Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Exploring North-East India: Manipur - 1

Overview: Once we had a thought of visiting the North-East of India, the first task was to decide on what states to visit. After some thought we finalised on Manipur and Tripura. Now to come up with an itinerary, it was an uphill task, because all the districts in Manipur and Tripura are full of surprises, so arriving at the places to visit was difficult. So finally we selected a mix of nature, heritage and culture.
Day 1: We landed in Imphal at 9:30am and the cab driver arrived at the airport at the right time. Our first place of interest was the Kangla Fort.Believed to be in existence since the 1st century CE with the Ningthouja dynasty under Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. Encircled by the traditional 4 divisions of the state, the area includes the burial places, sacred sites, megalithic mounds and places of worship. Some of the important historical structures in the fort are the Citadel wall, the Kanglasha, Sri Govindjee temple, Bir Tikendrajit temple and Gen Slim's cottage. The ancient Govindjee temple, now in ruins, highlights the temple architecture of Manipur. There is a small cafetaria inside the fort, which does not have much to offer except tea and coffee.
Kangla Fort

Govindjee temple

From here we went to the cultural heritage complex at Andro. This is one unique kind of a museum, displaying the rich tribal heritage of Manipur. Thatched houses can be seen with traditional potteryware, and wood art. Also there are a set of stones, which are carved by some interesting figures like animals, eyes, and some unrecognizable images. We could not see anyone in the complex, so we struggled a bit to find more info on these stones. This site also might have had an old temple complex, where several images of Gods are displayed in an enclosure. Most of them date to the 19th century CE.
Andro Cultural Museum

Andro Cultural Museum

Andro Cultural Museum

Next we went to the Khongjom War Memorial Complex, dedicated to the martyrs of the Anglo-Manipur war. The complex is well landscaped with fountains and gardens surrounding it. We relished a Manipuri snack called Kelichana, just outside the war memorial.
Post lunch, we checked into Elora hotel in Moreh. Moreh is a small border town, with very limited facilities. Hotel Elora is the only good hotel offering good facilities in town.


Khongjon War Memorial

Places covered: Kangla Fort - Andro Cultural Heritage complex - Khongjon War Memorial - Moreh

Monday, 25 February 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 7

Overview: This was our final day with Zoomcar, and we started early as usual to avoid queues at the Sardar Patel statue. We reached the parking lot at Kevadia at around 7:30am. The ticket counters open at 8:30am, so we had our breakfast and morning tea near the parking lot. There are 4 types of ticket, Rs 30 for a bus ride and a glimpse of teh statue, Rs 150 for entry into the Sardar Patel Statue premises and the museum, Rs 350 for reaching the top of the statue through elevator, and Rs 1000 ticket for priority pass and avoiding any queues. We took the Rs 150 ticket and hopped on to the bus. The bus takes the visitors to the Sardar Patel statue, Valley of Flowers and the Sardar Sarovar Dam. We reached Sardar Patel statue in 10 mins by bus. We were awestruck by the sheer size of the statue, and couldn't help but take pictures at every step till we reached the foot of the Iron Man. An average man is not even half the size of the toe of the statue. This was something we had not seen built in India for a long time. The Gommateshwara statue at Sravanabelagola can be compared to this statue, but that was built several centuries ago. The river Narmada flows just besides the statue, and was glowing in the morning sun. The museum showcases important events from the life of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. This statue is indeed a fitting tribute to the great man.
We spent close to 2 hours at this site before heading back. On our way back, we stopped at Dabhoi Fort, a very small fort with elaborate carvings on the doorway, somewhat resembling the Vijayanagar style of architecture. The fortification of it is ascribed to the 11th century Chaulukya king of Gujarat, Jayasimha Siddharaja (1093-1143 AD), who made this his frontier fortress. From here, we went to Ahmedabad where we saw Sultan Ahmed Shah's mosque and the popular Lal Darwaza market, before returning our rented car.

Day 7: Vadodara - Sardar Patel Statue - Dabhoi Fort - Ahmedabad (250 km)

Statue of Unity

Narmada River

Dabhoi Fort

Dabhoi Fort

Sultan Ahmed Shah's mosque
The final day of our Gujarat trip was at Vapi, to a relative's place. We took an overnight GSRTC bus from Ahmedabad to Vapi, and reached at around 5:30 am. After relaxing for half day, we decided to explore the Union Territory of Daman in the evening. There are 2 Portuguese era forts in Daman, and the interior of the forts have structures built in colonial style, similar to the French style buildings in Pondicherry. Though both the forts, St Jerome Fort and the Nani Daman forts are the most prominent structures in the city, both are very small forts. We visited both the forts, a church and a ruined Dominican Monastery. The Jampore beach is another attraction which is flocked by visitors every evening.

