Tag Archives: Buddhism

Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

Well, when it is July than you don’t need a reason to go to Ladakh. If you love adventure than your mind automatically drifts towards going to Ladakh, as the July-August season approaches. But than, those who still need a pretext to go there or to get into mood or feel inspired… there is lot for them this month. Adventure season to Ladakh starts late in June as soon as the high altitude passes from Baralacha-La to Tanlang-La are given all clear by the BRO. Its almost ritualistic for many riders to go to Leh on this route in July. Many groups plan their trips during this time. Road trip to Leh through some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world is one of the most thrilling journeys. Adventure seekers have tried every possible vehicle on this route. They go on SUVs, cars, bikes, scooters, mopeds and ofcourse bicycles. Journey normally starts from Manali and climbs to cross Rohtang as the first high altitude pass. Next comes Gramphu, where one road on the right takes to Spiti Valley through Kunzam La. While another route on left takes you inside the Lahaul valley towards Leh through- Keylong, Sarchu and Pang. But the epitome of this route is crossing high altitude passes- Baralacha-La (5030 m), Nakee-La (4739 m), Lachulung-La (5065 m) and Tanglang-La (5328 m). Equally amazing is plateau called More plains at an altitude of 4700 metres. Many places on the way have accommodation for a night stay. There are many places to establish camps as well.

But then, those who don’t want to take the nerve-wrecking road journey always have an option to take the aerial route. Main point is to be there and this year July brings some of the best monastic festivals of Ladakh.

Fortunately first one is the most important one-Hemis Tsechu which will be celebrated on July 3-4 this year at Hemis monastery. Hemis monastery, the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people. Hemis monastery is almost 35 kms from Leh. Actually while going from Manali side, Hemis monastery comes before Leh, across Indus river.

Besides this all important Hemis Festival, there are a few gustor festivals at various monasteries.  Gustor literally stands for sacrifice of the 29th day of the 11th month of Tibetan calendar, and depicts the victory of good over evil. A unique dance performance that attracts tourists from all over world marks the commencement of the festival. In this dance, performers wear black hats showing their triumph against evil. The dancers wear different masks portraying themselves as the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order and other Buddhist gods. The dance performance also shows the killing of Lang-dar-ma by a monk in the 9th century. The festival lasts for two days and ends with the distribution of sacrificial cake known as storma by the leader of the dance group. This activity is called Argham meaning destruction or killing of all evils.

So the first Gustor festival in July is of Shachukul monastery. Shachukul Gustor will take place on July 11-12. Located about 125km east of Leh, this monastery is on the way to the popular lake, Pangong Tso. This monastery, situated at a height of 14,000 feet in the middle of Shachukul village was constructed by Lama Choje Denma Kunga Dragpa. Around 70 lamas or monks reside in this monastery served by the reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche. Sacred shrines and artistic wall paintings dating back to the royal times adorn this holy place.

Next is Stongday Gustor which will take place at Stongday monastery on July 12-13.  Stongday monastery in one of the most important and oldest monastery of Zanskar region. Established in 1052 by Lama Maria Lotsawa, this is second largest monastery of Zanskar region having a community of 60 Gelupka monks. This monastery has seven temples in complex. This monastery is 18 kms north of Padum on way to Zangla. Since it is located on a hilltop at an altitude of 3500 metres, one has to trek to reach to the monastery. It can be a tough 3 to 4 hours trek on a muddy trek. Padum is more than 400 kms from Leh via Kargil on Leh-Srinagar highway.

Then comes Karsh Gustor on July 21-22. This takes place at Karsha Monastery or Karsha Gompa in the same Padum Valley of the Zanskar region. The Doda River flows past the monastery from its source at the Drang Drung glacier of the Pensi La (14,500 feet or 4,400 m). The monastery, also known by the name “Karsha Chamspaling’, was founded by Phagspa Shesrab, under the Gelugpa Order or the Yellow Hat Order. This is the biggest monastery in Ladakh’s Zanskar region and is about 14km from Padum village, where you will find homestays and guest houses. The monastery also has bone relics of Dorje Rinchen and serves as the residence of approximately 100 monks.

