I stood there staring at the gushing cascading waters, aggressively bouncing off the craggy moss-covered rock cliff. It always feels happy to be near a waterfall and this was no different. The white shafts of water complemented by the surrounding greenery of various shades did their job of lifting my spirits and boosting my energy. But my mind was agitated. It kept slipping into the past as scenes from the last time I was here fleeted before my eyes like a motion picture.
I was at the exact same spot a decade ago when I had just shifted to Bangalore.
The waterfall is just the same, but the surroundings look quite different – the usual story of manipulating the natural surroundings to make it more touristy. Such ugly human interventions always disturb the nature lover in me. Today, however, my mind was consumed with other thoughts – the memories of my last visit here. I was here with my parents (dad). Life’s changes are just too fast. And, the decade ago visit feels like it happened just yesterday.
We were at Barachukki Falls – one of the two waterfall that are collectively known as Shivanasamudra. The other one is Gaganachukki Falls. Shivanasamudra, literally translating as Shiva’s Sea, is formed by the dropping waters of River Cauvery as it makes its way through the Deccan Plateau. The river splits into two branches resulting into the two perennial waterfalls of Barachukki and Gaganachukki. While Barachukki is the eastern branch of the waterfall, Gaganachukki forms the western branch. In between lies the island town of Shivanasamudra that marks the boundary of Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district and Mandya district.
Located 140 kms away from Bangalore, Shivanasamudra has another claim to fame. It boasts of the second hydro-electric power station set up in colonial India in 1902. The power from this station was primarily used to run the Kolar Gold Fields during the gold rush of the early 1900s. [The first hydro-electric power station in India was set up at Darjeeling. These two were among the first ones in Asia.]
The twin waterfalls of Barachukki and Gaganachukki are separated by 10 Km. and can be covered just by a drive of 15-20 minutes. The twin waterfalls do not have much resemblance to each other, and they stand out significantly in their look and feel. The only similarity, I thought was the topography of their surroundings.
Barachukki gushes down fulsome and enthusiastically in all directions. It constitutes a cluster of segmented waterfalls that spreads broadly across the cliff, falling from a height of 69m. The multiple side-by-side waterfall is a consequence of the water dividing into several channels before dropping off the ledge. Gaganachukki is a steep waterfall that thunders down from a height of 98m. with an incredibly fierce velocity. It consists of two large parallel streams, quite aptly referred to as horsetails that cascade down through the rocky bed.
We were there in the month of December, 2020. It being the season of winter, the quantity of water was less in both the falls.
Barachukki Falls also has a flight of about 200 concrete steps, well-guarded with railings, to reach the bottom of the falls. During our visit, this was temporarily closed. It was pandemic times, so not surprising. During my previous visit, I had also seen people taking coracle rides right up to the falls. This time there were none. There is no way to reach the bottom of Gaganachukki and it would be dangerous to do so, given the sheer force of this falls.
It took us a while to get into the temple premises. The temple is a protected monument and maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Tickets for entry to such places now require scanning an ASI QR code. Our phone network happened to be unusually slow causing some unnecessary delay, testing our patience, and sufficiently frustrating us.
As I entered through the doorway after reading the description displayed at the entryway, my jaws literally dropped. The magnificence of the temple caught me off-guard. I knew about this temple but hadn’t expected such stunning architectural brilliance. “How did I never happen to come here before!”, I couldn’t help wondering, having stayed in Bangalore for more than a decade now. This reaction was triggered off just at the very first glance. As we walked around exploring the temple, every corner only left us even more astonished.
The 13th century Keshava Temple, also known as Chennakesava Temple, is located in a small town called Somnathpur in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It is at a distance of about 140 Km. from Bangalore and just about 35 Km. away from Mysore. Situated in the banks of River Cauvery, the temple was built by Somanatha, a celebrated army commander of the Hoysala Dynasty. He established the town of Somnathpur, which he named after himself.
The temples built during the rule of the Hoysalas are unique in their intricate sculptures and great story telling. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are said to be the best ambassadors of Hoysala architecture. I haven’t been there yet but have heard a lot about their spectacular grandeur. I had no idea that Somnathpur Temple belonged to the same league and was another masterpiece of Hoysala architecture.
The temple is carved from soapstone and is dedicated to Lord Krishna in the three forms of Keshava, Janardhana, and Venugopala. The main temple is at the center of a courtyard, built on an elevated star-shaped platform which, I learnt is one of the unique aspects of Hoysala temples. Surrounding the courtyard is a pillared corridor that has several chambers all along. Perhaps they would have housed deities at that time, they are empty now.
