badge

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Amsterdam Light Festival

When I visited Amsterdam in December of last year for official work, I was wondering about the places that I could see. Having visited the city many times and with cold winter conditions, I thought that I would be confined to indoor after office hours. But google assistant helped me here by suggesting me to see Amsterdam Light Festival. Wow!! It did its job very well.

Fountains in the canal
Amsterdam Light Festival is now an annual event that takes in December and January each year. Starting 2011, the works of local and international artists is exhibited in public. Considering Amsterdam is cross crossed by canals, it is natural to expect most of the art works in the canal or next to the canal. I think it is a good way to attract tourists to Amsterdam during winter!!

A building decorated with laser light
I just had one evening to spare for this. Along with my colleagues, we decided to experience the light festival by going on a night cruise called as “Water Colours”. For around 20 Euros, they took us on a 1 hour 15 minute boat ride with audio guide explaining each art work on the way. 

Representation of Tulip 
I only had smart phone to take photos, and it was quite a task to take decent photos in night braving cold winds. I am not sure whether I did a good job, but definitely the mobile camera exceeded my expectations. 

Rainbow representation in one of the bridges
At the end of the boat ride, I was very happy. Another good way to experience was by walking along the canals. That would give better opportunities and time to take nice pictures. 

Reflecting light
It is not just the canals which are decorated but also the streets. It is definitely a fun time!!

Road from Centrum


I think it is a good idea to visit the light festival if you are visiting Amsterdam in the month of December-January. More information about Amsterdam Light Festival can be found here

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hameripal lake, Kumbhalgarh where catfish thrive!!


This was a place unknown to us. It was our driver who mentioned about this place. We thought it will be a good place for kids to see the fishes feeding in the lake. Not many visit this lake and the place was quite nice to watch catfish. The video gives a glimpse of it. Very similar to the one we had seen in Sringeri and Shishila temple in Karnataka.  It is just 10 minutes drive from Kumbhalgarh.

video

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Chittorgarh fort - the largest fort in Rajasthan

Chittorgarh fort is the largest fort in Rajasthan, though I am not sure how that “large” is measured. It stands as the memory of the bravery of Mewar rulers and sacrifices made by women and children. The Mewar kingdom lost this fort thrice; to Allauddin Khilji, Bahadur Shah and Akbar. Each defeat was followed by Jauhar - mass self immolation of thousands of women and children to save themselves from enemy forces. A very gruesome history. It is said that after Akbar sacked the fort, Chittorgarh was "nothing but an immense crematorium”.

Kumbha Palace in Chittorgarh fort
Chittorgarh was the last leg of our recent trip to Rajasthan. We had an evening and half of the day before heading to Udaipur airport. In spite of planning for a good amount time in Chittorgarh, we had to rush at the end. There is so much to see in the fort!!

View of Vijaya Stamba with ruins of a temple

The gargantuan fort looms over the town of Chittorgarh. The perimeter wall is 13 km long. Unlike Kumbhalgarh fort, all monuments in Chittorgarh fort can be reached by vehicle. As we climbed up the fort though series of hair pin bends, we crossed some massive gates. At the top we had to pay the entry fee before proceeding further. The entry fee was just 15 rupees with no charges for photography. In fact, the tickets are checked only in couple of monuments.

Shani temple
Having reach Chittorgarh in the noon, we focussed our attention towards Shani Dev temple and Kumbha Palace at the entrance of the fort. The Palace was almost in ruins but still provided a glimpse of the past. It provided some nice opportunities for us to photograph. 

Sunset ay Chittorgarh fort
Our plan in the evening was to watch “Sound and Light” show. Normally two shows are held every evening (depends on the crowd). But on Tuesday and Friday, the first show is reserved for the people arriving on “Palace on wheel” train. It was Friday and we had to wait for sometime before we could enter. The show mainly concentrated about the history related to Rani Padmini, who committed Jauhar to escape from Allauddin Khilji; Rani Karnavati who fought against Bahadur Shah of Gujarat but committed Jauhar after defeat; Panna Day, a maid who sacrificed her own son to save Mewar dynasty; Meera Bai, the queen who chose to become saint poet; Rana Kumbha and Maharana Pratap, the most admired rulers of Mewar. Overall a good show.

Kumbha Palace during Sound and Light show

The next morning, we visited some of the important monuments:

Meerabai temple, associated with saint poet Meerabai. Though she was a queen, she disregarded social and family conventions and dedicated her life to Lord Krishna and composed songs of devotion.

