Posted in Asia, Bhutan, travel and living, travelogue, Uncategorized

9 Reasons why we loved discovering Bhutan!

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So, of all the places in the world, what were we doing in Bhutan? Here is a list, in no specific order (apart from No.1 😀 ), with reasons as to why we ventured into discovering the Land of the Thunder Dragons this summer and how we explored the country that pioneered the concept of measuring the development of a place by its ‘Gross National Happiness’ as against the Gross Domestic Product.

The People – My number one reason

Our guide, Karma, did mention about the country facing a lot of challenges in the form of transformation in culture on one side and a few wanting to break free from the so far unchanged and timeless style of architecture unique to the Bhutanese on the other.

With the metaphoric shrinking of the world into what they fondly call the ‘global village’, you may say that it is only natural for these cultural shifts and morphing buildings to happen.

But the conscious effort the royal government of Bhutan and its people are investing in preserving their unique culture is the biggest reason we wanted to visit the “happiest place on Earth”.

Bhutan was once upon a time home to many great sages and saints but the human race here know the difference between spirituality, politics and happiness and they know too well not to mix them. They make sure that even their everyday clothing talk volumes about what they strongly believe in. Gho, a traditional knee-length robe the men wear, folded backwards and then tied around the waist with a belt they call kera, signifies the importance of family ties. The white cuffs stand for purity and the border that runs all through this kimono-looking dress represents the wisdom that they trust should run all through their being, like the border does the Gho; to stay true to what they feel, to know not to mix religion and politics ever, to not make political decisions those are influenced by religion.

They are not stressed when they can’t get their hands on the latest iPhone. Neither are they unhappy if another one has it. They are just happy to be alive.

The hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple

There had to be a short hike to prepare us for the long trek to the Tiger’s Nest. The walk towards the Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten was, at first, just that warm up trip for us until we experienced the magnificence of the temple. The view from the top of the four-storeyed temple (which is an engineering marvel that is composed of Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese architectural style) is to die for.

The temple sits in the Punakha valley and the view from the head of the temple is as incredible as the walk towards it through the rustic but ideal countryside.

Driving across the great Dochula Pass

This mountain pass which was at an elevation of about 3,000 metres above sea level was the highest point we were getting to in the entire trip. We were on our way from Thimpu to Punakha and we had to stop to breathe in the pure, chilly air before we gasped at the stunning 360 degree panoramic view of a cluster of 108 stupas called as ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’ overlooking the giant Himalayas and the snow covered mountain ranges in the background.

These chortens were built in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who lost their lives during a battle in December 2003, against the Assamese rioters from India.

After sipping on some hot chocolate and watching in awe what my super talented cousin was sketching, we hopped into the traveller and took a left towards the foggy Punakha valley that led us to the old capital city of Bhutan – the unparalleled Punakha.

A stroll through Punakha Dzong

Walking into this beautiful fortress (dzong) adorned by the lush lilac-coloured jacaranda trees which was blooming with mauve flowers made us feel that they were beaming at us. The first step in and we knew we were stepping into the 17th century Bhutan.

Though not the first dzong in the country, the winter capital of Bhutan arguably has the most stunning fortresses of them all. The strategic positioning of the Punakha Dzong at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers adds drama to the entire picture. No one can take a bad photograph here!

The elaborate painting on the walls and frescoes on the ceiling depicts the life of Buddha and speaks of the 3 vices depicted through the wheel of fortune. According to the Bhutanese belief, “roaster represents desire, anger is personified by the snake and the boar portrays ignorance,”  said my favourite storyteller, Karma.

While trying to get a glimpse of the group picture we took in front of the fortress, we knew that it was for a reason that this majestic structure is called the ‘palace of great happiness and bliss’.

White water rafting in Punakha

Since we couldn’t get enough of the magnificent town and its fortress, we decided to go for a white water rafting through the Mo Chhu. Though the river had only a few rapids and currents, we enjoyed the breathtakingly beautiful scenery around us. While teaching us the technics (as many of us were rafting for the first time. Yes, don’t judge me. Rishikesh is on my mind!), the oarsman told us that we were rowing through the female river because she was always the gentler, deeper and more graceful one, unlike the male river that mostly flows rapidly, just a few meters away.

