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A Travel Blog from India: February 2014

Friday, 28 February 2014

Skywatch Friday - Tallest Shiva statues!

Yesterday was Maha Shivaratri. A major festival across India when devotees worship Lord Shiva who is one of Trinity of Gods in Hindu pantheon.

We have been fortunate to see two of the tallest Shiva statues in the world. Both Soaring into the sky. One on the sea front with amazing backdrop of Arabian sea in Murudeshwar in Karnataka, South India. This happens to be the second tallest Shiva statue in the world. 

The other one we saw when we went to Sikkim recently in North East India. We visited Siddeshwar dham in Namchi. Here we saw colossal statue Lord Shiva with a backdrop of Himalayas. (It was foggy when we were there) Possibly the third tallest statue in the world.

You may also be interested to read the following posts in this blog

Bhojpur - Temple with tallest Shiva Ling in the world!

Maheshwar - Shiva's quiet abode on Narmada!

Karavali Vistas - Gokarna, Murudeshwar and Karwar

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Road trip Vignettes - Men in Black!

Road trips are always like this. 

You suddenly notice something interesting and get down. It can be anything. A lovely landscape or a small water fall or life in rural india. We call these as "memorable moments" on the road.

We were driving through Jharkhand on our way home from Sikkim. The plan was to drive through Ranchi and reach Orissa for the night. The day had begun well when we left Bodh Gaya and the weather was perfect. We left foggy roads of Bihar and entered Jharkhand at Hazaribagh. To our luck, the road was not foggy as feared. After a tasty breakfast of Alu Parathas washed by excellent chai at the iconic Nanak Dhaba in Ramgarh, we headed towards Ranchi.  Fantastic landscape with sal forests flanking the road, small water bodies reflecting the rays of the morning sun welcomed us.. Though, winter, the sun was getting scorcher.

Suddenly, we saw men pushing their bicycles with sacks of coal. Men in black. Men covered in coal dust, impoverished. Men bent over the handles of their bikes. Men whose livelihoods depended on the coal they carry and sell. As we continued the journey, we saw many of them doing this rigour along the road. It was tough as the road was full of gradient. They had to really struggle to push their bicycle over the uphill.

We got curious. This was winter. Weather was still bearable. What happens in Summer when the mercury soars in this region? How do these guys manage? We stopped the car and Poorna got down to talk to them and find out where they were taking these loads. To our shock, the man replied that they were carrying the coal all the way to Ranchi which was still 40 KMs away!! Walking, pushing the bicycle all the way for 40 KMs??

We felt bad for them.

P.S. When we were Googling for more details on these men, we happened to see this interesting articles. Click here to read.....

The Untold Coal Story of Coal pullers of Jharkhand

Coal Cycle Wallahs - A documentary by Sophie Gerrard

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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Monday Images - Stunningly beautiful Siberia!

We all hate Mondays, don't we?

In this series, we thought of cheering you up with a nice picture every Monday. A picture we liked over the previous week. A camera is traveller's constant companion and we all love to take pictures when we travel. There are some amazing pictures out there and we will share with you a picture we love. Every Monday.

These pictures are taken by others in places either we have been to or we haven't.

Let now fly straight to Siberia, Russia. A remote village in Siberia is captured beautifully by Oleg Moseyanko.

The old adage say "A picture is worth thousand words". Doesnt this picture confirm this?

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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Back of the Blog - English Pubs, London at its best!

Back of the blog. Here we will share tit-bits and snippets on India/World Travel which may be useful for a traveller. It may be some new information about the place, a new cuisine one can explore, a bit of history, a funny anecdote or a good travel book. Anything connected to Travel. 

Continuing from London Eye and being weekend, this post has to be on English Pubs......

If at all Bangalore - my home town - has some connection with London - the city i like most - it must the pubs and bars. Both cities celebrate the pub culture and if you are in either of them, you have to visit any of the pubs to revel in the atmosphere there. Thankfully, in recent times, the pub culture in Bangalore is in upswing - with good ales - and in London the Government is taking positive action to save iconic pubs in the city.

Pubs in London is a world in itself. English who generally keep a stiff upper lip - you should experience that when you travel in the London tube or in suburban trains where there is pin drop silence - let their hair down after a pint in the pub. Anything goes here. The favourite topics of course are football, politics and gossip. A typical English office goer will leave his office around five in the evening, buy a copy of Evening Standard in the neighbouring kiosk and head to his favourite pub for a pint before catching a train home. His buddies will join him there or he will join one of the gangs who will be there in the pub. If the day is Friday, the crowd is boisterous and lively than ever.

Why am i talking about pubs in London now? Two days back i read about good news of British government taking positive steps to make sure that good old pubs dont die a premature death at the hands of real estate sharks. This article in New York Times also kindled my memories of spending lovely evenings in the pubs of London during my stay there for a fortnight a decade ago.

