Category Archives: India

Colours of turmeric this August

A yatra ends this month at Amarnath and another starts for another of Shiva’s abode in Himalayas, a bit less challenging but equally fascinating. That’s not all this month, this is actually start of the classical Indian festive season with two of most important religious celebrations- Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi. But those are not only the ones which will catch your eyes, there is something else as golden as colour of turmeric which adds to the fervour of the month. Interestingly enough, in this peak monsoon time we already have an extended Independence day weekend in mid of month. There is also continuation of some excellent seasonal stuffs that have already taken off- boat races in Kerala and monastic festivals in Ladakh. Already soaked in? Come on! Its time to pack the bags to have experience of India’s unique cultural diversity. Let’s start.

Bhandara Festival of Golden turmeric

Photo: Google

I must say, I was totally ignorant about this festival until recently. Once I came to know about it, I couldn’t resist including it in the wishlist. It is a unique festival but up north we hardly got to know about it. Its a festival of golden turmeric dedicated to a local deity Khandoba. Maharashtrians call Jejuri as “Sonyachi Jejuri” which means Golden Jejuri, as during the festival the whole town takes a golden hue because of this turmeric play. Hence, the Bhandara festival is unique not just because it is celebrated with turmeric, but also because it has got no fixed date, season or month. Only reason for the festival has to be a Somvati Amavasya which means the new moon day falling on a Monday. And that can happen at any time of year and many times a year. So, practically, there are number of Bhandara festivals celebrated at Jejuri and all with same spirit and religious fervour. Thirdly, festival is also unique because of the deity. Khandoba is regarded as the “god of Jejuri” is probably be the most versatile and widely acknowledged deity being worshipped across many regions, religions, casts and communities. He is the most popular Kul Devata (family god) among one of the oldest shepherd tribe “Dhangar” and the patron deity of Deshastha Brahmin too. People from other communities like warriors, farming and herding castes too keep their high regards towards him. The cult of Khandoba has prominent linkages with Vaishnava and Jain traditions despite him being worshipped as Martanda Bhairava, a form of Lord Shiva. In the temple of Jejuri, surprisingly both the deities of him and his wife Malsha is in the form of Lingas (one of Lord Shiva’s most known statue form) which are covered with decorated silver masks. A part of the Muslims too consider him as their god Mallu Khan and been seen offering goat flesh in the temple areas. This way people consider him as one of the rare non-vegetarian Indian god. This year, one celebration of Bhandara Festival has already taken place on 27th March. After this one in August there will be third one on 18th December.

When: 21st August 2017
Where: Jejuri, 55 kms from Pune. Main temple is at a hillock in the town where all the celebrations take place.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Mascot for this year’s Nehru trophy boat race

Come August and the placid waters of the Punnamada Lake become a track on fire. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the time of the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race is when the silence of the lake is sliced by the slashing oars of the pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Hordes of people swarm the banks of the Punnamada Lake to relish this annual water regatta. The rhythmic and the synchronised way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. This is one such unique sporting event cherished by Keralites of all age groups. Apart from the locals, the spirit and enthusiasm that form part of the Nehru Trophy boat race is also shared by visitors from far off places. It is a sheer delight for the onlookers to watch the snake boats with 80 to 100 oarsmen aboard, who dip their oars in unison as the snake boat glides and cuts the water surface at a tremendous pace.  And winning the race is a matter of pride and glory to each participating team and healthy rivalries are visible on the race day. There are various categories in the event and approximately 60-70 chundan (snake) boats participate in the race. Mascot for this year’s race is a prawn sailing a boat.

When: 12th August 2017
Where: Punnamada Backwaters, Punnamada, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Alappuzha, about 8 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha town.

Janmashtami at Mathura

Pic: Google

Birth of Krishna, one of the biggest annual festivals in Hindu mythology and there can be no other place better to celebrate this than Mathura, considered to be place of his birth in the prison and Gokul (Vrindavan) where he was brought up. It’s a day of traditional fasting until midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. At that time there are huge celebrations in the temples with special pujas and prasadas. But the intensity and traditions of celebrations in Mathura-Vrindavan region are entirely different from rest of the country. At many place such as Nandgaon the celebrations will start as early as from Raksha Bandhan and will continue till Radhashtami. All households in the area will celebrate the day as birth of child in their own homes. At Gokul, next day after Janmashtami, there will be a huge celebration of Nandotsava in memory of the day when whole area came to know that a child is born to Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul. Best time to visit these places, to understand the culture and to soak into a very distinct celebration and festivities. Mathura is close and loaded with all type of staying options.