“Typical of men, they are rough, shallow and graceless anyway” – the feminist in me whispered! 😉

When we were rafting, we crossing a rundown house on the banks of the river; and it felt like every corner of that building had a story to say. We didn’t have to ask though. The oarsman recited a touching tale of two ordinary people (a poor young man named Singye and a charming lady born into a rich family named Galem) and their extraordinary love story.

As he went on with the story, we saw the Bhutanese version of the Romeo and Juliet unfold in front of an alluring backdrop.

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While it was about time for the two rivers to meet and merge, a few of us took the risk of jumping confidently into the freezing cold waters of Mo Chhu.

We felt the caress of her on us while she gently embraced us and took us with the flow, along with the raft.

The luck of watching an archery match

While we were waiting for the Punakha Dzong to open, we decided to move towards a ground next to the fortress. Looks like Goddess Fortuna decided to bless us that day, Karma saw that there was an archery match going on there. One of the participants ended up being our driver’s, Ngawang’s, friend. Now we had to watch it.

Archery was apparently declared the national sport of the Kingdom in the early 1970s. Since began their bow and arrow journey. It is said that the Bhutanese archers managed to drive away a lot of the Tibetan invasions in the past, with their skill in the sport.

There are a lot of images of Gods holding the bow and arrow and the Bhutanese secretly adore them a tad bit more than the others.

For the clear love for the game, the country hosts a lot of archery tournaments and competitions around the year and we managed to witness one. Are we lucky or not!

The sight of the largest sitting Buddha in the world

While entering the largest city of the country, we noticed a huge Buddha statue sitting gracefully on top of a hill. The Great Buddha Dordenma, atop the capital city of Thimpu, was build to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck and is an epitome of tranquility. Here, Gautama Buddha is seated in his usual serene half-closed eyes posture with a gentle smile on his lips, and is surrounded by statues of the Goddess of Peace and Protection whom the believers of Buddhism affectionately call Tara.

The throne that Buddha sits on is a large meditation hall with thousands of smaller Buddha figurines, each of which, like the larger than life representation of Buddha are made of bronze and covered elegantly in thin gold.

The prayer chamber resonated peace and it felt like the happiness of the whole world was contained within the four walls of the hall. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to click pictures inside.

 

Exploring Simply Bhutan and meeting Pema Tshering

The trip to Simply Bhutan was a last minute addition to our last day in Thimpu. The gang was quite excited when we heard from Karma that this place was a living museum that gave an outsider a glimpse into a typical Bhutanese household. We got a chance to take some sips of Arag (the famous Bhutanese alcoholic beverage made mostly from rice), play a round of their national game (archery), try their traditional dress and a lot more.

We knew that this would be a good introduction to their simple life, deep-rooted cultural beliefs and exclusive architecture. But not in the wildest of my dreams did I expect to meet a 29-year old skillful craftsman there. In one of the stalls sat Pema Tshering, engrossed in his work until we reached his work space.

We didn’t know that Pema was a celebrity in Bhutan, until he asked our guide to show us one of the school textbooks in which he has an entire chapter dedicated to him. He was born with cerebral palsy but with his limited mobility, he creates remarkable foot crafts, drawings and wooden sculptures.

To buy one of his paintings for my parents, with his autograph on it, was truly an honour.

The magic called Tiger’s Nest

We started slightly earlier than the usual days for the trek to Taktsang Palphug Monastery, fondly called Tiger’s Nest, tucked in the cliffside of the Paro valley.

Though the route was uneven the first half of the trek, the ascend got manageable with stone steps that followed. We saw determined 70 and 80 year olds climb the hill and that was motivation enough to keep moving forward and take us to the mystifying site nestled amidst the sacred environment.

A few metres away from the monastery, we stopped to take a breath and catch a glimpse of the Taktsang that looked nothing less than a flawless tiara decorated with jewels placed perfectly well on the crown of this beautiful country.

The entire trip through Bhutan was an epic journey and without the mythical and magical vibes that the Tiger’s Nest gave, this vacation wouldn’t have be fulfilling.

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From Bhutan, with love!

 

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It is well past the Ides of September in this part of the world and I haven’t received a single postcard this entire year! If you did by any chance, you are among the very lucky few. It was never uncommon to receive postcards or handwritten letters in India till about a decade ago. I remember receiving quite a number of postcards, especially from my elder brother.