Our office was on Fleet street. Bang opposite our office is the revered Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub which traces its history to 16th century. This was our hang out most of the evenings before our British friends caught their train back home. If we got bored of this place, then we headed to another icon - The Tipperary known for its gloomy charm.

Let me leave you with some pictures of the iconic pubs in London. Also some nice articles for you to read with a pint in hand over the weekend.

Better still head to a pub! You will love it.

The Oldest Irish pub in London
The table where Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens used to enjoy a beer
Lovely corner in the pub
The Iconic Tipperary pub....
A lovely collage of English pubs. Photo Courtesy Ian Halesey
Saving an endangered species - English pubs

A slide show on English pubs

Going back in time in Old England - Sip by Sip

Pub crawl in London!

For all information on drinking Beer in London, click here

London - City of Beer

What has been your experience of going to a pub in London? Do share it.

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Friday, 21 February 2014

Skywatch Friday - Sky from London Eye!

"London Eye" is one of the must see places in London. It was a decade ago when i (Poorna) went to London on a business trip and raved about the fabulous sights from there. Of course, i love this city. More on it in a dedicated post soon. 

It must be late afternoon on a fairly clear day from London standards when i went to the London eye. Staying on Fleet street near St Paul's meant it was a lovely walk along the Thames to reach the giant wheel. Last time i had ever sat in a giant wheel was as a kid. This was to be experience to cherish for ever. The sights of the city from the sky was just beautiful.  

View of a capsule
Big Ben with Parliament house next to it
Lovely view of Hungerford and Waterloo bridges on Thames
What was your experience like? Which was the city sight you cherish forever?

For more details check out the official link of London Eye here

London Eye

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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple - Big, Beautiful and Divine!

Thanjavur or Tanjore as it used to be known earlier reflects the best of Tamil Nadu. A temple town that is rich in culture and tradition of South India. We have been to Thanjavur many times and every time we have come back with good memories.

We were there again in October this year. This was more of a night stay on our trip to Navagriha temples in the region. This was a week before Dasara. Weather was good. A good spell of rain in the region had ensured we saw green and only green everywhere. Our main aim of staying in Thanjavur was to visit Brihadeeswara temple at dawn and click the pictures of magnificent temple. A new boutique hotel in a heritage building was our place of stay.

We were there in time when temple opened at 6.30 in the morning. The place of our stay being close to temple helped. There weren't many people at this time of the day. The weather was cool and mornings are the best time to visit temples in Tamil Nadu.

As we entered, the sheer magnificence of the temple left us wondering how it could have been possible one thousand years ago. The grandeur of the sculptures start at the entrance itself. We marvel at the life size sculptures of dwarapalakas or divine guardians. The Brihadeeshwara temple or the Big temple as it is known depicts the zenith of Chola architecture and sculptural tradition.

The temple is bound by huge wall with a moat which is dry. The tower at the entrance is small but elegantly carved. As we were entering the temple, a bass relief next to the dwarapalakas strike our eyes. This is a beautifully carved scene of Girija Kalyana or Lord Shiva's marriage to Parvati.

This temple along with temples at Darasuram and Gangai Konda Cholapuram form the cluster of Chola temples which is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Let us now show you what we saw and captured on that morning. A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, it is ten thousand words........

Big temple glowing in morning light 
Towering to the sky! 
Columnar periphery of the temple
The silhouettes of the temple against morning sun is just stunning. We loved this picture and two below.

Getting There

By Road - Thanjavur is well connected to different parts of Tamil Nadu by bus. If you plan to drive from Bangalore or Chennai, the roads are excellent.

By Train - Thanjavur is well connected to other parts of the country by Train.

By Air - The nearest airport is at Trichy which is at a distance of 40 KMs

Stay Options

Being a small town the city do not have too many good options though hotels suiting different budgets are available. If you looking for something different, then you should check into Tanjore Hi, the new boutique hotel in a restored heritage mansion.

Other Information

a) Visit the temple when it opens in the morning. It is tranquil and divine. No crowds. No noise. Since the temple faces east, it glows in morning light. It is also the coolest time of the day to visit the temple. The temple has second tallest Shiva linga next only to the one in Bhojpur details of which can be seen here in this blog.

