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Author Archives: Nidhi Dhingra

Exploring the Buddhist sites in Odisha

As our Indigo airline nosed down to land in Bhubaneswar, I was wide-eyed looking at the vast stretches of green below us. And it is these lush fields that fill my mind anytime I think of Odisha.

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Landing in Bhubaneswar

What prompted the visit was our forthcoming travel guide on Buddhist Sites in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. That Odisha had Buddhist sites to write about we weren’t aware of, until the project came along. That, these excavations would be remarkable we had never imagined. However, it stood out as one of the most charming exploration trips we had been on.

Picture this: a verdant landscape of greens – vast, lush fields with low hills in the far distance – within easy accessibility of the capital city, Bhubaneswar… Smooth, narrow roads winding through it… small, occasional hutments on the way… a lone villager herding his cattle… and in the middle of it all, hillocks with remarkable Buddhist treasures dating back to 2,000 years ago…

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Smooth tree-lined roads leading to the three Buddhist sites

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Lush paddy fields stretching far into the horizon

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Exploring the Buddhist site of Langudi

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The massive Chaityagriha revealed at Lalitgiri

The three most spectacular Buddhist sites of this region are Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, all within an hour’s drive from each other. The extent and marvel of the finds on these hillocks – stupas, monasteries, Buddhist sculptures – has led to their comparison with the famed university of Nalanda, in Bihar.

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Votive stupas in Ratnagiri

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Sculpture in a monastery in Udayagiri

Climb up to re-live an era long gone. Take in the breathtaking view from the top. Away from the bustle, these hillocks wash over you a sense of calm and peace. No wonder these sites were chosen for the quiet monastic life.

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Loose sculptures recovered from Ratnagiri

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Bell-shaped stupa in Udayagiri

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View from the stupa at Lalitgiri

A pair of goats canoodling in the stupa complex, Ratnagiri

A pair of goats canoodling in the stupa complex, Ratnagiri

I was never one given to being excited by excavations. Not so far, at least. But the charm of these sites cannot leave one untouched. Visit them and experience it for yourself 🙂

Pick up a copy of our travel guide Buddhist Sites in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to plan your travel.

Buddhist Cov_new.pdf

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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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Day out in Gwalior!

While places in Rajasthan, Himachal and Uttarakhand are seen as most viable for planning short excursions from Delhi, few realise that Madhya Pradesh too is just round-the-corner! One of the many options here is Gwalior — a mere 3.5 hrs from Delhi by the Bhopal Shatabdi. Here is an account of our day trip to Gwalior!

The train ride to Gwalior itself is a pleasure ..particularly for it cuts through the enchanting Chambal ravines. Formed due to erosion by rainfall and the fast flowing Chambal river, the sight of the rugged and barren hillocks stretching for miles is truly awesome! Moreover, its notoriety for sheltering inter-state dacoit gangs in the past, adds a huge sense of mystery to it..drawing images of dacoits running on horseback even in broad daylight! A sight i always forward to when travelling through this part of the country!

As the train pulled into Gwalior station well before 10 in the morning, we walked with hurried steps to make the most of the day we’d got to explore a new city.

Without doubt it had to begin with a visit to the much-acclaimed Gwalior Fort.

The scene of many a battles and conquests, the Fort was held to be the most impregnable fortress in all of north and central India.

A Hanna Motana pinup at the back of an auto caught my eye.

Driving up to the Urvahi Gate of the Fort. Presently the main entrance to the Fort by motorable road. For those who prefer trekking up, access is from the Hathi Gate.

While there are varying accounts of the construction of the Fort, it was under the Tomar dynasty, founded by Bir Singh Deo, that it was rebuilt to achieve its present scale and grandeur. The magnificent Man Singh Palace was built by Man Singh Tomar, the most celebrated scion of this dynasty.

Gigantic images of Jain tirthankaras flank the road leading up from the Urwahi Gate. These were sculpted in the 15th century during the reign of the Tomar kings who were great patrons of Jainism.

First glimpse of the Man Mandir Palace on entering the Fort complex.

Embellished with blue mosaic tiles, the Man Mandir Palace is the most identifiable image of the fortress.

Row of yellow ducks on the walls of Man Mandir Palace

The guide entertained us with colourful stories of the royal life its kings lived, which made the otherwise empty pavillions and corridors come alive. One particularly charming story was of how the dasis would wear ghungrus (anklets with bells) in the morning and lightly dance around the king’s chamber to politely indicate that it was time for him to wake up! Gosh, what pampering!

