Tajpur- Sun, Sand and Serenity!

On a family vacation to the City of Joy, Kolkata, the capital of the East Indian state of West Bengal, it was my father who zeroed upon the coastal hamlet of Tajpur, on the Bay of Bengal, in Mednipur district.

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Teeming humanity at Digha Beach

About 180 kms from Kolkata, Tajpur is a less visited sea shore destination though the famous sea town of Digha and Mondarmoni are located at a stone’s throw away from it.

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Howrah station

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We took a morning 11.15 am Duronto Express from Howrah railway station which raced past scenic meadows, villages, water bodies and lush green vistas. We were served a sumptuous non-veg lunch pack on board and by 2 in the afternoon we were at Digha, the terminal point of the train.

From Digha, Tajpur is about 20 odd kms and waiting for us at the station was a mini van sent by the resort that we had booked for our stay at Tajpur, the Mallickaa Resort.

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Fish farms enroute to Tajpur

Our journey from the Digha railway station to the Mallickaa  Resort took us about half and hour and during that period we could gauge that we were gradually getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city and a huge wave of humanity to something that was quieter, less uninhabited, something that promised, bliss.

From the main highway, our van took a turn onto a narrow road that had fish farms lined on both its side. We soaked in the beauty of the place and breathed the freshness of the air and before long we were at the gates of the Mallickaa Resort.

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The resort in itself was pretty amazing with ample flora and fauna within it precincts. Turkeys, swans, pigeons, hens, rabbits, guinea pigs all roamed around freely in the vast greenery of the resort. It did not have a swimming pool but to compensate for it, it had a pond in which one could go boating. The pond also acts as the breeding ground for the fresh water fishes that adorn the menu of the restaurant of Mallickaa.

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The pond in the resort

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Boats at Mallickaa Resort

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Turkeys on the ground

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Guinea pigs

We checked into cottages that had their own unique names and were comfortable with all basic amenities in place. A cat nap later we were ready for our tryst with the sandy serene shores of the Tajpur beach.

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Uniquely named cottages

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The wooded road to Paradise

An unpaved, about half a kilometer long, road from the main gate of Mallickaa resort through Casuarina groves and dense shrubbery leads you to inverted crescent shaped beach of Tajpur. Oh, What a sight it was to behold! A few shacks scattered around and with hardly a soul around, the sea shore was an epitome of serenity, a place that washes away all your materialistic worries and detoxes you and uplifts you spiritually. The noise of the sea crashing on to the shore, adds to the surreal experience. One could spend hours and hours together in the very lap of Mother Nature, far from the maddening crowds.

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The Tajpur Beach

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Sun, sand and serenity

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Fun on the run

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Detoxing effect

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A fisherman at his trade

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Toto-the electric rickshaw

Though we year marked a shack that offered food and drinks on the beach itself, the grumblings of the gastronomic variety forced us back to our temporary dwelling within the confines of Mallickaa resort. The resort provides the services of a Toto, an electric rickshaw for a charge, for guests who desire so but we walked our way back through the delightful wooded road.

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King sized-Breakfast

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ABC-Authentic Bengali Cuisine

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Up and close

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Crab Masala

At Mallickaa resort, the farm fresh vegetables, fish and poultry made our gastronomic indulgences even more satiating. For breakfast we had loochi (a fried Bengali bread made of flour), begun bhaja (fried brinjals) and aloor torkari (a potato dish). Lunch was an Authentic Bengali Cuisine affair with bhaat (rice), dal (lentils), aloo bhaja (fried potatoes), lau chingri (a prawn & bottle gourd dish), shorshe parshe ( mustard fish), chingri maacher malai curry (a prawn delicacy), topping it off with a nolane gurer rosogolla (a spongy sweet filled with jiggery). For dinner chicken korma (white gravied chicken dish), butter chicken, fried crab masala, dahi chicken (chicken in yogurt) and rotis (Indian bread) were the star attractions.