On the same days July 21-22 is Phyang Tserup (Tsedup) of Phyang monastery.  Located only about 20km west of Leh, Phyang monastery was established in the 16th century. It has several shrines and a 900-year old museum. This museum exhibits a rich collection of numerous idols and thangkas besides variety of weapons and firearms of Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian origin.This monastery belongs to Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. As a royal grace, the entire Phyang hills were once inhabited by monks preaching a Buddhist cult. Phyang Gompa is big complex accommodating a number of sacred shrines inside the monastery complex. These shrines have some exquisite wall paintings, dating back to the royal period. Tsedup is held every year from 17th day to 19th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

The last gustor for the month is Korzok Gustor which will be celebrated on July 26-27. Located on the bank of the famous lake, Tso Moriri, Korzok is said to be the highest permanent settlement in India. The 300-year old monastery observes its annual Gustor festival through much fanfare, which is attended in large numbers by the local Chang-pa tribe. Masked dancing, and dispersal of the sacrificial cake are an important part of the two-day festival. You can camp at Tso Moriri.

If you want to take a break from the monastic festivals, then there will be also a Ladakh Polo Festival on 11-17 July. Polo originated in Persia (Iran) and was introduced to Ladakh, where it is hugely popular today, from neighbouring Baltistan around the 15th century. In Ladakh, every major village has a polo ground and the game is an integral part of the cultural fabric of the Ladakhi people where music, especially drums, accompany the scoring of each goal. It is also one of the highlights of the two week long Ladakh Festival every September. The six day Ladakh Polo Festival is held in village Chushot of Leh district. This festival is being held for the first time and is being oraganised by a local polo club of the village itself-The Indus Chushot Polo Club. The festival aims at making the tourists visiting Ladakh experience the authentic village summer life with local games like polo, archery, folk music, folk dance, traditional art, local drama and traditional cuisines all available at this festival. Chushot village comes under Leh district and is 13Km South of Leh main town. This serene village is surrounded by chains of mountain range with the village itself being located on the bank of the historically famous Indus River. Farther away from the bank, the other side of the village has vast barren lands.

But then you don’t get distracted by festivals coming between your love for adventure, then there is something for all those who love to ride on tough and testing terrain and have the passion to ride. The 14th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is to be flagged off from New Delhi on 6th to 23rd July. Those who enjoy the company Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is best suited to them. This Odyssey will also have a women’s edition. This journey starts from Delhi on 8th and ends at Chandigarh on 23rd. On way back, this odyssey takes a turn to Kaza. So in 18 days you get to do both Lahaul as well as Spiti valley.

So, now you can plan a trip to Ladakh the July!!

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Malwa Utsav starts in Indore but lot more to do this month!

Malwa Utsav started last night at Indore’s Lalbagh palace. There are still five more days to go and you can certainly catch some action. So has India’s most awaited yearly pilgrimage- Char Dham Yatra, which commenced on 28th April with opening of doors of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines. But there are host of other events which can prompt you to some quick travel plans. With soaring temperatures, hill stations like Mount Abu and Ooty try to chill out with their annual festivals. Then there are a few church festivals also in Kerala, besides the all famous Thrissur Pooram. Here are some quick ideas for the month of May- first of India’s traditional two months of summer vacations. Time to pack!

Malwa Festival, Indore

Celebrated with great enthusiasm, Malwa Utsav is one of the biggest and most spectacular events of Madhya Pradesh. The festival restores the age old culture and the tradition of India through its various classical dance performances and traditional music. Performers and entertainers from different parts of India charm the cities of Indore and Ujjain for a remarkable five day celebration of art, music, dance, drama and culture. Festival is organised at Lalbagh Palace in Indore. One can say that the festival is a storehouse to the culture, spirit and the essence of the state. There is a huge gathering of locals and tourists coming from all parts of India and across the globe. Well-known artists, excellent performances, colourful ambience and a mélange of various programs form the prime highlights of the festival. In-addition, the festival also exhibits a rich display of art and craft workshops and one can savour the delectable cuisines of different variety. This year more than 400 artists from 19 states will take part in the festival. This year the festival is being held under shadow of plastic ban imposed in Madhya Pradesh from 1st May and also new phenomenon of cashless transactions for the small shopkeepers.

