Tag Archives: Udaipur

Urban wetlands we need : Nela Taalab

Ever expanding cities have engulfed much of the natural habitat in their surrounding areas, including the wetlands, despite knowing it well that how disastrous it is. Thus it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find a haven for migratory birds just a couple of furlongs away from my home at the City of Lakes- Udaipur in Rajasthan.  Actually, I had already seen this residential area surpassing a few wetlands in the course of its ‘development’ in last couple of decades. Similar things would have definitely happened in all the surrounding areas.

Time to rest all together!

Having shifted base to Delhi almost 28 years back, my visits to my hometown are occasional. Thus it was courtesy a childhood friend that I cam to know about Nela Taalab, even though it was very close to my home. Went with him to this place for the first time couple of years back. Taalab is actually the Hindi term for small lake or a bigger pond.

An urban oasis

We went again this year few weeks back. It was a delightful experience, better than the last one. Better actually only in terms of the location we were able to access this year for sightings. I am not sure if it was better in terms of number of birds present this year. That is also because there are more colonies developed around the lake. There are more chances of disturbances to the bird habitat.

Many species right here

The area around has also been so-called ‘developed’ with a bund with lights and walkway often used by morning walkers from nearby areas.

Its really close to the residential area

Urban wetlands are quite important, more so when they have developed themselves into habitat for waterfowls and other avian species.

A flock of shovelers on their morning flight

For developers urban wetlands might be a wasteland but ecologically they are the prized lands for urban areas. They control flooding, they are source of drinking water, they are also source of livelihood, they promote human well-being, they improve air quality and they also naturally filter waste from water.

Painting the sky

They also add to beauty of a neighbourhood, adding to its charm -provided they are protected and preserved as naturally as possible. We need to include them in urban lands planning, besides reducing water consumption and harmful runoff.

Flying high among the high-rise

We have tendency to encroach upon the wetlands whenever we are in need of land. This mindless construction leads to degradation, filling and build upon of the wetlands. Needless to say, if they are restored or preserved, they make urban areas more liveable.

Snipes, Black winged stilts and more

It is also essential to include local residents in the wetlands management as that can check the unsocial use of the area, as often anti-social elements find secluded area around wetlands to their liking.

Few more species..

To my pleasant surprise, I was also able to sight some Egyptian Vultures for the first time in my backyard. Egyptian vulture is one among the globally threatened vulture species found in India.

A pair of Egyptian vultures

Egyptian vultures have been included in endangered category by the IUCN Red List. These are resident birds but they have been included in endangered list due to their declining population and one reason for this rapid decline is mentioned as ‘presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac.

Also read: Don’t we need these hills anymore!

A closer look
…another shot on their favourite tree
Then one of them decided to take a round
…second one was left along for some time
…and then it too decided to follow the suit and join its partner.

It is certainly delightful to capture a bird in such a relaxed manner. But it seemed that tree was favourite place for the raptors. As soon as the vultures left, a kite occupied the place.  It perhaps had the best view of the preys in the area.

This kite was first on a bush
The raptor left the bush and reached for the tree
It took the position, looked around…
…noticed something amiss (a prey or our camera clicks)…
…and flew back.

Than there was a cattle egret watching the proceedings very closely

A cattle egret contemplating its next move

Besides the pintails and shovelers the lake also had a big colony of common eurasian coot.

..running on the water!

However carefree, they might look, but they were quite aware of our moves and took no time to move away from we shutterbugs.

Fly away home

It was a contented walk back home, but also with a worry of how long will this place be able to sustain itself. Lot of efforts will be needed certainly.

P.S. Nela Taalab is just a kilometre and half off the NH 8 on Udaipur-Ahmedabad route in Hiran Magari, Sector 14, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A couple of decades earlier, it was an uninhabited area, but now it is very much the part of the city itself.

DO you have a urban wetland area close to your place? Share your views about it.

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Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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The original Bahubali and the Ghoda goes green!


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Spring is early this year, not just because Basant Panchami was celebrated in January itself, but also because winter too seems to be giving way to the spring already. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. But the shortest month of the year is also one of the richest in terms of cultural output that we get out of it.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances

Well, we are already done with the first quarter of the month and many events have already rounded up, like the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab (2-4 February 2018) and the Sula Fest at Nasik (3-4 February). Even the Kala Ghoda Arts festival at Mumbai has started from 3rd February, but there is still time to catch up few events in remaining days. But surely gem of the month is the once in 12 years Mahamasthakabhisheka of the ‘original’ Bahubali at Shravanbelagola in Karnataka. But we also have some lesser known festivals in monasteries of Ladakh, if you are daring to venture there in the winters. Also in my (remaining) list for the month is another recent addition to Rajasthan’s ever growing music sphere- a festival at Udaipur. Then there are always the regular ones with their evergreen charm.

Mahamasthakabhisheka of Bahubali

Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. The event is being be held under the leadership of Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola from 17th-25th February 2018. Shravanabelagola/Sravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain tirth (a sacred place) of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance from the point of pilgrimage and also archeological and religious heritage. About eight hundred odd inscriptions which the Karnataka Archeological Department has collected at the place are mostly Jaina and cover a very extended period from 600 to 1830 A.D. Some refer even to the remote time of Chandragupta Maurya and also relate the story of the first settlement of Jains at Shravanabelagola. That this village was an acknowledged seat of learning is proved from the fact that a priest from here named Akalanka was in 788 A.D. summoned to the court of Himasitala at Kanchi where having confuted the Buddhists in public disputation, he was instrumental in gaining their expulsion from the South of India to Ceylon. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond. Usually Mahamasthakabhisheka to Bahubali idols at Shravanabelagola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are conducted once in 12 years. There are various interesting stories/interpretations around this.

When: 17-25 February 2018

Where: Shravanabelagola is at a distance of 51 KM south-east of Hassan, the district centre. It is situated at a distance of 12 Km to the south from the Bangalore-Mangalore road (NH-48), 78 Kms from Halebidu, 89 Kms from Belur, 83 Kms from Mysore, 233 Kms from Mangalore and 157 Kms from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. It is well connected with State Highways and District roads. Bangalore and Mangalore are the two nearest destinations connected by Air. There are trains connecting Shravanabelagola with the state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), its district head quarter Hassan, the cultural capital of Karnataka Mysuru and the state’s chief port city Mangaluru (Mangalore).