The temple wall on the exterior has intricate carvings and sculptures depicting stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and also Bhagavata Purana. The exquisite attention to detail that has clearly gone into these carvings was mystifying to say the least. The dancing Goddess Lakshmi, the angry Lord Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the four headed Lord Brahma, the intricate Mahisashura Mardini – just to name a few. The meticulous carvings also depict battles, folklore, music, dance, and much more. The stories in carvings are in a clockwise direction, thoughtfully designed as it is the same as the direction of a pradakshina or circumambulation.
After spending a decent amount of time walking around the temple admiring the detailed carvings, we stepped inside. The inside of the temple is just as fascinating. The magnificent ceiling with all the intricate ornate carvings and miniature sculptures is simply amazing. A guide, who was with another group, explained that the ceiling constitutes of 16 finely carved symmetrical squares, some of which are depictions of the Lotus flower at different stages of development. The main idol of Keshava is situated on the sanctum sanctorum while Janardhana and Venugopala are on either side. According to ASI, the original Keshava idol went missing and has been replaced. The idols of Janardhana and Venugopala are damaged.
The temple is not functional and is not used as a place of worship anymore, the idols being broken and desecrated by invaders of that age and time. It stands as a monument today bearing testimony to the superior craftmanship of the artists and sculptors of the bygone Hoysala era.
I am a nature person and usually get disengaged very easily with things that are lifeless. Museums and places of architectural significance as not quite for me. That explains why I overlooked visiting this place earlier. However, when it comes to such intricate artwork it’s a different story altogether. My mind weaves stories thinking about the artisans, their unparalleled creativity, the lives of people at that time – the royalty, the commoners, their festivals, their triumphs and hardships, and so on and so forth. It’s mind-boggling and fascinating.
Now, I can’t wait to explore the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have long been on my way. Smitten by Somnathpur Keshava Temple, I was curious to know about the other Hoysala temples in the state of Karnataka. I learnt that there are 137 Hoysala temples of significant value in the state. Quite a number that is, isn’t it!
“Seems like some kind of natural air-conditioning in here!”, exclaimed my sister. It indeed felt cool inside. Surely, it’s got something to do with the way this place was constructed ages ago.
We were at Padmanabhapuram Palace, located about 30 Km. away from Kanyakumari at a place, known as Thuckalay. Built in the 16th century, this palace is situated in the state of Tamil Nadu, however, it remains under the administration of the Government of Kerala. The wooden palace, in its typical Kerala architectural style, is a masterpiece that left us completely spellbound. Once again, all thanks to fellow blogger Sugan for having recommended this place.
The unusualness of the palace is what charmed us the most. It was very different from all the palaces I have seen so far. It lacked the glam and glitter that one would expect of a palace but was majestic in its simplicity and intricacies. Some highlights from the palace are, elaborately detailed rosewood and teak wood carvings, exquisitely carved wooden columns, huge earthen urns, jackfruit tree columns, multi-colored windowpanes of various patterns, spacious hallways, ornately carved wooden ceilings, and so on.
There were different artistic representations of the Lotus flower, the favourite flower of the royalty (and also ofLord Padmanabhaswamy). The floors of the palace wore a unique look. It was glossy, smooth and of shining black colour. This is apparently the result of a unique combination of egg shells, lime, coconut, charcoal, river sand, and jaggery that was used in the raw material.
Padmanabhapuram was the capital city of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, the rulers of which were dedicated to Lord Padmanabhaswamy (another name of Lord Vishnu) and considered themselves to be servants of the Lord.
The Covid protocols were very strict here. We had to buy gloves from the shops outside, which were selling only woolen gloves. That was no fun on a hot and sultry afternoon, with a temperature of nearly 30 degree centigrade. The palace was crowded with tourists, but all were locals. We stood out in how we looked and the clothes we wore, leading to us being mobbed by a gang of local people. The gang of 20-25 people followed us everywhere and wanted pictures with us every now and then. They meant no harm and we did indulge them initially but after a point their intrusion managed to irritate us enough and more.
Here’s a visual tour of some sections of the palace.
Lum Kyllang and Lum Symper are brothers who fell out with each other and fought with such animosity that they have parted ways forever. No ordinary sibling rivalry this is! The two brothers here are hills and not humans. [I have outlined the local folklore at the end.]
BIL (brother-in-law) and I were once again on a long drive in the countryside when we had an opportunity to meet with Lum Kyllang. It was the first day of the year 2018. A bright and sunny January day ushered in additional joy and cheer to our New Year celebrations. This was rare as the month of January is usually associated with gloomy weather in the cold winter of Meghalaya. BIL, the happy man, was happier today – not because of the weather but because his wife (my cousin sister) had joined us too.
We headed from Shillong towards West Khasi Hills district to go to Mairang. Shillong is in East Khasi Hills district. The sparkling tarred road was an absolute pleasure to drive and BIL was enjoying every bit of it. It was a newly inaugurated National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. Our intention was nothing more than a long drive by the countryside – indeed our way of celebrating the new year.