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The misty morning

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Dew drops from the foliage breaking the silence enroute to the beach

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we were off again to absorb the beauty of the Tajpur beach. It was a misty morning and that augmented the tranquil magnificence of the whole area. An overwhelming calmness reigned all over, periodically broken by dew drops sliding through the dense foliage making an eerie noise that got amplified in the hushed environment.

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Mist overpowering everything else

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Fog all around

The sea was hardly visible even from the shore. The fog and mist had truly embraced it in their bosoms. A biting cold wind swept through the large expanse of sand and sea. No animal was in sight let alone humans. Gradually, the sun started overpowering the prevailing murkiness. Resilient village folks started trickling out, doing their daily chores, facing the challenges that a brand new day had on offer for them.

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Resilient villagers trickling out

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Brown crab

Sea creatures too started coming out of their hiatus. Red crabs, brown crabs and other varieties of oceanic life forms could be spotted on the beach.

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Red Crab

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Sea Creature

Our explorations on the beach had made us hungry and we made our way back to our designated base camp, the shack that offered food and drinks.

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Food at The Shack

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A most pleasurable breakfast

Breakfast at the shack was a simple one but one which provided us with utmost pleasure. Loochi, aloo kopir torkari (potato with cauliflower), double egg omelet, sipping piping hot coffee, soaking in the visual gems that Mother Nature had on offer, ah life indeed was heavenly on that wonderful morning in December.

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Good things happen over a coffee

But as with all good things in life, our trip to Tajpur too came to its conclusion but not before we had energized ourselves and filled our minds with memories that we would be cherishing for life.

Wah-Taj!

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Saas Bahu Temple-The Forgotten Wonder

 

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Famous, the world over for its shimmering lakes, Udaipur, often called the Venice of the East, has a facet which is lesser known. The capital of the erstwhile princely state of Mewar, Udaipur boasts of some ancient exquisitely carved temples. Though temples like the one dedicated to Lord Jagdish, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu and the one dedicated to Lord Ekling ji, the chief deity of the Royal House of Mewar are revered and thronged by thousands, some others like the 11th century temple complex of Shahastra Baahu, popularly known by its local name ‘Saas Bahu” have been relegated to the back pages of relevance and reverence.

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Set on the banks of Lake Bagela near the Ekling ji temple about 22 kms from Udaipur is the small hamlet of Nagda, which lore claim was one of the earliest capitals of Mewar. Nagda is named after its founder Nagaditya, the fourth King of Mewar from the linage of King Bappa Rawal, and is set in a surrounding which is breathtakingly picturesque. The temple of Saas Bahu expands the magic and charm of the place. Built in the early 11th century, the twin temple complex which is right on the shores of lake Bagela, is an example of exemplary architectural workmanship of ancient Vaishnav art form.

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On a sunny winter December afternoon, we decided to take a road trip to the Sahastra Baahu Temple Complex. To get to the Saas Bahu temples, you have to turn left adjacent to the embankment of the Lake Bagela, as you approach the steep slope that takes you to the temple of Ekling ji at Kailashpuri. A glaring drawback en route to the temples is the absence of any road signs or indicators that might help you to reach the temples without getting the feeling of having got lost. The narrow road takes you past a resort aptly name Heritage Resort and centuries old Jain temples but even the approach road towards the Saas Bahu temple complex is devoid of any signage that might proclaim its existence to the wandering visitors. An empty and derelict parking lot added to the confusion.

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We took a steep road past the parking lot and were greeted by the sound of cascading water from a small artificial water fall beside a small shop selling curios. The shop owner doubled up as a parking attendant and after paying INR 15/- as parking fees to him, we began our tryst with the complex that houses the twin temples of Saas Bahu.