Bhojpur - Temple with tallest Shiva Linga in the world!

b) Apart from the big temple the other places worth a visit are the Palace - for lovely murals - and Saraswathi Mahal library which stores rare manuscripts written in Sanskrit.

c) Thanjavur can be made as a base to explore Cauvery delta region. Day trips can be done to Tichy/Srirangam (temple town), Tranquebar (Danish fort and lovely beach), Velankanni/Nagore (Basilica and Dargah), Darasuram/Swamimalai/Thiruvaiyaru (Chola temples and birth place of Saint Thyagaraja on the banks of River Cauvery)

d) Navagriha temple circuit can also be done making Thanajvur as base ( Look out for a post on this soon on this blog)

e) Head to Poom Puhar show room to take a look at some stunning Chola bronzes. You may buy one if you have a fat wallet!

f) Watch the local artisans make lovely Tanjore paintings in small households on the southern side of big temple. You may buy one as well.

g) Lastly, don't forget to drink "Kumbakonam Degree Coffee" in any of the many outlets in the city.

h) For more details on Architectural heritage of the temple, please look at this link in this blog

Back of the Blog - Indian Architecture by Takeo Kamiya

i) For a driving holiday in Tamil Nadu covering Thanjavur, please take a look at this post in this blog

Driving Holidays from Bangalore 3 - A Tryst with Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu

Dont miss to click the link below to see the brilliant pictures of the temple by Arun Christopher and lovely murals of Tanjore palace by Saurabh Chatterjee. The panoramic view of temple by Arun is just brilliant.

Arun Christopher captures Big Temple!

Saurabh Captures the beautiful murals in Tanjore Palace!

You may also be interested to take a look at this link in this blog on magnificent Halebid in Karnataka, shortlisted for UNESCO Heritage sites.

Halebid - Where stones speak to you!

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Saturday, 15 February 2014

Back of the blog - Great Travel Books and Travel Movies

Back of the blog. Here we will share tit-bits and snippets on India/World Travel which may be useful for a traveller. It may be some new information about the place, a new cuisine one can explore, a bit of history, a funny anecdote or a good travel book. Anything connected to Travel. 

We love reading travelogues and travel books. Whether it is Chatwin or Stevenson or Theroux or Bryson, we love reading them all.

We happened get this list from Matt (Matthew Kepnes) of Nomadic Matt website which we follow. The list looks interesting and it is possible you might read or seen many of them. If not pick up a book or a movie and enjoy this weekend!

Great Travel Books

Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche (My favorite book of 2013)
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (I've read this book at least five times)
The Turk Who Loved Apples by Matt Gross
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm
Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story by Tony Wheeler
The Beach by Alex Garland
Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler
Smile When You're Lying by Chuck Thompson
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World. by The Lost Girls
The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet by Heather Poole
The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Great Travel Movies

A Map for Saturday
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Art of Travel
The Beach

City of God
The Darjeeling Limited
A Good Year
The Hangover
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
Into the Wild
Last Stop for PaulLawrence of Arabia
Midnight in Paris
The Motorcycle Diaries
Nowhere in Africa
Seven Years In Tibet
Thelma & Louise
Under the Tuscan Sun
Up in the Air
The Way
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

If you have some other favourites, do let us know. We will be glad to read them.

Check out interesting titbits on travel in the "Back of the blog" section here

Back of the blog - Tit-bits from Travel world!

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Friday, 14 February 2014

Skywatch Friday - Sunrise over Grand Trunk Road!

When we left Bodh Gaya it was 5.30 in the morning. It was still dark. We were returning from Gangtok. The plan was to reach Bhubaneswar by evening.

The dawn was greeted by a foggy road. Grand Trunk Road was empty. We could see truck drivers huddling around bonfires and warming themselves.........a cup of tea in hand and mufflers round their necks.

The orangish sun in the eastern horizon was trying to peep through the fog. 

We stopped in the middle of the road to click this one.

A few kilometres of drive and Poorna stopped the car. It was like a picture postcard. A bridge, placid waters and reflection of morning sun.

Perfect, as we captured it in the camera.

If you love road trips like us, you may look at the following posts in this blog

Driving Holidays from Bangalore

Nathula Pass - A Spectacular drive to China Border!

Driving in Western Ghats - An itinerary

A Monsoon drive in Western Ghats

Mesmerised in Malnad in Monsoon.....

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Road Trip Vignettes - Scenes in Bihar

The fun of road trips is the opportunity you get for experiencing interesting aspects of rural India. The state of Bihar in North India is an agrarian country. You will experience that more when you are driving in the Gangetic plains of Bihar. 

During our long road trip from Bangalore to Gangtok, we happened to pass through the Heart of Bihar. The weekly village markets which is the backbone of Indian rural economy was in full swing in many villages we passed through. This is the season of vegetables in North India when farmers grow cauliflower, carrot, radish etc on the damp fields after harvesting paddy. Then we saw the ubiquitous transport system where traveling on roof is a rule than an exception.

Here are some vignettes ....

The highway turns into village market in the morning....

The colours of rural india transport!

Country roads take me home....

