Posted in Life Travel, Rajasthan, shiva, travel

Is Pushkar the new Hampi ?

I have been to Pushkar a long time ago and I vaguely remember the colorful bazaars and the saffronized Ghats of the Pushkar Lake. However, I distinctly remember the Brahma temple, the only Brahma temple in the world, making Pushkar a uniquely important spot for the followers of Hinduism. The atmosphere here is very spiritual, there are stories about the cursed creator, which almost everyone lives by and there is a lake in the desert that amazes everyone. Despite its relevance in the religious circles of India, it has managed to remain a tiny town with no real projection of its own. This perhaps, brings Pushkar on the world tourist map, especially for the ones who wish to disconnect. And this is precisely what I wanted for myself. I have been following the social media posts for Pushkar lately and I wonder what attracts the young to this undeveloped and undisturbed town that sees almost no action all day long.

The town of Pushkar is spread within a few kilometers only. The road from Ajmer that leads to Pushkar is a hilly terrain with some simple curves. The hills that you would be turning around are dusty, rugged and uprooted; they are rather rocky than tall making themselves very distinct from the skyline, they look vulnerable, dry and dead. They are not yet parched by the sun for the summer heat will snatch away any of the life left in them. They are spread far and wide, commonly also known as the Pushkar Tirathgarh Forest. There is an enticing route leading in that you would come across on the way. If only I was not sitting in the bus and had a bike to ride inside, it would have been an adventurous day.

Nevertheless more adventures were waiting for me up ahead. In no time, I reached the Pushkar bus stand. I had already made my bookings with Zostel, one of the most upcoming hostel chains in India. A GenZ concept, this one had all the cues of a cool and free spirited stay. A bunk bed cleanly prepared, just next to a rooftop restaurant, sharing the dormitory with travelers across the globe, bean bags and floor beddings everywhere, creative graffiti and posters, the ambience was just right to spend the day.

As I spent the breezy afternoon, lazing on a yellow bean bag, listening to some psychedelic music, I suspended myself to this carefree atmosphere of Pushkar. With no one around and no thoughts on mind either; I was smiling for being there. Sometimes, these simplest of experiences become the most precious of all. Being alone and yet not lonely counts as one of the richest moments of life.

The evening was spent exploring the town of Pushkar which spreads in only a few kilometers. As I walked out of my hostel towards the main bazaar, I kept revisiting my time in Hampi.

Is Pushkar the new Hampi? I wondered.

Amidst all its innocence and ignorance, Pushkar boasts of significant global attractions, a culture of peace, a carefree attitude towards life and no signs of fast paced urban development making it a hotspot for the hippie tourists. I could see another Hampi in its streets. Randomly spread rocks, unfinished houses, cows everywhere, open drains, selfless people, command over various languages, a sun that bakes the place during summer but keeps the sky bright, the hindu trails, a long treasured history, all those small yet noticeable things were coming to my mind. These places refuse to accept the urban phenomenon but happily embrace the humans of the world.

While Hampi has more historic signs, Pushkar is witness to the spiritual signs of life. There is a sincere sense of devotion towards the Hindu Gods, there are sadhus who withdraw from the conventional life and accept the beggars’ lifestyle and there are tourists, both Indian and foreign who want to be a part of it.

These long bearded Sadhus are found at every nook and corner of the town. Many immersed in high spirits most of the time, they keep a possession of their own delusions, it never seems like they have any kind of connection left with the rest of the world and yet they are pretty much a part of the Hindu clan. They are the true wanderers of our planet; they are the ones without motives and plans.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

Mythological tales of this lake suddenly appearing in this deserted region makes it all the more significant. Endless stories of Lord Brahma and his encounters with his angry wife, the falling of the two lotus flowers and the lake that appeared overnight, every being here has grown up knowing these facts and the belief is stern. It is the strong faith that people live by, keeps the spiritual fire alive.