 

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Entering the complex, which is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), you are greeted by a well maintained garden and beyond that is the raised platform on which are the temples of Shahastra  Bahu dedicated to Lord Vishnu in an incarnation with thousand hands (hence the name shahastra meaning thousand and baahu meaning hands)

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The complex though is more widely known by its distorted name ‘Saas Bahu’ temples.  Saas in the local language means mother-in-law and Bahu connotes daughter-in-law and it is not hard to fathom why the temples are known as the Saas Bahu temples. Standing right across each other, the ‘Saas’ temple which has a beautiful archway at its entrance,  is comparatively larger in size than the ‘Bahu’ temple which has a fascinating octagonal carved ceiling, signifying the relative place of importance that a mother-in-law has for the daughter-in-law and the family in general. Both the temples are adorned by some exquisite carvings depicting events and figures from Hindu mythology like Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh besides others like Ram, Parshurama and Balrama that showcase the sculpting prowess and vivid imagination of the sculptors of that time.

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There are two more much smaller temples on the platform, both in ruins. The ancient temple complex has been a witness to destruction by marauding invaders for centuries and it shows. Today, the temples despite the scars that ravages of time have wrecked on them mercilessly stand resplendently in resilient abeyance to their creators and as a proud reminder to modernity that the past has more gems hidden in her bosom than the future can even aspire to provide.

Bhilwara-The Textile Town of India

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Railway Station-Bhilwara

Railway Station-Bhilwara

About 165 kms away from Udaipur on the Chittorgarh-Ajmer-Jaipur highway lies, Bhilwara, the town made famous by the teeming textile mills that have resulted in it being bestowed with the epitaph the “Manchester of India”.

Tribal women on the roads of Bhilwara

Tribal women on the roads of Bhilwara

The origin of the name “Bhilwara” is obscure and there are many variants to why the town is called Bhilwara. But the most widely believed version is that once the town was inhabited primarily by the indigenous tribals of the region, the Bhils, who were subsequently vanquished by the settlers. In present day Bhilwara, the original citizens are a minuscule minority with the “Maheshwaris” and other business classes being the dominant groups.

The roads of Bhilwara

The roads of Bhilwara

On the whole the city, especially the older part, is quite well planned as most of the roads are connected to traffic roundabouts (“chourahas”) which further lead to more roundabouts and getting your way through the city is that much simpler.

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Chaos on the roads

But the traffic is chaotic and the traffic sense of the people even more so. You would be tempted to thank your stars even after conducting a basic thing like crossing the road, successfully.

Roundabouts of Bhilwara

Roundabouts of Bhilwara

Since, Bhilwara basically is an industrial and business town, the places of attraction in the city are few. One place that caught my fancy and is a wonderful place to visit if you are, even a little bit, religiously inclined and love serenity, is the temple of Harni Mahadev, a temple dedicated to the Hindu God of destruction, Lord Shiva.

The majestic outer entrance of the Harni Mahadev Temple-Bhilwara

The outer entrance gate of the Harni Mahadev Temple-Bhilwara

Located at a distance of around 6kms from the city in the village of Harni, the temple of Harni Mahadev is neither overwhelming nor awe-inspiring from the outside. In fact the entire temple complex is very simple and frugal in appearance. But lo, as you enter the main temple, the sight of the natural Shiva Linga beneath an uncut natural solid rock is a spectacle to behold and fills you with a religious fervor. The Linga of Mahadev has idols of the entire Shiva family for company and you could even bath the deities with water that is kept in buckets the sanctum of the temple.

The entrance to the main temple of Harni Mahadev

The entrance to the main temple of Harni Mahadev

 

The Shivalinga of Harni Mahadev beneath an uncut rock

The Shivalinga of Harni Mahadev beneath an uncut rock

Harni Mahadev is the ancestral temple of the Darak family of Bhilwara, who are one of the richest and most influential families of the textile city. The temple complex buzzes with devotees during Maha Shivaratri and “Sawan” month when more than 10 lac people visit the temple in 3 days.

A serpent shaped religious structure outside the Harni Mahadev temple

A serpent shaped religious structure outside the Harni Mahadev temple

Just outside the Harni Mahdev temple is a unique temple that is shaped in the form of a serpent around a Shiva Linga. This structure sure is an attraction of the place, especially for young kids.