Women on their way back home

.Cauliflowers all the way.....

It was an interesting experience for us driving in Bihar. Rustic, colourful and some time chaotic.

For more stories from our road trips in India on this blog, please click here

Road Trip Vignettes

If you are planning a Driving Holiday from Bangalore, please click here

Driving Holidays from Bangalore

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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Nathula Pass - A Spectacular drive to China border in Sikkim!

Driving in the hills is always fun. Many a time it is the drive which is more enjoyable than the final destination. One of our agenda when we went to Sikkim during Christmas holidays was to drive to Nathula pass, the highest pass on Indo-China Border.

While driving in the Himalayas, it is always good to start early and we followed that dictum. We left Gangtok around 6.30 AM with Rifleman Gurung from Gurkha regiment accompanying us. Thanks to Poorna's friends in Army, our breakfast was arranged at Changu lake in the Army transit mess.

Gurung started guiding us as we came out of Gangtok town and we stopped at the check post for checking the permit. In Sikkim, you are not allowed to drive your own cars beyond Gangtok. You need a permit to drive up the hills and you won't get it. Thus, you have to hire a local taxi to travel around. We could get permit as Poorna had served in Army.

The road to Nathula is not a smooth drive. The road is at edge of the mountain. The valleys are deep and being a landslide prone area, many parts of the road especially till Changu lake is nothing but rock and gravel which only the SUVs can maneuver. The Border Roads Organisation is doing an amazing job in doing up the road and we could see lovely stretches of the road done by them in such adverse conditions. The road is curvy and narrow at times. Poorna was cautiously driving allowing the local drivers overtake with gusto.

As we continue our drive, hop on with us as we take you through a pictorial journey to Nathu La.....

Start of the Journey.....
Portion of the road in the landslide prone area before Changu lake is fit only for SUVs. 

Sentinels of our borders.........Hats off to these guys
Look at the Army unit's location......
First glimpse of snow...
We had our breakfast here. Some of the best Alu parathas we have ever tasted.
Changu Lake. It was half frozen. The setting was idyllic.
Brinda and her Yak....

The drive from here to Nathula was spectacular. Can you see the road anywhere here??

.......or Santa Claus and his reindeer.......

The vistas were so beautiful it looked as if it was made for the Christmas day

A Frozen Waterfall

Isn't this lovely......
The Man, The Machine, The Snow

A Frozen lake on the way

Baba Harbhajan Mandir - Dedicated in the memory of Sepoy Harbhajan Singh who went missing while on a patrol. 

A strong belief among Army folks that Baba guides them during their difficult period while serving in these harsh conditions. Every visitor to Nathula has to take the blessing of Baba before going up.
For More details click on this link Baba Harbhajan Singh
The white and brown landscape of Nathu La

A Young Chinese soldier was cynosure of all eyes. He was the lone guard on duty and was obliging. The problem was the language. When Brinda spoke to him, all he could answer was "Ya". So we kept his name as "Ya"!
A Chinese Guard Post

Ashoka Pillar - Indian National emblem
Army War Memorial - In the memory of those who laid down their lives so that we live in safety
A view of Chumbi valley of Tibet - On Chinese side

Jomolhari peak of Bhutan with Chumbi valley in foreground

As we left Changu lake and drove towards Gangtok, fog enveloped the whole valley.......Workers of Border Roads Organisation walking back to their barracks

The weather throughout was excellent. At Nathula the cold winds was numbing. We really salute these soldiers who works in such adverse conditions and keep their spirits high. On our way back we again stopped over for a hot cup of tea at Army detachment in Changu. 

We bid goodbye to our friends in uniform and left Changu. Midway, the whole are got enveloped with a thick fog and it was a slow drive to Gangtok.

Travel Tips

a) The Drive is slow and 55 KMs will take 4 hours because of road condition. Hire a good taxi. Ensure that the agent gets all permits ready on the previous day itself. You need to provide a copy of passport size photo and address proof for getting the permit. The permit is issued at the police headquarters and all agents are aware of it.

b) It is a one complete day trip. Leave early. Return early. Sun rises early in North East. Make sure the driver drives safely. There is a tendency among the younger drivers to drive fast. It is definitely not needed. 

c) Stop and enjoy the the vistas on the way. 

d) There are only two villages on the way to Nathu La where you can get eatables and water.

e) Baba Harbhajan Singh mandir will close after 2 PM. Make sure you are there well in time.

f) Nathu La at 15,000 feet can impact some with symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Do not exert yourself at this place. No running or walking briskly.  If you find yourself out of breath, come down the hill and you will be alright.

g) Please wear woollen as it is very cold at top.

h) Carry a good Binocular along.

If you loved reading this post, you may be interested to look at the following drives in Himalayas.

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