When: 14th August 2017
Where: Mathura/Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Getting there: Mathura is less than two hours journey from Delhi and just an hours journey from Agra. It is on main rail route connecting Delhi to central and southern India. Many tourists will plan a trip to Mathura and Agra together.

Monsoon Festival at Saputara

Situated in densely forested plateau in the Sahayadri range, Saputara holds the distinction of being the only hill station in Gujarat. Saputara has been developed as a planned hill resort with amenities like hotels, parks, boat clubs and museums to ensure an enjoyable holiday for everyone in the cool of hills. The drive to Saputara is breathtaking with the serpentine road commencing from Waghai. The hill station is most enjoyable in the monsoon when clouds descend on the land. One can see brooks and streams flowing down the valley which makes for a spectacular haven for trekkers as well, as there are numerous forest trails. So every year there is a monsoon festival almost a month long to give you ample time to be part of the festivities. Tourists can enjoy Saputara at its best. One can hire services of a local guide to roam around. Echo point, Wagah Bari, Step Garden, Artistic village, Log huts, Saputara museum, Lake, Sunset point, ropeway are among the spots, one can enjoy. So go and breathe in the freshness of Saputara with is echoing green hues, lush with flowers, and watch the meditating rain drops sitting still on sloping leaves. Some of the thickest forest cover in the state of Gujarat envelops you. Drench yourself in nature and fun!

When: 13th August 2017 to 11th September 2017
Where: Saputara, Gujarat
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Waghai, which is 50 kms from Saputara city center. While nearest airport is Surat, almost 156 kms from here. Saputara is well connected through roads to major cities of state. Mumbai is just 255 kms from here via Nashik. Ahmedabad is 400 kms from here.

Another Kailash on Manimahesh Yatra
It’s very interesting that we consider it unsafe to go to hills during rains, but still most of the pilgrimages in hills do take place only during rains- may be it is Kailash-Mansarovar or Amarnath or Chardham or Chota Kailash. Almost all of them are related to mythical abodes of Shiva. Another one among the list is Manimahesh in Himachal. Manimahesh is a high altitude lake at an altitude of 13,500 feet. On the east of this lake is Kailash Mountain with an altitude of 18,564 feet. They both come in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Every year there is a pilgrimage from Hudsor to Manimahesh Lake (15 kms). Earlier this Yatra used to start from Bharmaur, but since now Hudsor has become a road head, people have started walking on foot from Hudsor. There is no exact version of how this Yatra started, but it indeed is many centuries old. Bharmaur and Chamba are historical cities with versions dating back after 550 A.D. Temples in Bharmaur are architectural beauties. And Yatra is also a trekkers’ delight. Yatra normally starts on Janmashtami and ends on Radhashtami.

When: 15th August 2017 to 29th August 2017
Where: Hudsor (Bharmaur), Dist- Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
Getting there: Hudsor is 17 kms from Bharmaur and 82 kms from Chamba. Pathankot at distance of 220 kms is the closest convenient railhead, from where you can take buses to Chamba and then Bharmaur.

Kajli Teej in Bundi
This is celebrated exactly a fortnight after the regular Shravan Teej. The festival of Kajli Teej is unique to the city of Bundi. A dazzlingly theatrical and lively event, it is held every year in the month of Bhadra (July-August). This week-long celebration filled with gaiety and fanfare pays homage to Goddess Uma by the seekers of marital bliss and love. Women wear colourful traditional costumes, new sets of bangles and decorate their hands with beautiful henna designs. A local fair is held nearby which is extremely popular with the rural folk around Bundi. Handicrafts such as traditional kataar, paintings, bangles, rural handicrafts and fancy eatables attract many people from Rajasthan, other parts of India and foreign shores.

When: 9-10 August 2017
Where: Bundi, Rajasthan

Dakthok Tsetsu, Ladakh

Photo: The Travelographer @Tumblr.com

Last month we discussed about monastic festivals of Ladakh. The trend continues this month with two more monastic festivals- Dak-Thok Tse-Chu and Sani Nasjal. Dak-Thok Tse-Chu starts tomorrow, so those lucky ones who are already in Leh can witness the festival for next two days.