When: 2nd-8th May, 2017

Where: Lalbagh Palace, Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Thrissur Pooram

The grandest of all Kerala temple festivals this is more than two hundred years old. The Thrissur Pooram features a procession of around 30 colourfully decorated elephants and ensemble of 250 musicians. Other attractions include drum concerts, ornamental parasol displays, and fireworks. The festival is a huge cultural event that runs through the night with exuberant celebrations. Special viewing areas are provided for foreigners at the festival. The temple is a classical example of the Kerala style of architecture and has many murals and pieces of art. Majestic looking elephants adorned with ornate golden nettipattoms on their foreheads, the captivating beats of the thunderous music of the panchavadyam (five traditional instruments), spectacular fireworks, teeming millions intoxicated with the festive spirit – its all this and more that makes the world-famous Thrissur Pooram an unforgettable experience for any tourist.Had been in news recently for its treatment with elephants with issue even landing in court. Still, a festival worth a visit.

When: May 5, 2017

Where: Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala.

Ooty welcomes the summers with flowers

 

Photo: indiaeve.com

Every May Ooty comes alive with the Summer Festival. The 121st flower show will be celebrated on May 19th 2017, around 200 countries national flowers will be displayed on this year show. Flower show is conducted every year in the month of may in botanical garden Ooty. In this festival large varieties of flowers are displayed and organised activities like floral arrangements, vegetable carvings, flower rangoli etc. The flower show at the Ooty Botanical Gardens, which will take place on May 19-21, is particularly stunning. There will be nearly 15000 flowers of various types on display. The 59th fruit show at Sim’s park in Coonoor will be on May 27-28. Vegetable show will be on 6-7th May, Rose show on 13-14th May and Spice show on 12-14th May 2017. Other activities include cultural events, boat racing and trekking. There is also a Dog show at South of India Kennel Club (SIKC). Ooty Botanical Gardens covers an area of 22 hectares.It is a treasure house of temperate flora, consisting of flowering trees, beautiful shrubs, colourful lilies, bulbous planets, enchanting orchids, curious cacti and succulents, pleasing pteridophytes, breath taking glass house plans and charming annuals with bright colours.

When: 6th-28th May 2017

Where: Ooty, Coonoor and surrounding areas.

Buddha Purnima at Bodhgaya

Buddha Jayanti, also known as Buddha Purnima as it falls on the full moon day, celebrates the birthday of Buddha. It’s the most sacred Buddhist festival. Actually Buddha Purnima is day of his birth, his enlightenment and his death as well, making it a very rare day. It’s the most sacred Buddhist festival. Activities include prayer meets, sermons and religious discourses, recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation, processions, and worship of the statue of Buddha. Across all monasteries in India including major Buddhist pilgrim centres like Dharamshala, Sarnath and Bodhgaya and predominantly Buddhist regions such as Sikkim, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh as well. At Bodhgaya, the Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look and is decorated with colorful flags and flowers. Special prayers are organised under the Bodhi Tree (the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment).

When: May 10, 2017

Dhungri Fair, Manali

Hadimba temple is one of the most famous sight-seeing destinations at Manali in Himachal Pradesh. This mythological goddess from epic Mahabharata has this only temple to her credit in India. This temple is revered by locals and other ‘gods’ of the nearby villages alike. Every year her birth anniversary celebrations are held for three days in summers as per hindu calendar. More than a dozen ‘gods’ from the valley come here in procession to take part in the celebrations. Many events are held which make it a big cultural event. There is lot of dancing, singing, and sports activities. Whole of Manali will anxiously wait for this festival as they believe that after this festival normally tourist season will start peaking at this hill station. Many tourists from all over the world take part in this festival.

