Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ram Lila and Durga Puja

Ram Lila is performed over a period of 9 days before Dussehra in Northern India. During these 9 days, the great Hindu epic Ramayana is performed portraying the life of Lord Rama.

The scene is where Lord Ram's brother Laxman is critically injured by Ravan's son Indrajeet

Enjoy these pictures of the Ram Lila performance in South City 1, Gurgaon. I was told that that there were only two Ram Lila performances happening in this part of Gurgaon and this was the better of the two. I would suggest everyone to attend this performance live to actually enjoy it fully. 

The wise Jaamwant suggesting Hanuman to find Sukhen vaidya

Hanuman contemplating on how to get Sanjeewani booti

The mighty king, Ravan

I guess this was a good crowd for a city like Gurgaon

After this, we left for a Durga Puja Pandal put up near Mariott Courtyard in Sushant Lok. Durga Puja is celebrated in the hindu  month of Ashwin for a period of 10 days and commemorates Lord Rama's invocation of goddess Durga  before going to war with the demon king, Ravana.

Goddess Durga flanked by Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kathikeya
I have never been to a Durga Puja Pandal before and always assumed that there must be a sincerely spiritual aura inside them. However, I must admit that I was seriously disappointed when I entered this pandal only to find that only a small part of the pandal was dedicated to the goddess. Major area was occupied by huge crowd enjoying some cheeky bollywood songs sung by a female artist.

Beauitful but fiery Durga killing Mahishasur

The blood red eyes of the goddess

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pushkar: Land of Sarovar and Sands

Those eyes!!
Pushkar is considered to be one of the holiest cities of India for the existence of Brahma temple that is believed to be built in 14th century AD. Also the lake (sarovar) in Pushkar is believed to have been created when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on earth which turned into a lake. Pushkar is also famous for the annual Camel Fair that is held here in November. Of late, Pushkar has become quite popular with foreign tourists for handicrafts, fusion music, cheap rents and the intoxicating atmosphere.

Fire seems to be his food

The town of Pushkar is situated 14 kms northwest of Ajmer. The road condition from New Delhi to Ajmer is quite good though there is still a possibility of traffic jams due to construction work going on the highway. However, the road from Ajmer to Pushkar is full of potholes. Thankfully its not a long stretch. Overall, Pushkar is at a distance of about 390 kms from Delhi and the distance can be covered in about 7 hours.

Brilliant performance
We went to Pushkar on a office trip and departed from Gurgaon at midnight in Volvo bus. As our driver demanded a nap midway, so we reached Pushkar quite late at around 10 in the morning. We stayed at Ananta Resort located about 4 kms before Pushkar. The resort is quite nicely maintained and seemed impressive at first impression. The rooms are luxurious and are mostly in the form of villas with a private porch/balcony for each room. However, it was their service that really disappointed us especially in the restaurant. Also, the resort staff failed to provide us with TV connection over our two day stay in any of the 30 rooms that our group had occupied.

In action
In the evening, we went to Pushkar town for sightseeing. Our first visit was to the famous Brahma temple. However, I was a bit disappointed with the temple as I couldn't see any reason for the temple to be famous. It was just like all our regular temples and I personally didn't feel the positive energy that comes to us at some of our famous temples. A short walk from the temple lies the sarovar or Pushkar lake. Years back, the lake was surrounded by almost 500 temples and 50 palaces. However, the mughal king, Aurangzeb demolished most of these. But many of them were rebuilt just like they originally were and today you can see them doting the banks of the lake to give it an enchanting feel. The lake area seemed quite peaceful due to the absence of huge crowd at this time of the year and spending a quite hour sitting besides it felt refreshing.

Qawwali Session
Next day, a paintball competition was organised in the resort lawns. I had never played paintball before and enjoyed it totally. However, the blood clots left from the bullets that hit me kept reminding me the game for a couple of days.