Kala Ghoda goes Green this year

Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is the country’s largest multicultural festival, taking place in February each year. Kala Ghoda Association, was formed on 30th October 1998 with the object of maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. Mission was to preserve and refurbish the heritage arts district of Mumbai with the co-operation of local authorities and to create and spread multi-cultural awareness through platforms like festivals and events especially amongst those who have little opportunity to access or be exposed to culture. Hence the festival is free for everybody across all he sections. The Festival draws visitors in large numbers, not just from the city but from all over the country, and the world. Hara Ghoda The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival brings to the stage the wonders of nature shown through performance and art. The raging flames of the Fire of victory (agni), the liquid blue of Aqua (jal), the indefinable Air (vayu), the indestructible Earth (prithvi) and the realms of Space (akash), finds its place and artistic representation at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018. The HTKGAF calendar features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, this festival hasn’t been soon enough. The festival is quirky and fresh, bringing to us the best of art and culture. The art installations are amazing; the literature events enriching. The nine-day festival adds to the beauty of the city, with its rich programmes. Kala Ghoda is a festival so rich and diverse, yet binding us together. Music performances are exemplary, with elite artists performing for the whole city. It captures the city’s culture and gives the new generation a chance to connect with it.

When: 3-11 February, 2018

Where: Different venues for different arts across Mumbai, although there is a pending court case related to use of Cross Maidan this year.

Destruction of evil with fanfare at Dosmochey Festival in Ladakh!

This is a festival from the rooftop of the world. Likir Festival and Leh Dosmochey normally falls around February. Dosmochey is a monastic festival celebrated in the month of February each year. This festival was said to be started by the rulers of Ladakh on the pattern of the popular Mon-Lam meaning ‘Great Prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is celebrated at Leh, Likir (lower Ladakh) and Diskit (in Nubra valley) monasteries. It is the last event of the New Year celebrations, and is held on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month. This two day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of Ladakhi people and winter tourists actively take part in this festival. In Leh, there is a courtyard below Leh Palace, where festival is held. Monks from various monasteries perform mask dance and ritual prayers. Mask dance is accompanied with the sound of large drums, cymbals and trumpet. Monks of Takthok monastery (the only remaining Nyingmapa school monastery and who are considered as masters in Tantric practice and astrology) prepare the complex thread crosses to trap evil and demonic forces. On the second day, crowds of masked dancers and people march through streets spreading positive energy. Besides, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats believed to carry away with them the evil spirits of the year just passed and thus the town is cleaned and made ready to welcome the New Year.

When: 13-14 February, 2018

Where: Leh Palace, Likir and Diskit Gompa

Cham dances of Yargon Tungshak 

Stay for some more days after Dosmochey festival and you can enjoy another one in Nubra valley this time. Even though winter is not the most ideal time to plan a Leh Ladakh tour, those who want to witness the livelier side of Ladakh must plan a visit to Nubra Valley during the late months of winter. During the late winters, the calm and placid Nubra valley of Ladakh comes to life with the vibrant Yargon Tungshak Festival. A flamboyant exhibition of culture, tradition, folk music, and the much acclaimed Cham Dance (Mask Dance), the Yargon Tungshak Festival brings in a new and the livelier vibes back to the entire valley. Decked up in traditional costumes, the dance is performed on the beats of drums and low-level syllables which are uttered with a strange melody. Dances which are performed in this festival are Lion, Yak and Tashipa dances. Ladakhi festiveals like Yargon Tungshak are synodnymous with delicious food that is peculiar only to that region. Locals, during the Yargon Tungshak Festival, feast on delicious local foods; mostly skyu, gurgur cha and thukpa, and the monasteries also holds social feast for the locals. Also, a grand religious prayer takes place in a monastery. Along with the traditional Tibetian chants, Sanskrit chants are also uttered by monks.

When: 19-20 February, 2018

Where: Nubra Yama, Nubra, Ladakh

The oracles at Stok Guru Tsechu

Dare I say that come back from Nubra to the Stok village and in few days you will witness another great monastic festival and a rare one. The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month. Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year. Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire. The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas. As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance performers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes. It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.

When: 24-25 February, 2018

Where: Stok village, Ladakh

World of music at the City of Lakes

The City of Lakes sings a different tune come February. Udaipur plays host to the third edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Organised by SEHER, this festival brings together global artists and ensembles from over 20 countries. More than 100 artists will collaborate to give an eclectic variety of performances. The festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, US, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music this edition. Music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival will also provide a platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.The event is designed to cater to the music sensibilities of people across different ages and from all walks of life. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience, this one is a sheer treat for lovers of good music. The event will host some of the most renowned music artistes including Italian musician Oi Dipnoi, Himalyan folk singer-songwriter Bipul Chettri, New York-based Indian guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, French musical artist Maya Kamaty, amongst others. “It has been a fantastic experience to see tremendous response from music lovers in the past two editions. This year we have planned to take the festival to new levels with an eclectic line up of world musicians who will be performing during the festival. The festival is a celebration of myriad cultures, ethnicities and colorful traditions through music,” Festival Director Sanjeev Bhargava said.

When: 9-11 February 2018

Where: Fateh Sagar Paal and Gandhi ground, Udaipur

Showcasing art and handicraft at Surajkund

Surajkund Mela

One of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. Dates have been slightly altered this year. A marvellous mix of handicrafts, folk arts and folk dances makes it a crowd puller. With lots of food stalls representing different states, it has lot more to offer. Hosted by Haryana Tourism, this fair also has a large entertainment value. With Valentine Day coming towards the end of the festival, young ones from NCR find it tempting to have some funtime at Surajkund. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. This year Kyrgyzstan is the partner nation and Uttar Pradesh has been chosen as the theme State for the 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2018.

When: 2-18 February, 2018

Where: Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana

A music fest for world peace

Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan

8th edition of Sur Jahan (previous name Sufi Sutra) will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 2 to 4, 2017. Like previous years, it remains non ticketed festival and open to music lovers. Held in the first weekend of February every year with the motto of ‘Music for Peace, Music for All’, the event showcases international and national music teams, with cultural exchange workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The celebrations create the atmosphere of a carnival, with stalls by rural handicraft artists and folk performances. It is being held since 2011 and is now a permanent and much-awaited fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Since its inception, teams from 22 countries and 12 states of India have participated in this annual musical extravaganza. Among the major attractions this year are the Ale Möller Quartet and Ellika Solo Rafael, both from Sweden, BraAgas of Czech republic, Virelai of Denmark and Otava Yo from Russia. Indian part will be represented by Punjab Qawwali, Bauls of Bengal and Folks of Bengal – an initiative of banglanatak dot com MusiCal supporting urban folk artists. The festival will also showcase Rural Craft & Cultural Hubs of West Bengal, an initiative of West Bengal government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSME&T) in association with UNESCO. Alike last year Sur Jahan is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 7-9.