That’s right! Once upon a time, he kept travelling the world as a teenager and I eagerly kept waiting for his handwritten postcards, stamped with love, as a little girl.

One side would have a colourful, drop-dead gorgeous picture of the landscape of the town or city he was in, whose name I could hardly pronounce. 😐 Mostly, it was just a warm greeting in his sloppy, adolescent handwriting or maybe even a polite word or two in his unique scratchy script style on the other side. 😉 Yes, I felt like Sherlock Holmes every time I tried really hard to decode all the encrypted text he would write to me (siblings can never stop being nasty to each other, can they? *evil grin). In my defence, my writing is slightly more legible than his! Yeah, slightly, but come on, it still means ‘better’! 😏 And in the same breathe, I must also confess that receiving an incomprehensible postcard like that is all it takes to bring a smile on my face. (Can I be more subtle? Send me postcards the next time you go somewhere please, yeah, you!) It feels good to know that someone thought about you while they were in a strange land and took the time to scribble a line or two, just to let you know that they were thinking about you.

You must be wondering why I am saying all this now. There is always a trigger that elicit fond personal memories, ain’t there? On one of the last few days in Bhutan, we reluctantly walked into the Bhutan Postal Museum in Thimpu as we had nothing much left to do around.

In no time after getting there, this became a place I wanted to list down and recommend as a must-visit to whoever wished to visit the country.

This museum, located in the building of the main post office, was inaugurated by Her Majesty Galyum, Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in 2015. The museum is said to be a dedication to the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Apart from the depiction of the journey Bhutan had taken as a country to get where they are now and the collection of assorted stamps they had that were being kept on display in the museum, this place scored brownie points for having a counter to get personalised stamps made. Yes, you heard that right! The time to transfer the photos from your phone to their computer was all it took to get them freshly printed to its stamp-sized form. Every sheet had 12 stamps (with our faces, of course) and cost us INR 360 per sheet. INR 30 per ‘personalised’ stamp is not a bad deal at all.

We wasted no time! All of us queued up and started searching for some good quality pictures on our phones that would qualify as a decent image on the stamp. I was quite sure that I wanted a picture of my nephew, and found the perfect click just before it was my turn to transfer the picture to their system.

Ahh! The grinding noise of the printer never felt that appealing and fascinating, ever.

When Ethan Hawke, an American actor best known for his role as Jesse in Richard Linklater’s romantic drama trilogy, was once interviewed by the People Magazine, he had mentioned, “My favorite thing in the world is to receive postcards from friends. And I travel a lot, so I send them back. It may be old-fashioned, but when I see someone’s handwriting, it’s like a little piece of them. And I always love it.” The feeling is mutual, Ethan! Am of the opinion that any person’s handwriting is as unique as his or her personality and is a reflection of who they have become.

Once we were all done printing our favourite snaps, we grabbed a few postcards from the stand beside, borrowed a pen from Karma (our guide), wrote a small note on it, fed in the address, very carefully tore a stamp from the sheet and pasted it on the postcard. Voila! It was ready to take the ‘snail mail’ trip.

Now, it has turned a full circle. I finally got to send my brother a postcard. Just like the way he used to sent me, hoping to bring that similar smile on his face, quite literally (yup, we both grin alike, or so they say) and maybe help echo the same feelings after.

It was right when I held the postcard before dropping it into the post box that I realised that it is not always the scent on someone or the whiff of some dish that evokes powerful childhood memories, but it is sometimes also the sight of something that gave you a beautiful springtime of life, that stirs up those happy thoughts.

Fun fact – One of my biggest pet peeves is postal service delays. I have been a victim of it several times and it can be extremely frustrating. The lady at the counter had promised that the postcards would reach the recipients two weeks from mailing it. But me being me, I got flustered after three weeks, when both my parents and brother did not mention anything about receiving it. Neither could I ask them since I wanted to “surprise” them. Yup, bad idea! I almost lost hope and started cribbing about people rightly calling our postal service the ‘snail mail’, when I finally got a call from Ettan (that’s what I call my elder brother) one weekend.

Certainly, it felt good to hear his baritone voice and a gleeful chuckle after he said they received the postcard; about a month after I was back. But that’s okay! Mission Accomplished! 🙏 🙋

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strangers in Paradise (Bhutan)!