Dak-Thok or Thak-Thok is an important Buddhist festival of Jammu and Kashmir held sometime during the months of July and August. It is generally celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The Buddhists observe a number of Tsechu festivals which are mostly dedicated to Guru Rimpoche or Padma Sambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The word Dak Thok means black rock in Ladakh. It refers to a cave chapel that is part of the Dak Thok monastery. It is said to be only Nyingma monastery in Ladakh. The members of this sect are followers of Padma Sambhava or Guru Rimpoche. During the Tsechu festivals, these monks and the local people perform the Chham dances together. The dances depict various wrathful and compassionate deities and a variety of animals. The Tsechu is a popular festival. It is celebrated with much gaiety by people in the nearby areas, who participate in the festivities adorned in their finest clothing and jewellery.

When: 2-3 August 2017
Where: Dak Thok monastery, Ladakh. It is 46 kilometres from Leh on the Pangong Lake road from Karu.

Sani Nasjal, Zanskar
Sani Naro-Nasjal is usually celebrated in the first week of August, between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the ‘Guru Neropa Flower’. Every year the statue of Naropa is unveiled in late July or early August on the eve of the Naro-Nasjal Festival. Lamas from Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as ritual offering. Sani Monastery is located next to the village of Sani where the Stod Valley broadens into the central plain of Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir. It is about 6 km to the northwest of the regional centre of Padum, a gentle two-hour walk. Like Dzongkhul Monastery, it belongs to the Drukpa Kargyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is the only one of this order in Zanskar which has nuns. It is thought to be the oldest religious site in the whole region of Ladakh and Zanskar.

When: 6-7 August 2017
Where: Sani monastery, Zanskar

Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai
The spirit of this festival is contagious. Biggest annual occasion for most of Maharashtra and Marathis elsewhere. It has been filmed so many times in Bollywood that it needs no introduction. Perhaps the most filmed festival after Holi in films. Of recently the constant media coverage of ten day celebrations has made many of those Ganesha temples popular among non Marathis as well, maybe it Siddhivinayak or Lalbaugcha Raja. But celebrities and celebrated temples have changes the complexion of the festival too much. To enjoy traditional festivities join a family celebration. This is the day when Lord Ganesha is brought home and given his seat for ten days’ pooja. Weeks or even months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. Also called as Vinayak Chaturthi this is the day when mythologically Ganesha was born. The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak, a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments.

When : 25th August 2017
Where: All your Marathi friends at Mumbai… Pune…

Athachamayam at Thripunithura
Rain or shine, people will pour out onto the streets of Thripunithura to celebrate the Athachamayam. Athachamayam is conducted every year on the Atham asterism of the Malayalam month Chingam (roughly August/September), at the historical town of Thripunithura near Kochi, Ernakulam district. Athachamayam is a cultural gala that marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala. The festival, which is celebrated to commemorate the legendary victory of the Raja (King) of Kochi, is also an occasion to witness almost all the folk art forms of Kerala. The gleeful procession, which is part of this festival, reminds the customary procession of the king with his entourage from Thripunithura to the Thrikkakara Vamana temple for participating in the temple festival. The procession, though without the king, still retains its majestic charm. Caparisoned elephants, varieties of folk art forms like Theyyam, Kummatti, Kolkali, Mayilattom, Kummi, Poykal, Ammankudam and Pulikkali, floats, and musical ensembles together form part of the procession. Onam, a festival of abundance and happiness is a period when Kerala comes alive with classical and folk dance performances, music recitals, cultural pageants, boat races and much more!

When: 25th August 2017
Where: Thripunithura Town, Thripunithura, Ernakulam
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Thripunithura at walking distance while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 34 km

Covelong point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival
Three days filled with surf, yoga, sun and sand, three nights that come alive with the sound of music – the Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival is back for its third edition! What started as a dream, has now become a three day international event – fisherman turned surfer Murthy Megavan always dreamed of starting his own surf school, and today that dream stands tall as a beautiful reality on the shores of Covelong, as the Covelong Point Social Surf School. In 2013, when the TTK Group and EarthSync tied up with the Surfing Federation of India, together they created the Covelong Point Classic Surf and Music Festival. The three days of surfing will witness participants from around India and the globe competing in an exhilarating display of raw surfing talent, while the music festival expands this year to include three stages. This surf competition and music festival brings together surf talent from around the world, and an exciting line up of musicians from around India and the globe. The primary aim of the festival is to use surfing as a catalyst for positive change, empowering the local community with initiatives surrounding their passion for surfing. It is a passion for surfing, a love of music from around the world, and a deep connection to the ocean that continues to drive the festival’s spirit, year after year

When: 25th to 27th August 2017
Where: Covelong Point Social Surf School, Kovalam Village, Chennai

 

 

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Himalayan Rides : Chandratal to Keylong

Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.