This evening, we left for sand dunes to enjoy a typical Rajasthani evening. From the point where bus dropped us, there was a camel cart to carry us to the event site. Here, we enjoyed rajasthani folk music followed by a Qawwali session. Apart from the music, the acts of fire by some local performers were amazing. After our return to the resort, we left for our return trip to Delhi early next morning.

Breathes of fire
Places of Interest:
In Pushkar:
1. Brahma Temple
2. Pushkar Lake
3. Pushkar Camel Fair (Annual event in November)

Around Pushkar:
1. Ajmer Sharif Dargah (14 kms from Pushkar)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Udaipur: The City of Lakes

A panoramic night view of City Palace
Of all states of India, Rajasthan has a special mystic charm to it. With such a rich sense of history attached to almost every city, you are bound to feel nostalgic each and every time you visit. Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of Mewar, is as rich in history as any other city with the majestic City Palace besides Lake Pichola, the lavish Jalmandir Palace standing beautifully in the middle of the lake and some huge forts closeby. Other than these monuments, the presence of beautiful lakes in this city has a brilliantly calming influence on me. 

Logo of the Suryavanshi Sisodias
Entrance to City Palace
We started for Udaipur in the afternoon around 3 pm from Gurgaon. Even though it was just after the Monsoons, the roads were good and thankfully I didn't encounter any major traffic jam on NH-8. Even though one can continue onto NH-8 all the way to Udaipur, we turned towards Bhilwara from Kishangarh, about 40 kms before Ajmer. This route is proper four lane all the way to Udaipur and the road condition is much better compared to NH-8 which is double laned for a major part. We didn't take many stops enroute except for dinner at Ghar Dhaba after Bhilwara and reached Udaipur at 1:30 in the night. We had informed the hotel staff of our late check-in beforehand and the solitary attendant awake at that hour showed us our rooms which were ready to be checked in. 

Afternoon view of Lake Pichola
Wall Paintings inside the Palace
As always, I had booked hotel after reading reviews on and booked Hotel Rampratap Palace located right next to Fatehsagar Lake. Even though this hotel is located a bit far from the city centre, it still had its own advantages with big rooms and peaceful surroundings. Located right opposite to the hotel is Rajbagh restaurant with a magnificent location right on the banks of Fatehsagar Lake. This restaurant also has a few vintage cars and vehicles parked inside. Even though most people like Ambrahi restaurant because it offers a beautiful view of the City Palace and Lake Palace, Rajbagh restaurant is better for peaceful and serene dining.

Sheesh Mahal 

Recreation Room of the Kings
Magnificent Peacock Courtyard
We woke up late next day and then went for lunch at 1559 AD restaurant close to our hotel. A nice sumptuous meal and we were ready for a guided tour of the City Palace. The City Palace of Udaipur is 2nd biggest palace of India after Mysore Palace. This palace complex was built over a period of 300 years by 76 generations of Sisodia rajputs and currently houses the museum part which is open for tourism, two luxury hotels and the residence of current ruler of the dynasty. This palace was built by Maharana Udai Singh II as he shifted his capital from Chittorgarh after many attacks by Mughal emperor Akbar. When Akbar asked the Rajputs of Mewar to sign a treaty of submission with him, Udai Singh refused and hence was continuously attacked by the Mughal ruler. Many parts of the palace have magnificent work with glass and many rooms also have mesmerizing paintings made directly on the wall. Any visitor to the palace museum should not miss out on Maharan Pratap room and the peacock courtyard, which is the most beautiful courtyard of the palace. 