When: May 14 to 16, 2017.

Where: Hadimba Temple, Manali, Himachal Pradesh

Summer festival at Mount Abu

The only hill station of the Aravali ranges welcomes tourists for the summer with a festival. The summer festival is held every year during the month of May on Budh Poornima. The festival celebrates the warmth and cheerfulness of the people of hill station, who welcome the tourists from the depth of their hearts. Mt. Abu Summer Festival kicks off with ballad singing, followed by regional folk dancing. The festival also offers sports such as boat racing on Nakki Lake, and a roller skating race. It concludes with a fireworks display. The highlight of the festival is the Sham-e-Qawwali musical show, which features some of the most renowned qawwals from various parts of India. The hospitality of the people, their colorful culture and exotic locations made this festival a-never-to-be-forgotten experience. The festival begins with a ceremonial procession, which starts from the RTDC Hotel Shikhar and gather at the Nakki Lake Chowk followed by folk performances of Rajasthan and Gujarat states. The grand finale of the festival display dazzling fireworks. This two day colorful festival is organized by the Rajasthan Tourism, Municipal Board, Mount Abu & District Administration. Both the days of festival are interesting because of various competitions that take place the whole day. Skating Race, skater’s Show, CRPF Band Show, Boat Race, Horse Race, Tug of War, Panihari Matka Race and Deepdan add to the excitement of the celebration.

When: 9th-10th May 2017

Moatsu at Nagaland

Moatsu Festival is celebrated by the Ao tribe of Nagaland. Moatsu is celebrated in the first week of May every year. Various rituals are performed during this period. The Aos observe Moatsü Mong after the sowing is done. The Moatsu festival provides the Aos a period of recreation and entertainment after the stressful work of clearing fields, burning jungles and sowing seeds, cleaning up the Tsubu (Wells) and repairs and construction of houses by elders of the Putu Menden, stretching over a week. This tribal festival is marked by peppy songs and dances. The whole festival with full of merry making and fun is observed only for three days from 1st to 3rd of May. During this festival one of the symbolic celebrations is Sangpangtu, where a big fire is lit and men and women sit around it. Men & women putting on the complete best attire and the womenfolk serve the wine and meat. The natural customary practice of the forefathers was competing in making the best rice-beer and rearing the best possible pigs and cows to be slaughtered during the festival. The women weave the best of traditional garments and adorn themselves with all their finery. They join the men in dancing, eating and drinking and composing warrior songs. Singing songs in praise of the lover and the village as a whole is done and the older men encourage the young people to be bold and heroic to defend and protect them from enemies as head-hunting was practiced during their fore-fathers time.

When: 1st-3rd May 2017

Perunnal at Edathua Church

Nestled on the banks of River Pamba is the Edathua Church, a massive church that resembles the churches of medieval Europe. Established in 1810, the church is dedicated to St. George and is famous for the annual perunnal or feast which starts on the 27th of April and concludes on the 7th of May. During the perunnal, the statue of the saint, decked in gold, is taken out on a procession and is placed on the dais in the centre of the Basilica. The devotees turn up in hordes from far and wide to join in this procession and offer their prayers. Cultural performances are held on all days and a spectacular display of fireworks form an integral part of the festive occasion. Edathua Perunnal is actually one of three church festivals that takes place in Kerala during these days.

Photo: navrangindia.blogspot.in

Others are, Palayur Church Festival (6-7 May 2017 at St. Thomas Church, Chavakkad in Thrissur) and Puthupally Perunnal at St George Orthodox Church, Puthuppally in Kottayam District. Among these two the St. Thomas Church at Palayur near Chavakkad is believed to be one among the seven churches established by St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ. The annual festival at the church lasts for two days and is attended by thousands. With vibrant pageants, orchestra, and fireworks, the festival resembles the Hindu festivals held in and around Thrissur. Established in 52 AD and with a history spanning two millennia, the church is definitely worth a visit.