The Brahma Temple in Pushkar is the only Brahma Temple in this world. The God of creation is praised, adored and shown reverence in this otherwise insignificant town of Pushkar. Not only is there a Brahma temple to be visited here, as I checked the map of this place I also happened to come across a mosque and a sikh dham (Gurudwara) in the vicinity.

The beauty of Pushkar, and even Ajmer for that matter is the coexistence of and the attitude of sharing the space with other religions, despite the stronghold of one of them.  This was a trip dedicated to witnessing the spiritual symbolism, only differentiated from one another by means of culture and old established religions. Starting my trip by visiting the dargah, followed by the visit to Brahma temple and ending the journey in the warmth of Gurudwara, it became a kaleidoscopic journey into the rituals of peace.

I concluded this solo voyage at the bazaar of Pushkar, brimming with colorful vibes that is so in tune with Rajasthan. The picture postcards, the loosely hung bags with glass and thread works on them, the usual handprints on the modern designs of clothes, all of them make this bazaar a concoction of new and the old. There are newly opened cafes serving world cuisines that typically reminded of Hampi and how the remotest of places in India are accepting the farthest of cultures.

Italian food was on my mind since morning and I was affirmative to get it. I looked at the pale blue evening sky as I relished olives, jalapenos, mushrooms all wrapped in the molten cheese over a thin crust. I walked back happy, though a bit confused about the way back as there are too many forky ways that dissect and are hard to identify after dusk.

If unwinding is a part of your plan, then let Pushkar be on your list. You can be with the wind and your own thoughts at just the pace that you want to be in. If you are a solo female traveler, you can leave behind the safety related worries and have the peace in your mind.

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Posted in Beaches, Forests, HoHo, Karnataka, shiva, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Five – Gokarna

Gokarna, a beach town on the Goa Karnataka border is a must go if you are a beach lover, the kind who loves secluded beaches, searching for solace accompanied with only the sound of sea. Do not expect the hustle and bustle of beach parties here, especially if you plan to visit during the off season. Here is a write up of what the four of us did…

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo trip

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On the state border between Goa and Karnataka, a secluded piece of land, a temple town dedicated to Lord Shiva, Gokarna (literally meaning cow’s ears) started gaining the momentum of tourism a few years ago.  It was primarily the foreign tourists who discovered the tranquility and serenity of this coastline.

We set a three hour train journey from Udupi to reach Gokarna. Though bus journeys are more popular and in fact the bus stand is more central inside the town, we preferred hopping here by train. It is a lone, single platform station amidst the fields, even away from the village, which may remind you of the Bollywood scenes from the 90s era, shot on a barren platform. It was a bit expensive but a great idea to arrive by train for the auto journey till the beach was beautiful. The country roads smelled only of emptiness, by the face of it; it looked shriveled and uncared for, keeping the primitive spirit alive. The houses were old, at some places the walls were cracking up, there was no particular scent in the air, and the city looked unresponsive. It was a different kind of vibe, neither positive nor negative. I kept alert all this while and didn’t want to trust the rickshaw guy immediately. Gradually we entered the main city and we rushed past a series of temples. Leaving everything behind, he took us to the beach straight away.  From this point on unfurled the real magic of Gokarna.

Gokarna in its present avatar is all about beaches. What is quirky about these beaches is that they are all separated from each other and from the main city by hillocks. In order to walk along the coastline, from one beach to another, one would have to hike through these mounds. The hike is an easy one and in fact the sea accompanies all along. Because of these hills, these beaches are disconnected from the main city, making them a private setup for the tourists. Away from the world, this is a peace-realm, a quiet abode, to be restful and enter the halcyon state of mind. The stillness prevails for miles and pertains to the sea. Only a handful of tourists invade into the sea and safely conquer the tides.

There are five popular beaches in Gokarna, where the tourists slip, slide and saunter – Om, Kudle, Paradise, Half Moon and Nirvana. Our gang found its base on the Kudle beach. Though Om beach is the most popular one, Kudle feels a bit more personal and undisturbed due to its small size. We walked down from the main road; the steps pass through a narrow gorge of hills on both sides and suddenly open our sight to the sea. It is amazing how the compressed pathway leads to a vast expanse of land or rather sea. With this sight, the pupils widen up and so does the smile.