We passed through undulating winding roads amidst green hills dotted with Pine Trees, brown meadows of dried grass, villages with pretty houses of tin roofs, lace curtains, and playful children. Somewhere during the drive, one of us mentioned Kyllang Rock, which is also located in Mairang. We had heard stories about the peculiarity and uniqueness of Kyllang Rock but had never visited it and this drive presented us with the perfect opportunity.
We enquired for directions from a local tea shop and got to know that Kyllang Rock is locally known as Lum Kyllang. Based on our enquiry, we diverted onto a broken road from the National Highway. The narrow dusty road was lined with Pine forests on either side. As we approached, after a drive of about 20 mins, the massive dome shaped single rock of granite was clearly visible from a distance. With a girth of more than 1000 ft., the monolithic Kyllang Rock stands tall at a height of 5400 ft. above sea level. It is situated 12 Km. from Mairang and about 78 Km. from Shillong.
Kyllang Rock is several million years old and it is believed to have a magnetic field. It is believed that the magnetic field makes it easy to climb and once on top nobody falls off despite the very strong winds. The dense forest around the rock is home to age-old red Rhododendron trees and Oak trees. I had all plans of climbing up to the top as friends had told me about the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the top and also that the climb was fairly easy.
However, I had to rest my plans of climbing up the rock as the place was immensely crowded with local people from the surrounding villages. Villagers revere the rock and were here to pay their obeisance on the occasion of new year.
I sure have to go back again to feel the massiveness of Lum Kyllang and experience the power of its magnetic field.
Local FolkloreKhasi folklore has it that Lum Kyllang in Mairang (West Khasi Hills) and LumSymper in Weiloi (East Khasi Hills) are brothers. Kyllang was a mischievous God known for his mood swings. Symper was a calm God and always disapproved Kyllang’s violent and destructive ways. Kyllang did not like Symper’s interference and this led to a battle between the two brothers. Symper won the battle as he was blessed to have boulders while Kyllang had only sand. After the battle, Symper stayed in the same location in East Khasi Hills and Kyllang moved to Mairang in West Khasi Hills.Another folklore talks about a man, his wife and child, who due to certain circumstances got transformed into one whole rock.
Utterly clean surroundings, well-tarred roads, spick and span roadsides as though they have received a dose of fresh paint…
The car takes a turn and the driver announces that we have arrived. Ma passes a remark from the back seat. Baba and I agree in unison that we had not seen this level of neatness in any city in recent times.
We were at the coastal town of Diu. Diu is one of the two districts of the Union Territory of Daman and Diu – the two erstwhile Portuguese naval bases that remain separated from each other by a distance of about 600 Km. Diu town overlooks Arabian Sea and sits at the eastern end of Diu Island, which remains connected to the state of Gujarat through a bridge.
I was on a trip across a few places of Gujarat along with my parents. Diu featured in our itinerary too. Diu’s proximity to Somnath made it the perfect destination to unwind after visiting the temple towns of Somnath and Dwarika.
The refreshingly picturesque Diu is perfect recipe for a great weekend getaway – lovely palm-fringed roads, Portuguese architecture, and amazingly clean beaches.
Back in Bangalore after my Gujarat and Diu trip, I was surprised to discover that people in my circle – colleagues and friends – had never considered visiting Diu. This was strange given Diu’s easy accessibility from Bangalore via Mumbai, especially when people of this city crave for weekend destinations and easy getaways. The craze is so much that extended weekends are easily recognizable by the remarkably less traffic on the roads.
In this post, I will concentrate on my experience of the beaches of Diu. For the rest of Diu’s attractions, I will follow up in another post. Diu has several beaches – I’ll write about two of them, the ones I visited.
I chose to stay at a place that was right at the center of the town instead of staying at a resort close to the sea. My preference being guided by the fact that I was traveling with my aged parents. Staying close to civilization, I thought, was a wise thing to do. The hotel overlooked Diu Port, so we had a great view of Arabian Sea right from our room and that worked just perfect.
Like most people in this world, sunrises and sunsets pep me up like no other, whether in the mountains or in the oceans/seas. With sunset in my mind, I set out for an evening stroll to Jallandhar Beach on the day we reached Diu. My parents preferred to remain in the hotel.
The beach being located in the heart of the town and walkable from my hotel, I mentally prepared for crowd, noise, and filth. To my surprise, this city beach was completely different – very few people, no vendors, no stalls, and a sparklingly clean coastline. Greeted by a wide promenade, occasionally interrupted by well-laid benches, I ambled as trees on the fringes whispered and swayed with the intoxicating sea breeze. The golden sand looked warm and inviting.
A little ahead, the sandy beach culminated into a rocky hillock, atop which I noticed a few people and the spire of a temple. That’s where I wanted to be! Moving ahead in that direction, I climbed up the hill and located a quiet and isolated place. There I spend the evening watching the sun paint the sky, lovingly kiss the glistening waters, and eventually merge into the sea altogether.
