Tag Archives: Offbeat things to do in India

Exploring the Architectural Marvels of Madurai

This was a family backpacking trip planned exclusively to explore Madurai. This city has served as the capital of the Pandyas and is a key destination that has nurtured the Dravidian culture. For anyone who hears the name of this famed city, they know of the Meenakshi Amman Kovil. A typical traveler / tourist / pilgrim would visit just that temple and takes pride in marking it in their travel map of places visited. But what one doesn’t realize is, that Madurai is beyond just this. The contribution of the Pandya kingdom is not limited to just the Madurai Meenakshi temple and can be seen and felt in several structures just around the same city. Also, a portion of the Madurai city has a history beyond the Pandyas too. Hence, our family wanted to reserve this long weekend, exclusively for Madurai. We boarded an overnight bus from Bangalore and reached Madurai at 6.00.a.m. on the following morning.

Like most of our family trips, we wanted this also to be an impromptu vacation. Apart from to and fro travel, nothing else was fixed. As per me, you would need a good 2-3 days to have a quick run around doing this same itinerary as ours, exploring ONLY Madurai. If you are an art and history buff or a foodie, I warn you to carry additional days!

Itinerary:

Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (KSRTC Bus)
Day 1: Reach Madurai. Visit Meenakshi temple, Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal, Vandiyur temple tank, Koodal Alagar temple, Gandhi museum, Pudumandapam.
Day 2: Alagar Kovil, Alagar Murugan temple, Pazhamudhir Solai temple, Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple, Dargah of Hazrat Sultan, return to Bengaluru.

The details:

After alighting the bus, we walked around the Meenakshi Amman Kovil to find a good hotel. Since this is the heart of the city, it wasn’t hard to find a decent lodge around there. We checked into a hotel that was located just in front of the temple’s west gate. We freshened up quickly and left for the main part of the trip for anyone visiting Madurai.

  1. Meenakshi temple: A visit to the abode of the Pandya architecture. The entire temple complex is fortified and has 4 entrance towers, one on each of the 4 directions. The sculptures on each of these towers are out of the world. Once inside the complex, I started to wonder which world of wonder I had stepped into. It took us more than 4 hours to finish only a quick walk around inside the temple and also get the darshan of Meenakshi Amman and Lord Sundareswaran.
The finely decorated interiors of the Meenakshi Temple
The finely decorated interiors of the Meenakshi Temple

There are a lot of stalls inside the complex selling various handcrafted articles. The temple art museum within the same premises is a must visit. The central sculpture of Natarajan, or the dancing form of Shiva is believed to be one of the Pancha Sabha of the lord. This place represents the silver hall and Shiva is believed to have performed the ‘Sandhya Thandava’ dance form here (More on the Pancha Sabha Kshetras in another post). Also, there are 1000 pillars, all decorated with intricate pieces of sculpture. The dim light used for each pillar added up to the beauty of the place. The Madurai paintings adorning the walls of the temple requires another post to talk about. I go speechless when I get to explain about the South Indian temples. They are beyond words. Internet has plenty to feed and I don’t want to get into the details. After a tour of this massive temple complex, we decided to head out to explore the city beyond the Meenakshi Kovil.

Inside the Temple art museum
Inside the Temple art museum

2. A small walk through the narrow lanes took us to the Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal built in the 16th century. Fine architecture with elegant paintings on the roofs and vaults is neatly presented in a simple combination of half-white and velvet red colors. There is sound and lights show conducted here every evening. However, we could not make it.

The interiors of Thirumalai Naickar Mahal
The interiors of Thirumalai Naickar Mahal

3. From there, we took a local bus to Vandiyur. This is where the annual event of the famed Teppotsavam / Float festival takes place to celebrate the birthday of King Thirumalai Nayak in January. This tank is supposedly the biggest of its kind in the state of Tamil Nadu. With the float festival just 2 months away and monsoon season just passing by, this tank still remained dry during our visit. When we enquired with a few locals passing by about how the event was going to be conducted in a dry tank, we were told that the water will be fed in January from the Vaigai river through artificially laid underground channels. This is truly amazing how such a concept was laid way back in the 16th century. But for a newcomer like me, the dried lake was an eye sore as it was used was a watering hole by many vandals at the time of our visit.

Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam - the island temple
Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam – the island temple

4. Taking another bus from there to Periyar and a small walk from there through the stinking / dirty by-lanes, we reached the Koodal Alagar temple. A quick pooja and a walk around the temple was a nice boost up. The architecture here too, is similar to that of Meenakshi temple.