When: 2-4 February, 2018.

Where: Kolkata & Goa

Carnival times in Goa

India’s answer to carnivals of Brazil, Caribbean and Europe. Carnival came to Goa with the Portuguese in 1510. This is the local version of the carnival celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gas. In the localised version parade is lead by local King Momo. This three day event is the place where all the colours of Goa come out in a glorious swagger and sweeps away the local as well foreign folks with its charm and charisma. Goa is almost synonymous with fun, music, food, entertainment and merry making and without any real doubt the only place in India that breaks away from the general image of the country as a conservative nation. It can be attributed to the historical fact that Goa was under Portuguese rule in the past and is still in its hang over. The Goa Carnival was started by the Portuguese rulers and since then it it has become an integral part of Goa. During the Carnival days Goa enters into a different zone of its own and become very crowded place. from every part of the world travellers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-coloured processions. The scene of Goa Carnival resembles some fairy tale descriptions where people hop around in jovial mood with masks on, fireworks, fortune tellers, group of dancers and and above all happy people all around. Music swings into Goa Carnival quite naturally. The myriad facets of the Goan music compels any onlooker to jig with it. The stylish Spanish guitar, the casual drum beats and the soulful voice are enough to make you move your feet. It is a perfect gateway for everyone who is on the verge of a virtual breakdown in today’s dull, dreary and mundane world.

When: 10-13 February, 2018

Where: Panaji, Vasco, Mapusa

Best of classical dance at Khajuraho

Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. Once the capital of the great Chandela Kings, Khajuraho today is a quiet village of a few thousand people. It is also the setting of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances which draws the best classical dancers in the country every year, who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples. The seven-day extravaganza is a unique treat for connoisseurs from all over the world. This year it will be 44th edition of this festival. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. The past and the present silhouetted against the glowing sun as the backdrop becomes an exquisite backdrop for the performers. In a setting where the earthly and the divine create perfect harmony – an event that celebrates the pure magic of the rich classical dance traditions of India. As dusk falls, the temples are lit up in a soft, dream-like ethereal stage. The finest exponents of different classical Indian styles are represented – Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and many more.

When: 20-26 February 2018

Where: Western group of temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

An Olympics for Theatre in Delhi this time

Bharat Rang Mahotsav

India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will this year turn into 8th Theatre Olympics. India will be hosting this event for the first time. It will be a grand showcase of the international theatre. Theate Olympics is going to feature work by playrights, directors, actors, designers, theatre groups and drama institutions from India and abroad. It will showcase outstanding productions that have been performed for the public on or before 31st August 2017. The theme of the Olympics is Flag of Friendship. The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, on the initiative of the famous Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged. Moreover, as its subtitle suggests, Crossing Millennia, it is an initiative that emphasizes the importance of connecting the past, present, and future together. The founding committee was a group of eight internationally renowned theatre directors: Theodoros Terzopoulos, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. It is a non-profit organization. Its administrative headquarters are located in Athens, Greece (European office) and in Togamura, Japan (Asian office).

When: 17 February-8 April 2018

Where: National School of Drama, New Delhi, but plays across the country at various locations including Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvanathapuram and Varanasi.

Enjoying contemporary art at India Art Summit

India Art Fair

India Art Fair, previously known as India Art Summit, is an annual summit of modern and contemporary art. India Art Fair is South Asia’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art and portal to the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 2008, India Art Fair has become the bedrock of a now booming cultural community with connections to every level of the market. This is the 10th year of this Art summit. Building on these foundations, India Art Fair is expanding its programming to reflect South Asia’s immense diversity in the visual arts and to provide a platform for innovation across disciplines and exchange, throughout the region and the world. There is strong representation of leading Indian and international galleries to complement the fair’s regional perspective and enable a deeper engagement with art. A curated showcase of interactive, large-scale installations revealing the most stimulating cross section of artists, mediums and processes from the subcontinent. With a shared ambition to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for these discussions, India Art Fair has developed platforms such as the Speakers’ Forum and Film Programme. This broad and exciting programme of lectures, screenings and conversations will engage a diverse range of stakeholders in the visual arts as well as cover a wide spectrum of artistic practices.

When: 9-12 February, 2018

Where: NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi.


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Changing colours of the City Palace : Shades of light and life!


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Shades of light are as mesmerising as the shades of life. How often they go hand to hand! I might seem like being too philosophical but often loss of somebody very close makes you so. Its not quite very often that you are able to watch the changing shades of light during the course of the day at an off-routine place, more so at a place worth a zillion images.

Morning view of the city palace of Udaipur. Its January but the winter this year is not so harsh.

It happened to be so with me when I was at Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur from morning to sunset for a stretch of more than ten hours at the same place. Udaipur is city of my birth and my education.

It gets brighter and bluer as the sun comes to the top. There are many boats taking tourists to small trip on the lake

City Place of Udaipur is one of the prime tourist attractions of the City of Lakes. This more than four hundred years old palace is located at the banks of Pichola Lake in the heart of the city.

Its the start of the second half of the day and light has started to make changes to the colours

The palace is best viewed from the side of the lake. That is where you get the panoramic view of the old city of Udaipur and the City Palace together.

The brightness of the sky gives way to softer tones

The Pichola Lake has got many ghats and these are the places where the old city of Udaipur exists. Ghats are the stairs on the banks of the lakes to let people have easy access to the lake. These ghats were often used by the locals to take bath.

The shades of white turn to yellow…

Ambrai ghat or the historically known as Manji Raj ka Ghat is one of such ghats around lake Pichola in Udaipur. This ghat has a temple of Charbhuja Ji which was originally stated to have been constructed as a palace for the queen mother after she became a widow.

…and the yellow turns to golden…

These ghats are also the reflection of the cultural heritage of the city. They are part of daily life, they are also place for rituals. They are deeply associated with the history and stye have been the silent spectators to the dramatic transformation of the city.

…and even the gold turns to copper, what we say as तांबई colour in Hindi

Be here and you will find small boats filled of tourists taking a round trip in the lake and amazingly clicking the pictures of life on the lakeside.