Goodearth guides on sale in the small cafe near the entrance to the Palace complex <glee!>

The built structures in the Fort stand far apart from each other, accessed by motorable roads. Thus having a car to yourself drastically reduces the walking required. Our next stop in the Fort was the Saas Bahu Mandir.

Literally meaning the temple of the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law, the pair of temples was built by king Mahipal around 1093, supposedly for his mother and wife. Built in nagara style, both the temples are richly decorated with carvings of deities, human and animal figures, and geometric patterns.

Saas Temple, with the Bahu Temple in the background. The larger of the two, the Saas Temple is dedicated to Vishnu, while the Bahu Temple is dedicated to Shiva.

Intricately carved panel above the sanctum doorway in the Saas Temple.

Peering in to see what the sanctum holds. Presently, nothing but bats!

Carvings on the ceiling

Base of the pillars. Most dieties, figurines carved in the temple stand defaced.

Fort walls enclosing the temple complex

Bahu Temple sitting pretty on a high platform.

Quiet musings sitting on the Fort walls

The fort complex also encloses the Data Bandi Chhod gurdwara, believed to have been built where Guru Hargobind Singh was imprisoned by Jahangir for over two years. The name ‘Bandi Chhod’ meaning ‘free the prisoners’ comes from the story of how with his own release, the Guru aided the release of his 52 royal companions as well.

Walking across the central courtyard in the gurdwara

Like most gurdwaras, Data Bandi Chhod is a modern marble white structure.

While our original plan included lunching in town after the Fort visit, the early morning start and the sun growing sharper made us stop for langar in the gurdwara, which, nevermind the soupy dal, was more than welcome.

Langar being prepared in the courtyard.

Teli ka Mandir, seen from across the sarovar in the gurdwara

Our last stop in the Fort, the Teli ka Mandir is the largest temple in the complex. A mix of north and south Indian temple architecture styles, its gopuram like shikhara is mounted on a nagara base.

Teli ka Mandir, seen through its arched entrance.

Striking a pose against the towering walls of the temple

We discovered rock art on its stone walls!

Peek-a-boo! Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhod seen from Teli ka Mandir

After good 2.5 hrs spent in the Fort, and the sun beginning to beat down, it was time for a refreshing lunch break in town. We headed straight to Usha Kiran Palace, a heritage hotel managed by Taj. The choice befitted our day’s iterinary of heritage visits.

Before lunch began, it was time to cut the cake!

Yes, part of the reason for the day out had been the birth-day!

Rejuvenated from good continental food, we head out for our post-lunch plan – of visiting Jai Vilas Palace, the opulent residence of the Scindias, the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior. In fact, it is part of the same complex as the heritage hotel, in Lashkar.

Jai Vilas Palace. Though it continues to serve as the Scindia residence, a part of it has been converted into the privately-owned Jiyaji Rao Scindia Museum.

Starting with a gallery displaying the Scindias family tree and old photographs, to their belongings (including Madho Rao Scindia’s royal golf set!), the museum has several of their rooms on display — the dining room, queen’s dressing, scent room (?) with vessels that carried fragrant oils and perfumes.. The locals seemed to take in every little detail with a lot of awe, reverence and delight.

Inside Scindia Palace

Of the many stories abounding its splendour, perhaps the most impressive is which recounts that two enormous Belgian chandeliers, weighing 3.5 tonnes each, had been bought to be hung in the Durbar Hall. And to make sure the ceiling could take the weight, ten elephants were made to parade on the roof of the Hall!

It is also in Gwalior that the legendary musician Mian Tansen rests, and thus the city plays host to the annual Tansen Music Festival. His grave rests in a small marble tomb in a gardened compound along with several others. The most striking here is the tomb of Mohammad Ghaus, a 16th century Sufi saint and Tansen’s spiritual Guru.

Mohammad Ghaus' tomb viewed from the side. The sandstone mausoleum is a specimen of delicate craftsmanship, with intricate stone screens on all sides.

Lounge and gossip

Stunning jaali screens around Mohammad Ghaus' tomb.

By this time we were sapped of energy, and after walking around, lounged on the lawns just like the umpteen locals there (it turned out to be a popular hangout place) ..and waited for it to be time to drive to the station to catch our train back to Delhi.

Arriving back around 11, we looked forward to our soft mattresses and deep sleep. Long day no doubt, but amazing that we managed to see a whole new city in just that long! Day well spent!