Roadside non-veg joints near Railway station

Roadside non-veg joints near Railway station

Bhilwara could be a difficult place, if you are a carnivore by your eating habits. There are a very limited number of restaurants that serve you non-vegetarian dishes. Some roadside joints in the Muslim dominated area around the City railway station provide you with some delicious non-veg street food but if you are looking for some great non-vegetarian fine dining experience, you would be thoroughly disappointed. The roof top restaurant of Hotel Ranbanka is probably the only place where you could have decent food to satiate your carnivorous taste buds.

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But connoisseurs of vegetarian food are spoilt for choice in the textile city. Mughlai, Continental, Chinese, Indian, Fusion and street food, you name it and it is all available in Bhilwara. People throng street side stalls that sell katchoris, samosas, pakodis with kadi and also go to restaurants like Saffron that serve you multi-cuisine vegetarian dishes. Even a small shop near the city railway station that sells buttered buns and tea, is full round the clock. A neat swanky restaurant, again near the railway station by the unimaginative name PFC (Priya Food and Continental) and Amit Palace Hotel on the Ajmer Road has an amazing variety of Continental cuisine on offer besides the regular Indian fare.

A terrific fusion sizzler at PFC, Bhilwara

A terrific fusion sizzler at PFC, Bhilwara

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Delicious Indian fare at Saffron restaurant

After meals, if you like to munch on a betel leaf, popularly known as “paan”, then Bhilwara has a very special place on offer, the JBB Pan Corner. Here you can get a variety of Paans, that range from INR 15/- to a mind boggling INR 1500/- per piece.

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JBB Pan Corner near Bus Stand

Panratelist

The rate list- From Rs 15 to Rs 1500/-

All in all if you are a veggie, then Bhilwara sure could be a foodie’s paradise.

In a nutshell, the city of Bhilwara, in itself might not be very attractive at first look but it sure is a place that grows on you overtime…….

 

The Holi Escape (Part-2)-Daman

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The west Indian city of Daman is part of the union territory of Daman and Diu which were in turn part of the Portuguese colonial territories of Goa, Daman and Diu. Absorbed into the Indian union in December 1961, after a short skirmish between the Indian and the Portuguese troops, Daman today is a popular tourist destination on account of the sea, sun, food and fun (read- lots of free flowing alcohol, in stark contrast to the prohibition in the neighboring state of Gujarat).

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The drive from Baroda to Daman took us through the industrial heartland of Gujarat as we passed through the textile city of Surat and the chemical hub of Ankeleshwar on towards Vapi.

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The road was excellent and the countryside was lush and green, dotted with intermittent water bodies that irrigated the farms. It took us about three and a half hours to cover the distance of about 300 odd kilometers and we were at last into the gates of Hotel Princess Park, Nani Daman, our retreat for the next two days. The hotel was right on the edges of the Arabian Sea and the rooms offered majestic view of the sea and the beach (if you could call the beach, a beach).

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The city of Daman is divided into two by the Daman Ganga river, Moti Daman and Nani Daman. Moti Daman has the Jampore beach and Nani Daman has the Devka Beach and the Princess Park hotel was bang on the Devka Beach. The beach and the sea at Daman, though is quite unlike any other sea and beach, I have ever seen. Devka beach, which is very dull, rocky and blackish in color, is not at all tempting and the sea itself is pretty shallow. The amazing part of it all is that, it seemed as though the sea works in shifts (pun intended). Everyday, by 2 pm in the afternoon, the sea came gushing almost into the restaurant of the Princess Park hotel, aptly named Cafe High Tide and then the water receded, only to come back with a vengeance by 2 am at night.

The sea far off from Hotel Princess Park

The sea far off from Hotel Princess Park, Devka Beach, Nani Daman

The sea on the edge of Hotel Princess Park, Daman

The sea on the edge of Hotel Princess Park, Devka Beach, Nani Daman

We retired to our respective rooms for a short break to rejuvenate ourselves fully so that we could embark upon, to act on our intent to explore the tastes and places that Daman had on offer for us.

