I remember how Indians went frenzy to watch the movie- ‘Bahubali 2: The conclusion’, a story that is something purely fictitious. But, ever bothered to know what the ending of the two greatest stories of Indian mythology is like? What happens to the protagonists in Ramayana and Mahabharata? No, they don’t end at wars. There’s more to it and I’m pretty sure most of you wouldn’t know.
I was lucky that my travels took me to these places that are often spoken less about. Tucked away from the mainstream tourist circuit, these places were a sort of discoveries for me that happened only because I travelled. Read further to know more.
1. Ramayana- The conclusion Ayodhya and SriLanka are two places that comes to our mind instantly when we think of the epic Ramayana. The climax of the story has Lord Rama bringing back his wife Sita safely, after waging a war against the demon King Ravana. They then return to Ayodhya where preparations are on for Lord Rama’s coronation as the King. But sooner, he realizes that the purpose of his incarnation on earth was completed and he had to return to his abode- Vaikuntha. The story concludes in Lord Rama undertaking his Jal-Samadhi by walking and drowning in river Sarayu. This place is marked by the modern day ‘Guptar Ghat’ at Ayodhya.
2. Mahabharata- The conclusion Kurukshetra, in the modern state of Haryana is one place that we immediately associate with epic of Mahabharata. Of course, the climax has the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas at this place. But the primary protagonist of the epic- Lord Krishna sees his end in the modern state of Gujarat. He finds his way back to vaikunta after serving the purpose of his avatar on earth. As he readies himself to leave earth, he sits under a tree in meditation at Bhalka theerth also known as Golok Dham. Krishna’s feet are shot at by a hunter named Jara, mistaking it to be that of a wild animal. Krishna who is fatally wounded then walks into the river Hiran, where he drowns for life. This spot is marked by a marble replica of a pair of feet on the banks of the river, near Somnath.
This visit to Ayodhya is a part of my fortnight long backpacking in the typical pilgrimage circuit of Uttar Pradesh covering Lucknow- Ayodhya- Faizabad- Varanasi- Saranath– Allahabad- Agra- Mathura-Brindavan– Fathehpur Sikri– Delhi
We were scheduled to arrive at the land of Ramayana- The Epic of Indian Mythology! Ayodhya is believed to be built by Manu, the first man on earth as per the Vedas. This land was the capital of Ikshvaku dynasty of Suryavamsha- lineage of the Sun, of which Lord Ram was the most popular ruler. Lord Ram has been revered as a symbol of a perfect man. Irrespective of religion, every child born in India grows up listening to stories from the Ramayana. Young girls grow with dreams of having a husband similar to Lord Ram. That said, it was no less a dream to travel all the way to the land where the greatest empire of all times existed, at Ayodhya.
Day 1: Arrive at Ayodhya, Lakshman ghat & Saryu Aarti during sunset, boat ride in river Saryu
Day 2: Saryu Aarti during sunrise, Treta Ke Thakur, Ram ki Paidi, Nageshwarnath temple, Hanuman Garhi, Dashrath Mahal, Kaikeyi Mahal, Baal Ram Mandir, Dant Dhawan kund, Kanak Bhawan, Ram janmabhoomi, return to Faizabad.
A small platform which ended even before the train made its 1 minute long stop, very laid back village scene and just 2 tracks with a yellow ‘AYODHYA’ railway board welcomed us as we arrived there by an afternoon train. An old man and his cycle rickshaw awaited us on the other side of the tracks. We told him our hotel’s name and he said 50 Rs. We hopped on to the cycle and our dream journey kickstarted!
It was as if the rickshaw was our time machine that took us back in time as it slowly inched through the main commercial area.. A typical rural setup. Dusty roads were flanked by old tenements on both sides from end to end. The rich embossings on the facades of each house was unique and gave us a sense of an era bygone. Each house enclosed a shrine from where the smell of incense had filled the environment. The main street had everything being sold in the stalls from colourful plastic ware, brass souvenirs, religious beads, clay articles et all. The Chai-wallas were busy serving their brew in clay cups and the Jalebi-wallas were spiraling the batter into hot oil. Fruit vendors did brisk business on carts.. Amid all this, the prayer chants of ‘Ram Siya Ram, Siya Ram Jai Jai Ram’ from the temples in the bylanes echoed in the air giving us the sense of a heavy atmosphere. There was so much character in this small stretch! Just as if we were woken up from a dream, our rickshaw halted and our driver broke the silence- “Madam, your hotel.” he said pointing out at a very modern building which looked very sophisticated for an otherwise laid back country side.