Bom Jesus Churh, Daman


Nani Daman Fort

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 6

Overview: Another long day was awaiting when we started our journey from Rajkot towards Champaner Archaeological site. We started around 5:30am and reached Champaner at around 11:30am. The roads are very good all across Gujarat, so we did not feel much stress of driving. Inside the Champaner Fort is the Shehar-ki-masjid, a private mosque built for the royal family of the Gujarat Sultanate in teh 15th-16th century. The mosque is built in Indo-Sarcenic architecture, with the outer pillars resembling the Hindu temple type of architecture. The outer structure is flanked by 2 minarets on both the sides. A few yards from Shehar-ki-Masjid is the Mandvi or the Customs house, used as a tax collection booth. This structure locally known as the bazaar. Also nearby are some stray structures and the 3-celled building, used as a prison in the 15th century.

Shehar-ki-Masjid, Champaner

Champaner Custom House

After relishing these monuments, we headed to the Pavagadh hill, which looked massive from outside. On the top of the hill is the Kalika Mata temple, the site of one of the Great Shakti Peethas. To reach the peak, one has to drive to the base of the Pavagadh hill ropeway ground location. Alternately, there are jeeps available from the bus stand to reach the Ropeway. The ropeway costs Rs 116 per person both ways, and takes you to the top station of the hill in around 8 minutes. From the Ropeway, we have to again climb around 300 steps to reach the summit of the hill. On the way there are several souvenir shops, and a few restaurants. We can also see a few ancient Jain temples all along the way. There is a big pond half way through the climb, where devotees can take a quick dip. The Kalika temple at the top looked like an ancient structure, reported to be built around 10th century and worshipped since then. The view from the top is breathtaking with cool breeze hitting our face which was pleasant in the mid afternoon sun. After having the 'darshan' we made our way to the parking lot through the same route.

Pavagadh Fort

Jain temple, Pavagadh

Pavagadh Hill

Kalika Devi temple, Pavagadh

It was already late afternoon by the time we started from Pavagadh towards Vadodara. We then went to the Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, built by  Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890. Built over 500 acres of land, this palace is a blend of Indian and European architecture and boasts of being the largest private residence built till date. The entry ticket is priced at around Rs 250 per person incuding an audio guide.
We spent just over 1 hour in this palace before making our way to our hotel in the city.

Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara
 Day 6: Rajkot - Champaner - Pavagadh hill - Vadodara (400 kms)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 5

Overview: We had booked a safari at Devaliya Interpretation Zone at Gir at 9am. So we started from Diu at around 5:30am so that we could reach their on time. The distance from Diu to Sasan Gir is around 100kms so we kept a driving time of 3 hours and 30 mins buffer. We had some confusion on whether to book a 3 hour safari into the Gir forest or 1 hour safari to the Gir Interpretation Zone, where a smaller fenced area of Gir has been created so that more animals can be spotted. The decision proved good in the end after we spotted the Asiatic Lion, Jackal, Vultures, Wild Cat, Leopard and a few migratory birds. Spotting these animals in their natural habitat was a great experience early in the morning. It took around 1.5 hours from the safari starting point to return to the same place. The ticket cost is Rs 200 per head, and Rs 200 for camera. We had to pay an additional Rs 1900 for the gypsy.



From here, we headed to Junagadh, around 1.5 hours drive from here. We first saw the 3rd century Girnar Ashokan inscriptions. The rock is well protected in an enclosure, and contains the inscriptions of Ashoka, along with Rudradaman I and Skandagupta.

Girnar Ashokan inscriptions

From here, we went to the Uparkot fort, and first saw the Jama Masjid inside the fort, followed by the Buddhist caves. The Buddhist caves are 3 tiered, and date back to the 3rd century BC built in Satavahana style of architecture. Several carvings are worn out due to the age of the structure and some seem to be damaged during excavation.

Cannon at Uparkot Fort

Uparkot Caves

Uparkot Caves

There are other important monuments inside the fort, but we decided to skip the rest and headed towards Mahabat Maqbara, one of the most prominent structures in Junagadh. The elaborate structures in the complex were home to the Nawabs of Junagadh in the 19th century. The Mahabat Maqbara has its unique style of twisted minarets outside the main mausoleum.
We had the traditional Gujarati thali in Junagadh before we left the town.

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Next we went to the Khambalida Buddhist caves, and worth a visit for the Bodhisattva figures on either side of the main cave. The following is the description of the sculptors as per Wiki -
'On the left, the figure is probably Padmapani under Ashoka-like tree with a female companion and five attendants. There is a yaksha-like dwarf on the left of it holding a basket. The figure on the right is probably Vajrapani under Ashoka-like tree with similar attendants. The broad belts of female are similar to that of figures at Uparkot Caves of Junagadh. They are comparable to late Kushana-Kshatapa period sculptures elsewhere as well as features some late Andhra mannerism.[1] The caves are believed to have come into existence in the 4th or 5th century AD.'
Inside the cave is pretty dark and is also filled with bat droppings.
After admiring the caves, we headed towards Rajkot where we checked into our hotel.

Khambalida Buddhist Caves

Day 5: Diu - Sasan Gir - Junagadh - Khambalida Caves - Rajkot (270 kms)

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 4

Overview: The road from Dwarka to Somnath is a bit bumpy due to the highway expansion project happening on the stretch, we had to face some trouble with the dust and smoke from the bigger vehicles today. Starting off early as usual, we reached Porbandar at around 8am, the sun was just emerging out of fog along with the song of the birds. We visited the Sudama temple in Porbandar dedicated to the friendship between Sudama and Lord Krishna. We also got the special 'Chivda' as prasadam as it was Lord Krishna's favourite.