Meera Temple

Jain temples - Though most of the monuments inside the fort belong to Hinduism, there are significant number of Jain temples like Sattaees Devari, Shringar Chauri and Sat Bis Devri. It clearly depicts the religious tolerance of Mewar rulers.

Jain Temples
Vijay Stambha, the tower of victory is the most prominent structure in the fort. This was built by Rana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over Sultan of Malwa. Yet another example of religious tolerance of the Meward rulers considering that the top story of the tower has Jain Goddess and also "Allah" carved in arabic in few floors. We could not see the internal details of the tower as public was not allowed inside.

Vijaya Stamba
Gaumukh reservoir formed by a spring at the edge of the fort. It is said to be one of the main source of water. It is near Siddeshwara Temple.

Gaumukh Reservoir
Padmini’s palace - This is the place where Allaudin Khilji had glimpse of Rani Padmini’s beauty. In the mad rage to posses her, he went to destroy Chittor but could not succeed as she committed jouhar after the defeat of Rajputs. This was the only place where we were asked to show the tickets!!

Padmini Palace
The gate though which the Mughal armies entered the fort.



Kirthi Stambha - Smaller than Vijay Stambha, it is dedicated to Adinath, the first theerthankara of Jainism. A Jain temple exists next to the tower.

Kirthi Stambha
For a person interested in history, Chittor fort is not the one to be missed. It is about 110 km from Udaipur and 90 km from Udaipur airport. Chittorgarh town itself is not touristy but there are many places to stay and eat. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sound and Light show in Kumbhalgarh Fort

One of the reasons for staying in Kumbhalgarh was to watch “Sound and Light show”. I have a strong liking for light shows and I try not to miss an opportunity to visit these kind of shows whenever I visit different places. With respect to historical locations, the reasons for liking “Sound and Light show” are:
  • I get to understand the history of the place better. Even though we hire guides during our visit, my concentration levels are not the same as I also try to take photographs.
  • The lights during the night gives a different perspective of the buildings.

Kumbhalgarh fort during night
Coming to our trip, we wanted to spend some time in the evening before the show and hence we were back at the fort by 4PM. Due to the crowd that day (It was Christmas vacation time), two shows were conducted. The first show was from 6:30-7:30 and the second was from 7:30-8:30. As the first show was full, we were given tickets for second show. Price: Rs 100 for Adults and Rs 50 for kids. The show was only in Hindi.

Evening view of Jain Temple in Kumbhalgarh fort
We roamed around the temple area and walked on the walls of the fort enjoying the falling sun. The first show people were already seated when we arrived near Neelakanth temple. There was still some spaces available and we thought “why not go to the first show? Anyway, there is nothing much to do once the sun sets”. To our surprise, no one bothered about the ticket timings!!

Neelakanth temple

The sound and light show mainly concentrated about the history of Mewar and the fort in particular. Special emphasis was given to Rana Kumbha, who led the Hindu resurgence in Mewar area and also constructed the fort and to Maharana Pratap, whose stories of valour we have all heard during our childhood days. 

The atmosphere had turned heavy when the story focussed on how Rana Kumbha was killed by his own son for the sake of the throne. As the Rana Kumbha cried when his son strikes him, a shrill noise came from the woman sitting next to me!! A dog had suddenly jumped next to her giving her a sudden shock. Immediately the scene turned from serious to comedy though the woman was in state of shock for some time.

Fort and the temple
The show lasted for about 50 minutes. It was a good show and worth the money and time we spent. The was a nice mix of drama and narration.


After the show, the fort was lit for some time. It was the time for photographers!! I think one should at least visit the show to see the lights. It is an experience by itself.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The massive Kumbhalgarh fort

When I started planning for South Rajasthan trip, the fort of Kumbhalgarh impressed me a lot. I did some reading about Mewar history which was rich in the valour of the kings, especially the bravery of Mahrana Pratap and Rana Kumbha. I thought I would not be able to give justice by doing a day trip to Kumbhalgarh. I added two nights stay at Kumbhalgarh which effectively gave us a complete day to explore the fort.

The walls of Kumbalgarh fort and the Palace

I will put in some facts about Kumbhalgarh fort before proceeding to write my experience.
  • The fort in its present form was built by Rana Kumbha in 15th century, but it existed during Maurya age with the name of Macchindrapur but not much evidence is available.
  • Maharana Pratap was born in this fort.
  • The wall of the fort is 38 km long and considered as second longest wall after Great Wall of China.
  • It is the second largest fort in Rajasthan after Chittorgarh fort.
  • It is also declared as UNESCO sight in 2013.
  • The fort remained impregnable falling only once due to shortage of water. And it was to Akbar’s forces.

