel event is part of a special temple ritual during the festival. During the festival night, men dressed up in women’s attire bearing traditional lamps will swarm the premises of the temple.  They will then move as a procession towards the temple to the accompaniment of traditional orchestra. This unique festival attracts hordes of crowds each year.

Where: Kottangkulangara Devi Temple at Kollam. Nearest railway station at Kollam is about 13 km while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 71 km from Kollam town.

When: March 24-25, 2017

Where Duryodhana is revered

malanada-kettukazchaAt Poruvazhi Malanada Temple, tradition deviates. This is a temple which reveres and showers praises on an antagonist. Here, the worshipped figure is Duryodhana, considered a villain in the Indian epic Mahabharata. Another highlight at the temple is the absence of an idol or a sanctum sanctorum. Come March, and the Temple bears witness to one of the most spectacular events- Malanada Kettukazcha an eight-day festival celebrated in all pomp and gaiety. Richly decorated structures known as Edupu Kala and Edupu Kuthira are taken out to the accompaniment of the traditional orchestra of drums.  These huge structures may even be 70 to 80 ft tall as the making involves intense competition between the people of the surrounding villages. The majestic structures are then taken out on chariots or carried on the shoulders by the devotees. Cultural programs are also performed during the night and Kathakali based on the story ‘Nizhalkuthu’ is customary. This impressive procession which is celebrated with much zeal witnesses huge participation by devotees from far and near.

Where: Poruvazhi Malanada Temple, Adoor in Pathanamthitta district. Nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 30 km away from Malanada while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 92 km from Adoor.

When: March 24, 2017

Temple on canoes

Attuvela-MahotsavamPicture this- A vibrantly decked up and illuminated replica of a temple drifting across the waters accompanied by an entourage of brilliantly decorated small canoes with the temple percussion music resounding in the background.  For those yearning to witness this spectacle head off to Elankavu Bhagavathy Temple during the Attuvela Mahotsavam. Attuvela Mahotsavam is a water carnival. Legend has it that it represents the welcome ceremony accorded to the Goddess of Kodungalloor who arrives to visit her sister, the Goddess of Elamkavu. The temple has Goddess Bhagavathy as its presiding deity. The cynosure of all eyes during the two-day festival is the huge replica of the temple sailing down the waters. This arresting procession of canoes starts from Attuvela kadavu, 2 km away from the temple.

Where: Elankavu Bhagavathy Temple, Vaikom in Kottayam. Nearest railway station is Ernakulam, about 30 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 50 km away.

When: March 29, 2017

Dance in the trance

kodungalloor-bharaniImagine the premises of a temple getting bathed in a sea of red as a flurry of oracles draped in vermilion cloth scurry around the temple wielding their swords, the highlight being the presence of hordes of women oracles dancing in trance alongwith their male counterparts. This intense event called kaavu theendal forms part of the annual Bharani festival held at the Bhagavathy Temple in Kodungalloor. A spectacle in itself, this festival has heavily decked up oracles dancing in divine ecstasy. The devotees too run along with the oracles as they circumambulate the temple in spiritual euphoria. Oracles, both men and women, from different parts of the State run around the temple and smite their crown with the sword, proclaiming their communion with the Mother Goddess. The devotees strike the temple rafters with sticks and hurl offerings over the roof and on to the inner quadrangle. The Kodungalloor Bharani is a spectacle in itself. The festival usually falls in the Malayalam month of meenam (roughly March/April) every year. The temple remains closed for a week following the festival. The temple still follows a ritual from the days of the yore wherein purification ceremonies, a custom which is believed to restore the sanctity of the temple, are performed after the ‘kaavu theendal.’

Where: Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple at Kodugalloor in Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Irinjalakuda, about 20 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 30 km.

When: March 30, 2017

 

Sambhar is a unique destination

Well, this is final post on this trip to Sambhar. This is a sort of a first for me. First time six posts in six days on trot and also for the first time six posts on a trot on a single destination.  Sambhar is on most accounts a sleepy town in Jaipur district. Would have been a village some time back, but has gone bigger now to be called as town.

Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side
Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side

How to reach: There are two ways to reach Sambhar- by road and by train. Sambhar Lake actually in its vast expanse touches three district of Rajasthan- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. Sambhar railway station is right inside the town. This railway station falls on Jaipur-Jodhpur railway line. While coming from Jaipur, this railway station is next to Phulera junction railway station. But express trains don’t stop at Sambhar Lake railway station. There are a couple of passenger trains from Sambhar to Jaipur as well, if you are really interested in going to Sambhar by train. But if one actually takes a passenger train then should perhaps travel from Sambhar to Nawa so that the vast expanse of salt lake can be crossed by train and then can return back to Sambhar for other experiences.

By road, main approach is through National Highway 8. It will depend that you are travelling on NH 8 from Jaipur side or Ajmer side. If you are coming from Jaipur side, drive till Mokhampura, which is almost 50 kms from Jaipur. From here turn right towards Phulera. Phulera is 22 kms from here and after crossing two railway level crossings before and after Phulera, move towards Sambhar town which is just six kms from Phulera. That means Sambhar is just 28 kms off the NH 8 from Mokhampura. But if you are coming from Ajmer side, then after Kishangarh when you enter the Jaipur district than comes a place called Dudu. Turn left from here towards Sambhar which is less than 25 kms from there. Both Mokhampura and Dudu are on NH 8, hence you can use any point to turn towards Sambhar, as per convenience.

Salt fields in Sambhar
Salt fields in Sambhar

Where to stay: Staying depends lot on your purpose, duration and choice of convenience for stay. I wanted to have a feel of the town, so I desperately wanted to stay here. But then you can’t expect luxury.  There are four types of stay options. I stayed at Krishna guesthouse which is just on the start of the town on the right side. There are couple of more such guesthouses. They have clean but basic facilities- bed and attached bathrooms. I paid 500 INR for a one night, just for stay. Since this is also a religious town, it also has a couple of what we call as dharamshalas (place for pilgrims to stay). They are cheaper than guesthouses and might even be same in facilities. These dharamshalas are close to bus stand. Then there is also a PWD rest house which has two sets. So if available tourists can stay there. It is cheaper (currently 275 INR per room per day) and best. This PWD rest house is right opposite the bus stand. Lastly,  if you want to be adventurous, you can pitch tent on dry bed of the salt lake. The night sky here is very beautiful, which people leaving in metros or bigger towns will never get to see. So, if you intend to do that, than go prepared. Those who don’t want to stay in Sambhar, can get better accommodations in Phulera town, six kms from Sambhar. Many tourists will come to Sambhar just for a day visit from either Jaipur or Ajmer. So it all depends, how long you want to stay here.

cenotaph of Daadu Dayal
cenotaph of Daadu Dayal

What to do: Sambhar is biggest inland saline lake in India. Its is also a wintering destination for migratory birds. It is second largest breeding ground for flamingos in India after Rann of Kutch. It is also a religious town with mythological importance. There is also another  prominent temple here- Shakambari temple, located some 22 kms from the town in midst of lake bed. I wanted to go there but couldn’t squeeze it within the time in hand. Sambhar is said to have got its name because of the this goddess. I was more interested in going there to see that side of the salt bed.

So lot of things to do. You can even try to fit all of them in a day trip, but to enjoy more and soak yourself in the atmosphere, better to keep some time in hand. I spent two half days and actually longed for more.

Sambhar lake and the town
Sambhar lake and the town

What to eat: You can try local dishes here. There are few restaurants close to bus stand, which serve tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner. You need to search for some authentic local cuisine. Phinni (फिन्नी) is the sweet, this place is famous for. Many shops near bus stand are good to buy them. That is actually also the main market of the town.

A lot of interest has recently been developed in the place. With many films already shot here including PK, there seems to be increase in the popularity. Soon enough, it is going to come up with lots of developed infrastructure. Rajasthan tourism is already panning a luxury train for bringing high-end tourists to Sambhar. Although, not everything is welcomed by the environmentalists and the bird lovers.
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Lot more than flamingos at Sambhar

Though flamingos were my primary interest and they were who actually pulled my all the way to Sambhar, but wintering at Sambhar is not all about flamingos. Flamingos might be very high in count and attraction but there are many other birds coming for winter migration. As I said in my last post, there are more than 70 species of birds coming here every year.

Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake
Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake

So while I was busy admiring flamingos at Sambhar lake, I couldn’t have failed to notice and try to click few other migratory birds. Pied avocet (pictured above) was the among the first one to come across and was quite attractive because of its distinctive beak and black & white appearance.

Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake
Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake

Though there were some northern pintail and pochards as well, but I could manage to get close view of only these northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake
Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake

Black-tailed godwits gave me some very nice shots while  flying as above and some wonderful reflections like below. It was indeed one of my favourite photos.

Black tailed godwits make a good reflection
Black tailed godwits make a good reflection

Among the pink glare of flamingos, these migratory birds also had their marked presence. Actually besides the lesser flamingos, eurasian curlew and black-tailed godwits have also among the threatened species of birds of Sambhar.

other migratory birds at Sambhar
other migratory birds at Sambhar

Among the common birds often found on backyard shorelines to be seen here were black-winged stilts (below). This thin legged bird is often considered to be cutest among the waders.

Sambhar Flamingos14
a pair of black winged stilt at Sambhar lake

And, then when I covered whole distance from ramp (where I parked my bike) to the railway track, then across the railway track on a high tension power line, I suddenly saw this crested lark (below). It looked so fascinating and keen to give me some cool poses.

Sambhar Flamingos18
Crested lark

I finished with the flamingos and was on my bike again on way back to the main city. I crossed the salt fields and deserted railway stations. Just when I though that I had finished everything at Sambhar for this trip, then suddenly few metres before the railway crossing I noticed another marshy area to my right and there were more birds and in fairly good numbers.

a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake
a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake

A flock of flying marsh sandpipers caught my notice and in a flash my bike was parked and camera was out. They looked so fascinating in their flight.

a group of Bar headed geese
a group of Bar headed geese

Also with them was a small group os bar-headed geese. I had recently seen them in Kankwari Lake in Sariska and it was easy for me to recognise them. I tried to go closer but they were quick to avoid and flew away at a distance (below). So cute! Isn’t it!

bar-headed geese in flight
bar-headed geese in flight

In the same group of bar-headed goose, I was also able to notice two Brahminy shelduck. This distinctively beautiful bird migrates from south-east Europe and central Asia and winters in Indian sub-continent. But I could see only two of them.

a pair of Brahminy Shelduck
a pair of Brahminy Shelduck

With this shot of marsh sandpipers, I reluctantly switched off my camera and was back on my bike.

marsh sandpipers
marsh sandpipers

It was indeed a great mini photo-tour. Quite satisfying for me in terms of number of birds as well as number os species, that I was able to capture in my images. The feeling made the return journey a bit less tiring.

and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

Sambhar Flamingos8

closer-

Sambhar Flamingos9

and yet more-

Sambhar Flamingos11

until they decided to move away a bit farther-

Sambhar Flamingos12

I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

Sambhar Flamingos13

After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

Sambhar Flamingos7
fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

Sambhar Flamingos16

and then land to a safer place-

Sambhar Flamingos17

Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

Sambhar Flamingos19

All together-

Sambhar Flamingos20

But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

Sambhar Flamingos28

Sambhar Flamingos29

… and as if saying goodbye to me-

Sambhar Flamingos31

I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

…the pink mystique

It was second day at Sambhar. Last day was interesting with engaging myself in pink salt of Sambhar and then soaking in some refreshing sights of a pink sunset. But as I said, my mind was still lurking in search of the pink flamingos. The other day Sohan Singh had suggested me to go towards the Devayani, where I can probably find the birds. One things I have learnt over the years of travelling is never to feel shy in asking locals about any doubt or any information- basic or may be additional. So, while riding my bike in the morning, I  asked my lodge owner about possible location of flamingos and he suggested me to go towards ‘chatri (canatoph) of Dadu Dayal (दादू दयाल की छतरी). I decided to try towards Devayani first.

