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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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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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Orchha by the River

Only a town like Orchha could make up for a train delayed by five hours in the fog. Just like Anupriya and Diana a year back, we reached Jhansi in the late afternoon, instead of the scheduled 10:30, and took an auto to Orchha. A smooth ride through sarson fields, small villages and suicidal goats running about on the road.

The Orchha skyline is full of domes and chhattris from the Bundela dynasty: Jahangir Mahal, Ram Raja Mahal, Chaturbhuj temple and the haunting row of royal chhattris by the river. From our hotel, which was to the north of the town on an incline, we could see the whole town bathed in evening light. Living amidst these medieval edifices are the warm and friendly Orchha locals in their pretty white houses, entrepreneurs from other cities and the floating population of tourists.

The view from the hotel

There are more tourists in Orchha than one would expect, but it is still an ignorable number. With the tourists come amenities that one wouldn’t associate with such a small town. Restaurants all over the place, lavish hotels and dingy inns and even cycles on hire. There are innumerable holy men, and an equal number of foreign cameras lapping up the exoticism.

Tourists are easily ignored by other tourists, but the locals are hounded even into their baths

After checking in, we left for the chhattris on the riverside immediately. It was already getting dark, but we discovered a short cut from our hotel. Sitting on the plinth of Bir Singh Deo’s chhattri, we watched the light get dimmer, and listened to the sounds of the river. The chhattris we would see again and again throughout the trip, from all possible sides, at different times of the day, every time acquiring a different sort of beauty.

From the opposite banks at sunset

The ghostly line-up

Through fields of gold

The most endearing part of Orchha, for us, was the river. Except where the main road crosses over the river to the Orchha Forest Reserve, the water is clean, and there are almost no signs of human damage in the waters. Our best moments were trekking by the river, both upstream and downstream. About a kilometre upstream, we discovered a sangam of three rivers, each cascading over rocks to form the Betwa. There were places where there were natural rock pools where one could go swimming, and never any need to carry a water bottle though we trekked through the sunny afternoons, because the water was delicious. There were no people around at all.

where the streams converged

natural pools in the Betwa, and the forest reserve on the opposite bank

Downstream, we trekked along the Forest Reserve, where we even saw a fox coming down to drink water. Every now and then we’d see the remains of a fire, still smoking, but no other signs of people. Orchha is full of wandering sadhus, the invisible lighters of the fires. Finally we met one sitting on the banks. Did he know if we could cross the river upstream? It looked very inviting on the opposite bank. Were there any wild animals about? He was vague and said maybe we could cross the river if we continued walking a little more. But could we give him a little money?

As we walked further, there were no more forest fires. No signs of people at all. But suddenly we saw the ruins of a short fort wall. Then before long, our walk came to an end. The river had become wider, and joined another river, another sangam. We could jump from little islands of rock to a point where we were surrounded by water on all sides. I discovered later (on google maps), that all the joining streams were actually part of the Betwa.

From the Forest

I enjoyed cycling around the town. We even took our cycles into the Jahangir Mahal complex and cycled around the surrounding ruins (see the Orchha Travel Guide,  pg 14 for a map).  Orchha, which according to many, literally means hidden, has many secluded, scattered monuments built by the valiant Bundelas. The Bundela king Rudra Pratap chose Orchhabecause it was surrounded by impregnable jungles and provided for by the river and made an ideal capital. Until 1783 it remained the capital of the Bundelkhand region and flourished under the succeeding kings.

Here are some photographs from our cycle trips:

Jahangir Mahal

Dearly Beloved Chungul Bird, which I wrote about in the Orchha Travel Guide and just had to find on the walls of Raj Mahal

Against the fort walls. Cycles abandoned in the gate in the walls behind me.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2010 in holiday accounts, travel

 

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Destination Assam

One of the things that was bound to happen on the trip to Assam, a part of the country I’ve never ventured to before is that I’d have to unlearn everything I knew about the place which truth be told, would be easy enough given that (as I realized) I hardly knew that much. For one thing, it wasn’t the Arctic, so even in fog-ridden January, we discovered upon (belatedly) disembarking the plane, that the weather was remarkably cheerful. Even though we had lost a day’s work from our packed itinerary, the drive from Guwahati Airport to the town through palm-fronded paddy fields only boosted our weary morales and we ‘warmed up’ to Assam a lot sooner than we’d imagined.

Our hotel, the Prashanti Tourist Lodge run by Assam Tourism, provided a decent stay with a very decent view of the Guwahati Club’s tennis court from my balcony. We spent some time watching tennis under the stars, neither of which I really get much in Delhi, and turned in early to begin Day 2 at the crack of dawn.