* For someone wanting to stay for longer in Gwalior, the city offers enough! Our Gwalior City Guide can help you plan your iterinary.*

 
 

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Shopping in Patiala

Known for their juttis, phulkaris, silk and of course the colourful parandis, shopping in the bazaars in Patiala is a sure delight! And this was our one-point agenda for making a quick stop in the town on way back from the farmstay in Nabha.

All geared up for spending some money, our shopping spree began in Adalat bazaar (picked on Mallika’s recommendation, who’s lived in Patiala, and could guide us well). The market was abuzz with stuff befitting a typical Punjabi bride’s trousseau — rich fabric, colourful parandis, juttis..!

Narrow lanes lined with shops selling fabric in Adalat bazaar

Colourful parandis on display

A shoe-seller enthusiastically poses with his wares

We warmed up with picking some Patiala salwars, and chappals..until the big spending happened on the lovely phulkari dupattas! In variety of colours with chequered, geometric patters and mirrors..most of them so broad that one could probably wrap them around like saris ..but nevermind that, we still, all of us (minus the boy Bodhi :P), got one or more each!

In a Phulkari shop.. spoiled for choice!

Dressed in phulkari!

Content with our buys here, we set out to our next stop, Qila bazaar, literally, the market that has grown along the walls of the once royal fortress here, Qila Mubarak. It offers the most attractive variety in juttis with zari work, Mallika informed us. And sure it did! We found an amazing jutti shop here, with royal pairs in leather, embellished with the most intricate weavings in gold and silver zari! Looking at them admiringly, we got nearly every second pair out to try. However, disappointingly for the sales-boy we decided to be tight-fisted and ended up buying none!

Qila bazaar

The seemingly narrow lanes manage to make space for everyone!

Anyhow, shopping adventure over, we walked down to the Fort to soak in some of the historicity the town lays claim to.

Inside the fortress, Qila Mubarak

Durbar Hall of the Qila Mubarak

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in holiday accounts, travel

 

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Wild Trail in Bengal

Here’s announcing our latest publication, Wild Trail in Bengal! Published for the Government of West Bengal, it’s the very first all-encompassing travel guide on the forests of West Bengal.

And to add another ‘first’, it is our first attempt at compiling a guidebook on forests and wildlife. Must say we went through a whole lot of road blocks (and mind blocks) on conceptualising and writing it, but the end result seems to be more than satisfying!

Vibrant with images of fauna, flora and the varied forestscapes that the state offers, and complete with in-depth research, the book will be a sure delight for the wildlife enthusiast!

Do check it out! We hope its appreciated enough to edge us onto publishing lots more showing the wild side of the country!

Cover

 

A glimpse of the inside pages:

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in goodearth guides, travel

 

Paint me Red!

Though a Delhite it had never occurred to me to explore Old Delhi, having heard of it as only being ‘dirty and crowded’. And it was not until my work as a travel writer pulled me with a great fascination to any place new or unknown, that I grew excited and impatient about the idea of wanting the see and experience Purani dilli.

A most appealing opportunity came when work took me there. No need to fish out time, wait for weekends or holidays to visit it now! We got a project with the Archaeological Survey of India to publish a guidebook on Red Fort.

After mounds of research and a rough draft with all information collated, we got ready to make trips to the fort, to photograph and experience it for our self. Armed with cameras and any/every permission required, we went about capturing the fort, inside-out.

The imposing Lahori Gate

The imposing Lahori Gate

 

The red walls of the fort

The red walls of the fort

There is a lot more to Red Fort than meets the eye. It took me at least seven (if not more) visits to the fort to be able to experience and capture it in its entirety – a general walk around the complex on day one, and thereafter a close look at all the palaces, museums, gardens and the adjoining Salimgarh fort.

Diwan-i-khas and Khas Mahal

Diwan-i-khas and Khas Mahal

 

Walking through Rang Mahal

Walking through Rang Mahal

 

The marble pavillion in front of Shah-Burj. The Nahr-i-Bihisht or the 'stream of paradise' that flowed through all the palaces started from the beautifully carved alcove set in the wall.

The marble pavillion in front of Shah-Burj. The Nahr-i-Bihisht or the 'stream of paradise' that flowed through all the palaces started from the beautifully carved alcove set in the wall.

Peeking into every corner otherwise out-of-bounds for visitors, climbing on to the ramparts and exploring it by the inch, we fell in love with the fort. The romance and grandeur of the fort undoubtedly came alive with all its tales and legends that we had gathered.