Sambhar Devyani9
Temples at Devayani

This is third aspect of a trip to Sambhar. It was not in my agenda, at least not before the flamingos, but then as it was deemed to be, I had to explore Devayani first. Besides being home to salt and flamingos, Sambhar is also a religious town and mythologically a very important one. Devayani gets its name from daughter of guru Shukracharya of demons and was queen of king Yayati. This mythology dates quite earlier to even times of Mahabharata. I am not going to dwell upon story of Devayani and Yayati as it is there in scriptures as well as now online. As is believed, that this is the place, where Devayani used to live, hence it got the name. So, Sambhar has got this spiritual and religious value as well. Devayani temple is just two kilometres from the Sambhar bus stand.

Road to Devayani
deserted road to Devayani

Devayani is considered to be a pilgrimage and now there have been many efforts to develop religious tourism aspect of Sambhar. With lots of funds in tow, the area has been renovated and many facilities being developed. Devayani is actually a small artificial lake and there are temples all around. In this way, it is quite similar to Pushkar, though the later one is quite bigger than this. So, there are ghats and temples on all four sides. For long these have been neglected, and now there are efforts to clean the lake and reconstruct the ghats and temples.

Lake and temples around
Lake and temples around

Temples are dedicated to various deities, but the main temple is of Ganges or the Ganga. This temple is said to quite old and is being repaired now. Inner portion of the temple looks quite recently refurbished.

Regular prayers and worships are held at the temple. Every month on many auspicious days special religious events are being held and local people from around the region gather here in good numbers. Although, that morning I was the only visitor there.

For those in need!
For those in need!

Interestingly, this place is called as Devayani and though it is dedicated to a specific mythological character but the main temple here is of river Ganges. I was told that earlier there used to be no temple of Devayani here. Just recently, a temple of Devayani was built because many people will come and ask that where is the Devayani temple (but outside this temple it is written that it is an ancient one! Quite confusing!).

Devayani temple
Devayani temple

On the four sides of lake are said to also four ancient Shiva temples and one of them is this Jageshwar temple. It is believed the the lingam at this temple is very deep and actually no one has been able to know its actual depth.

Jageshwar temple
Jageshwar temple

Interestingly enough, just adjacent to Devayani temple is a tomb and  a small mosque nearby. There was no information on who’s tomb it is or may be religious fault lines prohibit people to divulge too much. But in the medieval times there has been known history of muslim salt traders from Sambhar trading salt at nearby cities. There was even a mosque in Jaipur’s Kishanpole area known as ‘mosque of Sambharias’ (सांभरियों की मसजिद). Irony is that in all the construction and renovation around, no care was being taken of that tomb.

Although I was focused to look for flamingos, this place indeed looked interesting to me and had many things to reflect upon.

Sambhar Devyani10

…the pink sunset

We had already crossed the visible stretch of the Sambhar Lake from railway station to the refinery close to dam. Charmed by the Pink Salt we were on the next part of our evening trail. While crossing the lake bed, we were slowly and cautiously following the path created by jeep tyres, as any attempt to deviate would have been dangerous for our bikes in that slushy mud. Winter sun was quickly moving westwards and I was now getting anxious for some sunset shots in the vast expanse of the lake bed. After pink salt, was it the turn for a pink sunset? You would see for yourself-

Pink Sunset5

I somehow believed that sunset would be splendidly beautiful and quite different from sunsets that I have experienced so far at other places. Colours in the sky and on the land had started changing.

Pink Sunset10

The appetite for a wonderful sunset has been increased by shots like these on the way to Sambhar Salt refinery-

Pink Sunset26

…and also this, just ahead of above-

Just past refinery, me and my lecturer guide Sohan Singh ji rode upto the dam. Private salt operator Vijay Chaudhary had asked us to go till dam to see if there is any water on the other side and I am able to locate any flamingos (my primary motive to be here).

On to the dam
On to the dam

The lake is actually divided into to unequal parts by this dam that runs through almost five kms. An old railway line runs through almost full length of the dam. This rail track was earlier used by salt trains. But it is no longer in use. So our journey to the dam involved biking along that old railway line through some wide stretches like above and some tricky ones like below-

Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.
Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.