Because of the off season, most of the guest houses were not open to the tourists, so we found shelter in one of the shacks on Kudle. Most accommodations here are compact and shady, there are no maintained standards of hygiene, and they are pretty friendly to the pocket as they are often bargained upon.  Ours followed the suite. But surprisingly, the food options on the beach are wide and so are the booze options that one can experiment for days. And so we did, not only at our shack but also at the neighboring ones.

One of the mornings, we hiked from Kudle till the Om beach. It was a simple one; we did it without the trekking shoes, but carried water along. Within thirty minutes we were on the other side of the hill. Mornings are a perfect time to leave the laziness behind and get a perfect reddish tan on the skin. Om beach is much wider and longer than Kudle, the number of tourists are also more here. We walked till the next hillock, crossing it would have led to the Paradise beach, but it was a longer walk. During the season, beach hopping sounds like a cool idea but as the sun rose higher we decided to sit for breakfast at the popular Namaste Café.

As we stepped down to the beach, we stood at a point and glanced towards the next hillock; from this very spot we understood the moniker OM. The beach is in the shape of the sanskrit word OM. The sand and the rocks are arranged naturally to give it a divine shape. During the afternoon, as the brain started to drowse, we picked up our portable music system and the playing cards and moved ourselves till the next shack to try something new on the menu. In two hours, I lost about 35 games of rammi, and won about 12 games of dirty 7.

By the evening, when we could not sit on the chairs anymore, Nikita picked her camera and we climbed the hillock on the other side. We went up those narrow steps and took a left turn opposite to Café 1987. We did not have to walk till the edge of those rocks to witness the enormity of the sea, its gigantic spread and mammoth expansion caught our eye, heart and soul.  We lost our pace of walking within seconds and yet tried to grasp our breath. As I rolled my eyes from the sea to the sky, not much of a distance to be covered there, the shades changed constantly. It was like a multilayered cake lying on the table of the sea. Starting from the light blue horizon, on top of which were the unorganized dark grey clouds, giving a smoky effect to the landscape. There was also some foam of cream formed by the white clouds. But what all of us were looking for was the orange crunchy ball eclipsed under the dark grey layer. From within the swirl of these dark grey layers, the orange-yellow light penetrated and fell as a spotlight on the table of the sea; you could perceive, imagine and visualize the life of a human being rising from the lower energies to higher energies. From a normal body, the soul will rise to the divine, and the divine has sent his spiritual spotlight to liberate him from this life. This was by far the most overwhelming sunset that I had ever seen, my thoughts in my mind lost their ground and were floating over the sea. Looking at the sea from an altitude, for me, it was the first time ever when the sun, sand and sea were edged by a hill, setting in a sense of completion.

Gokarna not just promises a spectacular natural beauty but also an array of cool travel experiences which make it an ideal hippie junction. We met travelers from different walks of life, there were books on philosophy around us and when some of them played guitar and the rest prayed to Shiva, café 1987 turned into the coolest place ever. Our last evening in Gokarna was lovely.

Fifteen days passed by and filled us with gratitude, towards mother earth, our country and our culture. A happy kind of sadness overtook us, as it was almost time to part ways with these travelers. We finally hopped off at the Bangalore station the next morning and cheered over our last filter coffee together.

From Majestic, we boarded our respective buses and moved on to our next goal. While for the rest, the travel ended, but for me it was to continue for one more week. The HOHO chapter of our life rested here for the time being and I stretched my time for a few more places to visit in the south before I finally headed north.