As the sun sets, the dusk gathers around, its going to be dark soon

Now most of the old houses around the lake have been converted into heritage hotels, catering to a wide range of tourists coming to the Udaipur. Many of them give fantastic views of the lake and city around. Many of the hotels have got lakeside or rooftop restaurants. There are also a number of souvenir shops around these hotels in the area alongside lake.

…its then the lights come to play and give altogether a new shade to the whole surroundings

The visit to Udaipur is often not deemed as complete unless you visit any of its ghats to feel the pulse of the city. Be there, see, interact and get amused! Its worth a lot, just like this interplay of lights on the City Palace during the course of a single day.

Have you been to Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur? Share your experiences in the comments section.

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Time to kick-off: game, music and fair!

It is the month of some of the biggest festivities of the year in north India specially. It is month of festival of lights Diwali and then Chaath Puja. But this year, this month is also special because of one of the biggest international sporting event to have ever hosted by India- the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This month also kicks off a chain of musical and cultural events across the peninsula, some of them the most memorable ones like Pushkar fair. A perfect time to make some quick travel plans.

Cheers for Football

It is indeed one of the biggest sporting events to be held in India. India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup India 2017 scheduled to be held at Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai from 6th to 28th October 2017 in which 24 teams, including India, will participate. A total of 52 games will be played to decide the winner of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. For India significance of this event also lies in the fact that after this event we will have India’s only football team to have played a world cup. What more, many of the matches in the event will be played at most popular of India’s tourist destinations like Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Mumbai besides capital Delhi. So, what an opportunity to see few budding top footballers from around the world along with some fanciest of destinations.

When: 6th-28th October 2017

Where: Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai

Enthralling music at RIFF

Jodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries.  Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort.

This year at the festival you can meet the Bhil community from Banswara and get to know their music and tribal culture – with Malini Kale, then there are living legends like Bhika Khan Manganiyar and Ladu Ram Nayak; on the main stage will be Maand with Ghavri Devi Rao;Kamaycha Charm with Ghewar and Darra Khan; there will be a Musical Tapestry of Voices, Pipes and Strings with Ross Ainslie, Angus Lyon, Blue Rose Code, Asin Khan Langa and Smita Rao Bellur. n the desert lounge will be all acoustic, desert music and Qawaali from Rajasthan. On the 3rd day, 7th October there will be a show on the life and music of the Mir musicians of the Bikaner region. There will be an exclusive show by Nihal Khan Manganiyar and BabunathJogi. On the main stage will be Padharo Mahre Des Re – popular and rare songs of Rajasthan; Mexican Guitars with Paco Renteria; The High Road to Jodhpur – Scottish Shooglenifty/ Rajasthani Dhun Dhora collaboration featuring the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan. In Club Mehran it will be Rootsy electronic grooves with DJs Victor Kiswell and Logeshan Moorgan. On day 4 there will be The Roundhouse Sessions – a Welsh-Indian collaboration of storytelling and music. On main stage will be Woodwind Vibes with Rajasthani maestros; Gypsy Jazz with Nicotine Swing, Afro-Chic Reggae with Rocky Dawuni. Finally there will be RIFF RUSTLE with Rajasthani and international percussionists, musicians and singers from Jodhpur RIFF 2017… and a superb ‘rustler”!

When: 5th-9th October 2017

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Another festival for the Marwar

Another musical extravaganza at Jodhpur, almost at the same time. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.

When: 4th-5th October 2017

Where: Various places, Jodhpur

Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival

This is the year of 40th Soorya festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition again around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Festival has already commenced with an event called ‘Ammu: Saannidhyavum Saameepyaum’ which was a get together of 15 artists who have played the role of ‘Ammu’ the girl who played the central character in all shows directed by Soorya Krishnamurthy.

The first phase will be film festival from Sep 21 to October 10. The critically acclaimed film, Minnaminungu, directed by Anil Thomas, will be the inaugural film. The lead actor of the film, Surabhi Lakshmi, who also won national award for the same is also expected to attend the function. The dance and music festival will be held from October 1 to 10. As had been in previous years, K J Yesudas will perform the inaugural concert at AKG Hall at 6.45pm on October 1. Leading artists Meenakshi Sreenivasan, Rama Vaidyanathan, Nithyasree Mahadevan and Manju Warrier will perform in the festival. For the first time, Soorya festival will feature a Jugalbandi festival this year. The Jugalbandi festival will be held from December 6 to 9. Odissi-Bharatanatyam performance by Sandhya Manoj and Namita Bodaji, Mohiniyattom jugalbandi by Nair Sisters Veena and Dhanya, Mohiniyattom – Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Rekha Raju and Rekha Satish and Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Devi and Girish Chandra will be held. Jalsa Ghar, dedicated to Hindustani music, will be held at YMCA Auditorium from October 21 to 31. Hindustani vocalists Ramesh Narayan, Fayaz Khan, Manjari, Gayathri and Shahbaz Aman will be among the performers. ‘Meet the masters’ programme will be held from November 21 to 25. It will be a tribute to actor Om Puri and five of his films will be screened. The grand finale of the festival will be on Jan 11, 2018 when Chandu Menon’s masterpiece ‘Indulekha’ will be staged as a dance-music drama at Government school, Attakulangara.

When: 21st September 2017-11th January 2018

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra

Deskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. 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. 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.

When: 17th-18th October 2017

Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.

The charm of Pushkar

One of India’s favourite fair. The Pushkar Cattle Fair is one of the largest in India and the only one of its kind in the entire world. During the fair, Lakhs of people from rural India flock to Pushkar, along with camel and cattle for several days of livestock trading, horse dealing, pilgrimage and religious festival. This small town, becomes a cultural phenomenon when colourfully dressed devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, traders, comedians, ‘sadhus’ and tourists reach here during Pushkar fair. According to Hindu chronology, it takes place in the month of Kartika (October or November) beginning on ‘ashtmi’ 8th day of Lunar Calendar and continues till full moon (‘Poornima’). The camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of festival period. During the later half, religious activities dominate the scenario. Devotees take dips in the holy “Sarovar” lake, as the sacred water is known to bestow salvation. This small town is transformed into a spectacular fair ground, as rows of make shift stalls display an entire range of objects of art to daily utility stuff. Decoration items for cattle, camel and women, everything is sold together. Small handicraft items are the best bargain for buying souvenirs. The camel and horse races have crowds to cheer. Camel judging competitions are quite popular with animal lovers. Each evening brings different folk dances and music of Rajasthan, performers delivering live shows to the roaring and applauding crowds. Pushkar fair has its own magic and it’s a lifetime experience for travellers. It has featured in numbers of travel shows, films and magazines. According to the Lonely Planet: “It’s truly a feast for the eyes. If you are any where within striking distance at the time, it’s an event not to be missed.”