The fort walls
These facts were reverberating in my mind as I entered into the fort. The first surprise was when I saw the entrance fees. It was just 15 rupees per head and photography was free!! It was a refreshing change after having paid a bomb to view the Udaipur city palace and its surroundings. 

Fort walls
As we entered into the fort through Hanuman Pol, we had two options. The path to the left climbed up to the Palace and left to the temples. Having decided to visit the Palace first, we took the path to the left. 

Kumbhalgarh Palace
It is nice to see the fort in a good condition. It may be because it was not invaded much by enemy forces. We climbed up crossing several gates. We took a slight detour to see the birth place of Maharana Pratap. 

One of the gates in Kumbhalgarh fort
At the top of the fort was Kumbla Palace. The entire fort and its surroundings was seen from the Palace. In the photo below, you can see the solid walls of the fort running on the hills and forests. It is in a good condition and one can walk on the fort for 38km and reach the same spot. Apparently, I did not see tourism of Rajasthan promoting it as trekking spot. There are lot of ruins that can be seen in the fort.

Fort walls on the hills
Below is the view of the road that leads to the fort. The hilly terrain with the solid construction of the fort would have made it impregnable. You can also see that authorities maintaining the fort very well. 

Road leading to the fort
Having spent a good amount of time at the Palace, I decided to come down. Also, the number of people had increased dramatically and I did not like the sound they were making. It was good that we had decided to visit in the morning. 

The Palace
Once I reached back to main gate, I went towards the temple complex. The important temples were Neelkanth and Parsvanath temple. The huge Shiva idol inside the temple should not be missed. Neelkanth temple is also the place where the “Light and Sound” show is held every evening. More about it in the next post.

Neelakanth Temple
Most visitors have a look at the Palace and return back. Unlike day trippers, we were staying in Kumbhalgarh and had time to spare. So, I decided to venture further into the fort. As I proceeded further, I saw two Jain temples opposite to each other. 

View of Palace from the Jain temple
From here, I decided to visit “Gole Rao group of temples” situated further down. On the way, I also saw the ruins of a temple.

The ruins on the way
Finally, I reached the “Gole Rao group of temples”. While the Palace was flooded with people, I was the only one present in this temple!! Apart from couple of villagers, I had not seen any soul on the entire route. I immensely enjoyed the temporary solitude that was awarded to me!!

Gole Rao group of temples
From Gole Rao, I had seen a temple that looked nice. Though it was hot and I was dehydrated and hungry, I decided to visit before joining the family for lunch. The temple was Bawan Devri and it was another peaceful temple with only few langurs wandering around.

Bawan Devri 
The entrance to the fort is on a narrow road with a limited parking place. We had not realised it when we came to the fort in the morning. But in late afternoon when we decided to go back to our hotel for lunch, the road leading to the fort was crowded resulting in traffic jams. Even a camel was struck in the traffic jam.

Vehicles piled up to Kumbalgarh fort

Camel in traffic jam
I have visited several forts and I would rank Kumbhalgarh as one of the best forts in India. A must visit in Rajasthan. It is about 80 km from Udaipur. Though it is possible to do a day trip from Udaipur, I strongly suggest to stay for a day to explore the fort and also see “Sound and Light show”. But the stay is very expensive in Kumbhalgarh as there are only high end resorts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Architecture wonder at Ranakpur

The journey to Ranakpur itself was memorable due to the winding roads in Aravali hills. As we reached Ranakpur, we realised that contrary to our expectations it was not a town or village. There were only Jain Temples and nothing else!! Very interesting!!

Ranakpur temple surrounded by hills

Ranakpur is about 90 km from Udaipur and is famous because of its Jain temples. Though it is newer than Dilwara temples, it does complete with respect to architectural beauty. The temple lies on the way between Udaipur and Jodhpur.

Front view of Ranakpur Jain Temple
The temple area was maintained well. Parking areas were clearly marked. While the entry was free for Indians, foreigners need to pay. Unlike Dilwara temples, photography was allowed here by paying Rs 100 as camera charge. 