Chaos at the top! Read: Milestones to Ladakh- Manali to Gramphoo

SO here we are, riding back to Gramphoo through same treacherous road alongside river Chandra. Whatever the road condition may be, this beauty around will never let you feel tired.

Driving towards Spiti! Read: Himalayan Rides-Gramphoo to Chatru

And what a feeling of satisfaction this is when you see a public transport, a Himachal Roadways Bus on such a terrible road at this altitude.

Treacherous roads! Read: Himalayan Rides-Chatru to Batal

And then you always have many travellers to your company… but no, we are the travellers, they are the inhabitants of this tough terrain…

 Reaching Gramphoo almost feels like returning to civilisation.You suddenly encounter traffic going towards the Manali or Keylong side.

Good samaritans! Read: Himalayan Rides-Batal of Chacha Chacha Dhaba

Himachal roadways bus at Gramphoo going from Keylong to Manali via Rohtang pass.

Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.

Some relief from the tough roads

There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.

Over the moon! Read: Himalayan Rides-Batal to Chandratal

Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.

Khoksar

Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.

Moon Lake! Read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

Chandra River

Its a steady climb till Keylong which is at an altitude of just about 10K feet. A perfect acclimatisation for real ride after Keylong.

Give me some sunshine!

Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.

And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.

But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Quick details:

  • Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
  • Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
  • Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
  • Total distance covered: 117 kms.

We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!

Please feel free to share the post, but not so free to copy and paste!!

 

 

Hampi in Monsoon : The three monoliths!

After coming out of the Virupaksha temple, we climbed up the Hemakuta hills and after visiting all the cluster of temples and pavilions, we go down the other side. But there are lot more archeological marvels in store in this part of Hampi, one of the most important UNESCO world Heritage site in India. Probably the rocky terrains around Tunghbadra River have given local sculptors abundant opportunities to carve their excellent crafts. Hence, huge statues were carved out of boulders.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Virupaksha Temple

Other side of Hemakuta hill

As we get down from the Hemakuta hills on the other side, right in the front is first of the three great monoliths- Sasivekalu Ganesha. Sasivekalu means mustard (सरसों). This four armed monolithic Ganesha is 2.4 metres high and is enclosed in an open pillared pavilion with plain, rough square pillars. Here Ganesha is seated in half lotus posture (अर्ध पद्मासन) and bears a tusk, goad, noose and bowl of sweets in its four arms respectively.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Images from Hemakuta Hills

Sasivekalu Ganesha

In this statue a snake is seen tied around the Ganesha’s belly. There is a mythological story behind this but ironically, you don’t get any mythological explanation behind this named as Sasivekalu. An inscription engraved on the rock nearby records that the pavilion for the temple (Vinayaka Mantapa) was built in 1506 AD by a trader from Chandragiri near Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh in memory of King Narasimha II (1491-1505 AD) of Saluva dynasty.

Sasivekalu Ganesha

Nearby there is another Ganesha monolith, interestingly called as Kadalekalu or gram seed (चना) Ganesha. It is said so as the belly of Ganesha in the statue resembles a gram. This 4.5 metre high seated statue is said to be one of the largest Ganesha statues in South India.   This statue is enshrined in a large temple with an open-pillared mandapa. This mandapa has tall, slender carved pillars (unlike Sasivekalu Ganesha temple) decorated with various mythological characters and stories. Pillars are cubical and constructed in typical Vijayanagara style of architecture. This temple gives a panoramic view of Hampi.

Getting further down from Sasivekalu Ganesha temple

Coming further down, there are another two monoliths- one is Shiva temple called as Badaviling Temple. This has got a 3 metre high shiva linga carved out of one rock. The base of the circular pedestal remains constantly in water which flows through a canal coming out of Tunghbadra river.