5. We had to rush to The Gandhi museum as it would close by 6.00.p.m. However, we could not make it on time. This was once called the Tamakkum palace of Rani Mangammal. Today, the museum supposedly houses 14 articles that were used by Gandhiji, along with his sacred ashes and blood-stained dhotis. Gandhiji is said to have visited the city five times during his lifetime.

6. On our walk back to our hotel, we came across an old marketplace called as Pudumandapam. This is a 1000 years old shopping mall, supported by huge sculpture rich stone pillars. The stalls are occupied with tailors, handicrafts vendors, wholesale dealers of pooja related and general accessories. A good place for shopping traditional artefacts at Madurai, and that too in a market that is so old!

Entrance of the Pudumandapam
Entrance of the Pudumandapam

7. On the following morning, we boarded a local bus from Periyar bus stand to travel 21kms towards Alagar Kovil. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Meenakshi Amman’s brother. The village is surrounded by an old fort wall, it gives a good view of the green hills around the temple. The architecture is similar to Koodal Alagar temple in the city.

8. A trek of 3kms uphill, through green forests and monkey infested walkways lead us to the Murugan temple. It is one among the six abodes of Lord Murugan and hence important among the pilgrims.

9. A walk of half a kilometer further uphill took us to Pazhamudhir Solai temple. A temple dedicated to Goddess Rakkaya exists close to a natural spring called Nuburagangai here, where devotees take a holy bath. But what seemed strange to me was that the place was probably the only temple I had ever been to, which charges an entry fee into the temple itself. This is where the famed Chittrai festival is observed during the month of April.

10. From there, we took the next bus back to Periyar, from where we had to take another connecting bus to Tiruppanakundram. This was a cave temple at the foothills of a hillock. It is believed that Lord Murugan was wedded to Devyani, daughter of Indra at this place. Hence, this is also counted one among the 6 abodes of Lord Murugan.

Entrance to the Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple
Entrance to the Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple

11. Up the hills, is the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Sikandar Badshah shaheed Radiyallah Ta’al anhu. Owing to time constraint and exhaustion, we thought of skipping the climb.

Other lesser known places we skipped due to time constraints were the Kazimar mosque and Goripalyam Dargah. At the center of the city is the Kattabomman junction. This is where a part of the old Madurai fort exists. Today this is not more than a public library. Further, every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” don’t do this usually, but would make a special mention about the streets of Madurai. Every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” explains it all- Where moats made way for motorways

This was all about us getting around the place for seeing some of the historically important landmarks around Madurai. But the list is endless and time, very limited ☹ I have covered a few other must-do things while at Madurai in a separate post. I wish to be of some use if you are planning a trip there. (Click here to read further)

Visiting the northern-most district of Karnataka- Bidar

Karnataka Bundh: The whole city of Bangalore was protesting against the Kaveri water verdict- 32 buses vandalized in the city and all that jazz. Well, I was away from the entire hustle bustle, where fighting for the water of Kaveri made no sense for the people. That day, I was spending time with my mom who was away from home since the last couple of months, on business travel.

My itinerary:
Day 0: Bangalore to Bidar (Overnight bus)
Day 1: Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple, Karanja reservoir, Basavakalyan (Basaveshwara temple, Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe, Akkamahadevi Guhe Anubhav Mantapa, Basavakalyan fort)
Day 2: Nanak Jira Gurudwara, Bareed Shahi park, Bidar Fort; Return from Bidar to Bangalore (night bus).

The details:
People in the Mysore-Karnataka region know Bidar and the rest of the districts of Kalyana Karnataka or Uttara-Karnataka mostly through media that only talks about them when there is a drought in the state. This somewhat had influenced me to paint a dry and a dusty picture of the region inside my head. There was not much that I had heard about this part of Karnataka on a typical tourist circuit of state and that’s why I chanced upon travelling to Bidar for a weekend. Since my mom was posted there for some time, I thought it was an opportunity for me to go and see what is in the northern-most district of my home state. Mom usually has a vehicle at her disposal whenever she travels and stays during the entire business trip. This solves most of the commutation problems.

Day 1:
When I reached there after a long overnight bus journey of 12hrs, I had a roaring welcome in the city, quite literally…!! An IAF “Hawk” flew past right above my head during their daily flying sorties. Right then, I had my first GK (general knowledge) moment of the tour. Bidar has been an important training base since the early 1960’s for the Indian Airforce. Bidar serves as the main base for Hawk AJTs and the Suryakiran HJTs. The first thing that I learnt about Bidar and is never shown or spoken about on mainstream media.