(to be continued)

 

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar- (4th and concluding part)

Ajmer is home to a variety of sweets, but none more popular than the Sohan Halwa. Though there are many shops that sell the famed sweet, shops opposite to the Ajmer railway station are said to offer the best of the lot. In our quest for the best, we ventured into the congested old part of the city. Madar gate is gate that lies in utter ruins, standing in testimony to a glorious past. Beyond this gate is a shop which has been selling sweets for more than a century and a quarter. Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai was the shop we zeroed on guided by references and we were not disappointed. The sweet of this old and unassuming shop was pure and fresh and amazingly tasty. After having purchased a kilo of the sweet treasure, it was time for us to return back to Pushkar.

The Madar Gate

The Madar Gate

Sohan Halwa

Sohan Halwa

Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai shop

Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai shop

It was quite chilly in Pushkar that evening as the wind gained speed. We decided to take a stroll along the narrow lanes of the holy city and to explore it at night.  On the way were many old buildings that showcased the architectural splendor of an era gone by. We stopped by at a sweet shop and had glasses of hot milk and some unique chocolate ball sweets made of many ingredients like beetroot, mawa, sugar besides chocolate. After thus having finished our mini-dinner we kept walking towards the famed Brahma Temple, the temple dedicated to the Hindu God of creation, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Enroute, a poster caught my eye. It proudly proclaimed that below the very place the poster was pasted sat the famously eerily familiar named painter, Kikasso, who paints, as it was proudly claimed, as well as, if not better, than Picasso. With a smile on our faces we continued our walk till we reached the imposing gates of the Brahma Temple. The temple though was closed for the night and we turned back towards the Lake Sarovar, another not to be missed destination in Pushakar, having made up our minds to come to the temple again, the next morning.

A Pushkar Haveli@Night

A Pushkar Haveli@Night

A poster proclaiming the prowess of an artist, interestingly named "Kikasso"

A poster proclaiming the prowess of an artist, interestingly named “Kikasso”

The entrance to the Brahma Temple @ Night

The entrance to the Brahma Temple of Pushkar @ Night

The Lake Sarovar

The Lake Sarovar, Pushkar

The sacred Lake Sarovar is surrounded by beautiful Ghats all around. When we reached Gangour Ghat, one of the many, the scene was mesmerizing. The ghat was desolate, with only the sound of the waves hitting the embankments and a soothing trance music being played in a restaurant on the other side of the lake, being audible. We sat there admiring the haunting beauty of the lake at night.

We walked back to our hotel and slept blissfully.

A Ghat @the Sarovar

A Ghat @the Sarovar

A restaurant on the Ghat

A restaurant on the Ghat

Another Ghat @the Sarovar, Pushkar

Another Ghat @the Sarovar, Pushkar

We followed our routine of the day before for our breakfast, but with a change in the breakfast menu. We had vegetable cutlets with buttered toasts and cornflakes with milk, this time around and it was filling. We went to our rooms and got dressed up to check out. Checking out, we asked our driver to take us to the Brahma Temple. The narrow lane of our previous night’s rendezvous with the temple, was out of bounds, as no vehicular traffic was allowed through it, during the day. So we had to take a longer route that passed the venue of the famous Pushkar Cattle Fair that is held every year and is part of the event’s calendar of the state of Rajasthan. This fair draws tourists from all across the globe every year and is a big crowd puller amongst the rural folks who trade cattle in this fair.

Breakfast of Cutlets and Toasts at RTDC hotel Sarovar, Pushkar

Breakfast of Cutlets and Toasts at RTDC hotel Sarovar, Pushkar

The venue of the famous Cattle Fair of Pushkar

The venue of the famous Cattle Fair of Pushkar

The entrance of the Brahma Temple of Pushkar

The entrance of the Brahma Temple of Pushkar

During the day, the desolate stairs and the entrance of the Brahma Temple of our stroll of the night before were jam packed with devotees. We climbed up the flight of stairs of the temple and reached the orange domed main temple of the Lord of Creation of the Hindus. To find myself in front of the deity, whose temple, is probably the only one in the world, was an overwhelming experience. There are quite a few underground chambers within the premise of the temple that are dedicated to gods from the Hindu pantheon, especially Mahadeva or Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. Though bereft of any exquisite carvings or artwork, the Brahma temple exudes an attraction that is way beyond words and thus as we made our way back to Udaipur, I was lost in a reverie that was a concoction of religious and spiritual bliss with the places that we were leaving having already left an indelible mark in my mind forever.

The famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar

The famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar

Going back with memories to cherish for a lifetime

Going back with memories to cherish for a lifetime

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar (Part3)

Resuming our pending work at Ajmer, and we were able to finish off with our assignments by lunch time. For lunch we were directed to a vegetarian restaurant by the name of Khana Khazana. We ordered vegetarian thalis. At first sight, a single thali gave the impression that it had food adequate for 2 people but since we had ordered 2 thalis, we had no choice but to eat, a thali a piece. During the process of eating our lunch, we realized how hungry we were, as we devoured the thalis, in practically no time. For sweet dish, we had vanilla ice cream scoops, which were a part of the thali as well.

The Grand Thali at Khana Khazana

The Grand Thali at Khana Khazana

Fully “Fed Up”, we thought of looking for some places that were off the beaten track in Ajmer, away from the known circuit of Dargah, Ana Sagar and the fort. Our contact in Ajmer, being a person from the Jain sect, directed us to Dadabari of the Svetamber sub-sects of the Jains. The simple predominantly white religious structure, had idols of tirthankars or main preachers of the Jains, which were adorned with jewellery made of gold. I snapped a photo on my cell, before I was told that photography was prohibited there.

The beautiful idols at Dadabari

The beautiful idols at Dadabari

From there we went to Soni Ji Ki Nasiyan, again a religious temple of the Jains. This place, I was told had reverence for the Digamber sub-sects of the Jains. I was taken aback when on entering this red stone temple, I was asked to shell out Rs10 as an entry fee. Any religious fervor that I might have had, evaporated almost immediately. But after climbing the steep, winding stairs of this two storied temple, in the space of 5 minutes, I was taken aback again. Amazing structures (some even life-like) made of gold, silver, bronze and mosaic glass were there enclosed in glass. The place glittered with a splendor and opulence, rarely seen, especially for a religious temple. Actually to call it a temple, for me, is a misnomer. It is basically a museum that depicts the Jain philosophy of the creation of the world through the various models made of precious metals.

The Red temple-Soniji ki Nasiyan

The Red temple-Soniji ki Nasiyan

The red exterior of the temple

The red exterior of the temple

 

The fabulous interior

The fabulous interior

The grandeur and opulence of the temple museum

The grandeur and opulence of the temple museum

The precious preaching of the Nasiyan

The precious preaching of the Nasiyan

(to be continued)

 

My Journey through Odisha (Part1)- The scent of the sea!

Odisha previously known as Orissa is a coastal state in the eastern part of India. It is a land blessed with immense natural beauty and natural resources. My journey through the state took me on an amazing trail, rich with scenic beauties, religious fervor and great history.

I took the morning 5.45 a.m. Indigo flight from Ahmedabad in the west Indian State of Gujarat and reached the capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneshwar at 12.00 noon (it included a 2 hour 55 minute stoppage for a plane change at the Mumbai airport).

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Sunrise at Ahmedabad Airport

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The Sun for company

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                                 Arriving at the Bhubaneshwar Airport

My next destination was the coastal temple town of Puri about 70 kms from the Bhubaneshwar airport. A prepaid taxi ride from the airport to Hotel Samudra, a hotel facing the sea, right on the beach in Puri, cost me INR 2000/-. The hotel with a white facade and a small garden with flowers displaying a riot of colors, exuded an old world charm. I checked into a sea facing room on the third floor. The room was decent and had an attached balcony which overlooked the beach and the might Bay of Bengal beyond it. The sight of the magnificent sea and the waves crashing onto the shore made me fall in love with the place, immediately. it was a case of love at first sight for me.

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                                                The view from my room

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                                          The beginning of a new day

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       An evening of bliss soaking in the beauty from the balcony of Hotel Samudra

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                                            The Sun sets for the day