Thursday, 24 May 2018

New Zealand Diaries: Visit to Coromondel Peninsula

Overview: New Zealand has always been a dream destination for me, and I got a chance to visit the country for the first time on work. As this was my first visit to any country in the southern hemisphere, I wanted to make the most of it. Our first weekend was in Auckland, and I tried to search through all the interesting places around the city, then we narrowed down on Coromandel Peninsula and Auckland city.
There is an interesting connection between India and Coromandel. According to Wikipedia-
The Coromandel Peninsula was named for HMS Coromandel (originally named HMS Malabar), a ship of the British Royal Navy, which stopped at Coromandel Harbour in 1820 to purchase kauri spars and was itself named for India's Coromandel Coast, which itself is named the Cholamandalam in Tamil after the Chola dynasty, literally translated as The realm of the Cholas from which the Portuguese derived the name Coromandel.
We started from Auckland at 9am, and reached Coromandel region by 11:30am. The first stop was at Tairua, a scenic Harbour on the banks of the Tairua river. The place saw Maori settlers coming in the 15th century, and built several homes on the top of the volcanic mountain of Mount Paku. The Europeans came to Tairua in the mid of the 19th century and built the harbour.
We took a quick hike to the top of Mount Paku, which offered excellent views of the river bank and the harbour. On the way to the top, we could see pieces of eggshells scattered on the ground. Our tour guide Michael explained that those were left by the Maoris when they lived in this place before they vacated.
The view from the top of Mount Paku was amazing, and with the wind blowing away the clouds and taking the rains away presented a spectacle.
After spending a while at the top, we started our descent.


On the way to the summit of Mount Paku

Tairua View from Mount Paku

Next we proceeded towards Cathedral Cove, also known as Te Whanganui-A-Hei in Maori language. The Cove has been a location for shooting many Hollywood movies. We approached the Cove from the Car Park area, from where we need to board a shuttle to reach the hiking point. From the base, it takes around 45 minutes to reach the Cove. Another interesting point we noticed was the distances were indicated in minutes and not other units. And it took exactly 45 mins to reach as indicated by the signboards. Cathedral Cove was a bit crowded than expected, as it was a sunny evening, but the rock formations, which looked like limestone but were made of volcanic remains, were good to observe.
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

After spending about one hour at the beach, we headed towards the Hot Water beach, located in the southern part of Mercury Bay in Coromondel Peninsula. It was a bit unusual to see big crowds in New Zealand. Most of the crowd was gathered in one area, which was steaming with activity. There were pockets where the earth beneath the sands was very hot, making the water over it warmer, whereas it was very cold just inches away from it. People were scooping out sand and creating a pool for themselves to immerse in hot water. This was one of my most interesting experiences in NZ.
Hot Water beach

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Marvels of Vidarbha - 2

Overview: Vidarbha region, located in the cotton belt of Maharashtra, is home to a number of ancient temples. We had a chance to visit this magnificent Markand Deo temple near Chamorshi. Located on the banks of Wainganga river, this place is one of the 8th century marvels built by the Rashtrakutas. We were at the temple very early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and were fortunate to find just ourselves inside the premises. The temple looks like it has been assembled, though remains of several other temples could be seen inside the temple area. One thing which stands out in this temple is the wall carvings of different dieties, dancers and also some images of some visitors from places outside the region. A few images had Egyptian like features (long ears, square beard..).
Markand Deo Temple

Markand Deo Temple

Markand Deo Temple

Markand Deo Temple

From Chamorshi, we came to Chandrapur and took a train to head northwards towards Nagpur.
Nagpur has a lot to offer apart from oranges, one place which we explored was the ancient Vedic and Buddhist site of Mansar. The main attraction here is the palace of the Vakatakas. This has been one of the important excavations carried out in India, and the location has been identified as Pravarapura. Several large and small rooms can be seen in the palace complex. On the Western end of the mound, Shiva shrines have been reported to have been found, but we could not locate that place. A few sculptures of Lajja Gauri, Kubera and a few inscriptions have also been reported, perhaps now protected in some museum.

Palace of the Vakatakas, Mansar

Palace of the Vakatakas, Mansar

From Mansar we headed towards the Gad Mandir at Ramtek. This temple, along with being a heritage structure, is a popular pilgrimage site as well. A series of steps leads one to the top of the fort, and a series of temples can be seen, built in the 15th-16th century. The main temple here is the Ram temple, built by Raghuji Bhonsale, after his victory over fort of Deogarh in Chindwara. Apart from the Gad Mandir, Ram Tek also has a beautiful stepwell, and the ancient Shantinatha Jain temple.

Stepwell at Ramtek

Varaha at Ramtek

Ram Temple at Ramtek

Ramtek Fort

From here, we stopped at Nagardhan Fort, built during the Vakatakas. Though the Fort has been repainted, a few excavations were being carried out by the State Archaeology department in the fort premises. Several pottery remain were unearthed by the team and we had a glimpse of the findings.

Findings at Nagardhan Fort

Nagardhan Fort

On the way back, we visited the Zero Mile stone, a stone pillar erected by the British during the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. The distances from Kowtah, Hyderabad, Chandah, Raipur, Jabalpur, Seoni, Chindwarah, Baitool have been indicated in the pillar.

Zero Milestone, Nagpur
At Rail museum, Nagpur
Overall, a good visit to the Vidarbha region. We had a chance to stop for a while and admire the cotton fields in the rural settings.