Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bhimashankar Temple - Jyothirlingam

Bhimashankar temple is one of the 12 Jyothirlingas in India. The temple is situated is around 120 km away from Pune. It took 3.5 hours from Pune with a 15 minutes break at Godegaon for breakfast. We had planned a one day trip to Alibaug with our friend and family. But since it was raining non stop for the last few days, we decided to drop the plan. Since we were getting two consecutive days as holidays on account of Ramzan and Ganesh Chathurthi, we somehow wanted to make a trip. Last minute discussions led to Bhimashankar. On:  some googling, I understood monsoon is the best time to visit Bhimashankar. Made a note of few places to visit in Bhimashankar apart from the temple. We started at 6:30 in the morning. Luckily, there was no rain and after heavy downpour till the previous day, the weather was very pleasant. We took the Rajaguru nagar, Manchar, Godegaon, Bhimashankar route. After Rajguru nagar, there isn't much eating joints on the way. Manchar is a small town. In Godegaon there are some good hotels. We had taken some sandwich with us for breakfast.  Reached Godegaon at around 8:00 a.m. We had the packed sandwiches and had tea from a joint there.  Hotels were just warming up for the breakfast. 

The drive from Godegaon to Bhimashankar is splendid. You are greeted with various shades of green on both sides. At places there are few rocks which adds to the beauty of green. Its the best season to drive to Bhimashankar. I'm sure it must be more beautiful if it is raining. You will forget the passing of time while soaking in the nature's beauty. There was a small waterfall on the way. 

The month of Shravan and Shivarathiri are the two occasions which brings in more crowd at the temple. We saw few vehicles at the parking lot. The parking are was so dirty after the rains and was sad to note there is no cleaning work undertaken there, despite being a major tourist attraction. You have to walk some distance to the temple from the parking area. The way to the temple is well laid with stones and was surprisingly clean too.

The temple is not very huge. There is huge Nandhi statue in the front of the temple. As we walked into the temple, there were about 5 people in the queue. I was literally shocked and was doubtful if that was the main sanctorium. Here you are allowed inside the main garbha griha and one is allowed to do abhishekam and offer flowers to the lingam. Being from Kerala, where strict rules are followed inside the temple, I was not used to this practice of touching the idol. This was my first where I got such closest darshan. Since there was not much crowd, there was no one to hurry us up. So it was a very peaceful darshan, which we had not anticipated. After the darshan we moved out to see what is around.

There is nothing much to see around the temple. You can few few people selling pooja materials to be offered to the deity and few selling various roots and herbs from the forest.

The flowers looked like plastic ones..But there are fresh ones.

Of the few things I had noted down to see there, Gupt bhimashankar was the first that came to my mind. From what I read, I understood it as just behind the temple where there is a naturally formed Siva Linga. When we walked to the back side, it looked so dirty with plastic bottles, flowers, garlands etc littered every where along side the stream flowing. Husband refused to walk that way and told me we may be on the wrong path.

Around the temple, that was the only way to the forest behind. Confirmed it with the vendor there and we decided to walk. As we moved few steps ahead, an old man called out to us and asked where we were heading to. Hearing us, he replied in Marathi which we did not understand fully. But from his gestures we could infer that he is asking us not to go on our own and take a local with us. Me and my friend were not to give up easily though our respective husbands were ready to back out. We went and asked a girl selling the herbs if she can send a guide with us and after little bargaining, settled for Rs.100.

It was indeed a beautiful trek into the forest walking along side the stream. At times, had to walk across too. The forest is home to Giant Squirrel. And we were on the look out for it on the trees. At first, I just had a glimpse of one and by the time I had a clear look it hid under the leaves. And with in minutes, we spotted two close by. Generally they are very shy and hide quickly. This time, they both were nibbling something and was perched on the tree for few minutes. We had a close look and clicked few pictures too.

The pathway is clearly marked with sign boards on the trees in the forest. The board is  a small metal strip just enough to hold the words 'GUPT BHIMASHANKAR' inscribed on an arrow mark. At first I took it as numbers/names on the trees, as is generally seen in reserved forests. Only later when I had a close look at one, I realized those are sign marks. So I was confused why the old man held us back for going on our own.     Thinking that it might me a God sent sign, we walked ahead. There was a small temple of Lord Ganesha on the way.