My mom received me at the bus stand and took me to the Inspection bungalow where she was staying at. After freshening up and post a quick breakfast, we headed to “the Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple”. The myth mentions that Lord Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu and then proceeded to slay the demon Jalasura, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. After being killed by Lord Narasimha, the demon Jalasura turned into water and started flowing down the feet of Lord Narasimha. Today, devotees have to walk across a cave with water (1.7mts depth) to worship the idol. With bats flying around, roaches swimming with us and dimly lit path to lead us, it was a new experience for me, and I was seeing such a religious site for the first time.

Sightseeing at Bidar: Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple
Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol

We then proceeded towards our next destination. Enroute, we stopped by the Karanja dam, a small reservoir built across the Karanja river.

In a while from there, we had arrived at Basavakalyan- our main destination for the day. There, we visited the Basaveshwara temple, 108ft high Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe and Akkamahadevi Guhe. Then it was a turn to the right that took us to “Anubhav Mantapa”. This is a replica of the ShivanubhavaMantapa- an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the ‘Lingayat’ faith in the 12th century. Anubhav Mantapa is often referred as the first parliament in the world.

Sightseeing at Bidar: A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point
A view of Hyder Mahal at the Basavakalyan fort

From there we visited the Basavakalyan fort, sparsely visited apart from a few localites who come there to play cricket. But it is indeed a monument forgotten on the maps. The lights falling on the inner chambers of the fort called for some good photography. Some of points of interest inside the Basavakalyan fort for an explorer may be the open-air theatre at the entrance of the fort and the view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph viewpoint. With that, it was dark, and we returned to our place of stay.

Day 2:
We started the day by spending some tranquil moments at the ‘Nanak Jira’. This Gurudwara is known for being the second occurrence out of the supernatural powers of Guru Nanak. The first one was ‘Sri Punja Sahib’. This is now in Pakistan and strictly prohibited for free visits. Hence Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jira Sahib is referred to as the ‘Second Punja Sahib’ of India and hence a very holy site for the Sikhs. The sweet water flowing from a spring is believed to clear one off, all sins.

Sightseeing at Bidar: The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara
The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

Next, on the list was the Bareed Shahi park. The tombs of the Bahamani rulers lay here. This is small but a nice park maintained just to provide some lung space for morning joggers and evening walkers. We were told that this was a neglected piece of history just a year ago and good efforts have been made by the authorities for its restoration.

We had an invitation from one of the colleagues at my mom’s office to visit his home for lunch. To think of it, it is by far and large one of the MOST sumptuous and wholesome meal I have had all my life. Hahaha call it the downside or the funny part of relishing such a wonderful meal- My mom and I were handed over a large towel to wipe off our teary eyes and watery noses. The regional cuisine here is notoriously famous for being high on chilly. But even with the hot flames flying out of our senses, we couldn’t resist the taste of the flavorful spread. It was a typical North-Karnataka cuisine with a spread of over 50 dishes. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and the flavorful cooking. Apart from the Millet roti and gunpowder, most of the dishes were new discoveries for me. I even had a box packed with roti and keema-curry for my return journey by train in the night.

Sightseeing at Bidar: The Bahamani tombs
The Bahamani tombs

The last and final destination was the Bidar Fort: It is a multi-layered fort to say in simple words. It does not have a quantifiable boundary, though a few localites specify some digits to measure its expanse. The entire city of Bidar is actually within a fort wall which was the area where the citizens lived back during the rulers’ time. The second round of the wall is where the ministers lived. The third and the innermost zone is where today’s tourism is concentrated, the area where the King & the queen lived. This fort needs a minimum of half a day to explore for a person interested in history, architecture or archeology. In a tourist circuit in Bidar that I barely heard of, this fort came in as a surprise when I had least expected. It is HUGE!

Sightseeing at Bidar: The Royal Residence within the Bidar fort
The Royal Residence within the main fort

Bidar has so much to offer for a backpacker on a tight budget. Apart from the travel distance between places, everything else is very affordable. Even the entry to all the major landmarks on the potential tourist trail was free. In spite of it, very few people plan a trip to this district. Maybe because the name pulls down an image of a dry, barren, hot, poor, drought prone landscape. What my eyes met here was contradicting to the imagination that I had, largely based on what I heard in the media. In reality, the city was lush green, well fed with good rains and clean (at least compared to the cleanest places of Bangalore).