Posted in Forests, Maharashtra, Monsoon Diaries, Sahayadris, shiva, travel, Uncategorized

Tungareshwar – Shiva’s Abode in the Western Ghats

From Tungnath to Tungareshwar, Shiva has traveled everywhere for his fans! Being one of his ardent fans, it was a mandatory and yet the most needed trip. To another one of his exotic getaways, I believe it is worth a share 🙂

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A Delhi-Mumbai air journey usually lasts for about two hours. But it is a very common scenario that the pilot is not able to land the plane in stipulated time due to air traffic. Impatience starts to grow in me if I come to know that the flight is only rounding the city, unless, the pilot knows where and how to maneuver the flight on one of these monsoons days. The sky was densely full of clouds and it felt he had no option but to take us through the clouds. One moment the buildings were visible and the next moment it was all grey. And then suddenly emerged the flight over and above the Sahyadris, the plush green cover of the Western Ghats that it was, all you do is thank God for the good luck of a window seat. It was the moment when impatience turned into an immense rush of butterflies in my stomach. As my heart pounded to jump from the aircraft to run into that unknown wilderness, I reminded myself of the exciting times I had planned for myself during my short trip to Bombay.

Between the hectic work schedule that took me to Bombay and my flying back to Delhi, I had saved a day for things that Delhi somehow refuses to offer – a blissful walk in the rains.

Rains that pours so heavily, bringing life to the wilderness. Early   morning on a Sunday, it was an unexpected wake up call. Of course I did not sleep sound the previous night, in the awe of an awesome Sunday, but I waited patiently for the human alarm to come and shake me up. Well, literally he did; my friend who accompanied and guided me on the trek to Tungareshwar.

 

To add a little bit of Gujrati touch to our day long trail, his mother packed in our sacks a box of dhokla. Besides the dhokla, a box of cheese sandwiches, some fresh fruits and a bottle of tang made our trip sound like a picnic. But it was not. It definitely was not a picnic. In fact, it was a long walk of about 20 kilometers. We entered the Sanjay Gandhi National Park from Tungareshwar Phata, an entry point about 5 kilometers away from Vasai Road into the interiors of Thane district.

 

At 8 in the morning we started our journey towards the Tungareshwar Temple. A walk of only 3 kilometers, there were other devotees too walking on the path of divinity.

 

Though the path has been invaded with lots of human intervention, it is yet not evaded of its natural ambience. There are monsoonal waterfalls where the villagers splurge themselves, there are wild bushes and shady trees all across the wide motor able road. It’s a delightful walk for Shiva’s devotees.

Slowly and gradually as we walked and talked, we could see in distance, the abode of Lord Shiva. Tungareshwar Temple witnesses a rush of devotees during the month of savan. A tiny and a miniscule appearance of Lord Shiva making way for the tranquility that persists, makes it a worthwhile walk into the wild.

 

While most devotees end their journey at the Shiva temple very few like us explore it further.

Its only about 6 kilometers from Tungareshwar temple, there is also built an ashram amidst the wilderness. This walk of 6 kilometers is a gradual ascend overlooking the city of Bombay. Mostly a lonely walk, it is definitely a road less travelled. We don’t realize how, on the next turn, the green becomes greener and the clouds appear out of nowhere. As soon as the sky gets clear, towards the denser side of valley, at a far away distance, the waterfall appears again. The clouds overtake the valley, as if they own the valley. It feels mystical, it does not just feel natural, it feels magical. The silence of the valley stays intact; even the sounds of birds are rare.

At one of the points during the trek, sitting over a rock, while getting absorbed in the scenic beauty, there does not feel the need to walk ahead. Inside you, you may even wish that these clouds should burst open upon you and probably the rain walk will soothe you even more but these clouds decide to be playful.

 

So we walk a little further and reach on the other side of the mountain. Cannot say if the walk becomes a little steeper or is it the last patch mingled with our hunger pangs.

The ashram serves a sumptuous vegetarian thali. As we reached   after a 2.5 hours of unbothered walk, we sat down on the floor and got served. The temple gates had closed as we entered later than the scheduled time but the meal was still being served.

The Sadanand ashram is built by a yogi baba with a strict schedule being followed. Keeping calm and feeling one with nature is something that does not require any effort. Not many visitors are seen around, except a few who have probably discovered that the walk is worth the food being served in a spot as random as this one.