It was a real joy to walk in side the forest. Very refreshing for the whole body and mind. For the entire trek, we were so absorbed in the sight, sound and smell of the forest, that no other thoughts crossed our mind. I felt it was kind of an effortless meditation. The naturally formed linga is below a water fall. There the water was in good flow and the guide helped us to cross and had to climb down the rocks to get near the linga.

While returning, we came by the other side and there is no stream on that side. After some steep climbs, it was plain. Only at those climbs, did we sweat and felt tired. Else it was very cool. After the two hours trek, every one was feeling thirsty and hungry. When we reached back the temple, there was huge queue of devotees waiting for Darshan. Our reaching early helped us in a quick darshan and enjoy the trek.

On the way back, we had plans to visit the Dimbhe dam. Our cab drive told us they have stopped allowing visitors over the dam due to some unfortuante incidents in the past.

We stopped at Godegaon at about 2:30 for lunch. That's the nearest town where some clean and good hotels are there. And then we headed to Pune with loads of photos and memories of the trip and with a decision to go there again during monsoon, next year. And now that we know what to expect there, will explore more around Bhimashankar.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Balaji Temple at Narayanpur, Pune

The entrance gate

When you break the news of moving to a new city, folks will be eager to share any little info about the city, some first hand info or heard from friends or families.  And some of them might not have even passed through that city as part of a journey to say the least. But will have lots to tell in the tone of authentic info. So before we moved to Pune, we too has our share of information from lots of people. Knowing our interest to travel, few suggested places of interest too. After coming to Pune, Balaji mandir was our first place of visit. I haven't been to Tirupathi and I was looking forward to visit Balaji temple, which I was told is built on the same lines of Tirupathi with regard to the Sannidhis/deities.

Once you move out of the city, the drive to the temple is very good, especially after the monsoon.The surroundings where the temple is located is very calm and serene.  Autos and share taxis which ply from Kapurhole is not allowed inside. Own vehicles/taxis are allowed to the parking area. There is a place to keep your footwear and can proceed to the temple. Cameras and mobiles are not allowed and has to be deposited at the counter where the queue begins. There is a separate queue for ladies and gents. The temple is open from 5:30 a.m till 8:30 p.m in the evening. Temple is closed for darshan briefly during the pooja time. There isn't much waiting time except when its closed for pooja. During such time, you may have to wait for half an hour or so and by then the queue gets longer. But once it is opened, the queue moves fairly fast.

As you enter the temple, there is a pipe with water flowing from the holes, to wash your feet. I am told, Tirupathi has a similar facility. Lord Balaji is very artistically and beautifully decked up with gold ornaments and flower garlands. Depending upon the queue, you will be asked to move faster. But you are guaranteed a satisfying darshan. From there you move down the steps and walk to the surrounding platform where the other sannidhis are there. Chakkarathu Alwar, Padmavathy, Andal and Venu gopla swami Sannidhis are there in the four corners. After the Venugopala Sannidhi you move out of the temple. On the way out, you will given Laddu prasadam and meal coupon for lunch.
On the way from the entrance, there is Ganesha Sannidhi. Outside the temple, you can find Kubera sannidhi and Anjaneya Sannidhi too.  There is facility to offer your hair too with seperate sections for ladies and gents.

The dining hall is located towards the back of the temple and has to walk around 200 mtrs.  A typical Andhra meal served . You take the plater and get the food served and sit on the carpets laid down. A meal of pachadi/chutney, kesari, kalanda sandam(Mixed Rice) like puliyotharai/vaangi bath, rice and a gravy is served. You can go for second helpings too. The dining hall is well maintained and is cleaned as when people move.

Taken from the parking area

To reach there: Buses ply from Swargate to Narayanpur. The frequency of buses to Naraynpur is less and you can take any pass passing through Kapurhol like Satara buses. Get down at Kapurhol and you can take autos or taxis which charge Rs.5 per person. And you may have to wait till he gets passengers to its capacity. The temple must be around 2.5 kms from the Kapurhol junction.