Souvenirs to take back: Bidariware is a local form of metal art that has a GI (Geographical Identification) tag and extremely laborious and artistic. It takes an 8 stepped process to create one piece of art and a symbol of royalty, that’s been carried on from 14th century, largely promoted by the Bahamani Sultans.

So, a lesson to take back: Stop imagining how a place would be; go there and see it yourself.

The baby steps to Isha foundation

< 02-July-2012>

On one of usual walks at Sankey Tank.. there was this guy at the gate giving away handouts.. the groundnut(kadale-kai) hanging down the handout caught my attention and I stretched my hand out to get one…

Sri Sri Sadhguru Baba (Sorry.. I hadn’t heard of this name before.. my bad..!!) had his program on “Inner Engineering” sometime it read.. All this spirituality stuff is too much to take into my peanut sized brain.. But this fancy handout is the only reason that has inspired me to post this 😛

“Spirituality is belief in an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live. Spiritual practices are intended to develop an individual’s inner life. Spiritual experiences include being connected to a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; joining with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”

Whoa….. that’s an extract from Wikipedia..

“If you do not get out of your shell, you’re just a nut”- This definitely makes sense…

#Update as on 15-may-2020

Someone who started small with this peanut marketing, is now one of the most influential persons in India and the world: Sri Jaggi Vasudev or fondly called as ‘Sadhguru’, the founder of the ‘Isha foundation’. Big milestones are achieved with small baby steps, indeed!

An iconic statue of Adiyogi Shiva’s bust (it holds the guiness record for being the largest bust sculpture) near Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu is a ‘must go’ place on the list of those seeking spiritual cleansing.

For the adventure seekers, you can trek up the Velliangiri hills in the neighborhood while your spiritual accompanice can get enlightened at the Shiva temple atop, considered to be one of the holiest places in South India.

Snake boating in LOL- Kerala

<11-Aug-2012>

After a lot of last minute hiccups, the planning of more than 3 months had finally materialised.. And there we were… At Allapuzha.

At 10.a.m we were on the stands looking out for a nice place which would give us a good view of the river. The 60th Annual Nehru Boat Race was scheduled to start at 2.30.p.m. ‘The crowd had started to pour in from as early as 6.a.m., to get a good seat’, we were told.

Pam and I were sitting in the last row (We considered ourselves fortunate enough for getting chairs to sit).. Sam had ventured out of our stands to get some good photographs and to find a better corner seat for all of us.

Just then, this gang of 6 huge Malayali men dressed in their white Lungis came in and stood behind us.. They pushed our chairs forward so that they could accommodate a few more chairs on the already crammed podium. We barely had space to keep our legs and we were wondering what they were upto. Without knowing the language, we only ended up giving them some wild stares. Pam belted out a few words in Kannada.

Next thing we saw was: Each of these men placing biiig hand bags in between their legs, covered by their lungis and each- pulling out a bottle of local brew (the tags on the bottle indicated that it was pure-strong-local). They pulled out a glass from their bag and poured the drink and gulped it all down RAW in the blink of an eye (It was faster than that of one drinking water). And then… One of them started to utter something to us- From the fact that he had just finished a bottoms up and the tone of his speech, we knew for sure that we were being verbally abused. Although with my little knowledge of the language, I managed to understand a few swears, I instructed Pam not to react. We would surely be outnumbered by men there, in God’s own country. Like a call from God himself- Sam called us to inform us that he had found a better place for all of us to sit. We vacated the spot in the very same minute.

On the way, Pam walked upto a cop and said, “Those men in the last row there, are boozing; Each man is carrying at least a bottle which they are not supposed to possess in a public gathering”. The cop replied an apologetic “OK, OK Sir, We will look into it” and walked off as if Pam had just spoken to deaf ears.

We met Sam and just as we were narrating the scene to him- We saw 2 more men carrying handbags and settling down right beside us. And soon they pulled out a bottle each, bottoms up, gobbled up some minced beef and then started cheering at the water in front of them, where the race was yet to begin. Even before we reacted, Sam pointed at the platform onto our left. More than 10 men were repeating the same procedure- handbags covered by lungis- bottoms up- cheer out loud. And then we looked behind at the gallery- and we were like “What the F***…??”. Every lungi fellow had a glass in his hand..!!! And then we knew, the exact reason for getting such a vague response from that cop. The Policemen were clearly outnumbered by those drunkards and that seemed like quite a normal phenomenon to the cops to take any action. And we too quickly learnt to live with it..!! Soon, the crowd of drunkards increased and also the excitement.