When: April 27-May 7, 2017

Where: St. George’s Church, Edathua, Alappuzha. Cochin International Airport is about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Belief and adventure at Chardham Yatra

The most popular pilgrimage in India, Chardham yatra is going to begun in its full swing with the opening of doors of the famous Badrinath temple after a six-month winter break on 6th May. The doors of Kedarnath shrines will be opened for pilgrims three days earlier on 3rd May this year. With all the four shrines located above 10,000 feet in Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the temple doors remain closed in October-November owing to low temperatures and heavy snowfall, and are reopened in April-May. The pilgrimage season of six months witnesses hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists travelling to Dehradun, Haridwar or Rishikesh for an onward journey to the four shrines, making it the economic backbone of Garhwal region. However, there was a dip in footfall in 2013 following the natural calamity in the region. According to government figures, while the number of tourists visiting the state in 2012 and 2014 stood at 2.84 crore and 2.26 crore respectively, the figures stood at 2.09 crore in 2013.

When: 28th April 2017 onwards

Sipi Fair, SIpur, Mashobra

One of the unheard festivals in the list and bit weird too, but great occasion to understand the local culture and flavour. Two kilometre from Mashobra, a Shimla suburb lies Sipur which is known for its centuries old Sipi Fair. The fair is named after Seep, a local deity. The legend has it that the temple existed here prior to the deity’s visit to this place. According to the locals the place commands profound religious and mystical significance. No one spends the night here. The depth of the faith can be gauged from the fact that the visitors even dust their clothes before returning to the homes so that even a minute particle of the dust, a property of Seep deity , is not carried away. The tradition to visit the Sipi Fair is centuries old. It also finds special mention in the periodicals published during British regime .The place earlier belonged to the erstwhile Koti state. The star attraction of this fair is deity’s visit from the nearby hamlet Deothi .The deity pays as much as three visits to this place throughout the year.The venue also become a makeshift market during the fair when the stalls of goods are decorated to attract the visitors.

When: May 2017

 

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

 

Devotion for creation : Tibetan Mandala

Mandala is a art, a design. But it takes different forms in different references. Mandala is said to be one of the richest visual objects in Tibetan Buddhism. Even on purely art terms it needs high concentration and precision to create such fine and intricate design. The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing an aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of a guiding principle. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to assist with healing.

Mandala1Monks at Dalai Lama temple at Mcleodganj near Dharamshala busy in creating a Kalchakra painting through sacred Mandala. Monks rarely like to get photographed during this moment.

Mandala2This is a sand mandala being created here. According to Buddhist scripture, mandalas constructed from sand transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. They are believed to effect purification and healing. Mandala sand painting was introduced by the Buddha himself and there are many different designs of mandala, each with different lessons to teach.

Watching monks creating a mandala is truly fascinating. When it is very calm around the sound of these metallic tubes rubbing each other to let only the desired amount of sand drop seems like a music.

You can watch the video of mandala creation at Dalai Lama temple in Dharamshala here-

Dalai Lama temple at Mcleodganj is actually residence of Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama is based here and hence it is one of the most revered places for Buddhist all over the world to visit. It is one of the reasons to bring Dharamshala to world tourism map.

A look at the monks at Dalai Lama temple-

Mcleodganj is just around 10 kms from Dharamshala. Tibetan government in exile is based at Gangchen Kyishong. Hence this place is home to large Tibetan population.

Few more glimpses of the temple-

(few information sourced from web)

Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Thiksey monastery has one of the most recognisable images of the Ladakh. It is imposing- standing on a hill top with complete hillock dedicated monastery campus. One just can’t miss this place as it is right adjacent to the road to Leh while coming from the Manali side. Its also very close to Leh, just 19 kms before it.  It is also one of the biggest monasteries in Ladakh. It is also said to resemble Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. At the altitude of 3,600 metres this monastery overlooks the Indus Valley with full view of the magnificent Stok range.