Badaviling Temple

This shivalinga is said to be the second highest in South India after Brihadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur. This remains within a small damages shrine said to be commissioned by a poor woman. In local language Badva means poor, hence it got the name. Shivalinga is also said to have a three eye mark on its carving (त्रिनेत्र). As typical of shivlings the pedestal or the yoni pitha draws into an outlet- pranala (प्रनाला). Temple is very small but the huge, intact shivling makes for a majestic view.

Badaviling temple

Very close to this Badaviling is another monolith housed in yet another small temple. This magnificent statue of Narasimha is 6.7 metres in height and is said to be the finest examples of Vijayanagara sculpture. The roof as well as the outer structure of the temple is damaged.  Narasimha is seated on giant coils of Adishesha (आदिशेष या शेषनाग) whose seven hoods make a canopy arched by a Kirtimukha Torana (कीर्तिमुख तोरण).

Lakshmi Narasimha temple

The four arms of the statue with its various attributes have been broken. The seated figure of his consort Lakshmi on his left lap is altogether missing, but the presence of the right hand of the goddess embracing the lord at the back around the waist is said to be the proof of this being a Lakshmi-Narasimha statue.

Lakshmi Narasimha temple

This statue was consecrated by a priest Krishnabhatt at the behest of Krishnadevaraya in 1528 AD as per the lithic records. Made out of a single granite boulder, this statue was one of the last additions of Krishnadeva Raya to heritage of Vijayanagara. It indeed is one of the most striking sculptures of Hampi.

Boulders which inspire

Reaching Hampi: All the three monoliths are very close by, walking distance from each other and also near to Virupaksha temple, Hemakuta hills and heart of Hampi village. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.

Hampi in Monsoon : Images from Hemakuta Hills

We are in UNESCO World heritage site of Hampi in Karnataka and have already went through the Virupaksha temple which is considered to be the most sacred of Hampi’s all temples. Right to the north of Virupaksha temple in Hampi is a big rock face which is known as Hemakuta Hill. It is not a big hill per say, but it is located very strategically. You can have a grand view of the Virupaksha temple and the Hampi Bazar from the top of the hill. There are ruins scattered all around.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Virupaksha Temple

It is aptly also called as a canvas of rocks. And its actually a very amazing sight of the temple ruins around and the very strange rock formations. This rock hill has small temples, gateways and pavilions scattered all around.

There are also remains of a fortification. It is said that in ancient times the whole hill was fortified with stone walls. Traces of that ruins are visible even today.

There are many temples around the Hemakuta hills and they are called as Hemakuta group of temples. There are numerous shrines and mandapas included. There are said to be 21 Shiva temples on and around hills. Some temples also have architecture resembling to Jain temples. It is said that architecture of Hemakuta group of temples is different from Vijayanagara style of architecture.

Its lovely to be in monsoon time here. After visiting Virupaksha temple as I was strolling on Hemakuta hills, heavens opened up and I had to take a shelter in one of the temples, and what a fantastic view that opportunity gave me.

It was raining and rocky slopes of the Hemakuta hills had converted into various small waterfalls giving me a very pleasant sight. Many small pools are also formed.

Rocks on Hemakuta hill are very strangely placed and you often wonder, how these rocks are balancing themselves . Looks very scary at times and equally amazing too.

Even few of the pavilions or mandapas on the hill look so weirdly placed as in the image below. One might often wonder if they have been placed here at later stage.

And this is one of the iconic images of gopuram of Virupaksha temple between the rocks of Hemakuta hills. The mythology of Virupaksha temple is closely associated with that of Hemakuta temple. This mythology and history predates to history of Vijayanagara empire. Most of the temples around Hemakuta hills appear to date between 9th and early 14th century. 

This region holds the mythology of marriage of Lord Shiva (in form of Virupaksha) and Parvati (in form of goddess Pampa). It is said that Pampa was the daughter of Brahma and performed many austerities to woo Shiva, who was meditating on Hemakuta Hill.

It is said that Shivs finally agreed to marriage.  When he actually did… it started raining gold on the hill. Gold is called Hema in the sanskrit and hence this place got the name Hemakuta. This wedding is still celebrated annually at Virupaksha temple and it is big occasion for local people to come here.

a watch tower… or?

This place also has many Shivlingas cut out of rocks. In the image below you can see three lingers in single formation.

There are also five lingas in single formation like in the image below. You can find many such formations in Hampi.