When:  28th October to 4th November 2017

Getting there: By Air, nearest airport is Jaipur, which is connected with major cities. A newly built air strip at Kishangarh can cater to small charter flights. Helipad at Ghooghra (Ajmer) and Devnagar (Pushkar) can cater to clients travelling by helicopter. Ajmer is well connected by Rail to all important cities. Pushkar is just 13 kms away from Ajmer.  Ajmer is also well connected to important cities of Rajasthan and country through roads and is on Delhi-Mumbai National highway no 8.

 

Two temple festivals from down south in God’s Own country- Kerala:

A festival for serpent gods

The Aayilliya Mahotsavam at Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple at Vetticode falls on the day in the Malayalam month of Kanni, every year. The celebrations would start seven days prior to the Aayilliyam day. In these days, various special poojas, homas and kalasa poojas are performed so as to increase the deity’s power and the power to shower blessings on worshippers. To please the deity, high sounding instruments are played by a group of experts. The nadabrahma that flows through the pipes of Nadaswara experts, the Kombu and Kuzhal (wind instruments) that are played to the accompaniment of percussion instruments viz. Maddallam and Chenda and the magical notes of the Edakka and the Thakil would transform the devotees to a different level of devotional experience. Soon after this the Ezhunnallathu (ceremonial procession) would begin. It starts from the temple and proceeds to the Meppallil Illam at about 3 p.m. and after the poojas there, returns to the temple. By dusk, the famous Sarpabali begins and concludes by around 9.30 p.m. The temple will remain closed up to Brahma Muhoortha and after that the Shuddi Kriyas (purification rituals) will begin. This is followed by the abhisheka with tender coconut water from thousands of coconuts and pure milk. The festival will conclude with the daily poojas and Panchamritha Nivedhya.

When: 8th to 14th October 2017

Where: Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple, Vettikode, Alappuzha

Grandeur of Alpashi Utsavam

Held at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the Alpasi festival is a grand festival celebrated with much fanfare and sees the participation of scores of people from across the State.The crowning moment of this magnificent festival is the aarattu ceremony or the holy bath of the deities in the sea. The aarattu procession starts from the temple and proceeds to the Shanghumugham Beach. It is, in fact, a magnificent sight to watch the procession which is escorted by the head of the Travancore royal family, bearing a sword. Thousands of devotees will throng to watch the procession which has an elaborate line-up of magnificently decorated elephants, mounted police and columns of armed police. This annual ritual which falls in October or November is one that should not be missed.

When: 19th to 28th October 2017

Where: Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Now two more festivals from Rajasthan, this time from close to Udaipur-

Dance and grandeur at Ranakpur

Ranakpur, a village located in Desuri tehsil near Sadri town in the Pali district of Rajasthan welcomes you all to the “The Ranakpur Festival”.  It’s a splendid opportunity for the tourists to once again gain an insight into the life of people of Rajasthan with the onset of cultural and religious festivals one after another. Just like folk festivals in Jodhpur and Jaipur, the holy town of Ranakpur near Pali will also witness the Ranakpur Festival, a melange of Rajasthani folk performances and classical dances as well as renditions by renowned vocal artists and dance performers. Department of Tourism, Rajasthan, is organising this festival which comprises of holy chanting, cultural programmes, conventional Kathak performances and Classical Odissi performances. Besides, every morning at 8.00 o’clock a jungle safari is also organised for the guests of Ranakpur Festival. Some of the other attractions of this festival would be the food and craft bazaar where a great mixture of several cultures and amazing art & craft would be seen and experienced along with the arrangements for Rock Climbing. Beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur mark the glory of this renowned place. Considered as one of the five holy places for the Jain community, these were created in the 15th century during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukha [four faced temple] is dedicated to Adinathji. The temple is an astounding creation of architectural splendor with 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved, no two pillars being alike. For the tourism buffs a ride to the outskirts like ‘ Sadari’ – ‘Desuri’- ‘Ghanerao’- ‘Narlai’, will be found to be exciting.

Date: 6th -7th October 2017

Venue: Ranakpur, Rajasthan

Getting there: Ranakpur is just 90 minutes’ drive from Udaipur.  Udaipur is well connected with air, train and bus services from all major cities of North and West India. From Udaipur, one can hire a taxi or a bus for Ranakpur. 

A lantern festival for city of lakes

Lantern festivals have normally been popular in South East Asia, but now Indian cities also seem to be following the trend and evolving festivals of their own.  Among them is city of Lakes- Udaipur. Udaipur Lantern Festival is a unique concept by UdaipurBlog incepted 5 years back in year 2012 to celebrate the pious festivity of Diwali in Udaipur at a common place and sharing joy with others. The festival witnesses amazing live performances by Artists, Buzzing Bazaar that will bring Local Finds and Foods, Art Installations and Fun Activities. This year festival starts with games, food stalls and buzzing bazaar. Start with the local performances & Swaraag – A Indo Western Music Band. Begins the performances of the evening – Papon takes the stage. Music takes the evening – Performances by DJ Kavish. Festival ends with lighting of lanterns, this blissful ending of the fest with a hope of new start. The number of people attending the event has increased from 800 to 4500 in five years.

When: 15th October 2017

Where: Shouryagarh Resort & Spa, Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

A Octopussy fame to an architectural marvel!

I have been to this temple number of times since childhood, but never got to photograph it as extensively as I did recently. It is indeed one of the landmarks of the old city of Udaipur. Jagdish Temple rises high on the middle of a square, which is the main junction leading to Udaipur’s city palace. On this square road on two sides go downhill, while another two go uphill. So, it would have been a hillock on the banks of the lake, when this city would have been established centuries ago.

Well even this temple is a few centuries old, 365 years precisely. It is temple of Lord Krishna in Jagannath form. Built in 1652 by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar, this temple rises 125 feet from the road through steep stairs. These stairs might be having almost a gradient of something between 50 to 60 degrees. It is said that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s army raided this temple and demolished the front part. During this attack 20 protectors of this temple laid there lives. Then Rana Sangram Singh II renovated the temple in 1723.