We sat outside the temple gates, at a little distance and enjoyed sipping on the herbal tea. Blissful. Finally, the clouds decided to burst open adding to our moment of bliss. The tea there is served in shots and one after the other, we kept on having it. More conversations, more tea. For another hour, nothing stopped neither the rains, nor the tea.

 

But it was now time it hit the road again. The ponchos came out. Of course, photography happened with that one too. The camera just spices up de tour a bit more!

 

We decided to take the alternate route while descending. In a short while, the rain left us alone and the clouds also bid us farewell. The path was muddier now demanding a lot more attention to walk. It was a reckless walk taking us through stones and mud patches; but the shady trees and the tall standing Sahyadris hills made it a lot more comfortable walk.   In about two hours, we came out of the national park from the Purola village exit.

 

Oh and there was still food left with us. We sat on a peaceful spot, still inside the jungle, gulped down the dhokla and the sandwiches. What made it awesome, other than the cheese of course was the retro music playing in the background. It was being played in the nearby village, the kind of music that is powerful enough to make you sad but you still want to hear it because it connects with your soul. None other than Kishore Da was playing that evening.

 

The view of the village farms reminded me of the good old college days when I used to sit by my room window in the hostel and felt lost into a similar view.

 

The day got over in no time and we were on the road, waiting for the bus to take us to Virar railway station. It was a fast road and the evening was getting darker. Clouds were surprising us again while we were brisking through the rural Virar. Life here seems to be so different; not unique but just different from the routine we experience every-day.

 

This Sunday was a perfect break from the monotonous routine that we follow endlessly for months. Even a pinch of wilderness into our otherwise concrete lives becomes a great deal. And with this great deal ending so soon, I only hoped and prayed for more and more of such deals.

Posted in Forests, mountains, Panch Kedar, road trips, shiva, travel

Chopta – Tunganath – Chandrashila

Enroute: Shiva’s abode – Uttarakhand

1st – 5th October, 2014

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Shakespeare once said “what’s in the name?”

I do not know, how true that is about us humans, but that almost stands correct about the tall mountains that I go to.  More or less they are the same terrain, only belonging to different pieces of land.  Some are meant to witness sunrises while others are romantic sunset points.  So I asked myself again, “what‘s in their name”, whether I go to Badrinath or I go to Kedarnath, I am travelling in the mountains.  They create the same landscape of tall, green, rough, cold, difficult lands but with the beautiful rivers, trees, clouds, birds accompanying them all the time.  And in no time I realized that these are probably the thoughts of an old man sitting on a couch watching National Geographic Channel on his television and regretting over the thought of never climbing a hill, twice.  For him, the grapes are definitely sour.

But for me, the name of the mountain holds a very significant meaning.  It’s a mode of interaction to the history of those great mountains where Great Men survived and the stories of Great Lords like Shiva became meaningful.

While exploring them, I meet fellow travelers and the locals who are always excited to meet us; they have the most passionate stories to share.  And I believe these experiences and success stories of men conquering the mountains define the culture of each and every mountain.

I had a stronger realization of this thought when I recently visited the mountains in Uttarakhand; Chopta – Tunganath – Chandrashila trail in the Garhwal Himalayas.  Chopta, located at a height of 2680 meters, almost 500 kms away from Delhi is very easily accessible by road. The Border Roads Organization has successfully restored the condition of the roads in many parts of Uttarakhand after the calamity that hit the state last year.

A break journey (either at Rishikesh or Rudraprayag) would be advisable to comfortably cover the distance.  Although clouds can cover the sky above the mountains at any time of the year, Oct – April is the best time to visit here and expect a clearer view of the valley.

While we drove on the curvillicious roads of the region, we crossed through some dense and intense forests. Chopta lies in the reserved forest of Kedarnath National Park.  The road from Ukhimath that leads upwards to Chopta, almost 18 kms away hardly receives any sunlight due to the dense forest cover.  The air is cold and we  almost penetrated through the clouds.