Boat Race finals (49)

And.. The boat race had a roaring start with a lot of frenzy and madness.. We too were at the peak of our excitement.. And suddenly this scuffle started between 2 groups. The next thing we saw was random people being thrown into the river by random people… Typical to any Indian movie, the cops gave a late entry. They arrived in speed boats and pulled out a couple of them from the water and sped away..

The below picture shows:

  1. A hard core fan who watched the match sitting on a coconut tree from 10.a.m to 7.00.p.m.
  2. A drunk fan standing on a pole and cheering for his team whose limbs finally gave way into the water after 5hrs.
  3. Another bunch of fans seated in the gallery who are supporting themselves by holding onto the electric lines.

Boat Race finals (36)

This was definitely one hell of a maddening-superbly-awesomeness-crazy-experience that I am going to cherish for life.

Kerala: “The Land Of Lungis” is truly God’s own Country… L.O.L. 😀

Have you ever experienced any such psychotic crowds? Share it with me.. 🙂

The Western Ghats- To Save or Not ?

There is much ado about the Western Ghats getting tagged as a World heritage site by the UNESCO.

So, like everyone around me here, I too am excited about sharing my views on it.

Firstly the stronger points for consideration:

  1. The western Ghats is home to very rare species of flora & fauna- many snakes, frogs, birds etc. are critically endangered and also unique only to these Ghats.
  2. These ghats stop the wind from the east and bring rainfall to the south.
  3. The major rivers of the South are rain fed and originate here.
  4. I being an ardent nature lover would definitely support to save the ever lush green ghats.

Now, the points not to consider:

  1. There are a no. of tribes living in these Ghats like the Soligas, Kurubas, Maleya-kudiyas etc who will all be forced to vacate the forests and will be disturbed from their natural habitat though the government may promise them of providing alternate homes.
  2. The Coorgs (Kodavas)- by themselves are a very small community fighting hard against the “Jamma Bane” issue and now have yet another blow. Many localites holding lands in the identified areas will be forced to vacate and this will inturn force them out of Coorg.
  3. Myself being a hardcore Kodavathi, I would never be able to take this by my stride.

And now, the strongest of them all:

  1. The Ghats are a rich source for mining, timber and a major hub for tourism leading to severe deforestation in the name of building resorts, nature sports and the likes.
  2. It is important to consider that our beloved elected representatives are frequently in the limelight for the mining scams. The major share of resorts in this region are owned by big names and are tucked away deep in the core area of the jungles which compete for providing the best tiger spotting, elephant spotting, wild hunting, etc. etc, activities for their guests. So there is a valid point for these scamsters to fight against the prestigious tag.
  3. The heritage tag limits the human entry to most regions. Let alone restrictions on activities like trekking, hiking etc. just walking around this place without knowledge would lead to high penalty.

But, what if this has an impact on a Coorg’s lifestyle: the tag has come as a much needed  respite for a nature lover like me. We are Coorgs at the end of the day. We have lived our way through thick jungles, heavy downpours, deep dark nights, wild animals in our porticos. And that’s the way we enjoy our life at it’s best. So we can definitely live strong with thick jungles. We want our Green cover to be saved…!!

I am frustrated of being helpless and just a mute spectator watching the depletion of green cover in the name of development. I can hardly see any development in my area other than the fact that big names (let me say powerful people) are buying properties by offering good money and settling down in Coorg, becoming stake-holders in resorts etc and turning all their black money white.

I used to eagerly wait for the rainy season to start so that I would get my monsoon holidays while I was in school. And now, I am even more anxious that this rainy season may pass by without even seeing a “rainfall”. Yes, only conservation of these ghats can bring us the rains that we need.

I am frustrated with the fact that the place where is grew up catching little fishes and crabs with my cousins as a little girl beneath big boulders is now nothing but a fully concrete platform for the tourists to rest on.

What I once knew as a beautiful waterfall and a place where my grandpa gave me my swimming lessons is now nothing but a pool of sewage flowing from the town littered by ruthless tourists. The stench of this mess gets tears streaming down my eyes everytime I stand on the very same concrete platform and try to recollect the good old greener and cleaner grandpa days…

The Bramhagiri hills
The Bramhagiri hills

And here I sum up (with lines from a famous song of a Bollywood movie):

Give me some sunshine, give me some rain
Give me another chance, I want to grow up once again…

– 3 Idiots