Interestingly enough, even Sohan Singh had not visited this part of the lake ever earlier despite being resident of this area for quite a long. Actually, this was the reason that kept him motivated to travel with me throughout the evening.

Western side of Sambhar Lake
Western side of Sambhar Lake

Across the dam is the western part of the lake which is more of a open water undisturbed natural lake ecosystem. Shakambari temple is almost 20 kms far in this lake bed. There are also some villages (dhanis) and occasional salt fields. There have been many dredging channels created on the lake bed for salt extraction. On the north-western side is the Gudha village and further 10-15 kms is Nawa. Lake runs upto there. There is a railway line to Nagaur from Sambhar on that route. There are number of brine reservoirs for salt extraction all along.

Pink Sunset11By the time we reached the dam sun was getting ready to take the plunge. I was looking for some open place where trees and shrubs don’t obstruct my view of the sunset and I can find a comfortable place to click the photos.

It was rather easy as there were not many people (actually rarely anybody) passing through that way. I expected some of the colours of the lake bed to show up in sunset and they actually did. See for yourself-

The vastness of the lake bed actually made the foreground similar to a sea or ocean, perfect for the sunset. And then, colours started to show up, interchanging between pink and orange-

Finally, I decided to go closer to sun, not literally but optically, and the results were again very pleasing. And I kept clicking till sun itself said, it was enough. And what colours the sky kept throwing, I was amazed-

As the sun went into hide, it was time to move. Sohan Singh ji had already spent more than three hours with me. He was also getting late perhaps, although he never got anxious on my photographing capabilities! It was time to find some resting place for the night. We had come quite a distance from the Sambhar town. We headed back.  After reaching town, we had a parting tea together at the bus stop. We said goodbye to each other but not before, my search for a night shelter ended.

Day was over. Not a bad one by many counts. But I was still restless due to missing those, for whom I had come all the way along. Will I see them or- not?

The Pink Salt…

It was long overdue. And, I was actually ashamed of myself for not having being there till now, despite being so close. Of late, it was almost decided in my mind that I would be biking to Sambhar, most probably alone. And it happened so. Almost 750 kms of biking in two days made it possible and enjoyable. Every minute was worth it.

A mound of salt
A mound of salt

Sambhar is between Jaipur and Ajmer cities of Rajasthan. Lake basin is spread at the confluence of three districts- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. You can call this place as one beyond imagination. It is, “a place where horizons stretch to infinity, water and sky merge in a shimmer of gauzy blue and civilisation goes back a long, long time and legends abounds it” (quoted from- ‘Conservation of Sambhar Lake – An important Waterfowl Habitat and A Ramsar Site in India‘ by Sanjeev Kumar, 2008). It has got a touch of pink everywhere- Pink Salt, Pink sunset and the Pink Flamingos. It creates a very different feeling. Salt is what, it has been known for since a long time.

I was also keen in going to Sambhar at the earliest as I am always anxious about future of such places located in a very fragile ecosystem. With already so many apprehensions on record, I didn’t want to rue any missed opportunity later. Hence I was here at Sambhar.

 

Pink Salt8Sambhar Lake is the largest inland saline wetland in India. Its a huge lake covering an area of over 190 sq kms. The lake has been exploited for salt extraction for centuries. Actually desert lands of Rajasthan host a few other salt lakes as well other than Sambhar- Kanod, Didwana, Thob, Lawan and Pachpadra. Sambhar is biggest of them all.

Vast expanse of lake
Vast expanse of lake

Although there were no information available on staying options in Sambhar, I was keen to stay there. Search of options made me to talk to lot of people and one of them was a school lecturer- Sohan Singh, whom I met on the railway level crossing just before Sambhar, when we were waiting for the train to pass and gates to open.  Conversation got friendly and the young teacher himself chose to be my guide for the evening. We straightway entered the Sambhar city and through the premises of the Sambhar Salts Limited, went towards the station and further towards the salt lake.