On return, you might get some share taxis which will drop you at Swargate bus stand. On my first trip, we got one and he charged less than what we paid for bus.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weekend at Matheran

Matheran, meaning the forest on top, was on top of my list when we moved to Pune. Though Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala is much talked about hill stations, I wanted to visit Matheran for a long time.  When we decided for a short holiday and hubby was not very particular about any specific place, I decided its Matheran. All I knew that vehicles are not allowed in Matheran. So you have to either take a train or walk all the way. I googled and gathered required information. From Pune there is only one train that stops in Neral and there are many to Karjat. Initially I had planned to take the toy train from Neral and had booked tickets online for Pune to Neral. On second thoughts, decided to take the train on the return trip. The Sahyadri express leave Pune at 6:55 AM reaching Neral at 10:05 AM. We reached around 10:30. You can see a board welcoming Matheran passengers on the 1st platform and there is a separate track for that train outside the station.  On the right side of the exit at the station gate, lies the taxi stand. As you walk down, cab drivers come asking if you are to Matheran. Taxi charges Rs.300 and if you opt for sharing then it is Rs.60 per head. When we approached a taxi, there was another couple too. So it was shared between us and the other couple..  It takes only 20 minutes for the uphill drive and the taxi leaves you at the Dasturi point. If you are travelling in your own vehicle, then you will have to leave the vehicle at this point. Tourists are charged a small fee of Rs.25 and Rs.10 for children to enter Matheran. Take the ticket at the counter and you can start your journey to Matheran. Once you move out of the gate, people throng you asking to take you by horse, hand pulled rickshaws or offering to take your luggage while you walk up. There are two routes- one is the railway route and the other one which the horses and hand pulled rickshaws take.

The roads are muddy and uneven. We walked along the railway track, which was much easier.  It was a good experience to walk with trees on both sides. You have to be careful with the monkeys. You will be taken off guard. If you have anything that remotely resembles food, they will surely grab it from your hand. Otherwise, the monkeys are harmless.  It took 45 minutes to reach the M.G. road where the shops are locate. On the way up, we found sign boards of various view points.

From M.G. road it was another 5 minutes walk to the hotel, Kumar Plaza. We had plans to roam around before lunch. Once we checked in, all I wanted was to stretch. Walking with the luggage wasn't that easy, even though we travelled light. Had a lavish buffet lunch at the hotel. The package included stay and three meals along with evening tea. The food at the hotel was very tasty. They had variety in their both lunch and dinner menu. The room was comfortable, but was a bit small.  The swimming pool is not very big. All in all they have all the facilities to add to the list, though it could be better.
We headed out at 3:30 pm. The first point was the Khandala point which is very near. From the road, you have to walk down. Very good view. There is a telescope and he charges Rs.20 to show you five points. Through the telescope, we were showed few houses of adivasis, the ladder used to extract honey and the like. Three points which are nearby Charlotte Lake, Lousie point and Echo point which is 10 minutes walk from the lake point. 

While I sat down on a platform near the echo point to catch some breath, I putdown the Sprite bottle and immediately my husband exclaimed "Monkey" and by the time I turn I saw it walking away with the bottle. It perched on a branch and opened it. Sniffed and probably didnot like it and just poured it down. While we were returning from the echo point, I saw another one drinking fanta from the bottle.

The soil at Matheran is the laterite kind and can paint your clothes and shoes literally red. Make sure you don't wear your expensive shoes or best dress there. Though the red color doesn't leave a stain on your clothes, it definitely calls for some extra scrubbing to remove them. The roads are not very smooth.

There is a well maintained park. There is a separate with fun rides for the kids.  Though waste bins are not many, you can't find any litters in the park. Its picked often.

All the shops are on the M.G Road. There are some shops on two by-lanes too. Shops selling foot wears, chikkis, fruit crushes makes the most of the market. There are umpteen varities of Chikkis and fruit crushes to choose from. We bought chikkis from the Janatha stores and few flavors from fruit crushes from Mala's outlet. You will get footwear for throw-away prices. Though the price quoted by the sellers are not very high, you can bargain for a lesser price and they invariably reduce it too. Where can you get fashion chappals as low as Rs.100. I have a weakness to footwear and had to restrict myself by not buying too many pairs.

There are many games at each point like bowling alley, hitting the tumbler etc for Rs.10. They give out prizes too but its not very easy to win them given the conditions apply.

The toy train has an extra run on weekends and we had booked for that trip at 12:30. The checkout time at all the hotels are 9:30 but our hotel staff wasn't particular about it. Probably, since it was a Sunday and there may not be many bookings for the day. After the breakfast, we packed all our things and vacated the room at 10:00 A.M. Left the luggage at the reception and just roamed around the market and spent sometime at the park.