Temple as seen from the square

Temple has got a beautiful architecture. Although not very big, still lot has been said about this temple’s resemblance to some of sculptures from Khajuraho. Temple itself is 100 feet high and another 28 feet high flag post  on the top. Temple is based on 50 beautifully sculpted pillars. There is huge difference in time periods of Khajuraho and this temple—more than six hundred years. Hence there is as much difference in sculptures as well. There might be similarity in some of the poses, but there is stark dissimilarity in facial and body features. Even on the temple itself there is difference between facial features of different sculptures. But they are indeed beautiful and there is also some pattern to it. Some of them are sensuous but there is no profound eroticism as was found in the Suparshvanath temple at Ranakpur.

(Read: Obscured by an architectural wonder!) 

Main temple

The structure of this Jagdish temple is so imposing on that particular skyline that it is just not possible to miss it. Locals have been regular to this temple. Its sudden rise and elevation from the road is something that is more impressive for tourists. And actually this impression brings out an interesting story related to this temple and this is a recent one. This also provided a fresh lease of popularity to this temple among foreign tourists.

Outside walls of the temple
Sculptures on walls
Sculptures on outside walls

 

Sculptures on outside wall
See the perfect pattern on the walls
Closer look at the sculptures
Closer look at the sculptures

Well, I am talking about ‘James Bond’ Roger Moore’s Octopussy. This 1983 film was shot extensively in Udaipur and especially in the area around city palace, two palace hotels, Lake Pichola and this Jagdish Temple. I still remember those days, when only source of news used to be the morning newspapers and one fine day this news spread in the city like jungle fire that new James Bond film is being shot in Udaipur. But that was not all, the news that also disseminated was about stunts being shot in the film. Film unit was looking for some stuntman to do a couple of stunts in the film and it was like who dares wins! One of these stunts was related to Jagdish Temple.

Stairs going down the temple

Actually the Director John Glen was so impressed with stair elevation of the temple that he wanted somebody to ride a bike down these stairs to incorporate it in a chase scene. He would have thought that how perfect it could be for a James Bond film. He tried hard, but it was obviously so fatally dangerous that nobody came forward to do the scene despite a big (as per those times) offer. Glen had to drop his wish. But the film still has many scenes around this temple as you can see in these images. Although, the chase scene around the temple looks very comical by today’s standards, but then who cared, when it was a Roger Moore film. Film also had a big Indian cast including Kabir Bedi and one of India’s greatest tennis players- Vijay Amritraj. Yes, he has also acted in films!

See some stills from the film played around the temple stairs-

Jagdish Temple square as filmed in Octopussy.
A chase scene in the film on road coming from city palace to Jagdish temple
Activities at temple square in film and you can see the temple stairs in the background
A flying auto-rickshaw and temple shikha in background
Auto rickshaw taking flight right in front of temple stairs
Scene of temple stairs in the film
A camel-cart in the front of the temple
And, what all happens in a James Bond film.

You might not enjoy Octopussy all over again, but you will certainly enjoy visiting this temple, whenever you are in Udaipur next. Don’t miss!

More look at the temple and its sculptures

Temple of Garuda- Vishnu’s vehicle
A face of Shiva

Where: Jagdish Temple is right on the square in old city which has been named on the temple itself. Its is just  200 metres from Udaipur’s city palace and less than half kilometre from Lake Pichola. It would be hardly four kilometres from the Udaipur City railway station. There are many hotels around, including some old havelis which have now been converted into heritage stay options. Everything is so close that you can almost walk to the entire tourist worthy area around this temple.

See some more images from the temple. Click to have full view-

Feel free to share but not so free to copy & paste!

Obscured by an architectural wonder!

How often will we visit a landmark destination and return satisfied, without even knowing whether there was anything else, that we missed in the aura of that wonder! There are many hidden architectural gems in India. How often would have we noticed the shark difference between number of visitors to Taj Mahal and then to Tomb of I’timad-Ud-Daulah in Agra!! Well, this is not about Agra, but about something down west in Rajasthan, close to Udaipur.

You would have heard about famous Jain Temples at Ranakpur.

(Read: Going to Udaipur! Don’t miss on these 10 things)

This temple I am talking about, is right adjacent to Ranakpur temples  and actually in the same complex. But as it happens, not even one percent of the tourists going to Ranakpur visit this quite smaller temple. Ranakpur has actually three temples in the complex- main is the one we all know- Chaturmukha Jain Temple of Adinath. Other two are- Sun temple and the Suparshvanatha temple (सुपार्श्वनाथ मंदिर). These two temples are obscured under the grandeur of the main Jain temple.

View of Chaturmukha Adinath temple from Suparshvanatha temple in Ranakpur

However small these temples might be, but they are architectural beauty themselves. The temple we are talking about it is Suparshvanatha Temple. Suparshvanatha was the 7th Jain Tirthankara and was said to be born to King Pratistha and Queen Prithvi of Varanasi. Now there is no inscription here to tell us that when was this temple exactly built, before the Adinath temple or after that. But what we are sure of is that this temple has very beautiful intrinsic architecture.

This temple is also famous for erotic sculptures on its walls. And for this, it reminds me of two other temples in Rajasthan- one close to Udaipur near the Elkingji temple-

(Read: Forgotten heritage and shades of Khajuraho near Udaipur)

And another one is in Sariska Tiger Reserve near Alwar-

(Read: Khajuraho of Aravalis: Neelkanth)

Some locals say that because of its erotic sculptures, this temple was also called as Paturiyon Ka Mandir (पटुरियों का मंदिर- temple of prostitutes) . Was there any other reason for this, is not known. But indeed this temple has some remarkable erotic sculptures. Not all of them, but few of them might be comparable to even sculptures of Khajuraho for their sheer beauty.

Many of the sculptures here are intact, but there are still many which have been either defaced or weathered out.  There also seems to be some difference between periods of different sculptures because of their figures. That might also be because some of them are pretty damaged or weathered out or look quite raw.  But you can’t miss the eroticism in them. Have a look yourself-

Many of these expressions could be easily find in Khajuraho. It also belies the myth that the Jain temples didn’t have such explicit sculptures. A lot remains unanswered due to unavailability of details about origin of this temple. It might sure be part of local folklores, but then it needs to be researched more.

Other than the sculptures pictures above, most of other sculptures are quite intrinsic, detailed and beautiful.