I’m sure that my passport was super excited to get ‘stamped’ while we waited eagerly to secure the permit on arrival as soon as we crossed the Bhutan main gate and entered the land of the Thunder Dragon. I mean, why wouldn’t it, right? Every stamp in a passport, after all, has a story to tell.

Just that this time it was going to be a story about mountains, some shrouded by clouds and others with a blanket of fresh snow; about the mystery that this place was and the magic that its architecture added to it; about its peace loving people and their unswerving faith in Buddha and his teachings.

The group of nine met our guide (Karma) and driver (Ngawang) for the trip while at Phuentsholing, the border town that shares its dramatic landscape with India and the point of entry for tourists travelling by road to Bhutan.

After an early morning breakfast, we started to Thimphu via the oldest road constructed by Dantak, the Border Roads Organisation, in 1962. Yes, this country is quite young but is taking its baby steps pretty fast.

The closer we got to the capital city, the colder it got and we slowly began to pull our mufflers​, caps and jackets out of our backpacks. Karma smiled when he noticed this and notified us that it was only late spring and summer is just almost on its way. “It is a great time for you people to visit us, actually. Our country is going through a lot of changes – infrastructure-wise, culturally, climatically and otherwise.”

“When I was a small boy, my friends and I used to place our cups of milk mixed in sugar on our rooftop. If we didn’t take it on time, it turned into frozen milk chunks” he chuckled and continued before anyone could interrupt him.

“This was way before we had the refrigerators at our homes, mind you! Unfortunately, these are things that our kids would never relate to now,” he recounted turning to Ngawang who was enjoying the story while he swerved the vehicle with ease as the long and narrow mountain roads twisted and turned.

It was time for lunch and we stopped to sample some Bhutanese cuisine. We ordered what they called Ema Datshi along with their famous tea, that they suggested we try. No, don’t get puzzled yet. No, really! Having tea for lunch is fine. And no, Ema Datshi was all right too. It was a bowl of rice, a lot of red chillies (“ema”) and truckloads of liquid cheese (“datshi”). Quite spicy but definitely flavourful.

What confused our taste buds was their tea. Tea and coffee have been part of our culture and every Indian household for decades now. But have you ever tried adding salt to it?

They served us their national beverage, the Himalayan butter tea, also fondly called ‘Suja’. Want to know what it is made of; tea leaves, yak butter and salt! Ask me whether I want one more cup, hmmm, I really wouldn’t mind! Fresh and full, we hopped on to our van.

We saw these colourful flags hung almost everywhere while traveling in and around Bhutan – by the river, in front of buildings, beside hotels we stopped​ to eat, on the bridges and tied to poles next to the mountains.

Curious, I asked our guide as to what it signified. He explained with a broad smile on his face. “These are prayer flags, ma’am! We hang it for multiple reasons; for good luck, long life, great health and sizeable wealth. We believe that if they are hung in such a manner, that the winds will touch the flags and pass the prayers on to the people living around. We consider it very auspicious”.

He spoke about how they also had the ‘prayer wheels’ and that they could be made out of wood, metal, stone or even leather. They, like the prayer flags, are believed to spread positivity and good vibes. Just like how the breeze activates the prayer flags, you turning the wheels with your own hands in a clockwise direction will bring similar blessings. I knew that very moment that it was going to be a journey into a very different kind of reality and that falling in love with this sacred country and its people weren’t going to be difficult, one bit.

While we were almost approaching Thimphu, we saw a life size statue of what the Bhutanese call the ‘Four Harmonious Friends’ and you can see them as paintings, wooden carvings and sculptures all through in the country. And according to our new favourite storyteller, Karma, this is how the story goes.

Once upon a time, in a dense jungle where light couldn’t penetrate the canopy, stood a tall and strong tree that bore some tasty fruits​. When it was time for the fruits to ripen, four animals who lived in that forest came to claim the rights to the tree and the fruits on it. There was an elephant who said that he saw the fruits first and that it was rightfully his. Then, there was the monkey who said that the tree was his home for a long time and that the fruits that grew on it was legitimately his. The rabbit intervened and said that she came here while this tree was just a small sapling and that she had been putting her rabbit droppings beside it ever since. That has helped the tree grow into the massive size it is now and bear such tempting fruits. Finally, the bird who stood listening to all this, spoke!