The train was at the station at around 11:30. Everyone was busy clicking the train and posing in and around it.  The seats are small that two persons can just fit in. The leg space between the seats are also very less. You can't expect much on that train which has to travel along the hills. The first class compartment has spacious seats.

By 12:30 everyone got seated. And all the passengers were ready to soak in the forthcoming panoramic views.  Time ticked away and the train did not seem to be starting. On enquiry, we learnt the train which is coming towards Matheran has got stuck on a single track due to some technical snag and hence our train could not start unless it reaches Matheran. Finally after two hours, we started our journey. The journey through the forests is very good. After Matheran, the train travels along the hills. The view down is breath taking.

At some points,  the width is just  enough for the railway and track with hill on side and deep valley on the other.

We found a group trekking along the rail route. There are two stations on the way. This is to let the other train move along.

The period just after monsoon will be very good with greenery all around and you can catch some waterfalls also along the way.

Long distance train passing along the Neral junction

It took 1 1/2 hrs to reach Neral. From Neral, took a local to Karjat and boarded the Bhuvaneswar bound train at 5 from Karjat and reached Pune at 7:00 PM. Except for the delay for the train to start, the trip was good and had a nice time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flower show at Empress Garden

There was a flower show for 3 days at the Empress Garden, near to the Race course, Pune. We visited on Sunday and it was the last day of the show. The garden has many huge trees which gives much shade to the sprawling garden. I am visiting the garden for the first time. So I don't know how the garden is during the other days. But most part of the garden looked done up as part of the on going flower show.  There were stalls featuring flower arrangements based on Kitchen theme, Ikebana, Bonsai plants. A stall had flower portraits too. There were many nurseries selling potted plants, garden related tools, manure, pots etc. For those interested in gardening, this was a good opportunity to spruce up their gardening space. The competition entrees was displayed in a separate stall which had different flower arrangements, fresh produce and cut flowers. I loved the Rasoi Theme arrangement very much.

Here are some shots taken at the flower show.

Rasoi Theme

From the Competition Entrees


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon

Its been a long time since I updated my space here. After Jan-2010, I didn't travel much. I had planned to write about the various temples in and around Palakkad. But it did not take shape into blog posts. And my husband's job brought me to another state. I thought life in a new place will give me some material to blog here. The initial few months went into settling down in the new place and had to travel thrice to hometown in a short span and out of that twice I had to make it on my own. On one of such trips, I extended it to make a surprise visit to my parents at Gurgaon. I decided to make it to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday. It was more of shock than surprise when my parents saw me at the door since as per my version, I should have reached Pune at the same time. So their shock is understandable. Few minutes on, their shock gave way to joy indeed. It was just a week stay. My sister had planned a visit to the Kingdom of dreams. During my last visit to Gurgaon, that was under construction.

The Kingdom of dreams is near to the Iffco Chowk metro station. It is a 15 minutes walk from the station. Auto/cycle rickshaws are also available. We went to the Cultural gully. There are some other live shows also (Nautank Mahal, Showso theatre inside). Each has a separate entrance ticket. For cultural gully its Rs.500 till 6 in the evening and its Rs.750 after that and for weekends too.

Out of the Rs.500, 100 goes as entrance fee and 50 is refundable. You have Rs.350 to be spent inside. For children below 4ft height, its free.

What you see inside

Its an airconditioned gallery with an artificial sky, that gives the feel of an exhibition, on an open ground. The sky is well done.

The cultural gully, as the name signifies, is art,crafts, culture and food under the same roof. 14 Indian states are showcased there. The cultural heritage of each state shines through. The food served is awesome. We sampled food from Karnataka, Mumbai, Delhi and Rajasthan. Few has open kitchens and few have in house restaurant. There are many tables laid in the centre area, which gives an ambience of a food court. The first floor has a massage parlour, plam reader, tarot card reader etc. There is a pastry shop too at the first floor. The paintings, pillars are very exquisite.

Its a wonderful place to have a get-together. The ambience is so good and with finger licking food and good company, you can enjoy a good evening there.

I clicked quite a lot there and here are few snapshots.

Entrance to the Cultural Gully



Kaali representing West Bengal


The magnificient sky like roof top


Kerala modelled on a house boat

A lorry infront of Punjab block


Bridge connecting the two blocks on the first floor

Handicrafts for sale

Old charm retained - You can see matchbox labels painted on the left.