Thiksey Monastery1

There are two ways to reach the monastery on the top. There is a pedestrian way but that is quite steep. But one can also drive right to the entrance of the monastery via a loop on the hill.  That route is just more than a kilometre. There is a parking area and then one has to walk up, still quite a bit of stair-work. But that all is quite worth it. Overall it is a 12 storey complex.

One you reach at the top and enter the monastery campus the surrounding view of the Ladakh valley is mesmerising. It looks something like this on the one side-

Thiksey Monastery4
Indus valley and Stok ranges far behind

Thiksey monastery is most popular among tourists after the Hemis monastery. Spon Palden Sherab with his Master Jangsem Sherab Zang, one of the six contemporary disciples of Lord Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, responsible for the dissemination of his teachings to the remote provinces founded Thiksay monastery in 1433 AD.The disciple of “Jamgon sokapa, Sherab Zangpo” of stod, first built the temple of Stkmo Lakhang at top the Thiksay Alley. Then Paldan Sharab nephew of Sherab Zangpo, founded Thiksay monastery. Here are sacred shrine and many precious to be seen. The successive reincarnation of Skabjay Khanpo Rinpoche act as in charge of the monastery. This monastery houses many items of Buddhist stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and other ornaments.

See the photo gallery of the interiors of the monastery-

The highlight of the Thiksey monastery is the temple of Maitreya Buddha, also known as future Buddha. This is the newest temple in the monastery consecrated in 1980 by Dalai Lama. This temple has 12 metre (40 ft) high statue of Maitreya Buddha which is said to be largest such statue in Ladakh. Thirty artists took three years to build this statue.  It is made of clay and terracotta brick painted with gold. The murals behind the statue tell the story of the future Buddha.

Thiksey Monastery22
Statue of Maitreya Buddha

Biggest festival of the monastery Thiksey Gustor is held on the 17th, 18th and 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan lunar calendar every year. It is a traditional ceremony conducted in the monasteries of Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. During these  days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of Gods and Goddesses. The celebration end with the dismembered and dispersal of the Torma (Sacrificial Cake) by the leader of the Black hat dancers in a ceremony called “Argham” or “klling”. This sybolise the destruction of all form of evil. And also re-dnacts the assassination of the Tibetan apostate King Lang-Darma, by a Buddhist monk in the mid 9 th century. This year Thiksey Gustor will be celebrated on 17th and 18th November.

Thiksey Monastery5
This is the place where all temple festivals including Gustor are organised

Monastery also runs a hotel- Chamba Hotel which is located right at the base of the hill from where way to monastery starts. So those who want to stay close to the monastery can stay here. There are different categories of rooms here. Good option if one wants to be part of the early morning prayers. Besides, there are also simpler guest rooms in the monastery campus itself. But the guests are not allowed to stay in rooms of monks.  For day-visitors, staying at Leh is the best option.

Are you planning to go there for Thiksey Gustor on 17th-18th November?

Make sure to visit next time you are in Ladakh.

Vagabond in Spiti : Kee Gompa

Kee (Key, Kye or Ki) monastery or gompa commands one of the most iconic views associated with Spiti valley.  It is considered to be the biggest monastery in Spiti valley. It is one of the highlights for anybody and must-visit place for any adventurer or tourist coming to Kaza. Kee gompa is one of the top monasteries in the region which include Tabo, Nako, Dhankar and Kungri (in the Pin valley) to name a few.

Kee Gompa1

Kee monastery is ahead of Kaza. Once you move pass the Kaza town along the spiti river, after couple of kilometres or so comes a diversion. There is a bridge across the river that takes to Loser and Kunjom pass. Loser is 56 kms from this point and Kunjom top is 78 kms.Kee Gompa2

One has to move ahead on the right side of the river towards Kibber and Kee. The view is spectacular and the road slowly drifts away from the river and climbs towards the mountains.

Once you reach the Kee (Kye) village than you get the first view of the monastery overlooking the village, perched on a small cliff.

Kee Gompa5

Moving ahead, there is another diversion, one on the left leads to Kibber village and on the right is Kee gompa. The view keeps on getting amazing- of the gompa as well as the Spiti valley below. The road to Kee from Kaza is generally good in condition, may be because of the high tourist value of the monastery.