An overwhelmingly magical evening it was! Little did I expect such an experience in a tiny little city beach!
Jallandhar Beach –Sunrise Quietude
Next day, early in the morning while it was still dark, I set out to Jallandhar Beach once again. This time, it turned out to be even better – there wasn’t a single soul on the beach. I walked on the sand for a while and then settled down on a flat stone listening to the musical silence of the soft melody created by the gentle waves. Before I knew, dawn broke in sending shimmering golden rays over the placid Arabian Sea. The quietude was intoxicating making me wish that it would last forever.
I was in Diu for one full day and two half days. This enabled me to repeat the sunrise and sunset experiences one more time. I wasn’t disappointed and each time it was equally charming.
Nagoa Beach – Leisureliness Walk
Usually people stay at Nagoa Beach and I would have done that too had it not been for my parents. However, after my sunrise and sunset experience at Jallandhar Beach, I have no regrets.
It was late afternoon when we reached Nagoa Beach after a drive of about 25-30 minutes from Diu town. The drive was appealing, taking us through the pretty countryside lined by palm groves. The perfectly tarred roads shone in the afternoon sun sometimes up and down, sometimes winding through narrow lanes. We passed through attractive colourful neighbourhoods and one or two churches.
Upon reaching Nagoa, we alighted from the car to a row of resorts on one side and the beach just across the street. Tall palm trees demarcate the beach from the road. The sprawling white sands of the horse-shoe shaped Nagoa Beach extended to a much larger distance making it way more luxuriant but it was way more crowded too. The crowd robbed off its charm to a certain extent. However, the first thing I noticed here was the colour of the waters of Arabian Sea – it was an iridescent brilliant blue.
We spent about an hour in Nagoa beach. I walked up and down the length of the beach sometimes through the white sand and sometimes splashing through the waves. This time my parents joined in too instead of just relaxing on the sand.
Other Beaches in Diu
Ghoghla Beach, Chakratirth Beach, and Gomtimata Beach are the other beaches of Diu. Ghogla beach provides opportunities for parasailing, surfing, and boating. We did pass by Ghoghla Beach but didn’t stop as these activities weren’t things we wanted to do. Chakratirath and Gomtimata are both walkable from Nagoa. Gomtimata is made of coral rocks and has puddles of water in between the rocks where one can find aquatic life such as crabs.
We decided to give both these a miss as I wanted to go back to Jallandhar Beach and experience my magical sunset all over again.
It was a little after 6.00 AM when I stepped out of my hotel room. It was still dark and that made me double-check my wrist watch. The morning aarti (prayer) was due at the temple at 6.30 AM. I could either watch the sunrise or attend the aarti and I still hadn’t decided which one I wanted to do. My parents preferred to stay back at the hotel as we were expecting a long day ahead.
We had arrived at Dwarika the day before. After settling down in the hotel, I had stepped out for a stroll in Gomti Ghat while my parents rested after the 4 hour drive we had from Jamnagar. Our hotel was located at Gomti Ghat and it was just a few meters from the temple.
It was late afternoon and the first thing I saw on stepping out was Sudama Setu, the suspension bridge, over Gomti River. The ghat had as many people as there were cows. There was a camel too offering rides with its owner and it just seemed so out of place. Street vendors spread out their wares and tiny shops dotted the ghat. Someone was also seeking donations over a loudspeaker for feeding cows. I turned around and spotted the temple Shikara (spire) just opposite to the ghat.
This part of the world looked so different from the hi-tech world of Bangalore – reason enough for the sense of excitement I felt. The thought that it was Christmas day and for the first time I was in a not-so-Christmassy set up amused me even more. I walked leisurely towards the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea while enjoying the old world charm around me.
An interesting thing about Gomti River is that, its water recedes during the day and one can walk to the middle of the river, in the mornings the river gets filled with water once again.
Somewhere on the way, I stopped to have a cup of tea from a roadside Chaiwala (tea seller). Meanwhile, the Sun was busy conspiring with the sea and the sky. By the time I finished my tea, the sun had started bathing the sea and sky in a burning red with tinges of orange and yellow. I hurried my pace to reach the end of the ghat to get a good glimpse of the gorgeousness that was unfolding as the sun was bidding goodbye for the day.
This morning I felt compelled to step out. All in the hope of beholding the golden colours once again. This time for sunrise. Though the morning was still dark, the ghat was abuzz with activities. It didn’t take me long to decide it was sunrise that I wanted, the morning aarti could wait for the next day.
Once again, all the activities in the ghat fascinated me – some were bathing in the river notwithstanding the cold December morning; some were performing Puja and releasing oil lamps onto the river; some were hurriedly walking towards the temple; some were feeding fishes; some were buying sea shells; and so on and so forth.