Inside the temple

From outside, the main temple looks grand and huge. This three story temple is 102 feet tall and occupies an area of 48,000 square feet. Constructed in 15th century by Dharnashah Porwal during the reign of Maharana Kumba, it had taken 50 years to complete.

Hallway in the temple
As we entered into the temple, the grandeur strikes us. The ceiling and the pillars are carved exquisitely. It is said that no two pillars are carved similarly and I just believe it. It is also hard to count the number of pillars. There are so many of them. 

Ceiling of the temple

The deity of Parsvanath requires special mention as it has 1008 heads of snake and numerous tails, the ends that cannot be found.

Deity of Parsvanath 
The main temple is dedicated to Adinatha, the first Thirthankara.  In addition to the main temple, there are two small temples namely Parsvanath and Neminath temple. There is also a sun temple nearby.

Note

Apart from the temple complex, there is nothing much in Ranakpur. I could only see a bhojanalaya and lodging run by temple authority. On the way from Udaipur, there are many restaurants serving food. For non Jains, temple is only open from 12 to 5 PM.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Places to visit in Mount Abu

Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan. Situated on the plateau of Aravali hills, it has all the “pre requisites” of a hill station in terms of tourist places. Based on my experience during the recent trip to Rajasthan, here are some places recommended for visit. Note that like most of our hill stations, Mount Abu is also heavily commercialised.

Nakki lake seen from Toad rock
Nakki lake
It is hard to imagine a hill station without a lake. Nakki lake at the centre of the town is a good place to spend some time. The best way to enjoy the lake is to go on the paddle boat that is available for 30 minutes. Zorbing can be a fun activity for kids. Though there is a small park next to the lake, it is not maintained well. The area around the lake is filled with shopping places and eateries. A good time to visit this lake is in the evening.

Boating at Nakki lake
Suicide, Honeymoon and Sunset points
These are the various points for watching sunset. There is no need to visit all of them as they provide similar views. In our case, we visited suicide and honeymoon point (they are next to each other). 

After Sunset!!
In addition to sunset, the langur monkeys were a point of attraction for us!!



Guru Shikara
At 5,650 feet, this is the highest point in Mount Abu and also in Rajasthan!! A temple dedicated to Dattatreya is in the cave at the summit. It requires a small climb from parking lot to reach the summit. There is also an Air Force station and Physical Research Laboratory that conducts astronomy experiments. Unfortunately, entry is not permitted to that facility.

Physical research laboratory at Guru Shikara
Go to Guru Shikara for beautiful views. It is about 18 km from Mount Abu through winding roads.

Morning at Guru Shikara
Achalgad fort
A short detour from Mount Abu to Guru Shikara leads to the fort. The fort is in dilapidated condition and apart from the gate, everything else is in ruins. There are some nice Jain Temples inside. The views from the top is good. It is quite an hike from the parking lot to the top (20 to 30 minutes) but the scenery on the top is nice. A short detour on the way also leads to a sunrise point!! Unlike other places in Mount Abu, this does not attract lot of tourists due to the walk required.

At Achalgad fort
Dilwara temples
From outside, the temple complex consisting of five Jain temples look very ordinary and simple. But once you enter inside, the grandeur of these marble temples would definitely stun you. The carvings on the ceilings, pillar and doorways is so intricate that it represents the epitome of stone art. Some experts also consider it to be architecturally superior than Taj Mahal. Built inside the forest to ward off the invaders, it has withstood the attack from the plunderers who roamed in North India during those days. 

Entry to non Jains is from 12 PM to 5PM. Photography is not permitted inside temple. Any form of electronic and leather items need to be deposited before entering the temple. 

Toad rock
This is a protruding rock on a hill next to Nakki lake. You need to climb up the hill for about 10-15 minutes to reach this place. Plan to visit this place in late afternoon to get good view of the lake.

Toad Rock
Other places
Due to lack of interest, we dropped Trevors park (which hosts crocodiles), Peace garden from Bhrahmakumaris, Brahmakumari Ashram and Amusement park near the lake. Also, Santosh, an avid birder, mentioned that Mount Abu is home to Green Munia, which is classified as vulnerable. Since I was accompanied with family, I could not spend time on birding. There are also some trekking opportunities that could be tried.

Trivial

Mount Abu is about 160km from Udaipur and 220 km from Ahmedabad. The ghat road is only for last 22km. Nearest railway station is Abu road at 30 km. Monsoon and winter seems to be a good time to visit. Summer may not be ideal due to its relatively “low altitude” and hot weather conditions that prevail in most of North and Western India.