 

The monastery of Tibetan Buddhism is located at an altitude of 4166 metres above the sea level. The monastery is more than thousand years old founded in 11th century. Despite being in such a tough terrain, this monastery along with other monasteries of the region has a history of attacks by the invaders and clashes among the different buddhist sects. Walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals developed in Chinese influence. It also houses a wide collections of ancient murals, manuscripts, and images. Monastery now belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism.

This monastery celebrated its millennium in 2000 when a new prayer hall was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama.  Besides this new prayer hall, there are four old prayer halls in the monastery. The monastery is so big that it can house around 450 lamas. Normally close to 150 lamas will always stay in the monastery. Even nuns stay here. The main monastery has three floors. Then there are different complexes for monks to stay, study and other activities.  It is a big teaching centre for lamas. There is also a cafeteria for the tourists.

Vehicles can be parked right at the entrance of the monastery. One has to keep sufficient time to move around, view the complex and enjoy the mesmerising landscape. Monastery holds its yearly festival normally in July every year. The monastery has already found its way into bollywood movies (Highway).

Kee Gompa also has facility for travellers to stay in lama quarters at a very nominal charge (around 200 Rs along with meals). That’s thoroughly enjoying and engaging. Gives a first-hand experience of the lives of the monks here. Worth it, but then you need to have some time in hand.

Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Tabo

Just 48 kms before Kaza is Tabo. Tabo village houses one of the biggest and rare monasteries in Spiti. It is also considered to be one of the holiest. Tabo is right on the left banks of the Spiti river. It is a big valley down there and so much so that you tend to forget that you are at an altitude of 3280 metres and already deep inside the cold desert of Spiti.

Tabo1
First look of the Tabo village

Tabo is just before Kaza. So adventure drivers and riders going to Kaza are often in hurry to reach Kaza as it is the final destination in the Spiti. They are also tired of long journey during the day. That prevents them from spending ample time at Tabo. The other problem is that there travel itinerary is so prepared that they mostly move towards Kunjam Pass and Manali on way back or spend a day at Kaza visiting Ki (Kye or Kee) Gompa, Kibber and Lanza, as I did. One needs time to see Tabo monastery and best way is to come back the next day. It might also be ideal to come back and spend a day visiting Tabo and Dhankar monasteries.

Tabo monastery is said to hide some of the finest of all Indo-Tibetan art. Few people also refer it as Ajanta of the Himalayas for its sheer treasure of art. Tabo monastery has nine temples, stupas and cave shrines. All the ancient temples are made of mud and wood. Due to arid and dry weather of this region, they have survived for so long. Founded in 996 AD Tabo is said to be the oldest Buddhist complex which has been continuously operative since its inception.

Above the monastery there are number of caves carved into cliff face. Having seen such caves in many films, it was adventurous to visit them. These caves are being used for meditation for centuries. There is also a assembly hall in the caves and some paintings, chants on the rock face. These caves look astonishing. They were also used as shelter by monks during the winter. Even today monks will use few of them for meditation. Few other are abandoned and are decaying. Its a small trek from the Tabo village to the caves. While caves look narrow from outside, but many of them have ample space inside. Few also have different rooms inside and have properly laid down walls and smoothened floors.

Tabo monastery has huge collection of frescoes, thankas, manuscripts, murals, paintings depicting Buddhist pantheon, principles, life and teachings. The manuscripts and inscriptions tell in detail about the idea, history and life of this monastery. This monastery is also unique in this manner that while all other monasteries in the himalayas are perched on hills and cliffs, this Tabo monastery is located at the bottom of the valley on the banks of the river. The monastery still has around 50 monks living there. Dalai Lama has himself visited this place twice for Kalachakra festivals.

Once you are here, this place seems to be from different world. While coming from big metros, one will not believe that life still exists in these areas. But its very enriching and needs to be visited with time in hand. Its a heritage like no other.