The cows were up too, jostling to share space with their human counterparts. Few sadhus in their saffron robes wandered around aimlessly. The shops of colourful shoes and bags were opening up. Those selling Puja items had already started their business.
Somewhere, I met my Chaiwala where I sipped tea while watching people – watching people happens to be one of my favourite activities. The buzzing energy all around was somewhat contagious. Everybody and everything at the ghat seemed like little stories to me.
Somewhere in the flurry of activities, nature had quietly started painting the sky in hues of yellows, oranges and reds. As the Sun peeked over the horizon, it was time for me to go back to the hotel where my parents were waiting for me.
I turned around and noticed the temple shikhara, which was now clearly visible with the first rays of the Sun.
I recalled last evening when we had visited the temple during the evening aarti. The temple was swarming with people. My parents didn’t dare to brave the crowd and found a place to sit instead. I went ahead and managed a quick glance of Dwarkadhish – that’s how Lord Krishna is referred to here – but not before the undisciplined crowd squashed me completely.
As always, I wondered why people become so unruly just before the actual darshan in some of these temples. All that I could think of is Lord Krishna perhaps enjoys all the attention he gets from His frenzied devotees.
A narrow network of dusty lanes and by-lanes, sunlight trickling through congested concrete, intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways, half broken creaking wooden windows, dusty wooden doors some with shining steel locks and some that appear to have been shut forever – these are just few of the things that greeted us as we stepped in through the gateway of Hari Bhakti Ni Pol.
‘Amdavadi Pols’ had piqued my interest when I first read about them in a newspaper article. The article had mentioned that these Pols significantly contributed to the 600-year old Ahmedabad City being declared as a world heritage by UNESCO. I was intrigued and the article gave only a faint idea about Pols.
Pols (pronounced as Poles) are Ahmedabad’s cultural identity and represent a unique legacy. Therefore, it featured in my list of things to explore in the city. During this trip across some places of Gujarat, I was with my parents and exploring Pols wasn’t something I could do with them. Hence, I was looking out for an opportunity to slip out on my own and go Pol-hopping.
A cousin sister happened to be in Ahmedabad for some work on the same day. She called me saying that she had read about these old havelis (mansions) in the in-flight magazine and wanted to go visit them. I instantly knew it was the Pols she’s talking about. Both of us hatched a plan and set out in the afternoon for our most looked forward to walk through Amdavadi Pols. The enriching experience of the 3-hour walk surpassed our expectations and we wished we would have had time for more.
The word Pols is derived from the Sanskrit word Pratoli, which means gate. Pols are a conglomeration of houses usually inhabited by people and families linked together through caste, culture or profession. They are living testimonies of the social unrest that existed in the region hundreds of years ago. Each Pol remains guarded by its own entry gate. In earlier days, these gates would be shut at night. Each Pol also has its exclusive secret exit gate, which is privy to Pol members only. During an attack, men would defend the entry gate, while women and children would escape into the labyrinth of pathways through the secret exit gate.
Each Pol also has a dedicated temple and a chabutro or bird feeder. Chabutro are tall poles that the people of Ahmedabad put up for birds. These were built with the idea of providing home to birds as trees were chopped off to build the city. A thoughtful gesture perhaps but replacing trees with man-made cement poles – I wish they knew better!
Pols are located within the walled city of Ahmedabad and have no space for motor vehicles. The narrow winding alleys are best explored on foot, bicycles or two wheelers. Apparently, there are more than 300 such Pols. While many people have moved out to live in better localities, many still prefer living in the Pols. Almost all the heritage houses in the Pols we visited were in a dismal state. I hope the authorities are aware and do plan to renovate some of them. Or else it will be a sad loss of heritage.
We walked from one dusty narrow lane to another, crisscrossing and trying to make sense of the maze that we were enthusiastically navigating. Nearly at every turn in the narrow lanes, we bumped into either cows or oncoming two wheelers. We came across a number of Pols in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol, Khadia Pol, Fatasa Pol, Sheth Ni Pol, and Sakari Ser Pol.
Somewhere, we entered a Pol temple where we offered our prayers to Lord Krishna, who was the residing deity. There we met and chatted with a Baa whose toothless smile and wrinkled face stole our hearts and we felt like giving her a tight hug. She offered us laddoos as prasad and spoke at length in Gujarati while we tried our best to figure out what she had to say with very little success whatsoever.
Pic 9: The entry to the Pol temple where we met Baa
Pic 10: The temple inside, the entry was small but the temple is fairly spacious
My cousin didn’t miss a chance to peep through open windows whenever she found one, a habit she carries from childhood. At one time, she discovered an entire room filled with jewellery boxes and two men sitting in a corner with whom she went on to a serious discussion about the prices, where they supply those boxes, etc. In another, she found people busy sewing some kind of traditional stuff, maybe bags she thought not bothering to get into a discussion this time.
