“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!
After the customary coconut breaking ritual on the first step and lighting a few incense sticks we were all set to start our journey. It was still dark at around 3.45 AM but the flight of concrete cement stairway was well lit with bright lights. The stairway was quite broad and divided into two halves by a railing that ran right across the center. On either side of the stairway were flat cement slabs that one can use for resting while making the arduous climb.
Accompanied by my cousin, I was on a pilgrimage to Lord Balaji Temple at Tirupati. Located in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Tirumala hills, Tirupati Balaji Temple is the world’s richest temple. Lord Balaji is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is also known as Venkateswara, Govinda, and Srinivasa. The Lord probably has a couple of other names too but I am not aware.
The temple receives enormous amount of donations from pilgrims, which is the main reason behind its being the richest. Pilgrims donate money, gold, precious gems, jewellery, and even demat share transfers and property deeds. They also donate their hair, which is sold by the temple authorities. It’s ironical that a country with a huge population living below the poverty line houses the world’s richest temple. India is a country of striking contrasts.
An interesting mythology is associated with this donation, which I have narrated at the end of this story.
Tirupati temple was the richest temple in India but Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple has recently disclosed incredible amount of assets discovered from a hidden place in the temple, forcing Tirupati to the second position in terms of wealth.
Tirupati Temple is the most visited religious place in South India and remains extremely crowded with an average of 50,000 to 100,000 footfalls daily. The number increases by leaps and bounds during festivals and special occasions. I had first visited the temple several years back with my family when I was in college. I hated the mad rush and thought I would never go back. Subsequently some other things led me to the temple again and I had a special spiritual experience that had brought tears to my eyes. After that, I have been to this temple 5-6 times.
The temple is accessible through a properly tarred road and one can drive up as well. I have done both – walking up as well as driving up. The walkway is a separate pathway away from the tarred road and constitutes an 11 Km distance up to the temple that passes over two of the seven Tirumala hills. The walkway is covered by a roof and well equipped with food, water, toilets, and even a dispensary.
The walk starts from a place called Alipiri, where you can deposit your luggage, if any, and your shoes. It’s a temple and you climb up barefoot. Your belongings are sent up the hill and reaches even before you arrive. There is a designated place where they can be collected after you are done with your darshan.
For me the walk has more to do with my love for hiking and trekking rather than pleasing the Lord. I am certain the Lord doesn’t differentiate between his devotees whether one walks up or drives up. It’s all a matter of faith and belief. I was quite astonished to see the elderly and people carrying infants walking up the path. Some women also pause at every step, smear it with turmeric and vermillion, light a diya (oil lamp) and only then proceed to the next step. And that is no mean feat in some of the steep sections. Sometimes men and women chant the name of the Lord at intervals all through the pathway in loud rhythmic voices and most often other pilgrims join in. It’s their unwavering faith in the Lord that keeps them going.
This was the second time I was walking up and hence knew exactly what to expect. There are a total of 3550 steps through the 11 km distance. The initial flight of 1000 steps is continuous and very steep. This part is really tough and quite a test of stamina and endurance. At regular intervals the steps are marked, I think every 100th step which gives you an idea of how far you have come.
Most of the walkway is through a forested area with a variety of trees and birds. A certain stretch has a deer park too, where you can buy cucumbers and carrots to feed the deer. A stretch of forest is also marked by Red Sandalwood trees. Statues of the Lord in various incarnations are found at regular intervals along the path.
At the 2083rd step, the Gali Gopuram is situated. Gopurams refer to temple entrance gates in South India. The Gali Gopuram is brightly illuminated with florescent lights and is visible at night from most places in Tirupati city and the nearby highways. At this place, we need to get our biometrics done and obtain the darshan tickets. It was dawn by now and we were quite hungry. Hence, we took a break and had some traditional South Indian food. There are several places to eat here, but you can expect only South Indian breakfast kind of food (idlys and dosas).
Beyond this point, for the next 6 Km. the path is flattened and there are no climbs. The deer park is located in this section. We spent some time feeding the deer through the fenced enclosure. After this, very soon we encountered the Hanuman temple, which is prominent with its large Hanuman statue. We lit diyas here and resumed our journey this time beside the tarred road used by people driving up. This section of about a kilometer stands out for splendid views of the lush green hills and valley.
At a distance of 2.4 Km. from the hilltop temple is the final flight of 1000 stairs at Mokalimitta Gopuram. This is the steepest section, much more than the one we encountered at the beginning. We rested for a while, had a cup of coffee and then embarked upon this section. Some pilgrims were climbing this entire section on their knees. I tried but couldn’t manage even two stairs!
On reaching the temple, we had to wait in queue for another 3 hours before we could get a darshan of Lord Balaji. It was a Thursday and on this day the Lord does not adorn any jewellery, something we learnt in the queue. Lord Balaji is otherwise clad with 1000kgs of Gold.
This experience of visiting the Lord has been as good as the others I had so far. My BalajiDarshan actually has a very special story attached to it and probably I will write another post on that.