Railway track bisecting the salt lake
Railway track bisecting the salt lake

There is a railway line from Phulera to Nagaur through Sambhar. This line bisects the salt lake and runs through it for more than 10-15 kms. We crossed this line immediately after the railway station and went inside the salt fields. Biking was a bit tough as one has only to ride on the narrow beaten paths which had got hardened due to regular movements. Rest all land was wet and marshy. Inside the salt fields, we met a private salt extractor- Vijay Chaudahry who gave us an insight about the process of salt extraction as well as local economy and topography. We can easily see the pink salt. Gets whitish only after going through refining process.

Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary
Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary

We also got to know about the various facts and factors involved. It was indeed very interesting. Now look at the photo below to feel the uniqueness of this place-

No water... all mirage!
No water… all mirage!

We can easily see the area beyond the mud wall. Looks like water. Isn’t it? But you will be surprised, as much as I was that there isn’t even a drop of water, its all mirage. Even I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is said that in summers, the whole area will look like a sea, but actually without a water because of this mirage effect.

Besides the public sector Sambhar Salts Limited, there are many private industries extracting salt from the lake. A look at the salt bed of the lake-

This lake has seen days of glory. The Sambhar salt was all popular in the region far and wide. Salt extracted from here was sold in markets of Jaipur or taken to far off places. For different rulers in the region in medieval period, the control of the lake was considered to be major source of revenue. Salt traders of Sambhar were a respected lot. Then Britishers controlled it. And post independence public sector Sambhar Salt Limited was given the responsibility of extracting salt.  Most of the infrastructure here was developed by Britishers, including the rail network, stations, yards, godowns etc. With Sambhar Salt Limited in poor condition and many private players coming in fray, most of the infrastructure is now in shambles.

Sambhar has always been known for its salt. The city used to get its livelihood from it and still depends a lot on it.

Pink Salt12

But these are changing times and many other things are at stake as well. What one needs to know, experience and enjoy is this absolutely fantastic ecosystem and help it preserve for generations to come.

Pink Salt20
Workers from Sambhar Salt Limited refinery returning to city after day’s work. This british-era rail road car takes them home through the dried lake bed.

This is no mirage but how aptly it guides us to reflect upon ourselves. Isn’t it-

Sun had moved westwards when we reached refinery and went ahead towards the dam on our bikes. I had many things in mind but for now my interest was in fast approaching sunset… how could I even miss this… now may be a… Pink Sunset!

(tune in for next post)

Your fantasy world awaits you!

It’s finally that time of the year again! And, its Brussels again!! European and Belgian capital brings another of its amazing events- a celebration of geek culture.

comic-con4Comic Con Brussels returns to the buildings of Tour&Taxis during the weekend of Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 February 2017. Thousands of fans, Cosplayers and other visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the world of science fiction, fantasy and contemporary pop culture of the immensely popular comic books. Comic Con Brussels is an event entirely dedicated to Pop Culture in all its forms: comic, manga, fantasy, sci-fi & horror, gaming and Cosplay. You will find famous actors and authors for signing sessions, a Gaming Area, Fan Clubs, a cosplay contest and many thematic stands. It’s a Con that brings together all the things you love:MOVIES, GAMING, COMICS, MANGA, COLLECTIBLES, ANIME, TV, CLOTHING, TOYS AND GADGETS AND A LOT MORE!

comic-con1Comic Con Brussels wants to offer fans a total experience, which naturally also means inviting several international stars. Autograph hunters should prick up their ears because the list is quite long. With the actor Dirk Benedict, fans are in for a double treat. Many of us known him as Face in the popular series The A-Team but he also played Lt. Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. We are also pleased to welcome the one and only Sam Jones, better known to audiences as Flash Gordon (with the eponymous soundtrack by Queen), another Eighties era gem who also starred in the blockbuster movie Ted by Seth MacFarlane. And how about a one-off, exclusive European appearance by Kevin Eastman, the original designer and inventor of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And it wouldn’t be a real fantasy convention without Star Wars of course. Which is why Comic Con Brussels is proud to present an impressive list to mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Paul Blake, or the bounty hunter Greedo in the legendary “Who shot first” scene with Han Solo, Anna Brewster who played the spy  Bazine Netal  in The Force Awakens, Femi Taylor or Oola, Garrick Hagon better known as Biggs, Luke Skywalker ‘s best friend in Star Wars : A New Hope and Michael Carter whom audiences will remember as Bib Fortuna will all be travelling to Brussels. Finally these two big names complete the already impressive line-up: Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle in Game Of Thrones) and James Duva (Frank The Bunny in the cult classic Donnie Darko).