Hemakuta temples have very distinct architecture and surprisingly even these temples have a mix bag of architecture, including Trikutachla style in which there are three shrines facing east, west and the north with a common  ardhamandapa and a front porch. Going towards south on the Hemakuta hill, we will also a group of stone shrines facing in different directions (image below). East facing shrine is said to be the original Virupakasha temple. Its is called Prasanna Virupaksha or Mula Virupaksha. This temple is still under worship. Just behind this temple is another chamber with 3.6 metre high image of Anjaneya or Hanuman. his temple is known as Prasanna Anjaneya temple.

There is a double storied gate towards the south (image below) to access the Hemakuta hill (image below). Just see, how precariously close to this gate is this rock placed… was it there before or this accident happened later on?

Past the gate, you can see other temples down south including Krishna temple (image below). I shall be writing about them in later posts.

The top of Hemakuta hills is also said to be one of the best place here to watch sunset. Drawback of coming here in monsoon is that you don’t get to see that perfect sunset, as you can see in winters.Another amazing aspect of Hemakuta hills and its rocks is the holes in these big boulders (image below). They were of course man made and it is said that they were made to break the rock from that point, thus to make smaller stones from these huge rocks so that they can be used in sculptures or construction of temples.

See, in the image below- the rock has been broken from exactly the same point where holes were made-The stairs carved out of the rocks in the souther side of the Hemakuta hills. From the double storied gate, these stairs lead down to other temples.

It is often said that there is much more in ruins of Hampi than what is obvious. They have a rich history. Time spent on Hemakuta hills just makes you able to soak yourself in marvel that is scattered around you. You can easily spend more than couple of hours on this hill enjoying the architectural wonders.

Reaching Hampi: Hemakuta hills are just north of the Virupaksha temple in heart of Hampi. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.

Hampi in Monsoon : Virupaksha Temple

Hampi is indeed one of the most prominent heritage sites in peninsular India. In our childhood, we all had been deeply associated with stories of Raja Krishna Dev Raya (Krishnadevaraya) and Tenali Raman (Ramkrishna). It is always fascinating to be there where all those immortal stories of Vijayanagara empire would have taken place. Hampi is also a place which can be included in our monsoon travel itineraries. Having there been in monsoon, I can safely say that it is one of he best time to visit Hampi. Summers are indeed a torture here and winter would be fun but it is the monsoon which brings the best out of this historical place in Hemakuta hills of Karnataka.

So here are few images from monsoon travel in Hampi, starting with the Virupaksha temple. Few striking ones to begin with- views of Virupaksha temple from the Hemakuta hills:

Right before the rain-

During the rain…

…and immediately after the rain

See, how the colours change so dramatically. Virupaksha Temple is the heart of Hampi, as this is the temple which is centre of all activities in Hampi- markets, bus stop, restaurants, shops- all are in surrounding areas of Virupaksha temple.  This temple dedicated to Shiva is considered to be one of the holiest and most sacred in Hampi. Hence it gets the most steady stream of visitors, all the year round. It is main centre of pilgrimage to Hampi.

Main gopuram of the Virupaksha temple, which makes the main entrance. This nine storied 50 metre high gopuram is one of the highest in Hampi.

Temple has a history that dates centuries earlier than the birth of Vijayanagara empire. Although this region of Hampi has mythological association with Ramayana, but the temple history is available only from 7th century onwards. But indeed during the rule of Vijayanagara empire that this temple reached to its glory. It was also amazing that though Raja Krishnadevraya was a vaishnavite, but it was the Virupaksha temple dedicated to Shiva that represented the glory of his empire.

Once you enter through this gopuram, you come to the outer courtyard of the temple.

A show stand and the souvenir shop in the outer courtyard

In the outer courtyard, there are many smaller shrines and mandapams.

Three faced Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva

From this outer courtyard, through another smaller gopuram, we enter the main inner courtyard, which houses the main shrine and mandapams.  Some views of the inner courtyard.

Centre view…In the image above we can see third gopuram towards the north which takes us to some more shrines and it eventually leads us to river Tungabhadra, which flows besides the temple.

….the left view of the inner courtyard

….and the right!

In the image below you can see the main pillared hall on the left and mandapams on the right, which were used in the past by the pilgrims to stay while visiting the temple. In the front is the same main gopuram, through which we entered the temple. Pillared hall in the left quite rich in architecture as well as sculptures. This hall also has some inscriptions related to Krishnadevraya. 
Temple has gone through various phases of renovation and restoration. In the image below you can see the difference between the original work (towards right) and restored work (towards left).