We realised that many Pols are part of some cottage industries that allow people to earn their livelihood without leaving their homes. We also noticed that though the pathways and the entryways were very narrow, the houses inside were quite spacious.
Pic 11: A haveli that was simple and not so elaborate.
My cousin was on the lookout for two specific havelis, ones she had read in the in-flight magazine – Mangaldas Ni Haveli and a certain French Haveli. Both these have been converted to hotels now. We did locate Mangaldas Ni Haveli. There were two of them – Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I and Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II.
Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I is a residential home and had a lock hanging on the front door at that point in time. Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II was the hotel. With no inhibitions, my cousin knocked on the door and it was opened by a gentleman. When she requested for a look inside, he demanded 100 bucks per person. We happily paid and took a tour of the inside. My cousin, with her penchant for interior design, was much more excited than I was.
I had a cap on time as I had a train to catch. So, we couldn’t go looking for French Haveli. I left while my cousin continued exploring Ratan Pol, which is now a wholesale market place.
Allured by what I heard from her I just had to go explore Ratan Pol, which I did when I had a day in Ahmedabad during my return trip. Overexcited with prices that I thought were dirt cheap, I only landed up burning a hole in my pocket, but that’s for another day….
“Kaisa laaga Srinagar?” [What do you think about Srinagar?], asked the man as he handed over a bowl of chilled sewainya. Fascinated as we were seeing sewainya or vermicelli pudding available as street food and engrossed in our own animated discussions about the same, none of us payed heed to the question.
Isn’t sewainya or seviyaan a quintessential Eid festival food! Have you ever seen sewainya sold by the roadside back in Bangalore or Hyderabad! The afternoon sun glared at us as the excited discussions continued and the chilled and deliciously rich sewainya did good to calm us down.
“Toh kaisa laaga Srinagar?”, the man repeated his question. As we answered, he went on, “Kiya socha tha aane se pehle?” [What was your opinion before you came here?]; “Aise hi log Srinagar ko badnaam karte hain, tourist ko koi kuch nehi karta” [People paint a wrong picture of Srinagar, tourists are safe here]; and so on and so forth. This was not the first time we were answering such questions. Every second person we interacted with asked us similar questions.[All of these stemming from the ongoing volatile political situation in Jammu and Kashmir].
We had a day to spend in Srinagar on our way back from Kashmir Great Lakes trek. While some people decided to explore Gulmarg, others thought of walking the streets of Srinagar to get a feel of the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir. The latter appealed to me and I decided to join them, which did not turn out to be a great idea as I soon discovered.
This group landed up spending most of their time shopping, which is something that hardly interests me. Though I do enjoy exploring local markets and indulging in a little bit of shopping too but spending the better part of the day just buying stuff does not appeal to me at all. Perhaps, going off on my own and visiting places like Mughal Gardens and Adi Shankarachaya temple would have been a better deal. Anyway, when in a group, you do what the group does.
Eventually I had to satisfy myself with only Lal Chowk and Chasme Shahi.
Lal Chowk, literally translates as Red Square, is the city center of Srinagar located in the heart of the city. Traditionally, it has been a place for political meetings and was named by left wing activists who fought Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruling Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
The signature Clock Tower
The signature Clock Tower
Lined with a variety of shops, Lal Chowk is the oldest and most popular shopping destination in Srinagar. A place called Kokar Bazar at Lal Chowk was recommended to us for buying authentic Kashmiri dry fruits, nuts, and saffron. It being Sunday, most of Kokar Bazar was closed but the couple of shops that were open served our purpose well.
Dotted with stalls of dry fruits
Too cheap to believe!
We strolled around the busy pavements of Lal Chowk absorbing the essence of Srinagar through the colourful embroidered pherans, apples at just Rs. 25 a Kilo, the prominent clock tower standing tall, the eye-catching but nearly hidden green mosque, and not to miss the unnerving presence of Army personnel at every nook and corner.
While I bought Pashminas and Kashmiri embroidered shawls for folks at home, others bought sarees and Kashmiri embroidered kurtas.
Colourful embroidered shawls and pherans
The green mosque stands out
Built around a natural spring against the backdrop of magnificent mountains, Chashma Shahi is a Mughal Garden characterized by manicured lawns, symmetrical hedges, landscaped terraces, sculpted fountains, and colourful flowers. Chashma Shahi literally translates as Royal Spring and was built in 1632 AD by Ali Mardan Khan, who was the governor of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The garden was a gift from the Emperor to his son Dara Shikoh.
The garden is split into three terraces and water flows from the uppermost level to the lowermost level through a series of pools and aqueducts, called chadars.
The water from the natural spring at Chashme Shahi is believed to have medicinal properties, which draws locals and tourists alike. It was a Sunday and hence the place was even more crowded with more locals than tourists. There is nothing much to do at Chasme Shahi, however, drinking the cool spring water did give us a dose of instant gratification.