comic-con3But there is more to Comic Con Brussels than meeting international guests. There are hundreds of booths where you can browse some extraordinary merchandise and find fun gadgets, unique games, comics or T-shirts of that one series you have been a fan of for years. You can also learn a lot at Comic Con Brussels. Check out the many workshops where visitors can learn how to wield a Lightsaber, race real drones or enrol in a real Jedi Academy (especially for our youngest visitors, who enjoy free admission)! Do you think you know all there is to know about creating amazing costumes?  Then why not enter the Cosplay contest, which will be judged this year by the internationally renowned Cosplayer Nicole Marie Jean(USA) for a chance to win a 1,000-euro cash prize?

comic-con5This year’s hosts of Comic Con Brussels are the comedian and singer Alex Agnew and the British comedian Matthew Highton. A sure bet that this event will be a barrel of laughs.

comic-con2Whether you’re interested in fab costumes, international stars or plenty of unique merchandise, Comic Con Brussels is an entertaining and amazing event for people of all ages in the magnificent buildings of Tour & Taxis in Brussels.

(Copyright of all images lie with respective owners. No intrusion intended)

‘Fairy Queen’ Ready to Haul Heritage Train Once Again

Fairy Queen1Its a journey worth albums- a short trip for a long-lasting memory. The ‘Fairy Queen’, the oldest surviving functional steam engine in the world is once again ready in this season to haul a heritage train from National Capital Delhi to Rewari, Haryana after a gap of 5 years. This train, which is a great attraction among steam engine lovers across the globe, will run between Delhi Cantt. Station and Rewari from tomorrow i.e. 11th February 2017 for a single day trip. Train will leave Delhi Cantt. railway station at 10.30 in the morning and reach Rewari at 1.00 pm. And on the return journey it will leave Rewari at 4.15 pm and reach Delhi Cantt. at 6.15 in the evening.

Fairy Queen2The locomotive was constructed by Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson at Leeds, in England, in 1855, and reached Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, in the same year. On arrival, it was given fleet number “22” by its owner, the East Indian Railway Company, not receiving a name until 1895. Initially, the 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) gauge locomotive was used to haul light mail trains in West Bengal, operating between Howrah and Raniganj, and during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 hauled troop trains. It was later consigned to line construction duty in Bihar, where it served until 1909.

Fairy Queen3It was restored and given a special spot in the newly built National Rail Museum at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi which was opened to public 40 years back on 1st February, 1977. The locomotive was restored to full working order in 1997, in preparation for its first mainline journey in 88 years and its return to commercial service on 18 July. It was certified by the Guinness Book of Records in 1998 as the world’s oldest steam locomotive in regular operation. The following year, the train received a National Tourism Award for the most innovative and unique tourism project from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India.

The Trip: There will be three exclusive journeys. First one is tomorrow 11th February and next two on 11th March and then 8th April this year. Ticket price for complete two way journey on the day trip is 6480 Rs per adult passenger (3240 Rs for child below 12 yrs) and for one way trip (either way Delhi-Rewari or Rewari-Delhi) is 3240 Rs per adult passenger (1620 Rs for child below 12 yrs). Journey includes the trip and the visit to Heritage Steam Shed at Rewari. What else, there you will get chance to see another two of Indian railways’ heritage steam engines- Azad and Akbar.

Coaches: The Steam Express has a capacity of 60 seated air-conditioned chair car. Specially designed rail car has large glass windows for better viewing and also a long area in the front to give you a scenic view of the countryside. Whole trip is worth the price indeed.