Scanning through their pictures

 

Lace-like jaali screens in Khas Mahal

Lace-like jaali screens in Khas Mahal

 

Taking a tea break sitting outside Naubat Khana

Us, taking a tea break sitting outside Naubat Khana

 

The eastern wall with the palace complex seen through Muthamman Burj

 

Gilded rich ceiling of Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audience

Gilded rich ceiling of Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audience

 

Diwan-i-Am

Diwan-i-Am with its multiple arches

 

End of it, I had visited the fort at all times of the day possible – shooting it in the early morning light, exploring the indoor spaces when the sun was overhead, walking through the gardens in the evening breeze, and seeing the little shops in Chhatta-Chowk aglow in the dark.

The domed Muthamman Burj where the emperor came out to give a public appearance every day

 

Ceiling in Sheesh Mahal

Ceiling in Sheesh Mahal

 

The colour and tinsel of shops in Chhatta-Chowk

 

Chhatta-chowk in the evening light

And needless to say, once we were done with our work, all visits to the fort would be accompanied by exploring some part of old Delhi! Visit to Jama Masjid, eating at Karim or Al Jawahar… shopping for silver at Dariba Kalan…rickshaw ride through the galis – the crowded, jostling Chawri bazaar, the tinsel Kinari bazaar, and Nayi sadak with its rows of stationers and bookshops…eating at Paranthewali gali and having a lassi in khullar with rose essence sprinkled on top from Kinari bazaar… aah what life!

Sisganj gurdwara

Sisganj gurdwara

 

 

The Red Fort project was thrilling not just because of the visits to old Delhi, but because it was to be my first design project! The first Goodearth guide that I design! And looking back I’d say designing the book wasn’t as much a task as it was to make a selection of the pictures, from the zillion we’d all ended up taking! So much for our zeal and enthusiasm!

Here is a glimpse of the pages.

 

 

 

The guide is available with the Archaeological Survey of India at their Janpath office. For any one remotely interested in the monument, I’d suggest you grab it, for you’d surely feel the fort coming alive for you once you’ve immersed yourself in the legends and history surrounding it!

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in goodearth guides

 

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To the hills!

Twenty eight kilometres from Nainital, Ramgarh Bungalows (a Neemrana property) in Kumaon hills are as detached from the hustle-bustle of city life and busy hill-stations as possible!

Naini lake

Naini lake

 

cluster of hotels/cottages at Nainital

Cluster of hotels/cottages at Nainital

As we drove down, after crossing Bhowali (11 kms from Nainital), the city sounds began to diminish gradually, until they finally faded away… The air became chilly, and soon the only sound we could hear was a regular SWISH of our car tires at each turn. It seemed like we’d entered the whistling woods! We sat up eagerly trying to spot the bungalows in the distance.

Like the other Neemrana properties, Ramgarh Bungalows offer a distinct setting – spacious bungalows are sprawled on a huge area, giving each a sort of quietude and privacy. A perfect getaway for anyone looking for peace and rest; it is, as the brochure says, ‘a place to relax, to read and do nothing if you so choose’…

 

 

 

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Each of the bungalows has a study, complete with a desk and chair – for it seems just the kind of place where authors, writers might come for creative inspiration. Many of the bungalows, seem to have been heritage bungalows, redone for hotel accommodation, and thus have an old-world charm about them.

The Cliff House, where we stayed, stood at the edge of the hill, giving astounding views of the hills in front and the valley below. Well-tended flowers and fruit trees bloomed around. To our delight we discovered a pair of beautiful birds making their nest in our balcony..and with stones! no twigs or hay! And colour co-ordinated at that!

Cliff House - our cottage at Ramgarh Bungalows

Cliff House - our cottage at Ramgarh Bungalows

 

 

The two birdies in our balcony

The two birdies in our balcony

 

the nest

Their nest, made of stones

 

Pink lilies

Pink lilies

 

Initially I thought the cows here ‘moooo…ed’ a lot… far more than their counterparts in the city. But then I realised that its just that such nature sounds get drowned in the city noise. Needless to say, Ramgarh bungalows were quiet..really quiet.. with all nature sounds heightened..and lots of nature inside your bungalow (read: spiders, big and small!). The only other such place that comes to my mind is Bhoramdeo, which I visited on work. Located in Chhattisgarh, it is a magical place, surrounded by hills and dense forests.