Ceiling of inside hall has still got intact some of the paintings of past (image below)

Temple got different types of constructions. While the gouprams have been prepared with brick, main hall has beautifully sculpted pillars. Some of the pillars are even in black marble. Inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple is quite rich in its sculptures.

Family of Lord Shiva

Just behind the main shrine at an upper level is this display of the photography technology. In a dark room there is a hole in the wall (left on the image below) You can see the main gopuram from this hole. But this small hole actually coverts itself into a pin-hole camera and hence through this pin-hole you can see an inverted image of the gopuram (below right) on the wall just opposite the hole. Looks astonishing. It is unlikely that the hole would have been originally created that way. But it would have been interesting to know, how and when this phenomenon was discovered here.

Moving out, it is almost ritualistic for the pilgrims to feed the temple elephant (image below). This elephant is normally used in festivals and processions.

Erotic sculptures: But my story of the temple won’t complete without referring to these It seems that erotic sculptures were part of temple architecture in down south as well, at least in medieval times when Krishnadevaraya would have renovated these temples. Although the  sculptures don’t have finesse of the ones of 9th and 10th century, that we find in North India, or even of Kalinga region, which might have inspired few of Krishnadevaraya’s ideas around Hampi.

A sculpture depicting various sexual acts inside the inner courtyard on the outer wall of the main shrine

But more striking are the sculptures on the main gopuram of the Virupaksha temple. They are big, although due to height of the gopuram, they are not clearly visible to naked eyes from the ground level.

Interestingly, some of the poses in these sculptures are quite different to what I have seen anywhere else in India. (You can click on the images to have a bigger and clearer view). That makes me wonder about the idea behind them. Its is very unfortunate that we don’t have any authentic account on origin of these type of sculptures in this temple.  Perhaps no inscriptions, only hearsay.

Due to these sculptures, I had often considered Virupaksha temple as one of the top erotic temples in India. It is very interesting to have different insights while visiting a temple of this huge cultural and historical importance.

Reaching Hampi: Virupaksha Temple is in heart of Hampi, close to bus stand. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.

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‘Superwoman’ Lilly Singh is now UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador

Actress, comedian, and author, Lilly Singh was appointed UNICEF’s newest Goodwill Ambassador at a special event in New Delhi on Saturday, 15th July 2017. Lilly, who is known by her digital alias Superwoman, was in India to meet children and young people being supported by UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organization. In her role as a Goodwill Ambassador, Lilly will use her unique digital presence to engage children and young people and empower them to speak out about the challenges they face. Lilly Singh is based in Canada and is immensely popular among teenagers mostly for her YouTube channel ‘IISuperwomanII’. She is also a vlogger, comedian, writer and actress. So, no wonder that though I am a YouTuber myself, but first I heard of ‘Superwoman’ was from my teenage daughter.

“I am honoured to join UNICEF as a Goodwill Ambassador, and to use my voice to support its mission of reaching every child,” Lilly said. “The children I have met here are overcoming so many challenges – and they are living proof of what a child can achieve, if given a chance,” she added.

Lilly travelled with UNICEF to state of Madhya Pradesh, where she met with adolescents and young people growing up in challenging circumstances including extreme poverty, but who have been able to bring positive changes to their lives. One of the many projects that Lilly visited was the UNICEF supported Youth4Change initiative, a leadership programme for young people that brings them together to support their peers and communities in taking action on the issues that impact them most such as of health and hygiene, protection from violence and exploitation, gender equality and the importance of a quality education.

“It was beyond impressive to see the ‘Change Loomers,’ as they called themselves, create so many diverse and impactful initiatives to help improve their community,” Lilly said. “It was also incredibly inspiring to see free karate lessons for girls that not only build their self-confidence, but teaches them self-defense tactics to help them face the real-life threat of violence and harassment,” she added.

“Lilly Singh is already a Superwoman, helping empower girls around the world – and we are delighted that she will lend her passion and her powerful voice to speak up on behalf of the most vulnerable children,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.

Lilly, 28, has gained a huge fan base of over 11 million YouTube subscribers. This year, she released her international and New York Times bestselling book How To Be A Bawse, and was recently cast in HBO’s film adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451.” Additionally, Lilly was ranked 1st on the Forbes Magazine Top Influencers List in the entertainment category.