A Little Bit on Tirupati’s Wealth
According to mythology, Lord Balaji had taken a loan from Lord Kubera (The God of Wealth) for marrying Padmavathi. He now needs to repay this loan and as long as he doesn’t, he has to remain on earth. He is asking his devotees to help him pay back the loan. It is said that whatever you give the Lord, the double of that comes back to you. I read somewhere that in a single day, the temple receives approximately Rs 22.5 million as donation.
Pilgrims also tonsure their head and offer their hair to the Lord, which provides another source of income for the temple. The story goes that a shepherd hit Lord Balaji on his head and some of his hair came off leaving a portion bald. A Gandharva princess saw this and cut a portion of her hair and implanted it on the Lord’s head with her magical power. Touched by her sacrifice, the Lord promised that all his devotees would offer their hair at his abode and she would receive that hair.
The laddu prasadam is an interesting aspect of Tirupati Temple. The laddus are humongous, much larger than the usual ones and are made with pure ghee. A geographical indication tag attached to Tirupati Laddu entitles only the temple organisation to make or sell it. A large amount of money is generated by selling these laddus, which are in huge demand.
Refer to the following, if you want more information on Balaji Darshan:
The other day I came by an article that listed out quotes of famous people who have visited the Taj Mahal. Amongst the great names of Rabindranath Tagore, Lord Curzon, etc, the one that caught my attention was Bill Clinton, the former President of USA, who said:
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it, and those who have not seen the Taj Mahal and love it. I would like people to watch the Taj Mahal and fall in love with it.
I could instantaneously relate it to my own experience of the historical monument. Memories of my visit to the Taj Mahal came flooding by and I thought I should write about it.
And so, here it goes…
“I’m very satisfied with your service. Thank you so much!” I heard my father say to the guide who we had hired for a tour of the Taj Mahal and who had painstakingly explained every little detail taking care to answer all the questions asked by us, especially my father.
We let the guide leave while we sat on the marble floor just outside the main dome to rest for a while. It was late morning on a sunny October day and the monument was teeming with tourists from all over the world. I sat there feeling gratified looking at my parents who seemed quite delighted with their tour of the iconic monument. This trip was for them and I couldn’t be happier.
This was my second visit to the ivory-white marble mausoleum that grandly stands on the banks of River Yamuna in the city of Agra. My first visit had been seven years back. Needless to say, I was floored when I saw this exquisite piece of marble for the first time. I was with a friend and her husband. As we entered the West Gate or Fatehpuri Darwaza and I laid my eyes on the monument for the first time, I was awestruck. Dazzling in the afternoon sun, its splendor was beyond words and somehow appeared unreal to me.
I had read and heard about its grandeur several times since childhood – from history books to Bollywood movies, from photographs and paintings to travel stories of friends and relatives, from news feeds about the effects of pollution on the white marble to the surreal experiences on a moonlight night, and so on and so forth.
All of these had imprinted the Taj’s form into my mind’s imagery and I thought I was going to visit just another historical monument knowing exactly what to expect. But, when I saw the real structure with my naked eyes for the first time, its sparkling magnificence was something else altogether. Its prettiness was overwhelming. I had never imagined the Taj Mahal to be this beautiful.
The experience was way different from my visit to other historical monuments. Being an ardent nature lover, architectures and museums do not enthuse me much. So, I never quite get it when people stare at an Eiffel tower with those admiration-filled eyes for hours on end. With this existing state of mind, my expectations of Taj Mahal were pretty limited. Not until I actually saw it…
The stunningly magical Taj Mahal had left me literally speechless. It was only after I experienced the Taj in person that I truly understood the genius of its craftsmanship. And, I thought to myself — no wonder this iconic monument gets millions of visitors every year from across the globe; no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; no wonder it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The first thing that came to my mind at that moment was – I got to get my parents to see this. This is one of the seven wonders and it’s in my own country. This is an opportunity. It will be a pity if they were to miss this. So, here I was experiencing the magic for a second time and this time with my parents.
Built by 22,000 workers in 22 years, the Taj Mahal is famous as the ultimate symbol of love. That’s what I knew during my childhood and as I grew up. Later, I read some speculative counter arguments, which I think cannot be ignored (Read Here). Keeping that aside, it is the finest and most sophisticated model of Mughal architecture in India, which also incorporates elements of Persian, Turkish, and Hindu influences.
We walked our way around the tomb, my mother and I silently appreciating, the unique marble carvings, the incised paintings, the incredible Urdu calligraphic inscriptions, etc. and my father earnestly discussing all big and small historical detail with our guide. All along I was feeling deeply satisfied that I could have my parents experience Taj Mahal’s incredible wonder.
This was the Agra leg of our Golden Triangle trip (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur). The same evening, we visited the Agra Fort.
My parents love travelling and my father has taken us on many a trip across India during our childhood despite all the limitations he had at that time. It’s my turn now to take them around and it gives me immense joy whenever I am able to take them on a trip with me. However, with old age and their current state of health, they cannot travel a lot and that’s a limitation I now have.