 

 

snoozing

snoozing

 

‘…However, if you care to be more energetic, there are many local walks and excursions further afield’. Its true, if you like activity, you can enjoy this quiet-prettiness only to a point. Sitting in the bungalow, my dad said he felt like we were participants on Big Boss, stuck in one house! Lol. So after a satisfying breakfast the next morning, we decided to take a trek and go down to the riverbed in Malla Ramgarh.

We chose this particular trek not just because the idea of wading in the cool waters seemed inviting but also because of all the recommended treks, this one was the shortest! This 2.5 km stretch usually took about 45 mins, the brochure  said.

However, the steep, narrow, rocky path down, took us nearly two hours! Apart from the balancing required, we paused every few steps admiring the view, looking at the flowers and fruits, collecting fallen chestnuts from the ground, and trying to identify birds.

 

Pomogrenates

Pomogrenates

 

wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

 

Trekking down

Trekking down

 

Fruit orchard

Fruit orchard

The little village in the foothills below, in Malla Ramgarh, was very charming – complete with shops, a small temple, school and an ashram. Many of the villagers seemed to be making a living out of selling fruits that grew here..packing and sending them to Haldwani or far-off places like the Azadpur fruit market in Delhi. There were orchards of plum, apricot, pears and walnuts!

Village in the foothills - Malla Ramgarh

Village in the foothills - Malla Ramgarh

 

Armed with umbrellas

Armed with umbrellas

 

 

Sitting in his courtyard, he was packing fruits to send off to the Azad market in Delhi

Sitting in his courtyard, he was packing fruits to send off to the Azadpur market in Delhi

 

Our driver doing some monkey antics, trying to pluck ripe apricots for us

Our driver doing some monkey antics, trying to pluck ripe apricots for us

 

Back from the trek in the evening, we sat resting our legs, gazing up at the star-speckled skies, completely awed…and thinking this is it!

 

A view of Bhimtal from a distance

A view of Bhimtal from a distance. We visited the two lakes, Bhimtal and Naukuchiyatal, about an hour's drive from Ramgarh Bungalows.

 

Boys diving in the Bhimtal lake

Boys diving in the Bhimtal lake

 

Feeding ducks by the lake

Feeding ducks by the lake

 

The sluice gates of Bhimtal

The sluice gates of Bhimtal

 

Boats lined at Naukuchiyatal

Boats lined at Naukuchiyatal

 

Umbrellas galore! at Nainital mall road

Umbrellas galore! at Nainital mall road

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2009 in holiday accounts, travel

 

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Diversion!

Used to action-packed holidays, with lots of sightseeing and adventure sports, we had our apprehensions while driving down to the quiet, serene Ramgarh bungalows, in Kumaon hills. The drive became longer than usual with a huge jam before Garh Mukhteshwar where the kawariyas had stopped for a bath. You could say we had a fair share of adventure just there, when a diversion had to be made through the neighbouring villages and fields.

 The houses in this village were small constructions next to each other, with bare minimum walls, flanking the narrowest of lanes (it’s a miracle the car passed through that!). The walls were close enough to make you feel like you’re driving on their porch! With main doors invariably wide open, we were very curiously prying into the courtyards. Amused/ smiling/ stunned kids hung about, just a few inches/ feet away, making it seem like a ride on the Darjeeling Hill Railway. They were soon seen running about, calling out to each other excitedly on seeing cars suddenly passing from outside their houses. People going about their business would pause and stare. Monkeys were perched on roofs and walls.  

 

Buffaloes, yes!they deserve a mention here. If you think you’ve seen enough cattle on the streets of Delhi, you haven’t seen nothing! the village houses here were FULL OF buffaloes! (and some cows too). Tied, lounging, eating, sleeping….they were all around! Every one of those houses had one if not two or three or four buffaloes! And they seemed to be behaving like they were royalty! Half the population there was engaged in tending to them…feeding them, bathing them… It seemed like a village come alive out of one of Premchand’s novels, with the cattle being the wealth deciding a family’s stature!

 

After crossing through a maze of houses, we came out on open fields and breathed a sigh of relief, looking at the open space!

bed with a mosquito net

However, a bit too quick because the drive here was crazy, with practically no roads in parts, and a blinding dust cloud blowing from a car in front of ours making the visibility zero! Yet we had to go fast for we were following the other car. It was a stroke of luck that we didn’t end up in a paddy field or on top of a buffalo!

 

Finally joining the main highway, the drive thereafter was smooth till Nainital.  That little unintended diversion however woke us up from our snoozing and dozing, and we felt ready for a peaceful stay at Ramgarh!…

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2009 in holiday accounts, travel

 

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