We freshened up and had a rather sumptuous meal at their inhouse restaurant. It was already sunset time and upon enquiring about the nearest sightseeing places, our hotel caretaker told us to head towards the ghats to catch the Saryu Aarti. We had to rush as the sun was nearing the horizon. While we were asking for directions and running towards the Lakshman Ghat, my friend and I stopped abruptly at a sight.. The first glance of the Ayodhya that we had heard about, as kids. A visual treat that looked straight out of a fairy tale. ‘This is AYODHYA, Man!” we both blurted in unison. The oblique rays of the setting sun added a glorious gold to this Royal beauty. Although the structure is relatively new from the 19th century or so and not the original Kingdom that Ram had spent his days at, we stood there dumbfounded for a couple of minutes. After taking an eyeful of it, we walked towards the Lakshman Ghat where the Aarti was about to begin. We hitched a boat ride across river Saryu and back, from where we watched the aarti. Upon return to the river bank, we took a rickshaw to the Hanuman garhi main road to get our dose of kulladwala chai before calling it a day.
Next day, we woke up early to reach the ghats for the aarti during sunrise. Post that, we took a walk along the chawl photographing the artistic friezes. We explored the inside streets and the several temples inside those ancient tenements. Treta Ke Thakur, Ram ki Paidi, Nageshwarnath temple are all in this surrounding. We got talking to several residents both Muslims and Hindus and they all seemed excited to share what Ram meant to them. For some Lord Ram was a brother, for some a father and a son for some.. A curious family from the chawl even invited us over to their house for breakfast and took us across the fortress to introduce us to their relatives.. We were deeply moved by the innocence and simplicity of these people. We then bid a warm goodbye and headed towards the heart of the town..
From there, we reached the Hanuman Garhi, an important temple built on a fortified walled structure high above the ground level. Lord Hanuman is believed to have had kept a vigil on Lord Ram as a kid. A man offered to guide us around other important temples around the place. Some being Dashrath Mahal, Kaikeyi Mahal, Baal Ram Mandir, Dant Dhawan kund among the important places out of the 7500+ temples that are believed to exist in Ayodhya. Some of these places accepted donation towards the construction of the Ram temple. One’s name would be then sculpted out on a tile or a block of stone which would be used in the construction of the temple, that the localites were hopeful would be built someday, soon.
Kanak Bhawan was the highlight of the places with its architectural beauty. This structure is said to have been entirely plated with gold (Kanak) back when Kaikeyi had gifted it to Sita during Ramayana. A board on the wall explains the evolution and modifications done over different periods and by different rulers who ruled Ayodhya. We attended the aarti at noon before heading towards THE PLACE!! “Ram Janmabhoomi”.
Being one of the MOST controversial areas in India, we had to deposit all the things in a safety locker including watches, water bottles, cameras- basically everything before entering the premises of the birth place of Ram! Rifle armed commandos guarded the entire area. We had a long queue and four rounds of frisking to really get there. Women guards frisked us in really uncomfortable places and it was a strange experience to go through, inside our own country. I was made to throw away even the vermillion I had kept in my pocket from the Hanuman Garhi temple because they couldn’t trust me on carrying random powder.
With all the embarrassment, uncomfort, tiredness in the scorching sun- when we finally made it there: I did not realize that it was Lord Ram’s birth place. The King of Ayodhya!!! Small idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman were placed inside a Swiss tent as if the trio were still continuing their vanavas in the Kaliyug. Off-beat camping in a deforested jungle. I had still not come into belief that this is how India’s mythological hero was treated in his own house. I burst into tears and I didn’t have a reaction. I went berserk for a while until my friend calmed me down.
We couldn’t visit the Ayodhya research centre which has lot of information collected from across the world about Ramayana and the holy land of Ayodhya. Mani Parvat on the outskirts is another place I would suggest if you have time which gives a good view of Ayodhya. Although a 20Rs. per head ride in a tempo can take you to Faizabad, the district headquarters; I would recommend you to take a 1000Rs. boat ride along the Saryu which will take you to Ram Ghat at Faizabad for the evening aarti.