Front Courtyard during sunset

Beautiful Lawns of Rajbagh Restaurant

This bike reminds me of the movie, ET
After a visit to City Palace, I would recommend everyone to take a boat ride and visit Jagmandir island palace which seems to have been built by the maharanas of Mewar  for leisure. However, in reality this palace was built by Maharana Karan Singh  to provide refuge to the mughal ruler, Shah Jehan after he revolted against his father Jehangir. A dinner at this island palace is also recommended for people on a romantic trip. After this, we walked through the bylanes of Udaipur for sometime enjoying street food. For dinner, we went to Ambrahi restaurant just because of the magnificent view of Lake Pichola, it offers. Though, the food was good but the service and attitude of staff was pathetic. We enjoyed some drinks on our hotel terrace after the dinner. A mild breeze blowing on a full moon starry night with a nice view of the lake was the perfect setting for spending a few hours with friends.

Here we take a dip into the Banas river
Somewhere near Haldighati
Next morning, we left for Kumbhalgarh Fort which is about 90 kms away from Udaipur. Even though the distance isn't much, it still takes around 3 hours to reach the fort from Udaipur because the road condition isn't good enough. However, the trouble is worth taking as this is the 2nd largest fort of India and its boundary wall at 36 kms long is only 2nd in the world after Great Wall of China. Enroute to Kumbhalgarh, one passes close to Haldighati, the battleground of the famous battle between Maharana Pratap and mughal ruler, Akbar. We crossed Banas river on our way and couldn't resist taking a dip in its fast flowing water.
Its tough capturing these flies

Thats some fort, Kumbhalgarh
After crossing the town of Kumbhalgarh and moving further ahead for 4-5 kms, the invincible fort emerges on a hilltop and looks solidly imposing with its 15 feet wide frontal walls. The fort was built by Rana Kumbha as a defensive stronghold in case of Mughal attacks and remains invincible till date. The fort is built on a hilltop at a height of 750 meters above sea level in the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and its topmost palace, Badal Palace, is at a height of over 900 meters. From the top of this palace, one gets a panoramic view of the entire region. To the frontal part of the fort, lies the kingdom of Mewar while on its back part, lies the kingdom of Marwar. The fort complex had 360 temples belonging to Hindu and Jain religions.

Inside view of Kumbhalgarh Fort. The 36 km long wall starts on the right!!

Marwar Side from Kumbhalgarh Fort. Notice the wall snaking its way through
Around evening, we left the fort for our return to Delhi. The drive back was harder considering our tired legs but we reached safely back early next morning.

Places of Interest:
In Udaipur:
1. City Palace (Near Lake Pichola)
2. Jag Mandir Palace (A boat ride from City Palace takes you here)
3. Jagdish Temple (A nice temple just outside City Palace)
4. Sajjangarh Fort (Located on a hillock 900m above sea level overlooking Pichola Lake)
5. Sahelion ki Bari (A nice garden located on the shores of Fatehsagar Lake)

Around Udaipur
1. Kumbhalgarh Fort (2nd largest fort of India located 75 kms away from Udaipur)
2. Nathdwara (Krishna Temple located 48 kms away from Udaipur on NH8 towards Delhi)
3. Ranakpur (magnificent Jain temple located 110 kms away from Udaipur on the road to Jodhpur)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Corbett: An Unintentional Adventure

For the first time, I am going to dig into my past trips for this is a story I love to narrate.

It was August 2007, when six of us decided to travel to Corbett National Park after the Bollywood movie, Kaal brought it into highlight. This was actually my first trip to a national park and I haven't stopped since!

We started from Delhi around 4 pm in a hired Toyota Qualis having no idea of the havoc that rains play in this part. The drive from Delhi was simple. We reached Rampur around midnight and asked a police car for directions to Corbett National Park. The policemen were quite amused to know that we wanted to go to Corbett at this hour. However, they told us that their are several small rivulets that are flowing across the road and we won't be allowed to travel to Corbett right now. As we were students back then with small budget to travel on, we went to a shady guesthouse for night-stay. The bedsheets were smelling due to humidity and the ceiling was dripping water all night. But, we hardly had any other option.