Other than the fact that I’d only seen dawn about 6 months ago, the morning held lots of promise. We started by making a stop at Kamakhya, the sacred shaktipeeth where Sati’s yoni fell. While Bodhi carried on up Nilachal Parbat to get views of the town, I took off my shoes to enter the hallowed pit of the Devi Temple charged with primordial energy and the flutter of white pigeons.

Kamakhya Temple

I didn’t stay long but there is something about Kamakhya that doesn’t require a souvenir for recollection. Nonetheless, I took photographs, bought some cool calendar art and continued on our pilgrimage, via the Saraighat bridge, to the temple town of Hajo.

Hajo, with its blend of Vaishnavism (the Hayagriva Madhab Temple), Islam (Poa Macca) and Buddhism (this is where the Buddha is said to have attained Parinirvana), is not your average tourist destination. At least not for the tourist with weak knees because you’ve got to climb, and climb, and climb, steps. But the effort is eminently worthwhile as are the photo-ops.

Goats in Hajo

We carried on to Sualkuchi, Assam’s primary centre of silk weaving, where we watched weavers at work and also bought some fabulous samples to show back home.

Weaving in progress in sualkuchi

Our boss soon joined us and she and I proceeded to Bashistha Ashram, which was set up by Bashistha Muni though any more probing questions as to when and why just left most locals baffled and well, unperturbed.

A minstrel outside Bashistha Ashram

We ended the day on a spectacular note, whetting our appetites with the Assamese thali in the beautifully done up Paradise Restaurant on GNB Road, Guwahati.

Next day, we awoke at the crack of dawn again – and by now I was getting to like the sound of that phrase a fair bit – to head out eastward. Our first stop was the Ujanbazar Fish market in Guwahati, where we discovered, strangely, it was not Brahmaputra fish but imported fish, that was being sold. We also stopped at some interesting temples along the way and then followed the course of the Brahmaputra all the way

A boat on the mighty Brahmaputra

to the town of Tezpur. Tezpur, with its many parks and lakes, is like one all-encompassing picnic spot. It has a nice Station Club, and the proprietors are always eager to show visitors around.

Making our way across the Kalia Bhomora Setu, we headed on to the state’s biggest and most romantic draw, the reason that so many naturalists keep booking tickets, sometimes one-way, to Assam – Kaziranga National Park.

Kaziranga

The adventure began on the highway itself where we caught our first glimpse of the great Indian one-horned rhinocerous. In the one evening that we toured the Park though, we saw enough rhinos to draw them blindfolded, and someone was even impelled to remark, ‘They’re like cattle’.

wild northeastern cattle

the king of birders' hearts

Having soaked in the bewitching ambience of Kaziranga, we proceeded to have our memories and our selves frozen in a remarkably badly insulated ethnic hut in Jupuri Ghar.

At Jupuri Ghar

This time I awoke much before the crack of dawn, but was prepared nonetheless to make forays into Upper Assam. First we stopped at the lovely stilt houses of the Mishing villages in Aghoratoli.

Mishing stilt-hut

The journey to Jorhat therafter was past many beautiful tea estates, many of which started before we had left the periphery of the Park even, and punctuated with some memorable eating stops,

dhaba in Bokakhat

a jaunt in a local haat

A snake-man at a local haat near Negheriting

and a visit to the Negheriting dol which with its abundant monkeys could have passed off for a set from Planet of the Apes. After a short stop at the Jorhat Tourist Lodge, we visited the beautiful Gibbon Sanctuary where boss and i discovered more primates and the problems of human encroachment in forested areas

Swati Maam with the forest ranger in Gibbon Sanctuary

while Bodhi discovered the fine art of wearing a gamosa on the head like a true craft-sensitised man of the woods.

We began the next day by visiting some significant namghors and satras, that set the tone of reverence for the main stop – Sibsagar. The Ahom kings had a gala time building tanks, temples and palaces in Sibsagar and we didn’t have too bad a time discovering them.

At the world's largest Shiv Dol in Sibsagar

Later, after stopping to eat at a fabulous stilt-restaurant, we headed to Nimati ghat in the evening from where boats ply to and from Majuli.

Nimati Ghat

The trip was rounded off by a beautiful night’s stay at a tea estate bungalow on the outskirts of Jorhat. The roads were not nearly as smooth as they had been through the rest of the journey, but the stay made up entirely. On the final day, after a leisurely breakfast, we surveyed the tea factories

Gatoonga Tea Factory

and plantations around Jorhat,

Sangsua Tea Estate

learnt some tea-speak, and picked up some half-kg of drinking silver each. In the afternoon, we sat at the airport, listening to the iPod in between announcements of the delayed flight, but by then, we had learnt that in Assam, the wait was always for a good cause.

Hang about for a bit…  the Assam Travel Guide is on its way!

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2010 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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Ramzan in Delhi

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Posted by on September 4, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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