“But I had flown a hundred miles before I spat out the seeds of this tree here, years ago”. The elephant, monkey and the rabbit bowed to the bird in awe and high regard. They went on to become friends, share the fruits and protect the tree.

Karma, Ngawang, their captivating stories and interesting conversations with us and between themselves became what I looked forward to for the rest of the journey.

And from them I knew that there was so much to love about Bhutan. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

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Darjeeling – A Joy(ful) Ride through the Hills!

My cousins and I were in the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ in May this year and we couldn’t stop gazing at its landscape that was enveloped by the emerald green sheets all through. The town is not only known for bearing one of the world’s finest and most expensive leaves – the Indian Darjeeling Tea – but also for the most sort after Himalayan Toy Train ride through the green hills.

Since the gang was in Darjeeling for less than 24 hours, we wanted to make the most of it. Lucky for us, my friend had booked us on the last of the three steam-powered trains that service in a day; the 04:05 pm one out of Darjeeling station. A huge board in the station read that this UNESCO World Heritage Area was completed in 1881 and started operating from September of the same year. Phew, that’s longer than a long time ago! The map on the board also highlighted that Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) toy train (as it is called) covers about 72 kilometers and runs between Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.

History lessons aside, the toy train blew its whistle sharp at 04:05 pm and all of us stopped strolling in the platform and hopped on to the only coach that was attached to the steam engine. We were all excited as the train started its 2 hour ride to Ghum and back.

But as soon as it began to trill and trot on the tracks that was built alongside the narrow roads with shops on either sides, and launched into negotiating with the people crossing the tracks by blowing its horn and almost brushing against the trees and brushes on its way, we embarked on that typical journey of doubting our decision to take the train.

Except that it went on only till we reached the famous Gorkha War Memorial and the engine, for some time, stopped huffing and puffing and chugging like the classic choo choo train it was.

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It is said that around seventy and odd Darjeeling soldiers sacrificed their lives for the nation since independence. And this tribute to the Gorkha soldiers who bravely fought but lost their lives, was located right in the centre of the picturesque Batasia Loop.

This spiral railway track that runs amidst the tastefully landscaped garden with flowers of almost all colours one could fathom, wraps itself here, and is said to have been commissioned to curtail the elevation of the DHR. Though the Batasia Loop was built as an engineering requirement to overcome the concern related to the geography of the place, it looked so in sync and in harmony with the entire scene – like the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that completes the puzzle mat and makes it the perfect picture. The train stopped and let us take a few good shots before we resumed our journey.

The next stop was Ghum, the Highest Heritage Railway Station in the world, which sat at an altitude of 7,407 feet (2,258 meters).

We walked towards the railway museum that was housed beside the station which had a collection that stood there as a commemoration to the bygone days of the railway.

It was the perfect place, time and weather to sip on some piping hot cup of Nescafe. I know, who has coffee when she goes to a place that’s known for its tea. For me it is not a mere beverage that you have every morning. I don’t drink coffee everyday but every time I do, it gives me a feeling of wakefulness.

And this time, it added a unique flavour to our short tryst with the Queen of Hills before we headed back to Darjeeling station and crossed the scenically eloquent and historically significant war memorial, for one last time! Rest in peace heroes, among the brightly coloured flowers that bloom just for you while you overlook the aesthetically appealing view around and ahead. Rest in Peace!

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If you think the photo quality is better, then it is all thanks to a borrowed iPhone 7! 😉 But I am secretly waiting to buy the One Plus 5. I hear the photo quality is in par with its expensive iOS counterpart.

 

 

 

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Madurai – History etched in stone!

In South India, temples are not just mere buildings devoted to worshipping​ a particular God or a Goddess. From stone carvings on walls to beautiful sculptures on pillars and colourful frescoes on the ceiling, they are a representation of ancient tales retold by different dynasties, in their own style, that hold great religious significance.

The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai had one such chronicle to tell us through its sculptural tradition when we visited the magnificent architectural marvel a couple of months back.

A temple that seats itself in a spacious 45 acres of land, right in the heart of Madurai, is said to have a history as old as the history of the city itself or maybe even older. We will never know. Oh, but sometimes there is beauty in what we will never know, right?