This is where we bathe
Early next morning, we hired a gypsy to travel to Corbett. We were told that the only Corbett gate open at this time of the year will open in sometime and we can travel to some other parts of the forest in the meantime. So we went there but there was hardly a dog to be seen on that route. We got down the gypsy near an old and huge tree and then climbed down a hillock to bathe in a rushing stream. After that, we came back to Rampur and prepared ourselves for a night inside the famed Corbett National Park. While we were on the outskirts of Rampur, our driver "Naeem" picked a Rangeeli deshi sharab( unbranded alcohol) to keep him company. On our way to Corbett's gate, we passed many rivulets that were gushing over the cemented road. However, they were small and didn't really frighten us as our gypsy moved across them with ease.

Inside Corbett
We reached our bungalow inside Corbett with some time to spare before our evening safari. While we checked out the bungalow, two of our group ventured into the forest on their own. Sometime later, the forest officer came to check on us and asked where are the remaining two out of our group of six. We simply shrugged and he hurriedly gathered his subordinates to find them. Within a few minutes, the two of them were brought back to the bungalow and were warned that venturing into the forest on foot isn't allowed. Also, we were told that CRPF snipers were given shoot on sight orders because of rampant poaching in the national park and that walking on foot, we can easily be mistaken as poachers.  We were truly shaken at that moment.

One side of the rivulet outside exit gate
At 3:30, we left for our evening safari with our driver, Naeem and we asked him to show us as much animals he can no matter what it takes. We had just left when we crossed a small river and found some tribal boys washing clothes there. We asked them, if they have noticed any animals around. We were told that a herd of elephants was heard crossing closeby. We asked a kid there to jump onto our gypsy and tell us their exact location. He came along and jumped off at a point and climbed at a mud hill from where he could see the herd. We immediately followed him and saw the purple eared elephants at some distance from us. Just as some of us were getting onto the mud hill, the forest officer and his subordinates reached there and ordered us to immediately hop onto the gypsy while asking for the whereabouts of our driver as it was his responsibility to ensure that we don't leave the vehicle at any point. He was nowhere to be seen and we were seriously threatened this time for breach of rules. Naeem appeared in sometime and seemed inebriated clearly. He was ordered to immediately take us back to the bungalow and our safari was over!! The forest officer went back while Naeem settled in his seat. In his inebriated state, he started moving further ahead instead of taking us back. As we also didn't want our safari to end so early, we again asked him to show us more animals. A few hundred meters ahead, there was a group of spotted deers grazing and we hoped to see a tiger stalking them. Some more distance into the forest, there was a 2 feet deep and 1.5 feet wide gorge on the dirt track. Understanding that the tyres of our vehicle would get stuck in it if he move forward, we got down again and filled it with some stones at a gap same as distance between the two front tyres of our gypsy. Having done that, we asked Naeem to carefully move the gypsy over the stones. However, alcohol had taken full control over him by then and he moved between the stones and our vehicle went down into it with a thud. By this time, it started raining and was also getting dark. All six of us used all our muscular power to lift the vehicle out of the hole for over 30 minutes. Finally, we couldn't see the vehicle coming out and asked Naeem to walk us back to the bungalow before it gets too dark to see. He didn't seem to hear us and opened his bottle of whiskey while we decided to walk back ourselves.  Afraid of being attacked by a tiger or being hit by the bullet of a CRPF sniper, that proved to be the longest walk of our life. Finally, as were just about to reach the bungalow, we were met by the forest officer and his subordinates who had themselves armed themselves with some weapons leaving into the forest searching for us. They had to arm themselves to protect themselves from being attacked by some aggressive animal. Upon seeing us safe, they were relieved and asked us for the whereabouts of our driver. We told them that he was drinking in the gypsy somewhere deep into the forest. We were told to stay inside the bungalow while they went to bring him back. 