Sudama Temple, Porbandar

Sudama Temple, Porbandar

From here, we went to Bhalka Tirth on the outskirts of the town of Somnath. This is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna was hit by a hunter named Jara resulting in the end of Krishna's era.

Bhalka Tirth

From Bhalka, Somnath is around 5 kms. There is a parking lot outside the temple complex, and no electronic devices are allowed inside the temple. The Somnath temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, and stands on the shore of Arabian sea. This temple has the history of being destroyed and rebuilt several times. The first record is from the 11th century when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded and plundered this temple for its Gold. The temple is a grand structure, current one being rebuilt in 1951. The bells of the temple and the silent waves of the sea blend into a serene environment. One can spend hours inside the temple complex admiring the beauty of the temple.

Somnath Gate

Somnath Jyotirling temple

We then proceeded towards Mul Dwarka, a small city of great antiquity. This is the place where Lord Krishna and Balarama stayed for sometime before moving to Dwarka. The place also has an ancient 10th century temple with Chalukya architecture on the shores of the Arabian sea. This place is not very well maintained.

Mul Dwarka

Mul Dwarka

From here, we headed to the Union Territory of Diu. There is a big arch marking the entry into Diu from Gujarat side. With Gujarat being a dry state, people flock this place in search of liquor. Diu was a former Portuguese colony and one can still see the old Portuguese style buildings and memorials. We first went to the Naida cave near the fort. The caves looked magical but a bit crowded with tourists which we didn't expect. The origins of the cave are still unknown if these were formed naturally or created by man. The evening sun making its way to the caves through the bushes created a wonderful sight. It takes around 30-45 mins to explore the caves.
From here we went to the more popular Diu Fort. We were there at just the right time to catch the golden rays of the sun and then watch the beautiful sunset. The Diu Fort was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The Fort is a huge structure located at the mouth of the Gulf of Khambhat, with other beautiful churches and memorials adorning the place. We made our way to our hotel after viewing the sunset at Diu Fort.

Naida Caves

Naida Caves

Diu Fort

Diu Fort


Diu Fort

Day 4: Dwarka - Porbandar - Bhalka Tirth - Somnath - Mul Dwarka - Diu (327 kms)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Gujarat Diaries -3

Overview: Started the day early with a visit to the Narara Marine Park near Jamnagar. We didn't have much info about this place, but still headed out hoping for some surprises. We reached the place at around 7:30am, but the ticket counter didn't open until 8:15am. We took the tickets and there were some guides also to be hired for Rs 300. We decided to explore the place on our own. We followed the path which other people were taking through some bushes and mangroves. Once the horizon expanded, we could see vast area of the Gulf of Kutch, with shallow waters and migratory birds flocking the waters. We walked for a km into the shallow waters, we could spot some corals, sea urchins and starfish. We turned back after spending an hour into the waters. This place is good to explore if we have plenty of time on hand.

Narara Marine Park

Narara Marine Park

Narara Marine Park
Narara Marine Park
From Narara we proceeded to Naganath Jyotirlinga temple, which is a part of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. The temple is a renovated structure and was not very crowded. After the darshan, we had Gujarati thali outside the temple.

Nagnath Jyotirling temple
From here, we went to Bet Dwarka, believed to be the main place of Lord Krishna's Dwarka. Several ancient remains have also been found on the seabed near Bet Dwarka. To reach here, one needs to park the vehicle at Okha, and take a ferry to reach Bet Dwarka. The ferry costs Rs 20 per head and starts only when it is completely loaded with people. We reached Bet Dwarka after 20 mins of cruise, but to our disappointment, the temple was closed and was supposed to open again at 4pm.

Bet Dwarka

Bet Dwarka

Bet Dwarka

As it was still 1:30pm, we decided to pray to Lord Krishna from the outside and head towards the Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka. We reached Dwarka at around 3:30pm and explored the newly built Sudama bridge and 5 tirthas while waiting for the temple to open. Mobile phones and Cameras are not allowed inside the main temple, so we left our stuff in the car and went inside the temple. The crowd was well managed and there was no chaos inside the temple. The Dwarkadhish temple is a majestic structure, which is almost built like a palace. In this temple, Lord Krishna is worshipped as the King of Dwarka. The current structure is built in an elaborate Chalukya style and dates back to the 15th century. This complex houses other shrines as well apart from the main Dwarkadhish. It normally takes around 1 hour to completely explore and admire the beauty of the temple. Outside the temple are the souveneir shops and restaurants. Dwarka town is believed to have submerged and rebuilt again several times in the last 5000 years.

Dwarkadhish temple and Sudama Bridge

After closing the day on a happy note, we checked into our hotel in Dwarka.

Day 3: Jamnagar - Narara Marine Park - Nagnath Jyotirling temple - Okha - Bet Dwarka - Dwarkadhish temple, Dwarka (228 km)