My entire stay here has been a great one with both Hindus and Muslims coexisting and helping me get around the place. Never did I feel the communal rife. It is one BIG political ticket for easy votes and in interest of no social harmony. Like really!! When there is Ali in Diwali and Ram in Ramzan, do we really need to fight in the name of God??? The question needs to be pondered over…
Must buys: Chillums (clay pipes), handmade religious cotton carry bags. Must dos:Get a glance of the Ramayana trail on the India map at the Ayodhya research centre, boat ride from Lakshman ghat(Ayodhya) to the Ram ghat (Faizabad)
Fisheries, Coastal police, wildlife conservation NGOs.. We have dialed any random and all possible numbers to get clarity and the permission to go to the Kurusudai island.. Thanks to Madhu, with a struggle for over a month to get permission from the authorities- the right phone number struck, and we finally pulled it off… 🙂 Kurusudai is one among the 21 islands in the gulf of Mannar and a site of importance in research due to its rich marine bio reserves.
So, our last day at Rameshwaram- Our destination ahead was fixed 🙂 An early morning bus from Pamban dropped us half way till Manimandapam. From there, a rickshaw ride took us to Vivekananda memorial hall where the 2 forest guides, the oarsman and the motorboat were all waiting for us 🙂 without wasting much time, our boat set sail.. We could see Kurusudai island at a kilometer’s distance across the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mannar. We had to contain our excitement lest be quoted as psychos by the people who accompanied us.
We stepped on land in no time- we were briefed about the island in the information center and were also instructed not to use our cameras for any sort of photography. There are nearly 3600 marine species spread around 10,500sq.kms of the marine reserve. 117 coral species, 13 mangrove species, 460 molluscan species and 12 species of sea grasses are found here.. A haven for a bird watcher too with over 217 species of birds found here.. And then our guided tour around the island took wings.. or rather.. set sail 🙂
We first sighted a vibrant red star fish seated comfortably on a barrel coral.. But we soon realised.. that echinoderms were the highlight of the walk.. about 100 species of echinoderms are found in this marine reserve. Sea urchins, Sea potatoes, Sea cookies(sand dollar, snapper biscuit, pansy shell, sea biscuit, sand disc, sand cake, cake urchin and sea pancake are other common names given for these relatively shy invertebrates), sea cucumbers (of varying colours and sizes) dotted the entire shoreline of the island.. Sea lotus of different colours was another highlight of the walk.. We saw the marine plant- Pemphis acidula- an endemic plant to this area. The sea grass(Enhalus acuroidus) is another plant endemic to these reserves found abundantly all around. However, we were more keen on spotting the Balanoglossus(Ptychodera flura)- which happens to be the only living fossil in the world which links vertebrates and invertebrates; endemic to this area as well.. However, our guide could not understand what we were trying to ask due to the language barrier of Tamil:(
Since it was low tide, we could walk into the sea- all along the shore where an infinite range of sea weeds, multi-hued reefs and sea grasses spread over the shallow bed of the sparkling water brightened up the entire ambience of the place. From shades of violet to red, the raised coral reefs of the Islands are not only a special attraction of the place but also chart high on the list of marine biologists. We also spotted a notable array of algae, sponges, sea anemones, cowries, volutes, whelks, crabs, strombids, tonnids, sting rays, oysters among others too..
However, in high tides– this island is a good sighting place for the endangered Sea cows(Dugongs) and dolphins(bottle-nosed dolphin, the common dolphin and the finless porpoise). The land is also home to 3 species of turtles which includes the Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley turtles. No.. we didn’t sight them… We had to be EXTREMELY LUCKY for that and needed more time(which we were deprived of:( )
However, the main purpose of this blog post…. Tourism is prohibited here and getting permission for a genuine research itself is such a tough deal.. And we really hope that the general public behave themselves when they encounter such rarity of sightings, do not pollute and RESPECT mother nature for the immense amount of patience she beholds and admire the beauty of what she has to offer.. it really hurts when we find even a small candy wrapper sailing or flying up in the otherwise clean atmosphere where so many other genuinely interested people put in their hearts and souls in the conservation activities. What we give only comes back.. Give respect and take respect.. If not, nature has her own ways to take a toll on all the disrespect..!!