You can't think of crossing that. Can you?
After an hour, we could hear commotion outside the bungalow as Naeem was brought back and was shouting abuses at the forest officials while they were threatening him with a cancellation of his permit. Next morning, we woke up early and were pleased to see Naeem back to his senses and also the vehicle was brought back.  While we ate breakfast, it again started raining heavily and we decided to move out of the national park before all the roads are closed by many rivulets flowing over them. 

However, the rivulets were already gushing across the roads and we walked on foot in them at the vehicle's tyre distance to ensure that the tyres don't get stuck in some pothole in them. We crossed over 10 rivulets this way before we reached the exit gate. But we got the biggest shock when we looked outside the gate. We could hardly see the road as whole of it was submerged under a huge 50m wide rivulet gushing across it. All six of us got hold of a long and strong branch of a tree and started crossing it on foot. Some of us got their feet stuck in it and were helped on by others thanks to the branch we held on to. After some time, although the rains subsided but we were completely drenched in the cold mountain rain and were shivering in the cold. With no dry clothes and the chilly air blowing into our face inside the open top vehicle, there was hardly any respite to be seen. All our expectations of early respite went down the drain as we saw a very huge and deep rivulet flowing across the cemented road again. Here, there seemed no hope of our vehicle being able to cross it anytime soon as even large vehicles were not crossing it and were parked alongside. So, we were again back to our old strategy. All six of us moving in line holding onto the long tree branch while the water level was over our waists. Some of us had our slippers flown away by the gushing water, but we managed to reach the other side where we hopped onto an auto-rickshaw which drove us to the guest house in Rampur. There, we changed into dry clothes and got back into our Toyota Qualis to travel back to Delhi. 
Between Rampur and Corbett

Back in Qualis, we assumed that the adventure was over. As it got darker, and the rains continued to come down heavily, our windscreen wiper stopped working. As we didn't wish to stop, we tied straps of cloth to both wiper hands which were pulled alternately by the driver and the guy sitting in front to operate the wipers manually.

 Finally, we were back in Delhi at 2 am in the night feeling happy to be alive and safe!!

P.S. Never get off your vehicle inside a tiger reserve. Its more unsafe then you think.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Agra: Land of the Taj

Taj in all its glory from Mehtab Bagh
It all started with a desire to experience the lately opened Yamuna Expressway to Agra. As we were planning to go to Agra, I suggested going on 1st September. It was one day after Full Moon and we could see Taj Mahal in moonlight as Taj remains open to be visited during two nights before and after Full Moon. Including Full Moon night, it makes 5 nights in a month. There are few exclusions: It remains closed on Fridays and during the month of Ramadan. However, the toughest part was getting the tickets booked for night viewing of Taj Mahal as one can buy tickets only one day before the day of visit and an identity proof is also required for booking tickets. Thus, unless you know someone in Agra who can buy tickets on your behalf, its impossible to book tickets.

A neatly landscaped Yamuna Expressway
We left for Agra around 12 noon hitting Yamuna Expressway by 1:15 pm. Yamuna expressway isn't yet much crowded and the 6 lane expressway is flanked by green farmlands on either side. The road is cemented and is probably the smoothest of all roads that you will find in India. The speed limit here is 100 kmph and is monitored using CCTV cameras. No police vehicle stops you while you are moving, however, you are liable to be handed a challan at the toll gates. There are restaurants and public conveniences at the Toll Plaza only. In total, there are 3 toll gates. If you are travelling to Agra, just pay a total of Rs. 320 in one go at the first toll gate and show the receipt at other two gates. Cruising smoothly at 100 kmph, we reached Agra around 3:30 pm.

Entance to Itmad-ud-Daulah' tomb
Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb
I have been to Agra a number of times and have visited most monuments already. Only well known place left was Itmad-Ud-Daulah' Tomb and we went there straightaway. It is considered to be the inspiration for Taj Mahal and is also referred to as "Mini Taj" by some. This tomb was commissioned by Nur Jahan, wife of Jehangir, for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who had been given the title of Itmad-ud-Daulah (Pillar of the State). He was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal of Taj Mahal fame.

