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Goodearth travels to Odisha!

In some great news, we have come out with two new and brilliant (yes, we’re saying that ourselves :P) travel guides on the charming coastal state of Odisha.

One on its spectacular temples in Bhubaneswar, Puri, Konarak; and a novel guide exploring its rich yet undiscovered Buddhist heritage. Grab the copies now, off the rack or online, and plan your trip to experience the treasures in Odisha!

Buddhist Sites in Odisha and Andhra Odisha_Cover Artwork final .pdf

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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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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Discover Jharkhand!

We’ve just published Jharkhand’s very first state guide!

Carved out of Bihar in 2001 as a separate state, Jharkhand is barely thought of as a tourist destination by most people.

When we began working on the Jharkhand state guide, we were hardly aware that the state was virtual treasure chest that was waiting to be discovered.

It was a real challenge, albeit the fun kind, conceptualizing the guide and trying to weave together the various aspects of the state, from mineral wealth and biodiversity to archaeological and cultural heritage, in our quest to make this the definitive guidebook on the state!

Here, have a look-see at some of the pages from our brand new guidebook:    

  

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in goodearth guides, travel

 

Madhya Pradesh galore!

Just when we think we’ve exhausted all possibilities of doing guidebooks on Madhya Pradesh, newer ideas come up! 🙂

Our two latest publications on this wondrous state are Temples of Madhya Pradesh and Rock Art of Madhya Pradesh.

As the titles indicate, these are thematic guides put together for travellers with specific interests — those interested in exploring the temples in Madhya Pradesh (and believe you me there are many and numerous!), or in trailing the rock art sites in the state (with many of them dating to prehistory!). Visually attractive and readable, the books are as much delight for curious readers exploring these subjects.

With these two guides we’ve completed 17(!!) titles on the ever-surprising Madhya Pradesh. And it goes without saying that the state has acquired a special place in our hearts!

The Pioneer’s feature on the release of the two books: http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/bhopal/59077-tourism-dept-launches-three-new-guides.html

 

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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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Weekend at Gary’s Farm

It was the perfect season to visit a farm in Punjab. The pre-Baisakhi fields were golden with ripe wheat and the smell of fresh sugarcane juice wafted in the air. The large trees flanking NH1 added to this with their impossibly new glossy, baby leaves and spring blossoms.

chara and wheat fields

a pristine blue canal, one of the many that criss cross the fertile state

NH1, a picturesque ride

Our whole team of six was headed to Gary Farms, a plush 1600 acre farm in Nabha, Patiala, to check out what ‘farm tourism’ was all about.

Our first stop was of course a dhaba at Murthal, barely an hour’s drive from Delhi, for a breakfast which was a preview of what was to come in Punjab, paranthas with huge dollops of white butter and creamy curd.

parathas with huge dollops of white butter, our staple during this trip

It was a fairly smooth drive to Chandigarh where we met our host, Mr AS Grewal, a sprightly gentleman well on the other side of sixty. He suggested that we stop by his office in Gary Arts in Mohali before proceeding to the farm.

Gary Arts took us by surprise. With a Spiderman perched on the roof in take-off mode and a gorgeous village belle peeking out of a haveli window, all conjured out of fiberglass, the factory cum showroom transported us to toon world meets model Punjab village. As a result we became shutterbugs and posers. I needed a photograph with my childhood hero Bugs Bunny, the boss wanted to be clicked with Sardarji with mobile and Bodhi found a gun (was it real or fiberglass?) and got an entire portfolio shot by Nidhi.

village belle at the entrance to Gary's Arts with leaping Spiderman in the background

Mr Grewal informed us proudly that Gary Arts, known for its fiberglass reproductions of Punjabi village scenes, made the Sheras given as tokens to the athletes in the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi.

An hour’s drive from Mohali brought us to Nanoki, the village where Gary Farms is situated. After depositing our bags in the guestrooms in the family gurudwara where we were to spend the night we rushed off to catch our evening entertainment, ‘kushti at the village akhara’. As we drove through the fields at dusk we realized how quiet and clean the air around us was! At the akhara, while the regular spectators sat in charpoys we sat in plastic chairs facing the pit which we were told had been prepared by mixing the earth with turmeric powder(for its antiseptic qualities) and mustard oil (to soften the ground). The village pehelwans were already in their loincloths and after the customary lap around the pit and some thigh slapping they dived at each other, grappling in pairs matched in weight and strength.

'Kushti' at the village akhara

We gathered that the heaving struggle concluded only when one of the pair landed on his back and was unable to extricate himself from the opponent’s grip.

Elaborate photo sessions with the local heroes, some of whom have competed at the national and international level followed.

At night, we drove down to Nabha town to see a parandi factory and got ourselves rainbow hued naras!

coloured yarns being woven into vibrant naras and parandis

We drove to the local fort which looked massive and forbidding in the night and on our way stopped by the grand Punjab Public School located in the vast buildings and grounds of the court of the erstwhile princely state.

the Nanoki Gurdwara, our shelter for the night

Our day ended with a scrumptious dinner served by our hosts which included fresh paneer from their dairy and fish from their ponds. And yes we did locate some of those long forgotten constellations in the star filled sky (a rare treat for us city slickers!).

The next morning we went to see Col Grewal’s (Mr AS Grewal’s brother) fish farm set amidst three ponds which yield quintals of fish every month. We were, however, enthralled by the other animals in his menagerie, the handsome black kadaknaths (indigenous hens of Madhya Pradesh), the charming cow and calf, the ducks, the turkey and the horses.

prized Kadaknaths and the Turkey who thinks he is a chicken

Our team on Col RS Grewal's terrace

After yet another lavish meal of paranthas, curd, butter and fresh milk (counting calories is a city fad) at Mr Grewals’ we left the farm satiated, rejuvenated and all set for our next stop…Patiala.