If legends are to be believed, it all started with the birth of the beautiful fish eyed baby girl who was born to the longtime childless Pandya King Malayadwaja and his wife, Kanchanamalai.

As a result of their prayers, she emerged from the holy fire with an extra breast and was named Meenakshi – the one who had eyes like that of a fish.

While her parents noticed that she had a third breast, they heard a voice from heaven asking them not to worry about their little girl’s deformity. The voice of the omnipresent also added that she would lose her superfluous breast as and when she meets her potential soulmate.

While in one part of the world little Meenakshi was growing up to be a great warrior princess preparing to ascend the throne, getting trained in the field of science and the art of warfare, in another side of the planet was Lord Indra (the defender of the Gods and the mankind from everything evil) committing a huge sin. He goes on to kill a demon, even though the demon hadn’t harmed anyone.

This act of ungodliness brings a curse upon him which forces him to live a life of a rootless wanderer.

No one is ready to show him the way to redeem himself from his plight, until one day he chances upon a ‘Shivalingam’ under the kadamba tree in a dense forest where he goes on to build a small temple.

The mythological connection behind the temple says that Princess Meenakshi, after her coronation, wages a war against three worlds. After conquering Sathyaloka (Bhrahma’s dwelling) and Vaikunda (Vishnu’s abode), she valiantly advances to Kailasa, Shiva’s base camp.

Though she easily defeats Shiva’s army and his trusted confidant, Nandi, the moment she sets her eyes on Lord Shiva, her third breast vanishes.

She, almost immediately realises that she was the manifestation of Goddess Parvathi and that Shiva is the man she was meant to live the rest of her life with.

Celebrations began at the very same temple that Lord Indra had built for Shiva, to atone his sins, in the southern part of India. Many Gods and Goddesses descends to earth to witness the occasion, partake in the festivities and bless the couple. Their representation is shown on the pillars and walls of the the temple in the form of sculptures depicting various Gods and Goddesses with their striking features, in action.

It is said that they refused to have the meal they were served until Shiva performed his glorious dance. Legend has it that Shiva performed the cosmic dance in front of his young and attractive wife Meenakshi, while the others watched the representation of life and beauty merge into one. This union is celebrated as Chitirai Thiruvizha festival during the months of April and May.

Millions of devotees are said to visit the city in general and the temple in specific during these months while the festivities end with the celestial marriage of Shiva and Shakti.

After the marriage, they went on to live in this temple complex, located on the southern banks of the Vaigai river, for a few years and later became Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the deities of the temple.

This Dravidian work of art, placed in the geographical center of Madurai, is said to receive about 15,000 devotees every day. Devotees come in large numbers and wait long hours in the queue to catch a glimpse of Meenakshi with a parrot on her right hand. Other attractions in this temple are the huge sculpture of Ganesha, the gold plated Sundareswarar shrine, the Meenakshi shrine made of emerald hued black stone, the temple lake, 108 Shivalingas and the Nataraja sculpture, the dancing form of Lord Shiva.

While revelling in the grandeur of the temple, we almost forgot to walk around the lotus shaped city built around this masterpiece and enjoy a glass of Madurai’s famous Jigarthanda. Almost!

 

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The Town whose Middle Name is ‘Timeless’!

Overlooked by many travellers who visit South India, this town is home to the glorious historical legacy of the great Chola Empire. Thanks to a job that requires me to run around and travel like a headless chicken, I reached Thanjavur, one of the busiest commercial towns in Tamil Nadu, on a not-so-sultry March morning of 2017.

While heading for work that morning, I saw a few foreigners walking through the sidewalks aiming their DSLR cameras in all possible directions. They were trying to capture some fresh and offbeat angles of the town where sleeps history, while Thanjavur refused to stop for anyone. A lot of sign boards pointed to all possible routes with names of different temples, palaces and museums written on them. It didn’t take too long for me to be conscious of the fact that this place definitely had enough to hold the interest of its tourists for at least a couple of days.

While temples and its timeless architecture are Thanjavur’s middle name, paradox is beyond doubt its surname. Though the crowded town had a busy air to it, it felt like the place was not affected by the passage of time or the change in fashion whatsoever.

“The past is very much my present”, cried every nook and corner of this place and its premises. And we know that these are not words that we say in the same breath usually.