Many of the designs and sculptures are quite typical of Jain sculptures of those times (Ranakpur temple was built in 15th century using Maru-Gurjara architecture of West India).

This architectural style is considered to be different from North Indian temple architecture. Also lies the fact that Jainism has been very strong in these areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Hence, next time you visit Ranakpur temple, don’t forget to visit this small temple which will certainly remind you of sculptures of Khajuraho.

Ranakpur temple

Feel free to share but not so free to copy & paste!

Forgetten heritage and shades of Khajuraho near Udaipur

Well, since Udaipur is my hometown so I had always been knowing about this temple and have visited this quite a few number of times, since my school days. Similarly, almost all people from Udaipur know about it. But ironically, though Udaipur is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India for domestic as well as foreign tourists, still you will rarely find any tourist visiting this temple. Baring the school days, when we would come here for picnics or drop here while visiting the famous Eklingji temple; in recent times whenever I visited this temple, I or our group were the only persons around. So strange.

Well, this part of north-west India is full of shrines and temples but this image shows that it is no ordinary temple. It is actually a temple complex with a few temples around- a couple of them are still intact while there are others which have turned into ruins. The temple is called as Saas-Bahu (सास-बहू) temple. Bahu means young married woman and Saas means mother-in-law. And there is no historical reference behind this name. Actually, very little is known about the origin and construction of this temple. This is very intriguing given the elaborate architecture of this temple.

A look at the temple complex-

Interestingly, this region has a mix of temples- Jain, Shaivite as well as Vaishnava, very close to each other. Many of them have been top religious institutions of their times. This temple is indeed under supervision of ASI and what is known to us is that this temple belongs to eleventh century. This also means that the temple predates many of other prominent temples of this region by a few centuries. Tragedy for curious travellers like me is that, the inscription stone here clarifies nothing, worse  still, the language (there are two inscriptions- one in Hindi and in English) of the matter written here, presumably by the ASI, is hopeless. There are no sentences, no expressions and henceforth no meanings. The one who wrote this probably knew neither English, nor Hindi. This can happen only in India.

The complex has twin vaishnava temples. One is bigger and another smaller. The bigger one is surrounded by ten subsidiary shrines. Smaller temple is Panchayatna style, i.e. the main temple has four subsidiary smaller temples. Both temples have pancha-ratha sanctum. Inside the doorway is a mandapa, porch and lateral transepts. Porch also encloses balustrade.

The temple have quite detailed relief panels around the outer wall as well as inside the sanctum. Surprisingly, many of the relief panels are still quite intact. It’s these panels which bring to our mind the erring similarity between the sculptures of this temple and all famous temples of Khajuraho.  Have a look-

Such elaborate sculptures and minute but profuse ornamental carvings are also there inside the sanctums of the existing temples in complex. You can see the makara-torana inside the sanctums or mandapa, which is said to be typical feature of medieval temples of western India. You will find similar torans in many Jain temples, including famous Jain temples of Dilwara near Mount Abu. Even the pillars are lavishly carved with sculptures. See-

Ceilings, porches and the doorways too have quite delicate carvings as with most temples in the region. Although in one temple, you can find the ceiling burnt black. It might be either due to an accident or an deliberate attempt to extract sculptures by heating them.  Nobody knows. Have a look-

Now what brings similarity to Khajuraho is the criticism in the sculptures. Let’s have a closer look at few of the panels to see the detailed carvings-

You will see that not just the postures, mood and expression but in some of the sculptures, even the human carvings are quite similar to those find in various temples of Khajuraho. You can also have a look at some of the bigger sculptures-

Very interesting, isn’t it!

There are many temples around and also in the complex. Some are intact, some are ruined with only platforms left and some you can even see submerged in the lake like this one-

This Saas-Bahu temple is located just on the banks of this lake and by looking at the temple submerged in the lake, it can be safely assumed that there would have been bigger structure below, which is now under water. It also means that the lake would have come up later and was not there when these temples were constructed. It also can mean that there would have been few other temples in the complex which would have now completely submerged under the waters of this lake.

Now look at this another picture from a wider angle-

There is a luxury resort on the hillock on the other side of the lake. Seems strange, that when we are struggling to preserve this amazing, almost thousand year old heritage, there is such an opulent display of luxury nearby, which wants to showcase itself as heritage.

What would have been the main entrance of the temple during its glory… onlooking the existing lake

Where: This temple is just around 10 kilometres from the Udaipur city and off roughly a kilometre from NH8 which connects Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur-Udaipur-Ahmedabad. While going from Udaipur to Delhi via NH8, there is famous EKlingji (एकलिंगजी) shiva temple. Just before you go downhill towards the Eklingji town, a road turns left over a dam. This road takes you to temple on other side of the lake, on which dam is built. This means, if you are coming from Delhi-Jaipur-Nathdwara side, than this road will come to your right once you cross the Eklingji town and climb uphill. Obviously Udaipur is the nearest railhead as well as airport to reach here.

Leela Palace Udaipur is the best hotel in the country

Leela Palace, Udaipur
Leela Palace, Udaipur

Rajasthan seems to have developed a penchant for exquisite and exclusive hotels. No doubt, most of these hotels are a different class altogether which make them loved ones among those who are looking for something elite. As per TripAdvisor Travellers’s Choice survey for 2017 among the top 25 hotels in India, 9 are in Rajasthan and all the top three are from state with two among them from Udaipur. Actually City of Lakes Udaipur along with Pink City Jaipur have three hotels each in the list which is maximum for any Indian city. And interestingly, in this list there is also a mini competition among the big hotel chains that quite explains the Indian hotel industry scenario. Among the top 25 hotels eight belong to the Oberoi Group of Hotels and seven to Taj Group of Hotels. That leaves only ten of top 25 out of the fold and among these ten two are from Orange County, one from Leela Group and One from ITC’s Fortune group. Rest six are independent boutique hotels or resorts.

Lake Palace, Udaipur
Lake Palace, Udaipur

Owing to its history, most of the top hotels in Rajasthan are either heritage hotels or the modern hotels with heritage look and feel. Numero uno hotel in India as per 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers’s Choice is the Leela Palace at Udaipur. In a tough competition within the lake city, Leela Palace has established itself at the top notch. It was also voted most favourite leisure hotel of the country couple of years back by Conde Nast Traveller India readers. Umaid Bhawan Palace at Jodhpur is the second which was India’s top heritage hotel in 2014 in TripAdvisor travellers’s choice. At 3rd position in the list is arguably one of the most beautiful lake hotels in the world- Taj Lake Palace, again at Udaipur. Of the two Orange counties in the list, Orange county Coorg is at the fourth place. At 5th place is another city from Rajasthan- Jaipur through Oberoi Rajvilas. Oberoi has another property at 6th place, this time Oberoi Amar Vilas from Agra.