The tomb sitting symmetrically in the center
Itmad-ud-Daulah' tomb from other side of the river
Located on the left bank of Yamuna river, the mausoleum is a commanding presence at the center of a large cruciform garden with hexagonal towers at each corner. The walls are made of white marble with semi precious stone engraved into them forming various images such as trees, wine bottle, cut fruits etc.

No, this is not a painting. These are semi precious stones engraved into white marble
Next, we went to Mehtab Bagh, which is located exactly opposite to Taj Mahal on the other side of Yamuna river. Their is also the foundation of a Black Taj Mahal here which was commissioned by Aurangzeb but was never really built. We came here in order to capture Taj Mahal with its majestic frame producing a beautiful reflection in the river. Also, it makes sense to visit this side when you wish to avoid the crowds at Taj and wish to absorb this brilliant piece of art in peace. With the mild evening sun illuminating the dome with its last rays, we managed to capture some good frames.

Small but nice rooftop pool of our hotel

Finally, we went to Hotel Taj Resorts, our stay for the night. Located next to Eastern Gate of Taj Mahal, we were pleasantly surprised to see the hotel. A 3 storey building with a rooftop pool and restaurant, this hotel was more than what we expected for the amount of money we were paying. We were unlucky as the weather was a bit hazy, but you can also see Taj Mahal from the terrace if the sky is clear. A short time in the rooms and we dived into the pool to relax our tired bodies.

Taj Mahal in the absence of any lights at 9:30 pm

Taj during morning haze

At 9 in the night, we reached Shilpagram from where the visitors are taken in electric vans to the eastern gate. At 9:30, we were escorted by armed guards towards the red sandstone platform of Taj Mahal. We can see Taj Mahal only from this platform as it illuminates in the silvery moonlight. Though marred by the hazy weather, the experience was still good. Back at hotel, we slept early as we planned to capture some pictures of Taj Mahal as sun rises over the eastern mosque.

A commanding presence it is

Fatehpuri Gate from the raised platform of Taj Mahal

We woke up at 5 am and immediately prepared ourselves for a photography tour of Taj. However, weather was still hazy and we entered Taj hoping that the haze will clear soon. Sadly, it never cleared and we had a normal visit to the majestic symbol of love. Even at 6 am, the place wasn't devoid of crowds and there were atleast 300-400 people already there before us. One very sad picture that I got there was of the many corridors inside the main dome of Taj Mahal. There were huge stains of Tobacco spits there. Back at hotel, we had breakfast slept again to wake up after two hours when we checked out of the hotel and went to visit Red Fort.
Inside the majestic Mahal

Moti Masjid

Red Fort of Agra was built by three generations of Mughal Rulers over 100 years. It was commissioned by Akbar, whose work was followed by Jehangir and later the construction was finished by his son Shah Jahan. While Akbar and Jehangir favored red sandstone for building, Shah Jahan used white marble for construction. Apart from the normal living palace of the kings, Mutthaman Burj or Jasmine Tower is a beautiful feature for its construction in white marble decorated with semi precious stones. Also, Shah Jahan was put under house arrest over the last 8 years of his life by his son, Aurangzeb here only. The view of Taj Mahal from here is not to be missed. Also, we were lucky to see the brilliant Sheesh Mahal from inside. This palace is decorated by thousands of pieces of glass and is also the shooting location of "Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya" song of Mughal-e-Azam, a timeless Bollywood movie. Finally, we left the commanding fort after two hours having visited only the 25% are of the fort. Rest 75% is under Indian Army's possession and is not open to general public.


  1. For night viewing of Taj, visit when the skies are clear and try taking a slot as late into the night as        possible.
  2. Do visit Mehtab Bagh during sunset to see Taj from a totally different angle.
Diwan-e-Khas at Red Fort with Taj Mahal in the background