Chopta also known as the mini Switzerland due to the presence of a lot of Bugiyals (widespread grounds of grass present only on the boundaries and farther away) is still a land of shepherds.  With minimum intervention of humans in the reserved forest area, there is no electricity connection also.  It is one of the smallest base camps with no more than ten hotels for overnight accommodation.  Locals set themselves up for about six months there and move to their villages downhill during the harsh winter months.

I reached Chopta in the evening when the weather was just starting to get cold.  I decided not to pull out my winter clothes soon as nights were going to be much colder.

The place was surrounded by green meadows; guarded by the tall standing Kail Woods. There were mountains visible in the far sight. Thick dark clouds overlooked the mountains and golden sunlight penetrated through them and the whole valley was shining.

Animals were grazing in the Bugiyals while the bells tied to their necks went on ringing and dinging.  There are found quite a lot of Bengali travelers in Chopta who can be seen wearing their monkey caps joyfully and taking a stroll on the paved yet empty roads.  Many had also pitched their two people tents in the Bugiyals sitting outside looking at the orange flares of sun and enjoying the romance in the air. I had arranged my accommodation in a tiny room in Hotel Raj Kamal. From the tiny window, I enjoyed the majestic view while sipping my hot coffee and still tucked in the quilt.

This Himalayan abode fairly shows the traces of Lord Shiva’s residence.  Tunganath is at a height of almost 3680 meters.  There are ancestral priests who passionately take care of the temple even in the biting cold.

From Chopta I started my 4 kms uphill trekking towards the Tunganath Temple.  One of the five Panch Kedars in Uttarakhand this route though the easiest is at the highest altitude amongst all.

The trekking route is quite simple and straight.  For an amateur trekker, it is a very good option to start with.  Most of the stretches are long instead of steep.  Quite a few chai shops on the way make the journey comfortable.  The weather is usually quite unpredictable here. When I started on the trail, the cloud cover was quite intense but by the night it was a clear visible sky full of stars.

The customary coffee and Maggi were available in abundance.  Deepak bhaiya, a local, running a chai shop there served me with the dinner and allowed a lot of people to sit near the fire.  Though it is a small temple, the religious sentiments attached with this place are quite strong and Lord Shiva is worshipped in all capabilities by the locals and tourists.

On the next morning, before the dawn broke, I along with a few other locals trekked to the peak of Chandrashila.

Chandrashila is a typical sunrise mountain peak.  In about an hour, I covered a distance of one km and an altitude of almost 500 meters.  It is quite a steep distance to cover. I started my climb under a starlit sky, I reached there just before the sunrise.  From the top there is a 360 degree view of snow clad peaks. Chaukhamba and Nanda Devi; from where the sun rises are the two most prominent peaks visible.  The sun rose in the shade of gold at 6.15 AM which appeared to be the start of a warm day.

 

After offering my final prayers to Lord Shiva at the Tunganath temple, I headed back to my Base camp, Chopta.  The view of the valley was sunlit and clear.  I once again thanked Lord Shiva for residing in the beautiful abode of Garhwal Himalayas.

Devariya Taal, a lake, 2kms away from Saari Village in Ukhimath is another beautiful place in the vicinity. But as the Japanese proverb says, ‘whenever you travel, do not visit all the places; leave a few so that there is always a reason to go back’. And this one would surely make for a beautiful reason, to come back to the mountains.

The road to Tunganath is a 125 km deviation from the main route to Kedarnath Yatra. While on road, I rode with some local drivers who narrated the horrific story of the disastrous calamity that had hit Kedarnath last year. Though life appears to be quite normal now, the impressions of the calamity have lasted for quite a long time and not many pilgrims were found to be visiting the shrine.

With this very travel, it occurred to me several times how each mountain narrates a unique story. The force that made you climb this one might not exist on the other one, and what might exist on the other one was till now an unknown mystery. An experience in the Himalayas is initially a challenge put forth which is faced amidst some of the most beautiful sceneries on this planet.