Orange Country Resorts, Kabini
Orange Country Resorts, Kabini

At no 7 is another of Orange county resort at Kabini, located in Nagarhole National Park which has been already included in National Geographic’s list of 25 best ecolodges in the world. On 8th is Wildflower Hall at Mashobra near Shimla which was sometime back, India’s best hill station hotel in TripAdvisor Travellers’s Choice. 9th is third entrant from Oberoi bouquet in the top 10- The Oberoi, Bangalore. Completing top 10 among all these biggies is Namah at Dhikuli in the Jim Corbett National Park region.

Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur. In foreground is the lake Pichola.
Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur. In foreground is the lake Pichola.

At 11th is the third hotel from Udaipur- Oberoi Udaivilas, which for long has been touted as the costliest hotel in India. Next one is also from Oberoi, its flagship hotel in Gurgaon. 13th is second entrant from the Jim Corbett National Park- Aahana, the Corbett Wilderness. 14th in the list is a comparatively new entrant from Rajasthan- Suryagarh near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Built in a fort style on way to Sam dunes, this hotel is quickly rising up the ranks. 15th is Aveda Kumarakom in Kerala and next is a beautiful heritage property in Jaipur owned by, Oberoi again- Rambagh Palace. Then comes another Oberoi property- Oberoi Cecil in Shimla, a heritage hotel part of Shimla’s rich colonial history. The iconic Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai has been ranked 18th and at 19th is third property from Jaipur in the list- Jai Mahal Palace. Only property from Goa in the list- Taj Exotica Goa at Benaulim is on the 20th position.

Amanbagh at Ajabgarh
Amanbagh at Ajabgarh

Among the last five, at 21st is the only ITC property in the list Fortune, The Savoy at Mussoorie. The Tamara Coorg at Yavakapadi Village is on 22nd position. There is no Delhi hotel in the list but Gurgaon has second hotel- Trident at 23rd. On 24th is Vivanta by Taj at Madikeri. Completing the list is Amanbagh at most unlikely of the places- Ajabgarh in Alwar, Rajasthan.

August ideas for travel this month in India

This post is already late than it was really intended to because of poor health and usual month-end chaos of pending works. Monsoon has already peaked up in most parts of India. Its again the time of the year to enjoy two things specifically- boat races in Kerala and monastic festivals in Ladakh. But there is still much more besides this, and that includes many religious festivals, few cultural occasions and a couple of pilgrimages. Monsoons might soak you up but it is still a time good enough to travel and enjoy some fun-soaked moments. My top picks for the month. And as I said, I am already late to post this, hence I am excluding Hariyali Amavasya at Udaipur, which was on 2nd August and which in my opinion should have been the pick of the month, an excellent and enjoyable event to soak yourself in traditional south Rajasthan culture. Those would have been, there might had a fun of their life.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Nehru-TrophyCome 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.

When: 13th August 2016

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

JanmashtamiBirth 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: 25th August 2016

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

SaputaraSituated 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: 11th August 2016 to 10th September 2016

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

manimahesh_lakeIt’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: 25th August 2016 to 8th September 2016

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.

Swinging on Teej

TeejIf down south doesn’t interest you then there is one of the most colourful festivals of the season on up West-Teej. A festival to rejoice the colours, crisscross green-yellow lines, mehandi, rains and jhoolas (swings), Teej is celebrated mainly by the women folk of Rajasthan. Married women who idolize pravati for her devotion to her husband, Shiva, celebrate Teej. The rituals allow the women to pamper and enjoy themselves, to feast, to dress in the best of clothes and jewellery, and to look their stunning best. Antique gilt palanquins, bullock carts pulling cannons, chariots, and gaily decorated horses, camels, brass bands and groups of dances all from a part of this grand spectacle. The palanquin of Goddess Paravati is carried by eight men dressed in red. Though celebrations are held all over the state, it is particularly colourful in Jaipur where a procession winds its way on two days through the old Pink City.  On the occasion of Teej, markets in Jaipur are stocked with trendiest women accessories and clothes. Most of the fabric clothes display ‘laheria’ (tie and dye) prints. Sweetshops keep different Teej sweets but ‘Ghevar and Feeni’ is the main sweet of the season. All over Rajasthan, swings are hung from trees and decorated with fragrant flowers. Women both married and unmarried love to swing on these swings to celebrate the ‘Sawan festival’.

When: 5-6 August 2016

Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan

Kajli Teej in Bundi

Kajli TeejThis 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: 19-20 August 2016

Where: Bundi, Rajasthan

Korzok Gu-stor at Tso Moriri

Korzok GustorThe Korzok Gu-stor festival is held at the monastery and attracts many Chang-pa, the Tibetan plateau nomadic herdsmen. The festival lasts for two days (July/August) and ends with the dismemberment and dispersal of the ‘Storma’ (sacrificial cake) by the leader of the Black Hat dancers in a ceremony called ‘Argham’ (Killing). The ceremony symbolizes the destruction of evil and pays homage to the assassination of the Tibetan apostate King Lang-dar-ma, by a Buddhist monk in the mid 9th century. At the festival masks are worn by the dancers to represent the Dharmapalas (guardian divinities of the Buddhist pantheon), and the patron divinities of the Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The annual monastic festival is also held not only at Korzok but also at the Thuje in the Chungthan valley where the nomadic tribes fervently participate in the rituals. They not only make donations to the monasteries but also dedicate one son from each family to the monastery. It is said that the local nomads are so dedicated to Buddhism that opposite to their tents they allocate space to keep symbolic statue images of the Rinpoche, usually the Dalai Lama, along with the seven offering cups, in perfect harmony with their own folk (nomadic) religious deities and spirits.

When: 5-6 August 2016

Where: Korzok monastery, Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh

Dakthok Tsetsu, Ladakh

Dakthok TsetsuDak-Thok Tse-Chu 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. 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: 13-14 August 2016

Where: Dak Thok monastery, Ladakh

Sani Nasjal, Ladakh

Sani NasjalSani 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: 17-18 August 2016

Where: Sani monastery, Ladakh