As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Lilly will use her platforms to showcase UNICEF’s work and to engage her millions of supporters in advocating for children’s rights. Her new role with UNICEF is complemented by her Girl Love initiative, which aims to end to girl-on-girl hate and instead focuses on positivity by encouraging support of women and girls.

Lilly was joined at the launch event by Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India, who officially welcomed her to the UNICEF family.

“Lilly is a role model to so many young people, especially girls, and we look forward to the role she will play in generating greater discussion – and greater action – around the value of girls in India and everywhere,” Haque said.  More than 50 per cent of India’s population are below the age of 25 and India is already the second largest market for YouTube, Facebook, and many other video platforms.  Lilly joins an impressive list of other UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors that includes David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, Jackie Chan, Muzoon Almellehan, Danny Glover, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Ricky Martin and Shakira.

Himalayan Rides : Batal to Chandratal

We are on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.

Vast expanse of Chandra Valley is the glory of the region.

Its a journey, everybody would like to embark upon. So, here is a first hand experience of the trip, which I have broken down into different segments, or we may say shorter distances to give a more detailed overview of the trip.

Read: Milestones to Ladakh – Manali to Gramphoo

Tricky and challenging route

In the earlier parts of the journey, we have travelled from Manali to Gramphoo, then Gramphoo to Chatru and Chatru to Batal. Now after spending some time with Chacha-Chachi of Chandra Dhaba at Batal, we move towards Chandratal. Once we cross river Chandra after Batal, there is an uphill drive.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Gramphoo to Chatru

The road keeps opening fascinating new vistas

After a couple of kilometres, there is a diversion. Road uphill goest o Kunzum pass and then to Kaza. While road straight goes to Chandratal. Its is a pretty straight forward route after that along the Chandra river in the vast expanse of the valley.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Chatru to Batal

Himalayan views!

As we move deeper inside the valley, we go closer to Moulkila and Chandrabhaga mountain ranges. You can see, various peaks and glaciers as well. Its a paradise for shutterbugs.

Read: Himalayan Rides – Batal of Chacha-Chachi Dhaba

Views of glaciers around
Terrain typical of Spiti region

Its a beautiful journey but road condition is pretty much the same as has been from Chatru to Batal. Its a bumpy ride to say the least with a couple of running streams to cross. Flow of water in the streams will depend on the timing of the journey. Enjoyable journey upto the camping area near Chandratal lake. These streams look quite easy ones but pebbles below the water sometime make it tricky to maintain the balance of the luggage loaded bike. SO one has to be extremely careful.

In my last post on this trip, I had mentioned that how tough the terrain is and how hostile weather can be here. With the interiors of valley difficult to reach, it makes the rescue operations in any event of crisis very challenging. Hence there is also a helipad and control station after Batal on way to Chandratal. But this one is across the Chandra river on other side.

Helipad and satellite relay station

You can watch the video of this road journey on clicking the link below: 

Big flat valley provides an ample space for camping. First couple of camps actually are half a kilometre before the main camping site. Main camping site is right on the base of the uphill route towards Chandratal Lake.

Read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

Camping at an altitude of around 4200 metres is a fascinating experience.

My bike right next to my tent

Till some years back, camping site near Chandratal Lake had just one camp. Now there are many camps and more than 150 tents for adventurers to stay. They are run by different local operators though.

Main camping site for Chandratal Lake
It is almost end of the season for the Tenzin camp
Another look of the camping site and surrounding areas

Tents are good, clean, cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfast. Most of the prices of the tents include stay with meals (generally breakfast and dinner).

You can watch the video of this camping site on clicking the link below:

This place is culmination for many treks as well as base camp for many expeditions to nearby peaks. Adventurers mostly come here to see Chandratal Lake. Many bikers will just visit the lake and then move ahead towards Kaza or Manali. I stayed here overnight in Tenzin camp and made two visits to lake- one in the afternoon and another in early next morning. If you stay here overnight, than you can also enjoy beautiful sunrise here in the morning, like this one-

CB13 and CB14 peaks of the Chandrabhaga range basking in glory
Closer look of first rays of sun on CB14 (6078 mts) peak

Both these peaks are favourite among mountaineers seeking an experience of 6000 metre climb. These expeditions are also done from the Batal.

Another view of campsite with CB13 & CB14 in background.

Having covered Chandratal Lake, now we will turn back on the same way upto Gramphoo and from there turn towards Keylong on way to Leh.

Hope, this part of the journey was enjoyable.