The uppermost layer where the spring water originates
The place where the spring water is collected for drinking
We passed by Dal Lake a couple of times during the day. Dal lake is huge and the vast sheet of water against the backdrop the Pir Panjal mountains with floating Shikaras (houseboats) look beautiful. However, Dal Lake in its urbanism appeared a little pale to us having just experienced the pristine and untouched beauty of other alpine lakes in higher altitudes.
It was early evening when we found some time to spend beside the lake as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive from Gulmarg. With the setting sun in the background, the Shikaras mooring on the lake tempted me to take a ride but the rest of gang were too hungry and could not think beyond food. Reluctantly, I gave in and proceeded towards a restaurant instead.
When it comes to food, Kashmir is synonymous with Kahwa and Wazwaan. Being the tea person that I am, Kahwa was a must-have and I had my first taste high up in the mountains when it was served during the trek. Kahwa, the Kashmiri tea, flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron was perfect and easily surpassed its already fabulous reputation. Sipping Kahwa in the chilly wilderness definitely made it all the more delightful.
I am not a foodie but some of Kashmir’s signature dishes was on my list and most prominent among those was Wazwan. Wazwan is a lavish multicourse lamb-based meal that is intricately associated with Kashmiri pride, culture and identity. I learned that Wazwan is a 36-course wedding feast and no Kashmiri marriage is complete without this grand meal. Wazwan was a delight in both appearance as well as taste. I had never seen such huge spread of a single dish before – kababs, meat balls, rogan josh, ribs, korma, rice, pulao, and what not.
However, I could eat Wazwan just once and that too could not go beyond one-fourth of what was served. I struggled with the overdose of mutton even though I am a non-vegetarian and Wazwan was uniquely delicious. For subsequent meals, I found myself away from the non-vegetarian section altogether and seated with my vegetarian counterparts. A very unusual me!
The vegetarian dishes were a delight too, especially the Kashmiri Saag, Dum aloo, and Kashmiri Pulao. We did check out some great restaurants including Mughal Durbar, Shamyana, and Mummy Please.
Kashmir, my visit remains incomplete and I know I will go back to explore more of you….
An Accidental Rendezvous with the Gorgeous Waterfall
“I have a request and you can’t say no!” demanded my brother-in-law (BIL).
Now, this was coming from one of my favourite persons in the world and it was his birthday too – how could I say no! BIL declared we would be visiting a lesser known waterfall, situated in a remote corner of East Khasi Hills. Sharing my love for exploring nature, that’s how he wanted to spend his birthday. Driving his new car into the wilderness was an added incitement.
Next morning, armed with a pack of sandwiches and fruits, we set out a little later than planned. The midnight birthday celebrations had extended way into late night and we couldn’t bring ourselves to wake up early in the cold January morning.
Driving early morning through the winding roads, surrounded by lush green pine forests in the hills is as rejuvenating as anybody’s imagination. The sun was up but its gentle morning warmth did little to ease the chill hanging in the air at that hour. Our windows were rolled up and the music was on as we happily and merrily sang along, though interrupted now and then by the birthday wishes that kept pouring in.
Soon we were out of city limits and headed towards the village where the waterfall was located. On the way we stopped at Laitlum to have breakfast at a Kong Shop. [I will write about these shops another time].
Situated 25 Km. away from Shillong, Laitlum is famous for its sprawling green meadows and breathtaking valley. We thought our destination was just 30 min away but a couple of local villagers informed that the road beyond was really bad and it would take us another 3 hours. BIL and I contemplated whether it was a good idea, given that we were already late.
Suddenly, I recalled someone telling me about a waterfall around Laitlum. A quick confirmation from the locals and we decided to explore this place instead. Our original destination was pushed for another time.
The narrow winding road beside the Kong Shop lead to Thangsning village and that’s where Lwai falls, also known as Thangsning falls, is located.
BIL maneuvered his swanky new car meticulously into the narrow village road. The dusty lane with wide open meadows on both sides and a few scantily scattered village homes was an instant dose of excitement and happiness. This is our thing! How much we love such things!
The lane went on for a pretty long distance and there was no indication of any waterfall nearby. There was nobody around whom we could ask. Google was of no help either.
We arrived at an intersection where this winding dusty lane met another similar road. Not knowing what to do, we parked our car here. In just a few seconds, another car arrived and parked in front of us. While I stepped out and started capturing a few pictures, BIL went ahead to talk to the two gentlemen who had also stepped out of their car.
Quite surprisingly, they were also looking for the same waterfall. They were native Khasis and had also come from Shillong. One of them had trekked through the jungle to the waterfall before and they were now trying to figure out the motorable road to it. We decided to join them. This was immensely helpful as they could ask around in the local language.