This place definitely does not hurry up but surprisingly, neither does that stop her from accomplishing anything. The natives still preferred to live in independent houses. Apartments continued to be a rare sight and even if we spotted one, they were not more than three storeyed. Having lived in cities for a long time now, getting to see the clear blue sky while not having to strain the neck because of the high-rise structures blocking the view felt like a unfamiliar happening.

Visiting the town for exactly two days and a night as part of work, we definitely did not have the time to see all the sights and landmarks of Tanjore but neither did I want to miss visiting the most eloquent edifice which showcases the power and grandeur of King Rajaraja and his Chola Empire while they were at their zenith.

The Brihadishwara Temple, also fondly called as the Big Temple, was lavish looking in every sense of the word.

I am going to type no more. Let the (unedited) pictures speak for itself!

Courtesy: My humble One Plus Two

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This temple is the only structure that dominates the skyline of Thanjavur and I doubt if anything else can make the skies look prettier
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Saw a lot of people gather in the park in front of the temple while some older men were taking a stroll and catching up with their friends
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Did you know that the Big Temple has the UNESCO World Heritage status?

 

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Yercaud – A Weekend Fling!

I was in a fit of the sulks that Friday evening (True, only I can be grumpy on a Friday night), and so instantly took to cribbing about the busy weekdays and hectic city life to my cousin when we met for an early dinner. We had a long weekend ahead of us and I really wanted to take a break, go for a long drive and unwind.

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Thanks to the free Wifi at the café we were in; for both of us started frantically searching for getaways not too far away from Chennai. We were clear on not wanting to go to Pondicherry or Mahabalipuram, the customary hideaways from Chennai. No, definitely not because they aren’t as happening, but simply because we were looking for a breath of fresh air. Some place that would be new and different and some place that would make everything seem more stimulating.

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Google gave us a lot of options, as usual, but the pictures of this one hill station, hidden in the lap of the Shevaroys range of hills in the Eastern Ghats, made us want to flee from the hustle and bustle giving us just enough time to pack our backpacks.

I called up a friend who helped us get two rooms in a resort there and lucky for us, they had rooms to spare even though they were getting ready for the busy Christmas season.

We left the city, after a hearty breakfast from the famous Murugan Ildi, into the wide and welcoming roads of Krishnagiri.

We took our own sweet time to revel in the good looking landscape while playing all our favourite tracks in the music system over and over again.

Finally, it felt wonderful being the shotgun; reclining in the car seat like a boss, sipping on a cold drink we got from a Coffee Day on the way. 😉

We took a long 8 hours to cover a mere 380 kilometers. A couple of toll booths, a lot of monkeys, a dozen hair pin bends, a few degrees drop in the temperature and a flat tyre later, we reached our resort where we were going to spend our holiday. The warm smile from the wonderful host as we stepped out of the car, instantly made us feel at home.

While we walked into their 100 years old bungalow-converted-into-a-resort, it felt like we had walked into a fairy-tale from the 1800s.

The colonial building from the British era has four suites, a enormous dining hall, a restaurant and a villa. We got two huge and comfortable suite rooms as promised.

Neither did we for once doubt Vishu Kalliapa, the owner’s good taste when it came to interior decoration and furnishing nor were we surprised when he got his friend, a naughty little cockatoo, and introduced him to us.

‘Sweet Rascal’, the resort’s kitchen, treated us to some great tasting pancakes for breakfast, crispy chicken fry for lunch and the appetising Hindu Muslim soup (hope I didn’t get the name wrong) for dinner. The hospitality was overwhelming and the dining area amusing with fun quotes and interesting one-liners on the walls.

With just another day left in Yercaud, we walked around the resort after a wholesome breakfast, got the tyre fixed, drove around the ‘valley with a scenic view’ and went for a boat ride in the lake close by.

Driving back down the traffic free loop road, amidst the misty evening sky, I realised that heading back to the “big city life” was bearable all over again.

All soul searching travellers must add this lush green hills to their bucket list. After all, all the lazing around while wallowing in the personalized hospitality helped us relax, take that deep breath and rejuvenate our otherwise restless souls.

I gazed vacantly at the long and winding road ahead. Snapping back into reality, I smiled and thought, “Where next?”.