In a short while, we located the falls. We parked our cars and stepped out into the soothing lush green hills. The gushing sound of water teased us though the falls wasn’t visible yet.
The sun was strong now and the sky a deep blue. A flight of 250 concrete steps took us down to the bottom of the falls and there it was right in front of us the mesmerizing cascading beauty gracefully making its way down into a pool of pure turquoise.
There were two columns of water falling from a height of about 100 feet. The two water columns seemed to be in some kind of a friendly banter as they giggled excitedly hurrying their way down to touch the pool below as though in some kind of a playful competition with each other.
The turquoise pool shone in its sparkling clear water through which peeped rounded yellow pebbles from the bottom of the pool. Rocks of various shapes and sizes lay exposed all around happily soaking in the winter sun making merry as long as the party lasts. Come rains and all of them will be swallowed by the increasing water of the falls.
My excitement knew no bounds and as always a surge of emotions left me speechless. I sat there gaping at the spectacular site and silently conversed with the white falling beauty, the elegant turquoise pool, the perfectly rounded yellow pebbles, and the little platoon of happy rocks.
The unexpected rendezvous with the two gentlemen was a pleasure beyond words. Such fluke meetings don’t ever fail to fascinate me! One of them, Antho Syiem is also an ardent nature lover just like us. In those few minutes, he shared his trekking experiences in the remote corners of Meghalaya.
With great pride he introduced us to his YouTube channel – Sorjah, through which he aims to show glimpses of his gorgeously beautiful homeland, Meghalaya, to the rest of the world. And I feel fortunate to be able to share this feeling of pride.
[Sorjah’s video on Lwai falls can be viewed here. Do check out their other videos as well.]
BIL was elated and his excitement was evident as he slowly and steadily climbed up the steps. With a chronic back problem climbing a continuous flight of stairs is something he would rather avoid but today, he couldn’t stop smiling. And I knew his birthday was made!
Swaying coconut trees, rhythmic tides of the sea, and sparkling golden sand on a pristine and clean beach! Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? And if I tell you there are just a handful of people playing around in the beach. How ideal does that sound! Well, that was just how we experienced the Arabian Sea at Bekal Beach.
Bekal is one of the several beach destinations in God’s Own Country – Kerala. It’s home to the fascinating Bekal Fort, which is perched on its rocky shores, situated on one corner of the beach.
We were at Pallikara, a sleepy little lovely village in North Kerala, where all you see is green – just so characteristic of Kerala. Everything in Kerala is green! It’s like patches of concrete hidden in green unlike most other places in India where you find patches of green hidden in concrete!
It was a hot April day when we arrived at this place. As we had lunch at a roadside eatery, we found people staring at us, probably surprised by tourists at this unlikely time of the year or to see women who were on their own and look different from the ones they are used to seeing.
The shop owner had a volley of questions for us and though we displayed our disinterest, he continued. Sensing that he was probably harmless and not wanting to appear like arrogant tourists, we chit-chatted with him . The small talk turned out to be useful as he showed us a shortcut to the beach on the other side of an unmanned railway crossing that runs just behind his shop. The beach was right across and here we were all set to take an auto!
While the sweltering heat nearly baked us at the fort, the beach was much cooler. In fact, we had walked towards the beach preparing our minds to face the hot afternoon sun thinking that we would sit in the shades provided alongside the shore and just watch the gorgeous Arabian Sea. We were already roasting in the April heat of Malabar Coast since we arrived in the morning and that made us cautious.
However, the Sea was in a playful mood and seemed to have a different idea. It was cooler than we thought and we could even walk bare foot on the sand. We played in the water and walked around in the beach for a while and then went off to explore Bekal Fort.
We came back to the Sea again in the evening. This time there were more people but still it wasn’t that crowded. We walked along the length of the beach, sat on the golden warm sand, felt the cool salty breeze brush against our face, played with the waves, followed the fast and furious crabs, and just relaxed.
Evening was slowly approaching and we decided to walk towards the rocky shore where the fort is located. The fort provides for an imposing view from the beach. However, there is no way to reach the fort from the beach, though you can climb through the rocks and approach just a section of the fort wall. The fort can be accessed only through the road.
We spent the evening sitting on the rocks with the fort behind us and the tides crashing against the rocks in front of us. It was splendid to say the least. And it was my birthday. Couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift (other than the Himalayas, of course…)!
Something interesting happened in the evening. We were waiting to see the Sun slip into the sea, expecting a usual sunset that happens in most beaches. The Sun, however decided to set behind the fort providing an awesome view of the entire landscape – the magnificent fort, the setting sun, and the mighty Arabian Sea.
We watched in rapture even as the tides continued discharging their duty of systematically doing rounds of the shore, not getting distracted even once, so what if the Sun was looking gorgeously beautiful. There’s so much to learn from nature, always!